Friday, December 13, 2013

Should (And Will) Saban Leave Texas?

Let it be known that I will be showing this gif anytime
 I mention Bama's loss in the Iron Bowl. 
Can you feel it? The collective anticipation of two monumental fanbases, waiting in agony of whether or not the greatest coach in the last three decades will be coaching at their university next year. In the last month, Alabama fans have gone from hearing mild rumors of Saban leaving for Texas while feeling great about the season, to watching their team lose to their in-state rival in the most miraculously way possible while simultaneously losing the chance at a three peat national championship run, to actually fearing that Saban will pack his shit and head to Austin. In the past week or so days, rumors have been building that Saban could really be mulling over the possibility of leaving Alabama and replacing lame duck coach Mack Brown. The writing is on the wall for Brown, who has again failed to get his team anywhere close to where it stood 4-5 years ago. Brown lost two early season games in spectacular fashion to BYU and Ole Miss in the first three games, and despite a great midseason run, lost to Baylor with the Big 12 Championship on the line while scoring only 10 points. Saban does have a real choice presented to him as either one of these schools could potentially be where he stakes a different legacy.

If you keep hearing people talking about "whats the better job" between Alabama and Texas, just tune it out. It's bullshit. These are two of the most prominent, historic programs in college football's history. Texas has numerous advantages over Alabama from the head coach's perspective. Saban is a fantastic recruiter, and if he were to take the coaching job at Texas, he would barely have to leave the state. According to Rivals, since 2010 the state of Texas has made up 13 out of the top 100 players in the country and has accounted for an average of 3 five star recruits each year. Mack Brown has done a poor job of keeping that kind of talent in state. Saban would not have that issue. He would have no problem convincing that kind of talent to stay home and play for him with his track record of an eye for talent and building up pro caliber players like a factory. Throw in the fact that he can get almost any recruit that he wants anyway, and Texas can quickly assemble some USC 2003-2006 kind of team. His known strategy would make Texas a national title contender in a matter of years. He turned a a 7-6 Alabama team into 12-2 his second in which they were ranked #1 until the SECCG against Tebow. Texas already has a tremendous amount of talent, so it isn't like Saban is walking into a complete disaster. That will also be important because if Texas is going to make the offer interesting, they are going to have to show him the promise of winning in the next three or four years. Saban has a great thing going at Alabama, but he is about to lose his three year starting quarterback and a higher proportion of players on defense than even he is used to. Texas would give him an immediate station to start winning.

Texas would be a stressful job for Saban as the Longhorns would demand instant results, but I still think that it would be less stressful than his current role at Alabama. Tide fans have become the most spoiled sports fans in the country, and they now are starting to view championships as a birth right. I don't think they are stupid enough to want Saban fired for losing the Iron Bowl, but Saban's wife has has mentioned that he feels the pressure every single year to win out and take the Tide all the way. The SEC is undoubtedly the best conference in the NCAA and is almost impossible to navigate through without acquiring at least one loss. The Big 12 has seen some teams on the rise (Oklahoma State and Baylor), but from top to bottom it is not as powerful a conference as the SEC. Instead of playing Auburn, LSU, and then a mix of SEC East teams like Florida and Georgia, Saban would only have to overcome Oklahoma and then maybe Baylor or Oklahoma State annually. Mike Golic from ESPN said that because of Texas's strength of schedule, the Longhorns would have a harder time making the playoff. That was easily the most idiotic thing he said all day. Texas will consistently get the benefit of the doubt if they are undefeated, or even have one loss, with Saban at the helm. The guy has won four national titles for Christ's sake; do you really think the selection committee would keep him and Texas out of the playoffs if they are winning 11-12 games every year? The pressure to succeed at Texas wouldn't be any lesser than it is at Alabama, but the degree of difficulty to reach the playoffs would be noticeably less.

Still, I really can't imagine a situation in which Saban leaves Texas. Let's be clear first: this is not about which university can throw the biggest contract his way. He gets paid a bit more than six million dollars a year from Alabama right now. Both Alabama and Texas have the capability of paying Saban nine to ten million a year, so this really has nothing to do with money. If you don't think they will do everything they can do get Saban to head their way, you're mistaken.

The biggest lure for him is that he is already established at Alabama where he is basically treated like a god. He probably never pays for a meal and could command a person to lay down in the mud so his shoes don't get scuffed and they would instantly. He already has a fucking statue of him on the campus. I'm not joking when I say I think he could run for governor and get elected in Alabama. What he has accomplished with the Tide since taking over in 2007 is absolutely astonishing. Three of his seven seasons coaching in Alabama have ended with a national championship and he had two more teams ranked #1 heading into the last game or SECCG (2008, 2013). That's a two game swing where Alabama has the chance to instead win up to five championships in his seven years. He has perfected his own system of recruiting the best players the south has to offer and his teams are always the most athletically imposing. While he would have a tremendous amount of in state talent at Texas, there is the risk of not being able to retain players from the southeast as easily. Like I've said, he's a great recruiter but his location at Alabama has him at a huge advantage when recruiting in the southeast. The university sits in a great location that makes drives to Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Louisiana very short which is important to recruiting. Many players want to stay close to home so their families can watch them more frequently. Saban runs the risk of losing this, as well as many recruits who desire to play in the strongest conference, if he absconds to Texas.

