Week 9 (10/28/06) CFB Picks and Discussions

RJ Esq

Prick Since 1974
2006-07 CFB YTD
48-30-2 (61.34%) +34 Units

2-3 last week. First losing week of the year, but not that bad. Weird week and season is changing so have to roll with the punches.

All plays for $250 for 2 units unless stated otherwise.

Buffalo +37 (-110)
Nebraska -5.5 (-109)
Aggy/Baylor Over 52 (-110)
Northwestern +35 (-120) for 5 units (compared to usual 2)
UCF +18 (+100)
BYU -7 (-120)

Texas--Want 11, 10, or under
Tulsa--Under -14 or -13
Clemson-- Looking to lay a FG at most
Aggy--Like to get -3 or so (this has been a tough game lately for Aggy)
Florida--Under -14 or -13
OU--Looking for +3 or better (Sometime during this game Mizzou should remember they are Mizzou)
Rutgers--Would like -17 but under -21 is probably still money
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CFN's Who's Hot and Who's Not

Who’s Hot …

Texas A&M games
You want fun? Watch Texas A&M. There were blowout wins over Citadel, UL Lafayette, and Louisiana Tech, but the other five games have been heart-stoppers. The Aggies held on with a goal line stand as time ran out to beat Army, lost to Texas Tech on a 37-yard touchdown pass with :26 to play, beat Kansas on a touchdown run with :34 to play, beat Missouri by hanging on to the ball with a big late drive, and beat Oklahoma State in overtime this week as
Stephen McGee threw a two-yard touchdown pass with three seconds to play in regulation, Jorvorskie Lane ran for a one-yard score in overtime, and sealed the win when Red Bryant blocked an extra-point attempt after the Cowboys scored on a 15-yard Adarius Bowman touchdown

Western Michigan LB Ameer Ismail
Who's the nation's best player you've never heard of? It might be Ismail, who's the best defensive player in the MAC this year with 60 tackles, two interceptions, 16 tackles for loss, and 11 sacks after tying an NCAA record with seven in the 41-27 win over Ball State this week.

Baylor QB Shawn Bell
Bell is setting record after record in the new passing offense and has been unstoppable over the last few weeks. After throwing for 303 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to Texas, the senior threw for 394 yards and five scores with three in the final 9:22 to beat Kansas 36-35. On the year, he has 2,322 yards completing 63% of his passes with 18 touchdowns with ten interceptions. He's currently tenth in the nation in total offense.

Rutgers RB Ray Rice
Rice is currently second in the nation in rushing behind Garrett Wolfe of Northern Illinois, and is quickly getting in range for the top spot. The sophomore ran for 93 yards in the 34-0 win over Navy, bit ran for 100 yards or more in the other six games highlighted by a 225-yard performance this week in the 20-10 win over Pitt.

Notre Dame on 4th downsBoise State, Western Michigan, Iowa, and UL Lafayette have better fourth down conversion percentages, but outside of a stuffed Brady Quinn sneak late in the miracle win over over UCLA, no one comes up with bigger plays on fourth downs than Notre Dame. The Irish have converted 14 of 18 chances, more than anyone but New Mexico and Toledo.
Who’s Not …[SIZE=-1]
[/SIZE][FONT=verdana, arial,
sans serif]
Kansas in close games[/FONT]The Jayhawks were able to beat South Florida 13-7 and got by UL Monroe (more on this team in a minute) 21-19, but they've lost four straight in soul-crushing late fashion, and lost to Toledo in mid-September in two overtimes. They lost to Nebraska in overtime after a big second half comeback, they lost to Texas A&M on a last-second touchdown run, lost to Oklahoma State on a Bobby Reid to Adarius Bowman record setting second half, and this week, lost to Baylor 36-35 after giving up three touchdown passes in the final 9:22. You could argue that KU is roughly six plays away from being 8-0.

UL Monroe in close games
Maybe the program should go back to being the Indians. After beating Alcorn State to start the season, the Warhawks have lost six straight getting outscored 21-0 in the second half by Middle Tennessee in this week's 35-21 loss. Four of the losses have come by a total of 13 points, while this week's game was close up until the final few minutes.

Illinois vs. Penn State
Since the two first played in 1954, Penn State is 12-2 vs. Illinois with the Illini never winning in Happy Valley. The problems for Illinois continued this week with a 26-12 loss thanks to a late Nittany Lions flurry with a sack for a safety and a returned onside kick for a score. Penn State lost in Champaign 33-28 in 2001 to the Sugar Bowl bound Illinois team that went 10-2, and lost 10-8 in 1960.

Florida State Florida State, the team that has owned the ACC since joining the league in 1992, is currently last in the ACC's Atlantic Division following a 24-19 loss to Boston College. The running game was non-existent against the Eagles gaining only 28 yards, with Seminole running backs gaining 16 if them, while three turnovers proved costly. Closing out with Maryland, Virginia, Wake Forest, Western Michigan and Florida the Noles have to be perfect to avoid a third straight season with four losses or more. The Noles hadn't lost more than two games in a season from 1987 to 2000.

New Mexico State and fumbles
The Aggies have a hard time hanging on to the ball, and it's not because of its running game. After losing two fumbles in the loss to Hawaii, NMSU is now tied with Louisiana Tech for the most fumbles with 13 with the drops usually come when the receivers get popped after the catch. Throw in the 13 interceptions, and only Illinois, Louisiana Tech and Army have turned it over more.
Human Polls


Personally, I think--and maybe you all will agree--that professional and even amatuer sports gamblers like us have a better grip on how the teams should be ranked.

The guys at Las Vegas Sports Consultants agree, not surprisingly. Just in case you were interested, here is their top 25 which would've been released the same week as the first BCS poll (parenthesis is AP rank that same week):

  1. Ohio State (1)
  2. Texas (6)
  3. Southern Cal (3)
  4. Michigan (4)
  5. Florida (2)
  6. Cal (10)
  7. LSU (14)
  8. Louisville (7)
  9. Tennessee (8)
  10. Notre Dame (9)
  11. Clemson (12)
  12. Oregon (18)
  13. West Virginia (5)
  14. Oklahoma (23)
  15. Nebraska (21)
  16. Auburn (11)
  17. Wisconsin (25)
  18. Missouri (19)
  19. Boise State (20)
  20. Georgia Tech (13)
  21. Miami (NR)
  22. Virginia Tech (23)
  23. Iowa (15)
  24. Penn State (NR)
  25. BYU (NR)
Personally, I think USC should have been much lower but happy to see L-ville lower than 6th in the polls. Those are my two overvalued teams.
RJ, LVSC actually has Michigan below USC??! That seems difficult to believe. Glad to see LSU at 7 despite their two losses; this team is as talented as they come...
I'll give you Texas over USC maybe, but I have a real tough time putting Texas ahead of Michigan. Texas is a good team, but I just feel like Michigan is more solid all around...

Buffalo +37
Nebraska -5.5

Nebraska is a covering machine and coming off a tough loss at home. Still they want to have a shot at the BCS and a rematch with Texas. They will come out big against an Okie Lite team without Reid at QB.

BC is giving too many spots in this one. Definite down spot in BC in the schedule. If Buffalo scores 7 or 10 they cover.
Wow that Nebraska line definately sticks out... Oky State's backup aint bad... but against this defense... they'll be forced to pass pass pass...

Love them to win by a TD... whipped a KSU team on the road two weeks ago... figure they should do it here... and would think you could get 7 or 7.5 on the other side by gametime.
What you think about Tenny? They seem to get up for road games just as much as homers... very stingy vs. the pass as seen with game vs. Florida.. letup only like 160 or so through the air per game I believe.

SC a little overvalued here... layed 3 vs. GA and got romped at home... Tenny superior to GA...

but looking for some good opinions on it..

I added Buffalo and NEB already... the later much larger
Think Tenny is a good play but not playing it right now. I know ABCs and the other SEC homies are on it.


Aggy/Baylor Over 52 (-110)

First total play of the year. This one sticks out. Look at Killa's write up. The total for this game should be in the 60s.
no...going to see if it keeps going down..might parlay the ML with Florida ML.
Hey rj. I'm really liking Nebraska this week. I'll probably join you by tomorrow. Also leaning heavily to Florida State.
Quick Outs

By Richard Cirminiello
Posted Oct 22, 2006

Summa Cum Laude – Clemson – In arguably the best performance of the Tommy Bowden era, Clemson absolutely dominated No. 13 Georgia Tech before a deliriously orange home crowd.

The Tiger offensive line was brilliant, blowing open 338 yards worth of holes for the dynamic running combination of James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Spiller’s coming-out-party in front of a national TV audience was the exclamation point in a perfectly orchestrated performance by the Tigers.

2. Michigan State – Down 38-3 to Northwestern, the Spartans rallied in the second-half for the biggest comeback in college football history. Drew Stanton was a warrior, giving hope for a December bowl game, while lending a much-needed boost to beleaguered head coach John L. Smith.

3. Western Michigan LB Ameer Ismail – The Broncos wanted to get pressure on Ball State quarterbacks Saturday afternoon in Muncie. Check. Ismail recorded six sacks, tying Elvis Dumervil’s NCAA mark, to go along with 13 tackles and an interception return for a touchdown.

4. Baylor QB Shawn Bell – Bell rallied Baylor from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit against Kansas, throwing for a Bear-record 394 yards and five touchdowns, three in the final 9:22 to pull out the stunning victory.

5. Rutgers – When will Rutgers’ Cinderella joy ride end? Who knows? They were supposed to succumb to red-hot Pitt at Heinz Field, but instead, suffocated Tyler Palko with five sacks, equaling the number the Panthers had allowed in the first seven games combined.

Summa Cum Lousy – Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson – Yeah, he was doubled and his quarterback wasn’t 100%, but the only thing anyone will remember about Saturday’s game with Clemson is that Johnson was shutout for the first time in his Tech career. Not a single catch in the biggest game of the season.

2. Northwestern – Up 38-3 early in the third quarter and seemingly on its way to breaking a four-game losing streak, the Wildcats completely collapsed, becoming the first team in I-A history to lose a game when up by 35 points.

3. Air Force – With a chance to remain atop the Mountain West heading into this week’s showdown with BYU, the Falcons became San Diego State’s first victim of 2006.

4. Northern Illinois RB Garrett Wolfe – For the second straight week, the nation’s leading rusher was muzzled by a really bad defense. Against the same Temple team that’s 118th nationally stopping the run, Wolfe could only manage 45 yards on 17 carries.

5. Florida State – Bet you didn’t think you’d ever see the day that the Noles occupied the basement of the ACC Atlantic. After losing at home to Boston College in an ugly performance, Florida State is 4-3 and completely out of the league race.

Offensive Coordinator of the Week – Mike Levenseller, Washington State –Maligned all year for its feeble play, the Wazzu offense finally caught up with the defense, helping lead the program to a statement upset of Oregon. The Cougars got a pair of touchdown passes and just three incompletions from sporadic QB Alex Brink and a career-high 145 yards on the ground from sophomore Dwight Tardy in the 34-23 victory.

Defensive Coordinator of the Week – Vic Koenning, Clemson – The Tigers created up field pressure all night, holding Georgia Tech to a fluky touchdown reception and only 238 yards of total offense. Oh yeah, Koenning’s also have the distinction of being the only defense on the planet to hold All-American WR Calvin Johnson without a catch.

In theory, the prevent defense makes sense—keep the play in front of the secondary, while forcing the opposition to burn through a ton of clock with dump offs and short routes. In reality, it’s often the trailing team’s best chance for victory. Witness the UCLA game, which the Bruins dominated defensively until they got soft on Notre Dame’s final drive. The pressure that Brady Quinn felt all afternoon was non-existent, allowing the Irish to navigate 80 yards in just 35 seconds for the win. That said, Jeff Samardzija, who hauled in the game-winner, continues to be one of the game’s most lethal receivers after the catch.

Very quietly, Wisconsin is emerging as a really solid football team that’s an upset in Iowa City on Nov. 11 from going 11-1. P.J. Hill and John Stocco continue to channel Ron Dayne and Darrell Bevell, respectively, while the defense has been sensational, but be sure to save some credit for the 7-1 start for Barry Alvarez. Yeah, yeah, he laid the foundation for the program years ago, but it was his decision to name Bret Bielema the head coach before the start of the 2005 season that’s helped make his first-season as the head man such a smooth transition from being the Badgers’ defensive coordinator.

To understand the importance of takeaways in football, all you had to was watch the final few minutes of the entertaining game between Texas and Nebraska. With 2:17 left and the Huskers about to ice the clock, Longhorn S Aaron Ross separated Terrence Nunn from the ball, allowing teammate Marcus Griffin to make the recovery. On the ensuing drive, which would end with a game-winning field goal from walk-on Ryan Bailey, Texas WR Quan Cosby coughed the ball up, but offensive lineman Kasey Studdard alertly pounced on the ball. In the final 157 seconds, the ‘Horns won the turnover margin 1-0 to become the last Big 12 team unbeaten in league play.

On the game’s final play, Duke came within a few yards from upsetting Miami at Wallace Wade Stadium, another chapter in the Canes’ season of discontent. Even short-handed, had Miami lost to the lowly Blue Devils, Larry Coker might have raced across the field with a helmet and started beating some of his defensive players...and, really, who would have blamed the down-trodden head coach?

With the departures of senior QB D.J. Shockley and three offensive linemen, expectations were low for the Georgia offense in 2006. The defense, however, has been one of October’s disappointments, allowing 99 points in losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt and Saturday’s narrow home escape with 2-6 Mississippi State. That’s too many points for a unit that features a large handful of future NFL players.

Missouri’s first win over Kansas State since 1992 sent a clear signal to the rest of the Big 12 that the Tigers are not going away in 2006. Mizzou could have been flat after losing for the first time last week, but instead ended the ‘Cats 13-game wining streak in this series behind an increasingly familiar formula, the passing of Chase Daniel and the play of the ball-hawking defense. Nebraska’s loss to Texas means the Nov. 4 game between the Tigers and the Huskers will likely decide the North champion.

If you’re looking to champion one Wolverine on your Heisman ballot, choose Mike Hart over Chad Henne. Hart proved again on Saturday why he’s the MVP of the Michigan offense, grinding out 126 yards and two scores on 31 tough carries to help Michigan out last Iowa and stay unbeaten. Henne and the Wolverines have obviously missed WR Mario Manningham the last two weekends, but Hart has made sure the offense has done just enough to get the wins.

Kudos to Washington State for knocking Oregon out of the Pac-10 race, while unexpectedly moving into the league’s first division. The number of yards the defense surrendered paints an inaccurate picture of how well it played. The Cougars kept the high-powered Duck offense out of the end zone until midway through the fourth quarter, when the outcome had already long been decided.

