Monday, October 31, 2011

This One Goes To Seven

Thoughts on the weekend:

  • This was a very easy ballot to put together for the first seven spots.  After that, it was total anarchy.  That ought to tell you how many legitimate national title contenders we have this year.
  • One of the big winners of the weekend has to be Boise State.  Right now, they are sitting right behind Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma State, and Stanford on most ballots.  Clemson and Kansas State have been knocked out of the picture.  Stanford passed their first big challenge this weekend, but only barely.  The odds of the Cardinal beating Oregon, Notre Dame, and an opponent in the Pac Ten Championship Game don’t seem great.  Oklahoma State looked very good, but then again, so did Oklahoma.  The odds seem fairly decent that both teams will lose, at which point the Broncos will just need to fight off the one-loss contenders to book a spot in the title game.  There seems to be a fair amount of political sentiment for Boise State to play in New Orleans, as that would establish that a program outside of the major conferences can indeed win a national championship.  Interestingly enough, Georgia’s performance the rest of the way will be critical for BSU’s campaign.  If the Dawgs win the East and put up a good fight in the Dome, then voters will think back to the Broncos’ comfortable week one win over the Dawgs and decide “yeah, this team can play with the big boys.”  And the irony of the whole discussion is that this isn’t an especially good Boise State team, at least by their recent standards.
  • My prevailing sense from the Cocktail Party (other than yes, I was right): inconclusive, just like Georgia’s season.  Yes, the Dawgs won a big game that puts them in a great position to win the East.  No, they did not look good in winning the game.  Aaron Murray was especially disappointing.  Murray’s yards per attempt is down by a full yard this year, his passer rating is lower, and his TD/INT ratio has regressed.  On Saturday, Georgia survived despite Murray disappearing late.  (His overthrow when he had Orson Charles wide open late in the third quarter was especially galling.)  His two touchdown passes were both of the “throw it up to my receiver and have him make a play” variety, which doesn’t scream “great play!” by the quarterback.  So without much of an offense, Georgia prevailed.  They are giving off a major whiff of a team that is going to win the East without looking especially good, a division winner who can thank one of the easiest SEC schedules in recent memory.
  • Follow-on thought #1 from the Georgia bullet: is Mark Richt’s seat warm in the offseason if the Dawgs win nine in a row and then lose to Tech, get handled easily in the SEC Championship Game, and then lose the bowl game?  In that scenario, Georgia would likely finish the season 9-0 against unranked opponents and 0-5 against ranked teams.
  • Follow-on thought #2 from the Georgia bullet: the SEC is really shallow this year.  It’s giving off a whiff of 2006 Big Ten, although Alabama and LSU both have non-conference scalps to put us at ease.  Also, they haven’t had anything resembling a close call, nothing like Michigan surviving an upset scare from Ball State or Ohio State winning by seven at 2-10 Illinois.  Below Alabama and LSU, you have a South Carolina team that no longer has an offense without Stephen Garcia and Marcus Lattimore, an Arkansas team that just barely escaped games against Ole Miss and Vandy, a Georgia team that wins without much of an offense, and a Florida that can no longer block.  Keep all this in mind when the Alabama-LSU loser is in the running for the second spot in New Orleans.  Yes, the SEC has won five national titles in a row.  No, this is not a vintage SEC.
  • Follow-on thought #3 from the Georgia bullet: I didn’t realize that Florida’s offensive line was as big an issue as their quarterbacks.  The Gators moved the ball early in the game, but those yards were empty calories.  As soon as Georgia figured out that the Gators couldn’t run the ball and John Brantley was a sitting duck, the pass rush teed off and the Florida offense ground to a halt.  Florida has bigger issues than Brantley’s ankle or Charlie Weis’s scheme. 
  • All hail, yards per play margin.  I told you that Clemson and Kansas State didn’t belong and lo and behold, they don’t.  I had a good chuckle listening to 790’s morning show yesterday and one of the hosts was relating a story about how he and some friends at a house party had expressed surprise that Clemson was such a slight favorite against the Jackets.  One of the friends sagely opined that that reason was that Paul Johnson’s offense has never been shut down three weeks in a row.  Yes, that must be it.  That’s the sort of reasoning that would motivate a sharp to put $50,000 on Georgia Tech.  It can’t be that on a yardage basis, the Jackets are better than Clemson.
  • The line that jumps out at me: Michigan –4.5 at Iowa.  According to the Sagarin Predictor, Michigan would be a 17-point favorite on a neutral field.  According to SRS, Michigan would be a 14-point favorite on a neutral field.  Michigan is .8 better in terms of yards per play margin.  Unless Kinnick Stadium is worth more than any homefield in college football history, there is something amiss there.  Residual concern on the part of bettors about Michigan’s collapses in 2009 and 2010?  Residual concern that Michigan has been insanely lucky in recovering fumbles?  Residual concern that Iowa has a good performance deep in their loins?  I’ll be interested to see where this line goes during the week.
  • Bryan Stinespring versus Jim Bollman in…?  This was what I was pondering as the Hokie defense gutted out a 14-10 win against Duke with the usual minimal contributions from the offense.  I especially enjoyed the idea of the two playing Axis & Allies, building up forces on a constant basis while refusing to attack.  They would play for three days before declaring a stalemate and heading out for milkshakes.   

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