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Week 7: Catching Up, Part 2

Welcome back, sports fans.

This is part two of my “catch-up” blog, in which I will cover the top stories in college football from Week 7.  I feel like going straight to the Pac-12, so guess what?  That’s where we’ll begin.

I. Conference Collisions

Arizona State 51, Colorado 17: It was 20-17 at the half.  ASU then blew up the Buffs to win the second half 31-0.  Final yardage stats: ASU 593, Colorado 255.  Nuff said.

UCLA 21, Utah 14: a tight, defensive game in which both offenses tried not to give it away.  Each side committed just one turnover, but UCLA’s was incomprehensible.  With the Bruins leading 7-0 and having just forced a Utah punt, returner Steven Manfro backed up from his 20 all the way to his 3 (!) in order to attempt a ridiculous over the shoulder catch.  The punt never should have been fielded in the first place, but to compound the error, he fumbled it into the end zone.  Touchdown Utah.  I appreciate effort, but this was either pure selfishness or horrific coaching.  That kind of mistake CANNOT happen.  UCLA was fortunate to score a minute later to take a 14-7 lead into halftime.

Truth be told, the Bruins fairly dominated this game — especially on defense — but Utah was allowed to close within a touchdown when UCLA could not put it away late in the 4th quarter.  With the win, the Bruins move to 5-2, but their wins have not been particularly impressive.  UCLA has defeated Colorado, Rice, Utah, and Houston, all of whom are at or under .500.  The win over Nebraska seemed spectacular at the time, but the Huskers have not been stout on defense this year.  UCLA has lost to Oregon State and Cal and has yet to play USC, Stanford, and Arizona State.  So…what to say?  Is UCLA a good team or just an average team?  The jury is still out.  UCLA is a young team with talent and could be a problem for some of the better teams on the schedule in the second half of the season, but until the Bruins develop more consistency, we won’t really know where this team stacks up in the conference.  Let’s call ’em the wildcard team.

Oregon State 42, BYU 24: how do you spell impressive?  O-S-U.  The Beavers lost starting QB Sean Mannion indefinitely earlier in the week, forcing backup Cody Vaz into service — despite the fact that he had not taken a snap since 2010.  Worse, he faced the challenge of playing at crazy Provo, against a BYU defense that had held its previous 12 opponents to under 300 yards per game.

He didn’t even blink.  Oregon State racked up 450 yards and had no turnovers in what has to be a delightfully satisfying victory for the Beavers, who are now 5-0 for the first time since — are you ready for this? — 1939.  This team just gets better and better!  Is there any chance they could make it to 10-0 and set up a showdown of the unbeatens against Oregon for not just the conference championship, but a berth in the national championship?  Not likely (games vs. Arizona State and at Stanford make that difficult), but here’s hoping.

Notre Dame 20, Stanford 13 (OT): yes I know, there is going to be a lot of discussion about whether Stepfan Taylor made it into the end zone on 4th down.  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.

Bottom line: both teams made a lot of mistakes in this game.  I don’t care if it’s rainy, wet, and sloppy.  Bad passes, missed blocks, lost fumbles, and botched snaps on field goals are mistakes, regardless of the weather.  Although both teams played hard, neither was sharp — on offense or on special teams.  I still don’t know if Notre Dame is “for real” yet.  Their defense has been excellent, but does anyone really think this team can beat someone like Alabama, Oregon, or Oklahoma (or Kansas State)?  The Irish have been very fortunate to win several close games this season.  I have a feeling that the roof is going to cave in against either USC or Oklahoma, or both.

As for Stanford, they have been wildly inconsistent since the upset over USC: first losing at Washington (no offense), then escaping against Arizona (no defense), now losing in overtime to Notre Dame (no offense, questionable special teams).  Stanford has not played a complete game against anyone this season other than perhaps Duke.  Also, the Stanford coaching staff proved extremely predictable — and stubborn — in the overtime possession.  With first and goal at the 4, Stanford ran Taylor FOUR STRAIGHT TIMES.  I can understand once or twice, or maybe even three times, but didn’t anyone pay attention to the game vs. Arizona last week?  Nunes scored three times on QB keepers against the Wildcats!  If you refuse to run a play action pass or an option play or a bootleg or a fade, can’t you at least have the QB try a sneak on one of those four plays?  If I’m Notre Dame, I’m stacking the box to stop Taylor in the middle.  Stanford’s last two plays were simply too uncreative, and given that the strength of the Irish defense is their front seven, I do not understand the insistence on running up the middle.  Stanford did not deserve to win this game, and this time, they paid for their mistakes, both physical and otherwise.

USC 24, Washington 14: a wonderful road victory for the Trojan defense and special teams, which allowed USC to win despite not scoring in the second half.  With the offense bogging down, USC’s defense held UW to under 300 yards and forced four turnovers.  The Trojans are beginning to realize that the identity of this year’s team is not what most of us expected.  With Barkley, Woods, Lee, and a pair of 1,000 yard rushers, almost everyone (myself included) believed USC would be an offensive juggernaut.  Games against Stanford, Cal, and now Washington have proven otherwise.  The great news (for USC fans) is that the defense has been consistently excellent all season: every Trojan opponent has been held to 21 points or fewer, save for Syracuse (I do not count the Utah game because two of their TD’s were set up or scored by the defense).  You don’t win consistently without a great defense.  The Trojans have titanic contests remaining against Oregon and Notre Dame — both at home — so who knows?  There still may be time to salvage something.

Having said that, the Stanford loss is still a bad loss — and I expect ASU, UCLA, and maybe even Arizona to give the Trojans a run for their money before all is said and done.

Dumb Cal 31, Stupid Washington State 17: if two teams play and no one cares, did the game actually take place?  Golden Bears win the Insipid Bowl.

Oregon, Arizona: byes.  The Ducks travel to Tempe on Thursday to face ASU.  How good are the Ducks?  And is ASU back?  I can’t wait to find out!

II. Conference Power Rankings; Week 8 Previews

South

1. USC
2. Arizona State
3. Arizona, UCLA
5. Utah
6. Colorado

North

1. Oregon
2. Oregon State
3. Stanford, Washington
5. Dumb Cal
6. SWSU

Oregon at ASU: if this game is relatively low scoring, ASU has a chance.  If it’s high scoring, Ducks win.  Can the Devils make a fight of it?

Stanford at Cal: it is criminal that the Big Game is in the middle of the season.  I hope both teams lose, and the Pac-12 scheduler suffers multiple injuries.

Colorado at USC: don’t shoot!

Washington at Arizona: a desperation game for both teams.  Arizona needs a conference win in the worst way.  Washington just wants to play someone who isn’t ridiculously difficult (the Huskies have already played LSU, Stanford, USC, and Oregon).  Arizona has an outstanding offense but no defense; the opposite is true for UW.  Strength against strength — or weakness against weakness?  This game could go right down to the wire.

Utah at Oregon State: come on Beavers!  So what if the Utes move to 0-4 in conference?  Oregon State has been waiting for this opportunity (i.e. a chance to go 6-0) for years.  No — for decades!  They deserve it — and they’re a better team.  If they don’t lose their focus, Oregon State should win this game fairly easily.

UCLA and WSU: byes.

III. Around the Nation: Five at a Time

1. Western Kentucky does it again, winning a difficult conference game at Troy, Alabama to move to 5-1.
2. Tulsa defeats UTEP 33-11.  I’m including that game only because I find the score interesting.
3. Louisville moves to 6-0 by defeating Pitt 45-35.  Is Louisville for real?  No.  Get a defense.
4. Rutgers also moves to 6-0 by defeating Syracuse 23-15.  Is Rutgers for real?  Maybe.  They have a defense.
5. Kansas State wins a very difficult road game, holding off Iowa State 27-21 to (also) move to 6-0.  This team deserves to be ranked higher than #6 in the country, given their victory at Oklahoma — and what Oklahoma did to Texas.  Speaking of which:

6. Oklahoma annihilated Texas — again — 63-21, in the Red River Obliteration.  (I know, it doesn’t have the nice alliteration, but 63-21 can’t be called a “rivalry.”)  If there is a one loss team that could sneak back into the BCS title game, it might be the Sooners.
7. Northwestern FINALLY won a game in October, defeating Minnesota 21-13.
8. Auburn lost ANOTHER game, this time to Mississippi, 41-20, to fall to 0-4 in SEC play.
9. Darn.  Duke couldn’t get it done against Virginia Tech, losing in Blacksburg, 41-20.
10. Tulane snapped the nation’s longest losing streak — 15 — by upending SMU 27-26 in the final minute.

11. Ohio moves to 7-0 with another escape act, this time against lowly Akron, 34-28.
12. North Carolina did a wonderful thing handing Miami its third loss of the season, 18-14.
13. Oklahoma State got ahead 20-0, but almost lost to Kansas anyway.  They held on, 20-14.
14. Alabama beat Missouri 42-10.  Ho-hum.
15. Texas Tech pulled off the major upset at home, shellacking previously unbeaten West Virginia 49-14, and bringing high-flying Geno Smith back to earth a bit.  You can’t win with just offense.  Until the Mountaineers put together a defensive unit that can keep them in the game, they will not be an elite team.