For now, Troy Smith is making sure that this year’s Heisman race lacks intrigue, but next year’s competition is just heating up. West Virginia’s Steve Slaton and Pat White, Rutgers’ Ray Rice, Wisconsin’s P.J. Hill, Clemson’s James Davis, Arkansas’ Darren McFadden and Boise State’s Ian Johnson may not win in 2006, but each is spending this fall auditioning in front of voters for the 2007 and 2008 awards. With the exception of Hill, who’s a redshirt freshman, the group is comprised entirely of sophomores, which will all be back next year with the head start in national recognition that didn’t fully exist before this season began.

You get the feeling that the winner of the Nov. 2 game between West Virginia and Louisville is going to lose a game to Rutgers or Pittsburgh? Yeah, me too. Neither the Mountaineers nor the Cardinals have looked invincible in a long, long time, and with all the hype being given next Thursday’s mega-tilt, you have to wonder if both teams will spend the month of November coming down from the high of that game.

Whatever happened to that resurgence North Carolina State was about to undergo after beating Boston College and Florida State? Since upsetting the ‘Noles, the Pack has lost to Wake Forest and Maryland, settling back into its old familiar state of mediocrity. With Chuck Amato on the sidelines, this program is always capable of shocking a ranked team, but sustained excellence will forever escape it.

The Terps, on the other hand, are quietly 5-2 and an upset away from sneaking into the rear end of the Top 25. This is not a great football team, and the second-half schedule is brutal, however, one more win gets Maryland to a bowl, which is what Ralph Friedgen needs to instill a little confidence back into the program.

With games left against Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Middle Tennessee State and Clemson, South Carolina could wind up facing the SEC East, SEC West, Sun Belt and ACC champs before the end of the 2006 season.

The Using-School-Funds-Wisely Award for 2006 goes to Northern Illinois, which refrained from spending money to hype Garrett Wolfe for the Heisman, when he was at his peak in popularity a few weeks ago. Head coach Joe Novak remembers getting left with excess inventory after the school increased its marketing budget for Michael Turner three years ago, and didn’t want to get burned again. Shrewd move. Wolfe’s been held to just 70 yards and no scores the last two weeks, essentially ending his Heisman bid.

The Using-School-Funds-Poorly Award for 2006 goes to Kansas, which gave head coach Mark Mangino a contract extension through 2010, which nearly tripled his annual salary to $1.5 million. Huh? Was there that much of an urgency to lock up a coach that’s now 22-34 in his Jayhawk career, losing his fourth straight Saturday after his team completely collapsed to Baylor in the fourth quarter.

Maybe the time hasn’t come for Texas Tech’s Mike Leach to bench Graham Harrell in favor of freshman Chris Todd after all. Harrell broke out of a mini-slump at the expense of the Iowa State defense, tossing six touchdown passes in a near perfect 31-of-40 afternoon in Ames.

Texas A&M has a genuine winner in QB Stephen McGee that it can build around for the next two seasons. The sophomore continued to play well late in tight games, leading the Aggies to their seventh victory with a game-tying drive that culminated with a touchdown pass with three ticks left. McGee was sharp in the passing game and also led the Aggies with 86 yards on 17 carries.

After last week’s meltdown against Boston College, Virginia Tech got the crisp effort it desperately needed against Southern Miss. Clemson and Miami are up next, meaning the Hokies are still mathematically alive for the ACC’s Coastal division if last Saturday’s win winds up being a turning point in the season.

For just the third time in school history, Central Michigan is 5-0 in MAC play, jumping out to an unexpected lead in the Western Division. That’s great news for a program that hasn’t won a league title in 12 years and was picked to finish in the bottom half of the division before the season began. Or not. The flip side of success is that young head coach Brian Kelly might be bucking for a promotion after leading the Chips to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1991.
Ditto Tulsa’s Steve Kragthorpe, whose work bringing the Golden Hurricane to the top of Conference USA has not been lost on BCS programs. He’s a tremendous executive and offensive tactician that would do very well at a larger school or as an NFL head coach.

New Mexico has found the silver lining in Kole McKamey’s season-ending injury, the emergence of freshman Donovan Porterie as the program’s quarterback of the future. Yeah, he’s still predictably raw, but he’s also lit a fire under the Lobo offense, guiding it to 73 points in two games, highlighted by last week’s 34-31 comeback win over Utah.
5 Thoughts - The Demise of the Noles


By Staff
Posted Oct 22, 2006

Why are there so many computers being used in the BCS formula? Has everyone forgotten what's been happening on the field? How appropriate was Florida State's choice of black on Saturday in a dying season? These and more in the latest 5 Thoughts.

In case you forgot

[FONT=verdana, arial, sans serif][SIZE=-2]By Pete Fiutak [/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=verdana, arial, sans serif][SIZE=-2]
[/SIZE][/FONT]1. For those of you who want a playoff, you've got it and aren't really realizing it. All the time, fans need to be reminded of the old cliché that every week's a playoff in college football, but you have to accept the results.

California lost to Tennessee. Auburn lost to Arkansas. Arkansas lost to USC. I know, I know, I’ve given the dead-horse, this-team-lost-to-this-team ranking argument an extra few whacks over the last few weeks, but there’s a point I do feel I need to keep harping on: don’t forget about what actually happened on the field.

It’s convenient and easy to say Clemson is the nation’s best one-loss team after a dominant home performance against Georgia Tech, but this is the same team that came this close to losing to Wake Forest and lost to Boston College, another one-loss team. Would I take Arkansas over Auburn in a rematch? No, but I don’t have to; the two teams already played. Do I think Cal is better than Tennessee right now? Well, yeah, but the Vols already won that matchup.

The point is that you can’t let your perceptions get in the way of the results. If you’re not going to go by what happened, and rank the teams accordingly by rewarding the teams that won and punish the ones that lost, then why even play the games? Why not just hand the national title to Ohio State right now because you think it’s the best team, just like you handed it to USC in late October of last year, Oklahoma in 2003, and Miami in 2002.

One computer, one standard

[FONT=verdana, arial, sans serif][SIZE=-2]By Pete Fiutak
[/SIZE][/FONT]. Quick, explain the difference between the Colley Matrix computer ranking and the Anderson & Hester ranking. You obviously can’t do it, and neither can any other rational human being. The computers are a necessary, cold, unfeeling watchdog to reel in the two human BCS polls in the made up of voters who don’t watch nearly enough college football to have an informed opinion. However, there’s no need to have six different formulas and six different ways to determine how teams should be ranked. That a team like Arkansas can be rated fourth by one formula (Sagarin) and 17th by another (Billingsley) is nuts.

There should be one basic formula that everyone can understand, and it should be the standard. It should include the strength of schedule as a major component, punish teams for beating D-IAA teams, bury teams for losing to D-IAA teams, and give some rewards for wins over elite and punishments for losses against the dregs.

And one final thing; the computer formula should count for more that just 1/3 of the ranking. The humans still feel burned by not having USC in the 2003 national title game, but humans are fallible. The BCS should be about what teams deserve to be in, and not what teams you think should be in. If you’re going to do this BCS thing, give the computers more of a say and come up with an objective way to do this.

Florida State's appropriate color

By Richard Cirminiello
. It was appropriate that Florida State wore black on Saturday. The way the once-mighty Noles have been playing over the last five weeks, they ought to be in mourning. It used to be that no one wanted to play games at Doak-Campbell Stadium, where the home team held a sizable advantage in the areas of intimidation and talent. Not anymore. Troy nearly knocked off Florida State in September before tightening up in the final minutes. Clemson and Boston College weren’t as generous, helping usher the Seminoles to the ACC Atlantic basement with a hard-to-imagine 2-3 conference mark. Against the Eagles Saturday, the nation’s 95th-ranked running attack didn’t even bother to run the ball, knowing it would have no success versus the BC front. By its lofty standards, the Florida State program is broke, and unlike last year, there’ll be no rally for a season-saving conference crown. It’s time to move around the furniture in Tallahassee because the current configuration isn’t working like it did in the past. Maybe that means a total overhaul or just a tweak, but something has to change. The ACC has never been deeper and with Sunshine State studs bolting out of state to places like Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Louisville and NC State at an increasing rate, landing the area’s best recruits has gotten a whole lot more challenging.

Part one of Texas - Nebraska was good

By [FONT=verdana, arial,
sans serif][SIZE=-1]Matthew Zemek[/SIZE][/FONT][FONT=verdana, arial, sans serif][SIZE=-2]
[/SIZE][/FONT]The Texas-Nebraska was not an easy game to analyze. It could be legitimately argued that Nebraska put up a good fight against the Longhorns, but it could just as easily be said that Texas gave the Huskers virtually all the points they scored.
How can the right perspective be found on a game as complex and weird as Horns-Huskers proved to be?

Here's the key: had Texas' defense been slow to react or shaky with its tackling for most of the game's snaps, one could say that Nebraska outclassed the Longhorns. But since Texas' defense was so consistent--particularly against the run--the weight of evidence suggests that a "Texas made mistakes" analysis has more heft than a "Nebraska played well" line of thought. Similarly, the fact that Bill Callahan plainly didn't trust Zac Taylor to throw a money pass on the Huskers' go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter also indicates that Nebraska struggled for the balance of the day.

Reasonable minds can and will disagree, and I'm sure there are plenty of smart football people who think Nebraska played well. There is a case those folks can make for their position, but with that having been said, the verdict here is that Texas very nearly gave Nebraska a gift-wrapped, ready-made victory.

Take heart, Husker fans: the bad weather, in my mind, renders this game a very incomplete measurement of the Callahan restoration project. The fact that Nebraska lost today could actually help the Huskers if they draw the Longhorns in a rematch on Dec. 2. Here's hoping that the weather will be dry and relatively free of wind. Then both offenses--and their playbooks--could truly test the opposition, and we'll walk away with a true feel for how the Huskers and Horns stack up against each other.

Clemson is the real deal

[SIZE=-1]By [/SIZE][SIZE=-1]John Harris[/SIZE]
5. Throughout this year, we’ve heard over and over again about how strong the SEC is and that a one loss team from that conference is better than an undefeated team in, say, the Big East. One other thing that we’ve heard all season long is how poor the ACC is this season. Well, before you go denigrating the ACC one more time this season, take a long, hard look at Clemson. The Tigers put on a show against Georgia Tech and with the running game that they have, they’re not going to be taken down easily. There aren’t many BCS teams who could handle Clemson right now. Think Auburn is the best one loss team in the country? Wonder if they could handle James Davis and CJ Spiller right now – they didn’t stop Arkansas. Texas? If they couldn’t stop Nebraska RB Brandon Jackson, how are they going to stop Lightning and Thunder? Florida? Is Florida’s defense stout enough in the middle to stop the Tigers or could Chris Leak and Tim Tebow handle defensive end Gaines Adams and a fast, physical defense? Notre Dame? Please. It’s fun to project how these teams will fare against one another, but conference strength opinions often cloud our judgment as to what teams ‘deserve’ to be in position to play in a BCS game. Unfortunately, the reputation of the ACC is that it’s having a down year, just like last year was for the Big East. And, tell me what happened when the Big East champ took the field against the big, bad SEC in the Sugar Bowl last year? I’m just saying, be careful not to let conference pride cloud the reality of the situation – the reality is that Clemson is for real this year, just as West Virginia was last year.

Zemek's Weekly Affirmation - 2006


By Matt Zemek
Posted Oct 23, 2006

You know young people: they don't always listen... except in Clemson.

By Matthew Zemek

Last weekend, it seemed that all the teams pursuing Ohio State wanted no part of the No. 2 national ranking. The horn sounded, the trumpet blared, and the call rang forth: make a statement if you really want to be the second-best team in the country. A week later, only Tommy Bowden's Tigers seemed to take the call to heart, and all credit to the Purple Calvin Johnson Eaters for rising to the occasion. Everyone else, though, continued to display the kind of lackluster ball that only serves to reinforce the Big East's argument in the debate that's currently tearing through the college football world.

Let's treat this subject with the depth and detail it deserves--just like any other weighty college football topic. After all, the clash of worldviews involved in the debate between an unbeaten Big East team and a one-loss team from a better BCS conference (if it gets to that point in the race for Glendale) is as profound as it is pronounced. Two deeply-held and very legitimate viewpoints are butting heads here, and they both deserve their due in the court of college football argumentation.

Those who side with the one-loss teams from stronger conferences have many compelling and legitimate arguments on their side. (And it's important for someone who takes an opposing view to represent the other side clearly, accurately and fairly in a given debate. Remember that, college football fans of America.) The best argument is strength of schedule. Ohio State and Texas had the cojones to schedule each other in consecutive years, a fact which rightly puts Mack Brown's Longhorns at the top of the list for Glendale invitees. USC doesn't duck quality opponents in its non-conference schedule--Arkansas and Nebraska are games few other schools would schedule. Michigan annually plays Notre Dame, a strong supplement to any Big Ten slate. If you're a Big East fan, you have to acknowledge that the big boys deserve a lot of respect for what they do... and whom they play. By comparison, West Virginia did play an SEC road game this year... at Mississippi State, the longtime doormat of the league's Western Division.

Before the Big East fans (and especially the wonderful people known as Mountaineers) get all huffy--remember, I am still taking your side in this debate--the obvious must be said: yes, yes, yes--West Virginia didn't know it would be a national title contender when it scheduled this game. Yes, yes, yes--schedule strength levels (see Louisville-Miami) can appear to be substantial but then turn out to be much lower in the weeks after a game is played. Yes, yes, yes--Louisville deserves major kudos for scheduling the Canes, and the dent in UL's strength of schedule rating should clearly not be held against them. But that Miami game is admittedly an exception in Big East circles. The conference needs to make a substantial effort to play big boys in future years when schedule slots are still open. It would solve a lot of questions in the college football world if Louisville could play USC this weekend, and West Virginia could tackle Michigan. Maybe we'll get those matchups down the line; we need them, too, as long as this sport continues to deny its fans a playoff and cling to the insanity and dysfunctionality of the BCS, which is the white elephant in this very big conversation room. But as long as we're stuck with the BCS, teams from lightly-regarded leagues need to schedule top-shelf non-conference opponents. It's just that simple.

Another point made by the advocates of the one-loss teams is that the Big East doesn't yet have quality depth. Among all the other games from this past Saturday, it was a point of professional responsibility for this columnist to devote extra attention to Rutgers-Pittsburgh, in order to discern how the league's two second-tier teams could compete with West Virginia and Louisville down the stretch. After watching two passionate ballclubs fight in Heinz Field with noble intensity--but a paucity of skill position studs on the edges--it's clear that the Mountaineers and Cardinals will go to battle with a lot more offensive potency than their more impoverished conference brethren from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It seems clear that the Big East still lacks the heft and weight possessed by other BCS conferences. Rutgers, the third-best team in the Big East at this point, would seem to be greatly outclassed by the third-best teams in the SEC (Tennessee) and Big Ten (Wisconsin). Pittsburgh, the fourth-best team in the Big East, lost by 28 points (when you ignore two entirely meaningless garbage touchdowns) at home to the same Michigan State ballclub that's been floundering for so much of 2006.

