NCAA Football


Jeremiah Masoli had plenty to smile about today as his Oregon Ducks smashed #6 Cal, 42-3.

Jeremiah Masoli had plenty to smile about today as his Oregon Ducks smashed #6 Cal, 42-3.

Every week of the college football season there tends to be some atrition within the ranks of the unbeaten.  This weekend proved to be no different, as it seemed like there were an unusually high amount of teams getting handed their first loss.  Most notable of these teams are Ole Miss, Cal, and Miami-Fla, who will all be coming out of the Top 10 on Monday morning.

Let’s start with the Ole Miss Runnin’ Rebels, who proved to be a good bit overrated, especially on the offensive side of the ball in their 16-10 letdown

The Ol Ball Coach looked like he was on top of his game in the Gamecocks triumph over Ole Miss

The Ol' Ball Coach looked like he was on top of his game in the Gamecocks triumph over Ole Miss

 against the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia on Thursday night.  Heisman darkhorse Jevan Snead looked like anything but that as he was a miserable 7/21 for 107 yards and one long TD pass that brought the slimmest amount of credibility to his lackluster performance.  Tailback Dexter McCluster wasn’t much better, as he was limited to 15 carries for 85 yards, in part due to the good pressure put on the Rebs’ O-Line by a strong South Carolina rush.  The surprise of the game would definitely have to be the strong play of Gamecocks QB Stephen Garcia, who wasn’t spectacular, but did what he had to do in order to give his team only its 2nd win in 34 tries against Top 5 opponents and the program’s first in 27 years.  Steve Spurrier desperately needed this win to prove that he has improved South Carolina football since takin the reins and to show that they have the potential to wreak some havoc in an always competitive SEC.

Moving into today’s games, it’s very hard to say that the Cal Golden Bears weren’t looking past Oregon because they basically stayed in Berkeley for this one, as the Ducks derailed the 6th-ranked team in the country, 42-3.  Jeremiah Masoli was spectacular, going 21/25 for 253 yards and 3 TD’s all to his favorite target in Ed Dickson.  Major kudos to the Oregon defense in this one, though, as Jahvid Best was almost a complete non-factor, as he was limited to 55 yards on the ground by a team that now has a couple of wins under its belt to help forget their season-opening losses to Boise State, and yes, I meant losses, lest we forget LeGarrette Blount.

The last game the really impacts the early season look at the rankings was the biggest game of the weekend.  Apparently Virginia Tech forgot that this game was supposed to be the statement win for the Miami Hurricanes in the ACC and their entry into serious consideration for the BCS because the Hokies dominated from start to finish in an impressive 31-7 beatdown of the ‘Canes.  Va. Tech won it exactly the way a Frank Beamer coached team usually wins games with a suffocating defense that held the ‘Canes to 209 total yards of offense, combined with a physical and grinding rushing attack that tallied 272 total yards of offense and 2 TD’s.  After it looked like the loss to Alabama ended hopes of a national title run and as much as they struggled against Nebraska last week, the Hokies proved once again to be the class of the ACC this year, leaving no doubt in this one, especially with the losses for Florida State and North Carolina today.

Embarrasment Alert: At the time of this post, the Greg Paulus-led Syracuse Orange are trailing the Maine Black Bears 17-13.  If this one falls in favor of Maine, then I think we can finally agree to say that the grand experiment of bringing in a guy who hasn’t played football since his senior year of high school is a complete failure. Also, keep an eye out west, where Cal Poly leads San Jose State, but we’ll cut the Spartans some slack because they are the sacrificial lambs for the USC’s and Cal’s of the world, so they don’t know how to play to win games.

Eric Folk's FG lifted Washington to a shocking 16-13 win over #3 USC.

Eric Folk's FG lifted Washington to a shocking 16-13 win over #3 USC.

Today we got a good look at why Pete Carroll is using Matt Barkley as his starting QB as the Aaron Corp-led USC Trojans were wiped out in Seattle by an overachieving Washington Huskies team, coached by none other than former Carroll assistant Steve Sarkisian, who engineered the right defense to stop USC’s offensive juggernaut.

UW is a year removed from one of the ugliest seasons in school history, a 1-11 campaign that they needed an ugly win in the Apple Cup against winless Washington State to avoid the big 0 in the wins column.  Now all of that has become nothing more than a painful memory as they join the list of unlikely Pac-10 schools to trip up USC, joining Oregon State from last year, and Stanford from two years ago.

For USC, this might not necessarily mean the end of their national title hopes, but it’s certainly an unexpected and devastating blow for a team that was coming off yet another big victory in Columbus over Ohio State.  Now they are almost forced to bring Barkley back as soon as possible and bring some confidence to an offense that was simply outplayed by the Washington defense, making 3 bad turnovers that allowed the Huskies to hang around and pull the upset.

Looking back eastward, it may not have been the predicted beatdown that was expected, but it can’t be argued the the top-ranked Florida Gators handled Tennessee with relative ease.  In a game that was a lot more a case of grit than glits and glamour, It was the Florida defense that played the biggest role, showing the limited ability of the Tennessee receivers to get open downfield and making very difficult on Vols QB Johnathan Crompton all day, who finished an almost unnoticable 11/19 for 93 yards and 2 INTs. 

The big story that came out of this one though might be Tim Tebow’s final numbers, or rather the lack thereof.  The Heisman hopeful looked rather pedestrian and even a little confused by the defensive schemes shown by Tennessee.  Add in the two turnovers that he had, which led to 10 of Tennessee’s 13 points and Tebow’s Heisman chances just declined a little bit.

Speaking of Heisman, Jahvid Best is giving his best effort to get himself into

Jahvid Best was at his Best against Minnesota (Sorry for the pun.)

