Monday, January 6, 2014

Florida State Looks Too Good

As a long-time fan of college football I was amazed at what FSU was able to do in mid-season of this year in never letting down. Every great team loses focus at some point during the regular season as they march to January. FSU, except perhaps in the first half of the BC game never did and beat everyone by at least two TDs. Most impressively they followed their dismantling of Clemson with routs over North Carolina State--to avenge an upset loss from last season--and rival Miami. After three straight games that they had circled preseason it would have been easy to ignore the upcoming opponents but the Noles put up consecutive 59-3 scores over Wake Forest and Syracuse. Dominant competition? Hell no. But they could have easily played sloppily in those games and won 24-7. That they then finished the season with blowouts of Florida and Duke was impressive as well. I cannot look at their performance this year and look at the talent on both sides of the ball and think this game tonight will be close. The Seminoles will begin to pull away by the second quarter.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Oklahoma Stuns Alabama

This was not supposed to happen. Alabama has now lost two in a row. Alabama lost with weeks to prepare. Oklahoma won with weeks to prepare. Alabama made inexcusable mistakes. A non SEC team beat Alabama. A QB most folks do not know outplayed Alabama's defense and counterpart A.J. McCarron. Bob Stoops beat Nick Saban despite giving him inspiration with his SEC hype is all propaganda. Alabama's NFL-caliber offensive line was embarrassed. etc. etc. There are many ways to analyze this game and the focus can easily remain on the "wow" factor of Oklahoma, of all programs, knocking off Alabama in a BCS game. The main benefit is to Bob Stoops's resume as he and his Sooners had become a second tier national power unable to compete with programs like Alabama (who could) or even LSU, Oregon, etc. Once the lost to Texas this year the Sooners disappeared from the national media. They clearly regrouped and only lost one game the rest of the way, on the road to Baylor. But until they beat Oklahoma State they had been largely forgotten. And suddenly as an underdog of all things they have thrived. The pressure of being a Sooner has been lifted somewhat and the team seems to be enjoying themselves. It helps that a young quarterback like Trevor Knight could emerge on such a big stage, but the reality is that Oklahoma has always had good coaches and good talent. They finally, with the help of a great offensive game plan, put it all together while showing the world that Alabama is human. As for Bama the main question now is how they adapt to handle spread offenses. They will have to pull away from trying to beat everyone up as in some circumstances yesterday their advantage in size did not help against a team playing hurry up with fast players. I also believe that they must improve their schedule as a way to prepare the squad for January. It has not hurt them in title games because they played an over-matched Notre Dame squad, an LSU team in a rematch and a Texas team that would have given them a much better game if its star QB did not get hurt. Oklahoma's schedule down the stretch, which included, from October 1 on, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas State (plus clunkers Kansas and Iowa state) prepared them much better than Alabama's schedule of Georgia State, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Chattanooga plus a middling Mississippi State and two ranked teams LSU and Auburn. The joke schedules that have helped them get into title games hurt them this year. The Crimson Tide play an even weaker schedule next year, which will get them into the four-team playoff. Who knows what will happen from there.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Central Florida States Case

I thought it was funny that no matter what UCF, and Louisville for that matter, did all season they never moved from the same mid teens position they held in the rankings all season. The media and coaches were determining themselves that the American Athletic was a lesser conference and its two representatives were not as good as their records indicated. Forget Louisville's play versus Florida last January--that was in the past--or UCF playing South Carolina down to the wire--well the Gamecocks were looking ahead to SEC play--these two teams could have been 20-1 and they would not have climbed higher than number 15. So now what? Louisville looked impressive in their bowl game, but it was against a reeling Miami program. Central then beats Baylor at their own game (outscoring everyone) and suddenly a top ten spot awaits. Of course both programs expect to lose their star QBS but that is a different matter. As far as last night's game, the play came in stark contrast to the Rose Bowl. Is this the future, if not present, of the sport? As much as I enjoyed UCF's forcing everyone to respect them, I hated a game where the early TDs did not matter. I do not like the NBA and so cannot put my head around games that combine for 80-100 points. But, again, I did enjoy UCF sticking it to the big guys. The Bortles kid made sure everyone knew he was one of the best players in the country--even if ESPN and the other media ignored him all season (you would have heard a lot more about him as the NFL draft takes center stage)--and coach George O'Leary, he of a past worthy of a minor Shakespearean play, reminding everyone that he always was a good coach. To be honest UCF reminds me a lot of last year's Baylor squad, who was hungry to say that they had arrived, that beating Kansas State was no upset. Both programs have an arrow pointing upward. Hopefully they will keep their coaches. Ditto that for Louisville.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

100th Rose Bowl Delivers

Now that was worth waiting for. The Rose Bowl was once the be all and end all of the college football post-season and while that is no longer the case it was fitting that the 100th edition of this glorious game delivered a compelling match-up that returns luster to the game. Michigan State also returned a great deal of respect to the ragged Big Ten, which needs as many big wins and big programs as possible. The Spartans have a very favorable conference schedule for 2014 and should remain a highly-ranked team. A September road trip to Eugene may put them behind the eight ball early but they'll be more competitive in that game than others who have made that trip. After all, Stanford created the template for beating the Ducks.

