Just how often do championship teams in college football play at a championship level?
15 Oct 2009
by Bill Connelly, Brian Fremeau, and Rob Weintraub
After a year of protest signs, a national championship game appearance, a Heisman Trophy winner, a well-placed asterisk, a long off-season argument, and Sam Bradford's sprained shoulder, the Texas-Oklahoma game is finally here. A small bit of shine has been taken off of this game: Oklahoma has two one-point losses, and Texas has struggled to retain last year's offensive magic. But one thing is certain: In a week of conference rivalries (and one classic non-conference matchup in South Bend that may make a renewal), we can all take back the numbers 45 and 35 after Saturday.
In November 2006, undefeated West Virginia and Louisville clashed in a Thursday night showdown with national championship implications -- easily the most important Big East conference football game ever. This one doesn't have quite the same attraction, but the victor may find itself in BCS championship contention. Led by quarterback Tony Pike, the Cincinnati offense comes into the game ranked first nationally in Offensive Efficiency and third in points per game. South Florida's defense held Florida State's prolific attack in check earlier this year, and defensive linemen George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul will wreak havoc as usual. Bulls freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels has looked impressive since taking over for injured Matt Grothe, leading the team in rushing and passing.
The Picks -- Rob: S. Florida | FEI: S. Florida | S&P+: Cincinnati
The Badgers are licking their self-inflicted wounds from last week's loss at Ohio State. Wisconsin gave up a kickoff return touchdown and two touchdowns off of interception returns in a 31-13 coulda-woulda-shoulda game, their first loss of the year. Iowa remains undefeated but has been living a bit dangerously -- victories over Michigan, Arkansas State and Northern Iowa have come by a combined six points. The Hawkeyes defense has been excellent, ranking 10th nationally in Defensive Efficiency. Iowa gave up its first rushing touchdowns of the season against the Wolverines last week, an area of strength for the Badgers (200 rushing yards per game, 14 touchdowns). Wisconsin probably won't finish ahead of Ohio State for the Big Ten championship (lost the head-to-head), but at 11-1 at the end of the year, might be a an at-large selection for a BCS bowl berth with a win over Iowa.
The Picks -- Rob: Wisconsin | FEI: Iowa | S&P+: Wisconsin
Among the countless words written about this year's edition of the Red River Rivalry, actual analysis of the game has been buried beneath the talk of revenge. Here's the rundown: both teams have been disappointing offensively. In replacing 80 percent of its starting offensive line, Oklahoma has clearly suffered. Neither team has run or passed the ball impressively, at least not to the expected level, as injuries have handicapped OU and plain old inconsistency has plagued Texas. This game will likely be decided by the defenses. The Sooners and Longhorns have two of the best front sevens in the country, so every big play could be doubly important. Keep an eye on 17th-year Texas senior Jordan Shipley, who turned last year's game around with a kickoff return touchdown and has been Texas's most consistent threat in 2009.
The Picks -- Rob: Oklahoma | FEI: Texas | S&P+: Oklahoma
Role reversal: A year ago, Wake Forest ranked No. 100 out of 120 teams in Offensive Efficiency. This year, Demon Deacons quarterback Riley Skinner is one of the top-ranked passers nationally in touchdowns (No. 2), passer rating (No. 5), completion percentage (No. 5), and passing yards (No. 7), and Wake ranks No. 17 in Offensive Efficiency. Wake Forest leads the ACC Atlantic division at 2-1, but like last year, the conference title game inside track will probably change hands on a weekly basis. Clemson's offense hasn't done much of anything -- they have only scored seven offensive touchdowns. Tigers special teams, led by C.J. Spiller, have chipped in four touchdowns themselves and will likely be the key to a victory here.
The Picks -- Rob: Wake Forest | FEI: Clemson | S&P+: Clemson
Lost in the hoopla around Tim Tebow’s courage and winning performance at LSU Saturday is the fact that Florida’s offense continues to lack downfield playmakers. The player the Gators miss most isn’t Percy Harvin, it's wideout Louis Murphy, currently being overthrown in Oakland. Murphy’s deep ball ability stretched defenses and left them vulnerable to Florida’s running game and perimeter speed. Arkansas has the offensive horses to score on UF, unlike LSU, and you know Bobby Petrino is eager to show that his knowledge of the X's and O's outshines that of Urban Meyer. If Arkansas can find the defensive effort in the Swamp it showed last week at home against Auburn, this one could be closer than the point spread would indicate.
The Picks -- Rob: Arkansas | FEI: Florida | S&P+: Arkansas
Texas Tech comes to Lincoln to meet a Nebraska team that survived a rain-soaked Thursday night game at Missouri last week and seemingly has the clearest path to the Big 12 North title. That will change if the Huskers slip up against a Tech squad coming off of its most impressive showing of the season. It's not that the Red Raiders beat Kansas State at home -- they were supposed to do that. It's that they won by 52 with backup quarterback Steven Sheffield throwing for almost 500 yards and seven touchdowns. Whichever quarterback starts in Lincoln -- Sheffield, Taylor Potts, Zebbie Lethridge, Mike Leach himself -- will face a Husker defense that put on a rain-aided but dominant display last week. Ndamukong Suh is a one-man wrecking crew at defensive tackle, and he allows the Huskers to drop a ton of defenders into pass coverage and still get at the quarterback.
