Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Week 8: Boredom, then chaos

Ummmm ... Oklahoma?!? Really??? So after watching about 10 hours of blowouts that were both boring and meaningless, the one game I really wanted to see the end of wasn't available in my area because I'm on the West Coast and therefore am required to watch one Pac-12 team destroy another Pac-12 team on ABC every week. Little-known fact: This was written into the television contracts by Thomas Jefferson, who hated the run-heavy Ivy League game. Anyway ... I absolutely never saw this one coming. I mean, Oklahoma just got flat-out beat on its home field by a mediocre Texas Tech team that was roughly a four-touchdown underdog. It wasn't even a fluke: Texas Tech had 572 total yards and led 31-7 (!) early in the third quarter before Oklahoma finally said "oh wait, we're Oklahoma" and played like Oklahoma for the final 25 minutes, going on a game-ending 31-10 run that would've been the talk of college football if the original deficit had been 20 points instead of 24. As it is, OU is probably done (I say probably because crazier stuff has definitely happened in The Magical World of the BCS). Landry Jones' Heisman hopes are also done, which is dumb -- 412 yards with five touchdowns and one pick is totally UNACCEPTABLE -- but is also the way these things work. I really don't know what to make of Oklahoma at this point; I still believe that this is one of the three best teams in the country, but getting lit up and generally dominated at home by Texas Tech just can't happen. Rabble rabble Bob Stoops rabble. If this was a national-title-or-bust year, put Oklahoma down for "bust" and roughly a 437th straight appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.

Mark Dantonio's horseshoe does magical and irritating things: Srsly. I was far less surprised about Wisconsin losing (in a general sense) than Oklahoma losing, but the way this game ended was just ridiculous. First things first: If Wisconsin knew how to block guys on kicks of all types, it would've been a comfortable win and the final minute wouldn't have mattered. They were up 14-0 right off the bat and then gave away 10 points in the second quarter via a blocked field goal and a blocked punt that was recovered for a touchdown. Instead of leading 17-16 at the half, Wisconsin went in down 23-14 and needed a huge fourth quarter just to tie it and presumably force overtime. And then the horseshoe did its thing. Obligatory video:

The Hail Mary was the laughable part, but don't forget that Kirk Cousins fumbled at his own 30 at the start of that drive and about half a dozen guys had a shot at it before an MSU lineman finally corralled it. Bret Bielema was absolutely right to use his timeouts at that point: It was second-and-20 with 42 seconds left. If you stop them there (as you should, obviously), you force a punt with around 30 seconds left and get a shot at a return or a couple throws from your Heisman candidate QB to get into field-goal range for the win. Instead, Michigan State got 23 yards in the next two plays and 44 on the last one. For the record, I do think the ball touched the plane on the Hail Mary -- I don't think it was clear/definitive, so I was pretty surprised that the call on the field got overturned, but whatever. Takeaways: Wisconsin is gone from the national title race because of a couple fluky plays and Michigan State is headed for 11-2/10-3 (which probably means another exciting Capital One Bowl appearance). I still think Wisky wins the Big Ten title game, which will probably be a rematch.

Stanford absolutely obliterates Washington: Yeesh. It's one thing to get shredded by Colts quarterback Andrew Luck; it's another to let Stanford put up 446 rushing yards (!), 615 total yards and at least 10 points in every quarter. There's no question anymore that Stanford and Oregon are by far the two best teams in the Pac-12. I still think Oregon's a little better, but I'm far less sure of that than I was at the beginning of the year. Statistical tidbit: Stanford has now won all of its last 10 games by at least 25 points -- and that includes a BCS bowl game! Ridonkulous. BTW, no team benefited as much from Saturday night's carnage as Stanford. If Oklahoma State loses at some point (which still seems likely), Stanford is next in line for the No. 2 ranking and the right to be run over by LSU/Alabama in the national title game. The fact that they're currently behind Boise State and Clemson is irrelevant; the remaining schedule includes a trip to USC and home games against Oregon and Notre Dame, all of which are more meaningful than anything Boise or Clemson has left. The hard part will be actually beating Oregon (speaking of which, I'd be really interested to see where a hypothetical one-loss Oregon would end up).

