Sunday's upset was the latest in a series of unexpected wins for Jeff Fisher and the Rams. How do they keep pulling this off?
05 Nov 2009
by Bill Connelly, Brian Fremeau, and Rob Weintraub
The college football world gets a taste of rivalries old and new this week. Oklahoma and Nebraska wake up the Johnny Rodgers echoes in Lincoln; Navy and Notre Dame stir up Staubach-versus-Huarte (aka Heisman vs. Heisman) memories in South Bend; LSU and Alabama face off in Saban Bowl III; and Sunflower State rivals play a Big 12 North elimination game in the Little Apple. Meanwhile, how does Florida State respond to the announced retirement of their all-time great defensive coordinator? What does Oregon do for an encore after a historic thrashing of USC? There is plenty of intrigue to go around on the first Saturday in November.
(Teams are listed according to BCS ranking.)
It’s vengeance versus passion. Virginia Tech wants to get some payback for last season’s upset loss to ECU. Meanwhile, this is the biggest home game by far for the Pirates -- on midweek national TV. A “Pirate-Out” is planned for the game, with students encouraged to avast ye matey or something. ECU is playing better of late, having won four of five, although that could be a function of a weaker October schedule. ECU’s run defense has been stout, holding opponents under 100 yards in four of the last five, and its monster tackles, Jay Ross and Linval Joseph, will hope to emulate UNC’s success in stuffing Ryan Williams and Virginia Tech’s ground game. The Hokies were suffered in a home loss to the Heels a week ago, and a once-promising season will go belly-up with a third consecutive loss. It will likely come down to the play of the erratic, alliterative quarterbackss, Tyrod Taylor and Patrick Pinkney. Whoever establishes a downfield threat will emerge victorious.
The Picks -- Rob: ECU | FEI: Va. Tech | S&P+: Va. Tech (LOCK)
What can anybody make of Kansas State right now? They have both looked great and terrible on offense, defense, and special teams. In their last four games, they have allowed 66, 14, 6, and 42 points. Special teams cost them a game against UCLA, then won them a game against Iowa State. Oh, and they lost to Louisiana-Lafayette. That's not even the good hyphenated Louisiana team. And yet they lead the Big 12 North at 3-2. Go figure. Meanwhile, Kansas entered the season with the North's only proven commodity at quarterback, and he was benched in the second half of a still-winnable game in Lubbock last weekend. Todd Reesing seemingly hasn't rediscovered his mojo since certain pictures floated around this summer, and Kansas sits at 1-3 in the conference. Kansas State controls their own North destiny, but they are underdogs at home against a Jayhawks team on a three-game losing streak. In other words, nobody has any clue what to think about either one of these teams.
The Picks -- Rob: K-State | FEI: Kansas | S&P+: Kansas
The last time these two teams clashed in South Bend, a triple-overtime thriller ended the longest streak of one team over another in college football history. (Or if you like sea shantys, muppets, and denial, 2007 never happened). The Irish smothered Navy's triple-option last year for three quarters, then lapsed on special teams (two onside kicks) and in the secondary before finally escaping a repeat disaster. Special teams and secondary play haven't been hallmarks of the Irish this year, but the defense has been stronger against the run and improving each week. The offense welcomes back injured star receiver Michael Floyd, meaning Golden Tate can get back to being spectacular in single coverage. Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs was instrumental in last year’s furious comeback against the Irish and returns to the starting role after missing most of the Wake Forest and Temple games with a cracked bone in his knee.
The Picks -- Rob: Navy | FEI: Navy | S&P+: Navy
LSU certainly hopes to play better than its previous Game Of The Year effort last month against Florida. The Tigers are an awkward 7-1, having impressed few in attaining its lofty record and ranking. Nevertheless, a win against Alabama would propel them to a rematch with Florida and possibly a BCS title berth. LSU nearly derailed Nick Saban’s perfect regular season a year ago before falling short in overtime. You know Les Miles is dying to get on the good side of his fan base for once by knocking off the dearly departed Nicktator and his unblemished record this time around. Once dominant, the Tide have looked vulnerable recently, and their schedule looks more tissue-soft with every passing week. LSU desperately needs raw quarterback Jordan Jefferson to outplay Alabama’s raw quarterback, Greg McElroy. Otherwise, the teams match up rather evenly across the field. There will be bruises.