Those are the main arguments working against the Big East and its top teams right now. One hopes the position of the one-loss heavyweights (current or soon-to-be) was represented fairly.

But now we get to the pro-Big East part of this debate. This is where the one-loss teams and their advocates--especially the presidents of these schools, who stand as the real power brokers and potential movement-makers in college football--need to sit back in their chairs and look at life from the perspective of the little guy. A little sympathy and understanding can go a long way.

If you look at the world through the lens of Big East fans--those patient and under-served folks (in football, not hoops) who were so cruelly raided by an ACC that is so delightfully and deliciously choking on a bone of brutally bad football this year--you'd realize that in the football world, the Big East has had to endure a lot of criticism over the past several years, much of it righteous and, moreover, appropriate. All those decisive Syracuse losses in major bowl games had an effect. So, too, did Pittsburgh's dubious Fiesta Bowl invite at the end of the 2004 season. Without Miami and a side helping of Virginia Tech, the Big East wouldn't have had much of a leg to stand on in the past decade. The conference came in for a bashing... not because people hated the league, per se, but because lopsided New Year's bowl games represented a black mark on a sport that thrives on big games and attractive matchups. Anti-Big East sentiment wasn't personal; it was actually nothing more than the frustration fans rightly felt at being cheated out of better BCS bowl games. People didn't hate Pittsburgh in 2004; they simply hated the fact that Pittsburgh, not Auburn, was playing Urban Meyer's Utah team in Tempe... that's all. But Big East fans felt that these withering criticisms were being leveled at them. Keep that in mind if you're a fan/advocate of Texas, Michigan or USC, someone who might have the inclination to shout down the Mountaineer and Cardinal fans in the room.

What Big East bashers need to realize is that the 2006 Sugar Bowl fundamentally changed the landscape. Just as George Mason's run to the 2006 Final Four should open a lot of eyes about the credentials of so called "mid-majors" in college basketball, West Virginia's win in a de facto road game against Georgia should have transformed a lot of perceptions about the college football world. The Mountaineers' deceivingly convincing 38-35 win over the SEC champions proved that conference superiority (or inferiority) is a myth, a dead-end issue that goes nowhere and proves precious little about anything in college football. More importantly, WVU's Sugar Bowl win showed that a team can come from a lousy conference (which the Big East was last year; Rutgers lacked the heft it has attained this season, and Pittsburgh was nowhere to be found; South Florida overachieved, but then got bageled against a thoroughly average N.C. State team in the Meineke Car Care Bowl) and win a big-time showcase game. Much as lower seeds in the NCAA Basketball Tournament play with a chip on their shoulder and ambush blue-chip programs in the early rounds, so, too, can a motivated team from a bad conference upend an "old-money" power from a more credentialed conference.

All of this raises the age-old dilemma that will haunt and torture college football people until we get that elusive and much-needed playoff: should the little guy be rewarded and recognized for achieving big, even if its schedule is weak, or should the big boys--even with a loss--be respected for the chances they take at the highest levels of competition? Flowing from this question, one must then ask a follow-up: what is the tipping point at which an unbeaten Big East champ would deserve more leverage than a one-loss Texas or the one-loss (eventual) loser of Michigan-Ohio State? That's not a snarky or mean-spirited question, but a query that's entirely central to this debate. I'm genuinely curious. If we take our national title debates seriously in college football--as we should (though not more seriously than issues of politics, poverty and health care)--we must then have legitimate explanations and answers to tough and persistent questions that won't--and shouldn't--go away.

I'd like to know, then: what kind of non-conference schedule would lift West Virginia past a Texas or a Michigan in a potential end-of-season debate? One game at Florida? Two games against Oregon and Wisconsin? Three games against Washington State, Arkansas and Clemson, with two of them being on the road? What would it take? Again, this isn't meant to be snide or sarcastic--we're searching for answers here.

The problem with all this, though--as you can see--is that answers are hard to come by in college football. That's frustrating, but darnit, it's true, and it's a reality people have to level with, hard as it may be to do so.

With only twelve games in a season--four of them out of conference--we just don't have the diversity of competition that can provide a sufficient level of cross-pollination in non-conference matchups. Athletic directors at various schools--who schedule a lot of games years in advance--can't tell in 2002 if 2006 is going to be a national title year for their football program. Similarly, ADs who schedule big-name opponents in 2002 or 2003 (or whenever) can't tell if those big boys--again, see "Louisville versus Miami" for a classic example in this regard--will fall off the map four years later, thereby hurting their BCS ranking. All those schools who moved to the ACC couldn't have known how awful the conference would be this season. Without a playoff, there's just no way of denying it: answers are not plentiful in the currently structured college football world. Such a reality can make the simplest questions--"what will it take to make a Big East team's schedule worthy of a national title game appearance?"--seem loaded with attitudinal edge and overall nastiness. In actuality, though, there's no meanness at all; it's just a search for (re)solutions that are few and far between, and it's that lack of satisfying answers which makes fans unceasingly angry at football writers, not to mention opposing fans from conferences with different places on the college football food chain.

Yes, the Texases and Ohio States of the universe demand and deserve leverage in BCS arguments for playing each other. You are supposed to be rewarded for playing non-conference games of that nature, and it should be a powerful tiebreaker in a season-ending debate. But Big East fans--while also citing West Virginia's win over Georgia, proof that a good team from a bad league can make good when given its one big chance in the spotlight--will turn around and say, with a lot of credibility, "what about these other BCS conferences, anyway? They're not exactly lighting up the night with their level of play."

Indeed, the anti-Big East argument--made credible by the strength of schedule and quality depth arguments--is substantially countered by the 2006 Sugar Bowl and the mediocrity of name teams in all the sexier conferences. While--as said above--Rutgers would suffer if compared to the third-place teams in the SEC and Big Ten, it is just as true that Greg Schiano's Scarlet Knights would rate as well as--if not better than--the third-best teams from the Big XII (Oklahoma sans Adrian Peterson), Pac-10 (Oregon), and ACC (Georgia Tech). Just as the Big East lacks quality depth, it happens to be true that the other conferences are simultaneously deteriorating in much the same way. The Big XII--which used to have RC Slocum's Wrecking Crews, Bill Snyder's loaded K-State Cats, Frank Solich's Nebraska squads powered by Eric Crouch, Bob Stoops' title-winning troops, Gary Barnett's running Ralphies, and Mack Brown's ten-win Texas teams (even if they regularly lost to Oklahoma back then)--was ridiculously stacked for several seasons running. The SEC of 1998--when Florida massively underachieved and yet rolled to an easy BCS bowl victory (an indicator of quality depth)--had teams from Mississippi State and Arkansas that would dwarf the current ballclubs fielded at those two schools. The SEC of 2001 boasted similar depth, as the quality of quarterbacking from that year drastically overshadowed the current offerings of decidedly shaky Southeastern Conference signal callers. All conferences have off years (Pac-10 in 1999, Big Ten in 2000, SEC and Big XII last year, ACC this year), but it seems as though the conferences--up and down the line--lack the aura they possessed just five to eight seasons ago. As an example, I can distinctly recall the 2004 season (and my November writings from that season), when an unusually large amount of lower-tier bowl slots went to Mid-American Conference teams and other "mid-majors," all because the seventh- and eight-place teams in the SEC and ACC (and perhaps other conferences) failed to become bowl eligible. Conference mediocrity--across the board and far beyond the Big East--has been a consistent and emerging theme in college football over the past three seasons, if not more. As a result, the Big East should not be the punching bag it currently is, even if its teams don't play the schedules they should. Moreover, the prevalence of conference mediocrity suggests that the teams at power conference schools can't expect to rely on their reputations alone when the BCS selection show comes along on the first Sunday of December. Speaking to these big boys, the following must be said (and repeated) after another weekend in which no one (except for Clemson) seemed interested in making a big statement: if you want to differentiate yourself from the field--not to mention an unbeaten Big East champion--go out there on the field and do it. Without that clear point of differentiation--which only Clemson was willing to make on Saturday--this is an entirely subjective, stylistic, and preference-based debate we're having.

Mind you, subjective debates (in the spirit of honest analysis) are grounded in facts. Yes, both sides in this larger debate have many facts and realities to point to; saying that a debate is subjective does not mean that information and truth are absent from the debate. What this does mean, though, is that at the end of the day, there's no college football court of law that can definitively determine which is the inherently better or more meritorious set of arguments. There's no court of arbitration where some truths can be fully and finally pronounced as "better" than others. There's never enough evidence in a college football season to conclusively prove whether an unbeaten little guy deserves a national title game slot over and against a one-loss team from an old-money conference. The only real solution is a playoff, and until then, we're frankly in the wildnerness. So in the meantime, I'll register my own stylistic preference in the midst of the confusion: I prefer to give the little guy the benefit of the doubt, especially if said little guy proves he can beat a big boy on the big stage, as West Virginia did against Georgia. There are proving-ground moments in the life of a team, a conference, and a sport, and that 2006 Sugar Bowl was one of those temperature-taking times. The Big East got its one chance, and the stakes were incredibly high: a decisive loss, and the conference would have DESERVED to be laughed off the stage; a close loss, and the conference couldn't have commanded as much leverage as it does today; but with a win, West Virginia and the Big East would have deserved the benefit of the doubt from a previously skeptical college football community. The Mountaineers--playing in enemy territory with all of America watching--won the ballgame in impressive fashion. They settled a longstanding and divisive argument the only way you truly can in college football: on the field.

To be clear and fair about this, West Virginia's win on January 2 doesn't mean that Big East fans have the inherently "better" argument. (Otherwise, everything said above about subjective arguments would be flatly untrue, making this writer quite the hypocrite.) It only means that the Big East/West Virginia viewpoint is every bit as legitimate as the Texas/Michigan/USC viewpoint shared by the power establishment in college football. Without a playoff and the ON-FIELD evidence needed to separate one team from another, our facts and truths and statistics--legitimate though they in fact are--are nevertheless insufficient, and it all becomes--as friends of mine would say--"a beauty contest." To think the BCS mechanisms are in any way more enlightened, legitimate, accurate or "truthful" as measurements of football merit is just about the only laughably incorrect statement a college football fan can make these days. On 99 percent of occasions, the average fan speaks from a place of truth (though also emotional heatedness and literary embellishment); it's just that we don't have a system in place that can weigh the relevance and centrality of various truths and thereby rank their importance. We all have facts, dear readers; it's a matter of determining the hierarchies of those facts that counts, and in college football, we won't have a system that can do so... not until we get a bleepity-bleepin' playoff.

In other news... what about this past Saturday of action? It raises some questions that need to be thrown at fans of various teams in the national spotlight.

All fans of major college football teams need to start applying this basic test if they're serious about honestly analyzing the sport and arrving at fair conclusions: "What would I think of my team if I weren't a fan or a member of that team's same conference?"

This doesn't mean that fans of a given team are "unfair" if they rank their team No. 2. No, that would be a ridiculous verdict. It only means that in compiling an accurate profile of one's own team, one must factor in the weaknesses along with the strengths if s/he is to be honest as a football analyst. With that point being established, let's fire away:

To Michigan fans: if you weren't Michigan fans or Big Ten fans, would you still rate the Penn State win as impressive? The Nittany Lions scored just one offensive touchdown against Illinois... the same amount of offensive touchdowns scored against your truly wonderful defense, which shall now be known as the "English Majors." It was never questioned or doubted that your defense is excellent, studly, or whatever other praiseworthy description one can use. The point was that Penn State had a bad offense, which should temper any orgasmically ecstatic assessments of Michigan's defensive effort against JoePa's pop-gun outfit. You can find many legitimate reasons to rate your Maize and Blue as the number two team in the country; moreover, for lack of better alternatives, I'd actually agree that Lloyd Carr's team should be ranked right below Ohio State. But if you cite the Penn State game or overall strength of schedule as some of your better arguments, you might want to perform a reality check, stat.

To Cal fans: if you weren't Bear backers or Pac-10 people, would you really, really rate the Bears as better than USC right now? Good teams do win tough ballgames, and avoiding turnovers is the sign of a well-coached club, but with those arguments being acknowledged, would you truly be confident right now about Jeff Tedford's team if you weren't a Berkeley resident or a West Coast native? Washington committed five more turnovers and still took you to the wall in Strawberry Canyon. Not the best indicator of a team intent on taking over the Pac-10.

To Tennessee fans: if you didn't bleed Big Orange or otherwise reside in the South, would you believe in Erik Ainge right now? I suspect that over the course of the upcoming week, Tennessee partisans will publicly support Ainge, while privately worrying that another midseason slowdown (a la 2004, before an unfortunate injury) is in progress. Vol fans probably think that Alabama's defense maxed out and threw Ainge some unique curveballs that won't confuse him again this season, while a lot of people outside the Southeastern United States will think that Ainge was never as good as his first half of 2006 indicated. The truth lies in between those two extremes, but for Vol fans, the larger point should be clear: any politicking for elevated status among the 1-loss teams in the top ten should be tempered by honest acknowledgments of Ainge's currently fragile situation. If he passes huge road tests at Columbia and Fayetteville, then Vol fans will have clear and unassailable facts on their side. Not yet, though.

And finally, to Notre Dame fans: if you weren't Notre Dame fans (hard to ever conceive of, I know), would you truly, in your heart of hearts, view the Irish's two-loss BCS lock-in as fair or ethical? I know--it's hard to step outside the box. But please try.

That's enough for this week's edition of the "what if you weren't a fan" test, but all college football diehards should consistently use that self-examination for the rest of the season... and throughout eternity, for that matter.

A final big-picture observation on the remainder of the season, before ending this week's column: November will be delicious because of the one thing that makes sports (not just college football) sing: contrasting styles.

The great rivalries and confrontations in any sport were defined by different flavors. Tennis had Navratilova's emotional net play against Chris Evert's icy groundstrokes, and later, Sampras' unstoppable serve against Agassi's relentless returns. The NBA had the halfcourt Celtics with the underrated fast break against the Showtime Lakers with the underrated halfcourt game. Baseball--in the 1980s, at least--had the power-laden New York Mets, with Darryl Strawberry and fireballing pitcher Dwight Gooden, against the finesse-driven St. Louis Cardinals, with speed merchant jackrabbit Vince Coleman and a manipulative mixmaster of a pitcher named John Tudor. Contrasts make for great sports moments, and college football--as mediocre as it has been over the past three years (see above)--could be in store for a sensational home stretch.

