Archive for the ‘Predictions’ Category
I have to be honest…there are not a lot of great matchups this weekend. In the SEC, Florida and Alabama have already clinched spots in the conference championship game, so they are going to play teams whose brains they’ll beat in (Florida International and Chattanooga, respectively). In the Big 12, Texas plays Kansas in a game that looked like a good one five weeks ago. That was before Kansas lost five in a row and Mark Mangino lost his freaking mind. Only one top-10 team (LSU) plays an opponent with a winning record (Ole Miss), and only one game this weekend pits two ranked opponents against each other (No. 17 Stanford vs. No. 25 California). It’s that time of year when, but for a few outsiders jostling for positions for bowl games and conference championships they’ll lose, it’s kind of slow. That said, here are your predictions:
1. Ole Miss Strengthens Case For Cotton Bowl With Upset of LSU
LSU is currently in position to go to the Cotton Bowl to play the winner of the Big 12 North. They might still be even if Ole Miss were to beat them, but the Rebels could certainly strengthen their case for the prestigious Cotton Bowl with an upset of LSU. AccuScore gives Ole Miss a 66% chance of winning this game, and the current spread favors the Rebels by five. But that’s not why I’m picking them.
LSU has been begging to lose games all season, especially on the road. They beat Washington by eight, Mississippi State by four, Georgia by seven and then there was that road loss to Alabama in which they only totaled 15 points on 253 yards of offense. The combined records of the teams that have almost defeated LSU when they were on the road: 13-17. Not great.
Combine that with the fact that the Rebels are 23rd in the country in rushing offense with 191 yards per game and that LSU is 41st in the country against the run (allowing almost 127 yards per game), and I really like Ole Miss in this one. The Rebels’ already strong running game has gotten better in the last few games with the resurgence of Dexter McCluster. In his last three games, he has 591 yards rushing (better than 8.5 yards per carry) and five TDs. That’s on top of 15 catches for 176 yards and one more TD. The weather forecast is also calling for a 60% chance of rain, which would favor a running game. McCluster is going to have a field day against LSU, which will deservedly get bumped from the top 10 (as they should have when they lost to Alabama.
2. Another Ridiculous Jump for Stanford in the Polls
Last week, Stanford used an upset of USC and numerous other upsets to vault from unranked to No. 17 in the BCS. USC, by the way, is still ranked to high as computers and humans alike simply refuse to punish them for losing and losing badly. But I digress. Expect Stanford to take another big jump in the polls this week as the only ranked team to beat another ranked team, and as human voters attempt to justify putting two teams from the so-called best conference in football into BCS Bowls.
The computers already have Stanford ranked higher than two teams ahead of them in the BCS Rankings (Wisconsin and Penn State). They’re right on the heels of Oklahoma State, which could actually lose some points for barely scraping by a really bad 3-8 Colorado team. With just a little nudge from the human voters, Stanford could overtake a number of teams immediately ahead of them – Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Penn State, Iowa and Oklahoma State – to move as high as No. 12. Just two weeks after being unranked. That’s progress.
3. Almost Upheaval All Over The Big 10
I don’t think that any of the teams up top in the conference will lose, but I think the Big 10 is in for the wildest weekend (again) of any of the conferences. Up top you have No.10 Ohio State playing at Michigan. Ohio State is a heavy favorite, and I don’t expect the Wolverines to break their five-game losing streak to the Buckeyes. Nevertheless, it is a great rivalry game, and we know anything can happen in those games. Especially when neither team plays much offense (both rank below 55th in total offense and 30th or lower in scoring) and when Ohio State has to go on the road (where they’ve already been upset by Purdue this year).
Next up is No. 13 Iowa against Minnesota. The Hawkeyes are trying to avoid losing their third straight game since losing QB Ricky Stanzi. I think Iowa’s defense will be able to handle Minnesota. But, with a backup QB, you never know. Iowa’s offense was already just 82nd in the country in scoring, and that was before putting James Vandenberg and his atrocious 94.0 QB rating.
Do I think it likely that Penn State will stumble and blow its chance to go and get whupped in another BCS Bowl? Definitely not. Possible? Most certainly. The Nittany Lions offense, despite the overall stats, has been shaky and inconsistent this season. Not that they couldn’t still take advantage of a pretty bad Spartans defense. But Penn State’s defense will also have to be on its game for Michigan State’s passing attack. Since they stopped having him share snaps with Keith Nicholls, Kirk Cousins has 10 TDs with just one INT and a QB rating better than 150.
Lastly, No. 16 Wisconsin is flying high with three straight wins since being pasted back-to-back by Ohio State and Iowa. But the Badgers had better watch out for Northwestern. The Wildcats already spoiled Iowa’s season and was just 15 minutes away from spoiling Penn State’s. Mike Kafka is a solid QB who is more than capable of taking advantage of Wisconsin’s defensive weaknesses. The key for them will be controlling the clock and keeping Scott Tolzien and John Clay off the field.
Again, I don’t think that any of these upsets will happen. But, they are real possibilities, and I would not be shocked if the Big 10 comes out a complete mess at the end of the weekend.
4. Three More BCS Teams Clinch Conference Championship Game Berths
Florida and Alabama have already clinched their division titles and a chance to play each other in the SEC Championship, Georgia Tech has clinched the ACC Coastal Division to play the winner of the Atlantic Division, and Ohio State has already clinched the Big 10 and a spot in the Rose Bowl. We will be able to add three more teams to these lists this weekend.
Texas will officially clinch the Big 12 South with a win over reeling Kansas and punch their tickets for the Big 12 title game (and probably the national championship).
Clemson holds the tie breaker over Boston College, so a win that should be easy against Virginia will win them the ACC Coastal Division and pit them against Georgia Tech in a rematch of the Thursday-night thriller from earlier this season.