It's going to be an interesting couple of weeks with the bowl games on the horizon. Saban is still coaching in a BCS game while Brown has a tough match against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. Everyone is reporting that they would be surprised if Brown isn't the coach for the bowl game, but in this business the only people who really know are the AD and university president. I'll be keeping this updated as more information becomes available.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ranking the Heisman Finalists

Like I said in my preseason predictions, this has become almost impossible to predict. The last three years alone (Cam Newton, RG3, Johnny Manziel) has shown it is about who can capture the attention of fans around the country most. This year was no different. Of the six finalists announced, I only had one on my own preseason watch list with Manziel. It's so difficult to explain why this has become the trend in recent years. I mean, those guys all did have such fantastic seasons, but there was nobody giving them any hype in the preseason. It has become a very crazy phenomena, but at least it makes for an even better season.

1) Jameis Winston, Redshirt Freshman Quarterback, Florida State Seminoles
Winston was on very few people's radar before the season started. But when he started off his first game against Pitt throwing for four touchdowns and completing 25 of 27 passes, he began to achieve fame at an even faster rate than Manziel did last year. A redshirt freshman, two sport phenom (watch his arm from right field) from Alabama, Winston won the starting job and Jimbo Fisher has never had to look back as Winston has put up the most Heisman worthy season of the finalists. Including the game against Duke, he has thrown for 3820 yards and 38 touchdowns against 10 interceptions while rushing for 193 yards and four touchdowns. He is very athletic, but is absolutely lethal as a pocket passer and prefers to deliver from the pocket. Florida State has a fantastic line that gives him a lot of protection to make his throws, but he is also very capable of getting off passes in the face of pressure. Winston has also benefited from some great talent at receiver and running back, but he has been able to make something out of nothing routinely. He developed a rapport with Kelvin Benjamin that became just unstoppable from the middle of the season on. Winston can make almost any throw, which is shown in his distribution among his receivers. Four have at least six touchdown catches while three have at least fifty catches on the year as well.

Winston had his Heisman moment in the sixth game of the season when the Seminoles went to Clemson and absolutely annihilated the Tigers in front of their home crowd. Winston simply torched the Clemson secondary at will to the tune of three touchdowns and 444 passing yards as well as another rushing touchdown to make it 41-7 at one point and let the home crowd know they were free to leave. He has made his mistakes here and there, but he is only a freshman and broke the record for most passing touchdowns and yards by a freshman in a season. He is leading the second ranked scoring offense with 53 points per game and has been behind the juggernaut that is beating their opponents by an average of 42 points this year. Given how quickly the Seminoles have risen to number one in the country, he has gotten the most amount of coverage too. The fact that he was implicated in a sexual assault case could sway some voters. Heisman winners and the Heisman Trust tends to like their image to be clean and the winners to have integrity, so some might be worried by the allegations even though he was cleared. I think that given the significance of what he has accomplished as a freshman and that he is also playing for a national championship, it seems like the Heisman is Winston's to lose.

2) Tre Mason, Junior Running Back, Auburn Tigers
Just as Jameis has assumed to role of leader for Florida State, Mason has put the team on his back throughout most of the season. About a month ago in one of my weekly roundup blogs, I wrote that Mason had to be considered for All-SEC, which has turned out to be the biggest understatement I've made all year. The country really got introduced to him in the Iron Bowl against Alabama where he gashed the Tide defensive front. In that game, he carried the ball 29 times for 164 yards and a touchdown and keeping the ball out of the hands of AJ McCarron and TJ Yeldon. With Auburn in the SEC championship game against Missouri, Mason was given another platform to shine and registered his best game of the season and the best game by a running back in the SECCG. He carried the ball 46 times for 304 yards and four touchdowns against a Missouri defense that had only given up a couple of 100 yard rushing performances. Mason has come through for his team when it has mattered most and has excelled in the two biggest games of the season. It sucks that voting for the Heisman happens before the national title game, because the matchup of him against Winston in one final preview would drive up already high ratings.

Mason does make a pretty good case for the Heisman and is probably the most worthy running back to have a chance to win it since Reggie Bush. He has 1621 rushing yards this year at an average of 5.7 yards per carry and has 22 rushing touchdowns to compliment that. Starting after the easy early non-conference games, Mason became the focal point of the offense and scored at least one rushing touchdown in the last 10 games. In Auburn's only loss to LSU, he still ran for over 130 yards and two touchdowns. Prior to the Iron Bowl, Mason's Heisman moment was the 178 yard, one touchdown effort in College Station against then #7 ranked Texas A&M to lead to the Tigers to the win. Mason has been making a late push for the Heisman, but I'm not sure if he will be able to overcome the voters' admiration of Famous Jameis. If his name had been thrown around at midseason, this would probably be a much closer race.

