Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
14 Nov 2011
by Robert Weintraub
I’ll admit it up front -- I’m biased. I’ve always loathed Penn State. I reflexively disliked them for their excellence and boring uniforms as a kid, and then when I went to Syracuse, they of course became the enemy. Worse, after my Orange whipped Joe Paterno a few years in a row, he took his ball and went home. Simply ended the series after decades of annual play. I tuned out all hosannas to his purity and morality and sportsmanship after that.
So while the circumstances were certainly horrifying, it’s not like I’ve been shedding any tears for the collapse of the program or the downfall of Paterno. And I can’t recall a game since SU was involved that I’ve rooted harder against the Nittany Lions than Saturday’s game at Beaver Stadium against Nebraska.
Mainly, I just couldn’t stomach the idea that a PSU win would stampede the media toward the "spirit of their love for Paterno willed a victory" storyline. Once the Nitts fell in a 17-0 hole and got to within 17-14, the potential for a particularly nauseating treacle was high. Fortunately for all sentient beings, the Huskers held off Penn State’s comeback attempt and won by three.
I mean, of course, the team came out arm-in-arm, the fans were vocal in their support, and new coach Tom Bradley was moved by how the campus stuck together. That’s the whole subliminal point hidden behind the crimes of Jerry Sandusky -- that the football mania empowered Paterno to believe he could bury such horrific monstrosity. Hardly the sort of thing that the college football commentariat should get all weepy about. You’d think there was a tsunami on campus or some other natural disaster from a lot of the reactions. I guess in a sense there was, but I’m in no mood to praise the bravery and unity of the Penn State football team. I’d rather praise Nebraska. How about maybe mentioning their upset win on the road for a minute? About how unified and brave the Huskers were to win under such tricky circumstances?
OK, off my soapbox ... and then back on it to say "I told ya so" about Stanford and Andrew Luck. Yes, he’s a great player and the presumptive No. 1 pick, but he has not been the best player in college football in 2011, and his team would get waxed by LSU. Oregon hammered the Cardinal 53-30 on an atrocious field in Palo Alto -- that thing looked like the Battle of Verdun had taken place on it. The Ducks offense deservedly got plenty of credit, but also look to the defensive line that was relentless in pressuring Luck. Oregon forced five turnovers -- Stanford had committed seven all season coming in.
My point all along is that Luck has mainly played against poor defenses all season, and even then he was handing off pretty often -- Stanford is a running team first. When Oregon forced Luck to throw by scoring on virtually every possession, Luck was incapable of rising to the occasion. So let’s stop with the "next John Elway" business until the kid gets into the NFL, OK? (P.S.: Per Darren Rovell, Oregon’s Duck mascot has now done 4,772 pushups since the start of 2010. Drop and give me 4,772!)
Also toppling was Boise State, which like Stanford has been crippled by injury this season. Boise lost a thriller against TCU, 36-35, to likewise remove themselves from BCS title game consideration. The Broncos probably lost this game when the Mountain West Conference barred them from wearing their standard all-blue uniforms on their non-standard all-blue turf in conference games. So Boise came out wearing jerseys that looked like the ones quarterbacks wear in practice so they don’t get hit.
Despite a phenomenal game from TCU quarterback Casey Pachall, Boise was in control, leading by seven and deep in Frogs territory with two minutes and change to play. Then, D.J. Harper, playing for injured starter Doug Martin, was knocked from the game. Third-string running back Drew Wright immediately came on for Boise, and then fumbled. Pachall led TCU down the field, and hooked up with Brandon Carter on a sluggo route to make the score 35-34. TCU coach Gary Patterson played for the win, and went for two. Pachall’s pass should have been picked off and brought back for two points the other way, but Josh Boyce outwrestled the defender for the ball and put the amphibians ahead.
Boise, being Boise, did not go gently into that good Idaho night. Helped by a highly-dubious pass interference call on fourth-and-10, Kellen Moore brought the Broncos into field goal range. Then, for the second straight season, Boise’s BCS dreams died off the foot of its kicker. This year’s model, Dan Goodale, is no Kyle Brontzman -- he’s only tried three kicks all season. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that he shanked it badly, and Boise lost 36-35.
That leaves LSU and Oklahoma State, who humiliated Texas Tech 66-6, as the lone unbeatens at the big kid table. Houston is also still undefeated and now hs a shot at a BCS game, though of course not the title matchup. The Cougars do get to host ESPN Gameday next week though, which is a nice consolation prize. We’ll be getting into the whole "who goes if Oklahoma State loses?" issue plenty in the coming weeks, so no need to shoot our wad here.
Suffice to say, for those who want the BCS destroyed, root for Oklahoma in Bedlam with all your might, for that way the arguing over who deserves to play the Tigers will be endless. Assuming that LSU doesn’t trip, of course. That would be ironic, though not in the monstrous way that the title of Jerry Sandusky’s memoir is.
It’s called Touched.
2. Oklahoma State
9. Boise State
10. Virginia Tech
12. Michigan State
13. South Carolina
16. Kansas State
18. Southern Miss
22. Penn State
23. Notre Dame
24. Florida State
1. Oregon's defense. There were too many standouts to single one out. Oregon’s offense puts lots of pressure on opponents, but the defense has come up big in the most significant games -- remember they did to Auburn what Auburn did to them, for the most part, in last year’s BCS title game. Saturday, they forced Andrew Luck into one of his worst games ever as Stanford’s quarterback, thanks to three sacks and over a dozen hurries.
2. Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama. The Tide were ripe for a letdown upset at Mississippi State, but the defense refused to let them lose. Hightower, who was typically brilliant with 11 tackles, including 1.5 sacks and a pass deflection, was a big reason for that.
3. Chandler Catanzaro, K, Clemson. C.C.’s career has been marked by crucial misses, and he added to the list when he missed a late attempt in a 28-all game against Wake Forest. But the Tigers got it back, and as time elapsed, Catanzaro hit the game-winning kick from 43 yards out. It was the first time since 1948 -- 1948! -- that Clemson had won on a last second figgie at home.
4. Danny Hrapmann, K, Southern Mississippi. The upset bid by Central Florida was turned back thanks to five field goals from Hrapmann, three from more than 40 yards away. Honorable mention to Knights corner Josh Robinson, who was everywhere for UCF in a losing effort.
5. Eain Smith, DB, West Virginia and Bruce Gaston, DL, Purdue. Both Smith and Gaston made their impact on a single play: respectively blocking a kick at a critical time. Smith’s rejection of a field goal allowed the Mountaineers to win at Cincinnati 24-21, while Gaston’s block of an Ohio State PAT forced overtime, where the Boilers upset the Buckeyes 26-23.
69 comments, Last at 27 Mar 2013, 6:00am by pawello