Monday, November 26, 2012

Week 13: Aaaaand that's that

Notre Dame something something glory something: So ... Notre Dame is going to the national title game, which will inevitably be a double-overtime win over Alabama since 2012 Notre Dame = 2002 Ohio State. It's science. Anyway, the USC game went pretty much exactly as expected: Notre Dame ran the ball with some regularity, got enough pressure on Max Wittek to force a lot of blah throws and generally didn't give up a whole lot of anything, especially in the red zone. Total yards: Notre Dame 439, USC 281. That's a pretty dominant road performance, albeit against a falling-apart team with a freshman quarterback and a crappy defense. Notre Dame's offense has reached the point where it's no longer a liability -- The Theo Riddick/Cierre Wood/Everett Golson run game provides some consistency in terms of first downs and whatnot, and Golson has improved from bad to competent as a passer, which is sufficient given the defense -- and that's pretty significant in terms of having a realistic chance to win it all (!!!). I know. I wrote this at the beginning of the year:
I think the best-case scenario is probably 8-4, and that means winning every single game other than the ones in which ND will be an underdog. Realistically, 7-5 is more likely, and that's counting on some of the close losses last year swinging the other way despite having a freshman at quarterback and nothing at cornerback. Anything better than either of those numbers should result in Brian Kelly being named Coach of the Year and Notre Dame getting a BCS berth.
I know. Brian Kelly for Coach of the Year. Bob Diaco for everything. In no way did I expect or even consider the possibility that Notre Dame would have arguably the best defense in the country and go the entire year allowing two rushing touchdowns, even if the schedule turned out to be not nearly as difficult as expected. Do I think Notre Dame is one of the two best teams in the country? No. Do I think Notre Dame has earned the chance to play for a title? Yeah. Can't really argue that. As for USC ... ummm ... gack. The offense was mostly fine (pass protection was an issue after Khaled Holmes went down, but that's understandable); the defense was really the problem. Three of the last four losses were games in which the offense did enough and the defense flat-out couldn't get a stop when it mattered, thus final rankings of 62nd in total defense and 46th in scoring defense and probably the end of Monte Kiffin's career. To be fair, USC's schedule ended up being kinda the opposite of Notre Dame's; Stanford, Arizona, UCLA and Notre Dame were all significantly better than expected. Still, Lane Kiffin is a bad year away from getting fired seeing as how a team that started the year No. 1 in at least one poll is gonna end it barely bowl-eligible and playing in one of the Pac-12's crappiest bowl games.

Settle down, Florida: I take back everything (or almost everything) I said about Florida's regression on offense. Dang. The first three quarters were more or less as expected since it was 20-13 Florida State heading into the fourth, with the go-ahead touchdown getting set up by a typical Jeff Driskel turnover. The fourth quarter was downright ridonkulous, with Florida running a total of nine plays and scoring three touchdowns, two of which came on short field following a fumble and a 50-yard punt return, respectively. So it went from 20-13 Florida State to 37-20 Florida in a span of 10 minutes (after having gone from 13-3 Florida to 20-13 Florida State in a span of six minutes in the third quarter). And it wasn't all turnovers/short fields; Florida finished with 394 yards against what had been the No. 1 defense in the country in yards allowed coming in. The turnovers just helped; at one point, Florida had run 18 of 19 plays from scrimmage sandwiched around a Florida State fumble on a kickoff and a Florida State "drive" that ended with a pick on the first play. Speaking of which, E.J. Manuel was downright awful: He finished 18 for 33 for 5.5 yards an attempt with a touchdown and three picks, and a good chunk of his rushing yards (and one of his two rushing touchdowns) came on a 22-yarder on the totally meaningless final play of the game. Given the turnovers, it's actually pretty impressive that FSU still finished with 26 points and about 300 yards against an elite defense, not that it mattered much. So Florida is gonna finish the year 11-1 and playing in a BCS game, most likely the Sugar Bowl as the SEC's replacement for the Alabama/Georgia winner since that team will go to the title game. Florida State is headed to the ACC title game to obliterate Georgia Tech (like Georgia just did) and then the Orange Bowl to obliterate a random undeserving team, which will be kind of an anticlimactic end to a year that could have been so much better if Manuel hadn't played his two worst games of the year at the two worst possible times.