Jahvid Best was at his Best against Minnesota (Sorry for the pun.)

 the conversation with an unbelievable 5 TD performance at Minnesota to stop the Golden Gohpers 35-21.  From what I saw from Cal and USC today, I would be circling October 3rd on the calendar as their head-to-head matchup might determine the Pac-10 champion this year.

Also of note would have to be the death of several non-BCS conference teams’ hopes of an undefeated season this year, with Utah suffering a 31-24 loss in The Autzen Zoo to the Oregon Ducks, who look like they’ve finally gotten it back together after the Boise State debacle, and BYU currently getting waxed by the Florida State Seminoles 44-21 in Provo, it looks like it’s going to be up to Boise State once again to carry the torch for the unlikelies to reach a BCS bowl this year.  Considering the Broncos remaining schedule, though, it really wouldn’t surprise me to see them undefeated and going into another big bowl game, and this time you’ll be certain not to underestimate them.

In another thrilling finish, the Virginia Tech Hokies escaped losing twice at home in a ranked foe, scraping past Nebraska 16-15, in a game that will be mostly remembered for its offensive ineptitude than anything else.  Nebraska once again failed to get into the end zone in a big game, limited to five field goals despite controlling most of possession throughout this battle.  On the other side, Va. Tech took an eternity to get their offense going yet again, with Tyrod Taylor looking both uncomfortable in the pocket as well as afraid to throw a bad pass, at times.  This led to the Hokies having a laughable offensive output of 278 yards, 91 of which came on the game-winning drive and 80 of which came on one play in the final drive.  Yet, as they’ve been asked to do time and again, the Tech defense went above and beyond expectations in keeping the Nebraska offense at bay, although they did get a good bit of help in the 4th quarter, when a Nebraska drive got down to the Va. Tech 6-yard line, only to have the Cornhuskers commit 30 yards worth of penalties to force an unlikely punt.  At the end of the day though, it sets up another battle for the Hokies, who now prepare to take on a resurgent Miami team next Saturday in a battle for ACC supremacy.

Cupcakes of the Week: Once again, the Capital region gets the dubious honor of having two of the biggest underachieving programs in the nation, in

Wazzus best player ever was this guy. It explains a LOT about why they stink.

Wazzu's best player ever was this guy. It explains a LOT about why they stink.

 Maryland and Virginia, both of which ended up on the wrong side of games put on the schedule that were supposed to be easy wins.  The Terps proved to be as soft as the Pillsbury doughboy as they folded 32-31 at home against Middle Tennessee State, while the Cavaliers lost 37-34 at home to Southern Miss.  The Golden Eagles are usually one of Conference USA’s better teams, but that’s just it, they’re in Conference USA, which might be the second weakest conference ahead of the Sun Belt.  I give out one more dubious honor to the Washington State Cougars, who yet again found a way to lose, this time in overtime to SMU, who hasn’t been good since the late ’80s when they were the top of the Southwest Conference, only to have the program receive the death penalty from the NCAA due to serious violations.  Somewhere out there tonight, Drew Bledsoe is watching the highlights of his alma mater and thinking “Man, I played better than this when I was with the Bills!”

This week in college football there are several intriguing storylines, starting up right away on Thursday night with arguably one of the most important ACC games in the last few years when the Ramblin’ Wreck of #14 Georgia

Can Jacory Harris lead The U to another win on Saturday?

Can Jacory Harris lead The U to another win on Saturday?

 Tech goes into Dolphin/Pro Player/Land Shark/Joe Robbie Stadium to take on the 20th-ranked Miami Hurricanes.  It’s a big one not just on a conference scale for these two teams, but also on a national stage for the ACC as a whole.  So far this year, the ACC hasn’t looked like a legitimate BCS conference, with its top team in Virginia Tech falling at home to Alabama to open the season, as well as several other close calls and embarrassing losses in non-conference play for several of the conference’s members.  However, the winner of this game will very quickly become that ACC team that people will keep an eye on for the rest of the season, much like what happened with Butch Davis’ North Carolina Tar Heels last year.  For both teams that is a big deal.  For Georgia Tech, they’ve always been that good but not great college football program and although a win over Miami might not be their meal ticket into the national conversation, a loss would certainly kill any chance of that happening this year.  On the other side, there’s the Miami Hurricanes, led by Head Coach Randy Shannon, who after a couple of years of looking like he couldn’t hold a team together, looks like he might be onto something, especially with the surprising play of starting QB Jacory Harris in the U’s opening weekend upset of Florida State in Tallahassee.  For this once-proud and nationally revered program, this is another step toward the rebirth of what Miami football used to represent, both as the class of the ACC and a consistent national title contender.  Expect this one to be hotly contested from whistle to whistle.

Moving into the plethora of games on Saturday, there is one game for almost every college football fan that stands out amongst the rest.  Lane Kiffin and the Tennessee Volunteers, coming off a home loss to UCLA, head into “The Swamp” and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to take on the #1 Florida Gators, who

Well, um, you see, um, we lost by 35 tonight because...THEY CHEATED!!! Wait, whats that? Oh, that was me? Um, er, no comment.

"Well, um, you see, um, we lost by 35 tonight because...THEY CHEATED!!!" Wait, what's that? Oh, that was me? Um, er, no comment.

haven’t forgotten what the Vols head coach said just a few months ago.  The fact of the matter is this: Kiffin can say anything he wants about Florida and commit as many NCAA violations as he likes and lie about NCAA violations committed by other teams, but it’s not going to help.  Florida as a team is miles ahead of where Tennessee is right now, especially after seeing what each team did last weekend.  All Kiffin did to himself was open the door to make it perfectly acceptable for Urban Meyer to keep Tim Tebow out on the field for all 60 minutes and run up the score if the opportunity presents itself.  I’m looking forward to the postgame press conference more than anything to see how Kiffin explains his team’s 21+ point drubbing. Should be fun.

