Ten Things - Week Nine
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Welcome back! Yes, this season has been so rough that even Ten Things needed a bye week to recover. And as expected, there is a lot to catch up on. In the past two weeks, the number of undefeated teams has dropped in half - goodbye Ole Miss, Notre Dame, and Baylor. The Big Twelve is starting to pick up some positive press, while the Pac-12 is still struggling for respectability. The SEC continues to dominate headlines and viewership. The ACC continues to be a one trick pony (for now). But the best part? After two full months of football, no one has a clue what’s coming down the stretch. That makes for an exciting November. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and take a look back at the week that was in this week’s Ten Things.
1. Playoff, Playoff, Playoff – No team had a performance that overshadowed the release of the playoff committee’s first set of rankings. On the one hand, this has led to sharp criticism that the playoff committee will be nothing more than a condensed BCS, with its weekly ranking made in secret and no oversight available to provide criticism. But on the other, it gives all of us sports fans some early insight to the perspective of this new committee. For example, had this been a BCS year, the focus would be on just Mississippi State and Florida State as the remaining undefeated teams. But even with them, we will see how the committee selects two teams from the (currently) seventeen one-loss teams in contention. And, of course, as soon as the rankings are released they will become an instant lightning rod for web clicks and broadcast minutes. And regardless of the participants, this ranking will be the biggest storyline for the rest of the season.
2. Little Brother, All Grown Up – In the least surprising result of the weekend, Michigan lost 35-11 to in-state rival Michigan State. What made it noteworthy is the visiting Wolverines planting a stake at midfield just before kickoff. And they did it in the most Michigan way possible. It wasn’t a spear, or planting a flag – that would’ve been too well-thought out. It was a tent stake no bigger than a common steak knife. Though it was hardly an imposing gesture to the home team, it sure came in to play later as Sparty tacked on an extra touchdown in the final minute of the game. Also, it was one of the few times you’ll see Spartan coach Mark Dantonio speak to something like this. Clearly the “little brother” label (given by Michigan running back Mike Hart after the 2007 meeting) has cut deep. But it hasn’t had the desired effect, as the Wolverines have gone 1-6 against their younger sibling since.
3. Undefeated And Unloved – With all the focus on the top of the polls and the surprise undefeated teams, no one is showing any love toward Marshall. Preseason, it was a stretch to consider the Thundering Herd in the playoff. But as chaos unfolded in September it seemed as though all they had to do was remain unbeaten and surely they would rise to the upper tier, right? Wrong. As of today, they sit at #23 in both the AP and Coaches’ polls. Sure, the polls don’t mean anything to the playoff committee. But they have been uncharacteristically volatile this year and the fact that Marshall still is viewed as below two-loss teams such as Clemson and West Virginia give a foreshadowing of what the committee should see as a team boosted by a horrible schedule. But, this is one of those wild card situations that may shock us all tonight. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
4. Playoff Four – If the committee knows what it’s doing, their final rankings will start like this:
Mississippi State – For the first time in school history, the Bulldogs took the field as the top ranked team in the country. They went on the road against a tricky SEC opponent (albeit Kentucky) and won by two touchdowns. It’s hard to scoff at that, as it is thus far the least impressive win on their record. An easy pick for the top seed.
Oregon – The best one-loss team looks better than the other undefeated power conference team. With an offensive line that is getting healthier, they look every bit the team that ran away from Michigan State in the fourth quarter and have scored 42 points or more since their loss to Arizona. Oh, and the best player in the country runs their offense.
Florida State – The Seminoles enjoyed a bye week following their close call against Notre Dame. Some say their standing as the defending champs shouldn’t influence the committee, but as long as they are undefeated, they deserve a shot to defend their title.
Michigan State – This is really a lesser of a dozen other evils here. Michigan State has been playing consistently well since losing at Oregon, and will enjoy a week off after mauling their rival before playing their biggest game. This is what coach Dantonio gets paid the big bucks for.
5. The Next Four – Here are the next four teams hoping for a chance, as well as the reasons they aren’t already in the top four
Auburn – They didn’t look good at all on defense, letting South Carolina put up 35 points and consistently put a scare into the defending SEC champs. They have arguably the best loss (Mississippi State) of the one-loss club, but even then it was still pretty bad.
Notre Dame – Another team with a solid loss (Florida State), if there is such a thing. The Irish licked their wounds following a disheartening defeat on what was a bogus penalty that took away the potential game winning touchdown. Well, that’s what their fans say, anyway.