3) Johnny Manziel, Redshirt Sophomore Quarterback, Texas A&M Aggies
Too bad Manziel can't play defense, because his team's lack of one has probably cost him a chance at repeating as the Heisman winner. His year hasn't been as great as it was last year, but Kevin Sumlin did not give Manziel as many designed runs this year. Manziel improved as a passer this year however, throwing for seven more touchdowns for a total of 33 while bumping his completion percentage to 69.1. Manziel also has 686 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground which gives him a total of 41 touchdowns (1 behind Winston) and 4,418 yards (405 more than Winston). He had some terrific performances in games this year, throwing for more than three touchdowns in seven games and rushing for two touchdowns three times. He again had the most successful day against Alabama's vaunted defense that anybody has had this year. Manziel converted 28 completions into 464 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for another 98 yards. In the four losses that A&M suffered this year, Manziel still accounted for 12 touchdowns.

There are a couple factors that are working against Manziel that will keep him from winning the Heisman. The first is that his numbers have dipped off a bit this year. His has accounted for 700 less total yards and scored six fewer touchdowns this year. It was an impossible feat going into the season for him to replicate the kind of numbers he put up last year as defenses would have a better chance to study him. He set the bar too high for himself last year. The second is the losses. A&M lost three of their four games by one touchdown, with one blowout loss coming against LSU. It does honestly suck that the Heisman really does place value on the player's win/loss. He did everything possible in the games that the Aggies lost, but a non-existent defense caused them to lose four games this year, twice as many as they lost last year. The third factor is the fact that their are actual contenders this year besides him. Manziel beat out Colin Klein of Kansas Stat and Manti Te'o who got catfished, so its not like Manziel won it over Adrian Peterson and Vince Young. Jameis is a better quarterback than Manziel has been this year and Tre Mason's popularity has surged in the past few weeks. I don't think Manziel has any chance to repeat.

4) AJ McCarron, Redshirt Senior Quarterback, Alabama Crimson Tide
McCarron's numbers aren't eye popping, but when you're the leader of a team looking for its third straight national championship, you are going to be glorified. McCarron threw for 2,676 yards and 26 touchdowns with only five interceptions on the year. There were a couple of games where he looked rather pedestrian, but in some of the biggest games of the season McCarron really stepped up and made crucial plays. He kept pace with Manziel and threw for 4 touchdowns against A&M, tossed another three against LSU, and had another three against Auburn. His final in the Iron Bowl was a 99 yard touchdown to Amari Cooper that he made from his own endzone and would have probably given him a better shot at the Heisman if Alabama had been able to win. He's never been the kind of quarterback to go out there and throw it all over the field, but his efficiency is very lethal and he is often unflappable. However, that is also kind of the reason why he is in the bottom half of these rankings. He isn't the most outstanding player in the country because he is just sort of average. His biggest advantage in the Heisman race was leading the number one team in the country, but the Iron Bowl loss pretty much killed his chances. 

5) Andre Williams, Senior Running Back, Boston College Eagles
Williams is to Boston College what Tre Mason is to Auburn. Williams has been a workhorse all year long, carrying the ball an average of 27 times a game while maintaining an average of 6.4 yards per carry. Williams in the first running back to run for over 2000 yards (2102 total) since UConn running back Donald Brown did it several years ago. His numbers are very impressive despite the fact that he plays average competition. He posted a yards per rush average of over 8 yards in four separate games, went over 200 yards in a game five times including once going over 300, and scored five touchdowns in a game against Army. Williams is a big, powerful running back who has gained national attention for his ability to knock defenders backwards. Yet like I said, its hard to envision him winning because of the teams he has faced and the lack of prestige surrounding BC this season. While they are playing for a bowl game, they still have five losses on the season and didn't beat a ranked team during the season. If he was playing for a powerhouse school, he'd be higher on this list.

6) Jordan Lynch, Redshirt Senior Quarterback, Northern Illinois Huskies
He really does have no chance. Any one that he did have was dashed when NIU lost to Bowling Green in their conference championship game. He has some very good numbers and even set the record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a season, but his competition is average at best. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

BCS Bowl Games Announced

National Championship Game
No. 1 Florida State Seminoles vs. No. 2 Auburn Tigers (Pasadena, CA on January 6th)
Note: Florida State has opened from anywhere between 8-9.5 point favorites in this contest. I think that the Tiger's defensive lapses have bettors favoring the Seminoles by a rather wide margin.

Initial Reaction: I think that this game will play out very similarly to the Iron Bowl. Auburn sports a fantastic offense, but the Seminoles also have a very athletic defense that could cause some issues in the run game for Auburn. The Seminoles also have a great offense that should be able to take advantage of an Auburn defense that hasn't been spectacular this year. My gut tells me to go with Florida State early in the analysis.

Rose Bowl
No. 4 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 5 Stanford Cardinal (Pasadena, CA on January 1st)
Initial Reaction: This is going to be a defensive slug-fest. These two teams play a very similar style, preferring to use their impregnable defenses and power running games to take the pressure off of the quarterback. Yet watching Spartan quarterback Connor Cook against Ohio State, I think that he can be an X factor in this game and lead the Spartans to a Rose Bowl victory. 

