Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Week 8: That answers that question

K-State kaboom: Ummm ... yeah. The thing that happened to West Virginia against Texas Tech happened again except against a better team and a better quarterback, and the result was a lookin'-out-the-window paddlin'. Total yards: Kansas State 479, West Virginia 243. Geno Smith finished with 143 yards (!) on 4.4 yards an attempt with a touchdown and two picks (his first two picks of the year after an NCAA-record 273 passes without one), and West Virginia didn't score an offensive touchdown until the fourth quarter, which was problematic since Collin Klein was ravaging their villages and burning down their couches and whatnot. Seriously: The guy went 20 for 23 for 323 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 52 yards and four touchdowns. According to my mathematical skillz, Collin Klein accounted for seven touchdowns, which is a lot of touchdowns. If that game were for the Heisman, Klein won it unanimously. I mean, the guy's always been a good athlete but was doing stuff like this ...

... and this ...

... on the regular and looking incrementally better with every meh Geno Smith throw to a reasonably-well-covered receiver. He's good. He's also the Heisman front-runner unless/until he implodes in a Kansas State loss, and even that might not really matter since K-State can lose at least once (maybe twice depending on what Oklahoma does) and still win the Big 12 via tiebreakers. Upshot: Kansas State is probably going to the Fiesta Bowl. I still don't think an unbeaten season is very likely given the number of good-ish teams left on the schedule and K-State's overall lack of elite talent but have to acknowledge the possibility since Bill Snyder is a wizard.

Player of the Week: Collin Klein. Ridonkulous. Similarly ridonkulous: Matt Barkley went 19 for 20 for 298 yards (that's 14.9 yards an attempt!) with six touchdowns and no picks. Yeah. Barkley for Heisman? And it's probably worth mention that New Mexico running back Kasey Carrier had 39 carries for 338 yards (!!!) and three touchdowns against Air Force, a team that presumably has some idea of how to defend the triple option.

Some SEC resolution (but not a lot): I really wasn't expecting much from South Carolina given Marcus Lattimore's uselessness and Kelcy Quarles' suspension; I got what I expected. It just wasn't realistic to think South Carolina was gonna go on the road and beat Florida without a legitimate running game and with a good interior D-lineman being replaced by a backup-type guy. Connor Shaw has gotten pretty good over the last year or so but isn't that good, especially without the benefit of the guy who gets most of the hard stuff in that offense and gets accounted for accordingly by every team South Carolina plays. That said, the game wasn't anywhere near as hilariously lopsided as the score implied; South Carolina actually outgained Florida (?) 191-183 and held Florida to 89 rushing yards at 1.9 yards a carry. The problem: holy hell the turnovers. Shaw got stripped on the first play from scrimmage to set up Florida at the 3-yard line and effectually make it 7-0, Ace Sanders fumbled a punt a few minutes later to set Florida up at the 29-yard line on the drive that made it 14-3 and Damiere Byrd fumbled the ensuing kickoff to set Florida up at the 1-yard line and effectually make it 21-3 and end the game. Amazing stat: Florida became the first team ever (EVER) to get outgained and win by 30-plus points. Think about it. Florida's better but not 33 points better; 44-11 should be largely ignored as not at all representative of what would normally happen between the full-strength versions of those two teams.

LSU meh: I keep expecting LSU to start trucking/dominating the various teams on the schedule that have infinitely less talent; it's probably time to acknowledge that it just isn't gonna happen because the offense just isn't any good. Actually, let me clarify: The running game is fine thanks to an O-line that's pretty good and a group of about five starting-caliber guys at running back, with Jeremy Hill taking over as somewhat of a feature guy the last couple weeks and doing some seriously impressive things (especially for a freshman). It's the passing game that sucks, mostly because of Mettenberger but partly because the receivers are doing nothing whatsoever to help. Mettenberger's cumulative numbers over the past three games: 36 for 79 (guh) for an average of 134 yards a game with a total of one touchdown and two picks. Turrible. And that's why LSU has averaged 21.2 points in its five games this year against actual teams. That said, the LSU defense is legitimately elite, which is why is beating Alabama in a replica of last year's regular-season game isn't totally outside the realm of plausibility (that's only realm-of-plausibility way Alabama is losing in the regular season). In the likely event that this isn't 2011, LSU is probably headed for 10-2 and the Capital One Bowl, which meh. NEED MOAR QUARTERBACKING. Speaking of which, Johnny Manziel might be Johnny Football but is also a redshirt freshman and played like it against LSU (29 for 50 with no touchdowns and three picks). LOL Heisman. But seriously, Kevin Sumlin's done a pretty good this year at A&M, which is probably headed for 8-4/9-3 and a decent bowl game despite a pretty horrifying schedule.