Whoever wins the Kansas State at Nebraska game will win the Big 12 North and the long-shot chance to upset Texas. If Kansas State wins, they finish 5-3 in conference, which is the best record Nebraska could finish with. Since they would hold the head-to-head tie-breaker, Kansas State wins. If Nebraska wins, KSU is 4-4 in conference and Nebraska wins outright, as they could do no worse than 5-3. My money is on Nebraska, as the game is at Nebraska, and the Huskers have looked much better than the Wildcats lately, winning three straight against KSU’s 1-2 in the last three games (with bad losses to Oklahoma and Missouri).
That leaves only the Big East and Pac-10 undecided. Cincinnati and Pitt are both off this week, so nothing gets decided there. And, barring an upset of Pitt by West Virginia, the two teams will be undefeated when they meet to decide the conference title on Dec. 5 at Pittsburgh. Oregon could clinch the Pac-10 with a win over Arizona and a Stanford loss to Cal. If, on the other hand, Arizona pulls off the upset, the Pac-10 gets launched into tie-breaking madness. That would open up the possibility of having three teams (Stanford, Arizona and either Oregon or Oregon State) to finish 7-2 in conference play. Remember last year in the Big 12? Wanna find out how the Pac-10 breaks those ties?
But, since I don’t see Stanford or Oregon losing this weekend, I think it won’t be decided until Dec. 3 when Oregon takes on Oregon State.
5. Three High Profile Coaches Put the Nail in the Coffin of the Current Tenures
Three coaches have seen their names in the news way too much for the wrong reasons than they’d hoped to this year – Mark Mangino of Kansas, Charlie Weis of Notre Dame and Rich Rodriguez of Michigan. All started the season with such promise. Kansas started 5-0 and reached as high as No. 16 in the AP Poll. Notre Dame started 6-2, clawed its way into the rankings and got people talking BCS again. Michigan started 4-0, including a big win over rival Notre Dame.
It’s been downhill since those first few weeks.
Michigan has lost six of its last seven games since that 4-0 start. Notre Dame fell out of the rankings again with consecutive losses to Navy and Pitt. And Kansas has lost five in a row, in addition to Mangino finding himself in a whirlwind of controversy because of his temper.
I’m sorry to say, it won’t get any better this week for any of these coaches. Notre Dame will lose to UConn (great rushing offense against a bad defense…just look at Navy for the result). Michigan will get creamed by Ohio State for their sixth straight loss in what was once a great rivalry. And Kansas will get creamed by Texas. All three of these coaches will have officially worn out their welcome by the end of this weekend. Buyouts be darned. They’re all gone.
Yep, predictions got a little ugly this week starting with my first one…
1. No Upsets Of Ranked Teams
This could not have been more wrong. There were six upsets of ranked teams, four of which were by unranked teams, and two of which were top-10 teams (Oregon and Iowa). There was also a slew of near-upsets. Which is why I’m glad I had my safety valve in my second prediction…
2. But Don’t Get Too Comfortable…10 Ranked Teams Are On Upset Alert
(1) No. 9 LSU played No. 3 Alabama tough, but Mark Ingram and replay officials were able to help the Tide overcome another horrible outing by Greg McElroy for a 24-15 victory. Their second win over a top-10 opponent helped Alabama jump back into the No. 2 spot in the latest BCS rankings. Their first was over Virginia Tech. Remember when they were in the top-10? Seems like ages ago. Fortunately for LSU, the loss didn’t hurt them much as they actually moved up one spot in the BCS. But that’s a whole other rant for later. Look for my post tomorrow.
(2) No. 4 Iowa finally had the loss that most of us have been waiting for them to have for weeks now as they fell to Northwestern, 17-10. The Hawkeyes took a serious blow when Ricky Stanzi had to leave the game with a high ankle sprain after being tackled in the end zone. Northwestern rolled to the win against backup QB James Vandenberg, who does not look good. The bigger issue moving forward is the game at Ohio State this week. Stanzi will still be out, and the Hawkeyes are very abruptly moving from national championship talk to possibly missing out on a BCS Bowl entirely.
(3) The team it increasingly appeared the Hawkeyes would meet at the Rose Bowl, No. 8 Oregon, also suffered a serious blow Saturday, losing a 51-42 shootout to unranked Stanford. The Ducks defense failed them, allowing Stanford RB Toby Gerhart to burn them for 223 yards on 32 carries. It’s just another in a long line of bad losses Oregon has had that messed up their seasons and put another strike against the Bill Plaschkes of the world that argue the Pac-10 is better than the SEC. But, with a 5-1 conference record and a win over USC, Oregon is still in the driver’s seat on the bus bound for the Rose Bowl. And even though they have the same record against a better schedule, USC is now ranked ahead of Oregon, putting them in great position to get to another BCS Bowl, just like the BCS wants.
(4) It took them going into overtime, but No. 10 Georgia Tech pulled out the 30-27 win over Wake Forest. Just as in all of their losses, the Demon Deacons struggled against the run, allowing the Yellow Jackets to go for 412 yards on the ground. They took the win with only 51 passing yards. The victory, with the other upsets this weekend, jumped Georgia Tech into the No. 7 spot in the new BCS rankings and allows ACC fans to continue thinking their conference is good.
(5) Despite pointing out that the numbers make No. 11 Penn State’s offense look much better than it really is on account of the weak schedule they’ve played, I thought that they would be able to take the home game against a Buckeyes team that has one of the weaker offenses in the country. The first part was right; the second part was not. Ohio State won 24-7, and that doesn’t even tell how badly Penn State was dominated. They were held to 201 yards of total offense, including 2.5 yards per carry and a 12-for-28 passing performance for Daryll Clark, who threw one INT with no TDs. Don’t look now, but with the game next week against a Stanzi-less Iowa, Ohio State is now in control for a Rose Bowl berth, even with two losses (one of which was a beatdown by Purdue).
(6) But for a couple of miracle plays, Tulsa would have pulled off the win against No. 15 Houston, who the BCS computers just hate. More on that rant also tomorrow. Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne sure did hit his stride again on Saturday, accounting for five TDs on 334 passing yards and 100 rushing yards. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t enough to overcome Case Keenum, who threw 40-for-60 for 522 yards and led his team to two field goals in the final 30 seconds to keep his team’s BCS hopes alive and escape with the 46-45 win.