Also on the slate, in the only other game pitting two Top 25 teams against each other, the #19 Nebraska Cornhuskers go into Lane Stadium to square off with the #13 Virginia Tech Hokies.  This one is another game involving

Beamer-Ball hasnt been so successful in big games lately.  Itll be interesting to see what happens against Nebraska.

"Beamer-Ball" hasn't been so successful in big games lately. It'll be interesting to see what happens against Nebraska.

two teams that feel like they have a lot to prove right now.  For Nebraska, they have to be feeling some level of disrespect because of the lack of attention they’re getting this year because they happen to play in the same conference as Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State.  This is a golden opportunity for the ‘Huskers to make a statement as we approach conference play, especially since a win on Saturday makes it quite conceivable that they will be unbeaten when they host Oklahoma on November 7th, with no games against ranked opponents on the slate before that showdown in Lincoln.  For Virginia Tech, this is a chance for redemption after the loss at home to Alabama two weeks ago, as well as a chance to reclaim their position as the class of an otherwise suspect ACC.

On a somewhat related note, I’d like to take a minute to recognize the passing of NCAA President Myles Brand, who passed away earlier today from complications from pancreatic cancer at age 67.  Brand will forever be remembered from his earlier days as the man who fired Bobby Knight at the University of Indiana, but his work as head of all major collegiate sports should be recognized as well.  Under his watch, the NCAA has continued to see increased exposure and revenues for the organization and its member schools.  Brand was also a no-nonsense person who sanctioned several high-profile schools for their blatant disregard for the importance of academics and the questionable actions of coaches.  Hopefully the next NCAA president will follow the example of Mr. Brand and continue to uphold the integrity of collegiate athletics.

QB Case Keenum is the King of Houston as he led the Cougars to a huge upset of #5 Oklahoma State

QB Case Keenum is the King of Houston as he led the Cougars to a huge upset of #5 Oklahoma State

Once again, college football fans have no reason to be unhappy with the way things went on a busy Saturday on the gridiron.  For those of you who might have missed some of what happened, here’s some brief recaps on some of the Top 25 action, as well as some games of note from outside the rankings:

No need to really talk about #1 Florida or #2 Texas as they ripped right on through their cupcake opponents in Troy and Wyoming, respectively, so let’s go right into the game of the week, where #3 USC escaped Ohio Stadium and the eighth-ranked Buckeyes 18-15.  This was a game that most people

He was held to 60 yards, but Joe McKnight was the key to USCs game-winning drive in Columbus

He was held to 60 yards, but Joe McKnight was the key to USC's game-winning drive in Columbus

expected USC to run away with based off of Ohio State’s performance last week at home against Navy, but give credit to the Buckeye’s defense, which did a great job of containing star RB Joe McKnight until the final drive of the game for the Trojans, where McKnight made several key runs to lift USC to the win.  The QB matchup was certainly the big draw to this game, but both Matt Barkley (who’s a freshman in case you hadn’t heard that enough yet) and Terrelle Pryor failed to deliver fireworks as neither threw a TD pass and they both had 1 INT a piece in a game that was far more defensive than anticipated.  That being said, the Trojans maintain their dominance over Big 11 foes.

Again we skip #4 Alabama’s waxing of FIU and get right into our upset of the week as the Houston Cougars stung the soon-to-be former #5 Oklahoma

This might have been Houstons biggest win since Ware flopped with the Lions

This might have been Houston's biggest win since Ware flopped with the Lions

State Cowboys 45-35.  After building a surprising 24-7 halftime lead in Stillwater, Houston was outscored 21-0 in the 3rd quarter and the dream seemed dead for a team most remembered for producing Andre Ware in 1991 from their “Fun ‘n Gun” offense.  However, the Cougs came rallying back on their old Southwest Conference opponent, scoring 21 points in the 4th quarter in a furious rally to pull the upset.  The state of Oklahoma might just have to wait until next year for the National Champs to come from their backyards.

Continuing on down the list, no major surprises or scares for Penn State, BYU, Cal, LSU, Boise State, Oklahoma, Va. Tech, or TCU, as they all had relatively easy days handling their FBS or FCS opposition.  This allows us to

Tate Forcier is quickly bringing pride back to the Blue and Maize

Tate Forcier is quickly bringing pride back to the Blue and Maize

 look right at what was almost the game of the week, as Michigan, in spite of all the turmoil within its program, manages to pull out a last second victory over the #18 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  The story of this game is Tate Forcier, who seems to be the man Rich Rodriguez has been searching for to run his spread offense, as Forcier threw for 240 and two TDs and also ran the ball 13 times for 70 yards and a score.  For Notre Dame, Jimmy Clausen was very good, throwing for 336 yards and 3 TDs, but in the end it was not enough.  Expect a flip-flop between these two teams being in and out of the Top 25 on Monday.

The game that might have raised the most eyebrows this week had to have been UNC’s 12-10 escape of lowly UConn.  It wasn’t even that UConn stepped up, it was just that UNC looked that bad.  The #19 Tar Heels never found any offensive rhythm and needed 12 fourth quarter points, the final 2 coming on a safety on a penalty in the end zone, to get out of Hartford with a W.  It calls into question the overall quality of the ACC as a whole.  Several teams have looked very soft in the early going, and it might point to a tough year in the bowls for the conference.