The big, defining November (and early December) matchups in this sport will pit different personalities against each other. In the Big East, West Virginia's ground game will take on Louisville's passing game (yeah, the Cards can definitely run, but they're not beating WVU unless Brian Brohm emerges from his current funk). After the Mountaineers and Cards do battle, they'll both tackle a rugged Rutgers outfit that will lean on old-school defense against the high-powered offenses that come from Morgantown and the Kentucky Commonwealth. The looming Michigan-Ohio State showdown is increasingly acquiring a defense-versus-offense label. Yes, the key in all of these kinds of matchups (as is usually the case throughout human history) lies in the other, less-publicized confrontation. West Virginia's passing game, for example, will likely decide the Nov. 2 battle with Louisville; Rutgers' offense will decide its battles with its conference brethren; and Michigan's offense will determine how well the Wolverines can compete in Columbus on Nov. 18. But that's a different discussion for another day. The contrasts between these teams still exist to an appreciable degree, and that's what will make November a very intriguing month for all college football connoisseurs.
Zemek's Monday Morning Quarterback 2006


By Matt Zemek
Posted Oct 23, 2006

After weeks and weeks of games that lacked fascinating strategic dimensions, the college football season suddenly gave its fans a superabundant supply of situations that lured the second-guessers out of the woodwork. An Autumn bereft of tough tactical tensions finally provided--in week eight--the kinds of scenarios and outcomes that are sure to light up the Monday talk show phone lines.

By Matthew Zemek

Texas-Nebraska, UCLA-Notre Dame, and Iowa-Michigan were three games loaded with deliciously layered coaching issues... the kinds of issues, frankly, that haven't been brought forth by this season's games. With so many high-profile contests in 2006 being decided well before the fourth quarter, or with a bevy of mistakes, coaches have--in a weird but real way--faded into the background this season. There haven't been that many games this year in which coaching decisions have truly affected the outcome of a contest. Saturday, though, we finally got at least three such contests, and some fans might contend that other battles (Boston College-Florida State; Rutgers-Pittsburgh) were affected by the decisions coaches did or didn't make.

Let's get down to brass tacks, shall we?

It's appropriate to make one thing clear at the outset: coaching is a demanding, detail-oriented craft, and it would therefore be unfair to rake coaches over the coals without knowing the fuller realities of the situations they face on their sidelines during a game. The more times I write columns about play-calling and strategy (this is the fifth year of the Monday Morning QB), the more I realize that my targets are not individual coaches, but the coaching profession as a whole. The point isn't to single out coaches when they make questionable decisions, but to illustrate larger strategic principles that emerge from various gameday chess moves.

Football--like any other sport (or industry, if you like to view sports as businesses more than as games)--is not a static entity, and so--as the years go by--we ought to be picking up more ideas about how the strategic side of football can evolve. Let's put it this way: it would be pretty lame if, in the year 2013, coaches wind up doing the same things they did in Lincoln, South Bend and Ann Arbor this past weekend. It must be said that the moves made on Saturday by Mack Brown, Karl Dorrell, and Kirk Ferentz were entirely understandable and filled with plenty of conventional football wisdom. The larger point, though, is that one must re-evaluate the value of the prevailing conventional wisdom in the coaching fraternity. The philosophies and standard practices of coaches in 2006 should not be allowed to stand unchallenged... not this season, and certainly not several seasons from now. Coaches didn't coach poorly on Saturday; they merely made conventional decisions that, one would hope, will not be made years from now as the coaching craft grows in sophistication (something it necessarily does every year). So with these important foundational statements on the public record, we can now discuss the specific situations in question from Saturday's games.

First in the crosshairs? Mack Brown, who--it should be said--had his team mentally ready to play a morning game (11:15 a.m. kickoff) in horrible conditions on the road.

The decision Brown faced in the Texas-Nebraska game was--in its immediate details--quite different from the decisions Karl Dorrell and Kirk Ferentz faced in their games. Yet, at the same time, all three decisions pointed to the same basic dilemma: do you take the high-percentage route that gives you a slightly better position but doesn't seal the outcome of a game, or should you take the lower-percentage route that dramatically improves your position and, in the endgame (or near-endgame) stage of the proceedings, seals an outcome altogether?

Here, in short, is what Brown's situation was: up 16-14 with roughly 6:15 left in the game, Texas faced a 4th and goal at the Husker 4. Texas' defense had conceded a touchdown on Nebraska's previous drive, but that came courtesy of blown Longhorn tackles... as was the case on the Big Red's first touchdown earlier in the game. All in all, the percentages did indeed suggest that extending a two-point lead to five was a wise move, given that the Texas defense was reliable and Nebraska had not yet scored a touchdown that came without any mistakes from Gene Chizik's crew. Sure enough, Brown decided to kick the 21-yard field goal for a 19-14 lead. Nebraska, however, managed to respond with a touchdown--aided by a huge personal foul penalty from Texas--for a 20-19 advantage that almost held up.

In light of the way the final minutes played out, some people might be blaming Brown for his decision, but upon further examination, it's really hard to find fault with the Texas coach... at least according to the conventional coaching wisdom. Coaches--a conservative lot by nature (more on this as the column goes along)--would, if polled, side with Brown's decision in this case. If Texas had the ball at the Nebraska 1 instead of the 4, you might see the conventional wisdom tilt in the other direction, but not in this situation. Again, it bears repeating: Mack Brown didn't coach poorly in this situation; however, it's just as important to stress that the conventional wisdom--and future decisions made under these conditions--should face withering scrutiny and reconsideration.

It's possible to disagree with a coaching decision and yet view that same decision as a good and logical one. Why? Because the scenario Mack Brown faced in Lincoln is the kind of scenario that requires coaches to have a sixth sense about the ebb and flow of a football game. There are times when coaching decisions are matters of art more than science, and Brown's fourth-down choice was one of those occasions. Coaching moves are rarely "wrong" in a purely objective sense when these moments arise; but just the same, the better coaches' hunches will be rewarded and affirmed more than those of their less accomplished counterparts. Brown is unquestionably an elite coach, but with that having been said, there was a time when he hadn't yet merited elite status (not as a gameday chessmaster, at any rate). On Saturday, he didn't make an incorrect move, but two years from now in an identical situation, he might opt to go in a different direction.

Here's why the Monday Morning Quarterback officially disagrees with the decision to kick a field goal when up by two and facing 4th and goal from the 4 with just over six minutes left: while Brown's move was full of longstanding football wisdom--and therefore not a bad one--it did choose to slightly improve a team's position with a high-percentage approach, instead of seeking to seal a game's outcome with a lower-percentage approach. In the spirit of upholding coaches' individual decisions while questioning the deeper conventional wisdom of the coaching profession, it's this football analyst's considered opinion that the coaching craft should gradually come to embrace the lower-percentage approach that, if successful, will seal the outcome of a game. After all, if Brown had decided to go for the touchdown and Colt McCoy had delivered the goods, Texas would have had a nine-point lead. That's two possessions, folks. Bill Callahan wouldn't have had a chance to spring a trick play on the Horns and steal a late lead that nearly held up. Yes, Mack Brown should be angry at Marcus Griffin for giving the Huskers a get-out-of-jail-free card, but the point still stands that the field goal--while undeniably adding to Texas' advantage in the fourth quarter--also left the larger outcome still in doubt. A touchdown would have removed all, or almost all, remaining uncertainties about the outcome of the game. This raises a fundamental point: much as any favored team suffers the longer the outcome hangs in the balance, it should then follow that coaching decisions--in future seasons--should begin to place much more emphasis on sealing outcomes as soon as possible, instead of taking a safer and more incrementalist approach. After all, while coaches think that--by playing percentages--they enhance their chances of winning, they fail to realize that sealing an outcome gives you a 100 percent chance of winning. And if you're mindful of percentages, you can't do better than a 100 percent chance (or, to be open to the possibility of a Washington-Cal miracle or some similarly answered prayer, 99.5 percent). This is why Mack Brown can be deemed logical and sound in his decision making, even while some writers think that the substance of conventional coaching wisdom should change over time. Sealing outcomes with bold moves, instead of slightly improving percentages with safe moves, should be the direction coaches can take in the coming years and beyond. But Mack Brown shouldn't have been expected--by me or anyone else--to personally start this trend on Saturday.

The same basic principle applies to Karl Dorrell, who gets the next spot under the microscope. Dorrell, like Brown, chose to take a high-percentage route of safety, rather than a lower-percentage route toward certain victory. Here's the situation he faced: his Bruins led Notre Dame by four with 2:26 left in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game in South Bend. Notre Dame had three timeouts (memo to coaches: Charlie Weis is at the head of your profession when it comes to saving his timeouts for the endgame phase; this one overlooked and underappreciated aspect of the coaching craft is something that has helped the Irish to pull out these Houdinis over the past two years), but UCLA had been moving the ball largely on the strength of its passing game. However, a complicating factor was that Patrick Cowan--the Bruins' signal caller--was a backup thrust into a very daunting road environment.

Dorrell's decision? He drained Notre Dame's three timeouts with pedestrian running plays, giving the Irish the ball back with 1:02 left and 80 yards in which to get a touchdown against a previously stout UCLA defense that had pounded Brady Quinn (and ND's offensive front) into submission over the game's first 58 minutes and 58 seconds. Yes, the Irish came roaring downfield to cover the 80 yards in just three plays. Much as Brown will catch heat for his Nebraska decision--given that the Huskers scored a go-ahead touchdown after Texas' field goal from the 4--so it is also the case that on the L.A. talk shows, Dorrell will receive some noise from callers because the Irish won. It's much like the moves baseball managers make: they're judged simply on the basis of whether they work or not; damn the percentages or logic of the moves. That's the world of human nature and the emotional investments of sports fans.

It's not the world of mature football analysis, however.

Dorrell's decision in South Bend, as far as it goes, was entirely sound and rooted in a great deal of logic... just like Brown's field goal in Lincoln. Given the way UCLA's defense had been balling against Notre Dame's charmin-soft offensive line, it was hard--if not impossible--to think that the Irish could flip the switch--ironically, UCLA's modus operandi on offense last season--and immediately create a late-game comeback with no prior momentum. There was a lot of wisdom behind Dorrell's decision, and that reality can't be denied.

Yet--see the theme we're building here, folks?--one can still disagree with Dorrell's decision and argue that conventional coaching wisdom needs to be updated.

The verdict here is that while Dorrell's decision could never be called "wrong" in any objective sense, it was nevertheless a reflection of shortcomings in the philosophies currently undergirding the entirety of the coaching profession. What might be hard to understand for Dorrell and his colleagues in the business, though, is that on the surface of things, there might not seem to have been any credible alternative for the UCLA coach in those final minutes against the Irish. After all, with the possible exception of Mike Leach and a few others, the entire roster of Division I-A football coaches would fundamentally agree with the view that if placed in an identical situation, draining the opponent's three timeouts would be a no-brainer. This column, moreover, shares that view. Yes, all three timeouts should have been drained. So the question becomes this: what's the decision Dorrell should have made? Put in a larger context, here's the bigger and more central question: what's the tenet of conventional coaching wisdom that should be reconsidered in this case?

While Dorrell was entirely correct to drain Weis' three timeouts and trust his defense, the one element of Dorrell's strategy that demands examination is his decision to use pedestrian runs, as opposed to bold or creative running plays in the process of exhausting Notre Dame's timeouts. We see this all the time in endgame phases of college football contests: coaches don't just value the clock and timeouts over first downs; they take absolutely no chances in the process of valuing the clock and timeouts over first downs. One must ask the fraternity of college football coaches (and NFL coaches, for that matter) the following question: can't there be a more creative way to drain the other team's three timeouts in an endgame situation? That's at the heart of the matter. Seriously: just because you want to drain three timeouts with three running plays that stay in bounds, you don't have to (then) run three billy-basic running plays right into the teeth of a defense that's stacking the box in expectation of... what else?... one of those very same billy-basic running plays!You don't have to pass the ball if you're a coach looking to drain timeouts in the endgame phase of a contest, but you ought to come up with more creative running plays. How about a reverse mini-option from a spread formation (a Steve Spurrier special)? What about a fake fullback plunge that becomes an end-around (not a reverse, something broadcast commentators need to get straight, by the way)? And why not consider a simple naked bootleg that could sucker a defense intent on stuffing a power run up the gut? Please, don't throw three passes or do anything stupid, but in the same breath, why not give a little flavor to conventional coaching wisdom by trying some GUTSY runs instead of the pedestrian runs that basically allow the opponent to get the ball back... even if it's with little time left and no timeouts? Karl Dorrell did absolutely nothing wrong, but in future seasons, one hopes that the fraternity of college football coaches would use more creativity in trying to drain an opponent's timeouts in the endgame phase of a Saturday showdown.

We now come to the third and final case study from a fascinating weekend: Kirk Ferentz of Iowa against Michigan. Unlike his two colleagues from Austin and Westwood, Ferentz didn't face a wrenching endgame dilemma. But just the same, the head Hawkeye did stare down the same basic decision faced by Mr. Brown and Mr. Dorrell: take the safe, high-percentage route and slightly improve one's fortunes, or take the riskier route that offers the possibility of establishing a much more commanding position.

Here was Ferentz' situation, which actually came about on two separate occasions in slightly different forms: twice in the third quarter, Iowa penetrated the red zone of Michigan's awesome defense, the "English Majors." On the first occasion, Iowa trailed 3-0 and had a 4th and 1 at the UM 17. On the second occasion, Iowa trailed 10-3 and had a 4th and goal at the Wolverine 5. The backdrop to these two situations was that Iowa had a banged-up team and a defense that was playing exceptionally well. For these reasons, it was in Iowa's best interest to shorten the game while trusting its defense, and that's why Ferentz chose to kick a field goal on both occasions.

Once more--and with feeling--you can't immediately fault Ferentz's thought process, just as you couldn't really fault Brown or Dorrell for their thought patterns. On the 4th and 1, Ferentz opted for a game-tying kick that, in a defense-first game, makes a lot of sense. On the lower-percentage 4th and 5, Ferentz--who probably would have gone for the touchdown had the ball been on the 2 or the 1 (similar to what Mack Brown faced against Nebraska)--stuck with the conventional wisdom and collected points, still not a bad idea in a tight game. It bears mentioning: much as Brown's and Dorrell's defenses let them down in the fourth quarter of their games in Lincoln and South Bend, so it also was that Ferentz's defense let him down in the fourth quarter of Iowa's game in Ann Arbor. The Iowa coach could come in for criticism based on the way the fourth quarter played out, but upon further review, it's hard--yet again, folks; yet again--to truly fault Ferentz for his decisions, especially when you compare them to the decisions 98 percent of other Division I-A coaches would make. With the exceptions of Leach and Spurrier, plus a possible additional trio of Pete Carroll, Charlie Weis, and Tommy Tuberville, just about every other college head coach would have done what Ferentz did. The Iowa coach coached the way conventional wisdom says you should; as a result, his moves should be viewed as sound and logical.

