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Predictions 101 — Week 9

Cocktail AP

There we were, sitting as pretty as pretty can be. Six games already nestled comfortably in P101’s bag, half of which were upsets.

We really didn’t need to pull off a clean sweep. We’d be as proud of 6-1 as Maria Sharapova. And any “player” worth his salt would have hedged his way into the winner’s circle, turning the Florida State-Miami game into an exercise to see how much gravy could be found.

But there we were, watching the Hurricanes do more than hold their own. The pregame smoke and the first quarter mirrors had them up 10-0 … a good thing in our book. We knew what was coming.

It came … and the Seminole margin was oh so sweet in the fourth quarter. That is until the entire gridiron became four-down territory for Miami, which led to a touchdown being gifted to FSU with 2:45 remaining.

The Seminoles led, 33-13, and we’re dealing with opening lines (+17.5) here at P101, not closing ones (+21). So, we were sunk. The Hurricanes still had a couple minutes to work with, but they weren’t going to kick a field goal and hadn’t mounted a touchdown drive since a meager 22-yarder within the first four minutes of the game.

But Brent & Herbie seemed to share some belief, cheering Miami on down the field. They giggled while mentioning “interested mathematicians” a couple times along the way.

Sure enough, the Hurricanes went 75 yards in eight plays and got the job done.

Yes. Finally. Last week, we went 7-0 straight and 7-0 versus “the number.” Holy Toledo (thank you, Rockets), 14-0!

Oh well … on to this week, where we can only go down from here.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Oct. 25, thru Sat., Oct. 27)

1) No. 3 Florida vs. No. 12 Georgia (at Jacksonville, Fla.)
Sat., Oct. 27 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

If South Carolina players were to judge this fight, there’s no question who they’d predict as winners. Two weeks after they hosted and routed Georgia, 35-7, the Gamecocks got roughed up at Florida, 44-11.

Too bad the transitive property doesn’t apply to college football. If it did, we could just call for a 61-point Gator victory and be done with it.

All that aside, Florida does hold a clear edge in this game.

Despite the fact that Georgia had the most fun at the last “Cocktail Party,” winning 24-20, the Gators have dominated this rivalry for more than a couple decades, taking 18 of the last 22. And this one doesn’t seem to match up well for the Bulldogs.

Last week, Georgia allowed Kentucky to rush for 206 yards. Please note that the Wildcats came into that contest ranked 106th in the country in rushing offense. Granted, the poor run defense and less-than-impressive 29-24 victory in Lexington came without the services of outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who was resting a sprained right ankle, and defensive end Abry Jones, who injured his left ankle in the first quarter, but we’re still talking Kentucky here.

It doesn’t look promising for the disappointing Bulldog defense, which is yielding 24 points and 367 total yards per game, as it lines up against the Gators’ powerful run game.

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is one of the more efficient passers in the nation, but in the loss at South Carolina he showed that consistent pressure from a variety of sources can really knock him off-kilter. The Bulldogs can’t afford for that to happen since running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are finally starting to look like freshmen.

Last week, we talked up Florida’s excellent punt unit and it did play a large role in the Gator victory over South Carolina. Here we go again. Georgia ranks dead last in the SEC and 109th in the country in net punting. It might be most apparent on special teams, but the Gators have a significant advantage over the Bulldogs in all three phases of the game.

Opening point spread: Florida by 3 1/2

The pick: Florida 31-20

2) No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 8 Oklahoma
Sat., Oct. 27 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

As they roll into Norman for the first time in 46 years, the Fighting Irish will encounter a Sooner team far different from the one Ara Parseghian’s 1966 squad squashed, 38-0, on its way to a national championship.

The current Oklahoma team, which has scored 156 points in its last three games, won’t be blanked. This will be the Sooners’ third consecutive home game and in the previous two — a 63-21 slaying of Texas, followed by a 52-7 rout over Kansas — the offense scored on 15 of 20 drives, 12 of which were touchdowns.

After this week, we won’t be hearing about how Notre Dame hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all year.