Notre Dame's offense continues to be bipolar: I really thought this was the year Notre Dame would find a good quarterback and take The Brian Kelly Leap to Awesomeness. Instead, Tommy Rees has just been an unpredictable grab bag who seems to alternate between dominant and very meh. Saturday wasn't one of the good days: Notre Dame had a total of 267 yards at home against a USC defense that's OK (38th in the country in scoring defense) but not exactly reminiscent of USC circa 2003. I mean, we're talking about a D that's given up fewer than 17 points (which is what Notre Dame had) twice this year. So yeah ... there's plenty of blame to spread around. It would've helped if the running game had done anything, and when Rees came out briefly after twisting his knee when ND was down 17-10, Dayne Crist came in and drove to the 1-yard line before fulfilling his team's quote of one inexplicably awful turnover per game:

Clutch. As for the "Notre Dame quit" stuff from Lane Kiffin and Chris Galippo ... I mean ... yeah, they kinda did. Not in a "the players stopped playing" sense, but think about it: Not using your timeouts while the other team runs off the final 6:54 is conceding defeat, isn't it? I feel the same way about punting when you're down 21 with six minutes left -- you're throwing away any chance (however unlikely) at winning in exchange for running some clock and keeping the loss from looking any worse. There's no way to look at pack-up-and-go-home decisions like that as anything other than turtling and accepting defeat. It happens all the time and drives me crazy. Speaking of driving me crazy, USC punted from the Notre Dame 30 in this game. I cannot possibly be convinced that punting from the 30 is ever a good decision.

The Big East officially has no good teams: Take a seat, West Virginia. Hangin' with LSU is no longer relevant after losing to Syracuse by four touchdowns. Look at the Big East standings and you see a fairly uninspiring Cincinnati team at 6-1 overall and everybody else somewhere between 5-2 and 3-4. That doesn't seem so bad on the surface, but keep in mind that when a bunch of mediocre teams play each other, somebody's gotta win. The nonconference games offer a slightly better picture: Syracuse should've lost to Toledo, Pitt got two of its wins (uncomfortably close ones) against FCS teams, UConn did lose to Western Michigan and Vanderbilt, Louisville lost to Florida International ... etcetera. South Florida's win over Notre Dame offered some early hope but seems pretty meaningless now that USF is 0-3 in conference play and looking at about a 2-6 finish. Upshot: It's pretty awesome that this pathetic group will have a BCS rep while Michigan and Nebraska and Arkansas and Texas A&M will be left out.

Kansas State is somehow still unbeaten: I'm not really sure what to think about a team that's unbeaten eight weeks into the season but hasn't played anybody more frightening than Baylor or Texas Tech. I'm also curious whether there's a fan out there who could convince me that K-State is definitively better than Houston; probably not. But since Kansas State is in an actual conference, we won't have to suffer through the stupid strength-of-schedule debate and will find out for sure whether we should take this team seriously. The next four games are as follows: Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, at Texas. Eek. Get back to me in a month if they're any better than 8-3.

Player of the Week: OK, so here's the thing: Case Keenum went 24 for 28 for 376 yards and six touchdowns (lol) to become the NCAA's all-time passing yardage leader and simply can't win this thing because of Dominique Davis. That seems hard to believe, but I'm totally for cereal: Davis put on arguably the most absurd quarterbacking display in history, turning ECU's game against Navy into a glorified passing skeleton by completing his first 26 passes (!!!) and going into a halftime with a line of 26 for 26 for 251 yards. His second half sucked by comparison, but he still finished 40 of 45 for 372 yards and two touchdowns. Dominique Davis shall heretofore be known as the (far less NFL-ready) Black Aaron Rodgers.

Game of the Week: Michigan State-Wisconsin (grumble grumble). Honorable mention goes to the slightly lesser-noticed game between Northern Illinois and Buffalo. In-a-nutshell summary: Buffalo rallied from 21 down in the fourth quarter and scored the apparent tying touchdown with 14 seconds left on a third-and-goal pass from the 3. Players celebrate, crowd goes bonkers, etc. Extra-point attempt misses. Final score: NIU 31, Buffalo 30.

This week's worst play in the history of ever: This says everything you need to know about Minnesota:

This also deserves some props for its awkward hilarity:

I have nothing to add here.

WTF are you wearing? Tulsa actually wore these helmets Saturday against Rice:

I don't get it. Those look terrible and have no obvious meaning -- the pattern kinda looks like one of those mind-bending magic-eye things, but why? Somebody enlighten me.

Post-Week 8 top 10: Some changes were obviously necessary. Please note that losses don't automatically necessitate a significant drop (this is one of my major issues with the real polls -- consider what the team has done as a whole and not what it did last week).

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma (I really don't think any of the teams after this spot are better than OU)
4. Oregon
5. Stanford
6. Boise State
7. Wisconsin
8. Oklahoma State
9. Clemson
10. Michigan State (argh)


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