Wanna guess what statement is going to come next?

Yes, sir (we hope you're beginning to get the hang of this by now): while acknowledging the plentiful amount of logic in Ferentz's decisions, one can still disagree with them and argue that conventional coaching wisdom needs to be re-examined.

Ferentz's good and sound decisions can still be disagreed with because the power of the English Majors--or any other truly awesome college defense--suggests that your offense won't make very many forays deep into the opponent's red zone. Possessions--and touchdowns--are at a premium against a defense as good as Michigan's. For this reason, Ferentz--in defiance of conventional coaching wisdom--could have gone for a first down when down 3-0 and sought a touchdown when trailing 10-3. It would have been a risky strategy, but had his offense come through, Iowa could have had a 7-3 lead (which would have altered the trajectory of the game, not to mention the pressure on Chad Henne's back) after the first red zone encounter, and then tied the game at 10 on the second trip into the UM red zone. One can't hold these decisions against Ferentz, but one can begin to question the core philosophies and working assumptions used by the college coaching fraternity as a whole.

Mack Brown, Karl Dorrell and Kirk Ferentz all faced very difficult choices on Saturday, and in their three unique situations, they all sided with conventional wisdom by taking safe, high-percentage routes that slightly improved their teams' chances of winning, but did not seal the outcomes of the games in which they were involved. In each of their situations, these coaches made decisions that did not lead to the ideal scenarios they hoped for. Yet, that very reality doesn't mean their strategic choices were in any way illogical or deficient; moreover, almost all of their coaching colleagues would have likely followed the same paths. At the end of the day, the head coaches at Texas, UCLA and Iowa did not coach poorly, especially from an objective standpoint; yet, their decisions do demand that the conventional wisdom employed by the coaching fraternity should receive fresh--and intense--examination.

Northwestern +35 (-120) for 5 units (compared to usual 2)

See BAR's thread this week. He and I spent about an hour discussing past history and UM's motivation and mindset this week. Everything including past history favors Northwestern in this one. For example:

1. NW has only lost by more than 35 3 times since the start of the 1999 season.

2. The last time NW lost to Michigan by 35 or more was 1991.

3. Michigan has only scored more than 35 twice this season and in each game the margin of victory was in the 20s.

4. The last time Michigan laid this many points was in 2003 when they laid 33 to Indiana and won 33-17.

The downside? What is NW's mindset after MSU? Can they bounce back after losing their starting Sr. LB and team co-captain? When will UM ease off the accelerator? Will NW be able to score the needed 7-14 backdoor points to cover? I think they will.
Wow rj! That's ALOT of confidence in Northwestern, though I would definitely agree that 35 points is a ton for a team that can score. The teams mental state does worry me a bit, but getting 5 TDs is VERY tempting. I'll give it plenty of thought.

With you on Nebraska. The best play on the board this week IMO. I'll probably join you on the Aggie/Baylor OVER.

GL this week bro! :cheers:
Thanks, Aztec. Horses and I missed you on Players on Saturday.

I know it's risky, but I think that UM is not motivated to run up the score and is motivated to rest their players for tOSU and the bowl. Starters play a half at most and then the backdoor is on.
More interesting news about NW play:

You have to go all the way back to 1993 to find a game where NW was getting 35 points or more.

In the 1993 season, NW was getting 35 points against Penn State. Penn State won 45-17 and NW got the cover.
Morning Coffee from BurntOrangeNation.com

Morning Coffee
By HornsFan Section: Quick Hits
Posted on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 08:15:32 AM EST

If you're a nut like me, you were watching A&M and Oklahoma State's thriller on the computer GameCast. Well, nuts like me can now see a replay of that game, as well as a replay of the Baylor-Kansas thriller, on Fox Sports Southwest, this week. The Baylor-Kansas game will air on Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. while the A&M game will air on Thursday at 8:00 p.m.
The injuries have been mounting for the Longhorns this season, and the Statesman has the rundown of all the banged up players. The Lokey injury - despite Texas' depth on the line - is painful. Reader Jason Luck from Iowa wrote in to let me know that he spoke with Robison on Saturday in Lincoln, and it was a rolled ankle that hindered him this weekend.
The Chron's Joseph Duarte asks where Jamaal Charles was on the final two drives Saturday. Apparently, Greg Davis kept him on the sidelines, saying, "It was an experience factor." Charles and Young are almost interchangeable, so I'm not going to lose any sleep here, but there's no question we're underutilizing the uber-talented Charles.
Chip Brown writes a very interesting article on the struggles of Mike Griffin (RTWT).
RJ - nice thread as always. I like the Buffalo play also this week and just got in at 36. My feeling here is that if BC is going to give Ryan some time off it will be in this game so he will be as healthy as possible for WF the following week. I think to that BC will be content to try and work on their running game in this one. Agree if Buffalo can hang 7 or 10 in this one they should cover. Also agree with you, Killa and mcm that the Baylor over certainly looks good as well. BOL this week.
Thanks, Tim.

I don't know why BC would play alot of their starters, including Ryan, against a non-opponent like Buffalo. They have the rest of the ACC slate left after this game and it's time to get healthy.

GL this week too.
Timh said:
RJ - nice thread as always. I like the Buffalo play also this week and just got in at 36. My feeling here is that if BC is going to give Ryan some time off it will be in this game so he will be as healthy as possible for WF the following week. I think to that BC will be content to try and work on their running game in this one. Agree if Buffalo can hang 7 or 10 in this one they should cover. Also agree with you, Killa and mcm that the Baylor over certainly looks good as well. BOL this week.

Makes me feel stronger about Bears and Buffs
OSU's QB practiced Monday and says he feels better by the day.

STILLWATER -- Oklahoma State quarterback Bobby Reid, who sustained a possible concussion during last week's overtime loss to Texas A&M, was able to practice on Monday and is expected to start against 20th-ranked Nebraska on Saturday.
With 10:14 remaining in the first half of the A&M game, Reid was tackled by Aggie linebacker Mark Dodge. Reid's head was slammed into the Boone Pickens Stadium turf. He was helped from the field by medical personnel and taken to a Stillwater hospital.
Reid returned to the stadium during the third period and watched from the training room as backup quarterback Zac Robinson threw three touchdown passes. The Cowboys lost in overtime.
"I felt had I been there, we probably would have won the game," Reid said on Monday. "It was an unfortunate event."
Reid, the Big 12 leader in pass efficiency, said he expressed a desire to return to the game, but doctors nixed that possibility.
Robinson took most of the snaps on Monday, but Reid predicted he would practice at full speed on Tuesday.
Regardless of the above, OSU is a heart breaker this yr, 31-27 @ K St in last sec, 34-33 to Tx A&M in OT on blocked xtr pt. They are home for this but the fans have just about given up, looking for next yr. Nebr is the correct call here. Can't see Okie St, regardless of the hype about the off, being able to out duel the Huskers here.

Also, Tulsa opened at -15 and is down to -14. This is more correct. DO NOT play above 2 tds. UTEP is wounded, but still dangerous with QB Palmer running things. A fri ESPN2 game, expect the Miners to give their all in this game. TU is better defensively, but this game has trap written on it. 2TDs will be hard to cover.

Thanks, JimmyD. Reid is done for the year, even if he does play. I like the ATS machine in Nebraska to roll.
Not that we can trust this after the way they sandbagged this before the FSU game but....

10/23 2:32am QB Matt Ryan Ankle upgraded to probable.
But asked yesterday if he was giving any thought to resting Ryan against 1-6 Buffalo, O'Brien was definitive. "None," O'Brien said. "We're not going to be anybody's upset special of the week this week. We're going to prepare like we do for every game. We?re going out to win a football game."
Timh said:
Not that we can trust this after the way they sandbagged this before the FSU game but....

10/23 2:32am QB Matt Ryan Ankle upgraded to probable.
But asked yesterday if he was giving any thought to resting Ryan against 1-6 Buffalo, O'Brien was definitive. "None," O'Brien said. "We're not going to be anybody's upset special of the week this week. We're going to prepare like we do for every game. We?re going out to win a football game."

Thanks, TimH. He might play a half but that is it.
Morning Coffee from BurntOrangeNation.com:

Morning Coffee
By HornsFan Section: Quick Hits
Posted on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 07:59:36 AM EST

Kirk Bohls joins the chorus of folks asking for more I-formation and power running sets. I think we're headed in that direction, and with Tech's struggles stopping the run, the transition may hit high gear this Saturday. We'll see. [More Statesman: Ryan Bailey puff piece; Ask Suzanne]

Coming into the season, we knew who the Great White Hopes had to be on offense (McCoy and Shipley), but there wasn't much fair pigmented speculation on defense. Little did we know, as Chip Brown writes, Scott Derry and Aaron Lewis would be two of the most critical defenders of the season. Truly impressive what those two have done for us so far.

Tim Crowder was named to the Hendricks Award midseason watch list. To be perfectly honest, we haven't pimped Crowder hard enough - not nearly. Sometimes a stat line doesn't do justice to what a player has been doing for the season. Crowder's does: 38 tackles, 15 tackles for loss(!!), 8.5 sacks, 3 passes broken up, and 12 quarterback hurries. My goodness. He should be receiving All America consideration.
All your Texas Tech news at Lubbkock Online's Red Raiders page.
Blog Roundup from EDSBS.com


Real life is totally interfering with the blogging thing today, so we’ll make this a Supermarionated edition of Blogtoberfest today, packing as much spurious content into a single bulleted piece as possible to save the world from the forces of chaos. Ready? F.A.B!

–Clay Travis gets access to someone who calls himself “Chancellor” who does not, in fact, live under an overpass and claim to be controlled by chips implanted in his head by the Tennessee Athletic Department. How this happened, we’ll never know, but as usual it’s quality.

–Louisville suspends two reservish wideouts for adding yet another explosive element to Louisville’s offense: paintballs fired at high speed at total strangers exiting a local haunted house. Petrino says their behavior is unacceptable, and that when he takes whatever his job will be next year, he’s definitely not taking these guys with him. (We kid! Petrino’s not going anywhere. For the next five minutes.)

–The Bunting sweepstakes begins! This article must be crap, because Rich Rodriguez isn’t leaving for anything less than a behemoth of a program, not Mack Brown’s step-up gig. Butch Davis, though? Retread with cred does sound ideal for a second-tier program whose chief drawback is wearing the color baby blue out onto the field of battle.

–The Orgeron punishes players for “undisclosed violations,” less because we think he’s concerned with discipline, but more because the moon’s in the House of Menkolatas’ Six Horned Goat right now, and his demon overlords demand sacrifices and demand them now. We have an idea what those players look like right now, if memory serves us correctly:


–Lonely Planet makes great guidebooks, especially their short phrasebooks for tourists. Our favorite is the “Coachatu” dialect book. John Bunting appears to have purchased one, and is practicing in public. Listen to his excellent pronunciation here:

“I’m not sure how much football I’ll coach (after this), if any,” he said. “Because this is the place I wanted to be. And we’re this close.”
“We’re this close.” The sad cry of frustrated wives and coaches the nation round.

–The Gators lose defensive lineman Javier Estopinan for the season to the letters ACL. Estopinan had appeared to be a fave of Meyer’s, and had played progressively increasing snaps on the d-line. Shame.

–Speaking of Gators, Andy Staples endorses our idea for the non-alcoholic, family-friendly name for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. In case this slipped your mind, see the very buyable, high-quality product from EDSBS labs below. In addition to being barely witty, it’s also bulletproof.*

*not true, actually.

–CBS and ESPN have agreed to forego any references to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Boys! We have the name! Imagine the mellifluous tones of Verne Lundquist saying the words “coke orgy.” It’s just too simple, really.

–House Rock Built says a guy at UCLA’s got what you need, and you say he’s just a friend.

–T.Kyle dares to get bullish on Clemson, forgetting that a. They’re coached by Tommy Bowden, and b. they’re in the ACC, and will finish the season with at least two losses by definition. Oh, and their uniforms look like Olympic Dancers from the Turino games opening ceremonies, minus flaming helmets. Though that would be badass if you could wear them…

–Pat Dye says that Tebow is a freak, but a freshman freak who cannot start yet. Pat Dye would also like to remind you that apples are red, Arsenio Hall is so done, and that his drink isn’t going to refill itself now, sonny, so chop chop, son.


Oh yea… and an LSU coach is arrested for giving an agent the hook up.

–Finally, via The Best Week Ever and Dogtown Gator: Jhoon Rhee self defense. Nobody bothers me…especially when you kick their ass like Tony Jaa. (Had the Youtube up, but it’s doing something evil to the site. Click through, so that no one will bother you.)
College Football News' Calvalcade of Whimsy

Cavalcade of Whimsy - 10 Things to Watch For


By Pete Fiutak
Posted Oct 23, 2006

From Boise State possibly being tripped up to the best running back you've never seen to next year's "hot" team to sleeper Heisman candidates Mike Hart and Ray Rice, this week's Cavalcade of Whimsy highlights ten things to watch out for in the final stretch.

By Pete Fiutak

If this column sucks, it’s not my fault … After disgracing myself with my last column, University of Miami President Donna Shalala and head football coach Larry Cooker felt a one column suspension was adequate.

“I want rustlers, cutthroats, murders, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con-men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglars, horse thieves, bull-dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, (blank)-kickers, and Methodists!” … Let’s see if I have this straight. Miami shamed the team, the program, the legacy, and the university in one of the ugliest, most embarrassing on-field fights in recent memory, and the only one to get fired or booted in any way is a TV announcer?! The bulk of the suspensions came against Duke, one of the worst teams in America … how convenient.

Of course, when the NCAA had a chance to step in and make a statement, President Myles Brand had the audacity to claim, in regards to various fights, that “the NCAA from the national office can’t police all those sites.” Then why are we supposed to believe the NCAA when it says it’s keeping college athletics clean from steroids, human growth hormones, terrorism, $100 handshakes, agents, and all the other things that it’s supposed to be watching out for? This non-ruling on the FIU-Miami incident sets the precedent for any program to get away with whatever it wants to.

And the Orange Bowl stands still won’t be full … In case you haven’t noticed, the Canes are on a four-game winning streak. As lousy as the team has looked, a win at Georgia Tech this week could set the wheels in motion for a huge second half of the season and a big turnaround. A loss would finally expose the team once and for all for being among the mediocre.

