Monthly Archives: October 2011

NCAAF Week 8: Sparty’s (non) Hail Mary, Red Raider’s Revenge and How Bout That Big XII?

Dear, Wisconsin. Ohhhhh Wisconsin. I had you all pegged as this balance of power running, phenomenally accurate arm strength, un-Big 10 like athleticism (read: good thing) and a down right nasty defense only to see you go out and do…this. Saturday night started out well enough for you. Two 1st quarter offensive touchdowns, dominant defense, a deafening East Landing crowd turned relatively mute in a matter of minutes. And then, in as weird a momentum shift as I’ve ever seen, Heisman trophy candidate Russel Wilson threw the ball away from his own end-zone only to have the refs call it intentional grounding. That meant Sparty’s first 2 points and the ball back, after which they scored on a 34 yard reverse to suddenly be down by only five. After blocking a field goal attempt on your next drive, Michigan State proceeded to go 80 yards, scoring on a 4th and 2 from your 35 to take a 16-14 lead. Huh? How did a team with such phenomenal ball control ability and defense allow that 16 point swing in less than a quarter of play. From there the momentum was all MSU. That they scored on a hail mary at the end of regulation to win the game after blowing a 31-17 (i.e. same 2 touchdown lead you started off with) only cemented how strange this game became…and how indicative it was of your bad luck/brain farts over the past decade. Your inability to stop big plays on defense combined with just enough good Mark Dantonio defense to become a perfect remedy against the steamroller you guys had been riding for over seven weeks. Woof.

"Sincerely, A guy whose nickname is based on that ^."

Wisconsin has had a number of good teams that took national title hopes into late October, or finished with one or two loss records and just enough regrets. Outside of Ohio State, they’ve quietly been the Big 10’s most consistent program since 2000. All that’s been missing is a truly great quarterback, with next level Heisman-esque potential to bring the Badgers a national title, which of course they got this year. While it looked good for six games, we now know that the football gods just won’t allow the state of Wisconsin to dominate football at both of its highest levels. Oh well. In 2012 it’ll be back to quarterbacks named Nate Tice and Joe Brennan and questions like whether you can, in fact, win the Big 10 just by running the ball. But for now, let’s see if Wisconsin can’t make a run at the Big 10 Title with a bit of help.

"You know why Wisconsin didn't win on Saturday? Because they didn't have Aaron Rodgers...Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers..."

The icing on the cake was Michigan State’s unlikely yet all too familiar way of winning football games under Mike Dantonio. Remember the fake field goal game winner at Notre Dame last year or when they scored 23 unanswered points to beat Illinois weeks later? How about the interception return for touchdown that ended Michigan’s undefeated run this year? The hail mary, especially when you consider how the game played out, should have actually been expected. Even if there’s a distinct possibility that the hail mary didn’t actually go for a touchdown (I’m still not sure if he broke the plain) is there any doubt that MSU would’ve pulled it out anyway? Honestly, they just saved everyone a few nutty overtime periods that would’ve essentially produced the same result. So congrats Spartans, you are officially the New York Jets of college football (you know, minus all the slap-your-forehead trash talking, insane coaching stunts and sub-par quarterback play). Bravo.

"Future SAT question: 'Ron Zook is to Rasputin as Mark Dantonio is to ______' (hint: he's pictured above)."

In other parts of the country, LSU and Alabama set up a regular season game that will decide, among other things, “which undefeated SEC coach has more southern moxie,” “how many times can LSU coach Les Miles outfox himself…and have it somehow pay off,” “the SEC West division, SEC Championship and possibly national championship,” and “can a player actually be arrested on the field in the middle of a play.” Heady stuff. We also found out that the geniuses at Stanford managed to do something no one else has been able to do; make Andrew Luck relatively meaningless in a big Stanford win (or really any Stanford win). Of course, everyone probably thought he went for those 400+ rushing yards all by himself anyway.

Wait, you mean Andrew Luck wasn't snapping himself the ball? Or solving quadratic equations in between plays on his wrist band? Andrew Luck? Andrew Luck Andrew Luck Andrew Luck...."

Lastly, Oklahoma was stricken with an ailment it has become quite familiar with in recent years; Red Raider’s Revenge. Texas Tech has managed to play spoiler for both Big XII heavyweights in recent years (how the Halloween catch keeps getting brought up in my own posts I will never know), but they’ve particularly had it out for the Sooners. Tech beat Oklahoma in ’99, ’05, ’07 and ’09. In ’07 the Sooners we’re 9-1 and ranked #3. Add in this year’s win and that’s two top 3 rankings ruined by the Raiders in five seasons. Only Texas has beaten Oklahoma that many times in the span, and they certainly haven’t gotten two wins against top 3 ranked Oklahoma teams in that time. Shit, this is making me depressed.

"It's like Montezuma's revenge...except with more puking."

Here are some take aways from this year’s installment: Tommy Tuberville’s now super-underrated head coaching record against top 5 teams (he’s 5-5…), how good Texas Tech QB Seth Doege is (24-4 TD:Int ratio), the rescinding of the “Big Game Bob” moniker that Stoops had somewhat gotten back in September (you don’t get to be Big Game when you can’t win an over-matched opponent game) and Oklahoma’s mediocre passing offense. That last one is huge by the way, because even if Oklahoma gets past the increasingly difficult remainder of the schedule (they still have K-State, A&M and Baylor who have a combined 16-4 record) they still have to go to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys, in case you forgot, rank second in passing yards in the country. So…have fun with that Sooners.

"This ^ is not an embellishment...Yippee."