The last game in the Top 25 of note this week was #21 Georgia holding off a huge late rally by South Carolina to defend their turf, 41-37.  Holding a 38-26 lead in the 3rd quarter, the Bulldogs allowed the Gamecocks to score 11 straight points and creep back to within one at 38-37.  However, Georgia’s block of what would have been the game-tying PAT was just enough to secure the victory Between the Hedges.

Outside of the Top 25, there were three games that really caught my attention.  First was Tennessee’s 19-15 loss to UCLA at home.  Didn’t Lane Kiffin say something about beating Florida this year?  I know it’s just one game but UCLA is not the class of the Pac-10.  I wonder if Kiffin is wanting to take some of the things he said back yet.

Last, but certainly not least, my Cupcakes of the Week Award goes to both the University of Maryland, who narrowly escaped their home opener with a thrilling 38-35 victory over James Madison, and also to the Ball State Cardinals, who went from possible BCS busters last season to losing 23-16 at home to New Hampshire.  Listen, I understand that rebuilding years will happen and that sometimes the team just doesn’t show up for games against lesser opponents, but if you’re bigger budget, higher profile school is getting beaten by teams filled with your recruiting leftovers, then something is very wrong with what you as a college football program are doing.  It’ll be very interesting to see how the Terps play in the very mediocre ACC this year.

So there it is, another long Saturday in the books for football fans, but not to worry, for the NFL season is upon us!  Check back tomorrow night/Monday morning for a recap from Sunday’s games and a preview of the Monday Night games.

College Football...Or Minor League Football depending on how you look at it.

College Football...Or Minor League Football depending on how you look at it.

I’ll admit that when it comes to the NCAA vs. NFL debate, I would rather suffer through a season of New York Jets ineptitude than watch my local Army Black Knights gain an average of about 100 yards a game on offense.  But the college football season has a TON of intriguing and interesting storylines from the top college teams, like Timmy Tebow’s Florida Gators, to the teams that are, well, not as good (cough, Michigan, cough)…

Reason #1: Because Notre Dame is once again relevant, and you either love or hate Notre Dame.

I can remember turning on NBC when I was about 7 or 8 years old and

His seat is so hot he might start sweating off some pounds

His seat is so hot he might start sweating off some pounds

sitting there while my Dad would criticize Lou Holtz, or later Bob Davie, for their playcalling.  Seeing as I grew up in a deathbed for college football in New York, Notre Dame became most people’s default team to root for.  I went the other direction and went against them.  As mentioned above, I am an Army fan (but I mean, who’s really ever rooting AGAINST our troops?) but also grew a bit of an affinity for Boston College, which is almost like sacrilege considering they are a Boston team. Anyway, I’ll watch Notre Dame almost every week, simply because I want to witness them fail. It might not happen against Nevada (although I would enjoy that!) but we all know that they will just not show up for one of these games or just get their brains beaten in by USC again.  For Notre Dame fans, this is a season with high expectations and another preseason top 25 ranking.  It’s a chance for them to relive some of their past glory without having to turn on ESPN Classic or put Rudy into their DVD players.  Regardless of your bias, though, Notre Dame is college football epitomized, and it’s nice to see that they might be relevant this year.

Reason #2: The Heisman Race might be the best one ever.

Tebow. Bradford. McCoy. The three best at what they do racking up big numbers against the likes of Idaho State, Louisiana-Monroe, and Charleston

Im putting my money on Tebow, just because I dont want to think about the speech hell give if he loses the Heisman

I'm putting my money on Tebow, just because I don't want to think about the speech he'll give if he loses the Heisman

Southern, and then leading their teams to game-winning drives either against conference foes or maybe even against each other.  Either way, these three should be the first three QBs taken in next year’s NFL Draft and will be a class that is immediately compared to the great class of 1983, but that’s next year. So for now enjoy watching who could be the future of your franchise on the college gridiron where they all look like the next Dan Marino, and aren’t the next Danny Wuerffel yet, and I guarantee one of them will be as bad as that in the NFL, it’s just the law of averages.

Reason #3: To see the undefeated team from the Mountain West, WAC, Sun Belt, or MAC get no love from the BCS and its demonic computers.

You know this is going to happen without the season’s first week even being over.  I look immediately at Boise State, considering there is absolutely no good opponent remaining on their schedule.  At the end of the day, the Broncos might be the nation’s lone undefeated team, but there’s no way they will make the BCS National Championship, and once again the fans will cry and complain about the system and Congress will meet to talk about college football instead of healthcare or education or the War in Afghanistan or anything relevant, really, and still nothing will change.  But maybe, just maybe, this will be the year that justice is served and one of the little guys gets its shot at the title, that’s enough to make me curious.

Reason #4: To fill the void between now and the start of NFL regular season for a couple of weeks.

If this guy ever has a heartattack, its gonna be tough for the doctors to know it happened.
If this guy ever has a heartattack, it’s gonna be tough for the doctors to know it happened.

OK, so maybe this isn’t the case for everyone. I know people who hate the NFL, and will see this and probably yell at me.  For everyone else who is foaming at the mouth for NFL Week 1 because they don’t have a college team, or they don’t care for the college game, or their baseball team has been out of it since May, at least this will wet your appetite for the time being, and it won’t cause you to have a grand mal seizure, because you actually don’t live and die with your team’s wins and losses since you don’t have a team.

Reason #5: To see/listen to Lane Kiffin and (sob, whimper, tear) Rich Rodriguez try and talk their way out of anything and everything.

