Ten Things - Week Eleven
Posted By:Wes Mewbourne - Birmingham, AL
Ten Things, Week Eleven
The fans of college football have always had a special place in their hearts for the month of November. The rivalry games close the season, and leading up to it is 2-3 weeks of drama that truly bring conference races into clearer focus and finish the job of separating the true contenders from the pretenders. If last week was any indication, buckle your seatbelts because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. But lest we be too hasty in anticipation of what’s to come, let’s remember the epic week that was in this week’s Ten Things.
1. The Playoff Pool Shrinks – With a half dozen games between ranked and all including at least one team with playoff hopes, this was to be expected. Goodbye, Notre Dame and Auburn. So long, Kansas State. But as we saw this past weekend, having a second loss does not preclude a team from the potential role of spoiler (just ask LSU). So with these teams dropping down a notch, their postseason destinations are very much in the air. A few late season upsets would pad their resumes, while shaking up the playoff picture.
2. Curious Call of the Week – I’m sure most of you by now have seen the replay of Utah receiver Kaelin Clay laying the ball down just before crossing the goal line, allowing Oregon to get a 99-yard scoop-n-score. But as bad as that was, there was an aspect of the play that went unnoticed by seemingly everyone who has talked about it on television. The first person to touch the live ball once it hit the turf, Oregon’s Erick Dargan, went out of bounds during pursuit. In other contexts (specifically kicks and forward passes) this would make him guilty of illegal touching, and the replay rules specifically highlight an example such as this (Rule 12, Section 3, Article 3, Item F). Curiously, there is not prescribed action. Should the ball have been called dead where the illegal touching occurred? Who gets possession in that instance? Unfortunately, the focus seemed to be on whether Clay actually dropped the ball prior to crossing the goal line (he did), and no one thought it necessary to illumine the viewers.
3. Baylor Makes History – When a favorite goes on the road and comes away with a win, it’s usually not that big a deal. When said favorite hasn’t won a road game against a ranked opponent in 23 years (#24 Arkansas on November 2, 1991), it’s bigger. When the location (Norman, Oklahoma) is a regular destination for a conference foe and you’ve never won there? Huge. Sure, it may not look good on paper beating a 6-3 Oklahoma team that could finish with another loss or two, but for Baylor it was more than just one game. It’s stepping towards history. Head coach Art Briles has been working some magic in Waco, and this year may mark his biggest step yet.
4. Playoff Four – Since the playoff committee’s rankings have been released, let’s review their top picks
Mississippi State – Easily the most dominant looking team thus far this season. Convincing wins at LSU and against Auburn are really what’s setting this team apart from the rest of the teams. With a date in Tuscaloosa this weekend and the Egg Bowl still looming on the horizon, if the Bulldogs finish without a loss, there’s no arguing their position here will remain.
Oregon – Apparently a trouncing of a good Utah team on the road was sufficient to boost the Ducks over Florida State. I really can’t argue with the decision, because they really do look to be the best one-loss team, and could possibly be the only other team that looks as dominant as Mississippi State (except for that home loss).
Florida State – This seems to be more an indictment of the schedule Florida State has played than the way they’ve played. The Seminoles are the only team in the top four who do not have a victory over a team currently ranked 15th or higher. And that Notre Dame win lost a lot of luster after the Irish got manhandled by Arizona State.
TCU – This is easily the most controversial selection thus far in the committee’s rankings. There are those who believe Alabama should be there (for the record, I am not one of those people…yet). The most glaring oversight seems to be a one loss Baylor team ranked three spots lower – the same Baylor team that beat the horned Frogs straight up. The committee has made it clear that head-to-head results alone won’t be the criteria, but there seems to be little justification to rank two teams with identical records and a head-to-head result in such a fashion.
5. The Next Four – These teams need to finish strong in order to climb up in the rankings
Alabama – Still a team that passes the eye test for some, but fails with flying colors for others. No one really knows what to make of the Tide right now. Consistency is lacking. Will we get the Tide that pummeled Texas A&M, or the one that slogged through slogged through a one point win at Arkansas? One thing is for sure – they have the chance to prove themselves on Saturday.