(7) I said that the game between No. 20 Cal and Oregon State would come down to who held the ball longest. Well, Oregon State had it for just over 36 minutes and Cal had it for just under 24, and Oregon State rolled to the 31-14 victory. It wasn’t the rushing exhibition I expected, as the Beavers ran for 94 yards and the Bears were bottled up (again) for 39. Though that could be in part because of the horrific injury that Jahvid Best suffered mid-way through the second quarter. He leaped into the endzone and got upended, falling hard on his back and getting knocked unconscious. He had to be carted off, and could miss the rest of the season with a serious concussion.
(8) A 17-7 second quarter lead had me thinking No. 21 Wisconsin would have an easy win over Indiana, but as we keep seeing from the Big 10, no lead is safe. Indiana outscored Wisconsin 14-7 in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t do anything in the final four minutes of the game, coming up just short in the 31-28 loss. The Hoosiers put up 386 yards of offense on the Badgers, who are still playing some of the worst defense mixed with some of the best offense in the Big 10.
(9) I said that Navy would have to keep Jimmy Clausen off the field to win. Guess who had 32:19 of possession and who had 27:41. And guess who won 23-21. If you guessed Navy for both of those, you’d be right. They pulled off back-to-back wins at Notre Dame Stadium after losing 43 straight games against them from 1964 to 2006. It’s the first time an unranked Navy team has beaten a ranked Notre Dame team since before WWII – 1936. And Charlie Weis suddenly finds himself on the hot seat once again, in the very same week that discussions about Notre Dame making a BCS bowl were resurrected. Ouch.
(10) I was trying to figure out a circumstance in which No. 24 Oklahoma could lose to a reeling Huskers team. I didn’t think about the possibility that Landry Jones could throw five interceptions, allowing his team to lose 10-3 despite outgaining Nebraska by 145 yards. Oklahoma’s defense held Nebraska to 180 total yards of offense and still lost. Roy Helu had a heck of a game, rushing 20 times to single-handedly account for 138 of his team’s 180 yards. He also caught three passes for 15 yards, meaning that every single other player on the team contributed 27 yards.
BONUS: Teams that also should have been on upset alert but weren’t include No. 7 Boise State, which scraped by Louisiana Tech 45-35 and keeps seeing its BCS hopes dwindle despite not losing; No. 5 Cincinnati, which almost blew a 16-point fourth quarter lead to UConn, but held on for the 47-45 victory; No. 12 USC, which managed just 258 yards against Arizona St., but forced four turnovers to win an ugly one, 14-9.
3. Bad Weekend For Big 12 North
I thought the Big 12 North was in to get buried, but it was actually the South that took most of the hits this weekend. Kansas State stays in control of the North division with a 17-10 win over rival Kansas. Nebraska kept pace, however, as they upset Oklahoma in a thoroughly embarrassing loss for the South. Not that it was any more embarrassing than Texas A&M losing to Big 12 bottom-dweller Colorado. Gone are the days of the wrecking ball defense as the Buffs and their anemic offense put up 35 points on 437 yards. A&M blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead to fall to 5-4 on the season.
Want one even more embarrassing than that? We’ve got it in the only real break for the Big 12 North with Baylor topping Missouri, 40-32. Replacement QB Nick Florence passed for a school record 427 yards to snap Baylor’s 13-game conference road losing streak and beat Missouri for the first time in eight tries since the Big 12 was formed. Missouri had a 27-16 halftime lead, but as has been the story all year, they folded up and quit playing in the second half, managing only a safety and a field goal to get outscored 25-5 and lose even desperate hopes of winning the Big 12 North.
Even Texas, which crushed Central Florida 35-3, had a net loss on the weekend as they fell back to No. 3 in the BCS rankings.
So, in a weekend when I said the North would be lucky to get out with more than one win (and only conceding that because of two North teams playing each other), the North actually came out 3-3 while the South suffered two embarrassing losses to go 3-2.
4. Watch Ohio St. at Penn St. For Great Defense…And to See Why Neither of These Teams Should be in BCS Bowls
This was half right. One of the teams played great defense, and one team conclusively showed why it shouldn’t have even been part of the BCS discussion. Penn State, which had been averaging 406 yards and 28 points per game was held to 201 yards and seven points by the Buckeyes. Ohio State, which had struggled on offense, scored 24 points on 353 yards.
While Ohio State’s defense showed itself to be BCS caliber against an offense that has now been dominated by the only two good defenses it’s played, I’m still skeptical about its offense. The Buckeyes had a nice game, but you have to wonder about expectations when your QB is described as “shining” in a game where he goes 8-of-17 for 125 yards and picks up an additional 50 yards rushing. 175 yards of total offense is a shining performance? And despite the defense’s domination, Ohio State was only up 10-7 until the waning minutes of the third quarter. I really think that whoever goes to a BCS Bowl for the Big 10 (and it does look like it will be Ohio State) is once again in for a rough time in January.
1. No Upsets Of Ranked Teams
The best thing (and possibly the only good thing) about not working for ESPN is that I don’t have to promote games for my network. So, I don’t have to convince you that there are likely upsets where the lay person would accurately think there aren’t any. It’s not to say there aren’t any good games this weekend; it’s just to say that I don’t have to pretend the matchups are better than they are.
In 22 games this week with ranked teams, only 10 are games where the ranked opponent is playing a team with a winning record. Of those 10, only two are matchups between two ranked teams (No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 9 LSU and No. 11 Penn St. vs. No. 16 Ohio St.) Excluding those two games, both of which have the higher-ranked team playing at home, only nine games this weekend have ranked teams going on the road. Of those nine games, only two are against teams that that even have winning records (No. 8 Oregon at Stanford, which is 5-3, and No. 24 Oklahoma at Nebraska, which is also 5-3). Six games pit a ranked opponent against a team that is 3-5 or worse, including one against a winless team.
Considering the great mismatches here, I don’t expect a single upset this weekend.
