5 Thoughts (10/24) - The Oregon Résumé
Oregon RB LaMichael James
Oregon RB LaMichael James
Posted Oct 25, 2010

Has Oregon really done anything? Among the BCS top 25, only Utah has played an easier schedule. The Ducks have played Stanford and ... and ... Stanford. The Duck résumé so far, Michigan State's rising star, the Texas problem, and more in this week's 5 Thoughts.

CFN Analysis 

5 Thoughts, Week 8

- 5 Thoughts Week 1 - Is TCU Deserving?  | Week 2 - The bad, bad ACC 
- Week 3 - Uhhh ... Texas & Florida? | Week 4 - Ohio State's Schedule 
- Week 5 - Boise State's Poll Slide | Week 6 - The Poll Problem 
- Week 7 - The 2 Left Standing? 

1. Boise State squashed them last year. Maybe it'll get another shot in Glendale

E-mail Pete Fiutak

Look everyone! A shiny ball of tin foil!

Oooh, oooh … a strobelight!!

Shhhh, shhhh … Jersey Shore!!!

Oregon is ranked No. 1 in both human polls, but it goes to show how insane the BCS rankings are that the computers aren't on board. How can the Ducks be ranked eighth by the wires and chips … EIGHTH?!

Simple. Their schedule makes Boise State's look like the SEC West.

Oregon has played the 81st toughest schedule in America. Boise State's slate is ranked 57th, Auburn's is third, Wisconsin's is 45th, TCU's is 67th, Michigan State's is 49th, and Missouri's is 13th. Out of the top 25 teams in the latest BCS rankings, only Utah (96th) has played an easier schedule.

Sure, it's really, really fun to see LaMichael James and the running game go flying up and down the field. Yeah, watching that defense stuff everyone in the second half while looking like there are 14 guys on the field is impressive, but it all might be a mirage.

Unless UCLA wins three of its final four five games against Arizona, Oregon State, at Washington, at Arizona State, and USC, it's not going bowling. Considering it lost its last two games by a combined score of 95 to 20, that seems like a stretch. Arizona State isn't going to a bowl game unless it wins four of its final five games against Washington State, at USC, Stanford, UCLA, and at Arizona. If those two don't make the post-season, that means Oregon has played just one team – Stanford -- that will go bowling.

New Mexico might be the worst team in college football. Tennessee is awful, Portland State is Portland State, Washington State is the worst BCS conference team, and it'll take a miracle for UCLA and Arizona State to go to a bowl. But the number of games against bowl eligible teams isn't necessarily the measure of a great résumé.

To dive deeper, New Mexico is 117th in the nation in total offense and 102nd in total defense. Tennessee is 95th in the nation in total offense and 88th in total defense. Portland State is Portland State. Arizona State is 34th in the nation in offense and 48th in defense, representing the best D the Ducks have had to deal with. Not coincidentally, Oregon gained just 125 rushing yards and was outgained 597 yards to 385, but Sun Devil QB Steven Threet had a bad habit of throwing the ball to Oregon players. Stanford, the one really good win so far, is 15th in the nation in total offense and 58th in total defense, but the win was in Autzen Stadium. Washington State has the 81st ranked offense and is dead-last in the nation in defense. UCLA is 102nd in total offense and 85th in defense.

In other words, Oregon, prove it.

USC can't play a lick of defense, but it'll have two weeks off to prepare for the Oregon attack and it has the offensive weapons to make it a shootout. Arizona certainly has the firepower to pose a challenge, and the Oregon State game is in Corvallis. Washington is always quirky, but Oregon should win that home game in a walk, which leaves the truly scary game on the board, outside of the USC date: California.

Cal has been dismissed after being erased by Nevada 52-31 and getting blown away by USC 48-14, but both of those games were on the road. The Bears are shockingly bad away from Berkeley, going 0-3, but stunningly amazing at home, beating UC Davis, Colorado, UCLA and Arizona State (basically the same level of schedule that Oregon has dealt with) by a combined score of 189 to 34, or an average of 47.25 to 8.5. Unlike most of the Pac 10, the Bears play defense, ranked 15th in the nation and 22nd against the run, allowing 301 total yards per game and 114 rushing yards.

