Ten Things - Week Twelve
Posted By:Wes Mewbourne - Birmingham, AL Tags:
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As the season is winding down, the illusion of chaos abounds. With upsets come a clearer picture of conference races as the national portrait begins to come into focus. The biggest change in the playoff picture is the reality that half of the teams will have (at least) one loss. Meanwhile, another perennial power looks to make a coaching change. Who will be left standing? Who’s moving up, and who’s moving out? The good, the bad, and the ugly in the week that was in Ten Things…
1. The Good: Oregon with Vernon Adams, Jr. – Since effectively being out for a four game stretch, one that included two conference losses at home, the Ducks have quietly begun climbing back where they hoped they’d be with the stellar FCS transfer quarterback. Over the past five games, the Ducks are 5-0 (including that big win at Stanford). Adams has contributed 19 touchdowns in that span and thrown for an average 300 yards per game. It looks like Mark Helfrich made the right call in bringing him on board.
2. The Bad: Firing Les Miles – It started as rumors, but surely they weren’t true. Les Miles has led LSU to a national championship and an average of ten wins a season for the past 11 years. That’s unprecedented in LSU history. He stuck with the Tigers in 2007 when his alma mater Michigan was in dire straits and everyone just KNEW he would jump ship. He stayed, and in so doing brought the SEC Championship and a crystal ball to Baton Rouge. Reports are now coming out that he may be gone before the end of the week. It’s understandable that the school is frustrated. Since going 13-0, but falling to Alabama in the 2011 national championship game, LSU has not been able to beat Alabama. They’ve also not finished a season with less than three losses. But this still is way too soon to pull the trigger on the best coach your school has had in the modern era. No, he’s not Saban. But guess what? You don’t have Saban anymore, and the chances are the next coach won’t be nearly as good as either of them. That’s not the trend you want to have.
3. The Ugly: Ohio State AFTER the game – In case you haven’t heard, THE Ohio State Buckeyes lost for the first time in 23 games. To a conference foe. At home. That snapped all of their incredible streaks, but overshadowing the great play of the Spartans in the win or the dose of nostalgia that could be in reflecting on nearly two full seasons of dominance was a team that seems in utter disarray. Running back Ezekiel Elliot blasted the coaching staff and the play-calling in a game that saw him get just four carries in the game’s final 43 minutes. Add that to the weekly drama at the quarterback position and the distant stare of coach Urban Meyer in the post-game press conference and you have a recipe for a late season collapse. It’ll be interesting to see if they can regroup and stand united leading up to a huge game with rival Michigan this week or if they wind up losing back-to-back going into the bowl season.
4. Playoff Four – If the committee knew what they’re doing, this is how the rankings would look at the top…
Clemson – Solid wins, no losses, and a respectable conference are a great way to get in the top four in any season. This season, keeping the “0” in the loss column is enough to be at the top. While they may not be the best looking team according to the somewhat reliable eye test, they have handled business each and every week and currently hold the best win of anyone else on this list (Notre Dame).
Alabama – Yes they lost to Ole Miss (the same team that has now three losses and might add another before bowl season). But since their bye week three weeks ago, they are playing some of the best football in the country. And while wins over LSU, Texas A&M, and Georgia may not look as impressive now, they were all top ten teams at kickoff. The Tide are getting hot at just the right time.
Notre Dame – Their inclusion is admittedly tenuous, but no team has done as much with so little. While the Irish keep piling up injuries, they continue to add to the win column, with their lone loss being by two points on the road to the top team in the country. As for quality wins, the Irish could wind up with wins over the winners of both divisions of the PAC-12 as well as the American to go along with effectively a 5-1 ACC record. Not too shabby.
Michigan State – The Spartans are another team that gets in by the skin of their teeth, and that has more to do with their quality wins against the lack thereof for Iowa. Though, don’t discount the resurgence of Oregon, either. Yes they are just two weeks removed from an embarrassing loss at Nebraska, but solid defensive play and knocking off the defending champs (without starting quarterback Connor Cook) earns Sparty a bit of respect. Avoid a letdown this week and they comparisons to Iowa will be replaced with a head-to-head score.
5. The Next Four – If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s the uncertainty of the top four teams staying where they are…
Iowa – It’s tough to say which undefeated team was overlooked more this season, the Hawkeyes or the Houston Cougars. With the Cougars falling last week, that title is held solely by Iowa. Undefeated in one of the two or three toughest conferences in the country should merit inclusion in the top four, but not when their schedule omits Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Penn State. A weak nonconference schedule and underwhelming (though victorious) performances have put Iowa in the position of a one game season. If they can win the conference and remain undefeated (that means no losing this week at Nebraska), they’ll most certainly move up.
Oklahoma – One is tempted to put Baylor in this spot given the way the Bears bounced back after a loss and dominated the last undefeated team in the Big Twelve, but then one remembers the loss that was bounced back from is none other than the Sooners. After the still mindboggling loss to Texas, Oklahoma has been on a tear (not unlike Alabama, actually). With back to-back wins over Baylor and TCU, the co-champions from last year, the Sooners are one Bedlam revenge game from winning the Big Twelve and possibly crashing the playoff party.
Baylor – While it may seem unlikely to lose this late in the season and still stay relevant to the discussion, Baylor has a real chance to win the conference with some help from Oklahoma State. Their high scoring offense seems to have hit a lull, though. After scoring 56 or more in each of their first five games, they haven’t scored more than 45 since. That’s not exactly the trend that gets a team to a favorable postseason destination, but the Bears are far from a disappointing season, and can still crack the VIP list.