We’ll take Oklahoma’s duo of Landry Jones and Blake Bell (leads team with eight rushing touchdowns) over ND’s Everett Golson and Tommy Rees. While Jones and Bell operate efficiently in their clearly defined roles, the feeling here is that the Sooner defense, which has come up with nine takeaways in the last three games, will squeeze game-changing turnovers out of the Irish backfield.

Yes, college football is much better off when the Golden Domers are relevant, but put the hype aside for a moment and take a long look at their schedule and results. You’ll realize that our friends in the desert are seeing this one clearly.

Opening point spread: Oklahoma by 9

The pick: Oklahoma 27-13

3) No. 15 Texas Tech at No. 4 Kansas State
Sat., Oct. 27 — 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.

The Red Raiders have the talent and coaching to beat the Wildcats, but do they have the answer for “Optimus Klein.”

Led by quarterback Collin Klein, the current Heisman Trophy frontrunner, Kansas State is also talented and well coached. The Wildcats will scratch and claw to defend their conference and national title hopes. Bill Snyder’s balanced team doesn’t make mistakes. Only one squad in the country (Ohio, which also is 7-0) has had fewer turnovers than the Wildcats (just four).

You wouldn’t know it by his throwing motion, but Klein ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency. His counterpart, Seth Doege, isn’t far behind in fifth and directs an aerial assault that averages 362 yards per game.

But it isn’t all about offense at Texas Tech, which is home to a stout defense that’s ranked seventh in total defense and is particularly effective versus the pass.

Something’s got to give, but maybe it’ll require some extra time to happen.

We’ll take a stab and say that Red Raiders get held to a field goal on their first overtime possession, leaving “Optimus” the opportunity for a Heisman moment as he pounds into the end zone for the win.

Opening point spread: Kansas State by 8

The pick: Kansas State 33-30

4) No. 13 Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama
Sat., Oct. 27 — 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

We can’t remember a game between teams ranked within the top 13 that is so disparate on paper.

Off paper, however, it has the makings of a trap game for the Crimson Tide, who travel to LSU next week. That’s where Nick Saban comes in … and we go back to what we see in black and white.

We’ll be the first to dump loads upon loads of credit at the feet of Dan Mullen for the job he’s done in Starkville. Nine consecutive victories versus anybody, is still nine consecutive victories. No less than 117 FBS teams would love to boast of such a winning streak.

But we have to be honest and point out that the Bulldogs’ sparkling 3-0 record in SEC play comes at the expense of Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee. Those three teams not only weren’t able to beat Mississippi State, they haven’t won any conference games so far this season in a total of 14 tries.

Alabama leads the nation in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing efficiency defense, so it ain’t any shock that only one team has lost by less than 27 points to the Tide this season. That tight 33-14 victory over Ole Miss essentially served as their “wake up call.” Saban’s gang isn’t falling into any traps.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 24

The pick: Alabama 41-13

5) Duke at No. 11 Florida State
Sat., Oct. 27 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU

How could we exclude a game between the undisputed leaders of the ACC’s Atlantic and Coastal Divisions? Yup, you read that right.

Hooray for the Blue Devils, who are bowl eligible for the first time in 18 years, but still hungry.

After their big 33-20 victory at Miami last Saturday night, the Seminoles will spend a full week in Tallahassee having their backs slapped.

Duke’s defense is porous, but it does force turnovers. Something’s telling us that the Blue Devils will stay within range.

Opening point spread: Florida State by 26

The pick: Florida State 41-17

UPSET SPECIAL OF THE WEEK

Mississippi at Arkansas
Sat., Oct. 27 — 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Once again, the USOTW prediction comes courtesy of Marc Doche (@MDoche) from the P101 satellite office in Burbank, Calif.

Forgive us if we’re not impressed by blowout victories over Auburn and Kentucky, who are a combined 0-10 in SEC play. We don’t see it as a signal that the Razorbacks ship has been righted after four painful defeats earlier in the season, which produced some epic press conference moments for John L. Smith.

With kickoff at just past 11 a.m. local time in Little Rock, the Hog faithful are likely to lack their typical fervor, if there is any left after the last time Arkansas played at War Memorial Stadium and were knocked from their lofty perch in the Top-10 with a 34-31 overtime loss to mighty Louisiana-Monroe (still the only team Auburn’s been able to beat).