Game of the Week: Oklahoma seems to feature here pretty regularly. This week's game is definitely deserving, though, since it went to overtime after OU went on an epic 6-minute, 14-second drive that ended like so on a fourth-and-3 in the final seconds:

WOWWWWW. Oklahoma won in overtime after Okie State kicked a field goal on the first possession, which probably wasn't gonna work out well in a game that was 48-48 at the end of regulation. Oklahoma State actually led by 17-3 early and then 38-27 at one point late in the third quarter; it was tied less than five minutes later. Landry Jones finished a ridiculous 46 of 71 (!) for 500 yards (!!!) with three touchdowns and a pick, and Oklahoma finished with 618 total yards plus an 81-yard punt return for a score by Jalen Saunders, who was one of OU's three 100-yard receivers. Wowza. So Oklahoma is probably headed to a BCS game assuming a win over TCU next week, which RABBLE RABBLE FIRE BOB STOOPS RABBLE. The guy is an automatic BCS game and would probably have OU sitting at third in the BCS if not for Blake Bell's goal-line fumble against Kansas State. Give that man his money credit. Same for Mike Gundy; Oklahoma State is probably gonna finish 8-4 (with all four losses to ranked-ish teams) despite spending the year trying to replace Brandon Weeden by throwing out whichever freshman quarterback was available/uninjured. Okie State is a legit program at this point.

Oregon wins but wins nothing: The headline-type thing says it all. Oregon pwned Oregon State in the same fashion in which Oregon pwned everybody other than Stanford this year to finish 11-1. Result: probably the Fiesta Bowl as an at-large pick since UCLA and Stanford will be rematching in the Pac-12 title game. As for the pwning, it was 20-17 Oregon midway through the third quarter and 48-17 about nine minutes later. Oregon finished with a typically absurd 430 rushing yards against a defense that had been in the top 20 nationally in rushing yards allowed (it's now 31st), with Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas combining for 320 yards and five touchdowns. Meh. It's worth noting that all of Oregon's 11 wins were by double digits (and the one loss was by literally inches) despite a not-that-easy schedule that included five teams ranked at the time of the game. What I'm saying is that, all things considered, I'm still pretty sure Oregon is one of the two best teams in the country; it won't matter because of the Stanford game, which is unfortunate since Georgia apparently got forgiven for the South Carolina debacle argh stupid rankings.

Keep up the good work, Texas: There's probably some quality schadenfreude to be found on the Texas-centric interwebz since Texas A&M might be going to a BCS game out of the SEC with a first-year coach and a freshman quarterback while Texas is headed for 8-4 again after losing to TCU, the team that replaced A&M as Texas' Thanksgiving opponent. For the third time this year, the offense was pretty much a tire fire, putting up 300 total yards and turning it over four times, with David Ash and Case McCoy collectively going 21 for 38 for 5.6 yards an attempt with no touchdowns and three picks. I just don't know, man. The offense is either great or terrible with no real consistency whereas the run defense is utterly awful with amazing consistency, which doesn't even make sense given that Texas had one of the best defenses in the country last year and still has both Manny Diaz and a lot of talent. Maybe that should be written off to weirdness to at least some extent; the same can't be said for the ongoing inability to find/develop a quality quarterback (Greg Davis' residue doesn't wash off easily). Here's an informative stat: Since Colt McCoy graduated, Texas has gone 11-13 in the Big 12 and 21-16 overall. Interpret that as you will. I have a feeling a lot of the people for whom "hook 'em" is a way of life are interpreting it by looking longingly toward Florida.