What Is Next For Nebraska?

That was a nice little win for Nebraska today--and the Big Ten would love to go 2-1 today against the SEC--but the program definitely needs some consistently good play beginning next September. They need to refine the team's image (hit hard on both sides of the ball, run the ball as well as they did this year and get good game management from QB) and then get highly ranked and stay there. If this win today can be a jump start then they have the schedule next year to make some noise. After two tune-ups they head to the West Coast to play a Fresno State team with a first-year QB. Next up, Miami at home. Who knows what to expect from Miami next year but the Huskers should be able to win that one. Then we have the Big Ten sched and the Huskers avoid both Ohio State and Michigan. Unfortunately they have to go on the road to Iowa, Wisconsin, MSU and Northwestern. Split those four and sweep the rest--they should be favored in all of the others--and ten wins and a shot at the Big Ten title game are possible. Hopefully for their sake star IB Ameer Abdullah will not declare for the draft.

January 1 Is Finally Here

Have you had enough of clunker bowl games? Yeah sure A&M rallied but most of the rest of the games have been lousy. January 1 is here and while that does not promise great football--who plans on watching the Heart of Dallas Bowl this afternoon?--we at least do get the Rose Bowl plus some mediocre matchups of the Big Ten and the SEC. Hopefully some of these games will deliver competitive, thrilling football. The problem with the bowl lineup is the relationship with conferences that lock certain teams into certain bowls depending on the final standings of each conference. So today we have mediocre Big Ten teams littering the schedule thanks to the sheer number of television sets the conference delivers and of course a phalanx of SEC teams thanks to the PR effort their conference does to ensure that everyone thinks SEC teams are the best. Would you rather see LSU-Iowa or LSU-Louisville? Nebraska-Georgia or Notre Dame-Georgia? Or, what the heck, Louisville-Notre Dame? You know the group being gathered to choose the four teams who will fight for the NCAA title next winter? Select another group of ADs, writers, public relations and television execs and choose games that will get fans excited. The bowls will get pissed but if the matchup makes sense the fans will come. The premise that Nebraska fans, let's say, will travel no matter what (and they are awesome fans) is being disproved today as there are empty seats at the Gator Bowl. The team had a mediocre season, why should they play in January? Eliminate some lesser bowls, eliminate the conference tie-ins and give us fans better games. The fans will come and tune in.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Auburn and FSU Prove That It Pays to Schedule Down

Finally after many years of crap out-of-conference scheduling by a majority of major conference powers there began to be some backlash against the practice earlier this year. Even in the mighty SEC we had writers knock the lesser opponents that litter SEC schedules while fans began to rumble about paying top dollar for tickets against opponents that leave something to be desired. Of course the schools attacked for doing this practice were chosen without consistency--Louisville and Ohio State for example received the lion's share of abuse--and we ended up in the national title games with two programs that refuse to play a challenging schedule. But instead of anger against those two there is more of a sense of "well at least Ohio State did not make it" and that is awful. Florida State, which cannot even claim to play a strong in-conference schedule, played Nevada, Idaho, FCS member Bethune-Cookman and Florida. Now some would say that playing Florida is brave but that is only true when the Gators are good and scheduling three guaranteed wins and at worst a 50-50 game is ridiculous. This is especially so when you also play the programs in the ACC that are regional squads at best and should not pose a problem to a national program like FSU. Miami and Clemson are the only programs with aspirations to compete for major bowls every year and Miami is currently in a strange place due to the NCAA investigation. How could FSU not go undefeated? Auburn played Washington State, Arkansas State, FCS member Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic. You could argue that if they played a tougher schedule they would not have made the title game since they barely beat WSU at home in game one. SEC teams always get a pass because of how tough it is to play in the conference but wins over Arkansas, Mississippi State and Tennessee were not impressive and the Tigers barely beat the good but not great Mississippi, Georgia and Texas A&M squads. The outlier is Alabama but that is a rivalry game. Auburn did have to beat Missouri in the conference title game but again they were rewarded for not playing anyone early in the season. What's ironic is that these teams once played each other during a time period, not long ago, when major conference teams played tough schedules. I'll break down the former Auburn-FSU rivalry, one that was sacrificed 20 years ago once Florida state joined the ACC.