Both teams enter with a pair of conference losses to the same schools, but Ole Miss was much more competitive while falling a field goal short against Texas A&M and losing by just 19 at Alabama. Conversely, Arkansas was taken to the woodshed by a combined score of 110-10 against those same foes.

Each offensive unit can move the ball through the air, but a Rebel defense that allows just 210 yards passing per game is much more likely to slow the opposition down than a Razorback unit that ranks near the bottom of the FBS, allowing 304 yards through the air.

Opening point spread: Arkansas by 4 1/2

The pick: Mississippi 31-27

RIVALRY GAME OF THE WEEK

Cincinnati at No. 16 Louisville
Fri., Oct. 26 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

If the “Keg of Nails” were actually a keg filled with nails, it would be the best rivalry trophy in the land. But even though it’s merely a painted empty keg, it’s still in the conversation. It just sounds so awesome! No wonder the Bearcats and Cardinals annually lay it all on the line for the “Keg of Nails.”

The original “Keg of Nails” (yes, this one is actually “Son of Keg of Nails”) was first awarded in 1929, signifying that the players on the winning team were as “tough as nails.” Ah … college football …

As a side note: We don’t believe the tale about the original “Keg of Nails” being misplaced and lost during some office construction at Louisville. C’mon, who would lose track of a keg of nails, trophy or not? Seriously now, the Cardinals should be docked three points in each game until they come up with it.

Last week, we gave you Toledo over Cincinnati. This week, we’re tempted to give you the Bearcats. Cincinnati has been in control of the series as of late, winning the past four, and should have the emotional edge as they drive along Interstate 71.

But, when your problems are turning over the football and giving up big plays, the corrections aren’t easy to find.

The Cardinals, led by sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (21-of-25 for 256 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s over South Florida), are much more reliable at this point.

Opening point spread: Louisville by 6

The pick: Louisville 27-26

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Jameis Winston suspended for entire Clemson game

Jameis Winston AP

If Florida State fans are looking for a whole-game look at what post-Jameis Winston life will be like, you’re going to get a sneak peek in Week 4.

In an unexpected and “WOW!!!” development, FSU announced very late Friday night that its Heisman-winning starting quarterback has been suspended for the Clemson game Saturday.  As in, the entire game, not just the first two quarters.

Earlier this week, it had been announced that Winston would be suspended for the first half of the Seminoles’ ACC opener against the Tigers.  That suspension stemmed from Winston’s very vocal public performance of a vulgar and obscene Internet meme.

The statement announcing the full-game suspension, attributed to interim president Dr. Garnett Stokes and athletic director Stan Wilcox, appears below.

Based upon the results of our continuing investigation of Tuesday’s incident involving Jameis Winston, we have decided to not play him for the entire game against Clemson.

With Winston sitting, it’ll be up to Sean McGuire, in his first career start, to guide the Seminoles as it looks to not only extend it’s nation’s best wining streak to 19 straight but also continuing positioning FSU for the first-ever College Football Playoff.

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Top 5 recruit suffers apparent leg injury

Josh Sweat

Defensive end Josh Sweat (Chesapeake, VA/Oscar Smith) is one of those rare talents at the high school level who has his choice of colleges across the country.

Unfortunately, Sweat’s football career will be put on hold after he suffered a leg injury Friday night.

The severity of Sweat’s injury has yet to be determined, but he appeared to be in good spirits as he was taken off the field.

Sweat is a 6-5, 236-pound defensive end ranked as the fifth best prospect in the nation, according to Rivals.com. Sweat holds offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State, South Carolina, Texas A&M, USC and many others.

Virginia Tech, Florida State, Georgia and Ohio State are considered the early favorites for his services. The Hokies would love to keep the talented edge-rusher in state, but the injury will prevent Sweat from visiting Blacksburg this weekend.

The defensive end also has visits scheduled with Georgia, Florida State and Oregon depending on the status of his injury.

(Photo courtesy of Rivals.com)

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Georgia attempting to schedule ‘iconic’ programs

Uga VI

As college football enters a new era that culminates each season with the College Football Playoffs, programs are attempting to beef up their schedules as much as possible to become attractive options to the selection committee.