Note: Despite the Spartans being ranked ahead in this contest with the Cardinal, Sparty is a 1-3 point underdog early.

Orange Bowl
No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 12 Clemson Tigers (Miami, FL on January 3rd)
Note: According to 11Warriors, Ohio State has opened as an early favorite over Clemson among betting circles, with the average being a 3 point favorite.

Initial Reaction: This game will probably be the opposite of the Rose Bowl. Clemson and Ohio State both have very explosive offenses but their defenses have often been the cause of the losses. Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins should have a field day against the Buckeye's secondary, but Braxton and Carlos Hyde will find equal success against the Clemson front seven. I like Ohio State's defense to make a couple of big plays in this game, and ultimately they walk away with a victory while both teams score in the mid 40s.

Sugar Bowl
No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners (New Orleans, LA on January 2nd)
Initial Reaction: This is a rematch of the title game back in 2003 when Saban coached LSU, and I imagine this game will turn out in a similar fashion. Oklahoma is still searching for the same success it found under Sam Bradford, but they just don't have the ability on offense to keep up against Alabama's defense. Alabama's offense is still very potent, and I just don't see any way the Sooners are able to account for Amari Cooper, OJ Howard, TJ Yeldon and the rest of the Tide offense. Alabama should handle this game fairly easily.

Note: Bettors aren't too confident in Stoops's ability to stop Nick Saban. Alabama has opened as 14.5 point favorites against the Sooners.

Fiesta Bowl
No. 6 Baylor Bears vs. No. 15 UCF Knights (Tempe, AZ on January 1st)
Note: This game has the potential to get ugly early with the potency of Baylor's offense. They are favored by more than two touchdowns at this juncture.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Top Ten Before Bowl Play

1) Florida State Seminoles (beat No. 20 Duke Blue Devils 45-7 to win ACC Title)
Duke was able to force Jameis Winston into two interceptions, but Florida State just had superior players in this game and was able to completely dominate the Blue Devils. Winston was able to make up for the turnovers by throwing for three touchdowns and 330 yards. Kelvin Benjamin continues to emerge as one of the biggest home run threats in college football. He was the recipient of five passes and two touchdowns. Florida State ran the ball at will against Duke, averaging 5.6 yards per carry and tacking on another three touchdowns to the total. Their defense is just as efficient as their offense. They held Duke to 239 yards and forced them into three turnovers and seven points. They have allowed a league leading 10.7 points per game, and only two teams have been able to score more than 14 points on them all season. Their defense matches up very well against their presumed championship foe, Auburn.

2) Auburn Tigers (beat No. 5 Missouri Tigers 59-42 to win SEC Title)
As usual, the SEC stole the show with an incredible offensive explosion by both teams. Auburn fed running back Tre Mason a grueling 46 times, but he turned that into 303 yards and 4 touchdowns, often shredding the Missouri defense at will. For the second straight game, Auburn's offensive line was able to generate a dominant effort and opened up running lanes for Mason and Nick Marshall all night. Marshall ran for 101 yards himself, often not even getting touched until he had reached the linebackers. Auburn is going to have to rely on its offense to carry them against Florida State, because their defense gets torched on a regular basis. Missouri was almost as effective on the ground, running for 230 yards on an average of 6.8 yards. Their secondary was also very leaky, allowing James Franklin to throw for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Their cornerbacks were almost helpless against Dorial Green-Beckham. Auburn is going to have to shore up their defense before the title game if they want to have a shot at Florida State.

3) Alabama Crimson Tide (no game this week)

4) Stanford Cardinal (beat No. 11 Arizona State Sundevils 38-14 to win Pac-12 Title)
Stanford won this game in a similar fashion to the regular season match they played. Tyler Gaffney carried the ball 22 times for 133 yards and three touchdowns as Stanford ran for a total of 240 yards and was able to control the tempo of the game from start to finish. The biggest difference had to be how Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan converted 12 completions into 277 yards. Stanford's receivers were home run threats all night, although Hogan did only throw for one touchdown. Defensively, Stanford played a much better game than I anticipated them to against an Arizona State team with a very powerful aerial attack. The Cardinal limited opposing quarterback Taylor Kelly to only 173 yards on 17 completions, well below what he has been used to all season long. Stanford was also very strong against the run, allowing the Sun Devils to gain only 138 yards and never really allowing too much running room. Stanford is in good shape going into the Rose Bowl.

5) Michigan State Spartans (beat No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes 34-24 to win B1G Title)
The Spartans rose well above the challenge that was presented to them and will be rewarded with a Rose Bowl berth. Michigan State's defense did a great job of only allowing the Buckeyes to score 24 points despite Ohio State still racking up almost 400 yards of offense. The cornerbacks did a fantastic job of limiting Braxton through the air, forcing Ohio State to run the ball even when a pass was more warranted. Their defensive line and linebackers had their hands full all day, but they were again able to limit the big explosive plays of Ohio State. Offensively, the Spartans were the biggest surprise as Connor Cook picked apart the Ohio State secondary all night to the tune of 304 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. Jeremy Langford also found a lot of success running the ball late in the game when it mattered the most. Hats off the Michigan State, who was intimidated and outcoached one of the best in the country.