2. But Don’t Get Too Comfortable…10 Ranked Teams Are On Upset Alert
Don’t take that previous prediction to mean there isn’t some very compelling football this weekend. I don’t anticipate any upsets, but there are nine ranked teams that really need to come in ready to play, because they can easily find themselves in the middle of an embarrassing upset.
(1) The one that stands out the most is No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 9 LSU. The Tigers are looking for revenge for last year’s loss, which broke a six-game winning streak over the Crimson Tide. And it’s almost always a hot contest. Each of the last four games have been decided by 14 points or less. LSU comes in on a roll, having blown out Auburn and Tulane since suffering its first loss of the season to Florida. And, although Alabama is coming in undefeated, they’re in a slide after South Carolina and Tennessee made its offense look quite pedestrian in back-to-back games.
Alabama’s offensive woes have been in large part because of junior QB Greg McElroy, whose rating in the last three games have been 80.44, 68.64 and 96.83. Fortunately for the Tide, Mark Ingram has stepped up, rushing for 100+ yards in three of his last four games (came just short against Tennessee with 99). Ingram will need to keep that going to win against an LSU defense that has shown some good flashes this year, but has mostly been uncharacteristically inconsistent.
(2) Next up on upset watch is No. 4 Iowa. Am I counting on a win when Northwestern just choked against Penn State? Not by any means. But Iowa has been playing like a team that could lose at any time, and that really means they could lose at any time. Even against a 5-4 team that is missing its starting QB. Ricky Stazni has 14 TDs and 13 INTs this season and has thrown multiple interceptions in four of his nine games. That problem will come home to roost at some point.
(3) No. 8 Oregon should crush Stanford. Just like they should have crushed lots of teams they’ve lost to in recent years. Oregon has a healthy history of seeing their seasons crumble after losing games you’d think they would win. In 2007, they were in great position to win the Pac-10 with an 8-1 record and a win over USC, only to lose three straight games to Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State. In 2006, they were 5-1 when they lost to Washington State. They won two to move back to a respectable 7-2 record, only to lose three straight again, to USC, Arizona and Oregon State. In 2004, they opened their season with a loss to Indiana. In 2003, after a 4-0 start, they lost three straight to Washington State, Utah and Arizona State. Is it likely that will happen this year? No. But the Ducks had better be on guard, because Stanford QB Andrew Luck and RB Toby Gerhart are capable of putting up stunning performances at any time.
(4) No. 10 Georgia Tech has won three of its games by five points or less. Wake Forest has lost four of its games by three points or less. These are teams that are one or two plays per game from having completely different seasons. Any time that happens it’s an interesting matchup. The worst news for Wake Forest is that three of its five losses are to teams that rely heavily on the run (Baylor, Clemson and Navy) and their only blowout loss of the season was to a Clemson team that plays a very similar style to Georgia Tech.
(5) No. 11 Penn St. is another Big 10 team, like Iowa, that has looked like it could lose on any given week. They certainly looked that way against Illinois and Northwestern for most of the games. They play solid defense and not much offense, which is an interesting matchup against an Ohio State team that fits the same description. I don’t like OSU much away from home and I don’t like anyone much at Happy Valley, but this is definitely one that could go the other way, especially if OSU keeps things tight. According to ESPN.com, Penn State is 11-12 in close games (7 points or less) since 2001, while Ohio State is 14-5.
(6) There are some teams that just seem like they’re due for a win. Tulsa is that team as they go against No. 15 Houston this weekend. They have lost three in a row, two of which were by one possession. G.J. Kinne, who showed so much promise at the beginning of the year, has struggled of late. But he might be able to find himself against a Houston defense that’s allowing over 28 points per game. Can he keep pace with Case Keenum‘s relentless aerial attack? We’ll see.
(7) No. 20 California is averaging 195. 9 yards rushing per game. Oregon State is averaging 136.5 yards rushing per game. This could very easily come down to who holds the ball longest.
(8) No. 21 Wisconsin has six wins, four of which have been by one possession (one of which was in overtime). One of their two blowout wins was against Wofford. Their two losses are a blowout at Ohio State and a ten-point loss at home to Iowa in which they were pretty well dominated, being held scoreless in the second half on just 230 yards of total offense. Seem like an unstable team to you? It’s a recurring theme in the Big 10. They go on the road against Indiana, which has a chance to finish off the upset they couldn’t complete last week against Iowa.
(9) Okay, word is out. Jimmy Clausen is No. 22 Notre Dame’s best weapon. And the best way to contain that weapon is to keep him off the field. If anyone can do that, it’s Navy, which is averaging better than 33 minutes of possession per game. The Midshipmen have been held to under 30 minutes of possession only twice this year, and twice have held the ball for more than 40 minutes of the game. Notre Dame’s defense had better be able to control Navy’s rushing game so they can get the ball back to their not-so-secret weapon.
(10) Not that it’s a monumental upset for a 5-3 team that has been ranked before this season to upset the No. 24 team, but Oklahoma had better be at its best this weekend at Nebraska. Lincoln is never an easy place to play, even when the Huskers aren’t that good.
3. Bad Weekend For Big 12 North
It’s already been a rough season for the Big 12 North. Nebraska and Kansas have not been able to live up to expectations, Missouri has been on a slide since starting the season 4-0, and the current leader in the division (Kansas State) isn’t even bowl eligible yet with a 5-4 overall record and a 3-2 record in conference. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’ll get any better for them this weekend.
Kansas has a chance to make up some ground on Kansas State in a rivalry game that is the only guaranteed win for the Big 12 North this week. No matter the outcome, however, the good news is still probably on K-State’s side, as Kansas (1-3 in conference) still has to go play at Texas in two weeks. Sadly, this game that pits two Big 12 North teams against each other is the best chance the North has to prevent a winless weekend.
Colorado hosts Texas A&M. The Buffs have two wins this season against Kansas and Wyoming. Other than that, they’ve been pretty well crushed in every game. You really can’t like how a team that’s allowing almost 30 points per game will fare against a team that’s averaging almost 36 points per game and is captained by a QB with 20 TDs against just 3 INTs this season.
