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.

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

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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: 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

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