On to the week 8 games: I know there was a lot of Big XII talk above but guess what? That conference has two 4-2 teams, two 5-2 teams, one 6-1 team and two 7-0 teams. With five or six games left to go for each and the meat of the new round robin Big XII in-conference format to boot, most of these teams haven’t even played each other yet (and they all have to). That’s all about to change as we near November, and with no conference championship game there could be all kinds of intrigue going into the first weekend of December! Yes please. To kick it off we have two huge mid afternoon games on Saturday; Baylor at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma at Kansas State. To clarify; that’s all 3 of the Big XII’s top 10 teams plus a Heisman Trophy contender for the bears. If they add West Virginia this week then this conference might be nearly back from the dead.

"And Boise. For god sakes Chuck Neinas add Boise!"

Clemson at Georgia Tech; this was supposed to be the poor man’s LSU-Bama. Now it’s just another Clemson game that ACC commissioner John Swofford has to sweat out while he hopes to keep his conference football relevant. Stanford at USC; remember when Stanford put itself on the national map back in 2009 by crushing USC at the Coliseum by 34 points? Since that game Stanford is 20-3 and has spent most of the time in the top 10. USC is 16-7, and while that’s certainly respectable for most teams it’s also exactly how many losses USC had from 2003 to 2008…total. I think Stanford will make it 3 straight and 4 out of 5 versus the Trojans, but they might actually have to work for this one. Illinois at Penn State; who would have thought two weeks ago that the Nittany Lions would be the ranked team in this match up (and 7-1)? Oh that’s right, every Florida and Illinois fan whose ever been burned by the Zooker…so like millions of people. Georgia at Florida; this has to be mentioned because it used to semi-officially be called the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (and I’m trying to do everything I can to keep that going). It also has to be mentioned because, while the Gators have seemingly given up, the Bulldogs have won five straight and are on the verge of giving Boise State a legitimate SEC win on its schedule. Go Ugga! Navy at Notre Dame; Brian Kelly, I dare you to lose to Navy for the third year in a row and fourth time in five years. Seriously, the Irish are not above firing you after two seasons. BYU at TCU; did you know BYU is 6-2? Yeah, me neither.

"Great, now I've been Zookered..."

That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “The next time someone tries to sprint across midfield, belly dance, chest pump a 300 pound man, and then try to touch ME? I’m kicking them in the shins. Just saying Jim Schwartz…pussy.”


NCAAF Week 7: Oregon’s Inability to go Away, ACC Basketball Season and The First BCS Rankings Have Been Released, Let the Kvetching Begin…

It took exactly one week for the ACC to stop taking football seriously. The conference entered the weekend with one semi-unstoppable rushing team in Georgia Tech and a 5-1 Wake Forest team looking to make national noise. What they got was another disappointing close Georgia Tech loss at Virginia (where they were on a 1-8 streak coming in…), and Frank Beamer waking his team up just in time to ruin a promising start by the Demon Deacons. Clemson pulled it out against Maryland (an admirable comeback), but also managed to impregnate a seed of doubt in people’s minds. When you consider how bad the Terp’s defense is, you realize that putting up 56 points (and allowing 45) isn’t that impressive at all. Through 7 weeks, the ACC is now officially hanging this resurgent season on a team in territory it’s never even heard of. Still, Clemson has also found its way out of games it would have blown in past seasons. They won’t get any breaks with UNC this week before having to prepare for Tech’s triple option in Atlanta, and I have a hard time believing they’ll be able to stop the Yellow Jacket’s attack (Clemson is allowing 4.66 yards/rush through seven games). With that, the conference will have completely turned its attention to basketball by November.

"That's a Lamborghini on a basketball court. You're telling me that's any less gaudy than a fashion show? Seriously."

Let’s stop and appreciate what Chip Kelly’s done at Oregon…again. In his first season he had to replace Pac-10 1st team QB Jeremiah Masoli on a few months notice, and LaGarette Blount one week after the infamous punching incident (albeit the replacement was LaMichael James). They wound up winning 10 games and the conference. In year 2 he inserted a sophomore with no experience (Darron Thomas) to run his precise Blur offense and went to Oregon’s first national championship game where the Ducks lost on a last second field goal. This season? Not only is he in solid position for a 3rd consecutive BCS bowl in his first 3 seasons as head coach, but he just won his second toughest in-conference game without his most dynamic offensive player (James) and without Thomas for the second half.  All the while he’s battled off field incidents and handled them in relatively admirable fashion with suspensions or outright dismissals (see: Masoli, Jeremiah). The Ducks’ only loss was to LSU in week 1, and they played them closer than anyone. With the season headed towards probably 3 or 4 undefeated teams they won’t make it back to the national championship game, but 12-1 and a BCS bowl or 11-2 with losses to LSU and Andrew Luck Stanford, certainly isn’t shabby either. That an 11-2 record would be a semi disappointment is a testament to how far this program has come.

"Their 'Civil War' rivalry game was once reclassified as 'The Toilet Bowl.' Now? They're doing things like this^."

The end of week 7 brought the first release of the BCS rankings. The end of week 7 also began the kind of whining rarely seen outside of kindergarten classrooms and congressional oversight committees. While everyone bitches about where they should or should not be in the rankings I’ll go ahead and find a flaw (ok, and a strength) for each of our (legitimate) whiners:

1. Alabama/LSU: These two are really 1a and 1b, because whoever wins their match up is guaranteed a spot in the national title. What’s interesting is that both have identical flaws; their passing games. Alabama is a mediocre 72nd in passing yards per game in the FBS, while LSU is an abysmal 97th. While LSU’s 13:1 TD to interception ratio (and 157.9 rating) is solid, they have a budding quarterback controversy at exactly the wrong time and haven’t had to throw the ball. ‘Bama comes in at 9:4 with a 142.2 rating, and a sophomore at the helm of the offense. This is all well in good when both are winning by 20 points, but if either falls behind late in a game they’ll struggle to come back. Strenths:  Really everything else. LSU is 35th in rushing yards, 20th in points for and 7th in points against. Alabama is 12th in rushing yards, 14th in points for and 1st in points against. So…yeah.