I put Oklahoma on upset alert against Nebraska on the principle of the Huskers stepping up for a big game. But, honestly, I don’t anticipate the Sooners having any trouble with a team that got crushed at home by Texas Tech and then followed by losing again at home to Iowa State. That’s humiliating.
You might be surprised to find out Iowa State is 5-4. You might almost be inclined to put Oklahoma State on upset alert, until you realize that three of ISU’s non-conference games were against North Dakota State, Kent State and Army. Throw out those three ridiculous games and the Cyclones are 2-4 with beatdowns being handed to them by Iowa and Texas A&M. I don’t think the Cowboys, who are looking for blood after Texas humiliated them last weekend, will have a challenge in this one.
That leaves the Big 12 North with its best chance to beat the South in the hands of Missouri. Even though Missouri is on a 1-3 slide, you have to like them against Baylor. Combine the fact that Missouri’s three losses came against Nebraska on a crazy comeback, Oklahoma State and Texas, with the fact that Baylor is 1-4 since losing starting QB Robert Griffin, and it’s impossible not to like the Tigers in this one. What is an important victory for Missouri (who can move to 2-3 in conference with three games remaining against North opponents) stands as a mere consolation victory for the North as a whole, which stands to go 2-4 this week.
4. Watch Ohio St. at Penn St. For Great Defense…And to See Why Neither of These Teams Should be in BCS Bowls
Both of these Big 10 powers play stifling defense. The Nittany Lions are holding opponents to 9.3 points per game. The Buckeyes are holding them to 11.7 points per game. One of my favorite box scores of the year was the one for Ohio St. vs. Wisconsin, because the Buckeyes crushed them, 31-13, with only 184 yards of offense, thanks to two pick-sixes and a kickoff returned 96 yards for a TD. Which brings me to my next point.
These defenses will look even better because they’re going against pretty bad offenses. According to ESPN.com, Ohio State is 63rd in the country in total offense and 94th in passing offense. Penn State is 24th in total offense, but they have done that against the 80th-toughest schedule in the country. They haven’t exactly been playing stout defenses, and the one time they did (against Iowa), they were held to 10 points on 307 total yards of offense. Not horrible, but over 100 yards below their season average.
I strongly believe that after you watch these teams, strong defense aside, you will be forced to the conclusion that talking about either of them for a BCS Bowl is an embarrassment to an already embarrassed BCS system.
1. Straight Chalk On Top 10
I was right on these, with the exception of the only difficult one to pick. No. 1 Florida had their most impressive win of the season with a 41-17 beatdown of Georgia. As predicted, Georgia (and Joe Cox in particular) struggled with Florida’s defense. Cox passed for his third-lowest yard total this year and had a season-high three interceptions, one of which went the other way for six points. Tim Tebow, on the other hand, had a Heisman-worthy performance, leading his team in rushing (85 yards) and accounting for all four of the Gators’ offensive touchdowns (two passing, two rushing).
No. 6 TCU rolled to a 41-0 win over UNLV.
No. 7 Boise St. crushed San Jose State, 45-7.
No. 8 Cincinnati had no problems with Syracuse, despite missing their starting QB for a second straight game, as they won 28-7.
And No. 9 LSU easily dispatched Tulane, 42-0.
Now, for the one I missed. I’m not stunned that No. 10 Oregon defeated No. 5 USC. I am stunned at how they did it. I am stunned that Oregon ended up handing USC its worst loss since 1997 in its 47-20 upset. I thought that Oregon would struggle because the only teams that have challenged USC have passed well against them. But, as it turned out, Jeremiah Masoli did just fine taking advantage of USC’s passing defense with his second highest passing total of the season (19-of-31 for 222 yards). The real shocker, though, was the way the Ducks ran all over the Trojans. They ran 49 times for 391 yards and four TDs. That’s an astonishing eight yards per carry.
Add it all up and it comes out to an incorrect pick for me, Oregon’s biggest win of the season and a new No. 8 ranking for the Ducks.
2. There’s No Place Like Home In The SEC (Unless You’re Vanderbilt)
My two best picks of the week involved the SEC. All of the SEC teams playing at home won this weekend, save Vanderbilt and Kentucky. That does include Tennessee’s 31-13 upset of No. 22 South Carolina and Auburn’s 33-20 upset of No. 25 Ole Miss. Speaking of which…
3. Game To Watch: No. 25 Mississippi at Auburn
I said that Mississippi’s strength was running the ball and that defending the run was Auburn’s weakness. That definitely showed up Saturday as the Rebels ran for 219 yards (against just 175 passing). However, I also pointed out that Mississippi’s weakness was turnovers and that Auburn was 4-0 when forcing at least two turnovers.
Make it 5-0.
The score was close after a turnover-free first half. Auburn was up just 10-7. But the Tigers scored 23 points in the third quarter, at one point sporting a 31-7 lead. They were helped in large part by two Rebel turnovers, one of which was an interception that went back 29 yards for a TD. Auburn forced another interception in the fourth to make it three turnovers in the game and walk away with the victory.
4. The Running Game: No Problem For West Virginia’s Defense Or California’s Offense
This was my worst prediction of the week. And after watching South Florida upset No. 21 West Virginia, I didn’t find any new love for the Big East. Outside of Cincinnati, that is a really bad conference that doesn’t play offense or defense particularly well, and routinely has games where the teams look like they show up completely unprepared to play. That was what I saw from West Virginia last Friday.
A team that had defended the run pretty well up to that point allowed QB B.J. Daniels to torch them for 104 yards on 14 carries (7.4 yards per carry). Running back Moise Plancher added 86 yards on 18 carries. What was worse for the WVU defense, however, was the way that a running QB like Daniels could post season highs for passing yards (232) and passing TDs (3) even while also running all over them. High praise to Daniels for his performance, but West Virginia’s defense was abysmal.
