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Denver: great team, or the greatest team? Would you be satisfied with "one of the ten greatest teams?" Plus: hard times in the NFC South, where defense goes to die.

24 Sep 2012

OFI: Returning to Glory (For Real This Time)

by Matt Hinton

For a certain generation of college football fan, Florida State and Notre Dame will always be inextricably linked by their epic, era-defining "Game of the Century" showdown in 1993, and the national championship controversy that followed. For another, more recent generation, Florida State and Notre Dame are inextricably linked as perennially overrated, past-their-prime also-rans that inevitably fail to live up to the preseason hype.

And who can blame the kids? For all of their ostensible resources and talent, the Seminoles haven't finished in the top ten since 2000, and haven't lost fewer than four games in a season since the first year of ACC expansion in 2004. The Fighting Irish have had an even harder go of it, haunted annually by their absence from the national title picture since the '93 team came up a few votes short. The past five years, they've been absent from the final polls altogether. These two programs have been in "Returning to Glory" mode for so long it's become a source of open mockery.

After all these years, then, what is the discerning skeptic to make of a Saturday night in which both Florida State and Notre Dame deliver convincing, high-profile wins that seem to confirm their place among serious national contenders? In Tallahassee, FSU moved to 4-0 by dropping an incredible 667 yards of total offense on 10th-ranked Clemson in a 49-37 track meet, the most by a Florida State offense (or against a Clemson defense) in any game since the 'Noles hung 771 yards on the Tigers back in 2000. In South Bend, Notre Dame moved to 4-0 by holding Michigan out of the end zone in a 13-6 slugfest, just seven days after holding Michigan State out of the end zone in a 20-3 slugfest. At one point, the Irish defense forced Wolverine turnovers on six consecutive possessions, including four interceptions on four consecutive passes by quarterback Denard Robinson.

As we round the first quarter-turn of the season, both teams are now ranked in the top 10, and both can boast double-digit victories over otherwise unbeaten opponents currently ranked in the top twenty. In FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, both can boast above-the-fold headliners who define their respective ethos. Both give every indication of settling in for the long haul. Both have also earned reputations over the years for dropping random games to mediocre opponents and generally disappointing at precisely the moment when expectations begin to rise. Whatever happens over the next two months, it will be history repeating itself. We just can't be certain yet which period.

TOE DRAGS

  • Skeptics have to hand it to Florida State and Notre Dame. But no team converted more believers Saturday than Kansas State, which looked every bit the reincarnation of the turn-of-the-century K-State outfits that consistently hovered around the top ten in a 24-19 upset at Oklahoma. Executing the same script coach Bill Snyder has prescribed for every game for the last quarter-century, the Wildcats effectively controlled the clock, stopped the run, took care of the ball on offense and took it away from Oklahoma, converting three OU turnovers into 17 points. (The only part missing was the big special teams play in Act Two. They'll get it next time.) The fact that any outside of the two fan bases was even paying attention to this game to begin with is a testament to Snyder, who seemed like a strange choice in December 2008 to re-resurrect a program he'd already raised from the ashes once after three years of retirement: Assuming his powers hadn't been diminished in that span, at age 69, would he even be around long enough to see another rebuilding job through? Not quite four years later, hardly anyone even remembers asking in the first place.
  • Oregon scored 49 points in a thorough rout of a visiting Pac-12 rival, Arizona, which is pretty much what Oregon does to all visiting Pac-12 rivals. The really eye-opening number was on the other side of the scoreboard: Arizona, averaging 46 points per game through its first three, produced a big, fat goose egg, marking Oregon's first in-conference shutout since 2003. Not that the Wildcats didn't have their chances, coming up empty on an incredible seven opportunities inside Duck territory thanks to an disappointing combination of turnovers and turnovers on downs. But they also came away with just 332 yards of total offense on 3.9 yards per play, their worst output since 2010.
  • A win is a win, especially when its a road win in the rough-and-tumble SEC West. But LSU's 12-10 squeaker over Auburn did nothing to reassure LSU fans about their first-year starter at quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, or the offense in general. On last year's run to the BCS Championship Game, the Tigers averaged 41 points per game against opponents who were not Alabama, and put up at least 35 points eleven times. Much of that production came directly or indirectly from the defense or special teams, though, and Saturday's struggle –- against an Auburn defense that came into the game ranked 13th in the SEC in total defense and 12th in scoring –- was not a positive sign of self-sufficiency for a team with its eye on a national championship.
  • Besides Michigan's flop in South Bend, the Big Ten's non-conference woes continued unabated Saturday with two even uglier losses: First, Iowa fell to Central Michigan, 32-31, on a last-second field goal that completed a nine-point rally by CMU in the final minute of the game; later, Illinois bit the dust in much less competitive fashion with a 52-24 laugher at Louisiana Tech. On the bright side, at least it didn't turn out as bad as it looked like it would when Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin were struggling against the likes of UAB, Eastern Michigan and UTEP. And there's always Minnesota!
  • Last week, Colorado was widely (and rightly) derided as the worst team in college football following a humiliating, 69-13 debacle at Fresno State that dropped the Buffaloes to 0-3, prompting speculation that they were well on their way to an 0-12 finish. Not so fast my friends! Not only did Colorado rebound for its first win Saturday against Washington State: It did it on the road, in a game in which it trailed by 17 points with just a hair over seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter. From that point, the Buffaloes broke through for two long touchdowns -– the first a 70-yard pass from Jordan Webb to Nick Kasa, followed by an 84-yard run by Tony Jones -– and a sustained, 70-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown (a 4-yard run by Webb) with nine seconds on the clock. Final score: Colorado 35, Washington State 34. Oh, and that will be first-place Colorado to you.