16. Utah State helped clarify the WAC by defeating San Jose State, 49-27, on the road.  The Aggies are one of the best 2-loss teams around.
17. Boston College had the misfortune to be playing Florida State.  On the road.  After the Seminoles had blown a 16-0 lead to NC State the previous week.  The result?  You guessed it: ugly, as in 51-7.
18. Florida took care of Vanderbilt — not an easy task on the road — 31-17, to remain undefeated and in the thick of the national title picture.
19. Cincinnati moved to 5-0 with its 49-17 victory over…Fordham?  They could at least have played Chevyham.
20. TCU responded to the loss of their QB with an important win over Baylor, 49-21, in Waco.

21. LSU showed why they have been one of the top teams in the nation for several seasons, defeating #3 South Carolina 23-21.  The Tigers pounded the Gamecocks on the ground, winning the rushing battle 258 to 34.
22. Mississippi State — the “other” undefeated team in the SEC — continued its winning ways with a 41-31 victory over Tennessee, its first win over the Volunteers since 1994.  Derek Dooley’s seat is heating up again.  If he values his job, the Vols must come up with at least one quality win before the season is through.
23. Ohio State maintained its fraudulent undefeated status by allowing 49 points to Indiana, but still winning, 52-49.  Please, someone beat this team?!  Hopefully trips to Penn State and/or Wisconsin will knock the Buckeyes from the ranks of the unbeaten.  Coach Urban Meyer has already stated that his team is not good against spread offenses.  It would leave a terrible taste in my mouth if Ohio State goes 12-0 — particularly this year, when they wouldn’t be able to prove how weak their schedule is by playing someone like Oregon or USC in a bowl game and getting hammered.
24. Louisiana Tech…what was that I said about defense?  That’s right: man cannot live on bread alone.  Or rather, football team cannot win on offense alone.  Louisiana Tech scored 57 points in regulation — and gained 615 yards! — but could not defeat Texas A&M, who racked up 678 yards to squeak out a 59-57 victory, knocking the Bulldogs from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Enough for now.  Almost caught up!  See you again soon with the Week 8 Blog.

–Mr. G.

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Week 5: Indefensible

Welcome back sports fans!  It was a wild week in college football.  Let’s get right to it.


I. (Lack of) Cover Story

Quick: what is the common denominator for the teams below?

Arizona — 35
Oklahoma State — 36
North Carolina State — 37
Virginia — 38

San Diego State — 40
Marshall — 41
UAB — 42
Ball State — 43
Tennessee — 44
Akron — 49

If you said that the numbers above correspond to the total points scored by that team in Week 5, you are only half right.

What is noteworthy is that each of the teams listed above LOST!  That’s correct: eleven teams scored at least 35 points on Saturday, but still lost their game.  (I’ve deliberately saved the best — or worst, depending on how you look at it — for last.)

What is going on??

College football ain’t what it used to be.  For many programs, defense is either optional or nonexistent — or perhaps defensive coordinators simply haven’t kept up with the explosion of up-tempo offenses that have taken over the sport. 

Whatever the explanation, college football is on the verge of becoming a travesty.  Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with the occasional high-scoring slugfest.  But when 11 teams lose on the same weekend despite scoring five, six, or seven touchdowns, something is wrong.  The football team should not be outscoring the basketball team (Wisconsin and Princeton excepted).  The game needs balance. 

Oh yes: I forgot to mention the worst offender of all from this weekend.  Baylor scored 63 points.  In regulation.  AND LOST!  That’s seven touchdowns!!

Consider these absurd numbers from Saturday:

700: Baylor’s total yardage in their loss to West Virginia — again, in regulation.  700 yards for one team should never happen.  700 yards and losing????  I can’t comprehend it.  (West Viriginia’s total: 807.  Frightening.)

To understand how this happened (if that is possible), check out these highlights:

09/29/2012 Baylor vs West Virginia Football Highlights – YouTube

Continuing with the numbers:

629: Akron’s total yardage against Miami of Ohio — again in a losing effort!  (Miami needed all 705 of its yards to win 56-49.)

215: Tavon Austin’s receiving yardage for West Virginia on Saturday.  That would have been a school record, except:

303: Stedman Bailey — Austin’s teammate — recorded this many yards receiving IN THE SAME GAME.  In trying to explain how one receiver sets a school record with 215 yards only to be outdone by his own teammate in the same afternoon, I can offer…nothing.

In conclusion,

45-51-656-0-8: for those of you who aren’t QB’s, that is the stat line for the overwhelming Heisman favorite — at the moment — Mr. Geno Smith of West Virginia, who completed 45 of 51 attempts for 656 yards, with zero interceptions, and eight touchdowns.  You read that correctly: 6 incompletions vs. 8 touchdowns.  If you’re scratching and shaking your head in amazement, welcome to the club.

For more improbable stats, you can visit

http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/blog/eye-on-college-football/20406283/super-sized-stat-saturday-crazy-numbers-put-up-in-college-football

if you are so inclined (or don’t believe me).


II. Around the Nation

Generally I don’t use bullet points when writing sports summaries, but there were so many things worth mentioning that in this case I am forced into summary action.

  • In a homecoming of sorts for Norm Chow (former offensive coordinator for BYU), his Hawaii team traveled to Provo, only to be throttled by the Cougars, 47-0.
  • Middle Tennessee State may be the best team in the state of Tennessee (middle or otherwise) after out-rushing Georgia Tech — in Atlanta — 49-28.
  • Miami of Florida moves to 4-1 after a second consecutive high scoring, last minute victory, this time ousting North Carolina State, 44-37.
  • After a rough start, Penn State has recovered with three straight wins, this week over reeling Illinois, 35-7.
  • Northwestern — Northwestern?! — remains undefeated thanks to their 44-29 win over perennial doormat Indiana.
  • Army…oh dear oh dear oh dear.  Losing to Stony Brook is bad enough (see, they don’t even get boldfaced), but to lose 23-3?  Pathetic.
  • Arkansas started off well.  Playing at Texas A&M, the Razorbacks led 10-7 after one quarter.  Unfortunately, they got outscored 51-0 in the other three quarters, and are 1-4 for the first time in two decades.
  • Duke is — wait a minute, what is Duke doing in this blog?! — oh yes: Duke is now 4-1 after defeating Wake Forest 34-27 in Winston-Salem.  Could the Blue Devils make a bowl game for the first time since Steve Spurrier?
  • Cincinnati scored a big win for the Big East by defeating Virginia Tech, 27-24, on a long pass play in the final seconds, which must have Frank Beamer pounding his fists.
  • Georgia goes to 5-0, but not before a stern fight from Tennessee, which put up 44 points on the Dawgs — only to lose 51-44.  Georgia will be ranked in the top five, but their defense suddenly is a big question mark.  They can’t expect to give up 44 points each week and win.  Oh right: we’re playing college football in 2012.  Silly me.
  • What happens when 4-0 Ohio travels to 0-4 UMass?  Answer: a lucky escape for the Bobcats, who scored 17 in the final stanza to post a 37-34 win.
  • Ohio State found a way to get to 5-0, this time beating an overrated Michigan State team that does have a defense — but no offense — 17-16 in East Lansing.  Michigan State was ranked, but probably should not have been.  Credit Urban Meyer for finding a way to win yet again with a team that he himself has described as being not very good.  I agree.  This is a fraudulent 5-0…but you play who’s on your schedule.
  • Proof that you can’t spell “Idaho” without 0: North Carolina 66, Idah 0.  If teams could be ranked 0, I would actually rank Idaho 0th.  They are that bad.
  • Houston, Rice, Illinois, Virginia.  What do they have in common?  Louisiana Tech has defeated them all — three of them on the road — to start 4-0.  This week’s victim: the Cavaliers, who were upended 44-38 in Charlottesville.  Would some poll PLEASE put this team in the Top 25?  It looks like Sonny Dykes and his Bulldogs are going to run away with the WAC title this year.
  • Did I say someone was going to run away with the WAC title?  If so, I was wrong.  San Jose State might be the best team in the conference — and clearly was the best team in the Bay Area this weekend — after traveling across the country to SHUT OUT Navy in Annapolis, 12-0.  After coming up just short against Stanford in the season opener, the Spartans have won four straight and could have a huge winning streak before they face their stiffest test — at home against BYU — in November.
  • Houston defeated Rice, 35-14, in the We Lost to UCLA Bowl.
  • Florida State hung on to defeat South Florida, 30-17, and remain fraudulently undefeated, a la Ohio State.
  • For 30 minutes, Kentucky forgot that they were playing South Carolina, and actually led 17-7 at the half.  Order was restored in the second half, however, when the Gamecocks outclassed the Wildcats 31-0 to win going away.
  • The beat goes on for Western Kentucky, which defeated in-conference challenger Arkansas State, 26-13, on the road.  Willie Taggart for President!  If he can take an 0-12 team to these heights (11-2 in their last 13 games, losing only to Alabama and LSU), surely he can fix the economy.  And Congress.  And Washington DC in general.
  • LSU defeated no-name Towson, but 38-22?  That’s it?  You’re telling me that Towson was within two touchdowns of LSU — at the END of the game?  That doesn’t make LSU look very good.  That makes Washington look even worse (having lost to LSU 41-3 earlier in the season).  For those of you who like connecting the dots: these results indicate that Towson would be a 22-point favorite over Washington if the game were played at Tiger Stadium.
  • Louisville played through extremely sloppy conditions to defeat winless Southern Mississippi in a driving rain, 21-17, and remain undefeated.
  • Fresno State showed that they are a force to be reckoned with in their first year in the Mountain West, this time upending San Diego State 52-40.  It will be interesting to see who emerges as conference champion this season.
  • In a stirring victory in Lincoln, Nebraska rallied from a 27-10 deficit to outscore Wisconsin 20-0 over the final quarter and a half.  The Badgers are now 3-2 and are lucky to have that record.
  • The best team in Texas: Baylor?  Nope, lost to West Virginia 70-63.
  • Houston?  No, their victory over Rice was their first of the season.
  • Texas Tech?  Almost: they have moved to 4-0 after a quality road win over previously unbeaten Iowa State, 24-13.
  • TCU?  They’re in the same boat as the Red Raiders, having also to moved to 4-0 with their 24-16 win at SMU in the Protestant Bowl.
  • OK, then it must be Texas, who pulled out a thrilling 41-36 decision over Oklahoma State in Stillwater to move to 4-0.  This included a conversion on 4th-and-6 to extend the game-winning drive.  Texas it is.
  • Or is it?  Ladies and gentlemen, I declare that the best football team in the Lone Star State is none of the aforementioned universities, but rather, UTSA: you know, the University of Texas at San Antonio!  In their first year in the FBS, the Roadrunners (!) have compiled a spotless 5-0 record, defeating such powerhouses as…well…they did beat New Mexico State this week — on the road — by three touchdowns!  And let’s not forget their dramatic season-opening victory over South Alabama (a Sun Belt conference member), also on the road.  People!  When UTSA defeats USA (yes, that’s South Alabama’s acronym), you must take notice.  You cannot deny the power of the Roadrunners.  Anyone who defeats the USA at their house deserves respect.  U-T-S-A fight fight fight!