"The Tigers are also 1st in the country in mug shots..."

3. Oklahoma:  Flaw: 5th, 6th, and 11th. Those are Oklahoma’s rankings in passing yards per game, points per game, and points against. 48th. That’s Oklahoma’s ranking in rushing yards per game. This is fine against shoot out prone Big XII opponents, but it’ll be a problem against LSU or Alabama. Strengths: Compared with Bama and LSU one thing stands out for the Sooners; quarterback Landry Jones. He’s a three year starter and in the thick of the Heisman race. Jarrett Lee, Jordan Jefferson and AJ McCarron? Not so much.

4. Oklahoma State:  Flaw:  That defense is pretty glaring. They’ve allowed 27.3 points per game, and 34, 33 and 26 points to Louisiana-Lafayette, Tulsa and Texas respectively. While those scores are average for each team, you don’t see Alabama, LSU or Oklahoma simply holding teams to their averages. Strength:  So that offense is pretty ridiculous. They’re second in the nation in passing yards per game at 395.7 (395.7!). The only reason they aren’t putting up more rushing yards (they average 155.5 per game) is because it would take away from the air attack. Indeed, their top two rushers are averaging 5.2 and 6.9 yards per carry and have gone for 16 touchdowns on the ground. That, my friends, is an offense.

"There could be 1500 yards of offense in this game...You think I'm kidding."

5. Boise State:  Flaw:  Uh, schedule…I guess? They only beat Georgia by 14 in Atlanta? Kellen Moore only has 21 touchdowns passing? In all seriousness, their opponents so far are a combined 21-18, which isn’t terrible but also isn’t at the level of the four mentioned above. Strengths:  They’re outscoring their opponents by 30 per game. They are 7th in points scored, 8th in points allowed. They average over 300 yards passing and nearly 200 yards rushing. So…there’s a lot to work with here.

"10 seasons with 10+ wins since the start of 1999, 21 total losses in that time, 2 BCS Bowl wi - You know what? I'm just gonna stop."

6. Wisconsin:  Flaw:  Honestly? There’s really nothing to work with here. They have the best, most balanced offense in the country averaging 265.7 yards passing (with a leading Heisman contender at quarterback) and 257.5 yards on the ground (good for 7th nationally). They’re ranked 3rd in points allowed and 1st in points scored. Did you like Boise’s point differential of 30? Wisconsin’s point differential is 40.5 per game. You could nit pick at the schedule, but they beat a 5-1 Nebraska team by 31 and will play most of the solid Big Ten teams this year. Strengths: (above, see).

"In North Carolina 'Russel Wilson' is synonymous with depression...and 'Tom O'Brien's an idiot.'"

7. Clemson:  Flaw:  Finally, someone we can work with! Actually, this is really more of the OK State thing. They have a meh defense (23 points allowed per game) and a lot of tight wins that includes giving up 45 points to Maryland last weekend. Strengths: Part of the reason they’re giving up so many points is because of the competition. Out of all the teams on here, their opponents stack up against pretty much anyone’s so far, save for LSU. Oh, and they’re still averaging nearly 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing.

8. Stanford:  Flaw:  This team has started off a few games slowly, which in the world of ridiculous expectations translates to:  “They’re on the west coast. It’s tough to see them regularly. We looked at the box scores and we’re surprised Andrew Luck wasn’t 20-21 with 400 passing yards and 5 touchdowns in the first half…Really, they’re not making our job easy enough.” Truth be told, they haven’t played much of anyone, but it is Stanford. Until 3 years ago, making a bowl game there was a big deal, and the mind set scheduling wise was to diminish the damage. Strengths:  304 yards passing per game, 182 yards rushing per game, 5th in points for, 5th in points against. Blahdy f***ing blah.

"In Miami 'Andrew Luck' is synonymous with 'Chad Henne blows'...and tanking."

While the weekend slate is somewhat thin, there are two big night games and a few nice under the radar contests. Cincinnati at South Florida, West Virginia at Syracuse: I know I know, they’re Big East games. They also involve two of the leagues 3 (3!) 5-1 teams, and both of its 4-2 teams. That’s four Big East teams with winning records playing each other…and possibly the pinnacle of in-conference Big East play this season…in mid-October. Western Michigan at Eastern Michigan: This is the first time both teams have entered this game with winning records in ages…mainly because this is the first time Eastern Michigan has had a winning record in October since 1995. Trust me, this is big news. Auburn at LSU:  The tigers lost to Cam Newton by a touchdown a year ago. Auburn may be ranked 20th, but I’d bet that same thing won’t happen this year (and not just because they don’t have Cam Newton). Still, it might be a closer game that LSU’s others. Louisiana-Lafayette at Western Kentucky:  ULL is 6-1. Seriously, that’s the first time a team in the Sun Belt Conference, let alone the Ragin’ Cajuns, has been 6-1 ever. Ever! Let’s see if they can keep it up. Wisconsin at Michigan State: Here’s the heavy hitter. The Spartans thrust themselves upon America after knocking Michigan from the unbeaten ranks last week. They’re allowing 10.8 points per game. They’re at home, where they haven’t lost since 2009. Aaaaand, I’m still going with the Badgers. Washington at Stanford: For all you Bill Simmons fans out there, we’re getting into Ewing theory territory here. UW is 5-1 and ranked after the 4th game of the year for the first time since 2003, and it’s all come without Jake Locker at quarterback. The supposed savior helped get them back to relevancy and a bowl game last year but he never came close to 5-1. What a shame that top 25 run has to end at Stanford Stadium this weekend.

