As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.
Many people, including a sizable bloc of Miami Nation, cried foul when oddsmakers installed third-ranked and unbeaten Florida State as a whopping 21(ish)-point favorite over the Hurricanes early last week. It was easily the highest spread for a game involving two Top-10 teams this late in the season since such records started being kept in 1980. At the end of the night Saturday, it looked very much like, as usual, those boys out in Las Vegas actually know what they’re doing. The Seminoles easily covered the spread — it fluctuated anywhere from 20-23 depending on the bookmaker and the day of the week — in the 41-14 win over their in-state rivals. The runaway win not only kept FSU in the thick of the BCS title chase but also continued an impressive run of dominance. In their eight games this season, the ‘Noles have won by at least 27 in seven of them, the lone exception being a 38-24 road win over Boston College in late September. The last four games, all coming against conference opponents, has put an exclamation point on that dominance: in those four games, with three coming against ranked teams who were undefeated at the time, the Seminoles have won by a combined score of 204-45. I don’t know if FSU is the best team in the country right now; I do know, though, that no team in the country, including the two teams ahead of them in the polls, want to face them the way they’re playing right now.
Or suffocating or stifling or whatever word you want to use to continue the alliteration, that’s them. Coming into today’s game against in-state rival Michigan, Michigan State led the nation in rushing and total defense, and was third in scoring defense. In its throttling of “Big Blue Brother,” the Spartans did little to hurt that standing. Hell, if anything, they improved it. Unbelievably, MSU held UM to a school record-low of minus-48 yards rushing in the 29-6 win, with minus-41 of that coming in the first half. The Wolverines were able to muster just 168 yards of total offense for the game, averaging a paltry 2.8 yards per play on the day. Not only did the win come against a hated rival, but it kept the Spartans firmly in the driver’s seat of the Big Ten’s Legends division. MSU is a perfect 5-0 in conference play, holding a game-and-a-half lead on 3-1 Nebraska — those two face each other in two weeks following a bye — and a two-game lead on 3-2 Minnesota — those two meet in the finale — entering the last month of the 2013 regular season.
The Malzahn Effect
Last season, in the final, woeful year under Gene Chizik, Auburn managed just 24 offensive touchdowns — 16 rushing, eight passing — in 12 games. Enter offensive guru Gus Malzahn, and the difference on that side of the ball is beyond striking and utterly startling. Through nine games, and with essentially the same cast of characters, the Tigers have 28 touchdowns… rushing. Add in 13 touchdown passes, and Auburn has now scored 17 more touchdowns than its 2012 counterparts, and they’ve done it in three fewer games. The best part of it all for The Plains boys is that the Tigers are now at 8-1 overall and 4-1 in SEC play on the season, keeping alive the hope of an improbable Iron Bowl for the ages later this month.