Florida – Why, you ask? Why not? Jim McElwain has probably earned national coach of the year regardless of what happens against rival Florida State and the SEC Championship game by becoming the first Gator coach to win ten games his first season. Win both of those games, and the Gators will very likely have the momentum, be coming off a huge win over Alabama, and an overall better resume than most of the teams above them currently and all the ones below them (except maybe a 12-1 Ohio State). Sure, it’s a long shot. But this far down the rankings this late in the season, this is about as good as it gets.
6. Heisman Hijinks – Just a few short weeks ago, the award was Leonard Fournette’s to lose, though Trevon Boykin was giving him a run for his money. Injury and losses have all but eliminated them from contention. Ezekiel Elliot seemed poised to take the top spot, but a poor performance last week likely has cost him a shot. Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook became the running backs du jour, but cupcake week has diverted focus elsewhere. Deshaun Watson has become the go-to for those who still favor quarterbacks (and the best player on the #1 ranked team). Also, Christian McCaffery and Royce Freeman have thrown their hats in the ring with big wins over conference foes. But don’t count out Baker Mayfield (if he plays this weekend) or Dak Prescott if they have big games against their rivals. This is probably as big a potential pool of candidates as we’ve seen this late in the season in a while. Perhaps rivalry weekend will provide some separation for the contenders.
7. Bowl Overload – With a record 41 bowl games upcoming this postseason (including the playoff championship), it’s reasonable to assume that there is a surplus of interest in quality football. And yes, the term “quality” is used very loosely. As of this past week’s games, there are still nine vacant spots to fill in those games. There is a legitimate concern that a 5-7 team will be chosen for a bowl game. The question then becomes which one? And whatever the NCAA decides as far as selection criteria (APR? Conference tie-in?), it seems that this is just the next in an ongoing series of stretching the postseason thin. Add to that the reports that show how schools lose money for unsold bowl tickets (would you pay to see 6-6 Buffalo or 5-7 Washington in a bowl game?), and it’s a wonder that there are still a growing number of sponsors trying to get these bowl games going. Not that it’ll stop any of us from watching from home…
8. Rivalry Week – It’s tough not to get pumped up for this week already. It’s Thanksgiving week and that means Bedlam, the Iron Bowl, the Civil Wars, and Clean Old-Fashioned Hate. Big Ten Rivalry trophies will be on display in just about every venue. Stanford or Notre Dame will take the Legends Trophy home. Nearly every team in position for the playoff could lose simply because they face a rival whose disappointing season can be completely salvaged by playing spoiler (we’re looking at you, Clemson). Will there be another Kick Six like two years ago, or will an unlikely result allow a team from the shadows to take the main stage like 2007? The beauty is that no one knows, and as a result we will all be gathered into stadiums, bars, and living rooms around the country dressed in our favorite two colors and cheering on our favorite team with our closest friends (and anyone else who shares our fashion sense that day). Christmas has come early once again, friends. Enjoy!
9. SEC Rundown – Let’s face facts, this was not the finest week for the conference. While Alabama feasted on a cupcake, Florida and Georgia needed overtime to finish theirs (Florida Atlantic and Georgia Southern, respectively). South Carolina couldn’t handle the mighty Citadel, falling 23-22. SEC homers will no doubt point to the fact that every team in the West is bowl eligible for the second straight season and most of their losses are within the division. SEC critics will (rightly) point to the fact that aside from Bama and Florida, no team has fewer than three losses; Arkansas, who could finish second in the West, lost to Toledo; and LSU and Auburn are so bad they both might seriously be considering coaching changes. A strong showing in the inter-conference rivalries this weekend will change the perception a bit, but really…when have SEC fans truly cared about what outsiders had to say about them?
10. Three To See – Truth be told, there’s a ton to watch this weekend. That said, try not to get mauled by the shoppers on Friday so you can at least enjoy these three fine games on Saturday:
#8 Ohio State at #10 Michigan – Maybe there was a little luster knocked off this matchup when the Buckeyes lost this past week, but you wouldn’t know it from the Michigan folk. This game is always big, and this will be the first time since 2007 that both teams will be ranked at kickoff. It starts early (noon, EST) so you’ll want to get settled in quickly. The Big House will be rocking for this one, with a potential trip to the Big Ten Championship on the line (oh, don’t be surprised to hear “Go Penn State” chants at some point during the game). The Buckeyes’ woes continue, though, and lose another heartbreaker, 24-20.
#6 Notre Dame at #9 Stanford – The Fighting Irish have the inside track on a playoff bid, while the Cardinal are hoping for chaos to ensue and somehow open a door for them. Either way, no team is getting in without a win here. This will be a great time to see the best Heisman candidate you’ve never heard of, Cardinal running back Christian McCaffery. The son of NFL great Ed McCaffery leads the nation with 2,807 all-purpose yards (nearly 600 yards more than #2 on the list). A strong showing against an ailing Notre Dame defense will punch his ticket to New York. Stanford wins this one 31-20
#3 Oklahoma at #11 Oklahoma State – Even though this one won’t likely feature two top ten teams, there’s still plenty on the line. If TCU beats Baylor the night before, then this is a de facto conference championship game with potential playoff implications. No pressure. Sooners QB Baker Mayfield is still iffy and the Cowboys D has shown some holes. While the Sooners will be thinking revenge, Oklahoma State will prove too much. Bedlam will certainly live up to its name, though. Sooners fall, 38-24.
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