These guys are just funny to watch and listen to.  Kiffin continues to prove that he is both delusional as well as not up to speed on the NCAA recruiting rules, and Rodriguez continues to have to lie to himself by saying that leaving West Virginia for Michigan was “the right move, at the right time.”  Come on guys, you both inherited two of the dying stars of 1990s college football. Tennessee hasn’t been good since Peyton Manning left Rocky Top to make DirectTV commercials and Michigan has become beatable for the likes of Appalachian State and Toledo in The Big House.  Much like Florida State and Miami, these two teams are a long, LONG way from where they once were and might not ever get back to their past level of success.  Somewhere out there both Lloyd Carr and Philip Fulmer are smiling…

So, really that’s just a few of the good reasons to watch this year, so stop reading this now and flip on a game! Come on, it’s football season!!!

Game of the Week: Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville, Florida

     vs.        

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

TV: CBS, 3:30 ET

Last Week: Georgia beat LSU, Florida defeated Kentucky

     There are two big games this week. The headliner is another battle of unbeatens in the Texas-Texas Tech game. The other game used to be officially referred to as the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” and features two one-loss divisional rivals in Florida and Georgia. I decided to write about the other game.

     Why, you might ask, in a million years, would you choose to not write about what appears to be the last regular season game between two undefeated teams this year? Although the Texas-Texas Tech game is monumental in shaping the Big 12 and national championship picture, I have my reasons for choosing to write about the Cocktail Party, as always, I will share them with my loyal reader(s) in order to justify my decision.

     I have three reasons for choosing this match-up. First of all and most importantly, this game has conference and national championship implications as well. The winner of this game pretty much locks up the SEC East title, and if the winner wins out, including the SEC championship game, that team will have a legitimate shot to play in the national championship game (depending on the results of the rest of the nation, of course). It is necessary to mention, however, that running the table will still be difficult, with non-conference rivalries (Georgia vs. a new look Georgia Tech and Florida vs. a re-energized Florida State) and the SEC title game, looming large.

     Secondly, not only does Florida want revenge for losing the game last year, but also, the Gators remember the stunt coach Mark Richt and Georgia pulled on them last year. Now, in my last column, I mentioned that “we’re too deep in the season…for that abstract stuff to really matter (at least in most cases).” It would appear that I’m contradicting myself here, but because of my wily usage of parenthesis, I can claim that this is one of those few cases that deviates from the norm (although in retrospect, I probably should have used the term external instead of abstract). But back to the “stunt.” Last year, after scoring their first touchdown, Georgia head coach Mark Richt ordered his entire team to celebrate in the field and told them he would be disappointed if they did not receive a penalty. You can watch a video of that at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJAQjqZg_zI. Since then, Richt has apologized and has claimed to regret his decision. Still, that unsportsmanlike action remains center stage in the minds of Gator nation and of course, the actual football team.

     Lastly, this is one of the most competitive and fun rivalries in college football. Florida and Georgia, along with Tennessee, have been the class of the SEC East throughout the 90s and 2000s. This almost always means something. Plus, it’s just plain fun. With the cocktail party and all, I always try to tune in to this game, and I’m not a fan of either team. Yes, the Texas Tech – Texas game will be fun as well, but come on, this is the cocktail party.

     Well now that the explanation is finally done, I can actually discuss the game itself. On paper this game could at least sniff the offensive numbers that are bound to be put up by the Texas-Texas Tech game. We all know the players: the cult-hero, dual threat, “system,” Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow and the shifty, versatile, and fast WR/RB Percy Harvin for Florida; the incredibly accurate, precision passer, pro-style quarterback Matthew Stafford and flashy, strong, and athletic running back Knowshon Moreno. With an additional group of playmakers on each team – for Florida an improved running game with backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, for Georgia a talented group of wide-receivers with AJ Green and Mohamed Massaquoi – and respectable offensive line units, both offenses are bound to put up gaudy numbers, especially for the defensive-minded SEC.

Because of the potent of each offense, I believe that the team who can make a few more defensive plays as far as forcing turnovers, outplaying the other team’s offensive line or just get a few lucky breaks will be in the best position to win. Now it is possible for one defense to dominate the game (like Alabama did against Georgia for most of the game), but I believe the progress each team’s offense has made throughout the season will make that scenario unlikely. Still, the defense that can create the most opportunities, in my opinion, will win the game. Statistically, that does not bode well for the Bulldogs. The Gators are ahead of the Bulldogs in all defensive statistical categories, including total defense, scoring defense, sacks by, rushing defense, passing defense, and of course turnover margin (Florida leads the SEC in turnover margin and Georgia ranks 6th). Regardless, Georgia has some good playmakers on their defense, especially at linebacker, and should still be able to make this game competitive.

Secondly, not only does Florida want revenge for losing the game last year, but also, the Gators remember the stunt coach Mark Richt and Georgia pulled on them last year. Now, in my last column, I mentioned that “we’re too deep in the season…for that abstract stuff to really matter (at least in most cases).” It would appear that I’m contradicting myself here, but because of my wily usage of parenthesis, I can claim that this is one of those few cases that deviates from the norm (although in retrospect, I probably should have used the term external instead of abstract). But back to the “stunt.” Last year, after scoring their first touchdown, Georgia head coach Mark Richt ordered his entire team to celebrate in the field and told them he would be disappointed if they did not receive a penalty. You can watch a video of that at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJAQjqZg_zI. Since then, Richt has apologized and has claimed to regret his decision. Still, that unsportsmanlike action remains center stage in the minds of Gator nation and of course, the actual football team.

Lastly, this is one of the most competitive and fun rivalries in college football. Florida and Georgia, along with Tennessee, have been the class of the SEC East throughout the 90s and 2000s. This almost always means something. Plus, it’s just plain fun. With the cocktail party and all, I always try to tune in to this game, and I’m not a fan of either team. Yes, the Texas Tech – Texas game will be fun as well, but come on, this is the cocktail party.

