5 Thoughts, Week 7
Week 1 - Is TCU Deserving? |
Week 2 - The bad, bad ACC
Week 3 - Uhhh ... Texas & Florida? |
Week 4 - Ohio State's
- Week 5 - Boise State's
Poll Slide | Week 6 -
The Poll Problem
1. Yippee!!! The 2010 Fiesta Bowl ... Again!
I'm trying, Boise State, TCU and Utah. I mean I'm REALLY trying to pull for you and see your side of things.
I really would like to see the Broncos get their shot at the whole ball of wax after more than a decade of excellence, and I do think that the TCU/Utah winner, if unbeaten,
will be good enough to win it all. Oh yes, I am trying.
But I just can't do it.
I've been flip-flopping more than Kramer going commando, but after this weekend and all the parity across the college football landscape, it's too hard to argue that Boise State or the Mountain West champ deserves anything more than a polite attaboy and a nice BCS payday from one of the non-BCS Championship bowls.
Yeah, Boise State can beat anyone in America, as can TCU, as can Utah.
But the argument for these great non-BCS teams isn't that all the top
BCS teams are getting picked off; the argument against them is that all the top BCS teams are getting picked off.
It's been said over and over again but it bears repeating since so much gets lost in the noise and the various discussions; it's not fair to put a Boise State or a TCU in the BCS Championship with such mediocre schedules. No, not for a single, solitary second do I believe that the Broncos, Horned Frogs, or Utes go unbeaten if they played in the SEC, Big Ten, Pac 10, Big 12, or ACC. Not a chance.
It's just way too hard to have to beat good team after good team after good team. San Jose State was Wisconsin's non-conference cupcake game, not a day in the life of the WAC. It's just not fair that Boise State is playing the Spartans while the Badgers have to play the Spartans, the Michigan State version, and then a few games later have to face Ohio State.
OHIO STATE. Just like South Carolina beat ALABAMA. No, beating Virginia Tech, or Oregon State, or Iowa State once doesn't come close to replicating the
cumulative body blows the BCS conference teams have to take over and over and over again.
But you know this.
The problem going forward is that there will only be two unbeaten teams left standing. One will be Boise State, and the other will be the winner of the TCU-Utah battle in Salt Lake City. LSU and Auburn have to play each other, Alabama, and the rest of the SEC slate. Oregon has the bull's-eye on its back and a frothing-at-the-mouth USC team to deal with, not to mention Arizona and Oregon State. Oklahoma and Missouri have to face each other, and no, the Sooner team that struggled to get past Air Force, Cincinnati, and Utah freakin' State isn't going to go unbeaten. And neither is Oklahoma State. Throw in the Michigan State game at Iowa, and good luck finding a BCS conference team still standing without a check mark in the L column.
Meanwhile Boise State will keep winning big, TCU keeps on waking up in time to pull away in second halves of games, and Utah continues to be ultra-efficient.
To put this another way, how many teams currently in the BCS top 25 are on Boise State's schedule? One, Virginia Tech, and it's at 25. Other than each other, how many teams on the list are on the TCU and Utah schedules? Zipidee-doo-da.
How many BCS Top 25 teams are on Oklahoma's slate? Four. Alabama has to play five teams currently in the top 25, as does LSU, as does Auburn. Michigan State only has two games against BCS top 25 teams, but that doesn't account for dates against Notre Dame, Michigan, Northwestern, and Penn State, while Oregon also has just two games against top teams, but that doesn't count USC, Cal, Arizona State, and Oregon State (all road games), as well as Tennessee (another road game), and UCLA.
The solution, of course, is a playoff. Since we don't have that, and we have to go by the regular season, I'm not quite sure what the college football world is prepared to do.
Ah, screw it. TCU/Utah winner vs. Boise State for the national title. It would
probably be a pretty good game.
2. Go ahead. Boise State, TCU, and Utah, take your shot at the
Have fun now, SEC-haters. The league you love to disparage can't possibly be this bad at any point in the near future.