The Picks -- Rob: Nebraska | FEI: Nebraska | S&P+: Nebraska (LOCK)
College football's biggest intersectional rivalry game hasn't been very competitive during the last seven seasons. USC has absolutely dominated the Irish for most of head coach Pete Carroll's tenure. The epic failures against the Trojans helped usher out former ND coach Tyrone Willingham and are looming over the head of current coach Charlie Weis. The Irish offense is off to its best start in years, and Jimmy Clausen, despite playing with a gimpy turf toe injury, leads the nation in passer rating and yards per attempt. Aside from the multiple goal-line stands in their win over Washington, Notre Dame's defense has been a liability and will face a strong rushing attack that ranks sixth nationally in yards per attempt. Turnovers have been the key in nearly all of USC's recent upsets, and the Irish will need to win the turnover and field position battle to have a chance at victory.
The Picks -- Rob: USC | FEI: Notre Dame | S&P+: Notre Dame
Those with short memories are touting it as the biggest game ever on The Flats, but there is no denying that this contest is the final watershed game in the ACC Coastal (and thus the entire conference). Josh Nesbitt is running the Jackets' triple option better than he ever has, and he looked like a man among boys against Florida State. But Bud Foster has been around a time or two, and you know Virginia Tech’s defensive coordinator has been concocting plans to slow down Paul Johnson’s wishbone variant. Even if he doesn’t, the Jackets’ defense, or lack thereof, is the worrisome factor for the Institute. The Hokies will look to run it down Georgia Tech’s throat and for Nesbitt to wing it.
The Picks -- Rob: Va. Tech | FEI: Va. Tech | S&P+: Va. Tech
This is a reverse image game of the Arkansas-Florida matchup, in which the underdog will likely hold the favorite’s offense in check but struggle to score. USC has won four straight, but were less than impressive in holding off Kentucky at Williams-Brice Stadium Saturday. Wideout Alshon Jeffery emerged as a budding star with three touchdown catches. When Stephen Garcia has had time to throw the ball, he has been quietly effective this season. But Alabama’s defense has been intimidating offenses before the games even begin, and it will take some old school Spurrier wizardry to scheme against the Tide’s suffocating defense. It will be up to South Carolina star linebacker Eric Norwood and friends to keep the game close enough to steal in the late going.
The Picks -- Rob: Alabama (LOCK) | FEI: Alabama (LOCK) | S&P+: Alabama
In the Missouri-OSU series, one of the stranger conference rivalries in the country, the road team has won five of the last six battles. Last year, OSU traveled to Columbia and upset a top-5 Missouri team. Now Missouri gets its shot to play the role of road spoiler. In a series that makes little sense, it seems natural that the teams enter with so many questions. For Oklahoma State, who is even going to play? Is running back Kendall Hunter going to be healthy enough to play for the first time since the loss to Houston? Is the NCAA going to get around to deciding on Dez Bryant's eligibility any time between today and the NFL Draft? Quite a few young weapons (and an old one, senior running back Keith Toston) emerged in OSU's win at Texas A&M last week, but can they be counted on to produce week after week? Meanwhile, for Missouri, how will Blaine Gabbert respond to both the sprained ankle and fourth-quarter collapse suffered last Thursday night in the typhoon against Nebraska? How will a young team respond to a painful first loss of the season?
The Picks -- Rob: Oklahoma St. | FEI: Oklahoma St. | S&P+: Missouri
Rob Weintraub: In April 2006, Jimmy Clausen pulled up to the College Football Hall Of Fame in South Bend in a stretch Hummer limo to announce that he would play quarterback for Notre Dame. The past two seasons have been about as inefficient and overblown as the Hummer itself. But Clausen has been outstanding this season, especially without super-duper wideout Michael Floyd, who is injured and lost for at least most of the year. He’s a Heisman candidate mostly by default, but that doesn’t downgrade his excellence in the first half of 2009. Still, the Irish lack a signature win during embattled coach Charlie Weis’ tenure. Here comes USC, a bit more vulnerable than in recent seasons, and if Weis and Clausen are going to carve any legacy from their stretch under the Golden Dome, now is the time. Almost beating the Trojans in 2005 remains Weis’ best day -- he needs to remove that first word and actually win against a big-time opponent.
Brian Fremeau: Seen any good overtime games lately? Through the first six weeks of the 2009 season, only nine out of 288 FBS games have been settled in overtime, and only two -- Wisconsin vs. Fresno State and Ohio vs. North Texas -- went into a second overtime session. A total of 22 overtime possessions have been played to date, a somewhat significant drop-off from the first six weeks totals in 2008 (32) and 2007 (34). As we get deeper into the season, a higher percentage of games are played between teams of relatively equal stature, so it stands to reason that we'll see tighter scores and more overtime games down the stretch. Will we start to see an increase this week?
Bill Connelly: It never works out how you think it will. When this year's Heisman race began (which was, let's face it, the day after last year's ended), it was pretty clear that one of only three players -- 2007 winner Tim Tebow, 2008 winner Sam Bradford, or 2008 Miss Congeniality winner Colt McCoy -- had a shot at winning the award. But a sprained shoulder sidelined Bradford for a month, Tebow has played rather conservatively without a true deep threat and McCoy has already thrown almost as many interceptions this year (six) as he did all of last year (eight). The door is open for more candidates. Consensus No. 4 pick Jahvid Best started afire before managing just 102 yards in 30 carries against Oregon and USC. So who else might get an invitation to New York in December? Could it be Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, who leads the nation in passing efficiency but is missing deep threat Michael Floyd? Cincinnati's Tony Pike? Houston's Case Keenum (who is putting up Andre Ware 2.0 numbers)? Is this the year a defensive player like Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Tennessee's Eric Berry makes a breakthrough? It's fun to think about ... even if we all know Tebow will end up winning it.
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Virginia Tech||-3.5||Georgia Tech||Va. Tech||Va. Tech||Va. Tech|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
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9 comments, Last at 16 Oct 2009, 4:48pm by Bill Connelly