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

Game of the Week: LSU at Auburn

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

 

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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