"11 years and not a single 6-1 team until now. The other teams should tank the rest of the season purely for the publicity..."

That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “The World Series just started with two one run games, both pitcher’s duels with one that was decided in the ninth inning, yet game 1 was the lowest rated in history. If that’s not a reason to change baseball (like shortening games somehow) then I don’t know what is.”

NCAAF Week 6: Why Florida and Texas Couldn’t School A Couple of Finger Painters, Conference Clusterf***s and Why Didn’t The Big XII Do This Years Ago?

Well we’ve reached the half way mark, with some teams having already reached bowl eligibility and others wondering if they should just stop trying. And while the focus is always on the national scene, there have been some interesting subplots developing in conferences around the country that, while not necessarily BCS bowl worthy, could nonetheless cause some intrigue. Without further ado…

"2012 New Mexico...2012."

In the interest of saving you time (and trimming the word count I definitely don’t pay attention to) I’m just going to say I was wrong. Texas and Florida will most certainly not affect the national landscape. Shit, after the way Florida looked against The Duo of The Deep South (I told you I was going to keep using this) and Texas bombed against its biggest rival, these two teams couldn’t affect a finger painter’s landscape. And while the Gators and Longhorns have a while to go in their progress back to the national elite, there are plenty of others taking over the spotlight these two power programs divvied up with Alabama less than two years ago.

"They'll get better...right?"

Out West Stanford and Oregon continue their respective marches towards Pac 12 supremacy. It’s too bad that these two teams have to reside in the same North division, leaving us with a conference championship game that, much like the SEC, is already guaranteed to disappoint. Still, at least Arizona State will probably be ranked for the match up (partly due to the abject lack of quality in the rest of the Pac 12). The SEC East isn’t that much better (and could wind up being worse). The two best teams in the division (Florida and Georgia) already have two losses, and they haven’t even played each other yet. South Carolina will lose to both of those teams, plus Arkansas and may maybe even Tennessee before the year’s out, and Vanderbilt is in fourth place over Tennessee and Kentucky at 3-2. It’s a turtle’s crawl in the race to get blown out by LSU or Alabama on December 3rd, and it isn’t even Halloween yet.

"SEC East: The picture of talented mediocrity."

Meanwhile, the Big XII thinned out another undefeated pretender when un-ranked Texas Tech managed to do what no other good A&M opponent had done to date; let them hold a lead. Don’t think the Aggies didn’t try to lose though. Kansas State managed to remain un-beaten for another week, dropping Missouri in typically close fashion (they won 24-17). Baylor steamrolled past Iowa State, while Oklahoma State warmed up for Texas’ defense by dropping a cool 70 on Kansas. That’s right, the same Texas defense that just surrendered 55 points to Oklahoma gets to spend this weekend in Austin facing the most prolific passing duo in the country in Brandon Wheedon and Justin Blackmon. Good luck with that.

In other Big XII news, the conference finally did something it probably should’ve done years ago when any of A&M, Colorado, Iowa State or Baylor were battling to see who could beat a high school JV team:  They added TCU. The Horned Frogs were once a member of the Southwest Conference and actually boast a Heisman winner and a national championship in their history (albeit from the Depression era), spending a lot of time as a fringe member of the elite. Yet, when the Big XII emerged they were left to fend for themselves while teams like Baylor and Kansas got brought into the BCS fold. Since then TCU has hired Gary Patterson, reeled off 10 win seasons like certain burnt orange or crimson colored neighbors and generally looked and played like the third best team in the Southwest, let alone the Big XII. That it finally gets its opportunity to come back into the big conference fold (the Big East really didn’t count) is long overdue.

"Welcome home fellas. I'm sure you'll do well here."

Speaking of the Big East, will this conference ever be back in the national title picture? Certainly not any time soon, but while the conference doesn’t have any contenders to speak of, keep any eye on West Virginia, South Florida, Rutgers and Cincinnati, all teams with at least 4 wins and only 1 loss. Rutgers is a particularly intriguing team, having only lost to North Carolina by 2 and having demolished Pittsburgh this past weekend. Their match up with Navy on Saturday will have a huge impact on where both teams are headed, as a win would raise the Scarlet Knights’ record to 5-1 while the Midshipmen would drop to 2-4, probably the worst it’s been in years.

"Big East Officials: Goooooooo Rut...gers?"

The stunning ACC continues to roll right along. We talked last week about Georgia Tech’s and Clemson’s eventual meeting but the biggest story here is actually Wake Forest. I joked in my last post about how this team had won a conference championship recently and how indicative that was of the ACC’s mediocrity. Under Jim Grobe they haven’t been that great but a few back to back bowl trips constituted a relative boon time in Winston-Salem. Still, they’re now 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the conference after knocking off Florida State, a team that at one point (albeit very early in the season) was in the top 5. Wake Forest gets Virginia Tech at home this week, a team that hasn’t put a complete game together all year, before going about 10 minutes out of their way to play both Duke and UNC. If they can swipe an upset of the Hokies before knocking off two basketball powers (although UNC is 5-1…) they will be 7-1 entering a home date with Notre Dame. Beat a mistake prone Irish team and they’ll head to Clemson with the Atlantic Division on the line. Or they could be 4-5 and trying to fight for bowl eligibility. Regardless, the ACC is shaping up to do what the Big East did for a few years between 2005 and 2007; take this football thing semi-seriously.