The committee made itself very clear in how it will evaluate which four teams will be included.

“Strength of schedule, head-to-head competition and championships won must be specifically applied as tie-breakers between teams that look similar,” a document released by the College Football Playoff stated.

Georgia Bulldogs athletic director Greg McGarity took notice of the proclamation. With the Notre Dame Fighting Irish already on the schedule during the 2017 and 2019 seasons, McGarity isn’t finished adding “iconic” programs to the Bulldogs’ schedules.

“I feel like over the next seven years just be expecting some more games of this magnitude,” McGarity told the UGA athletic board, according to the Athens Banner-Herald‘s Marc Weiszer. “Nothing’s in writing. …It’s all verbal at this time. Expect some good things to happen over the next seven or eight years from a scheduling standpoint.”

Georgia currently has two openings during the 2016 and 2019 campaigns, The 2017 season has one spot yet to be filled. And 2018 is relatively wide open with three games yet to be filled.

The Bulldogs aren’t expected to schedule some traditional rivals like the Clemson Tigers. McGarity is looking to build a national brand.

“It would be great for us to move into other areas,” McGarity told Weiszer. “I think that’s kind of what we’re looking at, to go to some places where when you say Georgia’s playing at this site, you say, ‘Wow. I can’t wait for that to happen.’”

Some of the programs that immediately come to mind are the USC Trojans, Oregon Ducks, Oklahoma Sooners, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines and Texas Longhorns. None of those have been attached to a game against Georgia, but they seem to fit the type of program McGarity would like to schedule.

The athletic director has certainly changed his approach as the program moves forward with the new system in place.

“I think it changes somewhat because of the strength of schedule model that we think is in place,” McGarity said. “We don’t know what that is, but I do think the excitement that the Notre Dame game has generated has just been phenomenal.”

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NCAA wants Ed O’Bannon appeal resolved by next summer

NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Getty Images

The NCAA needs to have its appeal of the Ed O’Bannon case heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals within the year.

Correction: The NCAA believes it’s “critical” to have its appeal resolved within the year, according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Solomon.

“The NCAA contends that if this appeal is not resolved by that date, then absent a stay the NCAA and its members will, in the NCAA’s words, be forced to make fundamental changes to the administration of collegiate athletics and to their relationship with student-athletes,” the joint filing stated. “Plaintiffs disagree vigorously that the injunction will present a disruption but are nevertheless amenable to a briefing and argument schedule that would permit both to be completed by April or May 2015.”

Whether you side with or against the NCAA in its attempt to retain its amateurism, it is important for the appeal to be heard and resolved by August. Schools will then know how to adjust their approach to running their profitable sports such as football and basketball, which both take place in the fall.

“The NCAA requested that oral arguments be set for a date in April or May 2015,” Solomon reported.

As of now, the NCAA has to prepare for the changes U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken enacted when she ruled in favor of the players represented in the O’Bannon case.

“The judge’s decision strikes down NCAA rules restricting their compensation and permits reasonable but significant sharing with athletes — both for the costs of education and to establish trust funds — from the billions in revenues that schools earn from their football and basketball players,” attorney who represented the plaintiffs, Bill Isaacson, said in a statement directly after ruling was made.

The NCAA“will not be permitted to set this cap below the cost of attendance, as the term is defined in its current bylaws.” It also prevents the NCAA from making rules to limit schools from“offering to deposit a limited share of licensing revenue in trust for their FBS football and Division I basketball recruits, payable when they leave school or their eligibility expires.”

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Georgia initiates study for new indoor facility, raises ticket prices

Georgia v Clemson Getty Images

In the wake of the Ed O’Bannon court ruling, it’s more obvious than ever that college football (and the NCAA in general) is a business. A school’s ability to raise funds for new facilities is an integral part of the game’s arms races for recruits and maintaining a high profile.

The University of Georgia is the latest program to investigate the possibility of adding a new indoor practice facility, according to the Athens Banner-Herald‘s Marc Weiszer.

How will the school fund the product if it’s approved? Fundraising and donations will certainly be a big part of the process. The school also plans to raise ticket prices next season.

The “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” will be a little more expensive to attend as well.