Survival of the Irish-est: Notre Dame, man. Notre Dame. There's a ginormous pile of evidence at this point that Notre Dame is just a pretty good team with a really good defense and a below-average offense (mostly because of craptacular quarterback play). To be fair, BYU's defense is legit: fourth in total yards, eighth in scoring, eighth in rushing yards and 29th in pass efficiency. And that's after playing ND, three Pac-12 teams (including Oregon State) and Boise State. So in that regard, 17 points (despite two missed chip-shot field goals) and 389 total yards don't seem so bad. Still, the quarterbacking: yeesh. All that stuff I said about Tommy Rees being preferable to Everett Golson was rendered meaningless when Rees went 7 of 16 with a touchdown and a pick that set up one of BYU's two touchdowns. I don't know what it is about Brian Kelly's not-that-complicated-but-freakin'-effective four-verts-based system that the ND quarterbacks just can't get; he probably doesn't either. BTW, Golson has already been named the starter for next week, which is harder to argue now given his mobility and Rees' inconsistency when not entering with two minutes left in the game. Either way, one of 'em is gonna have to do something eventually, and by "eventually" I mean "against Oklahoma and/or USC." It's worth noting that Notre Dame hasn't played a team that's currently higher than 76th (!) in pass efficiency. Landry Jones is 37th and over the last three weeks (against the top-20 defenses at K-State and Texas Tech and the crappy defense at Texas) has gone for an average of 290 yards a game with a combined five touchdowns and two picks. I won't be totally surprised if Notre Dame's held-together-with-paper-mache-and-freshmen secondary gets destroyed by the Kenny Stills/Justin Brown/Jalen Saunders/Sterling Shepard combo, which might be the best receiving corps in the country. Upshot: Notre Dame is almost definitely gonna have to score some points. And I'm skeptical that Notre Dame is capable of scoring said points (regardless of quarterback play) against an Oklahoma defense that's 15th in yardage and 12th in scoring despite having played three teams with top-11 offenses nationally. It could happen -- in which case 12-0 becomes totally realistic and Lou Holtz expactorates at record levels -- but probably won't. Regardless, with only two more plausibly losable games left, Notre Dame is going at least 10-2 and therefore going to the BCS this year, which dang. Defense FTW.

Survival of the Ohio-est: Wow. Please note that Braxton Miller left the game after the last play of the third quarter, at which point Purdue was winning 20-14 (it became 22-14 a couple minutes later). Why was Ohio State losing to Purdue? I dunno. Why was Purdue going for its third win over Ohio State in four years? I dunno. Nothing about that latter stat makes any sense given the talent disparity and general quality of Ohio State during that time. And this year's closeness wasn't really a fluke since Ohio State got outgained 347-342 (and that includes OSU's touchdown in overtime), gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown and got a total of nine rushing yards from Miller (on 11 carries) prior to the play on which his head got detached from his body. Kenny Guiton had to come in at that point and throw the first meaningful passes of his career, with a couple of them being pretty terrible but the one that mattered being just good enough (apologies in advance for the awful musical accompaniment):

Overtime was a formality given Purdue's last-minute collapse. So ... Ohio State is 8-0 and Miller is reportedly healthy (as hard as that is to believe). Given the defense's general mediocrity (about 29.2 offensive points allowed against major-conference teams this year), the offense's performance against Purdue and the debatable status of Miller's probably-not-so-awesome-feeling neck, both of the remaining two road games (at Penn State and at Wisconsin) are losable, as is the Michigan game (duh); those are also all totally winnable, but I'm really starting to think the record is more indicative of a crappy schedule than an elite-ish team. I'm thinking 11-1 while trying to decide whether I'd find 12-0 infuriating or hilarious in a big-picture sense (the Michigan game would obviously be infuriating).

