October 2008


Game of the Week: Penn State at Ohio State

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By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

TV: ABC, 8:00 PM ET

Last Week: Penn State beat Michigan, Ohio State defeated Michigan State

            So last week I did write a game of the week column for this website, but luckily it wasn’t published. I say luckily because the subject of that column was the Ohio State-Michigan State, and I picked Michigan State to win by a small margin. I was originally planning to write about the Texas-Oklahoma State game because I did not want to write about the same team two weeks in a row. However, since the column never was published, it would appear that I’d be writing about Texas two weeks in a row, and sometimes appearances mean more than realities. So for the fact that my OSU-MSU column was (fortunately) not published and the fact that if I wrote about Texas it would appear that I was writing about the same team two weeks in a row, I decided to write about the Ohio State – Penn State game. Not to mention, it’s a pretty big and possibly season defining game with national championship and Big 10 championship implications.

            The Big 10 and national championship implications are really the only important factors in the magnitude of this game. This isn’t like other weeks, where a win for team x implies such and such about their program’s progress or loss for team y implies such and such about that program. We’re too deep in the season for that abstract stuff to really matter (at least in most cases). All we care about now is about championship contenders, and because of that, I will refer to BCS rankings rather than AP or another poll (for the most part) from now on.

            Both Ohio State and Penn State were included in the top 10 of the initial BCS standings, with Penn State at # 3 and Ohio State at # 9. So, we have our first “legitimate” BCS top 10 match up on our hands this week. As for how they got there, both teams have their own story.

            Ohio State began the season with lofty expectations and the possibilities of reaching their 3rd straight national title game. They were the clear favorite to win the Big 10 and had a strong chance of running the table. Although analysts and fans admitted that Ohio State could lose a conference game, they typically believed only one true hurdle stood in the Buckeye’s way: USC. We all know now that that hurdle turned into a massacre and Ohio State plummeted in the polls worst than Wall Street has in the past two months. But, unlike the stock market, Ohio State has risen from the ashes with the emergence of the heralded Terrelle Pryor at quarter back and the return of running back and team leader Beanie Wells to full health. Currently, the Buckeyes sit atop the Big 10 and like many people expected, undefeated in conference play. Even with they loss, they have outside shot to get the national championship game if some things they can’t control go their way.

            In that last paragraph, I neglected to mention that Ohio State is not the only team at the top of the Big 10. The other team undefeated in conference play is – you guessed it- the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State has a completely different story than Ohio State. Although once a prominent and proud football program, the Nittany Lions fell into obscurity in recent years with a few exceptional or noteworthy seasons such as when Michael Robinson played quarterback for them a few years ago. They began the season unranked or at a low position in the polls but have worked their way up to the top of the rankings by simply winning every game they have played. Granted, the schedule appears to have been weak so far, but they did dominate Oregon State, who beat USC, who destroyed Ohio State, if that means anything (which it shouldn’t, just interesting to note). No matter the weakness of the schedule, however, Penn State has done all it has been capable of by winning its game and controls its own destiny for the rest of the season.

            But how did Penn State win their games? They simply dominated on the offensive side of the ball. The Nittany Lions have scored at least twenty points every game and lead the Big 10 in scoring offense at 45.4 points per game. They are led by quarterback Daryll Clark who has thrown 11 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions and ranks 2nd in the Big 10 in passing efficiency. They have a pretty good running back in Evan Royster, who has 10 rushing touchdowns and leads the Big 10 in yards per carry and two senior receivers in Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood, who rank among the leading receivers in the conference.

            Ohio State does not have as statistically as good of an offense as Penn State does, but you certainly have heard of their players. In fact, I’m tired of talking about the attributes of Beanie Wells and Terrelle Pryor because fans already know the importance of those two players to the Buckeyes. I will focus on defense instead.

Led by two potential first round draft picks in linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, the Ohio State defense can strike fear in most opponents.  Consider this: they held former national leading rusher, Javon Ringer, to 67 yards on 16 attempts and no touchdowns. They also rank 2nd in the conference in pass defense 3rd in scoring defense 2nd in total defense and 1st in rush defense.

          But Penn State’s defense isn’t too shabby either. In fact, they somehow managed to rank ahead of Ohio State in all of those categories except for rushing defense (they are 2nd in the Big 10).

          Also interesting to note, Penn State ranks 1st in 3rd down conversion and 1st in opponent 3rd down conversion. Such intangibles could be crucial. Still other intangible might play a larger role. For instance, the game is at Ohio State, and Penn State has not won their since the 1970s.

 

Prediction: This is a really difficult game for me to predict, but I will stay conservative and go with the Buckeyes, 38-35. I feel like owe it to them since I picked them to lose last week, but more legitimately, Penn State hasn’t proven anything to me yet. Yes, their statistics are amazing and their coach is hall of famer, but they haven’t beaten a quality opponent yet. Now, Ohio State hasn’t really beaten anyone noteworthy either, but they have dominated the Big 10 the past couple of years even if they’ve choked in prominent national games. That, plus the fact that the game is at Ohio State has convinced me to pick the Buckeyes.

 

Look Back Last Week: Nothing to say, I was completely wrong. Michigan State is pretty much a fraud.

 

Look Back Two Weeks: The Red River Shootout turned out to be quite the shootout. Even though Texas won by 10 points, it was close throughout; Texas just made a few more big plays, and those plays were the difference. As for Oklahoma, they still are in good shape. They fell about 3 spots in the polls and still have a change for the Big 12 title and a remote hope for the national championship game. Texas controls its own destiny for a BCS title, but at least on paper, they have a difficult road ahead, starting this week with Missouri. PS: Don’t be surprised if Texas appears in this column again next week, depending on what happens on Saturday.

