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

Game of the Week: Ohio State @ USC

By Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

 

    vs.    

 

TV:  ABC, 8:00 PM ET

Last Week: Ohio State beat Ohio; USC had a bye.  USC defeated Virginia week  1.

It’s finally here. The most anticipated nonconference matchup of the season has arrived. In case you didn’t know (or didn’t read the title), I’m talking about the top 10 matchup between the Buckeyes of Ohio State and the Trojans of USC.

Instead of being a rebel and choosing an avant-garde game of the week, say Kansas at South Florida or UCLA at BYU or any game from a myriad of other intriguing matchups, I have sided with the status quo and will blog about the game everybody else is blogging about.  If you wanted originality, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Basically, here’s the premise.  Ohio State, two time defending national runner-up and epitome of everything that’s wrong with the BCS system, is, once again, in the national championship picture. If they are in the national championship picture at the end of the season, some of the poll voters (depending on the details of the regular season, of course) might boycott Ohio State and promote another contender, which could have an important effect on the BCS poll, which directly affects who plays in the national championship. 

On the other hand, USC sits atop both major polls right now and is currently the “darling” of college football, so-to-speak.  As far as football goes, USC’s strength is their defense.  In their game against Virginia, they gave up one touchdown. Of course, their offense put up 52 points, so I guess I should say they are extremely balanced.  QB Mark Sanchez, a question mark going into the season, passed for 338 yards and three touchdowns in the game versus Virginia. It is necessary to note that one game does not make a season, but many pundits believe that he will be a huge asset and nowhere near a liability.  He does have a running game to help him out, and with playmakers like Joe McKnight and CJ Gable in the backfield, his help is in full supply.

Moving back to Ohio State, they are a traditional Big-10 type team.  By that, I mean the pound the ball down your throat and play extremely defense -oriented football.  They can afford to do that with a playmaker like James Laurinaitis at linebacker.  Still, they have fairly good offensive players as well. The foremost among them is a running back named Chris “Beanie” Wells.   Because of a toe injury, no one knows whether or not he will play or if he does play, how long will he be able to endure the physicality of the game, but whatever his status is, his situation has stolen a lot of the hype for the actual game itself, a game which happens to have critical national implications.

One more interesting tidbit about the game involves Ohio States quarterbacks Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor.  Boeckman is the experienced starter and top-notch quarterback, but he has not performed well in big games, like last year’s national championship game, for instance.  Pryor is the freshmen sensation, top recruit in the nation, dual threat quarterback who everybody (media, fans, and some players) are hyping up as the be-all, end-all and the “chosen by God” quarterback who can’t possibly lose or make any freshmen mistakes.  And even if he does make mistakes, (which won’t happen), his pure talent will cancel them out.  Now, personally, I’m not buying that much hype, but I’m buying a little, and I think he is very talented. Whether he should play or Boeckman should play- I think the course of the game should determine that.

Prediction: Before I give my prediction, I want for all readers to pray that this game will live up to the hype as far as excitement goes, and it won’t be a blowout by either team. Now, personally, I believe USC will win 35-28.  First of all, USC has home field advantage.  Secondly, I think they are a better team. Here’s what will happen after the game: Ohio State will win all of their remaining games; USC will somehow lose to weaker Pac 10 opponents. The two -loss winner of the SEC will dominate Ohio State in the championship game.  Such is the consequence of the BCS. (Note: that wasn’t really a real prediction about the rest of the season, more of an observation.)

Look Back: Last week, the ECU-West Virginia game was the game of the week.  My prediction was horribly wrong, as  ECU destroyed West Virginia. ECU has created a national storyline; if they run the table in Conference USA, which is harder than it probably sound, they should at least play for a BCS Bowl, and depending on the other elite teams, they could play for the national championship. That’s something to keep an eye on.  As for West Virginia, I hope they can regroup and get back into contention for a BCS bowl birth.  I’m not a fan of West Virginia, but I am a big Pat White fan, and I hope he can get back on track.

 

By Brennan Marks

SZ Contributing Writer

Game of the Week: West Virginia @ East Carolina

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

 

TV: ESPN, 4:30 PM ET

 

      vs.        

 

Last Week: West Virginia defeated Villanova, East Carolina defeated Virginia Tech

            College football began not with a bang but a whimper, especially compared to last year.  There were very few exciting games, no once in a lifetime upsets, and the marquee matchup turned out to be a 34-10 blowout. However, there was at least one upset, and that upset has set the stage for this week’s game of the week.