At least I picked one Pac 10 game right by choosing Cal to best Arizona State. Though, I have to admit that winning 23-21 on a late field goal was a lot closer than I expected, and that Cal didn’t win for the reason I expected them to. The Sun Devils found their defensive footing again and held Jahvid Best to 63 yards on 18 carries with no rushing TDs (though he did have seven catches for 61 yards and one TD). Best has shown to be Marshawn Lynch-like in his ability to run wild on some teams and get bottled up like a JV running back against others. He’s incredibly inconsistent.
Kevin Riley came to the rescue, though, in one of his best performances on the year. He had season highs in attempts, completions (27-for-44) and yards (351) as he guided his team to victory with two TDs and zero INTs.
5. Penn State On Upset Alert…Yes, Against Northwestern
Don’t be deceived by the 34-13 final score…this game looked like it was headed for an upset for the first 45 minutes of play. Northwestern had a 13-10 halftime lead and went into the fourth quarter tied at 13. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, that was when Daryll Clark and the Nittany Lions offense took control and scorched Northwestern for 21 points.
The game just wasn’t the same after Northwestern’s starting QB, Mike Kafka, was forced out with an injury during the second quarter. After that, Northwestern managed just one field goal and was held scoreless in the second half. Despite the final score, I consider this a lucky escape for Penn State as the Big 10’s power schools continue to appear inconsistent, at best.
Record for the past 10 years, including current season
Bob Stoops – 107-22 (past 9 years, including current season – 94-22)
Mack Brown – 105-18 (past 9 years, including current season – 96-15)
Jim Tressel – 99-24 (past 9 years, including current season – 90-21)
Pete Carroll – (past 9 years, including current season – 94-17)
Urban Meyer – (past 9 years, including current season – 91-17)
Nick Saban – 90-32 (past 9 years, including current season – 84-26)
Mike Leach – 81-42 (past 9 years, including current season – 74-36)
Kirk Ferentz – 78-43 (past 9 years, including current season – 75-34)
Les Miles – (past 9 years, including current season – 77-33)
Joe Paterno – 74-45 (past 9 years, including current season – 69-38)
This small sample of coaches included those coaches that had at least coached 9 seasons, with this current one included.
Also the coach has to currently be an active coach for all the past 9 years.
As you can see, “Big Game Bob” is still riding high after all of his great seasons in the past.
Good ole Mack Brown is on his heels and I am sure will pass him very soon.
For Zeekgeek, Kirk Ferentz is an above average coach but is not quite in the company of the more recent elites.
I would more compare him to Mike Leach in ability since their records are so close and neither has a national championship under their belt. Ferentz has 2 conference championships and Leach has a division title.
Now on to why I think Ohio State will beat Iowa in a few weeks.
Ohio St. – QB 61st in the nation in passing efficiency
Iowa – QB 63rd in the nation in passing efficiency
We all know both teams have sketchy QB’s
Ohio st. – 29th in the nation
Iowa – 89th in the nation
Ohio St. – 63rd in the nation
Iowa – 74th in the nation
Ohio St. – 6th in the nation
Iowa – 39th in the nation
Ohio St. – 14th in the nation
Iowa – 26th in the nation
ohio St. – 6th in the nation
Iowa – 19th in the nation
Ohio st. – 20th in the nation
Iowa – 55th in the nation
Ohio st. – 3rd in the nation
Iowa – 1st in the nation
Tackles for a loss
Ohio St. – 46th in the nation
Iowa – 77th in the nation
I can’t predict the future, but I know that Iowa has only played one good opponent and beat Penn St., which is why I have picked them in the past. But in this game, they are playing their toughest game of the season and I will have to go with the Buckeyes.
So, I’ve been away for two weeks. And by away, I mean lazy. You have my apologies. But, I hope you enjoy the return to the routine.
1. Straight Chalk On Top 10
I know how badly you all want some of these to be upsets. Everyone likes a good upset. But I really don’t see it this week. No. 1 Florida beats Georgia because, despite Florida’s offensive woes, they still play stout defense. And Joe Cox just hasn’t been good this year. He has a downright humiliating QB rating of 84.2. That’s because he has had two good games – South Carolina and Arkansas. South Carolina allows an average of 288.9 yards per game and Arkansas allows 419.6. Florida allows 229.6. I don’t think Cox finds what he needs to win against that defense. Florida’s offense, on the other hand, may be able to dig deep and find themselves against a Georgia defense that’s allowing almost 28 points per game.
No. 3 Texas over No. 14 Oklahoma State because I have no reason to believe the Cowboys end the Longhorns’ 11-game winning streak over them without Dez Bryant. According to ESPN.com, Texas hasn’t lost to OK-State since 1997, and they lead the all-time series 21-2.
No. 4 Iowa over Indiana because Iowa’s 8-0, Indiana’s 4-4 and they’re playing in Iowa. Come on.
No. 5 USC is a trendy pick to fall to No. 10 Oregon. I almost had this upset, too, until I realized that USC’s biggest weakness is one that Oregon will find almost impossible to exploit. Four teams have been able to challenge USC this year. I’m throwing out their lone loss to Washington because they were missing their starting QB and any team would be hard-pressed to win on the road under those circumstances. Two of the remaining three had prolific passing attacks. Notre Dame and Oregon State had an average of 307 passing yards against USC. You have to be able to pass well to beat USC. Or you have to be able to play defense like Ohio State. Oregon plays good defense, but not as good as Ohio State. The Buckeyes were in that game despite their rushing offense, which got chewed up and spit out by the Trojans’ defense. Just like Washington State and California did. Those three teams, which thrive on the rushing game, averaged a little over 86 yards against the Trojans. Granted, Oregon rushes better than all those teams. But Oregon can’t pass. In a great departure from the days of Joey Harrington, Oregon and Jeremiah Masoli average 174.9 passing yards per game. I just don’t see an offense that relies that much on rushing beating the Trojans, even at Autzen Stadium.
No. 6 TCU easily beats a UNLV team that’s 3-5 in the MWC.
No. 7 Boise State beats San Jose State because it’s San Jose State and you’re probably surprised to find out they’re even as good as 1-7.
No. 8 Cincinnati beats Syracuse because the Bearcats have a Heisman candidate at QB the Orangemen have a basketball player.