There's no question that Oregon is one of college football's most exciting teams, and it really does appear to be good enough to hang around with anyone in America, but it needs to come up with a quality road win, and it has to prove that it can do that against a defense with a pulse.

Nebraska's offense faced a rested and jacked up Texas defense, and it was stopped cold. Michigan and Denard Robinson struggled against a live defense when Iowa and Michigan State came to town. Auburn has been the exception to the norm for spread offenses, and Oregon also might really be that good no matter what defense is has to go against.

In the meantime, is this really the No. 1 team in the country? It sure looks like it belongs in the top spot after the UCLA game, but there's a reason why the computers count for one third of the equation.

2. If you thought THIS was wacky

By Richard Cirminiello

If this keeps up, will either Boise State or TCU lock up a spot in the National Championship game before Thanksgiving?

Assuming they continue to win, it's become impossible to dismiss the Broncos and Horned Frogs as serious threats for Glendale. In fact, the way contenders have been falling over the last three weeks, there might be a better than 50/50 shot that a non-AQ program is playing on Jan. 10. Stop rolling your eyes, and think of it pragmatically. There are only six majors with a shot of ending the Cinderella runs. The ACC isn't a threat, nor is the Big East, which ought to take the payout and forfeit this year's automatic berth in a BCS bowl game. That leaves four. I don't like the chances of a Big Ten or Big 12 team finishing in one of the top two slots, especially since Michigan State and Missouri, respectively, are its last remaining unbeaten programs. The Spartans and Tigers are having great years, but are they great teams? I don't see it, and I expect both to stumble, maybe as early as this Saturday. That leaves two roadblocks to a historical pairing at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Pac-10 and SEC champs.

Can Oregon run the table and bypass the Rose Bowl altogether this year? Absolutely. Auburn? Of course, but have you seen anything over the last month that leads you to believe both will avoid all landmines and remain perfect through the next 10 games combined? Certainly possible, but not mathematically probable. One of them is going to lose, and if it's the Ducks, it gets even harder to keep an unbeaten Boise State or TCU from playing for a championship. If it's the Tigers, well, then the one-loss question enters the discussion. A 12-1 Alabama, for instance, would have about as impressive a resume as anyone in the country.

Think back over the past handful of seasons in college football. Most of the major upsets don't usually happen until November, yet we haven't even reached Halloween and the mighty continue to fall on a weekly basis. If Boise State and TCU keep taking care of business and get even one or two breaks along the way, the highest-rated non-AQ team is going to elevate from BCS buster to hosting the entire postseason party.

3. If only they had Cliff Lee at quarterback

Richard Cirminiello

Death and Texas.

How can you wrap your arms around what's happened to the Longhorns this season? Sure, every school has an off-year. Every single one. However, this has been so much more than your garden variety decline, that marginal nine or 10-win season that sets the table for a national championship run in the following year. No, this has been the kind of implosion that leaves you scratching your head for answers.

While Texas wasn't expected to be back in the title game for a second straight year, that would have been a far more likely scenario than what's taken place over the past month. The ‘Horns haven't just gone 1-3 and lost back-to-back home games for the first time in 13 years. They've embarrassed themselves with futility, first in a 34-12 loss to bumbling UCLA and then with Saturday's 28-21 defeat at the hands of lowly Iowa State. The same Cyclone team that had given up 158 points in the previous three games. And the same one that had never beaten Texas on the road … ever.

Something is clearly wrong at Texas, but unlike when other teams have issues, it's not so simple to point fingers at the talent on the roster or the coaches on the staff. Those are not major concerns for the Longhorns. Yes, losing Colt McCoy to graduation is devastating, but this remains a program that always cleans up in recruiting and is littered with former can't-miss high school recruits. Oh, and don't make the knee-jerk mistake of indicting Mack Brown and his assistants based on one horrid run. Over the past decade, Brown has consistently had one of the better staffs in the country. So what's going on?