Game of the Week: Texas Tech and TCU lol wwwhheeeee!!! Does it mean anything that Texas Tech held West Virginia to seven non-garbage-time points and then went out and gave up 36 in regulation and 53 total to TCU, which has a redshirt freshman quarterback who's played three career games? I dunno; probably not. Anyway, there were at least 17 points in every quarter except the third, when the only scoring (inexplicably) was a field goal, and neither team led by more than a touchdown at any point. The quarterbacks went off for a combined 650 yards and 11 touchdowns despite the pass defenses both being way above average statistically, which made it pretty likely that TCU was conceding defeat by kicking a field goal on the first possession in triple overtime. Result:

BOOM DOEGE'D. BTW, Texas Tech is now 7-1 with a not-that-bad loss to Oklahoma and relatively impressive wins over both West Virginia and TCU. The next two games: at Kansas State, Texas. Win one of those two and 10-2 becomes realistic (although that probably still wouldn't result in anything better than the Cotton Bowl); get back to me in 13 days.

Einhorn is Finkle: Texas is Baylor. Baylor is Texas. The result: Texas 56, Baylor 50. There is no defense; it's your mind that bends the defense. OK I'm all out of random '90s movie references. Just know this: Texas hasn't allowed fewer than 31 points against a major-conference team this season. Kansas will present the ultimate test.

Yeah, Auburn sucks: Auburn lost to Vanderbilt on Saturday and is gonna go winless in the SEC and 3-9 overall; the only question is whether that gets Gene Chizik fired. I write basically this same paragraph every week but seriously can't get over how terrible Auburn is. I mean ... wha? Here are some numbers: Auburn is 121st in the country in scoring (at 15.7 points per game) and 122nd in total yardage (277.6 a game) even though there are only 120 non-provisional FBS teams. I know. Assuming Auburn really does finish 3-9 (which will require beating New Mexico State and Alabama A&M and therefore isn't a certainty), Gene Chizik will be 19-19 in non-Cam Newton-blessed seasons since taking over, with the records over the last three years going from 13-0 to 7-5 to (presumably) 3-9. I really don't know whether he keeps his job after that; at the very least, I think he'll have to cut bait on O-coordinator Scot Loeffler, who was given the impossible job of taking a bunch of Gus Malzahn-recruit spread guys (especially at quarterback and running back) and running a pro-style offense, which has turned out to be as amazingly awful as anyone could've imagined.

Penn State, eh? Penn State beating Iowa wasn't entirely surprising in and of itself; Penn State destroying Iowa in amusing fashion in Iowa City was both surprising and impressive. Amazingly, Penn State has won five straight games and has scored 35-plus points in all but one of those games. Granted, none of those games was against a good team (Iowa was probably the best of 'em and had previously lost to both Central Michigan and Iowa State), but still. This is going to be both inherently ridiculous and true: Matt McGloin is the best passer in the Big Ten. I'm serious. And that means Penn State has the best passing game in the Big Ten, which is largely due to Bill O'Brien doing an amazingly good job of implementing a pro-style-ish offense with a bunch of guys who should be backups and getting good-ish results immediately. Realistically, I don't see Penn State beating Ohio State or Nebraska but could definitely see a 2-3/3-2 finish, which would be sufficient for either seven or eight wins and a respectable bowl game if not for The Stuff. BTW, the Penn State-Ohio State game would actually be pretty interesting if it meant anything. Alas.

Ohhh so close: ASU spent about four days hyping the Oregon game as the biggest thing ever (or since '96 or whatever), led 7-0 after 49 seconds despite kicking off to start the game and then trailed 43-7 less than 18 minutes of game time later. It was as laughable as it was depressing (from an ASU perspective). I mentioned to a friend before the game that I thought ASU could hang in but was somewhat skeptical of a team that was getting a ton of credit for doing nothing other than beating Cal (meh) and losing to a mediocre version of Missouri. Oregon confirmed my skepticism; they could've put up 100 if they wanted to (no joke) and held ASU to 118 first-half yards, at which point the game was over and I stopped counting. It was only by the grace of Chip Kelly that it didn't go from "yeesh" to "ughghgh." Oregon is legit in every way, as evidenced by four Pac-12 wins (including two against teams in the top 25 in the country in total offense) by an average score of 49-17. As for ASU, the next three weeks will determine whether the first five games were representative of real progress or representative of a hilariously easy schedule. The upcoming schedule: UCLA, at Oregon State, at USC. I wouldn't be totally surprised by anything from a win over USC (and potentially a Pac-12 South title) to three straight losses (and the necessity of a win over either Washington State or Arizona to get to the Kraft Whatever Bowl).

