Saturday, October 29, 2011

Week 9: The "O RLY?" owl is taking over

Insert witty Luck-related pun here: Wow. Stanford finally got a fight from somebody of comparable quality and needed a pretty fortunate final five minutes just to get to overtime, then got a fluky fumble in the third OT to pull out a win in a game that otherwise might have gone all night and finished 128-126. Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are both pretty freakin' good. I could write a bunch of stuff here about how a legitimate national title contender probably shouldn't have so much trouble against a good-but-not-vintage version of USC, but the only thing that really matters is that Stanford survived and will be undefeated heading into the Oregon game on November 12 that'll decide the Pac-12 title (and possibly a spot in the national championship game); the USC game won't have much bearing on that one. Stanford can play with anybody as long as Luck continues being the best quarterback in the country, which seems likely. BTW, it's pretty lame that USC is postseason-ineligible since this is a pretty good team that should finish at least 9-3 and would make the Pac-12 South waaaay more interesting than it currently is. Matt Barkley would also be getting some Heisman talk (by which I mean he'd be a distant third behind Luck and Trent Richardson) if anybody cared what his team was doing. Also also, USC must really hate Stanford after the past five years.

It was fun while it lasted: I'd like to thank Clemson for being so awesomely predictable and fulfilling my prophecy from just two weeks ago:
I'd totally endorse getting excited if we weren't talking about Clemson, a program that's hard to take seriously after years of letdowns; get back to me after the Georgia Tech game.
Yay me. Seriously: It was bound to happen. Clemson is a really good team with a really good quarterback and a really good receiver but had to hold on to beat Wofford by eight and needed a miraculous second half to beat a bad Maryland team. In mathematical terms, Clemson =/= LSU. On the plus side, 10-2 (and 8-1 in the ACC) is basically the floor at this point, and that should be more than sufficient to get Clemson into its first-ever ACC title game against either Virginia Tech or, um, Georgia Tech. So that's nice. As for Georgia Tech, Paul Johnson really doesn't get enough credit for creating a machine run that's by second-tier athletes but will compete for an ACC championship every year. Next week's game against Va. Tech is probably for the Coastal Division title.

Wisconsin apparently isn't all that great: Losing to Michigan State made some sense since (a) MSU has arguably the best run defense in the country and (b) it was a road night game against a team that beat Wisconsin the previous year. Losing to Ohio State makes no sense at all, especially when it requires giving up 33 points (!) and close to 6 yards per play to the utterly anemic OSU offense. I wonder what that game would've looked like if Wisconsin had still been unbeaten -- in other words, was that a letdown (or whatever you wanna call it) or just additional proof that Wisconsin was just vastly overrated? I'm leaning toward the latter since the talent/production difference on offense should have made Wisky's emotional status irrelevant. I don't wanna go crazy since they could've lucked out and NOT lost on two ridiculous last-minute throws, but they shouldn't have even been in those situations. In the big picture, Wisconsin is suddenly two games out in the division and might never have a chance to make up that difference since Penn State (Penn State!!!) can clinch a spot in the Big Ten championship game by beating Nebraska and Ohio State in the next two weeks. Winning both of those games seems pretty unlikely, but so does Penn State being on the verge of clinching the division title while Wisconsin drifts out of the picture. Oh, and Ohio State is now looking at a totally realistic path to eight wins and could probably win the division by beating Penn State and Michigan to end the year. I literally can't believe I just wrote that. Sign Luke Fickell to a long-term deal now plzkthx.

JoePa deserves some props: Speaking of Penn State, the horrendously ugly 10-7 win over Illinois -- a game that ended (fittingly) with an Illinois field-goal attempt going off the right upright as time expired -- gave Joe Paterno the 409th victory of his career, making him the winningest coach in Division I history. Think about that for a second: Winning 407 games means averaging eight wins a year for 51 years! The guy's been purely a figurehead for close to a decade, but the fact that he's still putting in the effort and overseeing a (relatively) consistent top-25 program should count for something. Also, see above about this year's version of Penn State, which is unbeaten in Big Ten play despite not having a competent quarterback (that might say more about the conference than it does about Penn State).

Thank you, Nebraska: Seeing Michigan State ground into submission and completely shut down offensively was a satisfying turn of events. Kirk Cousins was the worst QB on the field Saturday despite the fact that Taylor Martinez had zero passing yards and an interception at halftime. MSU's offense just ceased to exist when the running game started getting shut down, which is pretty much exactly what happened against Notre Dame. Cousins = meh. Also, Michigan State is Michigan State and had nine penalties for 90 yards, including a couple personal fouls and an offsides on fourth-and-3 on Nebraska's final possession that didn't mean anything but was very fitting. Other takeaways: Nebraska's defense seems to be coming together (to some degree) and Michigan State no longer controls its own destiny in the division. Nebraska does control its own destiny, but the final three games are rough -- at Penn State, at Michigan, Iowa -- while MSU's schedule is much friendlier. I'm also not really sure what to make of Nebraska. Outside of a 60-minute stretch between halftimes of the Wisconsin and Ohio State games, this has been one of the top 10-ish teams in the country. But that stuff definitely happened, as did the defense getting shredded by Washington. So ... umm ... I dunno. That kinda adds to the difficulty in figuring out where Nebraska, Michigan State and Wisconsin should be ranked (head asplode).