By its typically lofty standards, the Southeastern Conference is way down this fall. It's evident just about every time one of its members goes on display. Since no league has been particularly stellar this year, it's hard to say which is the strongest one for 2010, but if the SEC winds up in the discussion, it'll be completely by default. Collectively, the offenses are terrible, and the East has been a particular mess. Tennessee and Georgia are under .500. Florida is mired in its first three-game losing streak in more than two decades. South Carolina proved to be a pretender, blowing a big lead at Kentucky over the weekend. Vandy is Vandy. The West is far better, thanks largely to the rise of Auburn and Mississippi State, but Ole Miss and even Alabama are down from a year ago, and LSU might be the shakiest 7-0 team in recent memory. Arkansas is entertaining, but after yielding 65 points to Auburn, it's lost a lot of luster.
The SEC is still home to some outstanding coaching staffs and a fertile recruiting area, so any downturn isn't likely to last very long. However, cyclical though it may be, the league's short-term slump is very real and unlikely to change by the end of the season. For years, we've all heard critics crucify the SEC, claiming the conference gets too much attention and too much benefit of the doubt. Go ahead and pat yourselves on the backs, naysayers.
For a change, you've got an iron-clad case that's not worth disputing.
3. Ames, Iowa just might not be the spot.
Location, location, location.
I got to thinking about Gene Chizik as Auburn pulled away in Saturday's thriller with Arkansas, moving to 7-0 and a big step closer to national championship contention. Not two years ago, wasn't he the guy who was being vilified in almost every corner of the media when AD Jay Jacobs hired him? A 5-19 record at Iowa State was the root cause of the hysteria, but most failed to recognize one critical factor—his awful two-year mark occurred in Ames, where coaching careers have historically gone to die.
Near the top of his profession at this moment in time, is Chizik a good coach, who failed an impossible short-term assignment, or an average one prospering from significantly better talent? You decide. However, one thing is certain. College football is loaded with quality head coaches, who are being held below their full potential by a weak pool of talent, average facilities, or a lack of tradition. Or all of the above. Names like David Cutcliffe at Duke, Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, and Mike Haywood at Miami (OH) are just a few that quickly come to mind as examples. Heck, is Turner Gill, who was linked closely to the Chizik story two years ago, suddenly overmatched because his first Kansas team has floundered to a 2-4 start and consecutive lopsided losses to Baylor and Kansas State? Of course not. He inherited a mess that's going to require some patience.
It takes time and often the right location to truly get a good read on a coach. Keep that in mind the next time you start getting an itchy trigger finger in the direction of an underperforming first or second-year head man. Or when the new hire down the block gets a high-profile offer, even though he doesn't have a pristine record at his previous stops. When judged in a vacuum, a win-loss mark can be a surprisingly deceptive barometer of a coach's overall ability.
4. Yay ... it's 2007 again! This means our country still has money!
In the wake of the 2007 college football season, yours truly said that there would be more seasons like it in the future. The pressure of big-time college football is too intense, the scrutiny too unrelenting, the delicate chemical cocktails - things like "chemistry" and 20-year-old male hormones - too fragile to maintain perfect seasons and neat, tidy conclusions.
It stands to reason that this sport will have more messy multi-car pile-ups, wacky seasons in which teams experience such profound fluctuations over the course of a season that it becomes hard to judge their worth even in early December, let alone mid-October. Fortunes will shift substantially and a settled order will rarely, if ever, emerge. Teams that might appear to be great will suddenly encounter tests they won't be ready to overcome. We saw all these things happen in 2007, and we're seeing them this year.
Michigan seemed like something special in the eyes of some observers, but that mirage has emerged in broad daylight.
Nebraska was a sexy national-title contender with a Heisman candidate in the eyes of some... until it ran into a team with a proud pedigree and a strong defense coming off a bye week.
With the exceptions of Oregon and Boise State - two teams that have taken care of business with power and professionalism - the nation's remaining undefeated teams have enormous holes in their overall profiles.
Auburn - which should be no lower than No. 3 in anyone's set of rankings and has legitimately accomplished a lot in 2010 - hasn't played one upper-tier opponent away from home. (Please, don't call Mississippi State upper-tier.) Writer John Walters of NCAA FanHouse, in a very thoughtful piece last week on how college football can be improved without the use of a playoff system, noted that Auburn has left the South only three times in the last 12 years to play a non-conference game. Make no mistake: Auburn has shown more heart and resilience than any other team not named Oregon. Yet, it's easier to find fresh fuel in the tank when the Jordan-Hare faithful have your back every step of the way.