III. Pac Time

USC and Utah were idle this Saturday, in advance of their Thursday night tilt this week.  Speaking of which:


Washington 17, Stanford 13
: let’s see…a ranked team travels to play against an unranked underdog for an ESPN Thursday Night Special, and — loses.  What else is new?

Stanford, on the heels of their magnificent 21-14 victory over USC, could not keep it together in Seattle.  The Cardinal led 6-3 at the half, then increased their lead to 13-3 after an interception return for a touchdown in the 3rd quarter.  But Stanford could not do anything productive on offense all night, and this time, their defense did not hold up.  Washington converted on a critical 4th-and-1 in their own territory, breaking off a 61-yard score to tighten the game at 13-10.  Then, with just under five minutes to play, UW connected on a 35-yard pass play to steal the game and record their first victory over Stanford since 2007.

Stanford’s game plan to run, run, and run some more, followed by effective game management by QB Josh Nunes, simply failed in this game.  After 615 yards and 65 points in a blowout over Washington last year, the Cardinal managed a paltry 235 total yards (only 65 rushing) and 10 first downs this time.  Stanford was a poor 5-for-18 on 3rd down conversions.  The defense did its job, holding UW to just 313 total yards, but it wasn’t enough. 

This is a huge win for Washington, and a head-scratching loss for Stanford, which must figure out its offensive issues quickly if it wants to have any chance to be a player in the extremely competitive North division.  Sorry, Andrew Luck is no longer available.


Oregon 51, Stupid Washington State 26
: who needs De’Anthony Thomas when you have Kenjon Barner?  The “other” Ducks running back merely carried 20 times for 195 yards — an absurd 9.8 yards per carry average — while racking up four touchdowns on the ground, in addition to 37 yards receiving.  His 80-yard dash to the end zone in the 4th quarter not only put the game away, but prompted this delightful quote: “It felt like the end zone was running away from me.”

To their semi-credit, WSU did keep it close at the half (23-19).  But that might have been the worst thing they could have done, for according to Oregon safety Avery Patterson, the remarks from the Oregon coaches at halftime were not suitable for printing.  Their words of, ahem, inspiration resulted in 21 points, scored in a span of four minutes, in the third quarter.  Ballgame.

Is Oregon beatable?  Perhaps: their QB threw two interceptions in this game, and WSU is not exactly a world beater of a team.  The Cougars amassed 26 first downs — the same total as Oregon.  Having said that, Oregon’s defense returned an interception for a touchdown for the third time this season, and continues to play at a high level.  Oregon may be beatable, but you’re going to have to play awfully well to do it.


UCLA 42, Colorado 14: would the Bruins shake off a tough home loss to Oregon State and bounce back against an undermanned Colorado team in Boulder?  Answer: yes.  UCLA learned valuable lessons in their loss to the Beavers, and put those lessons to work immediately.  After a horrendous performance on 3rd downs last week, the Bruins went 7-for-15 this game, while holding Colorado to 2-of-15.  UCLA had 29 first downs to CU’s 14 and committed just one turnover to two by the Buffs.  Perhaps most significantly, the Bruins did not crack when the game was in the balance. 

The first of these two situations occurred on UCLA’s first possession of the game, which saw Hundley get sacked, then fumble.  Colorado could have taken the game by the horns, but the Bruin D held, forcing a Colorado punt.  The offense righted itself and UCLA went up 14-0 before Colorado could answer.  Then, in the second half, with the Bruins ahead 21-7, Colorado completed a long pass play into UCLA territory, but Tevin McDonald punched the ball free, forcing a CU fumble to end the drive.  The Bruins never looked back after that, icing the game with three more touchdowns to win, 42-14.

This game was by no means perfect, but it was a conference win on the road, and a game UCLA had to have.  We’ll see just how strong the Bruins are when they face three more conference foes in October — the month which was the bugaboo of the Neuheisel era.


Arizona State 27, Dumb Cal 17: no offense, Cal, but you have no offense.  Arizona State shut down the Bears at Memorial Stadium, holding Cal to 285 yards and 17 points, a week after USC kept the Bears out of the end zone entirely.  Cal QB Zach Maynard was harassed relentlessly all game, getting sacked six times; he finished an atrocious 9-for-28 for 126 yards.  Adding to their misery, Cal racked up 12 penalties for 119 yards.  It is not a good time to be a Cal fan, and an even worse time to be the coach.  Fans voiced their frustration by booing the team off the field at halftime, with ASU leading 17-7.  Personally I do not think fans should ever boo their team off the field unless there is an obvious lack of effort.  Cal was not suffering from a lack of effort; they were suffering from a lack of execution.  It does bear asking, however, why the coaches did not adjust to Arizona State’s defensive pressure.  If your offensive line is having problems with pass protection, then either (a) start running the ball, or (b) switch to quick, short pass routes.  Why Cal chose not to do this after halftime remains a mystery.

For their part, ASU continues to look like the main challenger to USC in the South Division.  The Sun Devils picked up their first win in Strawberry Canyon since 1997.


Oregon State 38, Arizona 35: in what was easily the conference game of the week, the Beavers continued their resurgence with a thrilling road victory, scoring the game winning touchdown with 1:09 to play in Tuscon.  Both teams were hitting on all cylinders offensively, with Oregon State accounting for 613 total yards to Arizona’s 545.  The quarterbacks had career days: OSU QB Sean Mannion went 29-of-45 for 433 yards and three TD’s, without an interception, while Arizona QB Matt Scott went 31-of-53 for 403 yards and three touchdowns as well — but with two interceptions. 

The Beavers led 17-7 at the break, but Arizona quickly retook the lead at 21-17 in the third quarter.  From there, the lead changed five more times until Mannion’s final touchdown throw.  This is Oregon State’s third consecutive huge victory — remember that Arizona defeated Oklahoma State 59-38 earlier this season — and it means that the Beavers, yes the BEAVERS, are worthy of at least a top 15 ranking, if not top 10.  They have won in every way possible: with stifling defense (holding Wisconsin to 7 points), explosive offense (38 points at Arizona), and a balanced game plan (shutting down UCLA, 27-20).  You have to hand it to Mike Riley.  I don’t know how he does it!  It’s Corvallis, for heaven’s sake, and the team’s mascot is a BEAVER!  (Am I repeating myself?)

 

IV. Power Rankings

With this week’s results, ASU secures its foothold on the #2 position in the South, while Oregon State moves up to challenge Oregon in the North.  Washington jumps Stanford — for now — as the #3 team in the North, despite Stanford’s win over USC; this is due to the Cardinal’s obvious and troubling problems on offense, particularly at quarterback.  Cal and WSU remain at the bottom of the North; likewise, Utah and Colorado in the South.