Six degrees of gagging … 1)Michigan State choked in a loss to Notre Dame.
2) Northwestern choked in a loss to Michigan State.
3) Dennis Green is the former head coach at Northwestern during one of the worst runs in college football history.
4) Green coaches the Arizona Cardinals, which choked to the Chicago Bears.
5) Tom Cruise, as Jerry Maguire, was the agent for Arizona Cardinal WR Rod Tidwell.
6) Kevin Bacon, as Capt. Jack Ross, choked against Cruise in his case of U.S. vs. Dawson and Downey in A Few Good Men

If you liked the Michigan State loss … You’ll love the next few weeks if you’re Northwestern. How does a bad season, with the pain of Randy Walker’s death and a five-game losing streak get worse? Welcome to a three-game stretch at Michigan, at Iowa, and Ohio State. If you think that’s bad, check out poor Utah State. The Aggies are 113th in the nation in defense, 116th in offense, and they close out with Hawaii (No. 1 in offense), Nevada (38th in offense), Boise State (16th in offense) and New Mexico State (No. 3 in offense).

Fortunately, he wasn’t doing an Oregon State Beaver game ... In an all-time classic by NBC color commentator Pat Haden in the UCLA-Notre Dame game, he tried to mention that Brady Quinn was trying to “change the snap count,” but he forgot to add the O in count.

If only Oklahoma had played a few games on TV for everyone to see …
I’ve heard from more than a few sources that, inexplicably, some NFL scouts would like to see Adrian Peterson try to come back for the bowl game so they can get another look. To save time, let me help; he’s good. Yeah, there’s a question with his injury history and yeah, he runs too upright, but he’s a no-brainer in the top five.

But keep in mind, I thought Charles Rogers and Mike Williams were “can’t miss” … The top ten prospects for the 2007 NFL Draft (based on a combination of sure-thing talent, upside, and potential Pro Bowl ability). 1. Adrian Peterson, RB Oklahoma (Jr.), 2. Calvin Johnson, WR Georgia Tech (Jr.), 3. Brady Quinn, QB Notre Dame, 4. Gaines Adams, DE Clemson, 5. Joe Thomas, OT Wisconsin, 6. Leon Hall, CB Michigan, 7. Alan Branch, DT Michigan (Jr.), 8. Marshawn Lynch, RB Cal (Jr.), 9. Dwayne Jarrett, WR USC (Jr.), 10. Brian Brohm, QB Louisville (Jr.)

And they shouldn’t be allowed to wear the maroons until they find a running game … It’s 82-degrees outside, humid, and we’re in Tallahassee. I know, let’s wear all black uniforms to absorb more of the sun’s natural goodness. Didn’t anyone at Florida State consider that wearing all dark uniforms might make the team melt like a polar icecap against Boston College?

And while you’re at it, could you order up a running play to keep the clock moving? … The line for my Mr. Peabody Way-Back machine forms to the right for Nebraska to turn back time to bring out the Texas gameplan for the early season loss to USC.

Maybe Notre Dame can go max protect all the time … Second-guessers, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t dog Nebraska and Northwestern for being aggressive late and throwing the ball, with disastrous results, and also get on UCLA for going conservative. With that said, the Bruins, technically, did the right thing running the ball on Notre Dame to burn all the Irish timeouts and force Brady Quinn to go on a miraculous drive to win the game, but when you’re on the road and you have a chance to win the game with one first down, you do whatever you have to do to make it happen. If you’re Nebraska and are at home, you do whatever you have to do to make Colt McCoy come up with a long drive in a hostile environment with all the pressure on. If you’re Northwestern, you open up the passing game to start the second half, not to end it.

“It takes a big man to admit he’s wrong, and I am not a big man.” … Sometimes I’m dead-on right, like my call that Jack Black, after his brilliant performance in High Fidelity, would go on to be among the most annoying, no-talent ass-clowns in show business. Sometimes I’m get-that-guy-a-helmet wrong, like with an ill-advised “Kate Beckinsale isn’t all that hot” rant a few years ago. A few weeks ago, I told you that Georgia wasn’t nearly as good as its top ten ranking, and the next week, it got tagged by Vanderbilt. Get in early on the tech stock tip: Louisville isn’t that good. Call it my spider sense, my gut feeling, or my woman’s intuition, but there isn’t the same pop or explosion shown earlier in the season. The easy win over a mediocre Miami team stuck in everyone’s consciousness, but this has looked like a very, very beatable team ever since with little of the same offensive pop. Louisville isn’t just going to lose to West Virginia, but it’ll also lose to Rutgers, and possibly Pitt.

The C.O.W. airing of the grievances followed by the feats of strength
The season is going into its stretch run, and if longtime college football fans have learned anything, it’s that crazy things tend to happen when you least expect them. Here are ten predictions, some off-the-wall, some not, and some nuggets to watch out for.

Wisconsin is going to keep getting better and become the sleeper “hot” team of 2007
It’s unfortunate that the Badgers don’t play Ohio State late in the year. Not that Bret Bielema’s boys are better than the Buckeyes, but they would’ve provided the nation’s top team with one of its stiffest tests if the two could’ve played in November. This is a young, young, young Wisconsin team that’s starting to get on a roll with RB P.J. Hill, an emerging receiving corps, and a solid defense that’s third in the nation against the pass despite playing Purdue and Michigan. If they can get by a home date against Penn State and a road game against Iowa (the other two games are against Illinois and Buffalo) and finish 11-1, and if a quarterback appears ready to take over for John Stocco, this will be the chic hot team for next year.

Tulsa will finish 12-1 going into a bowl, and you won’t care
The defending Conference USA champion only had one tough game on the schedule, at BYU, and it lost 49-24 in early September. Since then, the Golden Hurricane has won five straight with the league’s best defense (by far) and an offensive line that’s allowed just four sacks. The winner of 13 of its last 15 games, Tulsa will blow through the rest of the Conference USA schedule and beat Southern Miss for the title.

8. Baylor will win two of three against Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma
It’s taken all year, but the Baylor passing game is starting to kick in. Texas A&M has been a bit shaky needing a few last-minute miracles to pull off wins, Texas Tech is as flaky as they come, and Oklahoma, which has to prove it can keep up the pace with a good offense, has an average secondary that could have problems with Shawn Bell winging it around.

7. Boise State won’t get into the BCS because …
It’ll lose to Nevada at the end of the year. Fresno State and Utah State might as well not even show up for their games in Boise, but the Broncos have been average on the road over the last two games against New Mexico State and Idaho. Nevada has a mistake-free offense and the rushing attack to potentially pull off the upset.

6. The award for the best running back you’ll never, ever see play will go to …
Kansas senior Jon Cornish. Despite not having any threat of a passing game to take the heat off, Cornish is ninth in the nation in rushing with six 100-yard games. It would’ve been seven, but he got hurt in the first half against Oklahoma State after rushing for 55 yards.

5. Wyoming might not win the Mountain West title, but it’ll come very, very close
A 31-24 loss to Air Force a few weeks ago might turn out to be the killer in Wyoming’s title hopes, but since then freshman QB Karsten Sween has been a surprising force for the offense, while the D has been out of this world in Mountain West play allowing 25 points total to New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado State. The nation’s number one pass defense will give BYU all it can handle in a few weeks.

You don’t know who Darius Reynaud is, but you will
Very soon, West Virginia will play a defense with a pulse. Pat White and Steve Slaton aren’t going to be shut down by anyone over the final five games, but they won’t be running amok on Louisville, Cincinnati, Pitt, South Florida and Rutgers like they did over the fist seven games. Junior WR Darius Renaud is the X factor as the third weapon in the system being used as a runner, returner, and top pass catcher. Expect him to get the ball in his hands more down the stretch, and expect him to be a key factor in the national title race.

Ray Rice will get all the publicity we were saving for Garrett Wolfe
Now that teams have figured out that if you throw 19 guys at NIU RB Garrett Wolfe, he can be stopped, the spotlight for the sleeper Heisman candidate will end up on Rice. The nation’s No. 2 rusher has 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns with two, 200-yard efforts in his last three games. If he rips up West Virginia and/or Louisville and leads the Scarlet Knights to a win against either one, he’ll be in New York as a Heisman finalist along with …

Mike Hart will be right in the hunt for the Heisman in about two weeks
As the countdown and the hype kicks in for the Michigan-Ohio State showdown, watch for Mike Hart, the nation’s seventh leading rusher, to start to get more and more Heisman talk. He’s been the steadying force for the offense with seven 100-yard games and a 91-yard outing in the win over Wisconsin. His overall stats aren’t gaudy, but he’ll be seen as the star on the nation’s best team if Michigan beats Ohio State. If OSU wins and Troy Smith is merely adequate, the Heisman race is over. If Michigan wins and if Hart has a good day, he’ll be the front-runner unless Brady Quinn goes gonzo and beats an unbeaten USC team on national TV. However …

Don’t be shocked if our dreams will be dashed and Michigan and Ohio State both won’t be unbeaten when they play each other
Things never, ever, ever work out the way you really want them to. Well, almost never since we got the USC-Texas Rose Bowl we were hoping for, but the Big Ten has a way of throwing curveballs when you least expect them.

- In 1998, Nick Saban’s mediocre Michigan State team stunned the unbeaten Buckeyes 28-24 for their only loss of the year.
- In 1996, Michigan overcame a stunning loss to Northwestern to go on a three-game roll, only to lose to a Purdue team that finished 3-8 and to a good Penn State team before beating the unbeaten Buckeyes.
- The 1992 8-0-1 Michigan team tied Illinois at home the week before tying OSU.
- Most painful to Michigan fans, Jim Harbaugh’s 1986 team went 9-0 before losing 20-17 to Rickey Foggie and Minnesota the week before playing an OSU team that won nine straight.

Can Michigan lose to Northwestern or Ball State? No, but if Kellen Lewis and Indiana can play like they did against Iowa, that might be a strange road trip for a Wolverine team looking ahead to the big fish. Can Ohio State lose to Minnesota? How about at Illinois or at Northwestern? Of course not, right? Let’s play it out.

Don’t whiz on my back and tell me it’s raining … I’m watching the World Series because I have to. It’s been pounded in my brain since birth that because I’m an American, I have to watch the Fall Classic, even though I’d rather be watching NFL highlights on the third loop than have to sit through a series I couldn’t care less about. Honestly, how could any rational human being watch UCLA-Notre Dame, Alabama-Tennessee, Texas-Nebraska, and any one of about a dozen other college football games on what was just another Saturday, and then sit though a baseball game and not be bored to the point of wanting to take a cheese grater to the back of your thigh? But I digress.

At least college football knows how to do a controversy. I might have thought Bob Stoops and everyone around Oklahoma was nuts after the Oregon debacle, but at least they went crazy when they got screwed. In baseball’s biggest showcase, you have Kenny Rogers cheating his butt off by pulling a Lester Hayes on the ball. You have Tony LaRussa, who showed his true stripes by not calling out that red-headed chemical factory a few years ago, not jumping all over the Rogers pine tar controversy. You have umpires who, at best, missed the “clump of dirt,” and at worst, let it go by telling Rogers to wash it off. You have Steve Palermo, the supervisor of umpires, turning into a less believable mouthpiece than Nathan Thurm. This whole thing stinks. Everyone is either lying or indifferent, which I wouldn’t really care about, except that this is the World Series and I’m blowing my precious TV time watching it. Look baseball, it’s football season. If you want me to care, show your game has more integrity than the WWE.

Provocative musings and tidbits to make every woman want you and every man want to be with you (or vice versa).
- Let’s slow down on calling Clemson’s dynamic tandem of James Davis and C.J. Spiller the next Reggie Bush and LenDale White. I love the Tiger twosome, but we’re talking about two record-setting legends when referring to the former Trojans. If you’re going to give the national love to Davis and Spiller, you have to include the Arkansas tandem of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in the discussion.

- To Bob Seger: They’re called white strips. Look into them.
- I’m not so sure Jeff Samardzija doesn’t deserve as much Heisman hype as Brady Quinn, and I definitely know Pat White should be in the discussion as much as Steve Slaton.
- If you’re going to a Halloween party as Darth Moll, Boba Fett, or any other Star Wars character, you will never, ever, ever get any nookie.

My Heisman ballot this week would be … 1. Troy Smith, QB Ohio State, 2. Mike Hart, RB Michigan, 3. Pat White, QB West Virginia, 4. Ray Rice, RB Rutgers, 5. Colt Brennan, QB Hawaii
C.O.W. shameless gimmick item … The weekly five Overrated/Underrated aspects of the world1) Overrated: Man Law ... Underrated: Ted Ferguson
2) Overrated: Jared Zabransky … Underrated: Jeannie Zelasko
3) Overrated: Saw III … Underrated: An Inconvenient Truth
4) Overrated: Lou Piniella... Underrated: Lou Pinella, as spelled by the Chicago Cub PR department in its press release announcing its new manager
5) Overrated: Slash ... Underrated: Nigel Tufnel

Sheer hubris run amok … The three lines this week that appear to be a tad off. Dumb Oregon getting blasted by Washington State prevented a much needed 3-0 week. Going 7-11 so far, here’s the official kiss of death for three teams … 1) BYU -8 over Air Force, 2) Kentucky -2 over Mississippi State, 3) Missouri -2.5 over Oklahoma

Sorry this column sucked, but it wasn’t my fault … I had a good column going, but for the first time all day long I couldn’t get to Brady Quinn, and he picked it apart.

Solon's Picks from EDSBS.com


Solon gives you the Meat Lover’s edition today–oh, and you like it, you sick pig, you. Among other things, he tackles the issue of the Big East’s surprising goodness, especially re: its gambling friendly tendencies. Enjoy.–O.

Greetings all.

A question for everyone this week–why is there some sort of question regarding whether an undefeated Big East Champion should go the title game?

If you look at what each of the conferences have done this season, there are 3 BCS conferences that seem to have established themselves as the cream of the crop–the SEC, the Pac 10, and, yes, the Big East. It’s pretty complex as to why, but suffice it to say that based on historical trends, home/road, and scheduled non-conference opponents, I predicted each conference’s W-L record in non-conference games for the season, and came up with the following expected records (actual records thus far are in parentheses):

ACC: 36-12 (26-12)
Big East: 27-13 (32-8)
Big 10: 34-11 (29-11)
Big 12: 37-11 (33-15)
Pac 10: 21-10 (18-8)
SEC: 36-12 (29-7)


Georgia fans, you have to resort to Rainierism here: Ze goggles, zey do nothing!

As you can see, the Big East has outperformed expectations substantially. They haven’t done it cheaply, either; they are 11-7 against BCS opponents, despite playing 10 of the 18 games on the road. And, you’ll note that’s almost 1/2 of their non-conference games against somewhat legitimate opposition.

The advantage of the Big East relative to the other conferences, at least this season, is its depth; UConn is a bad team (although they were still able to beat Big 10 equivalent Indiana on the road), but outside of them there are no dogs in the conference. Cincinnati and South Florida are not especially good teams, but they played Louisville and Rutgers tough (respectively); Cincinnati led Va Tech on the road in the 4th quarter of their game. Syracuse is in the bottom half of the conference, but they played Iowa even (yes, I know Tate didn’t play)–and Iowa is the 4th best team in the Big 10, at worst–and, Syracuse crushed Illinois on the road. And, as far as Louisville and West Va, no non-conference opponent has even come close to beating either of them. Obviously, the Big East has had some bad results (Pitt losing to Michigan State, for example)–but hasn’t every conference?