6) Baylor Bears (beat No. 25 Texas Longhorns 30-10 to clinch Big 12 Title)
With Oklahoma State losing to their instate rivals earlier in the day, this game basically became a championship game. This game was tied at 3 until the start of the second half when Baylor was able to open up their offense and move the ball much more effectively against Texas. Bryce Petty threw for two touchdowns and Glasco Martin ran for another touchdown to put this game well out of reach. Baylor played a great game defensively as well, holding quarterback Case McCoy to a putrid 54 yards on 16 completions. Texas found more success on the ground, but it was not even close to enough to keep them in the game against the Bears. Baylor will now be rewarded with their first BCS Bowl berth with an invite to the Fiesta Bowl, although their opponent could be a bit lackluster this year.

7) Ohio State Buckeyes (lost 24-34 to No. 10 Michigan State Spartans)
Urban Meyer has to make changes on the defensive front this year. It has been a liability all year long and Michigan State was finally the team to capitalize on it. The secondary simply could never make a big play when they had to, save an interception by CJ Barnett. The run defense played very well at the beginning of the game, with Shazier assuming his normal role as the enforcer, but by the end of the game they were getting run over. Offensively, Braxton struggled to throw the ball, as he only completed 8 of 23 passes for 101 yards and touchdown. None of his receivers had much success getting separation either, but the offensive line was able to get a lot of push and open up room for Braxton and Carlos Hyde. They combined for 260 yards against a defensive front that had been allowing a quarter of that. This was a crushing loss, but Ohio State will still probably get an BCS at large bid against Clemson at the Orange Bowl which could turn into a real shootout.

8) South Carolina Gamecocks (no game this week)

9) Missouri Tigers (lost 42-59 to No. 3 Auburn Tigers)
I had no idea that the Missouri front seven was going to get torn apart like that against the run. They had done very well all year long against some great rushing threats and had performed admirably, but this time they simply couldn't do anything. Missouri tried to challenge Marshall to throw early, but after he showed that he was up to the challenge they had to honor that and not commit as many men to the run. The results are obvious. Offensively, Mizzou performed about as well as I though they were capable of, and it really should have been enough if their defense was any bit competent. Dorial Green-Beckham is going to be a great receiver as a junior next year and whenever he enters the pros. He has insane body control and a fantastic burst after the catch despite towering at 6'6. James Franklin looks like he is back to his early season, non-injured form. They should match up favorably against whomever they draw in their bowl game.

10) Oregon Ducks (no game this week)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Conference Championship Predictions

No. 1 Florida State Seminoles vs. No. 20 Duke (8:00 PM on ABC)
Why is it that Ohio State has gotten ripped for playing a weak schedule when Florida State has a worse strength of schedule than the Buckeyes? I guess it's true what they say: there's no such thing as bad publicity. Florida State has gotten a lot of media attention in the last six weeks for both good and bad reasons. Star quarterback Jameis Winston is a freshman phenom, but he is also at the epicenter of a sexual assault investigation that probably won't actually get started or be concluded until after January 7th. Standing in the way of their first return to a championship game in over a decade is the Duke Blue Devils, a team that showed some promise last year but has completely shocked all of college football this year by beating out teams like Virginia Tech and Miami for the ACC Coastal Division. Duke's coach David Cutcliffe should be the front runner for coach of the year (although Gus Malzahn may have something to say about that), but I don't see any possible scenario short of Florida State's bus crashing where Duke comes out of this game with a berth to the Orange Bowl in hand. A 10 win season for Duke football is a rarity, but it is not like they have dominated teams this year in the ACC. They lost at home to Georgia Tech and a mediocre Pitt team, while having close games against Troy, Wake Forest, and UNC. 

Kelvin Benjamin
Offensively, they are a pretty balanced team but they have yet to face a defense that is as potent and devastating as the Seminoles. The Seminoles have a defense that is bursting at the seams with NFL talent, and they are going to make life miserable all day for Duke's quarterbacks with their relentless pass rush. FSU also has a very talented group of defensive backs who are going to provide much smaller windows to throw into than Duke is used to working with. When the Noles have the ball, they will probably be able to score on every possession. Duke has only given up an average of 23 points per game, but as I've said they haven't seen a team quite as dangerous as the one that Florida State fields. Kelvin Benjamin was a force against Florida's ridiculous trio of cornerbacks and he should absolutely feast on the Duke secondary. Florida State probably doesn't even have to pass more than twenty times this game since they also have a great set of running backs who can compliment Winston or take over a game depending on how the game has gone. I think the Seminoles win this game big, 45-17.