Well now that the explanation is finally done, I can actually discuss the game itself. On paper this game could at least sniff the offensive numbers that are bound to be put up by the Texas-Texas Tech game. We all know the players: the cult-hero, dual threat, “system,” Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow and the shifty, versatile, and fast WR/RB Percy Harvin for Florida; the incredibly accurate, precision passer, pro-style quarterback Matthew Stafford and flashy, strong, and athletic running back Knowshon Moreno. With an additional group of playmakers on each team – for Florida an improved running game with backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, for Georgia a talented group of wide-receivers with AJ Green and Mohamed Massaquoi – and respectable offensive line units, both offenses are bound to put up gaudy numbers, especially for the defensive-minded SEC.

Because of the potent of each offense, I believe that the team who can make a few more defensive plays as far as forcing turnovers, outplaying the other team’s offensive line or just get a few lucky breaks will be in the best position to win. Now it is possible for one defense to dominate the game (like Alabama did against Georgia for most of the game), but I believe the progress each team’s offense has made throughout the season will make that scenario unlikely. Still, the defense that can create the most opportunities, in my opinion, will win the game. Statistically, that does not bode well for the Bulldogs. The Gators are ahead of the Bulldogs in all defensive statistical categories, including total defense, scoring defense, sacks by, rushing defense, passing defense, and of course turnover margin (Florida leads the SEC in turnover margin and Georgia ranks 6th). Regardless, Georgia has some good playmakers on their defense, especially at linebacker, and should still be able to make this game competitive.

Special teams wise, both teams offset each other for the most part. Florida has an excellent punt return game but Georgia leads the SEC in punting. Both Florida and Georgia have good kick return games, but both also have mediocre kickoff coverage units. However, it is important to note that Florida features one of the SEC leaders in the return game with the electrifying speedster Brandon James, and he could be a formidable foe for the Georgia special teams units.

As far as intangibles go, I think Florida has an advantage. The Gators obviously want revenge from last year and are extremely motivated to beat the Bulldogs. Georgia also is the most penalized team in the SEC (Florida ranks 2nd). However, intangibles are just intangibles and what really matters is the plays the players make.

Prediction: This, as usual, is an extremely tough game to call. I think Georgia has had too many issues and injuries this year, and Tebow is a lot healthier than he was at this point last year. I say Florida 41-38. If you were betting, though, you should probably bet against me because I have been wrong for the past several weeks in my predictions.

Look Back: Well, we can be thankful that Ohio State is officially eliminated from the national championship picture (knock on wood). But now, we could have a whole different problem on our hands. Penn State won in a defensive, traditional Big-10 battle and remained undefeated. But if they remained undefeated and more than 1 other team remains undefeated, we will, once again, have chaos. Thank you, BCS.

 

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

Game of the Week: Penn State at Ohio State

     vs.    

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

   vs  

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

Game of the Week: Alabama at Georgia

BY: BRENNAN MARKS, SZ CONTRIBUTING WRITER

     vs.    

TV: ESPN, 7:45 PM ET

Last Week: Georgia defeated Arizona State, Alabama beat Arkansas

     Ray Charles once had Georgia on his mind. This week, the entire scope of the college football nation will have Georgia on their mind because of a top 10 conference match-up between traditional college football powerhouses (so-to-speak), Alabama and Georgia. For the two people who actually read this column: yes, I did say that I would probably write about an SEC game for consecutive weeks, and yes, I already wrote about Alabama in their first game versus Clemson in an unpublished column (which obviously doesn’t mean anything to the readers because it was never published, but I have alluded to it in my previous columns). Also, I must now admit that I actually am an Alabama football fan. Despite my biases, however, it is clear that this is THE game of the week. For example, CBSSports.com has a countdown clock to the game on its college football section of the website (http://www.sportsline.com/collegefootball ), and the game is not even on CBS. Of course, it is necessary to mention that the program which can arguably claim to be the primary indicator for magnitudes of games will be in Athens on Saturday, ESPN’s College Gameday.

     Now that I have established that this game does indeed merit “game of the week” status, it is important to note why this game is so big. Well for starters, it is a match-up between the # 3 (Georgia) and # 8 (Alabama) ranked teams in the country (who are both undefeated, by the way) and a conference game. But, beyond that, both teams can make a statement by winning this game. Georgia began the season ranked # 1 in the preseason polls but fell to # 3 from a combination of lackluster game performances (despite winning all of their games) and impressive victories by the current # 1 -2 teams, USC and Oklahoma. If Georgia wins an a monumental fashion, it strengthens their case for a chance to move up in the polls, which has a direct effect on whether or not they will play in the BCS title game and will obviously keep the Bulldogs undefeated, which is even more important for Georgia’s ability to play for the championship.

     If Alabama wins, they obviously will be able to realistically continue to compete to play in the national championship, but perhaps more profoundly, they will reveal how good of a team they truly are at this point in the season. No one is truly sure what to make of them right now. They began the season at the bottom of the top 25, destroyed preseason top 10 team Clemson in the first game and have essentially dominated the other opponents on the schedule. Theoretically, it can be argued that Alabama deserves its current # 8 AP ranking based on their performance in their first four games. However, observers might question the strength of each opponent on the schedule, even Clemson, especially in comparison to Georgia and other SEC competition. Georgia figures to be the Crimson Tide’s first true test on the schedule, and the outcome of this game will say a lot about the progress Alabama is making under second year head coach Nick Saban.