While there's no way of knowing for sure, unless you're on-site every day, it looks as if there's a void in the locker room that's carrying over to Saturdays. A lack of a vocal veteran leader. Poor chemistry. Maybe an attitude problem that's negatively impacting team play and offsetting all of the raw physical talent on hand. The ‘Horns shouldn't be getting outclassed by the ‘Clones on the field, raising concerns that there are internal problems derailing this program in 2010. If they can't get them addressed quickly, things could get ugly because Baylor, Kansas State and the rest of their opponents want their pound of flesh as well.

Death, taxes, and a 10-win season in Austin. Three sure-things that have belonged in the same sentence for the past decade. The Longhorns won't be holding up their end of the equation for a change in a season that has suddenly and inexplicably begun to unravel.

4. But the two best passes of the year came from the punter

By Matt Zemek

Why is Michigan State still unbeaten? Why has Sparty not slipped on the banana peel yet in 2010? Why is Team Green in position to at least tie for the Big Ten title and make a BCS bowl game for the first time in the BCS era?

You can point to Mark Dantonio's kick-faking fortitude. You can cite the no-quit mentality on the Spartans. You can point to an imperfect yet rugged defense that regularly stands tall in the second halves and fourth quarters of games. Yet, the biggest reason a special narrative is being authored in East Lansing this year is Kirk Cousins, and it's really not that close.

How many times in 2009 did Cousins wilt in a pressure situation? How many times last season did the MSU signal caller falter and flinch when a big game was on the line, waiting to be claimed or, alternatively, coughed up? Then ask yourself: What psychological strength training did Cousins do to engineer the profound mental transformation he's undergone in 2010?

Cousins, plainly put, is now a giant between the ears instead of a midget. How many times did he calmly shrug off a 3rd-and-15 or a 2nd-and-20 to move the sticks in the second half of Saturday's Houdini act at Northwestern? How many times did Cousins throw a perfect ball into a tight window to either move the sticks or set up a manageable fourth-and-short situation? How many times did Cousins have to pass the ball in a completely predictable passing situation, knowing that he had to produce a touchdown, and nothing less, in the crucible of fourth-quarter pressure? This is a new man, a reborn field general and a leader for his teammates. This is a take-charge figure who is welcoming pressure instead of pretending it doesn't exist. It is often said that programs need the right coach to finally break through; well, they also need special quarterbacks, young men who eventually master the mental art of playing football's most important position. Kirk Cousins has made the journey from lightweight to heavyweight in that most important realm - the realm of the human mind. By playing Bill Raftery-style football and serving up green ONIONS every Saturday, Cousins is making other teams cry... and causing long-starved Spartan fans to weep, for once, with a song of joy in their hearts.

5. And good luck sticking the non-AQs in the corner again

By Matt Zemek

College football writers have been doing it all wrong in the 12 years of the BCS era. Here we were, thinking that the best way to reform the BCS system was to point out how faulty and mythical the BCS National Championship Game has been on a regular basis, with the 1999, 2002 and 2005 seasons providing the sole exceptions over the course of a dozen seasons.

All along, we should have been focusing on the diminished attendance figures for lousy non-championship BCS bowls that are foisted upon the public because of needless conference tie-ins and the even more unnecessary restrictions placed on those so-called "non-automatic qualifiers."

As this season winds toward November and its eventual conclusion, let's establish two closely-related points right now, so that you don't lose sight of them (or get surprised by them) in the weeks to come: Point number one is that the BCS title game might be a legitimate showdown. More teams are likely to lose, weeding out the pretenders and leaving only a select few contenders. Maybe the "Big Game" will once again be slathered in controversy, but there's a chance it could all work out okay in the end.