Some quality Friday night football: ASU and Arizona played a relatively entertaining game, although probably nobody outside the state actually paid attention since it was the first time since 1986 (!) that both teams came into the game with winning records. Anyway, Arizona went on a 17-0 run over the latter half of the third quarter to take a 10-point lead, then imploded with turnovers (blocked punt included) as ASU ran off 24 straight in a span of nine minutes of the fourth to basically put it away. Ka'Deem Carey was Ka'Deem Carey, which is to say one of the best running backs in the country: 25 carries, 172 yards and a touchdown despite sitting out a chunk of the third quarter with some undisclosed injury. The problem: Matt Scott, who threw three picks and fumbled while doing some nonsensical acrobatics on a zone-read keeper to set up ASU's touchdown at the start of that aforementioned 24-0 run (UA led by a touchdown at that point). It was a less-than-ideal way to end a career, obviously; he also finished 19 for 39. Still, RichRod did some work to get Arizona to 7-5 this year, especially considering the time it's usually taken him to get things going on offense. Arizona finished the year seventh in total offense, 19th in scoring offense, 15th in rushing offense and 29th in passing offense, and while Scott's gone after this year, Carey's only a sophomore, and the defense will unquestionably get better with Jeff Casteel running things. I don't have any doubt that Arizona will have a good/very good offense and be generally competitive in the Pac-12 South as long as Rodriguez sticks around. As for ASU, Todd Graham really needed that win (as much as a first-year coach can really need a win) and got it. I was relatively impressed with what he and Mike Norvell did this year, although the fact of the matter is that, other than the Arizona game, ASU beat only bad teams and lost by double-digits to every good team on the schedule. So ASU was an average team, thus magnetizing toward the inescapable historical norm for ASU. At least this year's historical norm included vague indications of progress in terms of balance on offense and fewer than a bajillion penalties a game. I'd rather have RichRod in the long term but gotta give Graham credit for taking what could've been a pretty bad team (with tons of losses from last year's senior-laden team that should've won the South) and getting it to respectability right away. It's a young team; there's hope for something better than 7-5 going forward and the same type of Pac-12 competitiveness I expect for Arizona (maybe more given the recruiting base and, um, qualities of Arizona State University).

Apple Cup LOLWUT: Washington State lost to Colorado six weeks ago (Colorado!) and hadn't won a single Pac-12 game this year before beating Washington in overtime to finish 3-9. Washington. The Washington that beat Stanford and Oregon State. The Washington that was 5-3 in the Pac-12 and ranked 25th. The Washington that was leading 28-10 going into the fourth quarter. I don't get it. And it wasn't even a fluke since Wazzu outgained Washington 369-269 and had four turnovers to U-Dub's one in regulation, although Washington did rack up an impressive 18 penalties (!), one of which was a false start one play before a could-have-won-the-game field-goal attempt on the last play of regulation. Crazy ... kind of; I guess that was the Washington State that was expected when Mike Leach took over a seemingly good offense that for some reason had cratered all year until Saturday.

Almost, Auburn: Yeesh. Washington State beating Washington was unlikely; Auburn beating Alabama was an impossibility based on talent/coaching/everything else. And that was borne out on the field since it was 14-0 Alabama after 10 minutes and 42-0 at the half. Alabama could've made it so, so much worse but chose not to for some reason (it couldn't have been since Nick Saban doesn't have emotions). Auburn finished with 163 total yards and got 71 passing yards from Jonathan Wallace, who went an awful 5 for 14 with two picks. Even more pathetic: At no point did Auburn have more first downs than Alabama had touchdowns (they finished with seven each). I don't even LOLWUT. Granted, some of that was just Alabama's awesomeness; not all of it. Auburn got outscored 150-21 in its last three SEC games and 272-81 (!) in SEC play over the course of the season. I mean ... wow. When I wrote this at the end of my Michigan retrospective-type thing ...
These are the good ol' days of "eh eight/nine wins whatever." I know because that's been basically the consensus reaction of the non-truckers who were emotionally invested in the outcome of The Game. And it could be worse; ohhhhh, it could be worse. 
... I was referring to Auburn. Obviously.

Catch of the Week: LSU's Jarvis Landry did this against Arkansas for what turned out to be a pretty significant touchdown.

Wow. That would warrant Catch of the Year consideration if that were a real thing.

ACC awesomeness: If Saturday had been given some kind of official title along the lines of ACC-SEC Challenge, the ACC would have lost. By a lot. Clemson lost by 10 at home to a Marcus Lattimore-less version of South Carolina that almost lost to Wofford last week, Georgia Tech got absolutely trucked by Georgia and Wake Forest (playing for bowl eligibility) lost at home by 31 to Vanderbilt -- and that's to say nothing of Florida State losing at home to Florida in the one game that could've validated FSU as something other than a creation of the ACC's awfulness. Not so much. The same goes for Clemson, which just verified that going 9-1 in the ACC isn't that hard and therefore probably shouldn't be given much credence until the ACC has more than two respectable teams. That said, Miami deserves some props for going out in what the school rendered a totally meaningless game and putting up 52 points and 646 yards in a road win over a decent Duke team to finish 7-5, which would've been good for the division title if not for, ya know, the NCAA stuff. I suppose that probably says more about the division than it says about Miami.

