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.
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.
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:
- 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?
- 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.
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.
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.”