Point number two is this: While there's a chance the BCS title game could work out just fine, there's NO CHANCE AT ALL that the Orange Bowl will work out well. One of college football's great postseason jewels, placed in a romantic setting and famous for its blockbuster halftime shows, commanded the nation's attention and usually captured its imagination throughout its long and colorful history... until the BCS era. Instead of being the can't-miss, end-of-New-Year's-Day showcase on NBC, with Don Criqui and Bob Trumpy calling the action (or with Dick Enberg in the play-by-play chair as the 1980s gave way to the early 1990s), the Orange Bowl has become, sadly, a joke. The ACC and Big East tie-ins put in place by the BCS - with allowances for at-large selections if postseason permutations permit - have straitjacketed this college football treasure into the oblivion of irrelevance, as is the case for every non-championship BCS bowl.

Indeed, the lingering problem with the BCS that gets overlooked - and always has been overlooked - is that while the championship game is enough of a sore spot, the other BCS bowls usually fail to move the needle, either on TV or at the gate. For the Orange Bowl, the relationship with the ACC in particular (ACC teams routinely play in this game under the current BCS setup, while a Big East school can occasionally break away) has relegated the second-oldest bowl game to just another dumpy postseason exhibition in a batch of (now) 35 bowls. How was that stirring, sexy 2007 Orange Bowl between Louisville and Wake? The 2009 game between Virginia Tech and Cincinnati? Only 57,851 showed up. The Georgia Tech-Iowa game this past January drew 66,131 - that's about 8,000 empty seats in Miami on a night when there was very little buzz in the ballpark. The Orange Bowl just doesn't amount to anything anymore; only the BCS title game will fill Sun Life Stadium in early January.

With all that in mind, consider what's happening across the country: After West Virginia's face-plant against Syracuse and Oklahoma's loss at Missouri, the Big East is in tatters while the Big 12 looks minor-league compared to past incarnations. It would be a minor miracle if the Big East champion finished with as many as nine regular-season wins, and it will be tough for the Big 12 champion to command national respect in light of the way Nebraska gagged at home against a not-very-good Texas team. What this means is as follows: If the Big East champion goes to the Orange Bowl, either Florida State or Virginia Tech (most likely) would host a team carrying four, perhaps five, losses. Only if West Virginia makes the trip to Miami will the attendance figure remain reasonably high... and that's if Florida State can finish no worse than 10-2. It's hard to imagine FSU fans or Virginia Tech fans cramming Sun Life Stadium if their teams don't generate an extra degree of enthusiasm down the stretch. A hypothetical matchup between a two-loss Florida State and an 8-4 Pittsburgh team would tank at the box office and on television. (Welcome to the BCS television contract, ESPN.) It would be stunning if 65,000 fannies occupied seats under such a scenario. If Virginia Tech makes it back to Miami for the third time in four seasons (creating a dulling effect on the game for no good reason; Hokie fans deserve to travel to New Orleans or Phoenix once in a while), the only opponent that would inject some juice into the South Florida scene would be West Virginia.

And that's just the Orange Bowl we're talking about, folks. The aforementioned struggles of the Big 12 are relevant here as well because, if the BCS bowl selection process unfolds in a manner that makes the Fiesta Bowl pluck the Big East champion, the folks in Glendale, Arizona, will have a very hard sell on their hands. "West Virginia-Oklahoma, Part Deux," three years after the much more attractive 2008 matchup, will fall flat. Pittsburgh-Nebraska in Glendale would bring former NU Athletic Director Steve Pederson (now at Pitt) into battle against his former school, but that won't make football fans fall over themselves to get a ticket for that tilt.

Let's face facts: While a really mediocre Big East team is going to play in a BCS bowl game this year, the TCU-Utah loser almost assuredly won't. That is a crime, ladies and gentlemen... maybe not a crime in the same way that embezzlement or blackmail is a crime, but a crime nonetheless. While college football writers have been looking at the "One Big Game," the other BCS bowls have quietly but genuinely emerged as the real reasons this larger system has always been bad for college football and especially the fans who deserve a lot more from the sport.

When tarps are placed over sections of seats at Sun Life Stadium - something that just didn't happen when the Orange Bowl game was played at the Orange Bowl stadium - you'll be reminded of the extent to which the BCS has destroyed college football tradition while doing comparatively little to improve its bottom line.