Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
17 Nov 2008
by Brian Fremeau and Bill Connelly
(Russell Levine couldn't catch this weekend's games due to extenuating circumstances, so we've turned things over to our other two college football writers for this week's Junkie. Russell did turn in his usual Blogpoll ballot, which is at the end of the column.)
Brian: College football's lone weekend game featuring two ranked teams (Florida versus South Carolina) was decided by 50 points. It was a great day to rake leaves. That might be a little bit harsh, but when the best storylines of the weekend revolved around events that almost happened, it's hard not to want to shove Week 12 into a big Hefty bag and leave it on the curb.
Ho hum. The top 15 teams in last week's BCS standings were all victorious, and the top nine all held their ground in the rankings. Seven of those nine were in action, winning their games by an average of 34 points.
Oh, sure, there was some drama. Undefeated Alabama led SEC bottom-feeder Mississippi State by only five at halftime on the strength of a blocked-punt safety and a touchdown "drive" following a punt returned to the two-yard line, then added another special teams touchdown in the second half. But the Crimson Tide forced three-and-outs on seven Bulldog drives, and aside from the long Mississippi State scoring drive to take a temporary lead in the first half, Alabama gave up fewer than 100 yards all night.
USC flirted with another exasperating meltdown against pesky Stanford, a game that was knotted at 17 points apiece late in the third quarter. But the Trojans rolled up 28 points down the stretch to officially throttle and bury last season's albatross. Exacting revenge on an opponent is much more satisfying A) when the game and opponent merit national attention like the Florida/Georgia tilt last month, and B) when the fan base actually cares. Those who did stick around in Palo Alto were rewarded in the game's final seconds, when Jim Harbaugh's team lined up to attempt a completely meaningless field goal. When Pete Carroll called timeout to freeze the kicker, Harbaugh responded by running the offense back out onto the field to throw a much more meaningful touchdown on the final play to earn a backdoor cover. The post-game handshake was ... brief.
In the story of the 2008 National Championship, the Week 12 chapter will be rather thin, but it did add a few other anecdotes. LSU was working on redefining "mailing in the season" and trailed Sun Belt Conference dynamo Troy 31-3 in the third quarter before scoring 37 unanswered points in a furious comeback in front of the several hundred fans who stuck it out in Baton Rouge. The game featured LSU quarterback Jarret Lee slinging his seventh pick-six of the season, a stat that almost defies comprehension.
Navy mounted its second straight 20-point fourth quarter comeback in a finale against Notre Dame that, too, almost defied comprehension. Two weeks ago, Navy overcame a 27-7 fourth quarter deficit against Temple, winning in overtime to become bowl-eligible. On Saturday, leading 27-7 with 2:30 left to play in a game that had seemingly entered garbage time three possessions earlier, the Irish reserves gave up the ball on downs at the Navy 43-yard line. Navy had converted exactly zero third or fourth downs to that point in the game and had been held to a little over 150 yards on the ground, half their per-game average. But a completely brain-cramped Notre Dame hands team unit made virtually no attempt to recover any of three Navy onside kick attempts (including one replayed due to an Irish penalty), and the Midshipmen mounted a dizzying comeback that fell short on downs with seconds left to play.
Bill: Am I the only person (beyond Joe Paterno himself) who has grown twelve steps beyond sick and tired of the "Will JoePa retire?" talk. If Penn State manages to win out this season -- a possibility, albeit not a huge one if USC awaits in the Rose Bowl -- that will give Penn State 41 wins in the last four seasons. That would tie for the third-most wins JoePa has ever had in a four-year span (they had 43 from 1971-74 and 42 from 1993-96). Granted, teams play more games now, but that's still mighty impressive. I don't care if he's having to coach from the press box, the sidelines, a tailgate outside the stadium, or a hospital bed (a la Luther Van Dam); Penn State obviously has a good thing going right now, so why bother with the questions? It's clear that Joe Paterno is going to coach until either A) his mind starts losing its edge, or B) his wife tells him to quit -- and B is highly debatable. This is a sport where coaches follow dollar signs to the next opportunity, and there is nobody else out there with the loyalty and longevity of Joe Paterno. And most importantly, he's still winning. Enjoy him while he's still kicking around, one good hip or two. And when he decides to leave (or, God forbid, the decision is made for him), we'll all know about it pretty quickly.
Beyond that, I don't have too many thoughts about last weekend's slate. I'm just salivating at the thought of quite a few big rivalry games with big implications over the coming weeks. Utah-BYU will have more on the line than ever. Pittsburgh-West Virginia could decide the Big East title (or not, if Brian Kelly's "different quarterback every week" squad steals the show). If Oklahoma beats Texas Tech, then the next week's Bedlam battle in Stillwater might or might not decide the Big 12 South, depending on how the BCS standings shake out. Oregon-Oregon State might determine whether the Beavers throw a wrench into the BCS by clinching a Rose Bowl bid. Auburn-Alabama ... well, it isn't as big as the others, but Auburn has won six in a row in the series, and they will be fighting for their bowl lives and trying to prevent an undefeated Tide season. And that's saying nothing of the SEC and Big 12 title games on the horizon.
This coming weekend, though, all eyes will be on Norman, Oklahoma. More and more people are talking themselves into the "Oklahoma can't stop Texas Tech" idea, but I'm more focused on the "OU simply doesn't lose at home" concept. No place is louder than Owen Field on a big third down. I'm sure I'll end up talking about this game more in Varsity Numbers this week, but after a weekend without a marquee game, the hype for this one has already grown pretty deafening, and it's only Monday.
This week's award goes to Steve Spurrier ... for leaving Florida. Ouch, babe.
Russell Levine: This season, I am again voting in the BlogPoll, hosted by mgoblog, and now available on CBS Sportsline. I'll post my ballot in Junkie each week. Feel free to comment, and I may make changes based on comments for a revised ballot later in the week .
18 comments, Last at 18 Nov 2008, 8:12pm by firstname.lastname@example.org