And then there’s the Big 10, the conference with the most undefeated teams left in the country at three. Two of those teams, Michigan and Illinois, are already bowl eligible, while Wisconsin’s average game score has been 48-10. Nebraska (5-1) looked great through the first four weeks until it got in the Badger’s way in Camp Randall and Penn State has sneakily gotten to 2-0 in the conference and 5-1 overall with stellar defense and just enough offense out of its young quarterback duo. Even Michigan State is 4-1. Still, I’m not sold on anyone outside of Wisconsin as a true contender. Michigan is a great success story in Brady Hoke’s first year there, and while it could be said that he’s riding Rich Rodriguez’s recruits to success, he’s also getting more out of them than Rich Rod ever did. Get past Michigan State this weekend and they’ll be 9-0 heading into a three game stretch where they go to Illinois and finish with Nebraska and Ohio State at home. That could arguably be the toughest stretch anyone sees in the Big 10 all year…unless of course we look at Illinois.

"What? You thought 9-4 at San Diego State was a fluke?"

Barring an absolute implosion (remember; this is Ron Zook) in their last six games they’ve officially saved their coaches’ job, and could realistically be 9-0 heading into the Michigan match up.  Still, the game with the Wolverines at home is sandwiched in-between a trip to State College to face that Penn State defense and a home date with Wisconsin. That, my friends, is the toughest 3 game stretch in conference for any contender in the Big 10 this year. The one caveat? They get a bye in between the Nittany Lions and Wolverines, meaning they get two weeks to heal after the first of those three games. Because of that I think they’ll knock off both PSU and Michigan to enter a hyped match up with Wisconsin at 10-0. It will be the last match up of un-defeated teams before Oklahoma State and Oklahoma on the last day of the regular season, and the Leaders (first time I’ve allowed myself to write out one of the atrocious division names) will be on the line. They’ll get steamrolled by the Badgers, but it will make for a great story line and might even draw a November College Game Day appearance. Solid work Big 10.

"Really Manbearpig? Your gonna predict 10-0 out of this guy? The one that couldn't even approach that at Florida? Ok, suit yourself..."

The smaller conferences may not have the clout or fireworks of the guys above but there are still some battles to be played in many of them. Houston and SMU should enter their November 19th match up with Conference USA’s West Division on the line. The cougars are undefeated, and I’ve talked before about SMU’s recent success. They’ll be playing for the opportunity to face a good Southern Mississippi squad (that just handled Navy) out of the East. Remember when I said FIU was an intriguing story so long as they stayed undefeated? Well at 4-2 they’re still something to watch in Florida’s increasingly diversified (muddled?) group of college football teams. Still, the Sun Belt’s best squad is now 5-1 Louisiana-Lafayette. It may come as a surprise that there are actual state universities outside of LSU in Cajun country, especially ones that play Division I football. And while Louisiana-Monroe (the actual University of Louisiana) isn’t doing so hot the ULL Ragin’ Cajuns are something to watch. Let’s see if they can give the Sun Belt a 10 win team this year after Troy carried the conference banner for so long. The Mountain West isn’t a budding juggernaut anymore but TCU will get one last shot at a big time in-conference opponent (like it did with Utah and BYU in the past) before “ascending” to the Big XII. Its visit to Boise State will probably be the Broncos last road block before finishing undefeated, and will be a symbolic sending off from its phenomenal small conference brethren. Still, don’t expect Boise to be nice on the way out; they’ll want to send a message to a team they may eventually join in the Big XII.

"Don't worry boys, we'll be riiiiiight behind you."

Not a lot to talk about in terms of Top 10 match ups this week, although Arizona State does give Oregon what will likely be its last major test before the Ducks play Stanford for the Pac 12 North title. The Sun Devils are 5-1 (3 point loss at Illinois) and shouldn’t lose again after this game and prior to the first ever Pac 12 championship (they blew out the division’s next best team, USC, by 21 points). They’ll play Oregon tough with LaMichael James temporarily sidelined but they’re playing in Autzen Stadium, so no top 10 upset this week. Elsewhere, Michigan State tries to prove everything I just wrote about Michigan wrong, Robert Griffin and Baylor continue the Texas A&M good bye tour by knocking them out of the top 25 and Texas tries desperately to redeem itself against the best Oklahoma State team since Barry Sanders played there. Some others not to be missed: Florida redeeming itself against Auburn, the Wake Forest – Virginia Tech match up and Illinois officially sending Buckeye Nation into a full blown WoodyHayesesque rampage fest in Columbus. Let’s just hope the students don’t all start punching each other in the face.

"I mean it won't be quite like Woody...Nobody's quite like Woody."

That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “Between the Yankees, Jets and Longhorns, the end of 2011 is starting to look an awful lot like the ulcer inducing end of 2010 that almost killed the themanbearpig. Wait to see if a panic post pops up in early December.”

NCAAF Week 5: Ascendency in the Southwest, Boise’s Vengence and My Bad About Clemson…And A Bunch of Other Teams

Week 5 in college football brought increasing clarity to the college landscape as it moved into its second month. Wisconsin showed that it will take Russell Wilson having a leg amputated for them to lose in the Big 10 this year (and even that might not do the trick). Alabama made mince meat out of yet another conference opponent and exposed Florida for exactly what it is; a potential runner up in a very watered down SEC East. Pittsburgh clarified how overrated South Florida is while muddling up the Big East picture completely. Stanford made crystal clear that Andrew Luck can indeed do it all (although they probably won’t be asking him to take that risk again for the rest of the season). And Boise State clarified nothing, because anyone paying attention was already very clear about how good they are (even when Kellen Moore has the occasional off day).