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FAA grounds Michigan’s game-ball drone delivery plans

station radio control

Michigan wanted to deliver this weekend’s game ball against Utah to Michigan Stadium by drone. The Federal Aviation Administration said “Nope.”

As reported by Bloomberg, the University of Michigan had plans to use a drone aircraft. The plan was even discussed with local aviation regulators, but once the FAA caught wind of the idea the organization was quick to make sure the plan did not take flight.

“The FAA promotes voluntary compliance by educating UAS operators about how they can operate safely under current regulations and laws,” the FAA said to Bloomberg. The FAA has only allowed permits for limited drone operations to date, so the possibility of having something like this approved in the future is certainly a realistic possibility.

Now the only air delivery Michigan fans will focus on on Saturday against Utah will be that off the arm of quarterback Devin Gardner.

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A milestone weekend for Virginia Tech, LSU, Arkansas and Minnesota

Hodges, Green

Looking to rebound from a home loss to East Carolina, Virgina Tech will host Georgia Tech in an ACC Coastal Division match-up. As with all games in the wide open ACC Coastal Division, the result will loom large later in the season. But Virginia Tech will also be recognizing a little bit of history for the football program. According to Virgina Tech, this weekend will mark the 1,200th game in program history.

Virgina Tech is not the only school celebrating that milestone. If we are to trust the record keeping on Wikipedia — and when has that ever been wrong? — it looks as though this weekend will also see Minnesota, LSU and Arkansas all hit the 1,200 games played mark as well.

Using the same list, no school has played more games than the Ivy League’s Penn Quakers with 1,343 game son the record books. Penn finally gets its season started this weekend with a home game against Jacksonville. The FBS school with the most games played in college football history is Rutgers. This should come as little surprise given Rutgers is the birthplace of college football and played in the first college football game on record, against Princeton. Other FBS schools with 1,200 games and counting include Navy, Michigan, Nebraska, Syracuse, Penn State, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, West Virginia, Missouri, Maryland, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and California.

Army actually played its 1,200th game in program history last weekend, so apologies for missing the milestone.

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Report: Rutgers AD made inappropriate Sandusky reference

Julie Hermann

Not even a full week after issuing an apology to Penn State, Rutgers Athletics Director Julie Hermann is in some hot water for an inappropriate comment referencing former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. This on the day the Big Ten issued a public endorsement for the new “It’s On US” campaign launched by the White House. The timing of it all really is incredible.

The comment made by Hermann was made last fall, well before the need to apologize to Penn State for the behavior of some fans at last Saturday’s Big Ten opener and for the university accidentally sharing photos on social media channels with inappropriate references to the crimes committed by Sandusky. According to a report by NJ.com, Hermann shared an “off the cuff response” while discussing ways to reach out to donors. Rutgers senior vice president for external affairs Pete McDonough suggested it was not aimed directly at Penn State.

“Julie’s comment was an off the cuff response to a give-and-take interaction urging the fundraising team to reach out and touch the donors,” said McDonough, per NJ.com. “There probably isn’t a person alive today who hasn’t made an impromptu remark in a private meeting that probably shouldn’t have been said. Even taken out of context, this single comment was not directed at Penn State, its students, staff or faculty.”

It has been a rough 17 months for Hermann since being appointed athletics director at Rutgers. What could possibly happen next?

The lesson here is simple. Abuse of children through any means is simply not funny. If you think you are making a joke that is even somewhat related to sexual abuse or child abuse in any way, you should probably think again. Then again, this should not even require much thinking from the start.

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Nebraska kicker hurt in motorcycle crash

Nebraska v Penn State

Nebraska kicker Mauro Bondi suffered a broken collar bone Thursday night after crashing his motorcycle. The Journal Star in Lincoln was the first to report this injury.

According to the police report, as reported by The Journal Star, Bondi had trouble making a turn, hit a curb and ran off the road. Bondi was aided by a passerby back to his apartment, and his roommate drove him to a nearby hospital. According to police, no alcohol was connected to the accident and Bondi was wearing a helmet. However, the Nebraska kicker was cited for negligent driving and riding without a motorcycle licence.

With Bondi injured, Nebraska may have to ask place kicker Drew Brown to pull some double duty for the Huskers on special teams. Bondi is Nebraska’s kickoff specialist, while Brown typically handles the place-kicking responsibilities.