Baylor – It’s hard to believe the Bears are maintaining their success this long, given the history of the program. But even with an admittedly down Oklahoma Sooner team, for Baylor to secure their first ever win in Norman was quite an accomplishment. Now, they have to keep things rolling and avoid another West Virginia-like upset with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech over the next few weeks.
Arizona State – The Sun Devils are another welcomed surprise this high in the rankings. While some of their wins looked better at the time than in hindsight, it’s hard to overlook a thorough dismantling of a previously solid Notre Dame team. The same team that was a penalty away of handing the reigning champs their first loss found their way to a 34-3 hole against Arizona State. The Sun Devils are for real, and just need to avoid an upset to meet Oregon for a shot to play in the inaugural playoff.
Ohio State – Michigan State previously looked like the best team in the Big Ten, but that was before the steadily improving Buckeyes came to town. It takes a lot to put up 49 points on a Pat Narduzzi defense, but that’s exactly what they did. If the committee is serious about taking injuries into account when deciding the final rankings, don’t be surprised if THE Ohio State winds up in the final four.
6. Trending Up: Big Twelve Playoff Teams – With their (now) two best teams sitting at 8-1 with little challenge in front of them, it’s quite conceivable for TCU and Baylor to finish with one loss each. Depending on how other conference races shake out, that could work out nicely for the only Power Five conference without a championship game.
7. Trending Down: SEC Playoff Teams – The league that looked so deep throughout the season has shown that it is its own worst enemy. After consecutive weeks of one loss teams losing (Georgia and Ole Miss, then Auburn), the chances of getting two teams is looking more and more remote. It’s still possible that Alabama could win out and Mississippi State would finish with one loss, but it’s looking less and less likely that both will make the final cut.
8. Lesser-Known News of the Week – Not many outside of Big Twelve country (or the Upset Pick Contest) paid much attention to Texas laying waste to a tough West Virginia team 33-16. Coach Charlie Strong garnered more headlines than wins in the first half of the season in clearing out some of the lingering bad apples from Mac Brown’s leftovers. And while it was no secret that they weren’t going to contend for the playoff, few expected the Longhorns to even go to a bowl game this season. With a win this week at Oklahoma State or Thanksgiving against TCU, Strong’s team will have finished the season winning four out of the final six games to secure bowl eligibility and a winning record in conference – no small feat for what he’s been dealing with this season.
9. SEC Rundown – Poor Auburn felt a similar pain Georgia felt two weeks ago, and now both will get to see how the other are coping. Auburn regains one of the better players in the country in Todd Gurley, while Auburn must now go without standout Duke Williams. Florida got their very own win streak going with a win over Vanderbilt. The Gators look to stretch it to 3 in a row this weekend when a rested South Carolina comes to visit. And really, the SEC revolves around a certain game in T-town this weekend…
10. Three To See:
#8 Ohio State at #25 Minnesota –The Buckeyes look to keep the momentum going this week against a sneaky good Gopher team. The Gophers are looking for their first division title, but are looking at two road division games (at Nebraska and Wisconsin) after this. They need not look ahead lest they dig themselves a hole. Buckeyes cruise to a 52-27 victory.
#1 Mississippi State at #5 Alabama – The Bulldogs are looking for an emphatic win coming off the bye week, while Bama is looking to truly legitimize its lofty ranking. Surprisingly, the quarterbacks are virtually identical on paper, though MSU’s Dak Prescott has the edge rushing while the Tide’s Blake Sims has fewer interceptions. The difference? Alabama is fourth in the nation in total defense; Mississippi State is 91st. The Tide rolls to a 38-30 win.
#3 Florida State at Miami – What used to be a marquee matchup is now a pair of struggling teams. Florida State doesn’t look near as dominant as last season, while Miami is still trying to get over the hump. The key will be the FSU quarterback, who after throwing five interceptions in the first five games combined has thrown five in the last two games alone. If the Hurricane secondary has their heads on a swivel, it could pull the upset. The ‘Noles dig a hole too deep to climb out of and Miami’s Duke Johnson keeps the other offense on the sideline as Miami wins 27-24.