No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 10 Michigan State Spartans (8:17 PM on FOX)
Darqueze Dennard
The winners of their respective divisions won their final games in completely opposite fashion last week, with Ohio State surviving a shootout against Michigan while the Spartans dominated Minnesota with defense. Just as they have done all year long, Michigan State beat the Gophers with a relentless defensive effort, holding Minnesota to just 249 yards of offense. They boast the fourth ranked scoring defense in the country, holding opponents to just 11.8 points per game. More impressively, they have only allowed foes to accumulate more than 100 yards rushing just twice this season, once against Minnesota and the other against Nebraska. In all other games, Michigan State only allowed an average of 47 rushing yards per game. They also possess a very athletic group of cornerbacks who are great at attacking the ball in the air and generating turnovers. Yet now they are going against easily the most talented offense that they have seen all year. Michigan State's front seven is going to have the biggest challenge of the day which is stopping the tandem of Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller. The front seven is going to have to corral them and keep Ohio State out of second and short situations. Offensively, Michigan State is rather difficult to get a reading on. Connor Cook has done a good job of taking care of the football this year, but again he will be going up against arguably the best defense he has seen all year. Ohio State struggled to defend the Wolverines, but Cook doesn't posses the same elusiveness and mobility that made Gardner so frustrating to defend. Running back Jeremy Langford is going to have to establish himself early to take pressure off of Cook.

Mesmerizing, isn't it?
I'm not that convinced that Michigan State is going to be able to put up enough points to eventually take this game. Ohio State's defensive line is great at closing the pocket, something they did very well last week but just couldn't capitalize on. As I mentioned, Cook isn't as mobile as Gardner is, so I think he is going to have a shorter window to throw than he is accustomed to. Michigan State also doesn't have the most diverse group of receivers either. No receiver on the team has caught more than 35 passes, so the young players in the Buckeye secondary could have an easier time. Ryan Shazier is also one of the best outside linebackers in the country, and he will have to take command to stop the run against Langford. This game will be determined by whether or not Ohio State can get the better of Sparty's defense. These two teams played a low scoring affair with similar teams last year in East Lansing, with OSU eeking out a 17-16 victory. Ohio State has the best offensive line in the conference, and they are going to have to make a statement early and get a lot of movement. For Ohio State to win this battle, Braxton has to take care of the football and not try and force any passes against this hawking Michigan State secondary. When it all comes down to a final analysis, Ohio State has just too much talent on offense and one of the best coaches in the country who knows how to win big games. This game has put more doubt in my mind than any other this season, but I trust the Buckeyes to win this one 27-21.

No. 7 Stanford Cardinal @ No. 11 Arizona State Sun Devils (7:45 on ESPN)
Taylor Kelly to Jaelen Strong
A quick correction to a mistake in my previous blog: this game will be played in Tempe, not Palo Alto. Arizona State's second loss was a loss to Notre Dame, so they only have one conference loss while Stanford has two, Utah and USC. That will make a pretty big difference in this game because these two teams met in September in Stanford with the Cardinal winning 42-28. Arizona has a very good offense that is lead by Taylor Kelly, who has thrown for 3300 yards and 27 touchdowns to only 11 interceptions. His favorite target is sophomore wide out Jaelen Strong, a huge target who has hauled in 69 passes for 1067 yards and 7 touchdowns. Strong had his best game this season against Stanford, where he caught 12 passes for one touchdown and 168 yards. He is a match up nightmare and should be able to replicate that kind of production in this game. Kelly also utilizes his running backs a lot on screens and dump offs. Marion Grice and DJ Foster have combined for 104 catches and almost 1000 yards coming out of the backfield which is going to pose a lot of challenges for the Cardinal linebackers. Arizona ranks in the top ten in points per game at 43.3, but they have just a mediocre defense that has given up a fair amount of points against some of the better teams they've played. They have given up more than 30 points five times this year. They do have some great players on the defensive line however, such as defensive tackle Will Sutton. Sutton is going to be tasked with stuffing the Stanford running backs at the point of attack and bottling up the big play opportunities. Stanford was able to run for 240 yards and three touchdowns against the Sun Devils in the first meeting. Stanford runs it relentlessly, so it may be up to players in the secondary to force a turnover for some quick points.

Trent Murphy
Stanford is going to have to win this game the way that they have all season: with relentless defensive efforts and success with the run. The Cardinal ran the ball 49 times in the first contest for a total of 240 yards. Their commitment to the run game is hard to overcome because of how successful they are with it and how it lets them control the game. The running backs are lead by Tyler Gaffney, who has rushed for 1485 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season. He had a bit of a subpar game against Arizona State, but he gets a lot of the burden taken off by Anthony Wilkerson and the running ability of quarterback Kevin Hogan. Hogan is probably going to be asked to step it up a bit in this game. He is a bit of a game manager, but he has shown the ability to make some tough throws and does take care of the football pretty well. He's thrown 9 of his 19 touchdown passes to Ty Montgomery who continues to be the security blanket for Hogan. Head Coach David Shaw will utilize his tenacious defense more than ever in this game. Defensive end Trent Murphy has been an unstoppable force this year, racking up 13 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. Linebacker Shane Skov is equally disruptive, amassing 4.5 sacks and another ten tackles for a loss. They are going to have to apply a lot of pressure to Kelly who is fantastic when he has time to throw. Kelly was forced into two interceptions in the first game, and I don't think that he is going to see any less pressure this time around. Expect this game to be a lot closer than the first one, but I still think that Stanford's defense and rush attack will be able to dictate this game. The Cardinal will punch their second straight trip to the Rose Bowl with a 33-24 victory.