The ghost of Steve Spurrier: Duke is 3-1 in the ACC and bowl-eligible after beating North Carolina like so:

David Cutcliffe FTW.

Amazing Stat of the Week: Virginia Tech's run of eight straight 10-win seasons is over. I mean, it's not technically over since Va. Tech could win out, win the ACC title game and then win the Orange Bowl, but it's over; there's no way a team that's 4-4 and pretty mediocre at everything is gonna beat Florida State twice in the next month (or Clemson, the team that just beat Va. Tech by three touchdowns).

Convenient Interception of the Week: This is Virginia Tech's Michael Cole showing the analyst guy what's up:

Oh hai ball.

Ahh Florida State-Miami: You mattered once. You matter now only in a sense that I feel obligated to watch in case something crazy happens. Ummm ... guy?

Just a couple seconds earlier and that would've been awesome. Anyway, Florida State did what was expected and thus is in control of the ACC, with the only potential caveats being the trip to Virginia Tech in two weeks and Florida State being down a good running back for the season; Chris Thompson tore his ACL, which is unfortunate for him and similarly unfortunate for a Florida State offense that finally had been generating a running game this year (15th nationally at about 231 yards a game). The good news: (a) James Wilder Jr. is a man-child who can easily take on another seven or eight carries a game and (b) Thompson clone Devonta Freeman has been getting about seven carries a game already and averaging about 7.1 yards a pop. So the replacements aren't terrible; they just aren't (yet) All-ACC dudes putting up 7.6 yards a carry on 15 attempts a game. Expect a little more of those guys, maybe a little more E.J. Manuel and probably only a marginal drop-off offensively. I still don't see Florida State losing to Va. Tech, and that's probably the only way anyone other than Florida State (Clemson, in that case) wins the ACC. BTW, that NC State loss makes less sense every week; in its five FBS games, NC State has lost to mediocre versions of Tennessee and Miami and beaten a terrible UConn team by three, Maryland by two and Florida State by one. I dunno. It's the ACC.

Good work, Big East: I was of the opinion prior to Saturday that Cincinnati was probably the best team in the Big East, with Louisville and Rutgers a close second and third, respectively. Cincinnati just lost to Toledo (which, granted, is a pretty good team at 7-1 that's lost only to Arizona in overtime but also almost lost to Eastern Michigan), and none of the those three teams has a win over (or has even played) a team that's getting votes in either of the polls. The Big East's future is now, and it is so, so awful. As for this year, the three aforementioned teams do the round-robin thing over the next five weeks and thus will decide by process of elimination which one gets to be Florida State's sacrificial lamb in the Orange Bowl. Remind me not to watch that game kthx.

Good work, Ellis Johnson: Southern Miss went 10-3 last year and won the Conference USA title by pantsing a Houston team that came in 12-0. This year's version of Southern Miss is 0-7 and just lost to a 3-4 Marshall team by 25. Was Larry Fedora that good?

Ivy League Play of the Week: This will definitely a regular feature:

Take that, Michigan of the East.

It doesn't matter: As always, everybody everywhere is freaking out about (insert team here) being ahead of (insert team here) in the BCS standings. News flash: IT DOESN'T MATTER. It's the middle of October. The teams of relevance all have to play other teams of relevance in the next five weeks, at which point the standings will look immensely different and most (maybe all) of the teams that are unbeaten won't be unbeaten anymore and the October standings will be rendered totally meaningless. Stop.

Post-Week 8 top 10: I'm slightly less uncertain about what to do with West Virginia this week ... so that's nice. I'm slightly more uncertain about what to do with Oklahoma in relation to the SEC teams, though; I'm thinking the ability to score points warrants a move up. And speaking of the SEC teams, I'm leaving South Carolina right behind LSU since, as I explained above, the final score of the Florida game means little to me given the circumstances.

1. Alabama
2. Oregon
3. Florida
4. Oklahoma
5. LSU
6. South Carolina
7. Kansas State
8. USC
9. Florida State
10. Notre Dame


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