South

1. USC
2. Arizona State
3. UCLA, Arizona
5. Utah, Colorado

North

1. Oregon
2. Oregon State
3. Washington
4. Stanford
5. Cal
6. WSU

It is worth noting that the conference currently has six (!) teams ranked in the AP poll:

#2 Oregon (about right)
#13 USC (too high)
#14 Oregon State (too low)
#18 Stanford (too high)
#23 Washington (WAY too high; see my comments regarding LSU above)
#25 UCLA (on the bubble; perhaps should not be ranked until next week — if the Bruins beat Cal)

 

V. On Deck

Should we really look ahead to this week’s games?  Sure, why not.

Arizona State and Colorado have byes — in advance, yet again, of a Thursday night game.

USC at Utah: a classic trap game.  USC is a much better team.  Utah is reeling after their 37-7 drubbing at the hands of Arizona State last time out.  Furthermore, the Utes have major injury problems on offense.  So this should be an easy win for the Trojans, right?  Wrong.  All you have to do is look at Stanford this week.  I don’t know what it is, but there is something about these Thursday night games that spells bad news for ranked (and favored) road teams.  USC’s approach should be to do exactly what UCLA did against Colorado this Saturday: namely, don’t do anything unorthodox.  Simply execute, and you will win.  If USC avoids turnovers and penalties, they should win this game fairly easily — the operative word being “should.”  Needless to say, this is a must win for the Trojans if they want to have any chance of staying in the national picture.  Utah, meanwhile, will be desperate to save what appeared to be a promising season.  If it gets interesting, Troy will be in trouble.  Look for Kiffin and Co. to take the crowd out of this one by halftime — or at least try to.

Arizona at Stanford: the battle of the just-missed-it’s.  Arizona played a great game but came up short against Oregon State.  Stanford played a rotten game and gave it away to Washington.  This therefore becomes a quasi-elimination game: the winner stays alive in the conference race, while the loser likely will have too much ground to make up.

Stupid Washington State at Oregon State: if you don’t know who I’m rooting for in this game by now, you are pretty pathetic at understanding tone, or perhaps you don’t know how to read at all, or were too lazy to read the previous commentary and wanted to skip ahead to this section.  (Fine, be that way, Mr./Ms. Instant Gratification.)  Needless to say, I am cheering for the BEAVERS to utterly and completely destroy the Cougars.  If they do, Oregon State will be 4-0 and could go on to win 8, 9, or even 10 (!) games — a dramatic turnaround from last season’s 3-9 campaign.

Washington at Oregon: had this game been played at Washington, who knows what might have happened.  But this game is being played at Autzen, and Oregon will not lose it.  Washington was very fortunate to beat Stanford this week.  They will not be so fortunate against the Ducks.

UCLA at Dumb Cal: it is only fitting that I end this week’s column with this most intense of UC rivalries.  Here are some facts for you to ponder.

0. UCLA defeated Cal in 1972.  UCLA then defeated Cal in 1973, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, and 89.
0.25. For those of you who are numerically challenged, UCLA defeated Cal a stunning EIGHTEEN straight times during that span.
0.5. UCLA played at Cal in 1990.  I was a UCLA student.
0.75. UCLA’s winning streak ended that season.  I was an unhappy student.

1. I have attended every UCLA game played in the Bay Area vs. either Cal or Stanford since 1990, save for the Stanford game in 1993 when I was opening Hedrick Hall for Welcome Week activities.

2. UCLA’s last win at Cal came in 1998 when Cade McNown was the quarterback. 
3. That means that Cal won in 2000.  And 2002.  And 2004.  And 2006.  And 2008.  And 2010.
4. I was at each of those games.
5. Did you notice that I always call them “Dumb Cal”? 

OF COURSE I WILL BE AT THE CAL GAME ON SATURDAY!  I will not make a prediction on the game, but I *WILL* make a “hope.”  I hope that Cal once again sputters on offense, that its offensive line cannot solve its problems, that UCLA’s defense will terrorize Cal’s backfield all game, and that UCLA will open the game fast and furious so that there is no drama in the second half.  I’ve waited 14 years since my last win in Berkeley, and that’s long enough.  Goodbye, Cal, goodbye losing streak, and goodbye Jeff Tedford.  You did a great job with the Bears, but I’m not letting my team allow you to keep your job.  We are better than you this time, and while you’re on the way down, it’s high time for UCLA to move on up like the Jeffersons. 

Destroy the Golden Bears!!!

See you next week — hopefully as a happy student.

–Mr. G.

Week 4: Conference Focus

Greetings once again football fans.  Week 4 of the college football season featured several important conference matchups as well as a few intersectional games of note.  We will begin this week’s coverage on the Left Coast.

RESULTS: Pac-12

Stanford and Washington were idle and will square off in the Pac-12 Thursday Night Game of the Week this week.  Personally, I hate Thursday night games.  I understand that they are good for ESPN and for conference exposure and revenue, but for me, college football does not feel like college football when a game is not played on a Saturday.  I’ll make exceptions for bowl games and Thanksgiving weekend games, but that’s about it.

Oregon 49, Arizona 0:  Holy defense, Batman!  We all knew about Oregon’s prolific offensive attack, but zero points surrendered?  To high-flying Arizona?  You got it.  It wasn’t that Arizona couldn’t move the ball, but rather that they could not score, going a remarkable 0-for-6 in the red zone.  Add to that five turnovers, and 49-0 doesn’t seem so surprising.  I love Oregon safety Brian Jackson’s comment after the game: “It’s our job to make the score on the other side as low as possible,” he explained, “and tonight we made it as low as possible.”  Exactly.

USC 27, Dumb Cal 9:  It’s a win.  After last week’s performance at Stanford, the Trojans needed to get healthy at home against a pesky Cal squad.  For the second straight game, the defense did everything it needed to do to help SC win, and for the second straight game, the offense tried to give it away.  Two more Barkley INT’s plus a fumble would have cost the Trojans against a team with more offensive punch, but this was Cal, so it didn’t end up mattering.  Still, this is not a good trend for the preseason #1 team in the country.  On a positive note, USC did rediscover its running game, which had disappeared for much of the previous two contests.  For their part, Cal’s defense fought hard, but it wasn’t enough.  Whether USC will be able to up its play as it enters the meat of its schedule remains to be seen.  As for Jeff Tedford, it’s win now or adios.

Arizona State 37, Utah 7:  I’m not surprised the Sun Devils won this game at home, but 37-7?  THAT makes me take notice.  Utah was held to 55 yards in the second half, and only nine in the fourth quarter.  Yes, Utah has lost its QB and RB, and of course that will impact your offensive production; but what about the defense?  Arizona State led 31-7 at the half, lighting up the Utes for three touchdowns in the first quarter to effectively end the game before it started.  This loss is quite disheartening for Utah, which many considered the #2 team in the South behind SC.  Not no more.  Arizona State, welcome to the door.  Start knocking.

Colorado 35, Stupid Washington State 34:  Mad props to the entire Colorado football team.  They stuck behind their coach in spite of a disastrous start to the season.  I myself buried the Buffs as the 124th best team in college football last week (out of 124).  To make matters worse, Colorado trailed the Cougars 31-14 early in the 4th quarter.  Yet none of this mattered: the players kept their poise and somehow managed to rally for a stunning one-point victory, converting on 4th down from the WSU 4 with nine seconds left.  This is the kind of victory that can lift a team from the doldrums.  Again, my congratulations to the Buffaloes.

As for Stupid Washington State, congratulations on living down to your name.

Oregon State 27, UCLA 20:  I wish I could say I am shocked, or even surprised, at this result, but I ain’t.  I saw this coming last week, after UCLA turned the ball over five times against Houston.  The Bruins had yet to play a complete game of football in all three phases, and it finally came to bite them against a vastly improved Oregon State team.

Something felt strange about this game from the get go.  Unlike against Nebraska, there was no electricity in the stadium — perhaps because it was 95 degrees at the start of the game (at 12:30; the heat only increased as the day wore on), or perhaps because the Beavers dominated the game from start to finish.  Regardless, there was a noticeable lack of urgency in the offensive tempo.  UCLA was a miserable 2-for-15 on third downs.  As a matter of fact, the final score itself is misleading: OSU should have won this game by far more than seven points.  The Beavers lost a touchdown on a personal foul in the first half, then gave away a 65-yard touchdown with under a minute to go before the break — made possible by a defensive holding penalty on the previous play.  Oregon State should have led 24-7 at the half.

Having said that, UCLA also missed its opportunities.  Facing 3rd and goal from the 1, Joe Fauria inexcusably false started, resulting in a field goal instead of a touchdown.  The Bruin defense forced a fumble and an interception on consecutive possessions in the third quarter, but despite outstanding field position, the offense bumbled its way to zero points, thanks to a dropped pass on 3rd and 16 and an overthrown ball by Hundley that would have been a sure touchdown.