No. 9 LSU beats Tulane because they’re 2-5 and lost 31-10 to Marshall. At home.
2. There’s No Place Like Home In The SEC (Unless You’re Vanderbilt)
For my money, the SEC is the hardest conference to play on the road. Unless you’re Vanderbilt. They lose everywhere. Plus, they’re taking on Georgia Tech, so…good luck with that. At any rate, you can forget all about southern hospitality if you’re in a college city on a Saturday in the fall. I’ve already got Florida beating Georgia in The Swamp. Aside from that matchup…
The Vols have a great chance to stop losing close ones and finally get a good win when South Carolina visits Tennessee this weekend. The Gamecocks epitomize the tradition of great SEC home teams. They are 5-0 at home, but 1-2 on the road (their lone road win a hideous one opening weekend over North Carolina State). Tennessee has had a lot of close calls. They lost to UCLA (by four), to Florida (by 10), to Auburn (by four) and to Alabama (by two). Seems like a home game against a team that struggles on the road is the perfect time to turn that misfortune around.
And, in what may be the most trendy so-called “upset” pick of the week, everyone seems to have Auburn over Mississippi at home. Speaking of which…
3. Game To Watch: No. 25 Mississippi at Auburn
This is honestly the pick I grappled with most this week. I’m intrigued by how these teams match up. Auburn’s defense has been more vulnerable to the run than to the pass. They are holding opponents to 194.6 passing yards but allowing 174 rushing yards per game. And, despite all the hype around Jevan Snead, the running game is really the place to be for the Rebels, who are averaging 169.6 yards per game. The only games Ole Miss has lost this year were the two where they were held to fewer than 160 rushing yards.
Seems the Rebels are perfectly poised for victory, right? Not so fast.
The only thing the Rebels do better than run the ball is cough it up. They are averaging almost two-and-a-half turnovers per game (mostly because of Snead). That’s bad news against Auburn which, despite its deficiencies against the run, really knows how to go out and get the ball back to the offense. The Tigers are forcing almost two turnovers per game. And their wins hinge on the turnovers. They’re 4-0 when forcing at least two turnovers, but 1-3 when forcing fewer than two.
So, it’s all about which can win out. If Ole Miss can run the ball effectively, count on them. If they have problems holding on to it, it’ll be all Auburn. I have the advantage going to Auburn because they’re at home and I think they’re more complete than Ole Miss. But, I’ll be fascinated to see how it plays out.
4. The Running Game: No Problem for West Virginia’s Defense or California’s Offense
I’m also planning on the running game being the difference in the last two picks where Jon and I differed this week. When you look at the scores, it’s surprising how dominant West Virginia has actually been. Granted, against a really weak schedule (77th, according to Jeff Sagarain), but still. They owe their success in great part to their rushing defense, which is holding opponents to 86.3 yards per game. The only teams that have challenged the Mountaineers have been able to pass against them (Auburn with 300 and UConn with 378). Just as with Oregon against USC, South Florida is in a bad position with a QB that doesn’t pass much. B.J. Daniels averages just 171.25 yards passing per game. The Bulls have the best defense WVU has faced since losing to Auburn, but I think the WVU defense wins out in this one and makes it a long Friday night for a suddenly free-falling South Florida.
California’s offense would charitably be described as one-dimensional and unreliable. They lean almost exclusively on RB Jahvid Best, who averages 6.8 yards per carry. Cal is 5-0 this season when he rushes for 100 yards and 10-2 during his career. Best has been easily bottled up by great run defenses this year, leading to Cal’s worst losses. But, that shouldn’t be a problem as they go against Arizona State. The Sun Devils have played pretty good defense most of the year, but they have allowed 336 rushing yards combined in their last two games. Cracks appearing in your rushing defense isn’t what you want to see the two weeks before you go against a back like Best.
5. Penn State on Upset Alert…Yes, Against Northwestern
This is honestly an upset I wanted to call, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. So, Penn State merely receives a warning this week. They’re on notice. Things have to break just right for Northwestern, but there are some pretty compelling numbers to show what could happen in this one. The Nittany Lions have a reputation for tough defense, but they’ve struggled to stop the run in Big 10 play. They are allowing 110 rushing yards per game to Big 10 opponents. In the only game they’ve lost (Iowa) they allowed 163 rushing yards. Northwestern is a team, like Iowa, that could really take advantage of this apparent weakness. The Wildcats haven’t shown a potent offense this year by any means, but they are averaging 156.6 rushing yards in wins. They are averaging just 65 in losses. They are 4-0 when they run for 100 yards, and 1-3 when they rush for less. It’s far from a given that Northwestern can bust loose against Penn State, but if they come ready to run, they could pull off one of the great upsets of the season.
1. Nebraska Gets Some Of Its Pride Back By Beating The Tigers In Missouri
This one was in serious doubt for the first three quarters. Missouri was ruling an incredibly sloppy game with a 12-0 lead, having held Nebraska to 109 yards of total offense.
Then, in the fourth quarter, the rains let up. Nebraska broke a long play. An injury to Blaine Gabbert really started to take its toll. And, when the game ended, the Huskers had tied their greatest fourth quarter comeback of all time with a 27-12 victory.
It all started with a 56-yard pass from Zac Lee to Niles Paul on the third play of the fourth quarter. The commentators (who I am increasingly convinced only watch the game in between their all-too-important conversational topics) incorrectly called it the first play of the quarter. That was immediately after a two-yard loss that they incorrectly called a “short gain.”
On the first play of Missouri’s next possession, Gabbert threw his first interception of the season, tossing it right into the hands of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. From the Missouri 18, it took Nebraska just two plays to score another TD to turn what had been a 12-point deficit into a one-point lead (they tried the two point conversion and failed).
On the next possession, Gabbert (noticeably limping from when Suh had rolled up on his leg earlier in the game) threw his second interception of the season, which was returned 40 yards to the Missouri 10. Again, it took two plays to score a TD, and Nebraska pushed the lead to 20-12.
