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Post-Gazette sports reporter Paul Zeise blogs about the world of sports, and Pittsburgh sports in particular, with an assist from Seth Rorabaugh and his Morning Links. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulZeise and Seth @emptynetters.
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Sorry the weekend wrap is a day later than normal (but not a dollar short, I promise) but I was extremely busy Sunday and I was off yesterday so here we are, back in the saddle and let’s get right to it.
You can say whatever you want about the way college football has decided its champion for years and there are plenty of reasons to criticize it and plenty of reasons to not like it but this much is true – the season is often a series of eliminations and each week some “contender” is exposed as a “pretender” and promptly exits the national championship race.
Two teams from this weekend fit that profile – Florida State and Georgia – and a third, LSU, is still alive but only because the Tigers have so many good teams left on their schedule.
But let’s look at “Falling out of National Contention” Exhibit A, Florida State, which, by virtue of losing to N.C. State – and looking AWFUL doing it – is done. The Seminoles are no longer a serious threat to win the national championship. Heck, the Seminoles aren’t even a lock to win the Bi-Coastal Atlantic Division of the ACC or whatever the heck it is called as they now need the Wolfpack to lose (a very good chance that will happen) one time to be back in control of their own destiny.
And unlike LSU, which also lost this weekend and would seem to be eliminated, the Seminoles don’t have the benefit of a tough schedule to earn their way back into the discussion. I mean, where are the wins that will wow voters coming from:
– Miami? Did you watch that junk against Notre Dame? I’m starting to think Michael Irving and Warren Sapp were right, the Hurricanes need to go back to having Luke Campbell serve as the unofficial recruiting coordinator and go back to recruiting thugs and gangsters cause this team is awful.
-- Virginia Tech? Remember when Pitt beat the Hokies a few weeks ago and it was heralded as one of the great upsets in Pitt history? Um, yeah – since then Virginia Tech has lost to Cincinnati and got pounded by North Carolina – and the Tar Heels didn’t even have Kendall Marshall or Harrison Barnes playing.
Really, the only quality team the Seminoles have left is Florida – and the Gators are a top five team so that could be a huge win to put Florida State back on the map. But Florida still has to play Georgia and South Carolina between now and then and so they could be out of the top ten as well.
And then there is the possibility of an ACC title game – and the team at the top of the other division is, well, yes, Miami, which speaks volumes about how bad the ACC is this year.
So in other words, farewell Seminoles, see you next year when you try to convince us all again that you are back and that you are again among the elite. Yes, you may finish in the top five if you run the table and win the Orange Bowl but beating up that schedule, other than Florida, is not really impressive.
The same can be said about Exhibit B from this weekend – Georgia – which, to quote the great Jon Burton, got “boat raced” by South Carolina, 35-7. Much like the Seminoles, Georgia may still be able to win its conference, but that is probably a long shot since they have tie-breaker issues in their division now.
But even if they do, looking at their schedule – Florida is the only impressive win possibility they have left unless they make the SEC title game and find an unbeaten Alabama there. If that happened – if they get to Alabama and get to beat the Tide, they might have a shot, but absent of that, there isn’t much left on their schedule to allow them to climb back into our hearts and minds, either.
LSU, on the other hand, would certainly crawl back in the top two to get into the national title game if it ran the table as that would mean it would include wins over Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina and then an SEC title game against Florida, South Carolina or Georgia – and all of those teams are ranked.
Of course, watching the Tigers this year, I’d say they have no prayer of running the table as that offense is really, really bad.
So where do we stand at this point?
I’d say this – Oregon and Alabama seem to have the inside track on getting to the national title game as they are No. 1 and No. 2 in both polls and both have enough potential quality wins left on their schedule to, assuming they continue to win, hang on to their rankings.
The next two best possibilities would be the winner of Kansas State-West Virginia and/or Notre Dame but my gut tells me neither of those two will go undefeated.
Notre Dame’s defense is dominant, the offense is not and frankly, the more the season rolls on, the less impressive any of the Irish’s wins look. Someone will pick them off, if not USC, perhaps Stanford or Oklahoma.
And with regards to West Virginia, I still think that defense will do them in at least once, if not a couple of times.
Kansas State, however, if it can survive its trip to Morgantown, a huge if, could actually run the table as there isn’t much heavy lifting left on their schedule after WVU but Bill Snyder’s teams have traditionally found a way to lose at least one game they shouldn’t.
So as of right now, it seems as though if the national title game is going to be two undefeated teams the most likely scenario would be Alabama-Oregon.
A Big problem: The Big East has three ranked teams – Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers and quite frankly, none of them have a chance of getting into the national title game without a whole lot of help. And by a whole lot of help I mean, no SEC teams, Pac 12 teams or Big 12 teams are undefeated or have only one loss. That’s the issue with that conference – the perception is bad, the play is not great – and that is why so many teams have jumped ship in recent years.
The Cardinals are the highest ranked team – they are No. 16/18 – but outside of wins over Cincinnati and Rutgers (not exactly Florida and Alabama), who in the world is left on their schedule for them to jump up and grab voters attention?
And worse – if they don’t play well against any of those other teams, they will be penalized, perhaps unfairly, because the perception of the league is so bad.
The Cardinals come to Pitt this weekend and believe it or not that may be their toughest game until the last game of the season when they travel to Piscataway to play Rutgers.
The best case for the Big East would be that both Rutgers and Louisville make it to that final week undefeated and then perhaps you have a Top Ten matchup but the history of the conference suggests that is not real likely as teams seem to stumble from the top once they get there.
A Bigger Problem: People at least expect the Big East to be bad and that is always the perception of it no matter what the case is --- but what about the Big Ten? I mean, this conference is junk right now – and I am not sure who, other than Ohio State (and even that is a stretch), is good.
I mean, all you need to know about this conference is this – Penn State had its coaching staff redone, was put on probation, lost about 20 percent of its roster, including its star running back and has a walk-on starting at quarterback, and the Nittany Lions may be the second best team in the league behind Ohio State.
Sure they may lost a game or two more, but would it shock you if we are talking about Penn State finishing 10-2 given how bad some of the traditional powers in that league are right now?
Wisconsin may be able to pull it together, but Nebraska just had 63 put on it by Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan are both shaky at best and Northwestern, who the Nittany Lions beat this past weekend, was ranked because it played five stiffs to start the year and went 5-0, not because the Wildcats are any good.
It is not shocking when one or two teams take a step back here and there but when a whole conference does together, it does raise an eyebrow or two.
Game of the Week: West Virginia has a great offense and a terrible defense which is a formula to produce exciting games and there is no question I could put the Mountaineers game in this spot every single week. And Texas-West Virginia would certainly fit the bill but instead I will go with Penn State 39, Northwestern 28. Penn state trailed 28-17 going into the fourth quarter but Matt McGloin, a guy who is often criticized by the Penn State faithful, put together a spectacular fourth quarter to lead them to a 22-point fourth quarter and the win. McGloin, by the way, threw the ball 51 times and set a school record with 35 completions. Yep, a new era at Penn State in deed.
Upset of the Week: This one is easy – North Carolina State 17, Florida State 16. Remember all those nice things I wrote about the Seminoles and how this has the feel of a different team than the choking dogs of recent past? Um, well, yeah – forget about all of that. FSU rolled to a 16-0 halftime lead then got shut out by N.C. State in the second half – and yet despite that the Seminoles still had a chance to win. But in FSU fashion, they blew it and got a punt blocked late and N.C. State scored the winning touchdown on fourth-and-goal. Just an awful way to lose but give the Wolfpack credit, they battled back and took advantage of Seminoles mistakes and found a way to win the game. N.C. State now controls the Bi-Coastal Atlantic Division (I know, it is the Atlantic Division so spare me the “get it right” e-mails as I am just having some fun), though my sense is the Wolfpack still have a loss or two left in them.
Team of the Week: Yeah, I know TCU was without its starting quarterback and as a result the Horned Frogs offense was shaky at times and turned it over five times – but still, every single year it seems as though Iowa State- aka “The Fighting Paul Rhoads” - pulls at least one road upset of a ranked team off and this was it. TCU was undefeated and TCU was ranked No. 15 – and Iowa State went to Fort Worth and came away with a 37-23 win. That’s also good news for West Virginia because it means that Iowa State got its upset out of the way and the Mountaineers can now cross the Iowa State game off the list as potential trap games…Paul Rhoads has done a marvelous job at a coaching graveyard of making the Cyclones relevant, if even for a week or two each year. And that’s a big reason he decided to stay at Iowa State rather than go elsewhere - because all he needs to do is win six games and beat one of the big boys occasionally and they will build statues to him as expectations out there are realistic and thus extremely low.
Ugly Game of the Week: I figured Notre Dame would beat Miami – but 41-3 in a game that wasn’t even that close? What the hell is going down there in Miami? Like I said, Luke Campbell where are you? I think what made this game worse was that Miami – yeah, that Miami – just sat down and died once the Irish got up a couple of scores. No fight. No pride. No sense of urgency. This from the program that once forced the rule books to be changed with regards to taunting and celebration. This was once an “in your face, we’re better than you and will show it” brash group and now, this, going out with a whimper against Notre Dame? Randall “the Thrill” Hill must be losing his mind watching this stuff and Lamar Thomas must really want to get in the elevator and go fight someone…..
You’re not in Kansas – or the MWC or WAC or anywhere else anymore: Remember when Utah and Boise State and to a less degree TCU would go undefeated and whine because they were left out of the national title picture then beat someone in a BCS bowl and act as if that meant we should take them seriously? And the thing that most people would counter that with is this “yes, it is a nice story but you beat nobody all year then get way up for one, maybe two games, and that is not the same as going undefeated in a real conference where you have to get up every week. And if you did, the week to week grind would wear your team down like it does most teams.” Well, let’s take a look at how the move to the Pac 12 is working out for Utah. The Utes are 0-2 in the conference and they next play UCLA then Oregon State. Then they get a “breather” against Cal and Washington State and then get Washington and Arizona. You think they are going undefeated during that stretch?
I’m not trying to rip those programs – the latest one looks like it may be Louisiana Tech – for going undefeated, I am just trying to point out that it is much, much different to go 12-0 against 11 nobodies and one big game than it is when every single week you must be focused and ready to play or you could get beat. That’s what makes it a grind – Alabama is very good but every week the Tide must play reasonably well in the SEC or the Tide could get beat and that mental and physical grind is too much for some teams to handle, which is why we see things like NC State 17, FSU 16.
Personnel moves: The biggest blow came to Oregon State, which lost its starting quarterback Sean Mannion, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Brigham Young also lost its quarterback – sort of – as freshman Taysom Hill – was knocked out for the season with a knee injury. Hill, however, was filling in for Riley Nelson, the past few weeks and it looks like Nelson is ready to return so the Cougars shouldn’t miss a beat. Also, LSU lost starting linebacker Kwon Alexander for the year with a foot injury.
Here is my Top Ten for this week – Keep in mind, I rank based on what a team has accomplished and not what I think they may accomplish….
1.) Alabama (5-0) –The Tide took a break this weekend but they have an interesting trip to Missouri. Interesting because the Tigers will probably figure out, if they haven’t by now, that they are no longer in the Playstation league and while those spread offenses are cute, the SEC teams play defense so you better be able to stop someone.
2.) Oregon (5-0) – The Ducks were impressive this weekend as they throttled Washington, 52-21. I know the Huskies aren’t spectacular but they are pretty good. Oregon was up 35-7 before most people were in their seats.
3.) Notre Dame (4-0) – The Irish killed Miami. Just crushed them into the turf. And while the Hurricanes aren’t the Hurricanes of old, it still was impressive. And while Brian Kelly is known as an offensive guy, this team’s strength is its defensive front seven. That group is pretty darn good.
4.) Florida (5-0) – The Gators had a great win over LSU and while it surprised some people, it didn’t really shock me. The Gators were at home and LSU Is not a very good football team right now, especially on offense. Still a win over a top five team is impressive.
5.) . West Virginia (5-0) – The Mountaineers passed their first real test of the year, on the road against Texas but gave up 45 points. It says a lot that after the game the coaches and players were talking about how much the defense improved. Yep, that’s where college football is –giving up 45 points is actually not that bad….
6.) South Carolina (6-0) – The Gamecocks may have been the most impressive team of the weekend as they shut down Georgia and won, 35-7, over the Bulldogs. South Carolina hasn’t always been dominant or pretty but boy they just keep on winning and that’s the key in this thing.
7.) Kansas State (5-0) – Kansas State did what it needed to do, overcame a decided schematic disadvantage and kicked the snot out of Charlie Weis’s Kansas team. Is there anyone out there who really believes (a) Weis was a good hire or good fit at Kansas and (b) Weis has any prayer of making Kansas even mediocre again – much less get the Jayhawks to the Orange Bowl one day? Anyone? Didn’t think so….
8.) Oregon State (4-0) - The Beavers won. That’s about the best you can say about the 19-6 stinker over Washington State. But winning is the key and the Beavers just keep doing it.
9.) Ohio State (6-0) – I know the Buckeyes aren’t eligible for anything but they just put 63 points on Nebraska, which, at one point was allegedly one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten. Urban Meyer may be arrogant and self important, but dude can coach.
10.) USC (4-1) – I know the Trojans have a loss and struggled against Utah early but the Trojans are probably the best of the one-loss teams and the one-loss team that has the best shot of running the table.
Five more to Watch (OK, maybe eight):
Big East Three – Louisville (5-0), Cincinnati (4-0) and Rutgers (5-0). I’m lumping them together because I have no idea who is the best of the three and how good any of them are. They have beaten nobody, really, and they have had some very shaky performances. But hey, winning is winning and if one of them can emerge undefeated it would be great for the conference. Yeah, I know Rutgers beat Arkansas and Cincinnati beat Virginia Tech, but both of those wins look less impressive every week.
Mississippi State (5-0) – The Bulldogs are undefeated and ranked but have beaten nobody and were not exactly impressive against an awful Kentucky team this past weekend. They get a mild test this week against Tennessee, then play Middle Tennessee and then we will see what they are made of as they play Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU back to back to back.
Louisiana Tech (5-0) – The fighting Karl Malones fit into the category of “little guy who has one Super Bowl to win and could go undefeated” and this week is their Super Bowl. Louisiana Tech plays Texas A&M and if the Bulldogs can survive it, they can certainly go undefeated as they have a bunch of directional schools and non-state name state schools left after the Aggies.
Ohio (6-0) – The Bobcats already won their Super Bowl game – against Penn State – so they are clearly a threat to go undefeated.
UTSA (6-0) – Who knew the United State Tennis Association had a football team? Oh I am sorry, that is USTA – this is Texas-San Antonio and while they probably actually aren’t very good, they have a cool nickname – the RoadRunners – and hey, they are still undefeated!
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