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: Penn State at Ohio State

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By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

TV: ABC, 8:00 PM ET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

Game of the Week: 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