No. 5 Missouri Tigers vs. No. 3 Auburn Tigers (4:00 PM on CBS)
Alabama tears are the sweetest tears.
I can't believe how many people are already talking about Auburn jumping Ohio State despite the fact they have a game against a very talented Missouri squad this Saturday. Auburn is probably going to be riding the emotional high from last week's Iron Bowl which could work either in their favor or against them depending on how focused Gus Malzahn has his squad. Auburn will have to get similar production out of Nick Marshall and Tre Mason, who combined for 260 yards against Alabama, almost three times what Alabama had been giving up per game. The offensive linemen will need to keep up the terrific job of opening up wide running lanes for Mason and Marshall to work with. Marshall isn't a great passer, but he took care of the football against the Tide and accounted for two more touchdowns in the air. One of the receivers is going to have to step up in this game and help out Marshall. No receiver caught more than two passes against Alabama, so expect Missouri to sell out to stop the run and force Marshall to throw. Defensively, I think Auburn could be in for a bit of a long day. It isn't like they were able to dominate the Tide; the defense simply made enough plays to limit Alabama to 28 points. McCarron looked like Joe Namath out there, throwing for three touchdowns including a ridiculous 99 yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper. TJ Yeldon also averaged 5.4 yards per carry on the ground. Auburn's defensive effort is going to have to be better than what they produced against Alabama if they want to win this game.

Dorial Green-Beckham
Missouri is a team that has really flown under the radar this year but they now have a great chance at making a statement in only their second season in the SEC. Missouri has averaged 39 points per game this season, including 31 against five ranked teams they have played while Auburn has been giving up around 22 points per game, but almost 33 against ranked opponents. Mizzou's quarterback James Franklin is back on track after a midseason injury, but it is evident that he is not at 100%. Freshman Maty Mauk performed well beyond what was expected of him as a replacement, so it will be interesting to see if Missouri coach Gary Pinkel uses both of them to keep Auburn off balance. Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham could have a day similar to what Amari Cooper had against Auburn. DGB is a huge target at 6'6 who has great speed to gain a ton of yards after the catch, and he should match  up very well against an underwhelming Auburn secondary. Missouri also posses a very underrated and athletic defense that knows how to attack the quarterback and close up running lanes before they open. Defensive linemen Markus Golden and Michael Sam have combined for 17 sacks and 31 tackles for loss, and their productivity in this game is going to account for a lot. Missouri also has some very rangy linebackers who will be called upon to make sideline to sideline plays. All in all, I think that Missouri has enough firepower on both sides of the ball to overcome the Auburn Tigers. Given how closely these teams are ranked, I don't think that Missouri will dominate this game, but I think they still win the SEC championship game 38-35.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Top 10 for 12/1

1) Florida State Seminoles (beat Florida Gators 37-7 in Gainesville)
This game was actually competitive for the first quarter when the Gators were able to hold Florida State to just a field goal and had intercepted Jameis Winston. After that, they simply couldn't do anything about sophomore wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, a 6'5 beast who hauled in three touchdowns and 212 yards on the day. Winston was challenged by the Gator's defensive backs, but ultimately he had the better day. The Seminoles also dominated this game defensively, holding Florida to 193 yards and forcing two turnovers. It was a bit of a role reversal for the way that this rivalry has gone over the last seven or eight years. The Seminoles will now play Duke for the ACC title, where they have already opened up as 30 point favorites against the Blue Devils.

2) Ohio State Buckeyes (beat Michigan Wolverines 42-41 in Ann Arbor)
This was one of the greatest matches that has ever bee played in the history of this rivalry, and that is saying a lot. The only thing that could have made this game any better was if Michigan was ranked. But in any case, Ohio State played a gritty game with Michigan, a team who completely emptied the cabinet in order to take down their unbeaten nemesis. The Buckeyes defense had a miserable day, making Devin Gardner look like Tom Brady. They did better against the run, but Gardner's maneuverability in the pocket allowed him to extend plays and let his guys get open. Ohio State's offense was running just as efficiently. Braxton accounted for five touchdowns while throwing for 133 and running for 153. Carlos Hyde was a complete beast in this game, running for an OSU record against Michigan 226 yards on 8.6 yards per carry. Ohio State was favored by 16 points in this game, but as I said prior to this week, anything can happen in a major rivalry game like this. Michigan had nothing to lose and played to win, and I give Brady Hoke a tremendous amount of credit of having the balls to go for 2. But in the end, Ohio State made just one more play that made all the difference in the world.