In the 4th quarter, UCLA was lucky not to have fumbled at the one yard line (that call could have gone the other way), and lucky that Franklin was not called for pushing Hundley into the end zone on a keeper.  Leading 24-17, Oregon State could have sealed the game late when it had a first and goal at the 2, but three plays netted only one yard, and the Beavers had to settle for a 27-17 lead.  Fairbairn, however, missed from 42 yards with 7:30 to play, and that effectively did it for the Bruins.  His late field goal to cut the lead to seven was too little, too late.

Simply put: Oregon State’s line outplayed UCLA, which looked young and inexperienced (particularly on offense).  In last week’s column I stressed how the Bruins had to play well on offense, defense, and special teams to defeat the Beavers.  UCLA went 0-for-3.  Oregon State proved they were the better team — at least on this day.

WHAT THIS MEANS

From a conference power standpoint, Oregon still remains at the top.  Arizona State takes a major leap forward in the South, with Utah taking a difficult step back.  UCLA looks like a team of the future, and may be able to compete in the present, but the lack of consistency is likely to make it hard for the Bruins to challenge for a divisional title.  Oregon State, however, looks like they can play against anyone after having shut down Montee Ball and Johnathan Franklin in consecutive games.  USC remains a bit of a disappointment, but that is more due to early season expectations not being met; there is still time in the season for Troy to get back in the upper echelon of the college football world.  Stanford will face an awkward test at Washington this week; we shall see if they can maintain their status as the main challenger to the Ducks in the North.  Colorado’s huge victory propels them out of conference doormat status; will they be able to ride this momentum to victory over UCLA on Saturday?

As for WSU, yikes.

POWER RANKINGS

South

1. USC

2. Arizona State

3. Arizona, UCLA

5. Utah, Colorado

North

1. Oregon

2. Stanford, Oregon State

4. Washington, Cal

6. SWSU (Stupid, Stupid, STUPID Washington State)

NATIONAL NOTES

Boise State 7, BYU 6:  So much for high-flying offenses.  The winning touchdown in this game came from Boise’s defense: a pick six scored by a 312-pound nose tackle from Windsor, Ontario named Michael Atkinson, better known as “Canadian Bacon.”  That alone is enough to get you written up in this blog.  I would have added that BYU nearly won this game despite five turnovers (to zero for Boise State) — but I like Atkinson’s nickname better.

Baylor 47, Louisiana Monroe 42:  ULM is the darling of the college football world, even in defeat.  The upset over Arkansas and the near miss against Auburn, and now this near miss against Baylor, mean that I will be cheering for them all season.  Go Warhawks!

Miami 42, Georgia Tech 36:  a thrilling game, but since Miami won I don’t want to comment.

LSU 12, Auburn 10:  it’s an SEC road victory, but make no mistake: the Tigers escaped with their lives.  If they played Alabama right now on a neutral site, it would be tough to pick against the Tide.

Georgia 48, Vanderbilt 3:  winning at home against Vanderbilt was expected, but 48-3?  The Dawgs are a legit top five team — at least for now.  They should prove superior to Tennessee this Saturday, especially playing at home.  Tennessee’s defense has not been good enough to make them a real contender.  A win in Athens, however, could be season defining.

San Jose State 38, San Diego State 34:  watch out WAC, the Spartans are coming.  With a 3-1 record after stopping the Aztecs in San Diego, SJSU is poised to win 8, 9, 10, or possibly even 11 games this season.  Given that their only loss was by three points at Stanford, I wouldn’t bet against them in any remaining contests.

Florida State 49, Clemson 37:  the game of the day — easily.  Trailing 28-14 midway through the third quarter, the Seminoles erupted for 35 points to win going away.  Is FSU “for real,” you ask?  The answer: maybe.  This was a huge win, but it was at home, and the defense gave up a lot of points.  Unfortunately, we may not find out how “real” this team is this season, because the remaining schedule is full of weak ACC opponents.  If FSU finishes undefeated but two other teams from the Big 12, Pac-12, or SEC (or possibly even the Big East) also finish undefeated, the Seminoles will be locked out of the championship game by virtue of their weak schedule.

Kansas State 24, Oklahoma 19:  a huge — no, an enormously huge — victory for Collin Klein, Bill Snyder, and Wildcat Nation, as K-State avenged a humiliating 58-17 home loss last season with a titanic five point upset of the sixth-ranked Sooners in Norman.  How did this happen?  Simple: turnovers.  OU had three, K-State none.  Running back John Hubert summed up the emotions of the Kansas State team beautifully: “He was very excited.  He really didn’t have too much words to say.  That’s when you can tell when Coach Snyder is excited, when he comes into the locker room and he’s kind of speechless.”

Western Kentucky 42, Southern Miss 17:  if I need a coach at the end of this season, I’m hiring Willie Taggart.  WKU continues to roll, this time by 25 points over USM.  Impressive.

Big Ten (Gulp) Pullout Section

Notre Dame 13, Michigan 6:  The law of averages caught up with Denard Robinson in a big way.  After scintillating victories over ND the last two seasons, Shoelace threw four interceptions — several of them really awful — and fumbled, effectively giving the game away despite an excellent performance by the Wolverine defense.  I can’t say for sure whether his performance was the result of a superb defensive effort by the Irish or an off day at the office for Robinson.  Therefore, until I get further confirmation, I’m holding off on any “Notre Dame is back” talk.  Still, 4-0 is 4-0, and the Irish faithful have to be excited by the defense’s consistent effort in each of their first four games.

Central Michigan 32, Iowa 31:  Big Ten embarrassment #1.

Louisiana Tech 52, Illinois 24:  Big Ten bigger embarrassment #2.

Ohio State 29, UAB 15:  Still overrated (the Buckeyes, that is).  4-0 against weak competition, with all games at home, and struggling in the last three?  Come on.  Big Ten near embarrassment #1.

Wisconsin 37, UTEP 26: Big Ten near embarrassment #2.

Michigan State 23, Eastern Michigan 7:  BTNE #3 (might as well create an acronym).

Minnesota 17, Syracuse 10:  BTNE #4.

Thankfully for the Big 10, Nebraska knows how to win — at least against Idaho State (73-7), while Northwestern also knows how to get the W — at least against South Dakota (38-7).  Jeesh.

Finally:

Wyoming 40, Idaho 37 (OT):  is this game even worth mentioning?   CBS Sports didn’t even include a recap on their website.  So…I guess not.

All for now folks.

–Mr. G.

Week 3: Contenders vs. Pretenders

Week 3 of the college football season separated the men from the boys.  Who would have guessed that Stanford, yet again, belongs in the first category — and that USC does not?  But I’m getting ahead of myself.


I. Pretenders (a.k.a. “Not So Much”)

PRETENDER #1: USC

No Andrew Luck, no Jim Harbaugh, no Toby Gerhart?  No problem.  It’s the same old story: Stanford has USC’s number — and this loss really hurts.  More below.

PRETENDER #2: VIRGINIA TECH

The perennial ACC power lays a complete egg at winless Pittsburgh?  Embarrassing.  Virginia Tech was completely dominated in almost every statistical category, getting outgained by 200 yards, committing four turnovers, and allowing 27 first downs while amassing just 14.  Final score: Panthers 35, Hokies 17.  Expect Frank Beamer to right the ship quickly.

PRETENDER #3: TENNESSEE

Just when you thought the Vols were back…they’re not.  Leading 20-13 at home in the second half, Tennessee could not close the deal, and instead had to endure Florida’s 24-0 run to end the game, thereby capturing their 8th consecutive win in the series.  Can Derek Dooley keep his job at the end of the season?  Check Vegas for the over/under.

PRETENDER #4: MICHIGAN STATE

Remember all that talk about how great Michigan State’s defense was?  Last time I checked, you do have to score some points in order to win a game.  Sparty’s hugely deflating 20-3 loss at home to the Irish puts the Big Ten in the BCS basement.

II. Contenders (a.k.a. “Gimme Some Love”)

CONTENDER #1: STANFORD

I owe the Cardinal a major apology this week.  Stanford fans will love the special section below.  As for USC?  I bought into the hype.  I don’t like being lied to.  Retribution will be swift and uncompromising.

CONTENDER #2: ALABAMA

Good grief.  We all knew you were good — 41-14 vs. Michigan in Week 1 proved that — and we all knew you would perform well at Arkansas this week, but 52-0?  Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-yum!  For the moment, the Tide belongs in its own football universe.

CONTENDER #3: NORTHWESTERN (!?)

What?  Northwestern?  THE Northwestern?

Stop your taunting.  Yes, THAT Northwestern is now 3-0 — with all three wins over BCS schools (take that, weak schedulers) — after a dominating 22-13 victory over BC.  Now before you scratch your head and ask how 22-13 can be “dominating,” look at the stat sheet.  Northwestern racked up a 560-316 advantage in yardage and held BC to a paltry 25 yards on 21 carries.  In other words, they won on offense and defense.  Yes, they kicked five field goals because they had issues converting in the red zone, but this team is sneaky good.  Don’t forget that it was Northwestern that won AT Nebraska last season to derail the Huskers from a Rose Bowl berth.  With all the other teams in the Big Ten having issues, why not the mighty Wildcats?

