Monday, November 13, 2006

Lose at Home to Vandy, Lose to Kentucky...Clobber Auburn at Jordan-Hare?

1 Ohio State --
2 Michigan --
3 Southern Cal 4
4 Arkansas 4
5 Florida 1
6 Louisville 2
7 LSU 2
8 Notre Dame 3
9 Rutgers 9
10 Texas 7
11 California 6
12 Wake Forest 5
13 Oklahoma 1
14 West Virginia 1
15 Boston College 9
16 Wisconsin 3
17 Auburn 7
18 Georgia Tech 2
19 Nebraska --
20 Tennessee 8
21 Maryland 1
22 Oregon 1
23 Boise State 7
24 Brigham Young 2
25 Texas A&M 2

Dropped Out: Virginia Tech (#25).

As per usual, my stream of consciousness follows:

1. For those of you inclined to question why Rutgers is still behind Louisville, there are two responses. First, Louisville lost by three points on the road, so at best, Rutgers established that they are roughly equivalent with Louisville. Second, the game struck me as a good team getting momentum on a better team and riding that momentum out of a half. On a neutral field with that sort of momentum swing far less likely, I think that Louisville would beat Rutgers by at least a touchdown. I'm willing to consider Rutgers for the national title game if they run the table, mainly because a road win over West Virginia would show me a lot, but right now, Rutgers is a team that muddled through a very easy schedule and then caught fire for a half against the first good team they played.

2. Everyone who was criticizing Phil Steele for picking Arkansas #13 might want to re-frame their criticism and attack him for having the Razorbacks too low. Arkansas looked like a complete team on Saturday night, although since I've already gone on record as saying that Tennessee was a good passing game and little else and the Vols were missing the triggerman for that passing game, I'm probably reading too much into the rout of Tennessee. The Arkansas-LSU game is going to be enormous. Arkansas is going to have a shot at Glendale on the line, while LSU is going to have a BCS bid looming as a possibility. LSU's run defense is going to be the best that Arkansas has seen all year, which will force the Hogs to show whether they've figured out that whole passing thing with Casey Dick under center. Conversely, LSU leads the SEC in yards per pass attempt by over a half a yard over second place Florida, but they'll be facing an Arkansas pass defense that is second in the conference in yards per pass attempt allowed (trailing only LSU, natch). And then add in the fact that the game is going to be at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, where Arkansas has a freaky ability at pulling games out. (Interesting note on that stadium: I wrote a column for four years ago criticizing CBS for not having a goal line angle on a critical "did he get in?" play in an Arkansas-LSU game that decided the SEC West. A few days later, I got an e-mail from someone on the production team for the game saying that such an angle was impossible at War Memorial because there is so little room between the stands and the field that they can't get a rolling camera in there. So take that for what it's worth. I digress.)

Michigan-Ohio State is going to take all the available oxygen this week, but the Thanksgiving weekend is going to feature two other rivalry games that will be as big as they've ever been: Arkansas-LSU and USC-Notre Dame (assuming that USC takes care of Cal this weekend). Hog fans are going to be rooting for the Irish in that one, because no matter how far Arkansas has come this season and no matter that they were starting their second-best tailback and third-best quarterback against the Trojans, there's no way around 50-14 in Fayetteville if Arkansas and USC are the two teams vying for the spot opposite the Michigan-Ohio State winner.

3. Phil Steele alert: Ohio State led Northwestern 33-10 at halftime last week, but the yardage in the game was almost even. The Bucks led by 23 because Northwestern had three fumbles and an interception. Ohio State is leading the nation in scoring defense, but they have given up yardage in chunks on occasion this year. If Phil the Lawgiver is right about yardage being a more reliable indicator of a team's merit than points and that turnovers are random...

4. Major kudos to the Georgia Sports Blog for throwing out the possibility of a return to 2001 one week before Mark Richt reached the same conclusion. Georgia ran the ball and then hit Auburn on play-action fly routes. Matt Stafford made the throws and the receivers held onto the ball, which was something new. The simplicity of the approach probably explains why Richt didn't like the gameplan on Friday night:

"I was as low as I have been," Richt said. "I looked at the game plan and
thought, 'This is the worst thing I have ever seen.'"

That's telling, isn't it? It reminds me of Hugh Freeze, the coach of Briarcrest Christian School in The Blind Side (an excellent book, by the way). Freeze was in love with the notion of out-thinking his opponents and had achieved considerable success as a high school coach by doing so, but confronted with a team that had Michael Oher at left tackle, he had to be browbeaten by his assistants into running a one-play offense that ultimately took Briarcrest to a state title. Similarly, Mark Richt wants to beat opponents with the fast-break offense he used at Florida State. He doesn't want to win games with a basic I-formation, run-run-throw deep offense, but that suits this offense best because it reduces the chances for Matt Stafford and the receivers to make mistakes and it simplifies matters for Mssr. Stafford. It also better utilizes Kregg Lumpkin, who is the best player on the offense.

Defensively, the Dawgs obliterated Auburn's offensive line and then picked on a series of wounded ducks from Brandon Cox. The game left me asking questions like "has Cox's arm always been this weak?" and "did Tuberville show highlights of the 2003 USC game to his offensive line before the game?" It's hard to say whether Auburn's offense is really that bad (I knew their passing game was suspect, but not "can't complete a forward pass to anyone not named Tra Battle" suspect) or if the Georgia defense suddenly played up to its potential. Anyway, the Auburn-Georgia series has been filled with suprising results, usually favoring the road team, so we shouldn't be totally shocked. Wait a second, this is a Georgia team that lost to Vandy and Kentucky; we should absolutely be shocked.

5. I dropped Virginia Tech out of the rankings in part because they were leading Kent State 6-0 at halftime, in part because I was impressed by BYU's resume (especially after Arizona has righted their ship), and in large part because I'm mad at this guy:

6. I don't know what to do with Texas A&M. They've lost three games, all at home in dramatic conclusions, but they also lack a good win and they have combined a cake out-of-conference schedule with a Big XII schedule that has them playing every quality opponent at home, at least until the season-ender against Texas.

7. Alabama: worst red zone team since...? Georgia '03 doesn't hold a candle to this year's Crimson Tide, who have moved the ball well against good opponents, but they can't score touchdowns to save their lives. On Saturday night, they gained 398 yards, which is more than any team has gained on LSU this year, but they ended up with only 14 points because they had an interception after driving to the LSU 25 and a missed field goal after driving to the LSU 23. (I know those aren't technically red zone trips.) Ultimately, as with the 2003 Georgia team, this needs to be put on the Tide's offensive line, which simply can't get enough of a push to run the ball effectively on a short field and they are unable to handle the increased pressure that opposing defenses throw at them when the defenders have their backs to the wall. Something tells me that the Alabama-Auburn game Saturday is not going to be a paean to the "blocking" part of General Neyland's maxim on blocking and tackling.

7a. How angry are Auburn and Alabama fans that their chief opponent for the title of "best college football rivalry" - Michigan/Ohio State - is going to be hyped beyond belief this week, while few outside of Alabama will pay much attention to the Tide and Tigers because they have combined for seven losses and this is one of the few seasons in which there are no implications for the SEC title. OK, that last sentence was a bit of an overstatement as most Southern college football fans would care about Alabama-Auburn if both teams were winless, not to mention the "one for the thumb" and "Mike Shula: how thin is the ice?" dynamics that are in play this year.

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