     The game itself has many interesting storylines as well in addition to the underlying importance of the outcome of the game to each team. Alabama’s defense has surprised many football fans so far. It has yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season and has allowed 3 touchdowns total (all, coincidentally, on 4th down attempts). Many believed the defense was too young and inexperienced to pose a serious threat to top tier SEC teams, but perhaps they underestimated the newcomers in the secondary, the speed of the defense overall, and undeniable impact of 365 pound JC transfer nose tackle, Terrence Cody, affectionately called Mt. Cody by many Alabama fans. In the previous games, Cody has been able to consistently take on two blockers which has allowed other players on the defense to pressure the quarterback and make plays, and he has clogged the middle which has hurt the opponents inside running game. Of course, it is unfair to say that Cody has been solely responsible for the reemergence of the Tide’s defense this season. The 10 other men on the field have made big plays when needed (four timely interceptions by the secondary against Arkansas was crucial to the victory), and Cody cannot play on every play for conditioning reasons. Still, his impact has been profound, and this week, he will be lined up against a freshman center (Ben Jones).

     Perhaps that will be the most intriguing battle within the game: Will Alabama’s defensive line be able to beat Georgia’s young but talented offensive line? Of course, the line of scrimmage battle always has an effect on the outcome of the game, and if, hypothetically, Alabama’s defensive line can get pass the offensive line, can Georgia’s skill players find a way to win the game? It will depend on just how well Alabama’s d-line plays. For instance, if their performance can be described as “dominating,” then Georgia’s skill players will likely have had a rough day. But if not, even if Alabama “wins” the battle, Georgia’s offensive skill players are among the best in the country and can make plays in open and sometimes closed space.

     Which players am I talking about? Analysts consider quarterback Matthew Stafford one of the best, if not the best, NFL prospect in the country and arguably the best pure quarterback in the SEC (ranks 1st in pass efficiency within the conference and 2nd in passing yards per game). Heisman candidate Running back Knowshon Moreno leads the SEC in touchdowns and is 2nd in rushing yard per game. Freshman WR AJ Green has made a case for SEC offensive freshman of the year through the first few games. So, yeah, Georgia has some pretty skilled skill players on the offensive side of the ball.

     Alabama has some talented offensive players as well, most importantly the offensive line and running backs. The Tide currently leads the SEC in rushing. Georgia, however, appears to be the team to stop the Crimson Tide, as they lead the SEC in rushing defense. This game will be a measuring stick for the quality of Bama’s rushing offense and Georgia’s rushing defense. One might argue that Georgia has played against opponents who do not utilize the running game often or effectively, and Alabama has not played against a team who was poised to stop their power running game. If Georgia can stop Alabama’s running game, it will be interesting to see what senior quarterback John Parker Wilson can do.

     Despite breaking multiple passing records at Alabama, Wilson’s career has been defined by crucial mistakes in games and a mediocre overall record. So far this year, he has been mistake free and has won all his games, but his passing numbers are down. This, of course, is because of the emergence of the running game, but if Georgia can force Alabama to pass the ball, it’s nearly impossible to foresee what Wilson will do. Luckily, he is facing the 11th ranked pass defense in the SEC (albeit the numbers are inflated because Georgia has played pass-happy teams, just like the numbers for Georgia’s rushing defense are possibly inflated in the opposite direction) and is helped by talented receivers including two senior tight ends, and freshmen sensation Julio Jones (Julio was typically ranked # 1 by recruiting services, AJ Green was # 2). If , and a big if at that, Wilson makes the right decisions and makes accurate throws, Georgia could be in for a long day, even if they stop the run.

     As always, special teams and intangibles can have a huge impact on the game. As far as special teams goes, I don’t have much to say. Both teams have poor kickoff coverage units, but I’d give the edge to Alabama in the return game, with electrifying return man Javier Arenas fielding kickoffs and punts. As far as intangibles, basically all are in Georgia’s favor. (The only one not in their favor is penalties, as Alabama is among tops in the SEC in fewest penalties and penalty yards, whereas Georgia is a cellar-dweller in that statistical category). First of all, Georgia plays at home, which always has an effect on the game. Secondly, their legendary radio broadcaster, Larry Munson, retired earlier this week, meaning he called Georgia’s last game vs. Arizona State but abruptly decided to call it quits before the Bama game. Perhaps his retirement will lead to an even more emotionally charged Bulldog team. Lastly and most intriguingly, Georgia will don black jerseys for the third time in school history. Coach Mark Richt called for a “blackout” asking the fans to wear black while the team wears black as well. The previous occasions where Georgia has worn black include two blow-out victories versus Auburn and Hawaii last year, so theoretically, history is on their side. Now, I don’t think Alabama’s players will be extremely affected by Georgia’s fashion statements, but it is another interesting aspect of this monumental early season college football game.

 

Prediction: I really, really, really, want to pick Alabama to win this game. I do think they can because of the strength of their offensive and defensive lines. I’m not really sure how well they can play against Georgia, but I expect them to because they are playing with a ton of confidence and swagger. However, Georgia is an extremely talented team- there’s a reason they were ranked # 1 in the preseason. I’ll pick Georgia to win 24-17. Not only are they the safe pick and the home team, but also, I don’t want to be seen as an “Alabama homer,” even though I’m a fan. I still seriously considered picking them.

Look Back: Well it wasn’t the defensive struggle I projected, but it was an entertaining game and I got the winning team right. Auburn will need a lot of help to get back into the SEC championship picture, while LSU looks like they might have a quarterback.