3) Auburn Tigers (beat No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide 34-28 at home)
Did this game live up to the hype or what? Auburn played the Crimson tide much better than I expected them to and pulled off an upset in the most stunning fashion I've ever seen. Nick Marshall had a fantastic game, accounting for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Those are relatively modest numbers, but he made very critical plays when he had to in order to keep Auburn alive. Tre Mason was a workhorse for the Tigers as well, carrying the ball 29 for 164 yards against Alabama's punishing defense. The Tiger's offensive linemen were able to get the better of the Alabama defensive front seven all night, opening holes for Mason and Marshall who accumulated almost 300 yards, three times what Alabama had been giving up. Their defense was also able to make some pretty big plays, although giving up a 99 yard touchdown to Amari Cooper should have been a backbreaker. All in all, in comes down to one play that completely changes the outcome of this game. In this case, Auburn benefited from Saban's need to micromanage the game and demand an extra second at the end to kick a field goal. This was easily one of the most memorable finishes to any game I've ever seen in any sport.

4) Alabama Crimson Tide (lost to No. 4 Auburn Tigers 28-34 in Auburn)
Alabama had a great game statistically, but overall they just looked a bit sloppy and vulnerable. Their defensive front could not stop the run, and they were often leaving receivers with huge amounts of room to work with in the middle of the field. I was really surprised because I really figured that when Alabama went up 21-7 that they were going to put the game away. McCarron had a pretty good game, including what probably would have been his Heisman moment with the 99 yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper to take a touchdown lead in the fourth quarter. TJ Yeldon also had a great game, but in the end this game came down to the failures of their kicker to deliver. Alabama's kicker Cody Foster missed three field goals, and then the replacement kicker missed the final field goal that was returned for the touchdown. It was really a pretty flukey play, but Alabama lost and I couldn't be happier.

5) Missouri Tigers (beat No. 21 Texas A&M Aggies 28-21 at home)
Missouri might actually have a team that is capable of beating Auburn in the SEC Championship game. They held Manziel in check the entire game, allowing him to complete 26 passes for just 195 yards and only giving up 21 yards on the ground to him. Missouri has a very athletic defense who can keep up with the up tempo teams and is very aggressive against the run. The offense is also very dangerous now that James Franklin is back from injury and looking like his old self. He threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 80 yards, playing very well against a very poor A&M defense. Dorial Green-Beckham had another strong game, catching 7 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. The opening line for next week's game against Auburn is only around 2 points, and I think that they have a very serious shot of taking down Auburn and reaching the Sugar Bowl.

6) Oklahoma State Cowboys (idle this week; next game 12/7 Oklahoma Sooners at home)

7) Michigan State Spartans (beat Minnesota Golden Gophers 14-3 at home)
It was a pretty game offensively, but the defense is what has been carrying the Spartans thus far and this game showed just how dominating they can be. Minnesota was only able to get 249 total yards and it was pretty evenly dispersed between passing and rushing. Sophomore cornerback Trae Waynes picked off Gopher quarterback Philip Nelson twice and Michigan State was also able to force a fumble. Running back Jeremy Langford had a solid day, rushing for one touchdown and 134 yards. He will have a much tougher challenge against Ohio State's front seven, lead by junior linebacker Ryan Shazier. Michigan State has a very solid defense, but I'm not sure how well they will be able to move the ball against the Buckeyes. Ohio State had some difficulty defending Devin Gardner, but Connor Cook of the Spartans doesn't possess the mobility issue that Gardner did.

8) Baylor Bears (beat TCU Horned Frogs 41-38 in Forth Worth)
Baylor really didn't look all that great in this game. Their defense had been playing well, but in their last two games they have completely lost it. It doesn't really matter too much at this point however. Baylor's chances at anything significant kind of died when they lost to Oklahoma State last weekend. Unless the Cowboys lose to the Sooners at home, which is really unlikely to happen, Baylor is going to be left out of the Fiesta Bowl and probably an at-large bid.

9) Stanford Cardinal (beat No. 25 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 27-20)
Kevin Hogan had a miserable day passing, throwing two interceptions but the Cardinal did what they have all season long and ran the ball right at Notre Dame. Stanford ran for over 250 yards and held onto the ball for almost 35 minutes while dominating Notre Dame defensively. Tommy Rees wasn't very effective passing the ball, and he was forced into two interceptions while the running backs only garnered 64 yards on the ground. Stanford will get to host Arizona State for the Pac-12 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Arizona State boasts one of the better passing attacks that Stanford has seen all season, but Stanford has already beaten the Sun Devils 42-28 this season at home. Expect a similar result.

10) South Carolina Gamecocks (beat No. 6 Clemson Tigers 31-17 at home)
South Carolina's dominance over their instate rivals continues as they totally dominated Clemson in every phase of the game. Clemson had a total of six turnovers while South Carolina had none, and Tajh Boyd was not able to do anything effective against this ball hawking defense. Unfortunately for South Carolina, they needed Mizzou to lose to Texas A&M in order to sneak into the SECCG. I feel bad for South Carolina as they have been able to win double digit games over the last few seasons but just can't catch a break and get into a BCS bowl game. I would be shocked if they managed to this year.