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Big Ten, Pac-12 join the “It’s On Us” sexual abuse prevention movement

PAC 12 Media Day

Today the White House launched a brand new initiative designed to prevent sexual assault and raise awareness for what has become a top story in the sports world in recent weeks. “It’s On Us,” according to the campaign’s official website, is a pledge to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault and is a promise to not be a bystander to the issue. The Big Ten and Pac-12 were quick to hop on board in support of the new program.

As the program was formally launching in Washington D.C., both conferences released statements of support for the initiative.

“The Pac-12 is proud to join this effort to build a culture on college campuses in which everyone has a responsibility to stop sexual violence,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. “Our member institutions are very focused on this issue and we see a great opportunity to use the visibility of college athletics as a means to raise awareness and promote this campaign.”

As noted in the Pac-12 release, research shows one in five women in the United States today are sexually assaulted while in college with most assaults occurring in their freshman or sophomore years at the hands of acquaintances, classmates or friends. The Big Ten saw the terrors of sexual abuse unfold right in front of it a few years ago with the startling revelations that came from the investigation and trial of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. This new initiative is aimed more at preventing college students from abuse, but the message should easily spread to all levels beyond college-aged students.

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A win with an asterisk would be just fine with Clemson’s Swinney

Dabo Swinney

Florida State will open Saturday night’s home game against Clemson without starting quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston will not play until the second half of the key ACC Atlantic Division battle due to a half-game suspension. This seems to give Clemson an advantage at the start of the game, but nothing is guaranteed. If Clemson does return home with a win over the top-ranked Seminoles, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will not care if anyone chooses to place an asterisk next to the result.

“Georgia beat us,” Swinney said referring to Clemson’s season-opening loss at Georgia, per per TigerNet.com. “Did we put an asterisk by that? We didn’t have three senior starters.” Clemson was without  defensive end Corey Crawford, offensive guard David Beasley and defensive back Garry Peters for the week one road game at Georgia. All three were suspended (as well as offensive tackle Shaq Anthony) for violations of team rules.

“Heck, no. They beat us. Period. There’s no asterisk by that. Give me a break.”

Swinney also made reference to Alabama’s 2010 BCS Championship Game victory over Texas to prove his point further. Texas lost starting quarterback Colt McCoy to an early injury in the game, leaving the Longhorns having to turn the offense over to a young and inexperienced Garrett Gilbert.

“I don’t think there’s an asterisk on that crystal ball down in Tuscaloosa,” Swinney said. “I think we’ve got a national championship trophy [at Clemson, referring to the 1981 season] where we beat Nebraska. I don’t think they played Turner Gill in that game but it still says national championship.” Gill did not play in that season’s Orange Bowl due to a leg injury.

The bottom line is pretty straightforward. Clemson can only worry about whatever they see on the other side of the field. The game still lasts 60 minutes and there is more than enough talent for Clemson to prepare for coming at them from the Florida State sideline. Florida State will give the start under center to Sean Maguire. Maguire’s parents already gave their tickets away. If Clemson benefits from Florida State being without Winston for 30 minutes, that is not Clemson’s problem.

Of course, if Florida State does lose, we then can entertain the arguments from Jimbo Fisher about how a fully-equipped FSU would split 10 games with Clemson down the road. Right?

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For what it’s worth, Big 12 piling up quality losses

Big 12 Football Media Days

When it comes to determining the best conferences, we tend to look first at the quality wins recorded in non-conference play. This is an area where the Big Ten has come under fire in a big way in the first few weeks of the season, and for good reason. While much will be discussed regarding the Big Ten’s place in the power conference pecking order, it may be time to take a close examination of the Big 12’s lack of signature wins as well.

Through the first three weeks of the season and last night’s Thursday night start to Week Four, the Big 12 has had its own share of opportunities to score some key victories for conference bragging rights. The best you can make of the Big 12’s start in non-conference play is “Well, at least we’re not the Big Ten.” That is not a terrific selling point.

