Oh, college football… How I love you!!
Well, that happened.
While a lot of people were saying that Alabama was ripe for a loss against a Texas A&M team that’s been playing really well over the past few weeks, most of this felt like lip service. You know, the kind of things that ESPN makes one person say on the Gameday set in order to appear unbiased.
And then- “Johnny Football”.
There are a lot of reasons why Alabama lost- coming off of an emotional win on the road in Death Valley, LSU’s offense showed a lot of people the issues that the Tide have in their secondary, Saban’s fear of the high speed offense is based on his knowledge of his team’s weaknesses; but the fact of the matter is that the Aggies outplayed Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, in several key areas of the game.
The Crimson Tide defensive front was stifled, for the most part, by the aTm offensive tackles. Combined with concerns about a quarterback’s mobility, the Tide were not able to mount the type of disruptive pressure that they are so used to.
Alabama’s offense made key mistakes and turnovers, and seemed out of rhythm all night long. The three turnovers didn’t help, particularly when the Tide defense couldn’t get any of their own… and the mental errors were even more egregious. On the final interception, it seems to me that the receiver on the end of the line of scrimmage did a poor job getting depth in the end zone, making it easy for defenders to cover both him and the primary target. In addition, with Bama’s defense stiffening and forcing a punt, to have a member of their punt return/block team create a neutral zone infraction for an automatic first down is an aggressive penalty, but one that is terrible to have happen in that circumstance. Again, the intensity was there for the student in question, but the lack of focus eventually cost them a final chance at victory.
But we can’t miss the point here- this game was won by Johnny Manziel’s continual ability to make plays and put the Tide defense on their heels.
After the third week in a row with this type of performance (Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State), the redshirt freshman has lifted himself into Heisman candidacy- and for good reason. Given the lack of a clear “star” this year, given Matt Barkley’s struggles, the game this weekend was his “Flutie to Phelan” moment; outstanding performance in high profile opportunity. I’ll leave the debate to others, but will certainly enjoy watching the electricity that all of these candidates provide.
Even if he doesn’t win this year, you’ve got to think that next year’s Heisman race is going to be something spectacular- Braxton Miller, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Everett Gholston, Tahj Boyd, DeAnthony Thomas… and those are just the ones I’ve got off the top of my head.
(And since I’m on the topic, I think that Marquis Lee needs to be included in this year’s debate. But that’s just me).
Does this loss end the run of SEC titles in the final year of the BCS? Well, not exactly… more on this in a bit.
So, with Alabama falling, you’d think that the Oregon Ducks would be the team to benefit the most readily, although they didn’t look ready for the part in a late start against Cal; they were in for a fight, at least early on. The game ended up out of hand as the Ducks turned on the after-Barners, but the first period made Ohio State fans excited, as an upset would bump one more team from the unbeaten ranks and would strengthen the perspective of the Buckeyes’ schedule. But, as we’ve already mentioned, the Ducks did what the Ducks do, and put 45 points on the Bears in the last three quarters, including 21 in the fourth. For a team that typically pulls the reigns back once the game is out of hand, I wonder if Oregon was trying to gain some style points for the voters. It worked for the Associate Press, who have them as the top team in the country after Saturday’s game.
Their victory didn’t come without a cost, though- they’ve now lost several of their defensive front to injuries, including some key backups. The good news? While the Ducks are playing better defense, their offensive philosophy means that they only need one or two stops a game… similar to the old Loyola Marymount basketball teams who’d be OK with your squad scoring 115 while they hung 135 on you.
The BCS wasn’t as kind to the Ducks, though, leaving them at #3 behind Kansas State and Notre Dame. You’ve got to wonder if the computers are aware that beating Oklahoma at home is nice, but not really all that special anymore. The WildKats took care of their business against the Horned Frogs of TCU, under the watchful gaze of Kid from Kid-N-Play. Notre Dame continued to roll, winning their “Catholic Clash” against Boston College and the Bollman Offense, but only doing so by a couple of scores. In addition, it looks like the Luck Of The Irish continues… better to be lucky than good, amIrite?
Speaking of officiating, let’s take a moment to visit the comedy of errors that continues to be the B1G conference, with two particular games highlighted this week. First, let’s take a look at TTUN’s overtime victory against Northwestern, one that saw the Wildcats penalized 8 times for 75 yards to the Wolverines 2 flags for 26 yards. While the numbers might be interesting enough, given that the game was in Ann Arbor, it was the “non-calls” that seemed the most egregious- several plays had Coach Fitzgerald frustrated at the lack of accountability. When a flag was finally thrown late in the game, you can see his enthusiasm; in part because he imagined that this late decision would mean an important road win for his team.
Unfortunately, though, they could not manage the same success that A&M had against Alabama, and needed to punt the ball back to Michigan with mere seconds on the clock and a ton of yardage to gain. At this point, though, it was probably for the best that Denard Robinson missed the game with continued nerve issues in his elbow- backup Devin Gardner has a much stronger arm of the two, and was better suited for Michigan’s best passing play- “Throw it deep and hope for the best”. A great, heads up play by Roundtree and some poor volleyball by the Northwestern defender, and Gardner was able to spike the ball to set up the game tying field goal. Although… that certainly looks like a backward pass to me, and might have been best called a fumble. The rest, of course, is predictable and really reminiscent of Ohio State’s win over Purdue- TTUN scored on the first series of OT and stuffed Northwestern on their plays from scrimmage to hold on for the win and to keep their hopes alive for a Divisional Title. Which would be that much easier with a Nebraska loss.