OFI TOP 25

1. Alabama (4-0). For what it's worth, Nick Saban was "much more pleased" with his team's performance in a 40-7 rout over Florida Atlantic than in its 52-0 rout over Arkansas.
2. Oregon (4-0). Ducks playing defense is a truly terrifying development.
3. Florida State (4-0). If vintage form is a mirage, there may not be anyone left on the schedule to expose it until Florida in the finale.
4. Stanford (3-0). Ominous music playing ahead of Thursday night trap game at Washington.
5. LSU (4-0). Yep, the offense is going to be an issue.
6. Kansas State (4-0). Wildcats already had the Big 12's best non-conference win, a 52-13 blowout of Miami, and more than earned the leap into the top ten with a convincing road upset over the preseason favorite to win the conference.
7. Florida (4-0). Gators dispatch Kentucky, get a week off before the annual reality check against LSU.
8. Notre Dame (4-0). The Irish are on the right track for a BCS bid, but still have to go through Miami, BYU, Stanford, Oklahoma and USC.
9. Georgia (4-0). Forty-five-point blowouts over Vanderbilt count for a little more than they used to.
10. South Carolina (4-0). Depth isn't there yet, but annihilation of Missouri proves that when healthy, Gamecocks' starting lineup may finally stack up against SEC's elite.
11. West Virginia (3-0). Relatively sleepy win over Maryland. Ask again later.
12. Ohio State (4-0). Too close for comfort for the second week in a row -– or, depending your opinion of Central Florida, maybe the third.
13. USC (3-1). No complaints with 488 yards of total offense against Cal, but three turnovers for the second week in a row?
14. Texas (3-0). Longhorns hit the ground running in Big 12 play with Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma on tap in consecutive weeks.
15. Oregon State (2-0). The man who put down money on the Beavers beating Wisconsin and UCLA in back-to-back games is now a wealthy man.
16. Mississippi State (4-0). Bulldogs still on track for a 7-0 start before degree of difficulty goes through the roof.
17. Arizona (3-1). Still-solid win over Oklahoma State gives the Wildcats a stronger anchor here than the weekend's other high-profile losers.
18. UCLA (3-1). Previously dominant ground game ran into a wall against Oregon State. But a win over Nebraska makes for a pretty good anchor, too.
19. Clemson (3-1). Tigers are still not good enough on defense against explosive offenses, but in the ACC, it's going to be a while before they run into another one.
20. Oklahoma (2-1). Outside of the "OU" on the helmet, Sooners haven't done anything to deserve being ranked at all.
21. Rutgers (4-0). Arkansas and South Florida have already proven elsewhere that they are not good teams, but relatively speaking, they are good wins for the Scarlet Knights in back-to-back weeks.
22. Louisville (4-0). At this rate, Cardinals' season finale at Rutgers on Nov. 29 will be for the Big East's BCS bid.
23. Michigan State (3-1). No excuse for trailing Eastern Michigan in the second half.
24. Northwestern (4-0). Wildcats looked as good as any team in the Big Ten through the non-conference rounds, which says a lot more about the state of the Big Ten than it does about the Wildcats.
25. TCU (3-0). Horned Frogs finally beat a team with a pulse, though Virginia's may prove to be rapidly fainting.
- - -
In: TCU. Out: Iowa State.