The season started out on a down note with the Big 12 seeing Iowa State lose at home to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. While most of the rest of the conference performed better against weaker opponents to start the season, the Big 12 missed on two chances to impress on the national stage with West Virginia losing to Alabama and Oklahoma State coming up short against Florida State. The Mountaineers and Cowboys may have played well or better than expected against the highly-ranked programs from the SEC and ACC, respectively, but in the end the Big 12 started 0-2 against power conference opponents.

The following week saw BYU steamroll Texas for a second straight season while the rest of the conference enjoyed victories against lesser opponents (except for Iowa State, losing at home to Kansas State in Big 12 play). Week three of the season was the first real test for the Big 12 and there were some positives to draw from it. The Big 12 proved on the field to be better than the Big Ten in three games (West Virginia over Maryland, Iowa State over Iowa, TCU over Minnesota), cementing the Big Ten at the bottom of the power conference pecking order for now, but the Big 12 still lags significantly behind the SEC, ACC and Pac-12 in terms of quality wins. Oklahoma did pick up a good win at home against a Tennessee program on the rise, but the Vols are still a work in progress and unranked. The same weekend saw Texas suffer a loss at the expense of the Pac-12’s UCLA. Texas Tech could not slow down Arkansas in Lubbock. Kansas was blown away by Duke as well.

Last night the Big 12 once again whiffed on an opportunity to defeat a quality opponent with Kansas State imploding inside the red zone and leaving points off the scoreboard in a 20-14 loss at home to Auburn. The Big 12 could have really used that win, especially on a light weekend schedule for the conference. Kansas will host Central Michigan Saturday afternoon. West Virginia will have a chance to notch a conference victory at home Saturday night, against Oklahoma. Just as it was perceived to be Ohio State’s or Michigan State’s responsibility to carry the Big Ten banner on the national stage, the Big 12 may now be in need of Oklahoma (or Baylor) running the table. Oklahoma losing in Morgantown may end up doing more damage than good for the sake of the Big 12 when it comes time for the College Football Playoff selection committee to do their job.

As stated already, the Big 12 has breathing room ahead of the Big Ten for now, but losses inside the conference could start to do more damage than they would have if the Big 12 could record some wins against power conferences not named the Big Ten.

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Louisville might have RB Michael Dyer vs. FIU

Michael Dyer

Louisville rushed for just 79 yards last weekend against Virgina. It is not time to push the panic button, especially after some strong performances on the ground in the two games prior to last week’s loss at Virgina, but the Cardinals are looking forward to the return of Michael Dyer. There may even be a chance Dyer makes his season debut this weekend as Louisville travels to FIU.

According to a report Thursday from The Courier-Journal in Louisville, head coach Bobby Petrino suggested it may be a possibility Dyer returns to action Saturday. The running back was injured in a scrimmage in August and has just completed his first full week of practice since going inactive.

“We saw some really good things from him,” Petrino said, according to the report. “The thing that’s hard on that is it’s not only the injury that he’s overcoming, it’s the soreness from not doing those things for five weeks — not running hard and cutting and doing all that. The rest of his body is sore.”

The urgency to rush Dyer back this weekend may not be huge given the opponent, but this could also be a good week to allow Dyer a chance to get his legs back in order. Louisville should manage to beat FIU without Dyer, but if there is a chance he can play then he should probably take advantage of it. It may be better to get in game shape this weekend as opposed to next weekend in ACC play (against Wake Forest).

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If Auburn was stealing signs, nobody to blame but Kansas State

Auburn v Kansas State Getty Images

Auburn picked up a hard-fought victory on the road Thursday night at Kansas State, defeating the Big 12’s Wildcats by a final score of 20-14 in a game that almost seemed to go against the grain for the SEC’s Auburn Tigers. Auburn was forced to slow things down in order to protect a lead and there were times when Auburn’s running game seemed to be out-worked by a relentless and well-prepared Kansas State defense. Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder thinks Auburn had another advantage to rely on; stealing signs.

As the teams went to halftime Thursday night in Manhattan, Snyder told ESPN sideline reporter Sam Ponder he believed Auburn had picked up on some of Kansas State’s signals. The veteran coach suggested to Ponder his team needed to do a better job of disguising their calls in order to keep Auburn guessing. Following the game, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn disputed having any advantage of that kind, not that there should be any reason to feel bad about it if indeed Auburn did figure something out.