The Picks -- Rob: LSU | FEI: Alabama | S&P+: Alabama
Even though Iowa has the upper hand, the Big Ten title chase has hardly been decided. Penn State has regained momentum after their loss to the Hawkeyes and have been virtually impenetrable on defense this season. They lead the nation in fewest points allowed per game, though Iowa is their only opponent to data ranked in the top 60 in Offensive FEI. Ohio State’s explosive victory over pathetic New Mexico State last week was nice, but it doesn’t instill much more confidence in their ability to move the ball against the Nittany Lions. In order to win, they’ll need to resort to their old standby of playing keep away. The Buckeyes have given up only five touchdowns this season on 56 opponent drives starting 80 or more yards from the end zone. Penn State’s offense has only started that deep in their own territory 26 times this year.
The Picks -- Rob: Penn St. | FEI: Penn St. | S&P+: Penn St.
Rumors abound that suspended pariah running back LeGarrette Blount will be reinstated for the game. He has hardly been missed, thanks to LaMichael James, who should top 1,000 yards for the season against the Cardinal. The Ducks are this week’s media favorite, coming off the loud beatdown of USC Saturday night. But an upset in Palo Alto isn’t impossible. Stanford is unbeaten at home, and possess a pretty good bellcow tailback of its own, Toby Gerhart, who is a mere six yards shy of a grand himself. He’s been handled by the Ducks the last two seasons, and he needs to bust out if Stanford is to break a seven-game losing skid against Oregon. Frosh quarterback Andrew Luck has been steady under center for Stanford this season, but he needs to make some big plays and have a healthy dollop of his last name for Stanford to pull the stunner.
The Picks -- Rob: Oregon (LOCK) | FEI: Oregon | S&P+: Oregon
The Golden Bears were written off after consecutive hammerings at the hands of Oregon and USC. But the former top-10 team has righted itself against the conference smaller fry, eking out a third straight win last week in Tempe. Defenses have been keying on running back Jahvid Best, and the passing game hasn’t compensated enough. Quarterback Kevin Riley will probably recall the 2007 Cal-OSU game in Strawberry Valley -- as the freshman quarterback of the nation’s No. 2 team, Riley insanely scrambled and was tackled inbounds with no timeouts remaining, his team down three. Time expired before a kick could be tried. Cal’s defense will have to be on the spot if Cal hopes to enact some retribution. Stopping the Rodgerseseses, running back Jacquizz and wide receiver James, has proven impossible this season. The brothers have 20 touchdowns and more than 2,200 yards of offense between them. If they run wild Saturday, the Beavers should win its fifth straight at Cal’s Memorial Stadium.
The Picks -- Rob: Ore. St. | FEI: Ore. St. (LOCK) | S&P+: Ore. St.
Fun fact: Before Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews landed the final job of his career in 1984, he held the same position at Clemson in the late-1970s. The more you know ...
The big story regarding what was until recently known as the Bowden Bowl (before Bobby's son Tommy was fired last October), has been Andrews' retirement. Florida State is suffering through possibly their worst defensive season since Andrews took the job 25 years ago, and while Clemson's offense is far from dominant, they should find room to get C.J. Spiller rolling. Meanwhile, the more interesting battle could take place when Florida State has the ball. Christian Ponder leads a strong Seminoles passing attack against an equally stout Clemson secondary. Clemson can seize control of the ACC Atlantic by playing spoiler in the Game No. 1 of the Andrews Retirement Tour.
The Picks -- Rob: Fla. St. | FEI: Fla. St. | S&P+: Clemson
The Huskies have had their hearts ripped out two weeks in a row after the fatal stabbing of cornerback Jasper Howard. Against both Rutgers and West Virginia, Connecticut gave up a touchdown on the opening kickoff and a long touchdown late, losing each game 28-24. They statistically dominated the 55 minutes in the middle, which may give them some confidence heading into their toughest test of the season. Cincinnati’s offense hasn’t missed a step after Tony Pike went down. Zach Collaros (9 touchdowns, 1 interception) has been stellar, and of the other undefeated contenders, Cincinnati has been the most consistently in control. This game grabs the Saturday night primetime TVs for the northeast, providing the Bearcats with a significant opportunity to show off. If they struggle, even in a win, it will be all the voters need to keep them out of the discussion at the end of the year.