So long, Kansas State: I would say something like "top-10 teams don't lose at home by six touchdowns," but Kansas State was never a top-10 team to anybody with a shred of common sense (this disqualifies the people who vote in the "official" polls). If Jacory Harris' arms were an inch longer or Arthur Brown hadn't held on to that Robert Griffin pick, Kansas State would be a nondescript and unranked 5-3 team right now. That said, they were unbeaten heading into the last week of October and do deserve some credit for actually beating Miami, Baylor, Missouri and Texas Tech. All of those teams are solid; none of them are Oklahoma. I mean ... man. In a span of nine minutes in the third quarter, it went from 23-17 Oklahoma and an intriguingly competitive game to 44-17 Oklahoma and an unsurprising blowout. Landry Jones just went bonkers, going off for 505 yards (!) and five touchdowns and making the apparent season-ending leg injury to running back Dominique Whaley (which came on the first play from scrimmage) irrelevant. I had little doubt going in that OU was miles better than K-State, and I have even less doubt now.

Get ready for some laughable circular logic: The week after beating (and generally dominating) Oklahoma, Texas Tech lost 41-7 to Iowa State. I should point out that Iowa State did not have a Big 12 win prior to that game and seems to be the most bipolar team in history. Since comparative scores always work perfectly for predictive purposes, I'm expecting Iowa State to beat Oklahoma in two weeks by about 45 points.

The SEC East race is actually kinda interesting: Georgia was largely forgotten after losing to Boise and South Carolina to open the season is but is probably gonna finish 7-1 in the SEC after beating Florida on Saturday (the fact that Florida was playing with John Brantley made this a lot more impressive). South Carolina is sitting at 5-1 in the conference and obviously has the tiebreaker, but the two SEC games left on the schedule are at Arkansas and at home against Florida. The weird thing is that I'm not even sure winning the division is preferable; the survivor earns nothing other than the right to get crushed by LSU/Alabama in the SEC title game and get an additional loss that will probably knock them down a notch from the Capital One Bowl to the Outback Bowl (or whatever). Still, I'd be interested to see a peaking 10-2 Georgia team playing for the SEC championship if for no other reason than to render a little more judgment on Boise State.

Player of the Week: Tough call.

If you skipped the video, Case Keenum went 24 of 37 for 534 yards and nine (NINE!!!) touchdowns Thursday night against Rice, setting the D-I career record for touchdown passes in the process (he now has an absurd 139). Throwing nine TD passes = player of the week. It only seems fair to mention that Houston receiver Patrick Edwards had seven catches for 318 yards and five touchdowns (lol). Sorry, Landry Jones.

Play of the Week: James Franklin cannot be tackled (on this particular play):

BTW, Texas A&M is officially unclutch (that's not a word, but I can't think of a better one). In their three losses, which have been by a combined 12 points, they've been outscored by a cumulative 58 points in the second half. Discuss.

Death of the Week: This is so awful:

The Arkansas player was rightfully ejected; I'm not sure why that doesn't happen more often. If there's a clear intent to injure in any situation, the guy should be gone. Every sport has a rule like that (match penalties in hockey, red cards in soccer, pitchers throwing at guys' heads, flagrant-2 fouls, etc.), which makes it all the more irritating when Will Gholston collects three personal fouls while playing dirtier than dirt and gets to stay in the game. /soapbox. On a semi-related note, Arkansas has now needed two straight miraculous second-half comebacks to beat Ole Miss (the SEC's version of Arizona) and Vanderbilt. Not good.

DeAnthony Thomas should get an agility rating of 107: This just isn't fair:


Post-Week 9 top 10: The bottom is getting hard again now that Clemson has been exposed, the Big Ten is a fustercluck and Arkansas is squeaking by the SEC dregs. Also, the borderline-elite teams in the middle are all basically interchangeable at this point. Pay no attention to whether Oklahoma State is ahead of Stanford or vice versa. In fact, pay no attention to any of this.

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma
4. Oklahoma State
5. Oregon
6. Stanford
7. Boise State
8. Clemson (I have no idea who else to put here -- there's a huge drop-off after Boise)
9. Wisconsin (seriously, the alternatives are teams like Nebraska, which nope)
10. Nebraska (whatever)


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