The LSU team Auburn will face in the week eight spotlight game has, of course, received fortune on a scale that would make a $300,000,000 lottery winner jealous. Remember, with Les Miles, the normal rules of analysis and commentary don't apply. Calling 99 percent of America's football teams "ridiculously lucky and undeserving of victory" - at least with respect to the Tennessee game - comes across as inappropriate message-board whining; with Les Miles-coached teams, it's plain and unvarnished objective truth. (What wild scenario will we be in for when Auburn and LSU lock horns?)
Oklahoma's profile looks better in light of what Texas did at Nebraska, but the Sooners' portfolio took multiple hits over the past two weeks when Utah State got clubbed by Louisiana Tech, Florida State slithered by Boston College, and Air Force lost at San Diego State. The Sooners deserve to be in every voter's top five this week, but we still know very little about them. Given Nebraska's still-woeful offense, it's quite possible that OU could run the table without meeting a big-league challenge. (That would make an Oklahoma-Boise title game doubly ironic as well as doubly delicious for any theme-starved sportswriter.)
Do we know much yet about the Missouri team that will oppose Oklahoma in week eight's second-best matchup? No, not really. Mizzou barely skated past Illinois and was very fortunate to beat San Diego State at home. Thumping Texas A&M isn't cause for reverence, either.
Michigan State is taking care of business this year. Let's win at Iowa, though, before cranking up the national-title talk in East Lansing. Too bad, Jim Delany, that the Spartans don't play Ohio State, too.
TCU might be playing great defense, but the Horned Frogs' offense has been distinctly underwhelming throughout 2010. The Frogs should be an underdog when they get to Utah on November 6 - a Ute win in that game looks less like an upset and more like an expected conquest with each passing day.
Utah, should it beat TCU, will have won a premium contest, but with Pittsburgh descending into mediocrity, did the Utes' non-conference schedule give us any indication that this team can compete with good teams in leagues not called the Big East? Utah could go 12-0 and not be a tested, proven team... just like the Hawaii squad that marched through 2007 unbeaten and then got its doors blown off (kinda like Colt Brennan's ribs) against Georgia in that season's Sugar Bowl.
Everywhere you look in college football, except for Boise and Eugene, Oregon (though the Ducks are banged up and could suffer for that reason), the nation's better FBS teams lack airtight identities. Weaknesses proliferate, and precious little seems set in stone after seven weeks. This season has the feel of something very fragile - it's like a horror flick in which you're just waiting for the next hapless victim to get bumped off by stumbling into a dark alley where he can't adequately defend himself.
This is 2007 all over again. As was written three years ago, expect more of these seasons in the future as well. Few people were intellectually ready for the two-loss-team parade that unfolded in 2007, but it's high time we all got used to such a dynamic. It's going to reappear throughout the coming decade.
5. And you think Les Miles is nuts
By Matt Zemek
When you get seasons like 2007, you also receive - as a part of that bundle - some very complicated analytical case studies and dizzying historical narratives. On Saturday, few people stood at the center of more fascinating, complex, and multi-layered dramas than Steve Spurrier of South Carolina (and formerly of Florida... there's a reason for ducking in that added detail, as you'll soon find out).
It's easy and - moreover - accurate to once again break out the chorus of "Same Old South Carolina" after the Gamecocks' choke job against Kentucky. Spurrier's first-ever loss to Big Blue in 18 games could very well become the game that prevents the Gamecocks from winning their first-ever SEC East. It doesn't destroy their chances, but it will likely prevent Cocky from being able to clinch the East before the Nov. 13 game at Florida, which is what Carolina fans so dearly wanted to achieve. (It could still happen if Florida loses against Georgia and Carolina wins its next three SEC games, but obviously, that's an unlikely proposition.)
Yet, as is so often the case in not just college football but sports in general, the reality isn't the same as the popular national perception.
After all, it's not as though South Carolina wasn't prepared for this game, mentally or tactically. Spurrier came out with a fantastic game plan and scorched the Wildcats on wheel routes to Marcus Lattimore. South Carolina figured to use Lattimore as its main weapon against Kentucky, but Spurrier threw a curveball by making his stud freshman a pass catcher more than a runner. The brilliant chess move helped Carolina to build a 28-10 lead in the middle of the third quarter. No letdown, no hangover, no nothing - South Carolina didn't overlook Kentucky or disrespect Kentucky. Anyone saying "Same Old South Carolina" for any of those particular reasons is sadly misguided. The right conclusion, if not attached to the right rationale, means little. Yet, one suspects that a lot of people are falling into that trap in the wake of this contest.