It also brought a huge helping of humble pie to yours truly. In last week’s column I continued to doubt Clemson’s ability after they beat two straight ranked opponents, mostly because their history is largely filled with massive let downs. I completely ignored how pedestrian Virginia Tech had looked in a few of its games against terrible competition and simply assumed that the bullies of the ACC would continue their dominance. So shame on me for thinking that one season’s performance has anything to do with the next. I also owe an apology to Aggie fans. Sure your team managed to lose a big time match up yet again, but you dominated the first half of the contest and only lost by 4. While I still believe you’ll do no better in the SEC than you did in the Big XII, at least your team put up a tough fight. I owe an apology to Michigan, solely because there is no way you’ll lose more than two games from here on out (although it’s solely because you don’t get the one Big Ten team worthy of the top five, let alone the top ten). I also owe an apology to Kansas State. Last week I inferred that Miami’s loss to you guys proved how bad both they and Ohio State are. After the Baylor win though I’m convinced. Robert Griffin is definitely a Heisman contender, and your team managed to finally squeak by another one of his epic performances. Congrats.

"Oh another dangerous team in the Big XII huh?...Fannntastic."

Still, I will not apologize to the ACC. You might have two undefeated teams now, but you’ll figure out a way to screw this up. There’s something in your conference’s DNA that continuously forces its football teams to blow it. You guys once let Wake Forest win the conference. Wake Forest! Plus that whole pillaging the Big East twice in one decade thing will karmically come back to bite you in the ass. I’m envisioning either a tie in the match up of your last two unbeatens (Georgia Tech and Clemson) or a trip to the national championship game where your representative team will literally lose to WisconsiOklaLSBamaFord by 100 points. It will happen.

"This ^ but double USC's point total...and replace USC."

Without further ado, here are some other things I took away from week 5:

  • Two teams in the Southwest emerged from week 5 with big wins. One was Kansas State, and if you don’t think the Baylor win is an important one you haven’t been watching. Baylor emerged from its first bowl game in eons a year ago to kick off this season with a huge victory over an admittedly down (relative to past years) TCU team. Even with the loss Robert Griffin and Baylor are still very much in the running for Big XII third fiddle with Texas (a team they beat last year) and A&M. Now, because of this win over the Bears, Kansas State can be added to the mix as well. And when every team in a conference have to play each other, any head to head win against the top five or so teams can be huge.
  • The other team that got a season defining win in week 5 was SMU, a team that beat (you guessed it) 20th ranked TCU. Most people know the story of SMU’s death penalty in the 1980s by now. Many don’t know how drastic the team’s turnaround has been since bringing in June Jones in 2008. Their rise has been very similar to another much maligned program talked about on this blog; Temple. The difference is that, as a big university situated in the middle of top notch metropolitan Texas recruiting territory with new facilities and a growing fan base, SMU has all the advantages to sustain itself that Temple does not. Add in a great coach that I thought was suicidal for going there initially and you have a recipe for success. With a season defining win in 2011, it will be interesting to see how the rest of its season plays out in a worse than usual Conference USA. Watch for the November 19th match up with undefeated Houston.

"The missing piece of Rick Perry's resume? He hasn't given the death penalty to a college football program...yet."

  • I won’t spend long on this but good job by Boise avenging their one loss from last season. That they owned Nevada with Kellen Moore having the worst games of his career just speaks to the talent and versatility of the Broncos. While their perpetually underrated defense shot down Nevada’s Pistol Offense (they put up 516 yards on Oregon…and less than 200 on Boise) Doug Martin and the offense went to work making up for a relatively inefficient day by Moore (lowest single game passer rating of his career). Moore, by the way, still has 14 touchdowns on the season to just 4 interceptions, is throwing at a 74% clip and has an overall quarterback rating of 170.8. We’ll forgive his occasional mediocre performance.

The big match ups in week 6 are Florida-LSU and Oklahoma-Texas. Florida showed last week that it still has another year to go before its back in the upper tier of the SEC again, but it’s these SEC West games that will prepare its young offensive backfield to rise under Will Muschamp. I’m interested to see whether Florida’s defense can learn how to recover from its first loss under their first year coach, who was the most highly touted defensive coordinator in the nation before landing his dream gig with the Gators. I don’t need to tell any casual college football fan how monumental Texas-Oklahoma is. One of these two teams has won the conference every year since 2004 and six times since 2000 one of them has gone on to the national title game (only once was it the loser; ’08 Oklahoma). Think about those statistics for a second. No single match up in college football has had the same impact on the national championship scene as this one over the past 11 years. Forget Alabama-Florida. Forget Ohio State-Michigan. Forget Notre Dame-USC, Navy-Army or Western Michigan-Central Michigan (kidding). The Red River Rivalry is the best one in college football right now.

"The Texas State Fair: Home to college football's best rivalry and every heart surgeon's worst nightmare."

Lastly, there are 15 undefeated teams left and at least one will have fallen by 3 PM Eastern Standard Time (OU-UT) this Saturday. Here are the remaining undefeateds and a brief outlook on what their remaining schedules look like.  Five undefeated teams reside in the Big XII, all of which are 4-0. Outside of the obvious, Kansas State (against Missouri) and Texas Tech (against Texas A&M) will have very tough tests this week. I think they both lose, while Oklahoma State goes to 5-0 ahead of its match up with Texas in two Saturdays. The conference with the 2nd most undefeateds is the surprising Big Ten.  While I can’t imagine Wisconsin losing the rest of the way (their only remaining ranked opponent is number 19 Illinois), the other two (that same Illini team and Michigan) have a lot more convincing to do. Michigan has the easier road, missing Wisconsin completely while getting ranked Nebraska and OSU at home. I doubt they’ll stay undefeated but this is looking more and more like a successful debut for Brady Hoke. As for Illinois, they could actually last into November as an unbeaten, saving Ron Zook’s job yet again in the process (seriously, will he just go away?). Unfortunately, they immediately get the pleasure of facing both the Wolverines and the Badgers at home. I have a feeling both will find Champagne to be very hospitable.