I’m not arguing the Big East is the best conference, just that running through the conference slate undefeated in the Big East is worthy of a Championship game bid. If Clemson had beaten BC, and went on to run the table, would anyone doubt their fitness for the Championship game? Well, if you look at their schedule and look at Louisville’s, for example, there’s little difference.

Also, in terms of conference schedules, if you look at that of Louisville and you look at that of Ohio State–who misses Wisconsin this season–I also don’t think there’s a lot of difference. OSU plays NW, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota–those are 4 pretty easy wins. No Big East team plays 4 conference games against teams as bad as those. Louisville has no game as tough as Michigan, but the next toughest conference game for OSU is the game against Iowa or against Penn State–both of whom look like a marginal Top 25 teams, at best, at this point. One could certainly make the argument that playing West Va/Rutgers is at least as difficult as playing Michigan/Iowa.

And, yes–I know Ohio State played at Texas, and also played Cincinnati (a tougher game for them than Mich State or Indiana was, by the way) which changes things a bit–but the argument against the Big East teams isn’t with regard to their non-conference scheduling, it’s with regard to the conference being so weak that winning it undefeated is of so little import that a 1-loss team should be placed in the championship game ahead of them. And that assumption does not appear to be backed up by anything other than that people assumed the Big East wasn’t going to be good this season.

All right, rant finished. Any thoughts?

On another note, for all of you who took my preseason advice and bet Florida State to go under 9 1/2 wins this season–go cash your tickets. Didn’t take too long, really. You’re welcome.

My selections last week went 7-4, leaving me at 47-32 for the season, a winning percentage of 59.5%. Hopefully I can keep it going this week.
Here are this week’s selections.

Clemson (-4) v. VIRGINIA TECH
I have been high on Clemson all season–believing them in the preseason to be the best team in the ACC, which now seems to be the conventional wisdom–and I see no reason to get off them now if the lines are going to be this short. http://www.cappingthegame.com/forum/VT is not VT, if that makes any sense–they have dropped substantially relative to previous seasons; if the GT game only suggested this, the BC game stated it definitively. Even with a win over Southern Miss–by far, the best team they have beaten this season–they have shown little to suggest that they can compete with Clemson. The VT O is poor; despite playing probably the two worst teams in the ACC, they are only averaging 311 ypg on O against BCS opponents. They have run up against some halfway decent defenses–GT, BC, even Cincy–but the only one of the class of the Clemson D is BC, who held VT to 181 yards, forced 4 turnovers, and allowed only a FG. VT’s O is decidedly average; they intend to use QB Whitaker this week in addition to QB Glennon, but I doubt it will change things for them. QB Glennon has had one particular good game this season, against ACC doormat Duke; against other 1-A opponents, he has averaged 168 ypg and 6.09 ypp with a 3-4 ratio, and even those very modest numbers are skewed by a 339 yard performance against GT where they were more than happy to trade yards for time after amassing a large lead. QB Whitaker is intended to give the VT O a running threat at the QB position, but I doubt he will make too much difference against a Clemson D that held mobile GT QB Ball to 8 yards on 12 carries last week. No opponent has been able to do anything particularly well against Clemson this season, and it I do not think it is likely that the VT O will get on track against them this week. Clemson’s O has good and bad news; while TE Hunter is doubtful, it looks like WR Stuckey will play (although his effectiveness may be compromised due to the cold weather); RB Davis is also questionable with a stinger. Despite what people might think, RB Davis’ presence is very important–without him, the Clemson running game will be severely compromised; RB Spiller is at his best in spurts, as a change of pace, which is why he is so effective as a receiver; having to play the majority of the game will lessen his effectiveness. The VT run D is pretty good, but outside of BC and GT–who went for an average of 121 ypg and 3.54 ypc–they haven’t faced anyone who could run the ball (note that So Miss RB Fletcher was out last week); and, of course, Davis and Spiller are both better than GT RB Choice, who went for 105 yards on 18 carries against VT. The VT pass D is all right, but the only legitimate QB they have faced is BC QB Ryan, who was 16-29, 174 yds, 2-0. Those are not great numbers, but with Stuckey back I expect Clemson QB Proctor to at least come close to that level of production, and combined with Clemson’s strong running game they should score enough points to get a relatively comfortable win here. VT, as they usually do, will have a large special teams edge, but I do not think it will be large enough to make VT competitive.

CINCINNATI (-6.5) v. Syracuse
Cincinnati has gotten better as the season has worn on; primarily, this is due to the emergence of their running game, which has stepped it up after getting stuffed by Ohio State. Since that game, they have averaged 192 ypg, despite playing Louisville, South Florida, and Va Tech, all of whom are legitimate, if not great, run defenses. Much like last season, Syracuse has a strange imbalance in their D; they are strong against the pass, but weak against the run. In Big East play, Syracuse has given up 296 ypg and 7.85 ypc, with West Virginia gaining a staggering 443 yards on 44 carries. Even Wyoming’s very modest running game gained 147 yards–their second highest total of the season–against Syracuse. Syracuse QB Patterson has improved tremendously this season, and I have a lot of respect for the Syracuse passing game–but if you look more closely, he has only gone over 200 yards twice–against Louisville (not a strong pass D), and Pitt. The Pitt performance is impressive, but you’ll note that his 20-29, 233 yard performance only resulted in only 11 points, largely because of Syracuse’s inability to run the ball. Cincinnati has a strong D; they held Louisville to 23 points, and nearly shut out USF last week. Cincy struggled against RBs Pittman and Ore, but they seem to have gotten it together lately, stuffing Louisville’s stable of backs and USF RB Ponton. Cincinnati’s only really poor game against the pass was against Pitt, but that was a little deceptive as Pitt completed 2 long TD passes, and one of them was pretty clearly offensive pass interference, although it was not called; against Louisville QB Brohm and Ohio State QB Smith, Cincinnati gave up 8.41 ypp with a 3-1 ratio; considering the competition, these are not bad numbers. Against QBs Grothe, Getsy, and Glennon, Cincy gave up an average of 5.41 ypp with a 3-2 ratio; Patterson is arguably better than those QBs, but his numbers will probably not be too much better. In any event, it is highly unlikely he will be able to produce at the level of Brohm and Smith. I expect Cincy to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and while Syracuse may produce some points I do not think they will be able to keep up with the Cincy O.

Brigham Young (-8) v. AIR FORCE
I’m not sure how it happened, but BYU’s O is a tremendous machine. Their QB play has been stellar all season–they even threw on Tulsa, leading to one of my early-season defeats–and, they are averaging 303 ypg and 9.28 ypp, with a 17-4 ratio. And, with the exception of Utah State, I would rate all of the pass defenses they have faced in the top half of CFB, and even if you limited their statistics to those gained against BC and Tulsa–both of whom I would rate among the top 20 pass defenses in the nation–they averaged 8.35 ypp with a 4-2 ratio. AFA’s pass D this season has been deplorable; not only did Tennessee and Colorado State–the only teams they have faced with good QBs–tear them up to the tune of 308 ypg and an amazing 11.83 ypp, all of their opponents–other than UT and CSU, a very modest bunch–have averaged 9.11 ypp against them. Given all of this, it is unlikely that the BYU running game will need to be a factor, but they have shown the ability to get the job done on occasion, running for 232 yds v. Tulsa and for 310 yds last week v. UNLV. AFA has been much better against the run, but, except for Navy (who ran for over 300 yds), they have yet to face a strong rushing attack; the best of the lot, SDSU, went for 151 yds last week against them in an upset victory. As for the AFA O, they will get their yards; no one has slowed them down this season with the exception of Navy, which has the advantage of facing the option on a regular basis. BYU, at least, tends to make them work; last year they held AFA to 200 rushing yds, and the season prior held them to 213. While BYU does not have the strongest rush defense this season, they have held their opponents–admittedly, a largely pedestrian bunch–to 109 ypg and 3.68 ypc this season. No one has really gone off on them, and I expect them to make some stops this weekend. I would argue that the BYU Ds margin for error is considerably greater than that of the AFA D, and while I expect AFA to score some points I do not expect that they will be able to keep up with the BYU O.

Also, I just have to say–because it’s been floating around my head for a while, and this is the first time I’m betting on BYU–that if there were an unofficial porno film for CFB 2006, it would have to star Sam Swank, Colt McCoy, and Mitch Mustain, and be directed by Bronco Mendenhall.

TULANE (-5.5) v. Army
I have a lot of respect for Bobby Ross, and the fact that this Army team has cobbled together 3 wins is a testament to just how good a coach he is. That said, I think he is overmatched this week. Army’s O is poor; in particular, their passing game is among the worst in the nation, not prolific and not efficient. Army makes a change at QB this week–Carson Williams is now the starter for David Pevoto–but I do not think it will make much difference. Army outscored TCU 14-0 in the second half last week with Williams at QB, but the scores were on a 50-yard run on a reverse, and on a 10 yard drive after a fumble; his 12-18, 110 yard performance did not have any real impact on that scoreline. Tulane’s pass D has given up a lot of yards, but when you consider the quality of the opposition (Houston, LSU, Auburn, UTEP) their numbers (257 ypg and 7.46 ypp with a 15-3 ratio) look a little better. In any case, the Army passing attack, which has been averaging 128 ypg and 4.78 ypp with a 3-14 ratio, will provide a welcome respite for the Tulane pass D despite the QB change. The Army running game provides little relief for the passing game, only averaging 113 ypg and 3.33 ypc; Tulane was run over by the Auburn backups last week, and previously struggled with the poor UTEP running game, but this Army team has too little going for it on O to present a challenge. Tulane’s strength is its O; they have a particularly potent passing game, and are averaging 272 ypg and 7.14 ypp despite playing BCS powers LSU and Auburn. Against the passing attacks with a pulse that Army has faced–A&M, Baylor, Rice, and TCU–Army has given up 211 ypg and 7.72 ypp, with a 8-1 ratio. Tulane can also run the ball a little bit, averaging 99 ypg despite having played 3 SEC defenses on the road, and having rushed for -36 against SMU, in a game where they were behind from the jump and abandoned the running game in favor of the pass, resulting in multiple sacks; if that game is ignored, they have averaged 121 ypg and 4.46 ypc despite 1/2 of the games coming against SEC teams. Army is very poor against the run, giving up 182 ypg and 4.91 ypc, and only holding pass-happy Baylor and Rice to less than 184 yards; 1-AA VMI even ran for 170 yards on the Army D. I think Tulane will win this one handily.


Ross: why’d he leave Ryan Stewart like that? WHYYYYY???

OHIO STATE (-27) v. Minnesota
Much like Michigan, one of Ohio State’s most impressive qualities this season has been how workmanlike and methodical their wins have been. Outside of a tricky game in a heavy rain against Penn State, OSU has yet to be challenged by any of their opponents late, and the closest of these wins was a 17-point victory away to the 5th best team in the nation. Amazingly, they have only given up more than 7 points twice, and are giving up an average of just 8 ppg. On tap this week is a Minnesota O that is a pale imitation of previous editions. Their once-powerful running game is no more; other than a 184 yard effort against Purdue, they have managed to hit 100 yards against BCS opposition only once, a 112 yd effort against Cal that required 32 carries ( 3.5 ypc). If confirmation was needed of the relegation of their running game to second-tier status, it came last week in the form of an 87-yard effort against 1-AA North Dakota State. I think Ohio State is vulnerable to the run–at least moreso than they are to the pass–but Minnesota will not be able to take advantage. Texas, NIU, BG, and Penn State all moved the ball on the ground against the Buckeyes–between them, averaging 156 ypg and 4.54 ypc–but this year’s Minnesota squad is not in the class of any of these teams and will not be able to do as well; and, you’ll note, none of those teams produced much end product, scoring 3 TDs between them. Minn QB Cupito has been decent this season, but he has not been prolific enough to pick up the slack; he had a good game against Penn State–really, a good 4th quarter and OT, where he threw for 176 of his 348 yards–but he has otherwise been average, passing for 181 ypg and 7.08 ypp–and those totals include games against Kent, Temple, and North Dakota State. The Ohio State pass D is among the best in the nation, giving up 5.69 ypp with a 5-14 ratio–and only Cincinnati and Iowa have gone for as many as 200 yards against them. Despite all of this, it is on the other side of the ball where OSU’s real advantage lies; Minnesota’s D is deplorable, giving up an average of 455 ypg to BCS opponents; and, it is safe to say that with the possible exception of Cal–who scored 42 points and gained 531 yds–this will be the best O that Minnesota has faced thus far. QB Smith should have a field day, as his 8.68 ypp and 13-2 ratio against BCS teams–which becomes 9.47 ypp and 12-0 ratio if you eliminate the Penn State game, played in inclement weather–will be going up against a pass D that is even worse than Smith is good, as they have given up 9.58 ypp and an astonishing 15-1 ratio against BCS opponents this season. Even when Tressel decides to call of the jam OSU will still produce, as the Minnesota run D is nearly as bad as their pass D, having given up 194 ypg and 5.03 ypc this season against BCS opponents. Ohio State has yet to really bust out on O this season, but their D is so good that they are still getting ahead of the number, and I think they will do the same this week.

Tennessee (-4.5) v. SOUTH CAROLINA
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Tennessee’s wins over SEC rivals Georgia and Florida the last two weeks is that they have won those games despite being an incredible -7 in turnovers. He has to mean Alabama here. Because Tennessee lost to Florida. Because they’re evil, and they suck. Thank you.–ed. So long as they do not put themselves in such a position again this week, I think they will win this game handily. Even without RB Coker–by far UT’s best RB–the Vols will still produce something against a weak S Car run D. The only teams S Car has held under 100 yds rushing were the non-existent running games of Kentucky and Mississippi State; Georgia’s rather modest running game went for over 200 yards against them, and 1-AA Wofford nearly went for 300. Do not misunderstand, I am not contending that the Tennessee running game will be a determining factor in the team’s success this week, just that they will provide enough balance for QB Ainge to do his thing; 263 ypg and 7.73 ypg against BCS opponents, all of whom, with the possible exception of Georgia, bring to the table much stronger pass defenses than South Carolina’s. South Carolina has yet to face a QB in Ainge’s class this season, and the only ones that come close–Auburn QB Cox and Kentucky QB Woodson–combined for 235 ypg and 9.38 ypp. South Carolina has been great against the other QBs they have faced, but if you look who they were–e.g., Georgia QB Stafford and Miss St QB Rutland, both coming into the game after injuries to starters, and each seeing their first significant game action–it is clear that S Car’s performance in those games is not operative here. On the other side of the ball, there is little doubt that the change to QB Newton has improved the S Car O; he is not only a better passer than QB Mitchell or QB Smelley, he also provides a running threat that the others do not possess. Without a doubt, though, there is a clear delineation in his performances; he has looked great against Wofford, Florida Atlantic, and Kentucky (220 ypg and 8.79 ypp passing, 49 ypg and 4.2 ypc rushing), while looking considerably less stellar against Auburn and Vandy (187 ypg and 7.04 ypp passing, 42 ypg and 3.0 ypc rushing). UT has one of the more accomplished pass defenses in the nation–even if narrowing your focus to the elite QBs they have played–Cal QB Longshore, Florida QB Leak, and Alabama QB Wilson–Tennessee has held these teams to 210 ypg and 6.55 ypp, with a 4-3 ratio. For my money, all of these QBs are superior to Newton. S Car RB Boyd has had a couple of good games against UK and Vandy, but while UT’s run D is much better than those, and while they have been a little bit vulnerable this season other than AFA no one has gone for 150 yards against them. South Carolina will probably run the ball a little bit, but it is unlikely that their production will be enough to make a difference in this game.


