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.
28 Nov 2011
by Robert Weintraub
Sadly, college football saved the worst for last. Must have been the tryptophan.
After the topsy-turvy action of the last couple of Saturdays, this weekend provided blowout after rout after demolition. The fact that it was Rivalry Day across America made it that much more frustrating for fans. Hard as it is to believe, my eight-hour drive north from a visit to the in-laws in holiday traffic with two screaming kids in the backseat was a treat in comparison.
Of the traditional in-state or cross-border classics, only Michigan-Ohio State gave any sort of thrills, and even it wasn’t that tantalizing. The Wolverines appeared to punch in the winning touchdown with two minutes left, but somehow, someway, it was overturned on replay, a decision that made the final margin six points instead of ten. That, of course, cost me a Lock of the Week, the third bad beat I’ve taken in that category this year.
(Bitter? Me? Must have been the lemon I put on all those turkey sandwiches)
It was a good win for Michigan’s new coach, Brady Hoke. In his debut season, he picks up the Maize and Blue’s first win over OSU since 2003. It was especially important as the specter of Urban Meyer hung over the game. Assuming he takes over in Columbus, the Buckeyes could begin another streak forthwith. But only if Meyer devises a way to slow Denard Robinson, who was sensational while running for two scores and throwing for three more.
Otherwise, it was one-sided. Alabama turned the Iron Bowl into a laugher, Florida State whipped limited Florida, Georgia pummeled the brainiacs of Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech told the pretenders at Virginia to shoo, USC showed how much of a joke the Pac-12 title game promises to be, and so on. The Egg Bowl, Palmetto Bowl, and Civil War were over early. Even Grambling rocked Southern in the Bayou Classic. The best rivalry game, by far, was Texas against Texas A&M, a game that won’t be happening anymore as the Aggies move to the SEC. The Horns bid their rival farewell with a final-play field goal and a 27-25 win.
The most important game happened as you were scarfing turkey leftovers on Friday afternoon. LSU-Arkansas is an underrated rivalry; the two meet for the Boot each season, and this version came with the teams comprising two of the top-three squads in the country. The Hogs seemed poised to make it a memorable one, taking a shocking 14-0 lead in the second quarter. To that point, Arkansas outplayed the No. 1 team in the land, running the ball effectively and getting Tigers quarterback Jordan Jefferson jittery with a solid pass rush.
But down by two scores, Jefferson, who might have been on the verge of giving way to Jarrett Lee, collected himself and commandeered a 14-play, 77-yard drive that settled an antsy Tiger Stadium. Then Tyrann Mathieu took over. His electrifying 92-yard punt return tied the game while conjuring images of Billy Cannon against Ole Miss. Only devout porcine believers thought the Hogs had a chance after that. Mathieu then forced a fumble that led to the third score of the quarter for LSU, and the Tigers never looked back. The final was 41-17: eerily similar to the 38-14 hurting Alabama put on Arkansas.
Trent Richardson ran all over Auburn in payback for last season’s gag job, putting up 203 yards on the ground. But it was Chris Smelley and the Tide tight ends that dominated the game, providing eight grabs for 98 yards and a touchdown. I listened to the Auburn radio broadcast and the announcers were increasingly despondent every time a Tide tight end caught a ball. "We just can’t stop that and it’s going to cost us the game," was a typical reaction. I love local radio broadcasts.
Richardson broke away for a late 57-yard run that had Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson desperate to anoint him with the Heisman, comparing it to Cam Newton’s sensational run past LSU and Patrick Peterson last year, conveniently overlooking the fact that a) the game was long decided, b) Auburn’s defense had broken long before, and c) Richardson was run down at the 16-yard line. Heisman "moments" don’t end with the player getting chased down from behind. Trent may well be deserving of the trophy -- his numbers are better than Mark Ingram’s were two years ago when he won the award, and Richardson is the better player. But let’s not overdramatize a single (irrelevant) moment, please.
Clearly LSU and Alabama are the two best teams, and I for one would love to see a rematch in the BCS title game. More to the point, unless Oklahoma State buries Oklahoma and Georgia does likewise to the Tigers, it’s hard to see anything but a rematch. And for for those whinging at the idea of another Saban-Miles encounter -- would you really prefer seeing one of the SEC teams rout the Cowboys by three touchdowns?
5. Boise State
6. Virginia Tech
7. Oklahoma State
11. Michigan State
14. South Carolina
15. Kansas State
20. Southern Miss
22. West Virginia
23. Florida State
25. Penn State
1. Tyrann Mathieu, CB/S, LSU. Honey Badger did what he did on the big stage while filling in at safety for the injured Eric Reid. Nice.
2. Justin Tucker, K, Texas. You boot the game-winning kick in the (for now) final version of a hated rivalry game, and you get checked here.
3. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford. Thomas is one of the main reasons the Cardinal defense has overcome the loss of leader Shayne Skov to injury, and he demolished the Irish blocking Saturday, with three tackles for loss -- two of them sacks -- a forced fumble, and five tackles.
4. Julien Miller, DE, West Virginia. The Mountaineers pulled off a big comeback win in the Backyard Brawl, edging Pitt 21-20. Miller’s school-record four sacks and 12 tackles were a big reason why.
5. Trevardo Williams, DE, Connecticut. Miller doesn’t lead the Big East in sacks, however -- Williams does. "T-Vard" has 12.5 after a four-sack afternoon against Rutgers.
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