This is why I don’t like going for two-point conversions with multiple possessions left in the game. If they went for the one and got the one earlier, this TD would have made it an almost insurmountable two-possession game.
Not that it mattered. With Gabbert hobbled, Missouri had trouble moving the ball. The Tigers managed to move it as close as far as the Nebraska 22. But, rather than going for the field goal from the 32 (following a holding call) and then trying to get the onside kick, Missouri went for it on 2nd down, 3rd down and 4th down with 20 yards to go without gaining a single yard. It was an appropriately baffling possession to end a baffling night for Missouri, which once again finds itself outside the top 25. With games coming up at Oklahoma State and against Texas, I’m guessing it will be a while before Missouri sees the top 25 again.
Nebraska, on the other hand, is up to No. 15 in the AP Poll with great chances to ascend with upcoming games against Texas Tech, Iowa State and Baylor.
2. Total Top-5 Chaos When LSU Upsets Florida
Like Missouri, I couldn’t sustain my good start on my predictions, falling apart after the very first one. It’s hard to express how much LSU got dominated in its 13-3 loss to Florida, so I will just let this one stat speak for itself: Tim Tebow passed for 134 yards and rushed for another 38 for a grand total of 172 to single-handedly outgain the entire LSU offense (162 yards).
This was the game I had been waiting for LSU to lose. I just got too excited about the possibility of Tebow either being out or not being 100%. But, this is the one that LSU just had coming to them, the way they had been winning. They deserved to fall to No. 10 (and I’d have no problem putting them even farther down, beneath Iowa and TCU). And, with the way that Texas played against Colorado, Florida and Alabama deserve to clinch their strangle holds on the first two spots in the polls.
As a side note for Texas fans – very bad news going into the game against Oklahoma and the first week of the BCS polls as Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings now have the Longhorns down to No. 14.
3. UCLA Will Halt Oregon’s BCS Hopes
Another out-on-a-limb prediction that went very badly for me. I thought I had a good thing with Oregon going on the road without their starting quarterback. I failed to factor in one thing: UCLA stinks!
As with Missouri, the underdog was controlling an ugly game early. UCLA had a 3-0 halftime lead (you didn’t even know they played games like that in the Pac-10, did you?), but huge miscues led to a speedy turnaround in the second half that led to Oregon’s eventual 24-10 win. Oregon didn’t need much offensive output (trust me – they weren’t nearly as good as their 303 yards of offense indicates) as Kenjon Barner returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown. Talmadge Jackson quickly followed with a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown. Within 26 seconds, the Ducks had completely turned the game around.
UCLA scored its only TD on one of the strangest plays I’ve ever seen. Oregon QB Nate Costa dropped to the back of the end zone looking to make a pass, and made a desperate heave under pressure, throwing it right into the hands of the defensive lineman in front of him, giving him a 0-yard INT return for a TD.
But, it was not nearly enough to get the Bruins back in the game. Their offense was so futile they even had to change QBs in the second half. I still can’t really tell if Oregon’s defense is that good or if UCLA’s offense is that bad. Either way, this is not the same defense I saw in the opener against Boise State. Someone lit a fire under them and they are playing with a real passion.
4. Most Dangerous Matchups Of The Weekend For Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech
I can’t totally call this wrong, as I didn’t officially pick anyone to lose (in fact, in my picks of the week, I selected all of these games correctly). I only said they were in danger of falling out of the top-25. That certainly came true for Ole Miss, which got dominated by Alabama. The Crimson Tide had almost as many points in the first half (16) as the Rebels had total yards (19).
This game was not even as close as the 22-3 score showed. The closest Ole Miss got in the second half was when they marched down inside the Alabama five yard line and had to settle for a field goal to cut the lead to 16-3. That was their only decent drive of the game. They had 212 yards of total offense, and ‘Bama held Jevan Snead to 140 yards and four INTs on 11-of-34 passing. And you know you’re in trouble when Snead is your leading rusher with four carries for 44 yards.
I agree with Florida staying in the No. 1 spot until someone beats them. I think that’s the respect you get as a defending national champion. But, for my money, Alabama looks like the best team in the country right now.
Oklahoma State managed to scrape out a 36-31 win at Texas A&M, giving them hope they’ll be able to adjust to life after Bryant. And Texas A&M’s QB, Jerrod Johnson, continues to perform very well. He threw just 22-of-42, but he had 273 yards and three TDs, to move to 14 TDs this year without an interception. I have doubts about A&M’s overall strength, but he will give lots of good teams fits.
And Georgia Tech won a shocking 49-44 shootout against Florida State. The two teams combined for 1,071 yards of offense. That included 359 passing for the Seminoles and 401 rushing for the Yellow Jackets. But, nobody gets points for style, and Florida State lost their third in a row as Georgia Tech continues to be ranked inexplicably and annoyingly high.
5. Other Teams You Wouldn’t Want To Be – Mississippi State And Arizona
Neither of these teams lost like I thought they would, but both of them suffered difficult losses, nevertheless.
Mississippi State looked good early, taking a 17-14 lead into halftime, but 17 unanswered by Houston sealed the Cougars’ 31-24 win. That was the third-straight home loss for the Bulldogs. MSU put up 490 yards of offense in a great effort, but was done in by four turnovers (two fumbles, two INTs). The win (with some help from lower-tier ranked teams falling out) moved Houston back into the rankings at No. 23.
Arizona’s 36-33 loss to Washington was a heartbreaker for the Wildcats, which became the last victim of the weekend of not being able to hold the early lead. The Cats dominated Washington in all aspects of the game, outgaining them 461-256, holding the ball almost 19 minutes longer, converting more third downs and picking up 12 more first downs. But, Arizona just couldn’t seal the deal in the red zone, settling for four field goals of 18, 23, 29 and 24 yards.
As is usually the case, the inability to convert came back to bite them, as Washington scored two TDs within 18 seconds in the fourth quarter to steal away the victory. It’s not the game I expected from Jake Locker, but a great comeback win at least stops Washington’s slide and might get them a little confidence for the future.