 

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

Game of the Week: Oklahoma vs. Texas, in Dallas, Texas

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By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

TV: ABC, 12:00 PM ET

Last Week: Oklahoma defeated Baylor, Texas beat Colorado

            After a one-week hiatus, the game of the week column is back with a vengeance.  This column will preview what’s bound to be a season-defining game, the Red River Shootout. But first, I would like to thank SportsZone producer and blog editor Sean for permitting a college football segment in the 10/06 episode. I’m not sure if it was a critical success, but I definitely enjoyed discussing college football with my two co-hosts, Steve and Amanda. Now on to the game…

            The Red River Shootout is always a big rivalry game with a lot of interesting connotations, but this year, its vastness is compounded by the fact that Texas and Oklahoma are both undefeated and in the Top 5. You might think that with the incredible qualities and histories of these storied programs that top 5 matchups would be a fairly recurring occurrence, but in reality, it will be only the tenth time in a 103 year history that the series can brag of that fact.

            But in spite of the obvious reasons for this being a big game (classic rivalry, top 5 matchup, national and Big 12 title implications), this game appeals on multiple other levels as well. First of all, I believe that this is the first true Big 12 conference game. Currently, every Big 12 team has played at least conference game, but this is where the real season for the Big 12 begins.

            The Big 12 features 6 currently ranked teams, with 4 in the top 10 and 3 in the top 5. None of them have played each other until now. In fact, to me, the story of the second half of the 2008 season will be who emerges from the Big 12. Because no one has played each other and none of the teams have truly played anyone special out of conference (one of the ranked teams, Kansas, lost to South Florida in their “marquee” non-conference matchup), the rest of the season will determine the “contenders” and “pretenders” in the conference, and the Red River Shootout is just the tip of the iceberg.

            In addition this game could have a muscular impact on the Heisman Trophy Race. Two candidates, one on each team, faceoff on Saturday, and they won’t compete against each other correctly because they are both on the offensive side of the ball (and play the same position). Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford has slightly more prolific numbers than Texas QB Colt McCoy, but McCoy is a bit more mobile, with 317 rushing yards to Bradford’s negative 23. However, Bradford is a full-fledged contender, while McCoy is more of a dark horse. Still, both are excellent quarterbacks and if one of them outperforms the other (with a stellar performance of course), he could make a major case for the Heisman.

            As for the game itself, as alluded to in the quarterback discussion, both teams have a powerful, high-octane offenses, which is a trend in the Big 12 this year. But both teams can play defense as well. Texas has a scoring margin of 35.8 points per game while Oklahoma averages the exact same number (The Sooners score about two more points and allow about two more points than the Longhorns do). Texas is # 1 in scoring defense in the Big 12, and Oklahoma is # 2 (same for sacks by). Oklahoma is # 1 in total defense and Texas is # 2.

            Teams appear to be fairly even in special teams with a slight edge to Texas. Neither team has kicked many field goals but they have made all the ones they have attempted.  Texas leads the conference in punting while Oklahoma is near the bottom in punt returns. Plus, Oklahoma has missed two PATs while Texas has been perfect in that regard.

            A quick note about these offenses: I already talked about how great the quarterbacks were, but these teams can run the ball as well. Whoever can establish the run better can set up more effective play action plays, and that could be a key factor in the outcome of the game.           

Other than that, there’s not much left to say; the game is so important that not a lot truly needs to be said. And, unlike Alabama who has surprised many fans with its success, these teams are known commodities. All there’s left to do is just sit back and enjoy the game.

Prediction: The winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat for the national championship game. However, they will be driving on a bumpy road.  For Texas, this game begins a difficult four game set against 4 out of the 6 ranked Big 12 teams (and Texas is included in that 6). Oklahoma will not have such an arduous task, but they will have some difficult games down the road.  As for the prediction, you would expect this one to live to its “shootout” billing, at least on the offensive side of the ball, but sometimes expectations do not come into fruition, and these teams have the defenses to subdue the powerful offenses. Still, I believe it will be a relatively high scoring game with Oklahoma winning 28-24. Justification: Oklahoma has never trailed this entire season, and that’s impressive, no matter the competition.

Explanation: I did not write my column last week for a few reasons. First of all, I had a lot of work.  Nevertheless, I still had plenty of opportunities to write, and the reason I didn’t was because I could not interest myself in the game I intended to write about, Ohio State-Wisconsin. I did turn out to be a good game, and we learned two things: Wisconsin is really mediocre, and people still are going to push for Ohio State to play in the national championship if they have one loss and things go their way because Beanie Wells did not play vs. USC and Terrelle Pryor wasn’t the full time starter.  We’ll see what happens with the Buckeyes and the Big 10. But, sorry to anyone who hates this column and thought that I had quit writing it, because I believe I will continue to write.

Look Back Two Weeks: So, I was glad I was wrong about the Alabama-Georgia game. That game shows the importance of the offensive line. John Parker Wilson had a great game, but struggled the next week vs. Kentucky, and ask any NFL scout, he would rather have Matthew Stafford. Alabama has great running backs, but Knowshon Moreno is a special talent. Without their incredible offensive line and Georgia’s young one, I do not think Alabama would have one. As for Georgia, they still could win the SEC east. As for Alabama, they probably have been the most surprising and impressive team of the 1st half of the season. They have 4 of their 6 remaining games at home, and with the decline of Auburn and Tennessee, the only game they will be an underdog will be at LSU (depending on what LSU does). They are a serious national championship contender, but they must avoid upsets and play consistently.

By: Brennan Marks SZ Contributing Writer

IMAGES COURTESY OF YAHOOSPORTS.COM