CONTENDER #4: WEST VIRGINIA

No, they receive no additional props for a walk-through against James Madison (although it should be noted that the Dukes did upset Virginia Tech in 2010).  Nevertheless, the Mountaineer offense is astonishingly efficient.  To see how astonishing, see the Heisman section below.

CONTENDER #5: FLORIDA

Yes, the Gators — not the Volunteers — are back.  For a second straight week, Florida put together a poised second half to win a difficult conference game on the road.  Last week it was 20-17 over Texas A&M; this time, 37-20 over UT.  With Georgia and South Carolina their most difficult competitors in the SEC East, Florida has a legitimate shot to make the conference title game.

CONTENDER #6: WESTERN KENTUCKY (!)

Willie Taggart is the coach of this team.  Willie Taggart was an assistant under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford.  Willie Taggart coaches like Jim Harbaugh.  Need I say more?  Western Kentucky, a team which entered the FBS only five seasons ago and went 0-12 in 2009, has now won nine of its last eleven games.  The only losses?  Er, well, those were at #1 LSU and at #1 Alabama.

If I’m the scheduler for any team in the country, I do NOT schedule the Hilltoppers.

CONTENDER #7: NOTRE DAME (maybe)


Let’s not get too carried away with this 3-0 start.  Or should we?  Let’s see…3-0…or is that 30, as in the total number of points the Irish have given up over their first three games?  If they can hold down Michigan next week, it’s time to believe.

CONTENDER #8: LSU (perhaps)

North Texas + Washington + Idaho (all at home) = 145-31 after three games.  Should we be impressed?  Not yet.  Playing at reeling Auburn next week followed by a gimme against Towson (who?) means LSU will likely be 5-0 by the time they finally get a challenge at Florida.  The Tigers can move up to #2 in my rankings after they’ve played someone of note.


III. Significant Others

In the mix


Florida State: I’ll wait until you beat someone good.  Granted, 52-0 puts you in good company (Alabama won by the same score this week), and eviscerating pesky Wake Forest is satisfying when you had lost to them 4 of the past 6 seasons.  Still, it’s time to play a game away from home.  The Seminoles have a laughably easy schedule this year; if they get past Clemson (also at home) next week, they won’t be tested at all until November, when they play at Virginia Tech — who lost miserably this weekend.  If FSU loses one game — ANY game — they should be out of the national championship discussion.  Strength of schedule has to count for something (cough cough Murray State Savannah State weak ACC).

Oregon: similar to Florida State above — but the Pac-12 season is going to be a killer, so if the Ducks can run the table, they’ll have earned their spot in the national championship game.

Kansas State: loved your win over Miami.  A little dicey against North Texas this week.  Let’s see how you do vs. Oklahoma.

Welcome Back

Nebraska: nice bounce back win (42-13) over a tricky Arkansas State team.

Almost

Near Miss #1: Louisiana Monroe

Second straight week on the road vs. an SEC team.  Second straight week down 14 in the 4th quarter.  Second straight week forcing overtime.  Second straight week the game was decided by 3 points.

Last week: win over Arkansas; this week, near miss vs. Auburn.  Still, Warhawks, you have won the heart of every college football fan in the nation (exception: Razorback fans).

Near Miss #2: Utah State

After defeating Utah last week, Utah State was on the verge of another huge win at floundering Wisconsin.  The Aggies lined up for a game-winning 37-yard field goal with seconds to play, but missed, allowing the Badgers to escape, 16-14.  And so, you ask, why is Wisconsin still ranked?  Answer: beats the heck out of me.  Get with it, Coaches Poll.

Near Miss #3: North Carolina

I include this result only to show that bad coaching is an equal opportunity phenomenon.  Trailing 36-7 at the half, North Carolina was all but dead.  Indeed, Louisville’s outstanding young QB Teddy Bridgewater was 16 for 19 for 213 yards and three touchdowns.  Now, boys and girls, as Mr. G. always asks: what do you do when you have an opponent on the ropes?  YOU KNOCK THEM OUT!  Charlie Strong, however, inexplicably took the ball out of his QB’s hands, and played to run out the clock in the second half.  The result was predictable: 36-7 turned into 36-14 (ok), 39-14 (yes), 39-21 (a little nervous), 39-28 (more nervous), 39-34 — wait a minute, 39-34?  Suddenly it’s the 4th quarter in a five-point game!  North Carolina kicks off and…Louisville fumbles!!  It goes down to the last minute, with the Tar Heels facing 4th and goal from the 4 yard line…the crowd is hyperventilating…the pass is headed to UNC’s tallest receiver, and — it’s JUST broken up!  Final score: 39-34. 

I like Charlie Strong, but that was bad, bad coaching.  He is lucky to have survived this game.  If Louisville had lost, it would have been entirely his fault.  He owes his players that win.  On the flip side, kudos to North Carolina — the team and coach (Larry Fedora) — for hanging in there to the end.

IV. Heisman Race

Let me be clear about this: in my opinion, it is way, way, WAY too early to be talking about this when only a quarter of the season has been played.  Furthermore, Heisman voters should never, under any circumstances, be allowed to send in their ballots before all games have been played!  I am amazed this is not a requirement!!  Don’t get me started.

Having said this, I will point out one player who is worth watching, and another who isn’t.


Keep your eyes on:
Geno Smith (West Virginia)


WHY (from Bruce Feldman, CBS Sports): “West Virginia hasn’t faced anyone close to a Top 25 team thus far, but you still have to do a double-take at what QB Geno Smith has been doing so far. Through two games, Smith has accounted for more TDs than he’s thrown incompletions (10-9): 66-75 (88%) for 734 passing yards to go with his nine TD passes and one rushing TD. Also: 0 INTs.
”  Impressive indeed — against any competition.


Take your eyes off:
Matt Barkley (USC)

WHY NOT: I thoroughly enjoy reading the Foley Report, my cousin-in-law’s excellent weekly commentary on Trojan football.  For those of you who don’t know, Shane Foley played QB at USC from 1986-90.  He’s an ardent Trojan supporter and does an exhaustive and insightful analysis of Southern Cal football.  Even though I’m a Bruin, I agree with Shane 90% of the time, and our opinions on the state of the conference generally coincide.  (Proof?  I predicted a USC blowout in last year’s cross town rivalry.  Nuff said.)

In the case of Matt Barkley…let’s just say that topic falls in the 10% category.  I’ve never liked him; I do not believe he is a good leader, based on the way he has handled himself after victories (no less) over UCLA and Notre Dame; and as a result you might conclude that I don’t want him to win the Heisman — and you would be correct.  So instead of having my personal biases dictate this discussion, I instead direct you to this link:

http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/blog/eye-on-college-football/20202012/a-closer-look-at-why-usc%27s-loss-to-stanford-derailed-matt-barkley%27s-heisman-hopes

So long, Mr. Barkley.  Enjoy your NFL paycheck.

V. Pac-12 Commentary: top to (very) bottom

USC, Stanford: see special section below.

Utah: Holy cow!  Or should we say, Holy War?  After getting throttled 54-10 at home the previous year, BYU was looking for revenge against fierce in-state rival Utah.  The Utes came out swinging, taking a 24-7 lead into the 4th quarter, and seemed to have the game in hand.  The Mormons, however, responded with two late TD’s to cut the lead to three.  As for the last seven seconds, you would not believe me if I explained it to you, so perhaps you should watch:

Cal: played their best game of the season in front of 105,000 crazy people at the ‘Shoe in Columbus.  Cal erased a 20-7 halftime deficit as well as a 28-21 fourth quarter shortfall and easily could have won, save for three horrendously awful missed field goals and a complete breakdown on coverage that allowed the final margin of victory for Ohio State.  Nevertheless, the Buckeyes must consider themselves lucky indeed to have posted a 35-28 victory over a determined Golden Bear squad that may have lost its second game, but finally found an identity. 

Arizona State: similar to Cal, the Sun Devils made a valiant comeback in a hostile environment, only to fall just short against Missouri.  Trailing 24-7 to start the 4th quarter, ASU rallied to cut the lead to 24-20 and had a chance to win with a minute to go, but a final (4th) turnover ended their hopes.  The Devils also missed a critical extra point which would have made it 24-21.

UCLA: it is rare to feel displeased after your team wins 37-6, and yet I find myself in the happily disgruntled situation of nitpicking a near-flawless performance by the Bruin defense.  Indeed, holding Houston (which, as I pointed out last week, completed 53 passes and scored 49 points in their previous game) to a solitary fourth quarter score should be cause for celebration.  Furthermore, the UCLA D intercepted five passes (three by Sheldon Price) and forced a fumble.  So what’s my problem?  The kicking game?  No, the Bruins fixed that in a big way: Fairbairn scored 13 points, hitting 4 PAT’s and 3 field goals without a miss.  Additionally, UCLA finished with 29 first downs and 567 yards of total offense and had the ball for 41:14 to just 18:46 for Houston.  So what is it?  “It” is the turnovers: UCLA committed five of them.  The Bruins are very fortunate not to have done this against Nebraska (or perhaps even Rice), because they would not have won that game.  UCLA is 3-0 and has won their games with offense (vs. Rice and Nebraska), defense (vs. Nebraska), and now special teams and defense (vs. Houston).  If they want to compete in the Pac-12, however, they’re going to have to play well in all three phases consistently.  That remains to be seen.