To be fair, Snyder was not accusing Malzahn and Auburn of doing anything wrong. He seemed to be just making an observation to Ponder, as it was reported during the telecast. Kansas State had plenty of opportunities to score the upset, and the possibility of having signals stolen by Auburn is far down on the list behind missed field goals, failed red zone opportunities and turnovers.

There should be a line drawn between the idea of stealing signals and picking up on signals. Stealing implies a team or person did something wrong, perhaps by sending someone undercover to scope out a team’s practice during the week or by getting a hold of an opponent’s playbook or game plan before the kickoff. Picking up on hand signals or vocal calls during the course of a game should be considered nothing more than awareness and showing an ability to adjust. There is nothing wrong with that just as there is nothing wrong with a quarterback calling an audible at the line of scrimmage because he does not like what he sees in the defensive formation.

The coach and team that learns to make adjustments the fastest will have a schematic advantage. Those who fail to make those adjustments are only holding themselves back.

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With a little help from their friends, Auburn beats K-State 20-14

Gus Malzahn

The blueprint was simple for both teams. When rushing for less than 200 yards over the past three years, No. 5 Auburn was 1-9. And when holding its opponent to less than 200 yards over that same period, No. 20 Kansas State was 21-2.

The Tigers rushed for 128 yards tonight, and won 20-14.

Quarterback Nick Marshall made the plays when he had to, throwing for 231 yards and two touchdowns – one to put his Tigers up 10-7 at the half, and another to push the lead to 17-7 – and a critical 39-yard clincher to Duke Williams (eight catches, 110 yards and a touchdown) to put the game away with under two minutes to play.

But this game was won for Auburn thanks to critical mistakes by the Kansas State offense and special teams.

It started on the first play of the game, when Jake Waters fumbled the ball inside his own red zone on a botched exchange, allowing Auburn to take a 3-0 lead. On the ensuing drive, the Wildcats moved 74 yards to the Auburn 2 before a Waters pass bounced off the face mask of all-everything wide receiver Tyler Lockett and into the waiting arms of Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones. And then came the missed field goals. Three of them, all by the usually trustworthy Jack Cantele. He was 11-of-13 last season and 4-of-5 in 2014 until tonight, but missed from 41, 42 and 22 yards. He was replaced by Matthew McCrane for the Wildcats’ final extra point.

Waters, simply put, wasn’t nearly as good as a senior quarterback needs to be to win tonight. He threw for 245 yards, but recorded a terrible interception to Trovon Reed while Kansas State trailed 17-7 in the fourth quarter, and missed an opportunity to put Kansas State up 14-10 just before the half with Lockett wide open in the end zone. Instead, he held on to the ball, fumbled, and made Cantele’s 42-yard try much more difficult than it had to be. That’s just the kind of night it was for the Wildcats.

After falling behind 20-7, Kansas State pulled within 20-14 with 3:49 to play, but never possessed the ball again. The game was decided when Marshall hit Williams on a double move while facing a 3rd-and-9 in its own territory.

Defensively, Kansas State did everything one could have expected them to do. The ground game didn’t even register three yards per carry in its 45 attempts. In fact, Auburn didn’t even hit 100 yards of total offense until its first touchdown drive to end the first half, and nearly went the entire first half without converting a third down. However, it didn’t stay that way. It never does against Auburn. After missing its first five third down tries, Auburn converted 10 of its final 13, and outgained K-State on the night 359-285.

For Auburn, this is the type of night Gus Malzahn and staff can build on. Marshall-to-Williams is a certifiably reliable go-to option, and a six-point win on the road brings the type of value no 50-point shellacking of a mid-major can duplicate. “I’m glad it was tough,” Malzahn told ESPN after the game, “that’ll help us in the long run.” The Tigers host Louisiana Tech on Sept. 27 before reopening SEC play against No. 8 LSU on Oct. 4.

For Kansas State, what can you say? You did everything you needed to do to win the game, and you lost. In reality, there’s not much else you can do but rectify the result within yourself (with the help of a few adult beverages) and move on to the next game. That comes next Saturday when UTEP comes to town.

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