The endzone is that way–David Cutcliffe taught me that.

Kentucky (-1) v. MISSISSIPPI STATE
Kentucky’s D is not good, but MSU’s O is even worse. UK has been particularly exploitable through the air; 237 ypg and 8.92 ypp with a 9-3 ratio against BCS teams–and this does not include a 410 yard effort by Central Michigan. Fortunately for them, the MSU passing game is especially poor; 2 passing TDs this season (against 8 interceptions), and only 6.12 ypp. MSU has been reduced to starting Henig at the QB position–and he is not especially accomplished, throwing for 6.81 ypp with a 0-4 ratio this season. While he will probably have his best game yet, I suspect that the UK D will be able to improve substantially on their numbers regardless. Kentucky is also poor against the run; only 1-AA Texas State was held under 100 yards, and their other opponents have gone for 214 ypg and 5.51 ypc. Part of their problem stems from their inability to handle opposing QBs, who have gone for more than 50 ypg against them. MSU QB Henig, though, provides no running threat whatsoever; 35 carries for -104 yards for his career. MSU’s RBs are not much more accomplished either, and as a team they have hit 100 yards only once (against UAB), and they are averaging 61 ypg and 2.01 ypc in 5 games against BCS opposition. Once again, MSU will probably improve on those stats, but they will not blow up. The key matchup in this game is the strong UK passing attack against MSU’s weak pass D. Kentucky is averaging 243 ypg and 7.26 ypp with a 12-3 ratio, and there is little doubt that every pass D they have faced this season–with the exception of Ole Miss–is better than that of Miss State. Also note that UK has played what I rate as the two best pass defenses in the nation–Florida and LSU–and, if you take out those games, their numbers improve to 271 ypg and 8.81 ypp with an 11-2 ratio. MSU has been lit up this season through the air; in all games, they have given up 8.93 ypp with an 11-7 ratio. Against the established QBs they have faced–Auburn, Tulane, LSU, and West Va–those numbers are 11.69 ypp with a 9-1 ratio. I expect Kentucky QB Woodson to have a good day, and for the UK O to score plenty of points and to win this game with ease.

Washington State (+1.5) V. UCLA
Before the season I was high on WSU, and I was happy to see them finally win a game against a legitimate opponent last week. I think they will continue their success here; UCLA has a good D, but they have limitations on the offensive side of the ball. WSU is facing serious problems on the DL–in fact, they are even considering switching to a 3-4 this week to deal with their injuries at DT–but I still think they will bring enough to the table to handle the UCLA O. Despite both starting DT going out last week in the 1Q against Oregon, they still held the powerful Oregon rushing offense to 107 yards on 30 carries, and they held super RB Stewart to 28 yards on 11 carries. UCLA went off for over 300 yards rushing against Rice, but otherwise they have been unproductive on the ground, averaging 99 ypg against BCS opponents, culminating in a 26 yard effort against a weak ND run D last week. It is unlikely they will do too much against a WSU run D that has been fairly strong this season, only struggling against Auburn RB Irons and Cal RB Lynch; those 2 RBs averaged 7.44 ypc, but all other RBs faced by WSU this season have only averaged 3.90 ypc. It is safe to say that while UCLA RB Markey has some quailty, he is not in the class of those backs. At QB, while Cowan is not a severe dropoff from Olson, he is not the sort of QB that wins games single-handedly; WSU has held their own against much stronger passing attacks–USC, Oregon State, Cal, and Oregon–all with QBs much better than Cowan (or Olson, for that matter)–only averaged 7.19 ypp with a 5-6 ratio against the WSU D. UCLA has a strong D–despite the fact that Tennessee OC Cutcliffe will almost certainly win the Broyles award, UCLA DC Walker has done the best job of any assistant this season–but I think they are vulnerable against the pass, and that is going to be problematic against WSU’s strong passing game. WSU has averaged 245 ypg and 7.01 ypg with a 7-5 ratio in Pac 10 play; these are not great numbers but there is little doubt that WSU will produce yards throwing the ball. WSU also has a legitimate running game; they are averaging 144 ypg and 4.23 ypc in Pac 10 play, and while UCLA has been very strong against the run, Oregon lit them up for over 250 yards. The only good rushing team they have really handled is Washington; given this, it is certainly possible that WSU will produce on the ground as well as through the air. Bottom line–I think WSU will run the ball and pass the ball better than UCLA, and given that they rarely turn the ball over that should be enough to win this game outright.

East Carolina (+5.5) v. SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI
I’ve always liked Southern Miss, who I probably view the way people viewed Florida State 20 years ago; exceptionally bold schedulers who always give an honest effort, and, more often than not, scare the hell out of the big boys. Plus, Southern Miss grad SMQ is one of my favorite writers in the college football blogosphere. Still, I think ECU will have their measure this week. ECU’s running game is pretty average but their passing game is excellent; QB Pinkney has been very prolific, throwing for over 200 yards in every game with the exception of the Tulsa game (and, as regular readers know, I rate the Tulsa pass D as ridiculously strong); for the season, he has averaged 7.43 ypp with a 7-4 ratio, despite facing the strong Ds of West Va, UVa, and Tulsa. Southern Miss has been pretty average against the pass in ConfUSA play; they have given up 7.78 ypp, and while Pinkney is not nearly as good as Tulsa QB Smith, or Houston QB Kolb, he is comparable to those two and should have good production on Saturday. The ECU D is pretty strong; no doubt along with Tulsa they are the two best in ConfUSA. ECU has given up 337 ypg in ConfUSA play, and only gave up 311 ypg to BCS teams UVa and West Va. Since the opener against Navy, ECU has been particularly strong against the run, giving up 136 ypg and 3.68 ypc despite facing strong rushing attacks in Tulsa and West Virginia–who they held to 130 rushing yards. So Miss RB Fletcher returns this week, and he is quality–but his only especially prolific game was against NC State, and his production usually tops out at just over 100 yards. So Miss has the same problem at the QB position, Young is a decent player but he is not especially productive; as a team, So Miss has thrown for 163 ypg and 5.56 ypp, and they have yet to throw for 200 yards in any single game. Southern Miss just does not have a very prolific O; other than the game against NC State, when the ‘Pack was in full meltdown mode, So Miss has only gone over 300 yards on O once in 5 games (325 yds, Houston), and they are averaging 270 ypg; given that they are going up against a pretty good D this week I think the spread is too large for them to cover and I think ECU is a good bet with the points.

Arkansas State (-8) v. FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Picking Sun Belt games is always tricky, but I think I have a read on what is a–for the Sun Belt–very good Arkansas State squad. For the most part, there is a lot of parity among Sun Belt teams, but this season ASU–last year’s Sun Belt champion, by the way–seems to have separated themself from the pack. They dominated Florida International and North Texas, and while they only beat Louisiana-Monroe by the score of 10-6, that final was a bit deceptive as ASU controlled the contest. In addition, they have defeated ConfUSA side Memphis on the road; Memphis is not too great this season but there is little doubt that it would be difficult for any other team in the Sun Belt to duplicate that feat. The recipe for Arkansas State’s success is the same as always–they run the ball well, and teams have trouble passing against them. ASU is averaging 229 ypg on the ground in conference play this season, and while Fla Atl is giving up a respectable 125 ypg in conference play (to decent La-Laf and La-Mon rushing attacks), I do not think they will be able to handle the ASU running game. In addition, Arkansas State made a change at QB a few weeks back and it has paid off well for them; new QB Leonard has stepped in for old QB Hewitt and they can now count on offensive balance; since becoming the full-time starter, Leonard has averaged 9.67 ypp and the team has averaged more than 200 ypg passing the ball. Fla Atl’s D is not too bad, but they have yet to face a team that can both run and pass, and I think they will struggle this week. On the other side of the ball, Florida Atlantic is not especially good on O, and they were shut out at home against a weaker La-Lafayette D. They had a decent game against Louisiana-Monroe–21 points and 333 yards–but the Arkansas State D is much stiffer; for the season, they are giving up 260 ypg, and they held a strong Oklahoma State passing game to 167 yards. ASU is somewhat vulnerable against the run, but Fla Atl has only run the ball well against La-Mon this season, and I rate them as the 117th best rush D in the nation, and I do not think they will do the same to Arkansas State. ASU has already beaten Florida International and Memphis on the road this season, and I do not think they will have too much trouble getting ahead of the number here.

RUTGERS (-18.5) v. Connecticut
Even though they are 7-0, I am still not sure I believe in Rutgers–their O is way too one-dimensional to be considered a serious player on the national scene–but they are going up against the worst team in the Big East this week and their limitations will not be exposed by UConn. Rutgers’ running game is no joke–they are averaging over 200 ypg on the ground, and the UConn run D is ill-equipped to deal with them. West Va’s 259 yd, 41 carry performance last week is typical–they also gave up over 200 yards to South Florida (playing without RB Ponton), and Navy amassed an incredible 461 yds on the ground against the Huskies. Even if QB Teel has his usual 125 yd performance, as long as he does not throw the ball too often Rutgers will be in good shape. And, as good as the Rutgers running game has been, their D is their strength this season; opponents are averaging less than 9 ppg against Rutgers, and since the opener only South Florida has gained as many as 250 yards against them, and USF only gained 322. I think Rutgers might be vulnerable to the pass–they have a strong 4-8 ratio, and while they shut down Pitt, USF QB Grothe had a decent game against them, as did UNC QB Sexton. Their pass D might be exploited by Louisville, Cincinnati, or Syracuse, but not by Connecticut, whose numbers for the season are 143 ypg and 4.86 ypp with a 4-7 ratio. UConn can run the ball a little, but the Rutgers run D is among the best in the nation; opponents are averaging 81 ypg and 2.65 ypc. They held Navy–albeit, without their starting QB–to less than 100 yards rushing; even with the injury to QB Hampton, this is an incredible accomplishment. They also stuffed a strong Illinois rushing game–which is averaging 189 ypg and 4.85 ypc in Big 10 play–to 66 yards on 28 carries. Also, as noted last week, UConn abandons the run when they fall behind, which is something that will work in Rutgers’ favor if they can jump out to an early lead. Rutgers will want to impress their home crowd, and being on national television will ensure their focus despite their next scheduled game being against Louisville; I like them to get a big win in this spot.


Florida (-14) v. Georgia (Jacksonville, FL)
I actually came pretty close to giving this game “Bet of the Year” status, but a few things held me back. First off, it would be difficult to deal the cognitive dissonance–you’ll note that in my two seasons posting on this site I’ve never bet against the Dawgs. The last time I bet against them was in 1994 (Georgia 17, Ole Miss (+8) 14), and it was excruciating even though the game wasn’t on TV and I only saw scores over the ticker (and, you’ll note that the game was a potential win/win, and, as it happened, it worked out since the Dawgs won the game and I won my bet–something that couldn’t possibly happen if I bet against the Dawgs as a ‘dog). So, while as a bettor I try to detach, it’s sometimes damn near impossible. Second, and perhaps of more import to just about everyone else reading this, Florida just doesn’t score a lot of points. Their point totals in SEC play are 21, 26, 28, 23, and 17. That’s an average of 23 ppg with a max of 28 pts, and this will be nowhere near the worst D they have faced. And it’s not as though the Gators are running up a bunch of yards and squandering a bunch of scoring opportunities–they are only averaging 327 ypg on O; take out the game against Kentucky and that number drops to 280 ypg. Of course, the Gator D is a monstrosity and this is where it gets tricky for the Dawgs. I’ve seen true freshmen who have otherwise had great seasons run up against voracious Ds and the results are not pretty; QB Stafford, of course, has had something other than a great season so far–6.82 ypp and a 2-7 ratio against BCS opponents–and this will be the best D he has yet faced. If QB Stafford can keep the turnover machine off, the Dawgs will keep this one close, and if he grows up quickly they may even have a shot to win it outright; the available evidence suggests this is highly unlikely, however, and I suspect it will be a long day for the Dawgs.

MIZZOU (-2.5) v. Oklahoma
It seems hard to believe that massively talented QB Brad Smith was holding the Tigers back but the evidence is too great to ignore. This year’s Missouri team has balance on O, and they have been prolific, averaging 30 ppg. Oklahoma’s D is solid but against the only truly legitimately balanced offenses they have faced–Washington, Oregon, and Texas–they gave up an average of 27 ppg and 380 ppg. I expect Missouri to put up numbers comparable to those averages, and I do not believe the Oklahoma O will be able to keep up. While OU rushed for a lot of yards against the strong Colorado D last week, they were not overly efficient; they amassed 166 yards, but reaching that total took them 49 carries. Mizzou does not have nearly as good a run D as Colorado, but I do not think OU is going to put up the same sorts of numbers post-Peterson, regardless of the opposition–and, anyway, Mizzou’s run D is not too bad. Colorado and A&M ran Mizzou over, but between them they only averaged 4.34 ypc; I do not believe OU will have the same sort of proficiency. Bottom line is that I do not trust OU QB Thompson to do the job against the Mizzou pass D. Thompson has been decent this season–against BCS opposition, 191 ypg and 7.02 ypp, with a 6-3 ratio–but this will probably be the best pass D he has faced. Mizzou has held each opponent to less than 200 ypg, with the exception of Texas Tech, who threw for 378 yards on 61 passes (6.20 ypp). For the season, BCS opponents are only averaging 5.65 ypp with a 5-7 ratio. So, given all of this, why is this not an “official” play? Mizzou has yet to face a QB in a normal O as good as Thompson (Texas Tech presents a different sort of challenge altogether), and it’s entirely possible that they will be exposed. I doubt this will happen, but it’s likely enough that this game gets knocked down here, out of rotation order, relegated to “unofficial” status.