Oregon State: bye week; huge early season contest at UCLA in week four.

Oregon
: no credit for a lopsided win over Tennessee Tech at home.

Arizona: similar to Oregon, no credit for a lopsided win over South Carolina State at home.  Actually I would have preferred to see Tennessee Tech play against South Carolina State.  Fortunately, we will get to see Oregon play against Arizona next week.

Washington: defeated Portland State, 52-13.  The only interesting thing: that was the identical score by which Kansas State defeated Miami the previous week.  Remarkable!  You may not see such a score again for a decade.

Stupid Washington State: barely survived their outing against winless UNLV, escaping 35-27.  I am not impressed.

Colorado: as if last week’s home loss to Sacramento State wasn’t bad enough, consider this: while playing at Fresno State on Saturday, the Buffs allowed over 500 yards of total offense in the FIRST HALF.  I repeat: Colorado trailed 55-7.  AT THE HALF.  Can we evict this team and send them to the Mountain West?

VI. Special Pullout: Stanford vs. USC Breakdown

Well, shut my mouth.  Again.

Last year, USC forced me to eat crow after I was certain the Ducks would win in Eugene.  This time, the shoe is on the other foot — or perhaps my other foot is now in my mouth — as Stanford shocked everyone (other than themselves) with another cataclysmic victory over the Trojans.

How did this happen?  Again?

There are many reasons.  I’ll give you my take, as best I can, by going through the game itself.  Trojan fans, brace yourselves.

Let’s start with the first half.  Stanford QB Josh Nunes, perhaps not ready for the big stage, started off poorly, going 6 for 17 with two picks.  This should have been the death knell for the Cardinal: the game should have been over at halftime.  Yet Barkley threw two costly interceptions, both in good field position, and both ill-advised.  Thus, instead of a rout, USC led only 14-7 at the break.

In addition to weak QB play, USC’s coaching has to be criticized.  Leading 14-7 and facing 4th and 2 from the Stanford 13, the Trojans eschewed a 30-yard field goal and instead tried for a deep pass into the end zone.  Yes, the pass could have been caught, but it was not.  I am aware that USC was without their starting kicker, but if your backup has been perfect on extra points, you have to have faith that he can make a chip shot field goal.  In a low scoring, defensive game with few possessions, you MUST take a 10-point lead.  USC did not.  Stanford remained one score behind midway through the third quarter.

It is worth noting that no fault can be found with USC’s defense, which played more than well enough to win this game.  The offense, however,  and perhaps more disturbingly the leadership, deserve plenty of blame.  USC scored NO POINTS in the final 41 minutes of play!  With all of the offensive weapons at USC’s disposal, that is absolutely unfathomable.  Much will be made of USC’s struggles at center due to the injury of Khaled Holmes, but the truth of the matter is that USC’s entire offensive line was completely outplayed by Stanford’s defensive front.

This brings me back to Barkley.  As I have said in the past, the recipe for a champion football player is this: G.P.M.B.P.I.B.G. — Great Players Make Big Plays In Big Games.  With SC trailing by 7 and the game — and perhaps the season — on the line, an unpressured Barkley missed an open Marqise Lee on a simple flat route on 3rd down, and USC was forced to punt.  Yes, the offensive line did not help at all, causing Barkley to be hurried and uncomfortable all evening; but if you’re the team’s leader, especially as a 4th year starter, your team is looking to you to perform well in pressure situations!  In the rare cases when the pressure has been on, Barkley has not consistently answered the bell: at Arizona State last year, at Oregon last year with the game slipping away (USC did win that game, but no thanks to the offense in the second half), and now, again, at Stanford.  I’m sorry, but this is not what I look for in a Heisman Trophy winner.  Anyone can play well when their team wins 49-10 or 50-0, but true greatness reveals itself when your team is on the ropes and needs you to lead.  20 of 41 with zero TD’s and two INT’s?  That won’t get it done.

By contrast, Nunes’s humble reply in the face of a season-defining win was leadership embodied:

Reporter: “After two seasons (of waiting behind Andrew Luck), do you feel like you finally made a name for yourself in this game?”
Nunes: “I wouldn’t say so, not at all.  I’d say the team did a great job tonight.  The O Line did a great job tonight.”

The remarkable thing is that I was actually rooting for USC to win this game, if only because I wanted the Trojans to be undefeated entering the month of November.  But as I approached the Old Pro to watch the end of the game, I came across a table of Trojan fans wearing “Arrogant Nation” shirts in cardinal and gold.  Really?  You actually put that on a shirt advertising your university?

Honestly I don’t even have a response to that one.

Instead of arrogance, Stanford did its talking the old-fashioned way.  They were the more physical team, plain and simple.  The won in the style of old school USC (!), by grinding down the opponent over four quarters, and imposing their will in the trenches.  Defensively, the Cardinal held USC — with Barkley, two 1,000-yard backs and the country’s best receiving combo — to 280 yards on the night.  Stanford not only shut the Trojans out in the second half, they limited them to just 91 yards!  Thus, Stanford was able to win this game despite missing three field goals!

When I asked Cindy Kaloostian about her reaction to the game, she said that USC was “outcoached, outplayed, and outsmarted…Kiffin looked like he didn’t know who he was or where he was, and the team followed suit.”  I would only add that Barkley fell into the same category as the head coach.

It is easy to criticize a team after a difficult loss, but I’m afraid the criticism is deserved.  USC had all the weapons needed to make a run at a national championship.  Barkley, Woods, and Lee — or at least Woods and Lee — should be sufficient for several touchdowns each game.  USC’s defense, as pointed out earlier, played excellently.  Stanford was playing with a first-year starting QB, who himself did not play particularly well, and Stanford’s kicking game was poor.  Andrew Luck was gone; Stanford’s offensive line had been rebuilt.  This was USC’s year — or it should have been.

Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way.  Perhaps I should be giving credit to David Shaw, who expected to win this game all along without doing anything unusual.  I criticized him harshly after Stanford’s Fiesta Bowl loss last year — his decision to line up for a game-winning field goal instead of taking several free tries for a touchdown at the end of the game was indeed inexcusable — but I have to give him props this time.  Stanford just beat USC for the fourth straight year for the first time ever.  In fact, each of Stanford’s most recent wins vs. the Trojans seems to have a nickname of its own:

2007 — Greatest Upset Ever (Stanford takes down #2 SC as a 41-point underdog)
2009 — Humiliation (or, “What’s Your Deal?” — 55-21 at the Coliseum)
2010 — Heart Breaker (37-35 on the last play of the game)
2011 — Barn Burner (56-48 in triple overtime)
2012 — Bye Bye Barkley (21-14, again over the #2 Trojans)

Losing 11 straight times to Notre Dame had to hurt, and losing 8 in a row to UCLA had to sting, but losing four in a row to Stanford, as my dad explained, is unbearable for SC fans.  Send them some Prozac.

VII. Pac-12 Power Rankings by Division

(I won’t try to put this in two columns since the editor didn’t like it when I tried last week)

NORTH

1. Oregon (for now)
2. Stanford
3. Oregon State
4. Washington and Cal
6. Washington State

SOUTH

1. Hmmm…I guess still USC, but unlike at the beginning of the season, I now have my doubts
2a. Arizona?
2b. UCLA?
2c. Arizona State?
2d. Utah?
124. Colorado (there are 124 teams in the FBS; Colorado can fight it out with Idaho for the last spot)

To conclude this eventful third week, I leave you with my favorite score from this Saturday:

Hawaii 54, Lamar 2

On to Week 4!

–Mr. G.

Week 2: Pac-12 in High Gear

Welcome back, dear readers, to another week of Pac-12 football.

I. HOME COOKIN’

I could start with the national scene, but in light of last week’s fantastic results, why should I?

Let’s begin with the UPSET OF THE WEEK, which has to be – wait a minute, which one should I choose?  There were so many remarkable results!  I like saving the best for last, so let’s get the icky vegetables out of the way first.

Colorado: lost at home — to Sacramento State.  Yikes.  To add insult to injury: last week, the Buffs lost to Colorado State – which lost to North Dakota State this week.  Double yikes.

Utah: like I said last week, the win over Northern Colorado didn’t mean much; I needed to see how Utah would do against a better quality opponent.  I got my answer: not too great.  Admittedly, Utah State was a bowl team last year, and has been a pest for the last two seasons to any BCS school they faced.  Still, that was a game Utah needed to win.  They did not.  Join Colorado at the bottom of the South.