 

BY: BRENNAN MARKS, SZ CONTRIBUTING WRITER

IMAGES COURTESY OF YAHOOSPORTS.COM

Game of the Week: LSU at Auburn

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

 

     vs    

TV: ESPN, 7:45 PM ET

Last Week: Auburn defeated Mississippi State; LSU beat North Texas

     This week marks a change in the nature of this blog. For the past columns, I have examined non-conference match ups as “games of the week.” This week’s column will look at a conference game, LSU at Auburn. Because many of the more intriguing non-conference games have been played, the trend will likely continue. (Note: You might also see more columns concerning SEC games because a). There are currently 5 top 10 teams in the SEC and b). I have more inherent knowledge of the SEC than any other conference. Of course, I will try to shake things up and look at some other conferences if there are marquee games, but don’t be shocked if you see another SEC preview next week…)

     Anyway, LSU-Auburn intrigues me (and hopefully other college football fans) on several different levels. Obviously, the fact that this is a top 10 match up makes it worthy of this column. As well, this game has been quite fascinating historically. For instance, in 1988, LSU defeated Auburn on a late touchdown, and the eruption from the LSU fans (the game was played in Baton Rouge) was so intense that it literally caused an earthquake. More importantly, this game is huge for divisional implications in the SEC West as both teams were predicted to be and should be the class of the SEC West. The winner of the SEC typically plays role in the national championship picture, and the winner of this game will have a clearer path to become the SEC champion. First, however, a slight review of each team’s path to the game is necessary.

     Both teams opened the season with uncertainty at the quintessential quarterback position. Last May, LSU coach Les Miles dismissed likely starting quarterback and dual-threat player Ryan Perriloux for multiple violations of team rules and “not fulfilling his obligation” as a student-athlete. The Perriloux situation gave way for inexperienced quarterbacks Andrew Hatch (transfer from Harvard) and Jarrett Lee to compete for the starting positions. Both have played this season, with Hatch starting. In Auburn’s case, the major shift with their team occurred largely with the coaching hire of offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, who runs a spread offense. He actually arrived at Auburn a few weeks before the Chick Fil-A Bowl versus Clemson and installed his offense in preparation for the game. Then freshman Kodi Burns, another dual threat quarterback, shared snaps with then senior Brandon Cox and stole the spotlight by scoring the game winning touchdown in overtime. With the win, excitement rushed through the hearts of Auburn fans as the spread offense appeared to be the answer to some of Auburn’s offensive woes. However, the pre-season brought about a quarterback controversy with the emergence of junior college transfer and former Texas-Tech commit, Chris Todd. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville announced that both quarterbacks would play but did not announce who would be the actual starter until right before Auburn’s first game against Louisiana Monroe (Kodi Burns).

     Despite these concerns, critics and coaches both believe that each team merits a top 10 ranking, and perhaps the most important factor contributing to each team’s respective rankings derives from the quality of their defensive units. Auburn ranks first in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 5 points per game, and LSU gives up 8 points per game. Auburn comes in 3rd in total defense, and LSU is 4th (in the SEC). So, based on statistics alone, these teams are pretty good on defense. Now, the statistics are possibly slightly inflated due to the level of competition they have faced, but recent history and actual observation indicate that these teams have pretty good defenses.

     But back to offense. So far this season, Auburn has struggled mightily on offense. Kodi Burns did start the opening game, but Chris Todd usurped the starting position from him (in part because of a slight injury but Burns can still play). Neither QB has accomplished anything noteworthy this season, nor has there been any return on the investment of Tony Franklin’s spread offense. Auburn is ranked 11th in passing offense in the SEC and has thrown for one touchdown and two interceptions. They are a bit better in the running game averaging 204.7 yards per game but have lost six fumbles in three games this season. Their turnover ratio is – 2, and that’s only because their defense has forced 6 turnovers. (To illustrate the imbalance of Auburn’s offense-defense ratio, I have included this clip of their 3-2 win over Mississippi State. You can call it a “lowlight” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDdt3UBAi_Y).

     On the other hand, LSU’s offense has been slightly better. They are tied for the SEC lead in points per game and are 1st in rushing offense. Still, their passing game is a bit suspect. Each of their quarterbacks has thrown one interception, and neither of them has been particularly impressive. In addition, LSU has not truly been faced with a tough test all year. Their two games (North Texas and Appalachian State) were both at home, and LSU must travel to Auburn.

     On special teams, both teams have been adequate, although Auburn has missed a few field goals. There really isn’t much to say here, but one thing I do want to discuss quickly is intangibles. Last year, LSU was behind by one point late in the fourth quarter and could have advanced the ball and called a timeout to attempt the field goal. Instead, in a controversial call, Coach Les Miles decided to try a long pass to the end zone. LSU receiver Demetrius Byrd made a miraculous catch in the end zone, giving LSU the win. So karma theoretically is in Auburn’s favor as they are due for some type of miracle. Recent history is on Auburn’s side as well: the home team has won the past 8 games in the series.

Prediction: If a significant amount of offense occurs in this game, it will be the biggest shock since Pearl Harbor. LSU wins 4-2. LSU gets two safeties; Auburn gets one. (Of course, that was a rather silly prediction; I just wanted to emphasize the defensive ability relative to offensive ability of each team. I would still pick LSU and a score of 10-7 would be more reasonable).

Look Back: Ohio State has been exposed again. I know I picked a fairly close game with USC winning 35-28, but if I had any guts, I would have picked a USC blowout. Hopefully, Ohio State will not end up in the national championship game (sorry Buckeyes fans), even if they run the table for the rest of the year. As for USC, two things will hinder them on a quest to a national championship: a slip up a la Stanford last year or multiple undefeated teams who possibly have a better resume than USC. The second situation is unlikely, but even if it does occur, USC still might end up in the championship game because they are likely to be ranked # 1 in the polls.

 

By: Brennan Marks

SZ Contributing Writer

IMAGES COURTESY OF YAHOOSPORTS.COM

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