If you want a classic case of sports talk radio overreaction, take Steak Shapiro's take this morning that Matt Ryan solidified his place in the top five of the Draft, as well as his Heisman candidacy, with last night's rally. I'll freely admit that I didn't watch the end of the game. I turned it off after another Ryan interception in the fourth quarter. I was muttering to myself about Virginia Tech winning unwatchable games in which they are remarkably unpenalized for never having had an offense other than the "Vick run around!" set. Being the unreconstructed Wahoo, I was also whining in my head about the Hokies scoring a touchdown that wasn't a touchdown and a field goal on a drive kept alive by an appallingly weak pass interference call.
So imagine my surprise when I woke up and found that the Eagles had rallied for a 14-10 win. Imagine my total lack of surprise that Shapiro glossed over Ryan's weak performance for the first 55 minutes of the game and solely focused on the last five, ignoring the fact that Ryan's inability to hit his receivers was the reason why his heroics were needed in the first place. (and add in the fact that Tech's putrid offense is the only reason why the score wasn't 24-0 at the time). I'll grant you that Virginia Tech whipped BC's offensive line for the first 55 minutes and the rain also made it hard to throw the ball. I'll also grant you that his first touchdown throw was a thing of beauty. That said, Matt Ryan has never impressed me as anything more than a guy who can throw underneath accurately and move around in the pocket well. He's a second-tier Brian Brohm. He should be a second- or third-round pick. Instead, because he plays in Boston, he's a Heisman front-runner. Let's just say that there would be something very wrong in the universe if Boston College picks up its second Heisman Trophy this year and Alabama and Tennessee are still sitting on nil in that category. Let's also say that if Dennis Dixon plays well against USC this weekend, there are no reasons other race and geography why he shouldn't be miles ahead of Ryan in the Heisman race. Speaking of which...
This is the weekend that USC finally puts together a performance that leaves the rest of the country saying "yup, that's the team that we all voted #1 before the season." USC showed the pattern last year of going through the motions against unranked opponents and then kicking ass when the spotlight was on. Well, the spotlight is on this weekend and Oregon's crowd will almost certainly get the Trojans' attention. USC is still the best team in the country when they're focused. I am not at all a John David Booty fan, but Oregon's defense isn't good enough to punish USC for their weakness under center. Additionally, USC's front seven are going to present major, major challenges for Oregon.
I have a pretty good feeling about Georgia this weekend. This season is full of examples of teams playing well coming out of bye weeks. Remember Tennessee's performance against Georgia? Or Florida's performance against Kentucky? (Note: Alabama has the week off before hosting LSU.) Georgia has their backs against the wall and will be putting everything they have into this game. Theoretically, Georgia has the personnel to exploit Florida's weak secondary: a rifle-armed quarterback and a bevy of receiving threats. The problem is that said quarterback and receivers are very inconsistent. Additionally, Georgia has been very conservative offensively this year, in part legitimately out of concern for the offensive line and in part mistakenly "protecting" the offense by being limited and predictable. This is the game in which Georgia has to open up the playbook and put some faith in its quarterback of the future. It's an interesting sink-or-swim scenario.
Defensively, Georgia has done well against Florida's offense in the past, but I think we all understand now that Meyer's offense is much better with a running threat under center. Tennessee did a fine defensive job on Florida when Chris Leak was under center (37 points in two games) and then promptly shipped 59 points to the Gators in September. Florida's offense was also more effective against LSU this year than it was when Leak was the quarterback. In other words, don't expect the defensive effort we've been accustomed to against Florida. Overall, I see a fairly high-scoring game (28-25?) and Florida winning in the end, but I certainly wouldn't take the Gators -9.5. JMHO.
Penn State-Ohio State
I like Penn State in this game for a few reasons:
1. Ohio State has a terrible history at State College. They're 2-5 at Penn State, with one of the wins coming in a very tight game against a 3-9 Penn State team. Of course, that was during the era in which Ohio State won every game by one point on field goals that hit both goalposts and the crossbar before going through. OSU won in this fashion regardless of whether they were playing Michigan or Tattnall Square Academy. G-d I hated those teams. (I didn't really dislike the '05-'06 OSU teams. I could respect them for being really good and entertaining to watch.)
2. Penn State's defense is excellent and this Ohio State offense can be shut down. At a minimum, this means that Saturday night is going to be a tight, defensive game. In said circumstances, do you trust a quarterback making his first difficult road start? A quarterback who let an inferior opponent back into the game last week with turnovers? Me neither.
3. Ohio State is unbeaten, but it bears mentioning that this fact is not important in light of the weakness of their opponents. OSU has not played a single team ranked in Sagarin's top 30. (LSU, by contrast, has played five.) They're ranked #1, but they're not really a #1 caliber team. And who the hell am I kidding? I don't like the idea of an Ohio State-Boston College snoozefest in the title game, I'm rooting against that possibility, and I don't trust my alma mater to prevent it from happening.