But that wasn’t to be, in spite of Penn State opening a two touchdown lead in the first half. The Cornhuskers, as they’ve done all year, managed to overcome that deficit and eke out a 9 point win, holding Nebraska to only a field goal in the second half. Or did they?
The play of the game, particularly if you’re Matt McGloin, was a late dive toward the endzone by a PSU tight end that looked to cross the goal line but was called a fumble by the officials on the field following a huge hit by defenders. The replay staff held that there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn that call, and Nebraska dodged a bullet.
For the second straight week, though, it looked like conference officials gave the game to the Huskers; a late safety due to an intentional grounding call certainly didn’t help the feelings of the portion of PSU fans who are convinced that the B1G has thrown them to the wolves. In talking with some of my Nebraska fans/friends, though, I’ve heard overwhelmingly that they’re more than willing to give PSU Saturday’s touchdown as soon as Lion fans hand over the 1982 National Championship trophy.
One of the minor subplots to come out of the Nebraska game, though, was a brief confrontation between Coach Pelini and defensive back Stafford- In his post game press conference, Bo apologized for putting his players in positions where they couldn’t be successful; perhaps that was the heart of the conversation. Nebraska wasn’t the only program with some coaching issues on Saturday- Washington State and Mike Leach had some distractions prior to their game with UCLA, with former receiver Marquess Wilson alleging physical and emotional abuse as to the reason he left the Cougars. The winner, though, of this week’s “Coaches Gone Wild” award is Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville, seen at the right extending the left hand of fellowship to an assistant coach.
A coach that you’d have expected to have a similar meltdown but didn’t (as far as we know) was Florida’s Will Muschamp, particularly given that his team struggled at home for the second straight week, this time to the Sun Belt’s Louisiana Lafayette. You could tell that the game was a bit of a surprise for the Gators, given how chippy some of their players were performing- this play in particular wins the prestigious “Shawn Crable Stupid Late Hit Of The Week” award. And yet- this is still a top ten team who always finds a way to win… if nothing else, Gator fans, you’re getting your money’s worth for every second of play.
The Gators are one of six (!) teams from the SEC in this week’s top ten, bringing us to “This Week In Confirmation Bias“. As you remember, when an SEC team beats an SEC team, it’s proof of the conference’s strength. When the same thing happens in another conference, it’s proof that that conference is terrible.
It’s also why, in my opinion, if all of the top four teams win out you’ll see Alabama and Oregon in the National Championship game with Notre Dame and Kansas Sate on the outside looking in. Oregon will have defeated a ranked Stanford, a two loss Oregon State, and will have won their CCG against a ranked USC/UCLA- which will help their schedule strength, the only thing that the computers have docked them for. Notre Dame will only have beaten USC, and Kansas State has Baylor and Texas left- both teams that have struggle. Meanwhile, Alabama will have to have defeated #5 Georgia in their conference championship game- KSU and ND not having a CCG will be their downfall, in my opinion.
And, if this is the way things work out, I’m OK with it. Alabama is still one of the top programs in the country, and I think could beat KSU and ND. However, this goes to prove that our discussion of “What does ‘champion’ mean, and how do you prove it?” is still valid… even a one and done playoff only proves that a team might be able to matchup well against an opponent for a single game (*coughBoiseStatecough*)
Across the nation- The ranks of the undefeateds continue to dwindle, though, as Louisville realizes that you actually should look into playing defense on occasion. The ranks of the unemployed are more than likely growing, with Tennessee’s Derek Dooley first rumored on the chopping block after their loss to Missouri in four overtimes. Gene Chizik is right there beside him, though- Auburn was shut out by Georgia, who has earned a berth in the SECCG.
Things I wish I could have bet money on- when talking with Eric prior to this week’s slate of games, I mentioned that I thought it was cool that Texas was lining up in the wishbone to honor Darryl Royal, former Longhorn coach and creator of the formation. I also said that I thought they’d probably run a trick play and throw deep out of the formation:
In the B1G we’ve got our “novelty uniform of the week”, Iowa’s great tribute to Veterans that totally missed an opportunity to be worn by Ricki Stanzi. Alas, the Conference Coach Of the Millennium came up short, as Danny Hope’s Boilermakers won a huge game on the road. Congrats to Jerry Kill, who has his Gophers bowl eligible this season. Congrats, too, to Indiana for not getting anyone killed as Wisconsin reminded their fans that it’s basketball season.
Also in Indiana- Wabash blanked DePauw to retain the Monon Bell. Sometimes evil triumphs, I guess.
Ohio State returns to action this week- tBBC will have all of your Badger coverage, so stay tuned. Other games of note this Saturday include Oklahoma traveling to West Virginia for the “Heisenberg Bowl”, and Texas Tech squaring off against T. Boone Pickens University. The eyes of the nation will be on the Pac12, with cross-town rivals USC and UCLA trying to out “bro” each other, while Oregon’s top rated running game meets Stanford’s top ranked rushing defense.
In the meantime, though- here’s your moment of zen: