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The question is not whether Saquon Barkley is the best running back in this draft class. The question is whether any running back, even one as good as Barkley, warrants a top-five draft selection in the NFL in 2018.

27 Sep 2010

OFI: Big Points for the Big Ten

by Robert Weintraub

Is it possible to win 45-0 and look bad? Only in context. Iowa needed to rebound from a tough loss in the desert a week ago, and did so by spanking Ball State. But next to the smack downs put on by Big Ten rivals Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan, the Hawkeyes' win looks kind of slack.

On a day featuring some eye-popping individual performances, Terrelle Pryor stood out. He threw four touchdown passes (all to Dane Sanzenbacher, which might lead to an angry receivers meeting during the week -- spread it around, TP!), ran for a fifth, and caught yet another. Ohio State destroyed Central Michigan 73-20, scoring more points than it had in 60 years.

Wisconsin fell short of the Buckeyes' total by a field goal but played better defense, demolishing Austin Peay 70-3. Badgers fans concerned that running back John Clay will be sorely missed when he graduates after (seemingly) 11 seasons in Madison were assuaged by the performance of freshman back James White. White had 145 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. And Michigan trampled Bowling Green 65-21, although an injury scare to "Shoelace" Robinson had the Big House worried for a spell (he's fine). All these points -- 73, 70, 64, 45 -- is this the Big Ten? Thank goodness for JoePa. His Nittany Lions struggled to a 22-13 win over Temple.

I didn't get to see the Alabama-Arkansas thriller, as I was working on the telecast of the far less interesting Tennessee State-Florida A&M game (TSU won the game, but FAMU won the far more important and interesting Battle of the Bands). What I know is this -- Greg McElroy remains money. With a tough but understandable road defeat staring the Tide in the face, McElroy hit on six of nine throws in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback. Meanwhile, no one would ever place Nick Saban on the Bill Walsh coaching tree, but Saban followed Walsh's key to winning football on Saturday -- fourth quarter pass rush. The Tide harassed Ryan Mallet into 4-for-10 passing for just 44 yards and two big picks in the final 15 minutes -- the difference in the game.

Entertaining as that surely was, it would be hard to find a more show stopping team these days than the Tide's greatest rival. For the second straight week, Auburn fell behind against a team from South Carolina, then stormed back and sent the opposition back to the Palmetto State, weeping. Michael Dyer out-frosh sensationed Marcus Lattimore by 100 yards to 33, and Cam Newton continues to bring new meaning to the equation Force = Mass x Acceleration. The Battering Cam (gonna make it catch on) ran for three scores and tossed two more as Auburn handed South Carolina its first loss, 35-27. As with the Clemson-Auburn game last week, this was as good as college footy gets -- loud and proud stadium on the Plains, hard hits, big plays, and the sense that it would go down to the wire even when the Gamecocks led by two touchdowns. Fantastic stuff.

After N.C. State waxed Cincinnati on ESPN a couple of weeks back, the Bearcats were written off. Maybe it was just that the Wolfpack are that good. Russell Wilson had enough time in the pocket to write a semester's worth of essays and used it to pick Georgia Tech apart. N.C. State is undefeated and averaging nearly 38 points per game. Virginia Tech comes to Raleigh next week in what suddenly is a very interesting game.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati almost pulled the shocker against Oklahoma. It was a Dickensian game for wideout D.J. Woods. The best of times came in the fourth quarter when he hauled in a long touchdown pass to cut OU's lead to two points. The Bearcats defense forced a punt, cuing up Woods' worst of times -- a muff deep in his own territory that gifted the Sooners the put away score.

With Texas getting waxed by UCLA in Austin, the bloom is somewhat off the annual Red River Shootout. The Longhorns might want to forget about scheduling the Bruins. The infamous "Route 66" loss came 13 seasons ago to UCLA, and Saturday they were comprehensively outplayed once more. Texas coach Mack Brown wore the disconsolate look of a coach who knows he couldn't run the ball or stop the run. It beggars belief that a school with the pick of the five-star talent in a state like Texas can't find some running backs, but the spread worship appears to have taken some toll. And while the Longhorns took care of Texas Tech's "Guns Up" slogan, they were shot down by UCLA's Pistol, to the tune of 264 yards on the ground for the Bruins.

Also getting the job done on the ground was Houston's Bryce Beall. Beall is one of the nation's unheralded stars, mainly because of the Cougars penchant for throwing the ball. But with Case Keenum and his backup out for the season, the Cougars actually ran for more yards than they passed, 175-174, and Beall hit paydirt four times. Houston beat Tulane 42-23. A couple more games like that from Beall, and Houston might be ready for the Big Ten.


  • Trey Burton scored six touchdowns for Florida, which was pretty amazing. Even more amazing was the night No. 8 had. Burton switched numbers from No. 13 to No. 8 this week. Gators defensive back Jeremy Brown also happens to wear No. 8, in a dual number scenario similar to the Middlebrooks-Burfict No. 7 combo we talked about last week. Brown had a pick-6 in the game. Also, Kentucky wideout Chris (Ha!) Matthews had a pair of touchdown receptions, and he wears -- wait for it -- No. 8! That's nine scores in a single week for the jersey No. 8.
  • Oklahoma and Texas struggled, leading to a lot of Nebraska hype. But they forgot that the Dakotas are the center of pigskin prowess in 2010. Sure, the Huskers won 17-3 over South Dakota State, but the Jackrabbits shackled Taylor Martinez and caused a lot of grumbling inside Memorial Stadium.
  • Stanford two-way sensation Owen Marecic had a sequence for the ages, scoring on a short run then intercepting a pass and taking it home for two touchdowns in 13 seconds. Awesome. Although to hear the announcers talk about it, you'd think it had never been done before. They all used to go both ways, fellas.
  • Jet Li Impression Dept. -- You know how once a week or so a runner will leap over a lunging defender? South Carolina back Brian Maddox added a new twist to the play by kicking Auburn's T'Sharvan (who was trying to make the tackle) in the face.
  • Two players won't appear in the Lowsman Update below but had interesting Saturdays. UAB kicker Josh Zahn missed five, count 'em, five field goals, but the Blazers still forced overtime with Tennnessee. Zahn then hit on consecutive attempts in extra time, tying the game and putting his team ahead -- only for the Vols to win it on a touchdown pass.
  • In Tucson (called Tempe by a certain geographical moron in this column last week), Arizona played flat football all night after the emotional win over Iowa a week ago. But some credit goes to Cal's Darian Hagan (you might remember his father playing some pretty fair ball at Colorado), a cornerback who was outstanding in coverage all night. That is, until the final minutes, when Arizona's Justin Criner fought Hagan off for a 51-yard reception, then caught the winning touchdown in a 10-9 survival job.
  • Local update -- both Georgia and Georgia Tech stink.
  • And the 'Cuse is now 3-1! Sure, it's courtesy of back-to-back wins against FCS squads, but all Orange fans will take it, I assure you. This week saw an epic throttling of Colgate, 42-7, behind four Delonte Carter touchdown runs. South Florida, you're on notice!

The OFI Top 25

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Boise State
4. Oregon
5. TCU
6. Nebraska
7. Oklahoma
8. Florida
9. Wisconsin
10. Iowa
11. Auburn
12. Stanford
13. Utah
14. Michigan
15. Arkansas
16. LSU
17. USC
18. South Carolina
19. Arizona
20. Nevada
21. N.C. State
22. Miami
23. Texas
24. Michigan State
25. Florida State

Lowsman Update

1. Patrick Peterson, cornerback, LSU. OK, I know I pump the Patrick Peterson bandwagon quite a bit, but when he returns a punt for a 60-yard score and strikes the Heisman pose, as he did against West Virginia, something is happening with the LSU star. Next week, double-P needs to strike the Lowsman pose after a sterling play ... just as soon as we decide what it is. Any suggestions?

2. Nate Irving, linebacker, NC State. He had 16 tackles and a ferocious attack on Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt.

3. Sean Spence, linebacker, Miami. The U destroyed Pitt on Thursday night with a suffocating defensive effort, led by Sleepy, who had 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

4. Dakota Warren, kicker, UTEP. He hit field goals of 50 and 57 yards, then managed not to choke on the 18-yarder that gave the Miners a win at the gun against Memphis 16-13.

5. Robert Lester, safety, Alabama. Two picks of Ryan Mallett, including the crucial one late to set up the game-winning touchdown, in Alabama's first real test of 2010.

Posted by: Robert Weintraub on 27 Sep 2010

17 comments, Last at 29 Sep 2010, 1:30pm by Jeff Fogle


by Travis :: Mon, 09/27/2010 - 2:39pm

And to think, in Hong Kong, the number 8 is bad luck ...

I think it's the reverse, with 8 being considered lucky, and 4 unlucky.

by andrew :: Mon, 09/27/2010 - 2:58pm

lost to Northern Illinois, also lost earlier to San Diego State, and seemed thoroughly outplayed in both. This is Brewster's last year as coach, think that guy who was fired at Kansas will take over next year (they hired him as a consultant).

by ChrisH :: Mon, 09/27/2010 - 3:05pm

They actually lost to South Dakota State, not San Diego State. Though to be fair, they did win that tough game against Middle Tennessee State by 7.

by jw124164 :: Mon, 09/27/2010 - 3:16pm

Boy you're sure right about the Georgia schools. I'm a Tech fan, but not so vehement that I won't root for the Dawgs, and I can't remember when both of these schools looked so bad. I wonder if Johnson's scheme hasn't played itself out at this point - I shudder what we'll look like without Nesbitt AND a bad defense.

by Guido Merkens :: Tue, 09/28/2010 - 9:33am

"Played itself out" - what does that mean? There's no words there!

by bird jam :: Mon, 09/27/2010 - 3:28pm

You really ought to watch some of these games you write about. Josh Zahn missed five field goals for UAB.

by zlionsfan :: Mon, 09/27/2010 - 3:42pm

Penn State was (apparently) playing a decent team; Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa were not. I suppose they deserve a bit of credit for the Stomps, but not much. I think it's a little early to say that White can step in for Clay: one half of garbage time against a middle-of-the-pack I-AA team isn't going to tell you much.

Michigan ran into a problem with its numbers: being at home, they had everyone dressed (I'm assuming there's still a limit on the number of players you can take to a road game), and two 9s made it onto the field for a kick return, I believe. whoops. (The ESPN announcers did explain how it could happen, which was nice. I think casual fans might not be aware that bigger schools may have more than 100 players ...)

Also, one play-by-play guy in a game I watched (not sure if it was UM-BGSU or one of the late-night games) was very outspoken about playoffs: they were talking about someone in the NFL, and the PbP guy immediately brought up the fact that the NFL had a playoff system. I can't do it justice here because I don't remember exactly what he said, but it was awesome. The color guy toed the company line and threw out some bland line about it being a "debate", and the PbP guy shot back something like "99% of the fans are all on the same side of that debate." (What makes me think it was the Michigan game is that Brian Griese was the color guy, and I could definitely see him avoiding comment. "Uh ... Bob ... we're not supposed to say those things. They don't like it. We could get in trouble ... I might have to look for another job ... Bob, you're making me nervous ...")

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Mon, 09/27/2010 - 4:57pm

I think it's a little early to say that White can step in for Clay: one half of garbage time against a middle-of-the-pack I-AA team isn't going to tell you much.

I don't disagree that you shouldn't read much based on this competition but he actually got the bulk of his yards in the first two quarters. The 18 yard TD run for the 2nd score of the game with just over 5 minutes left in the first and then the 66 yard TD run with just over 13 minutes left in the 2nd. Clay has always been spelled a few downs here or there, so many of the runs by White and sophomore Ball do come against first stringers.

White has 23 carries for 124 yards against UNLV, San Jose State, and Arizona state as well. That's a healthy 5.4 YPC.

Of course I'm never really worried about Wisconsin running backs. They always have a herd of them. I actually think Clay is one of their weaker feature backs in recent years. I don't think you would see a ton of drop off if Clay were hurt this year and Ball (averaging 10.25 carries a game) and White (averaging 8.5 carries a game) had to split more carries. Clay is averaging 19.25 carries a game right now so he is only getting half the RB carries as it is. Though I do expect that ratio to be more like the 23 carries for Clay and 12 or so carries for Ball and White that they had vs Arizona State going forward.

Yes a big difference between being a feature back and just spelling that back now and then, but I like what I've seen of White, though he's not built like the recent WI backs (i.e. not 5-11 to 6-1 and 230 - 250 lbs he's 5-11 195 or so). Of course there could be some other Freshman next year that comes in and takes it, they have had several folks come in and be 4 year starters (or redshirt and then start 4 years). Who knows it might be Jeffrey Lewis next year. :)

by cfn_ms :: Mon, 09/27/2010 - 5:32pm

In a week where two Big Ten teams lost to the MAC, Penn St struggled heavily against Temple, and nobody in the league beat anyone of any note, "Big Points for the Big Ten" seems like a weird title to be using. I'm thinking more like "Inflated Margins for the Big Ten" or "Bottom of Big Ten Struggles", etc.

P.S. Ohio St destroyed Eastern Michigan, not Central Michigan.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 09/28/2010 - 11:11pm

I know it may seem impossible, but Temple really honestly went 9-4 last year. Yes, it's hard to comprehend, considering Temple hadn't had a winning season for almost 20 years, but it really did happen. They're not an awful team, and the top of the MAC can usually keep pace (or better) versus mid-level Big Ten teams.

2) 'Struggled heavily' seems a bit strong. That would probably fit better with, say, Wisconsin vs. Arizona State. But Temple didn't score a point after the first quarter, and one of those touchdowns came due to a fumble. All Penn State struggled heavily with was the red zone.

by Jeff Fogle :: Mon, 09/27/2010 - 6:11pm

Appreciate FO Nation stepping in to correct the errors in this piece.

Author/editors...PLEASE! How can this volume of errors keep happening every week?

by Portmanteur (not verified) :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 9:53am

Um, because there's 120 teams to cover in D-IA alone, and about 50 games worth writing about, not to mention they can't watch most of them because they have actual jobs on Saturday. Seriously, confusing Eastern Michigan with Central Michigan is not that big of a deal; you act like it changes the headline.

by Jeff Fogle :: Wed, 09/29/2010 - 1:30pm

If the piece of meat is too big, then bite off a piece that's possible to chew...

Not sure what degree of professionalism is expected at a site of this type.I would imagine they're aiming for the highest level...if they're all volunteers who work for nothing...or if they're all earning income as professional contributors to the effort. I haven't read any notices anywhere saying "Please don't hold us to a high standard, there's so much stuff we're covering that we can't be expected to have everything right." I think they're trying to get everything right.

This week, Rob said:

*(Apparently) that eight was an unlucky number in Chinese culture. I don't see it referenced in the article, but there's a comment about it...suggesting there was an edit made after the comment.

*(Apparently) that UAB's kicker missed a number of field goals other than 5. The article currently says 5, so the comment from a reader seems to have led to a correction.

*That Ohio State was playing Central Michigan, when it was actually a much worse Eastern Michigan team. That hasn't been corrected yet. It's not like this was a hidden game...it was nationally televised as part of the ABC/ESPN window along with UCLA/Texas.

*I didn't even say anything about the "Rout 66" reference. The joke was that UCLA "routed" Texas 66-3...and creative people made a pun calling it Rout 66 off the original "Route 66" that's a fabled scenic byway. Rob referred to the game as "Route 66," but a lot of people make that error, and it would seem like piling on...because...

Last week, Rob:
*Said Arizona played in Tempe...when they play in Tucson

*Said there was a "tragic accident" involving a Texas high school player suffering a seizure on the sidelines then passing away at a hospital. "Accident?" It was a tragic incident to be sure.

*Said Tennessee sagged in the fourth quarter, causing multiple viewers of the game to post a correction in the comments(which the boxscore confirmed)

*Had Utah ranked both 16th and 20th in his poll.

No corrections were made on the stuff that could have been easily corrected (Tucson, incident, whoever the heck was really 16th or 20th).

The prior week, Rob:

*Said Cal played in Strawberry Valley when it was Strawberry Canyon

*Said Kansas beat South Dakota State when it was North Dakota State

*Said Michigan dominated the second half against Notre Dame when they had actually suffered through seven empty offensive drives whole blowing a lead...before they scored late to win.

*Said Kansas exploded on a Georgia Tech team that got whipped, when it was 28-25 and Georgia Tech won yardage 407-320 and YPP 6.1 to 4.5

Absolutely, there are a lot of things in play in an article of this nature, and mistakes are bound to happen. So, you proofread to try and catch off references or misnamed places. You have an editor or editors who double check (the home page here lists an editor-in-chief, a managing editor, and an "assistant editor grammar police"). When anything that seeps through the cracks gets pointed out by readers, you fix them. If you can't fix them the first day, you fix them the next day. Why is leaving the errors up all week (and forever for that matter) a good idea?

And, if your assessment of a game is called into question, you explain your take. You explain why you think Michigan dominated a second half where they blew a lead before scoring very late to win.

Mistakes happen...and it's very easy to type in something like "Strawberry Valley" when you mean "Strawberry Canyon." Just apologize and fix it after it's been pointed out. How can FO policy be to ignore many reader comments about factual errors?

And, when Week Two has multiple errors...why isn't there a sense of urgency to make sure there aren't any in Week Three? And, when Week Three matches Week Two for error volume, why isn't Week Four a pristine piece of work that's been edited, double washed, martinized, and sandblasted to make sure you don't say that Ohio State played Central Michigan in the second paragraph?

Have respect for the readers. FO has readers from all over the country who are avid fans. Whatever game gets referenced...somebody watched it! Usually a lot of somebodies. There are fans in Arizona who can tell Tucson from Tempe. There are people in the valleys, or the canyons, or the plains, or even a palouse.

Aim high. Hit a home run. Serve the reader. Repeated, multiple errors disrespects the reader with reports that can't possibly hit a home run...particularly at a site with "intelligent analysis" in its subhead.

Their "actual jobs" are getting in the way of covering 120 Division I teams and about 50 games worth writing about? Then cover what you can cover, and provide intelligent analysis of that...

by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Mon, 09/27/2010 - 6:20pm

Clay is overweight and frankly it's kind of disgusting. He can bowl folks over but is unlikely to last the season having to lug that gut around.

And Clay isn't even close to the best player on the team. Wisconsin has a legit first round talent in Lance Kendrick, the tight end. That guy is big, fast, rangy, has great hands AND can block. He is NFL ready right now. Nick Toon at WR has been battling a turf toe but is a very good receiver. Carimi the tackle is very, very good. Two other o-linemen are also going to get postseason attention of some kind. JJ Watts, DE, has been great in the preseason and looks to have a breakout season. Interestingly the rest of the d-line, which is almost all new, has not been the sieve early on despite such little experience. The fatal flaw on defense is the secondary which struggles to maintain any semblance of coverage.

This team will live and die with the offense and special teams as that is where all the special talent is located. Which equates to a 6-2 Big 10 season most likely.

by Will :: Tue, 09/28/2010 - 12:04am

The Top 25 is too Big Ten heavy. Ohio State appears to be the only legitimate top ten team in the conference, yet you have 3 teams there and a fourth in the top 14. Iowa has already lost (to Arizona who is ranked way behind them), Wiscy has looked weak against lightweight competition, and Michigan's best win was against a UConn team that lost nearly as badly to Temple.


by stephenmcf :: Tue, 09/28/2010 - 5:07pm

Michigan beat Notre Dame (28 in S&P through 9/25, 27 in FEI through 9/18) on the road. Granted it doesn't look as good after the Domers were crushed in Notre Dame stadium by Stanford this past weekend. Nonetheless, a road win against a solid team. You could argue they had a tougher non-conference slate (UCONN, at ND, UMASS(good FCS team), Bowling Green) than probably 75% of other BCS schools.

by cfn_ms :: Tue, 09/28/2010 - 7:49pm

UConn is a mess (see 14 pt loss @ Temple), ND is mediocre, and the rest is junk. 3 home games, zero top 25 opponents. Suggesting that this is even above average is, quite frankly, absurd.

However, to address your specific 75% claim, let's dig deeper. Since there's only around 70 or so AQ's, all I need is 18 or so that are at least as tough. Let's start with OOC slates that are tougher:
(* = obvious top 25 team as of now)

Oregon St - @ TCU*, vs Lville, @ Boise*
UCLA - @ KSU, vs Houston, @ Texas*
Washington - @ BYU, vs Cuse, vs Neb*
Oklahoma - vs Utah St, vs FSU, vs AF, @ Cincy
Baylor - vs AA, vs Buff, @ TCU*, @ Rice (@ TCU is a nightmare game - the rest are pretty easy)
Iowa St - vs NIU, @ Iowa*, vs AA, vs Utah*
Colorado - vs CSU, @ Cal, vs Hawaii, vs UGA
Georgia - vs ULL, @ Colo, vs AA, vs GA Tech
Florida - vs MiamiOH, vs USF, vs AA, @ FSU
LSU - vs UNC, vs WV, vs AA, vs ULM
UNC - vs LSU*, @ Rutgers, vs ECU, vs AA
Duke - vs AA, vs Bama*, vs Army, @ Navy
Miami - vs AA, @ Ohio St*, @ Pitt, vs USF
Florida St - vs AA, @ OK*, vs BYU, vs Florida*
Clemson - vs No Tex, vs AA, @ Aub*, vs So Car*
West VA - vs AA, @ Marsh, vs MD, @ LSU*, vs UNLV
Cincy - @ Fresno, vs AA, @ NC St*, vs OK*, vs MiamiOH

That's 17, all of which look tougher than Michigan's road (some light-years tougher). And you've probably got about 20 - 30 more which are pretty close. Just because Michigan's OOC run compared decently to the rest of the Big Ten doesn't mean it was even above-average, much less well above-average, compared to the rest of the AQ's. Even the SEC now does a better OOC job than the Big Ten does.