The Picks -- Rob: Cincy | FEI: Cincy | S&P+: Cincy
From Johnny Rodgers and Eric Crouch to Spencer Tillman and Keith Jackson, for decades the best players in these two magnificent programs saved their biggest plays for this rivalry. While Saturday night's face-off in Lincoln might not have the same stakes as some of those epic battles, both teams still have plenty to play for. If Nebraska wins, they take a giant step toward winning the Big 12 North (especially if Kansas beats Kansas State). Oklahoma, meanwhile, can still make a Jan. 1 bowl despite early-season disappointments (then again, after losses to BYU and Texas in Dallas already this season, maybe the Holiday Bowl in San Diego is sounding like a more attractive option), and they are looking for any possible momentum to build for another title run next season. Beyond any medium-sized stakes, however, isn't it still pretty cool to see these teams on the same field?
The Picks -- Rob: Oklahoma | FEI: Nebraska | S&P+: Nebraska
Rob Weintraub: There was much crowing in SEC circles after USC was whacked at Oregon Saturday night in Eugene. Nothing gets a southerner worked up like saying the Pac-10 is better than the King of All Conferences. But for the third straight season, the SEC is quite mediocre. Sure, Florida and Alabama reign at the top, but their difficulties have been well chronicled. Wouldn’t you love to see a spread-off between Urban Meyer’s Gators and Chip Kelly’s Ducks next week on a neutral site? It’s the rest of the SEC that looks more and more average with each kickoff. Auburn has crashed to earth, Ole Miss was never more than OK, South Carolina can’t play offense, Arkansas can’t play defense, and Georgia can’t play either. Tennessee -- Tennessee! -- might be the fourth best SEC team. When Georgia Tech longs for a return to its SEC roots, you know the conference has a problem.
Brian Fremeau: There are seven undefeated teams right now, ranked one through seven in the current BCS standings. That’s more than at this time in each of the last five seasons. In 2004, there were six undefeated teams in the first November BCS standings, and five of them survived unscathed heading into bowl season. From this point through the final BCS standings last year, only three losses were suffered by the BCS top-7 teams and two of those were head-to-head matchups within that group. I used to treat 2004 as a bit of an anomaly -- five undefeated teams, more than two from BCS automatic qualifying conferences -- but I think the growing lack of interconnectivity among top teams may make it more common. I think that problem needs to be addressed before playoff arguments are taken seriously. The 2004 finale is often held up as the poster child for the need for a playoff, but it would have been a nightmare for most playoff proposals, either keeping several conference champions out or not including one or more of the undefeated teams. It’s looking more and more like we’re careening towards the same conclusion in 2009.
Bill Connelly: Well, it was a fun month of flirting with potentially new, fun Heisman candidates. Jahvid Best sure did look good at first, and Jimmy Clausen has had some nice, late-game heroics. Mark Ingram has thrown himself onto the scene, and Tony Pike sure had something going before that injury. And remember the defensive players? Ndamukong Suh had his moments before the Nebraska offense fell apart (because that somehow disqualifies him), and those Eric Berry videos sure were entertaining. But after all the flirtation, and all the open-minded exploration, it appears we are basically right back where we started: Tim Tebow versus Colt McCoy. Ingram still has a chance to crash the party, but I don't think anybody's going to bet too much on that happening.
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Virginia Tech||-12.5||East Carolina||ECU||VT||VT*|
|Ohio State||+3.5||Penn State||Penn St.||Penn St.||Penn St.|
|Oregon State||+7||California||Ore. St.||Ore. St.*||Ore. St.|
|Florida State||+8.5||Clemson||Fla. St.||Fla. St.||Clemson|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
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50 comments, Last at 08 Nov 2009, 11:04am by Eddo