From the veggies to the starch (i.e. the more ho-hum results from the conference):

Washington: yes, the Huskies lost 41-3, but it was at LSU.  What are you going to do?  The Tigers have now won 39 consecutive games against nonconference opponents during the regular season, which ties an FBS record.  I’m still withholding judgment on UW.

Stupid Washington State: the school nearly lived down to its name, getting shut out at home in the second half and just hanging on for a 24-20 victory over Eastern Washington.  Hello, Cougars?  You’re in the Pac-12 now!  Wake up!

Dumb Cal: Hosting Southern Utah, Cal was up just 20-17 after three quarters.  You think some people in Berkeley weren’t shaking in their boots at the possibility of an 0-2 start?  The 50-31 final score does nothing to reverse my opinion that the Bears just ain’t that good.

Oregon: not much to say…the Ducks cruised to a 35-6 halftime lead, then allowed Fresno State to kind of get back in the game.  It was 35-19 in the 4th quarter – that’s just two scores folks – before Oregon closed things out with a 42-25 win.  Still, that’s not as comfortable as you would like at home.

Stanford: the Card was outgained once again, this time against mighty Duke, but the defense and special teams came through in a big way to post a comfortable 50-13 win over the Blue Devils.  Having said that, if Stanford does not up its game significantly during this week of practice, they won’t have a shot against…

USC: half empty, or half full?  According to the LA Times, SC’s performance at Syracuse (technically at a neutral site – New Jersey) was uninspiring and not “flashy.”  Bill Plaschke’s take: “stumbles, penalties, lethargy.”  The scoreboard’s take: the Orange were within 21-16 entering the 4th quarter.  My take: USC traveled across the country to play against a team that had scored 41 points the previous week.  The weather was awful – the game was delayed for an hour during halftime due to lightning – yet Barkley still connected with Woods, Lee, and company for six (that’s SIX) touchdowns.  Final score: Trojans 42, Syracuse 29.  I don’t view this as “closer than expected.”  I see this as “get the heck out of there and take your win.”  I predict we’ll see the real USC in Palo Alto on Saturday.  I would be shocked if USC allowed the Cardinal to win for the 5th time in 6 years.  No way, no how.  Not this time.

Turning now to the main course:

Arizona State: beating Northern Arizona is one thing, but beating Illinois is another.  I wasn’t surprised that the Sun Devils took care of the Illini at home, but 45-14?  That’s an eye-opener.  Can ASU continue these dominating performances?  We’ll find out more when they travel to Missouri this weekend.

And now for the most delicious part of the meal.

Dessert #1: Cactus Cooler

Arizona 59, Oklahoma State 38: WHAT a victory for the Wildcats!  After being so poor last season, who could have envisioned this result?  Certainly not I.  RichRod is much further along in his reclamation project than I realized.  Not sure what happened to OSU’s defense (perhaps it never existed?), but my oh my, to defeat a Top 20 team this quickly lends much credence to U of A’s claims of being relevant again.  If you want to nitpick, you could point out that the ‘Cats allowed 636 yards of total offense, and that OSU had four turnovers and an amazing 167 yards in penalties.  But it isn’t Arizona’s fault if the Cowboys choose to self-destruct.  This is a statement win for Arizona.

Dessert #2: Badger Stew

Oregon State 10, Wisconsin 7: if you had told me before Saturday that Oregon State would hold Montee Ball to 61 yards rushing and Wisconsin to barely 200 total yards, I would have seriously considered running around the streets of Sunnyvale with no clothes on.  Thankfully for the locals, none of you told me this, so I was spared arrest for indecent exposure.  Wisconsin, however, was spared nothing – or rather given nothing – by a suddenly stout Beaver defense that put the game on its shoulders and didn’t let up for 60 minutes.  Wisconsin?  7 points?  This is the same team that had won 33 straight nonconference regular season games!  Well, no more.  A monumental victory for Oregon State!

Dessert # 3: Creamed Corn

UCLA 36, Nebraska 30: this game was so delicious, so invigoratingly sublime, that I hardly know what to do with myself.  Uncle Roger and I sweated through 90+ degree temperatures near field level at the Rose Bowl (thanks Noah for the tickets!), but was it ever worth it.

Let’s see…where to begin…how about a comparison to last year.  The 2011 Bruins, particularly on offense, were dull, predictable, and slow.  The 2012 Bruins are creative, have many weapons, and play up tempo.  While you might expect TE Joe Fauria to call the game “exciting,” you would not expect the LA Times to get into the act and declare it a “thrilling” victory.

Now before you get ahead of yourself and think that I’m going to use this game to see into the future merely because I’m a long-suffering UCLA grad who wants to, think again.  Last year, after a big win over Arizona State, what did I predict in the ensuing game against Utah?  A loss.  Again, after a 45-6 win over Colorado, who did I say would win in the Cross Town Rivalry?  USC – and handily.  I may be a Bruin fan, but I’m also a chess teacher.  You can’t take the logic out of me, nor the objectivity.

So, then, what makes this different?

Answer: everything.  Unlike last year’s win over Arizona State (which felt like an accident), this win felt EARNED.  The Bruins came to play, and played better than Nebraska – yes, I will say that with confidence – from tackle to tackle, and in the skill positions.  The Bruins were physical and disciplined – two things severely lacking from teams of recent years.  The anticipation in the stadium was not from fear that the Bruins would collapse, but rather from the hope that their offseason workouts and conditioning would pay early dividends.
UCLA, by its performance in this game – win or lose – has proven that they are already way ahead of schedule.  Do not compare this game to the win over Tennessee in 2008.  That was a “smoke and mirrors” victory that saw UCLA overcome four interceptions to defeat a team that would finish 5-7.  This victory was a total team effort:

  • over 650 yards of total offense (sorry Black Shirts);
  • better than 15 minute advantage in time of possession; and
  • a defensive effort that held the Huskers to just two field goals in the second half.

Could UCLA have won a game like this last year?  No.  Absolutely not.  The coaching was not good enough to be competitive in a game of this caliber.  The Bruins have FIVE starters on offense who are freshmen; this means that the new coaching staff has figured out a way to get them up to speed quickly.  Just as I place blame where it is required, I need to give credit where credit is due.  Coach Mora and his staff have completely transformed this team in nine short months.  My voice was hurting for four days after this game.  Thrilling indeed!

The last word, however, has to go to Greta (who else?), who was the ONLY person in the family who had the courage to pick UCLA to win.  Sylvie (an alum!) said 30-20 Nebraska; Roger, 27-17 Huskers; Gary, 31-21 Big Red; and Cindy – well, shall I just quote her directly?  “Nebraska is going to kill UCLA.”  Let’s hope she has the same instincts in December when she attempts to defend her bowl predictions title.

For the record, Greta the Magnificent said UCLA 31, Nebraska 21.  That’s pretty darn close to 36-30.  Since she is too kind to say it, I’ll say it for her: You people who went to Stanford, UCLA, and Woodbury?  You don’t know nothin’.

 II. Leaders of the Pac and GOW’s

My Current Power Ratings for the Divisions

SOUTH                                                           NORTH

USC                                                                Oregon

UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State                        Oregon State

Utah                                                               Stanford

Colorado                                                        Washington

WSU, Cal

 

Games of the Week

#1: USC at Stanford.

#2: Arizona State at Missouri.

#3: Brigham Young at Utah.

#4: Colorado at Fresno State.

 

III. National Notes

Frankly, last weekend wasn’t all that great – other than in the Pac-12, that is.  But there were a few games of note, at least from my perspective.

Kansas State: quadrupled Miami 52-13.  Any time Miami loses is cause for celebration, but to lose by 39 points to Kansas State?  I must be in heaven!

Louisiana Tech: defeated Houston 56-49.  Why do I bring this up?  Simple: UCLA is favored by 17 over Houston this Saturday, but the Bruins better be paying attention, because after last week’s miserable performance against Texas State, Houston got its act together on offense in a big way, recording an astounding 40 first downs and 693 total yards on 53-of-77 passing.  I do think UCLA will win this game, but the defense better come to play like it did against Nebraska, because Houston can throw it.

Virginia: more misery for Penn State.  They lose a heartbreaker, 17-16, because of four missed field goals AND a missed extra point.  Can it get any worse in Happy Valley?  I don’t think so.  Navy, Temple, Illinois, and Northwestern are next.  Three of those are at home.  The Lions will find a win somewhere in that stretch.

Louisiana Monroe: how did this team defeat Arkansas?  You got me.  I suppose converting on 4th-and-10 with 55 seconds remaining to score the tying touchdown would do it – along with running for the game-winner on 4th-and-1.  But if you really want to know, it has to be the first touchdown that ULM scored.  How can anyone cover a receiver named Centarius Donald?  He is capable of giving 100% all the time, simply by virtue of his name.  Add to that the fact that a football field is 100 yards, and there is no stopping Centarius.  In fact, I suggest that he take up both swimming and sprinting in the off season – at the 100 meter distances, of course.  Look out, Michael Phelps; move over, Usain Bolt.  My C-note’s on Centarius.

Satisfyingly yours (til next week anyway),

Mr. G.