            East Carolina coached by Lou Holtz’s son Skip, out-“Beamered” the Hokies of Virginia Tech.  By out-“Beamered,” I mean that Virginia Tech, a team renowned for its special teams prowess under coach Frank Beamer, gave up the game winning touchdown on a blocked punt. Perhaps, this is just one aspect of the poetic justice currently being served to the ACC.  In case you don’t know, several years ago, the ACC greedily invited several teams from the Big East (namely Miami) to a) make more money and b) to become a deeper and more talented football conference to compete with the likes of the SEC and Big 12, instead of crowning Florida State as conference champions, perennially.  Although they have earned more money, their football part of the plan has backfired.  Miami and other former Big East “football powers” have struggled, and Florida State has been mediocre at best. Arguably, their two most formidable teams, Clemson and Virginia Tech, both lost to underdogs causing pundits to condemn their conference altogether, and for me personally, to question their right to have a BCS bowl birth for the conference champion over the champion of the WAC, MWC or Conference USA, especially if the champion of Conference USA beats one of their “elite” programs. Luckily, the ACC is one of the premiere basketball conferences in the nation, and programs such as Florida State and Miami have the ability to rise from the ashes and become prominent national football programs once again.

            The Big East is another solid basketball conference, which has had a rough start to the football season. Rutgers lost to a WAC team. Kentucky humiliated Louisville.  Northwestern dominated Syracuse.  Pittsburgh was embarrassed by Bowling Green.  In contrast to the ACC, however, the Big East’s one national championship contender is still alive, and that team is West Virginia.

            Led by Heisman candidate dual-threat quarterback Pat White, West Virginia enters its first full season under new coach Bill Stewart.  If you recall correctly, after Rich Rodriguez bolted to Michigan, Bill Stewart became interim head coach and led West Virginia to a Fiesta Bowl win over a heavily favored Oklahoma team.  If the first game is any indication, West Virginia will run a more pass-oriented offense than they were previously, as Pat White threw for five touchdown passes.  Personally, I don’t think that the first game was any indication of how their offense will look, especially considering the playmaking abilities of Pat White and running back Noel Devine on the ground.  Still, West Virginia looks to have a more balanced attack, and with a more balanced attack, perhaps a more potent and dangerous offense.

            On the other side of the spectrum, East Carolina wants to win three consecutive games against ranked opponents for the first time in school history (# 22 Boise State in Hawaii Bowl, # 17 Virginia Tech last week, and # 8 West Virginia).  Quarterback Patrick Pinkney, who went 19-23 for 211 yards with a passing and a rushing touchdown, leads the Pirates. They also appear to be strong on special teams, as they scored the game-winning touchdown vs. Virginia Tech on a blocked punt.

            This game means a lot for both teams.  For West Virginia, it is another stepping stone for their national championship hunt, and a loss here would not only hurt their team’s reputation as well as the Big East’s reputation, but also it would essentially eliminate their quest for a national championship. On the other hand, East Carolina has nothing to lose (except their coach) and everything to gain. By everything, I mean respect (moreso than their win vs. Virginia Tech, possibly a top 10 ranking and most certainly a top 15 ranking) and a distinct possibility of a playing in a BCS Bowl.

            On a side note, weather could interfere with the game as tropical storm Hanna is expected to hit the southeast this weekend.  However, it is unlikely, as East Carolina’s athletic director Terry Holland called rescheduling the game a “last resort.” Now on to the prediction…

            Prediction:  I’ve spent some time referring to each team’s offense, because neither team has much excitement of the defensive side of the ball. Defensively, both teams are prone to give up some big plays and touchdowns, but Pat White and company might be too hard for East Carolina to handle.  East Carolina does have home field advantage, but West Virginia has too much firepower.  I think it will be a fairly high scoring game with West Virginia winning 35-21. 

Look Back:  Last week, I wrote my first blog entry for the website: a preview of the Alabama – Clemson game. Unfortunately, the column was not posted due to technical difficulties. I’m not sure if it will be published “posthumously” so to speak (by this I mean after the game has “died,” not me), but in that article, I predicted Alabama to win 21-17.  Well, I was right about the team, but way off on the score.  However, I don’t think anyone expected Alabama to win in the manner in which they did. Time will tell on how each team’s season to progress, but Alabama certainly has a bright future ahead.


-Brennan Marks

SZ Contributing Writer

IMAGES COURTESY OF SPORTS.YAHOO.COM