Impressive? Virginia Tech ended a weirdly meh season by beating a crappy version of Virginia with a field goal as time expired (after beating a terrible version of Boston College in overtime last week), thus a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility for the 20th straight year. Yay?

Woo Big East! So Louisville lost at home to a UConn team that had been 1-4 in the Big East (guh), meaning all Rutgers had to do to clinch the Big East title was beat a crappy Pitt team that also had been 1-4 in the Big East. Result: Pitt 27, Rutgers 6. Geez. Because of that, Rutgers and Louisville -- neither of which is now ranked -- will still be playing for the Big East's BCS spot Thursday night. Woo Big East!

Bill O'Brien FTW: Wisconsin is apparently really bad at winning in overtime after scoring a tying touchdown in the final seconds of regulation. That's bad for Wisconsin since what could've been 9-3 is instead 7-5; it's good for Penn State, which just finished the year 8-4 overall and 6-2 (!) in the Big Ten. Yeah: Penn State finished the year 6-2 in the Big Ten. They weren't particularly great at anything but were also a Sam Ficken missed field goal (or five) and an officiating hose job from being 10-2, which HEAD ASPLODE. I would nominate Bill O'Brien for ALL OF THE AWARDS if I hadn't already presented them to Brian Kelly/Bob Diaco. But what matters a lot more is whether O'Brien will be nominated for any NFL jobs; it's definitely plausible given his background, and it's not totally out of the realm of plausibility that he'd take one if offered seeing as how it's gonna be pretty hard to sustain any kind of legitimate success at a place that'll be fielding half a team in three years.

Uhhh Kent State? So Kent State is 11-1 and is gonna play Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game this week. Kent State is also 17th in the BCS, which means a win over NIU and a loss by anybody in the teens (which is likely since Stanford and UCLA play each other) would put Kent State in the BCS as a conference champ ranked higher than one of the BCS conference champs. Kent State. The team that lost to Kentucky by 33 points. Yeah. And as was pointed out by College Football News, that would mean Kent State's win over Rutgers last month might have actually featured two BCS teams. I have nothing more to add here.

Dang, Ole Miss: Ole Miss had to beat a pretty decent Mississippi State team Saturday to get bowl eligible and did so with authoritah. Total yards: Ole Miss 527, Mississippi State 333. Hugh Freeze really put together a pretty decent team without anybody noticing this year; Ole Miss lost by six to LSU, one to Vandy (which finished 8-4), three to Texas A&M and 19 to Alabama, which was Alabama's closest game before the LSU/A&M gauntlet. Given what Freeze did at Arkansas State, it's not unreasonable to think Ole Miss will be a respectable team in the SEC West over the next couple years, which means the SEC West will be ridiculously loaded if Auburn and Arkansas can find competent coaches.

Look Ma No Hands Interception of the Week: There's no replay here to confirm it, but Buffalo's Najja Johnson catches this pass entirely with his knees, which ... like ... how is that even possible with the ball going that fast?

I dunno.

Weather of the Week: Northern Illinois played Eastern Michigan in a game that you probably didn't/don't care about at all outside of the conditions the game was played in. Here's what the field looked like at the start of the game ...

... and here's what it looked like by the middle of the second quarter:


Post-Week 13 top 10: As mentioned at the top of this post, I've seen enough from Notre Dame's offense to think that (a) it's no longer a weakness, which is significant for a team with an elite defense, and (b) ND is basically the same team as Florida and therefore at least as good as everybody other than Alabama and Oregon. Speaking of which, I'm moving Florida back up ahead of LSU based on Florida remembering the value of points and LSU playing a couple straight less-than-impressive games against meh teams. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. And no, I'm not ignoring Ohio State; I just don't think Ohio State would beat any of the teams listed below.

1. Alabama
2. Oregon
3. Notre Dame
4. Florida
5. LSU
6. Florida State
7. Texas A&M
8. Georgia
9. Kansas State
10. Oklahoma


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