"Ron Zook: The Rasputin to Illinois' Tsar."

Clemson and Georgia Tech should be good until their November match up, although they each have trap games the week before in North Carolina and Miami respectively. Outside of Virginia Tech those might be the two next best teams in the conference…yeesh. Stanford is another team I can’t picture losing this season. The only other ranked teams in the Pac 12 right now are Oregon (who the Cardinal get at home) and Arizona State (who they don’t even play). Andrew Luck over-hype should be at ulcer inducing levels by early December. The last two unbeatens (and the only teams with BCS busting potential) are Houston and Boise State. Houston is led by Case Keenum, a 6th year senior with a realistic shot at breaking Timmy Chang’s career passing yards mark. While I could see him doing just that, I can’t see Houston staying undefeated. They get that tough SMU team in November and haven’t looked particularly dominant this season.

As for Kellen Moore and crew, they went out and did what everyone asked. They beat Georgia, in Georgia, by an even 2 touchdowns and have built up a nice resume over the past 10 seasons. This year San Diego State could be a trap game, as could Air Force and TCU, but Boise came into a weakened Mountain West Conference that doesn’t have BYU or Utah anymore. Subsequently, Boise will have little to point towards outside of its Georgia win when trying to vault past a Stanford or Wisconsin (or Oklahoma or, dare I say, Clemson!). If they can go 12-0 and see Georgia make it to the SEC Championship at 10-2 they might have an argument if the Bulldogs knock off whoever’s on the other side in Atlanta. Otherwise, it’s another consolation prize for Boise…that could very well be a Sugar Bowl match up with another SEC team. Ho fucking hum.

"Been there, beat that (ass)."

That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “AJ Burnett is 1-0 in the 2011 playoffs, has allowed 1 run and went 1/3 of an inning longer than CC Sabathia who is 0-1 and allowed 4 earned runs. The Phillies are tied in the NLDS with St. Louis, a team that got into the playoffs on the last day of the season, and the Phillies have allowed 6, 5, 2, and 5 runs in four games. The Texas Rangers are in the ALCS for the second year in a row. Boys and Girls; your 2011 MLB playoffs.”

"SERIOUSLY? Seriously..."

NCAAF Week 4: Can You Win the SEC Without Offense?, What’s Going On With Gene Chizik’s Defenses?, and Will Texas and Florida Being Giant Slayers??

Hype was the name of the game going into week 4 of the college football season. There were 4 games pitting top 25 teams against each other, including 3 very important in-conference match ups for the SEC, Big XII and ACC. That the games didn’t exactly live up to that hype is almost secondary in nature, when you look at how many pretenders were exposed and how many contenders were seemingly anointed. In the process the annual ritual of over-hype in college football got off to a fast start when November’s meeting between LSU and Alabama started being called a de facto national title game…in September. Still, you had to be impressed by the way those teams dominated their respective match ups Saturday.

"We know there's like 3 months of football left to play but just call the season now guys."

Alabama made Arkansas look positively Big 10-like in a big SEC West evisceration while LSU made West Virginia look positively Big East-like (surprise!) in another win over a top-20 team. The Mountaineers largely flailed in their ESPN-hyped first shot at auditioning for the SEC, but look at it this way; they’ve been the closest to beating the Tigers in four games this season (they were only down by six late in the third quarter). Elsewhere Oklahoma galloped back to beat Missouri, handling the supposed exhaustion-hype one week after winning a close game over Florida State. The Seminoles weren’t so lucky in their game against Clemson, losing a trap-hyped ACC match up yours truly wasn’t sure the Tigers could handle in last week’s post. Temple looked past the Terrapin’s uniform-hype (both Randy Edsall’s philosophy and, you know, the uniforms) and did something they hadn’t done since 1991:  Win a road game against a BCS conference team. Fans of the Owls are hooting hype on the small inner city Philadelphia campus. But nowhere was the hype bigger than on every form of sports media Saturday Night and Sunday morning.

"WE ARE THE OWLS!...wait, that can't be our mascot."

In an outpouring of commendation that’s become all too familiar in the sports world, the SEC West’s mighty “Duo of the Deep South” (dibs on the trademark) became the far and away contenders for the national championship with barely 1/3rd of the season gone. This is especially hilarious when you consider that one will have to knock the other out of the national championship race (if it hasn’t happened already) 5 days after Halloween. Regardless, the pundits are convinced. It’s LSU, Alabama and then everyone else in what is now a 2 horse race to the national title. My only advice to the casual college football fan deciding that the season might as well be over is this; “don’t let the hype hit you on the way out.” With that, here are some other things I took away from week 4:

"Paul Finnebaum ^. Can you imagine how much of a blowhard he'd be if the SEC HADN'T won the last 5 national championships?"