LOWSMAN TROPHY WATCH

1. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame. Te'o is the rare defensive player on the college level whose presence is felt as acutely on most plays as a star running back or receiver's, which is one way of saying he's not just another overhyped, blue-chip recruit fortunate enough to get national face time because he plays for Notre Dame. A week after earning national honors against Michigan State, he may have locked up the Butkus Award Saturday with eight tackles and two of ND's five interceptions against Michigan, confirming the Irish defense as an emerging force to be reckoned with.

2. Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU. The Tigers' 12-10 win at Auburn was nigh-unwatchable, thanks in very large part to LSU's very large All-American. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Montgomery justified his outsized status with four tackles for loss, including the first quarter safety that eventually supplied the final margin of victory.

3. Kansas State's Offensive Line. The Wildcats churned out 200 yards rushing, amassed a nearly ten-minute advantage in time of possession and didn't turn the ball over a single time in one of the most difficult road environments in college football. That is a fundamental, physical victory, and that starts with the front line: B.J. Finney, Cornelius Lucas, Tavon Rooks, Keenan Taylor and Cody Whitehair.

4. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State. Chrichton led the charge against UCLA's prolific ground game, finishing with six solo tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, and a pass broken up for good measure. In 2011, Oregon State finished dead last in the Pac-12 against the run, yielding nearly 197 rushing yards per game. After two games against Wisconsin and UCLA, the 2012 Beavers rank second in the nation.

5a. Ifo Ekpre-Olumu, CB, Oregon. Unknown sophomore managed the rare feat of stealing the show from the Duck offense, picking off two passes and breaking up three more in the shutout win over Arizona. His second pick went back for an icing touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter, at which point he ceased to qualify as "unknown."
5b. Michael Clay, LB, Oregon. If Ekpre-Olumu was the lightning, Clay was the thunder, racking up 13 tackles with one sack and a forced fumble that thwarted one of Arizona's many fruitless drives into Oregon territory.

Honorable Mention: Michael Atkinson, DT, Boise State. Boise's offense couldn't find the end zone against BYU, but its senior captain did, motoring 36 yards with an interception in the third quarter to supply the Broncos' only points in an otherwise unsightly 7-6 win. As always, there is no sight that can compare to the splendor of a Fat Guy Touchdown.

Posted by: Matt Hinton on 24 Sep 2012

12 comments, Last at 27 Mar 2013, 5:54am by pawello

Comments

1
by jdogwins (not verified) :: Mon, 09/24/2012 - 3:38pm

Not buying ND, at least on Offense when they are gifted 7 turnovers and come away with 13 points. OVER RATED!!

2
by cfn_ms :: Mon, 09/24/2012 - 4:17pm

you are +4 in turnover margin (and force SIX turnovers) and only win by seven, you deserve some skepticism. The Irish are already +9 turnovers on the year (+3 vs Navy, +1 vs Purdue, +1 @ Mich St, +4 vs Michigan), and I'd consider it likely that this turns around (and when it does, so too would their winning streak).

11
by DD (not verified) :: Tue, 09/25/2012 - 12:36am

Considering Notre Dame finished 118th out of 120 teams in turnover margin last year, they're probably owed a bit of luck in that department.