What the Gamecocks did do to lose this game was not related to the letdown syndrome in a larger sense; what killed Carolina was that it mentally shriveled once Lattimore left the game with a sprained ankle in the third quarter. Yes, the loss was important, but with an 18-point lead and only 22 minutes left against Kentucky, that shouldn't have mattered. Even with the offense suddenly body-snatched due to the loss of its star, it's hard to understand how a veteran South Carolina secondary could play so poorly, allowing a number of third-and-13 conversions which enabled Kentucky to climb within 28-23 and force a reeling Gamecock offense to produce first downs it could never generate while owning the lead.
Many will focus on Lattimore as the turning point with a degree of undeniable correctness, and many more will focus on Spurrier's awful game management (not play selection, but certainly game management) on Carolina's final drive. Yet, the overlooked aspect of this wrenching loss for the Gamecocks is that they once again gave up more than 30 points on the road, wilting in the second half of a game they once led by double digits. It's true that had Lattimore remained in the game, it would have been very hard to imagine how Carolina could have lost; but since that patch of adversity did in fact emerge, this was the time the South Carolina defense had to stick up for its offense. The busted coverage on the game-defining fourth-and-six - in which Kentucky's best player, Randall Cobb, was the one player the Gamecocks did not account for - represented the height of ineptitude for a defense that would have won had it held Kentucky's once-sputtering offense to only two second-half touchdowns. Three, though, proved to be too much.
What's ironic about this game - which was still winnable for Carolina, but turned into disaster in the last minute on a drive horribly mismanaged by Spurrier (details are provided in this week's Monday Morning Quarterback) - is that the Head Ball Coach, on one of his worst days, was still weirdly magnified for reasons beyond anything and everything related to South Carolina.
When Florida lost to Mississippi State roughly 75 minutes after Carolina's collapse in Kentucky, the school Spurrier once coached fell into the deepest pit it's experienced since the Ron Zook era. Florida has now dropped three straight games for the first time since the 1999 season. What's noteworthy about that 1999 season is that it marked Spurrier's worst campaign in the years following the graduation of Danny Wuerffel, the legendary quarterback who carried Spurrier (more than the other way around) for four seasons of SEC superiority in Gainesville. How eerily similar it is, then, that in the first year of the post-Tim Tebow era, Florida and Urban Meyer have fallen on hard times even more profound than anything Spurrier endured in 1999.
Let's put the matter in perspective: Spurrier's worst post-Wuerffel year at Florida still produced a 9-4 season with a Citrus (now Capital One) Bowl invite. The 2010 Florida team, lost without Mr. Tebow, will be hard-pressed to reach those markers this year. That reality does much to underscore the consistency Spurrier produced throughout his tenure at Florida, the consistency which ceased to be appreciated when he lost to Tennessee in 2001, squandering a chance to reach the BCS National Championship Game against Miami.
And now, a few postscripts: If you think all the parallels between Spurrier and Florida - between time present in South Carolina and time past in Gainesville - have been exhausted, think again.
What happened in that damaging Florida loss to Tennessee in 2001, which quite possibly led Spurrier to step away from his alma mater for good? First, Florida played without Earnest Graham, its dependable, difference-making running back. Nine years later, the loss that could haunt Spurrier's tenure at South Carolina (if he fails to win the SEC East) also involved the loss of a star ballcarrier, Marcus Lattimore.
The other aspect of that Tennessee loss was that Florida's defense simply could not stop the Volunteers when it counted, particularly quarterback Casey Clausen and running back Travis Stephens. Nine years later in Lexington, Kentucky, Spurrier's defense couldn't do anything in crunch time against Wildcat quarterback Mike Hartline and his trusty sidekick, Randall Cobb. Jon Hoke, meet Ellis Johnson. Ellis Johnson, Jon Hoke.
In 2001, Florida lost 34-32 to Tennessee. In 2010, South Carolina lost 31-28 to Kentucky. Spurrier had never lost to Tennessee at home until 2001. Spurrier had never lost to Kentucky (anywhere) until 2010.
It's amazing how history - providing both sunlight and shadow, magnifying both great feats and epic failures - continues to linger over the shoulders of Stephen Orr Spurrier. The reality of his coaching life is far more layered and complicated than his best and worst qualities immediately suggest.