  • Auburn proved last year that you can win the national title without much defense. Granted they had a wunderkind of a quarterback that had one of the greatest single year careers in college football history, but the fact still remains that they won. So logically in 2011 the question becomes not whether you can win with just offense, but whether you can win without it. Lost in the hullabaloo (I met my quota on using the word hype about 10 hypes ago) of college football’s week 4 was the fact that the offenses for the “Duo of the Deep South” were decidedly mediocre. Sure Jarret Lee had 3 touchdown passes and his best game to date, but he also only had 180 yards and has largely looked ok in the first 4 games. Alabama obviously has Trent Richardson and a slew of great running backs but their passing game is ranked somewhere in the middle of the FBS. These two teams have been able to blow out their opponents through phenomenal field position or defensive and special teams touchdowns. They’ve created an amazing amount of havoc on the defensive side of the football, leaving their offenses will relatively little responsibility to produce. Indeed, Lee has been applauded for simply “managing” his offense instead of leading it. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens when these two meet in November. If one can score enough in that match up (I’m talking like 9 points) and remain undefeated we may see a very different national title contender from the SEC in 2011 than we did in 2010.
  • Speaking of poor defenses, how horrendous is the one that Auburn has trotted out for the last 18 games? We knew this unit struggled last year (and was repeatedly bailed out by Cam Newton) but the overall performance has dropped more significantly without the talents of Nick Fairley to occupy 2 or 3 offensive linemen at a time. The most incomprehensible aspect of this lack of defensive prowess isn’t a dearth of talent or the fact that Auburn plays in the SEC. The most incomprehensible part is that Gene Chizik, a guy who made his entire career on defense, coaches it! Chizik was the defensive coordinator for one of the most underrated 11 man squads in recent history, the 2005 Texas Longhorns. That group held up their end of the bargain in the 2006 Rose Bowl, stopping USC (probably the most balanced offense in the history of college football) on a 4th and 1 that gave Vince Young the ball back with about 2 minutes to play. The rest, as they say, is history. Before that Chizik was a highly sought after SEC defensive coordinator. And yet as a head coach his defenses at Iowa State and Auburn have been largely inept. What gives?

"As long as I have Cam Newton, I don't need no stinkin defense. Wait..."

  • Lastly, it’s time to drop Denard Robinson from any Heisman Trophy lists. While he is certainly one of the most exciting to watch in college football, he is certainly not the best player in college football, particularly at his own position. That designation probably goes to Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin, Brandon Wheedon or maybe even Case Keenum. Factor in skill players like Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon, Marcus Lattimore, LaMichael James and pretty much anyone in LSU’s secondary and that’s a top 10 that definitely doesn’t include Robinson. In fact, it’s really not even close. Look, he’s an amazing runner, that sometimes passes competently, but a stat line for a quarterback that reads 80 passing yards and a 0:2 touchdown to interception ratio against San Diego State just isn’t getting it done. So enjoy the player, but please stop with the insane hype (damnit, there’s that word again).

While I usually look past the more discussed games of the week in this section of the post I have to talk about the roles that two teams, Texas and Florida, could play in the national championship picture over the next three weeks. On one side Florida gets number 3 ranked Alabama this week then number 1 LSU the week after that. On the other side Texas gets number 2 Oklahoma next week (after a date with Iowa State on Saturday) and then number 5 Oklahoma State the week after that. That’s 4 of the top 5 ranked teams in the country with Texas and Florida having a chance to knock off one or all of them. Should they accomplish what would be an extremely difficult feat, Texas and Florida would almost certainly become the nation’s front runners. And it’s not completely unheard of. The Longhorns, sometimes as an underdog, ran through a gauntlet very similar to this in September and October of 2008, and were the national front runners before getting burned by Texas Tech on the last play of their Halloween contest. The difference between this Texas team and that one? The ’08 addition had year 3 of Colt McCoy, the eventual Heisman runner up. The Gators had similar in conference tests on their way to the ’06 and ’08 national championships, so they certainly aren’t new to the competition or the success. They’re better equipped than Texas to make a run this year, mainly because of their talented defense and loaded backfield of Chris Rainey and Jeffrey Demps. Still, they also get the tougher two teams, regardless of what the rankings say. Regardless of what happens it will be a hell of a way to kick off the meat of the season.

"It was Halloween time at St. Mary's College so, technically I don't remember any of this."

In addition to the headliners there are plenty of others to keep an eye on. Clemson – Virginia Tech: This is a must see mainly because it’s the last time this season the ACC will have two teams within 3 spots of the top 10, let alone have both of them actually playing each other. Clemson hasn’t left Death Valley all season. Virginia Tech has owned (with a capital O) the ACC since joining the conference. Sorry Clemson, your run of weeks in the top 15 ends at exactly…1. Michigan State-Ohio State:  If the Buckeyes lose this game it’s officially panic time in Columbus. The Spartans lost to Notre Dame by 18 points and OSU lost to a Miami team that just lost to Kansas State. This game has “whoever loses officially becomes a massive disappointment” written all over it. Air Force-Navy: Air Force ended Navy’s ridiculous run of 7 straight Commander-in-Chiefs Trophy wins last season (that is, of course, if you don’t count Notre Dame…) and the Midshipmen dropped a heartbreaker to South Carolina 2 weeks ago. Ken Niumatalolo’s crew will be ready for the Falcons at home. Arkansas-Texas A&M:  I was saving this one until the bitter end, mainly because I want this post to be what you’re reminded of as Arkansas rudely and prematurely welcomes the Aggies into the SEC. A&M just bombed against Oklahoma State, and even though the Razorbacks were completely outclassed by Alabama they also took the Crimson’s punches and kept coming. Tyler Wilson is one tough SOB, and there’s no way the Aggies will even remotely hit, run or really do anything like Alabama did a week ago. Sorry Lubbock, you will not be rocking for the second week in a row.

"You're not a real patriot unless you watch the Navy-Air Force game this weekend...and root for Navy."

That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “I tweeted that if Moneyball was anything like the last day of the real life baseball season then it would be the greatest movie ever. It wasn’t that…but it sure was good. Stylistically it was very cool, the music was perfect, the dialogue was great, the acting on point and they managed to capture the essence of sabermetrics very well and tossed in just the right amount of comedic relief to go with it. All the while they made the numbers game interesting, which is exactly what Michael Lewis did so well with his book in the first place. Add in some terrific suspense with Oakland’s 20 game win streak in 2002 (again much like the book) and it was a riveting watch. Bravo for being able to make a baseball movie matter again with some pretty heady material.”