3
by Will Allen :: Mon, 09/24/2012 - 4:39pm

Minnesota certainly has a reasonable chance to beat Iowa Saturday, and if that happens, it sets up an early season showdown with Northwestern, the following Saturday in Minneapolis, where the legitimately good defensive line of the Gophers (it has been 35 years since that phrase could be employed) will have a chance of being the dominant unit in the game.

Very, very, strange times in the currently wretched Big Ten.

4
by NegativeChirality (not verified) :: Mon, 09/24/2012 - 5:02pm

Wooo Go Buffs! And on the topic of Colorado, Embree celebrating with his players after scoring that final touchdown was amazing to watch just for the pure emotion: http://blog.pac-12.com/chest-bump-jon-embree-at-your-own-risk/

7
by sundown (not verified) :: Mon, 09/24/2012 - 7:03pm

Good for them. They were starting at a winless season and Embree was being compared to Dan Hawkins. Could that one win change the complete outlook for that team? Dunno, but a loss could have effectively been the end for Embree.

5
by Kal :: Mon, 09/24/2012 - 5:11pm

It'll be interesting to see how for real Arizona is (as well as OKST), but man...that was a beating and a half in the second half. As much as I love Oregon offensive performances it's the defensive smashes that really get me going. This was about as good and complete a game as I've seen from the Ducks and really rivaled last year's Stanford game or the 42-3 beatdown from 2009 of Cal.

8
by sundown (not verified) :: Mon, 09/24/2012 - 7:13pm

It'll be interesting to see what Arizona takes out of that game. 49-0 on its face is a total beatdown, but two TDs came on interception returns and they went 0 for 6 in the red zone. Do they get down from the blowout or do they realize they weren't nearly as far from being in that game as the final score would indicate?

6
by sundown (not verified) :: Mon, 09/24/2012 - 6:57pm

" The fact that any outside of the two fan bases was even paying attention to this game to begin with is a testament to Snyder, who seemed like a strange choice in December 2008 to re-resurrect a program he'd already raised from the ashes once after three years of retirement: Assuming his powers hadn't been diminished in that span, at age 69, would he even be around long enough to see another rebuilding job through? Not quite four years later, hardly anyone even remembers asking in the first place."
_________________________

I don't recall anybody asking in the first place. If they did, it was people who knew little about the situation. Absolutely everyone associated with the school was ecstatic to have Snyder returning. His age was immaterial because the program had fallen off the map the instant Ron Prince had taken over and the only one anybody could imagine righting the ship was the ONLY guy who'd ever succeeded there.

9
by Roscoe :: Mon, 09/24/2012 - 7:47pm

I was watching the Boise State BYU game to get a handle on whether ND is any good. (Yeah, I know, too much free time). ND has beaten three teams, Mich, Mich St. and Navy. Neither Mich nor Navy has beaten a quality team this year. Mich St. has one quality win, over Boise St. Boise St.'s one point win over a very so-so BYU team (at home) has taken a lot of the luster out of that win.

Check back with me when ND plays Stanford and Oklahoma. If it gets past those two teams I will join the "wake the echoes" club.

10
by RandomTulaneAlumni (not verified) :: Mon, 09/24/2012 - 11:19pm

It is widely held that the absolute worst team in D1 FBS football is Tulane University in New Orleans. Back to back shutouts against unranked teams, one at home, show the complete and total ineptitude that they have on both sides of the ball. They are an embarrassment to FBS football and should immediately issue a letter of apology to all of their alumni for fielding such a pathetic team, to all of D1 - FBS for bringing shame to the name, and to everyone that's had the misfortune of paying a penny to see their comedy relief on the field. They are so over-matched and unprepared that they are getting their own players seriously injured by playing out of their league. I can only hope that their A.D. eventually sees the folly of their efforts and saves any more of their willing victims from further injury by forfeiting all of their remaining games.

12
by pawello (not verified) :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 5:54am

Do they get down from the blowout or do they realize they weren't nearly as far from being in that game as the final score would indicate? e-papierosy