Ole Miss – It’s tough to have a loss when the other team turns the ball over four times, but somehow the Rebels did it. The “Bad Bo” that was in hiding all season made an appearance, lofting a prayer of a pass into the arms of an LSU defender in the waning seconds to secure the first loss of the season.
Alabama – As good as the Tide have looked the past two weeks, there are two things holding them back. First is the tiebreak with Ole Miss holding them back from a birth in the SEC Championship Game should Bama win out. The other is the Alabama team, which continues to have penalties, turnovers, and a general inability to move the ball or stop the other team from moving the ball get in the way of dominating an overmatched opponent.
6. Officiating Issues Continue – Now, the occasional blunder can be understood. But it seems there is a disturbing trend that continues to rear its ugly head in the sport. Just this past week, Big Ten officials acknowledged issues that prevented the replay booth from having access to the footage needed to correctly overturn an interception call in the Penn State-Ohio State game. Sure, no game is wholly decided on one call, but momentum swings can be costly. Also, it seems that the refs for the Auburn-South Carolina game couldn’t count to two, as in two different players for Auburn wearing the number “1” on the Gamecocks’ final play – a Hail Mary that was intercepted in the end zone. A correctly called penalty and there would’ve been another opportunity for the upset. And this all comes on the heels of SEC officials letting the clock run after a dead ball penalty, as in the Alabama-Arkansas game, the delay of game no-call between Kentucky and Florida, and whatever madness at USC that led to the AD having a mid-game powwow with officials during the Stanford-USC game. I know most refs get it right most of the time, but it seems that the troublesome groups are getting more noticeable.
7. Trending Up: Big Twelve playoff hopes – Sure with Baylor’s loss, the chances looked bleak. West Virginia and Kansas State both had losses to SEC teams, which seemed to be a constant stumbling block. But as of now, there are three one-loss teams (TCU, Kansas State, and Baylor) just outside the top ten. If one of those teams is able to run the table the rest of the way (preferably TCU or Baylor), the league can be confident its champion will get one of the coveted four spots.
8. Trending Down: ECU playoff hopes – Remember when, after a close loss at a tough SEC opponent, a solid win at Virginia Tech, and a 70-point explosion against North Carolina seemed to propel East Carolina into the playoff discussion? Even with one loss, it was said, the Pirates could rely on a tough strength of schedule even in a weak conference. Well, all three of those teams now sit at 4-4 and may need a hope and a prayer to finish above .500 this season. Even though ECU is in the one-loss club, it doesn’t look good right now.
9. SEC Rundown – Plenty of exciting football was seen. Auburn and South Carolina traded haymakers in a touchdown-fest that ended 42-35 in favor of the Tigers. Kentucky gave the new #1 team all they could handle in a 45-31 loss. Ole Miss joined the one-loss club after failing to turn a +4 turnover margin into a win. Tennessee looked like they weren’t going down without a fight, but finally fell to their nemesis (and Alabama OC, Lane Kiffin) 34-20. Even Arkansas made waves, with a 350-pound lineman throwing a touchdown against UAB. But the most important bit of news is that commissioner Mike Slive is retiring after this season. The man who engineered the juggernaut that is the SEC, including a seven year reign atop the football world, and one of the key movers toward the reality of a playoff at the FBS level. Best wishes to Slive and his family. Thanks for everything.
10. Three To See: These are the can’t miss games this weekend
#4 Auburn at #7 Ole Miss – Both teams coming off close games, though the Rebels came up short. Both teams are looking to assert themselves back into the thick of the playoff race. Both teams are likely out with a loss. The Gus Bus hits another speed bump, but clears it….barely. Tigers win on the road, 38-31
#10 TCU at #20 West Virginia – This is a prime showcase for the new darling dark horse du jour – TCU. Gary Patterson’s group is churning at an insane pace by their standards, coming off an 82-point demolition of Texas Tech. but just ask Baylor how difficult it is to go to Morgantown and come back a winner. West Virginia keeps up for a little while, but falls behind late 55-41
#18 Utah at #15 Arizona State – Another pseudo elimination game, this one in the PAC-12 South. The winner is one step closer to challenging Oregon for the crown, while the loser will play the role of spoiler the rest of the way. The Sun Devils get quarterback Taylor Kelly back, but it won’t be enough to overcome a sneaky good Utes squad. Besides, what’s home field advantage out West? Utah wins 31-20.
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