Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fourteen Weeks In

And then there were...
...two. And so, again, I say there was never any logic behind everyone hyperventilating about what would/should happen if an "excess" of teams finish undefeated, because it almost never plays out like that when all is said and done.

Was it the greatest game ever played?
Yes it was, and you know what game I am talking about. It was not the greatest in terms of quality of play, because both teams had a number of miscues, but when you consider the excellent clutch plays that were made, and consider how both teams overcame miscues, and consider the stakes and the drama and the chess match of coaching decisions -- it was overall the greatest game played in the history of college football.

I am not going to say anything more about it right now, because 1) this recurring post is about the season's evolution and 2) Auburn still must play in the SEC Championship Game. I have watched several Missouri games this year and I believe Missouri is every bit as good as the team Auburn just vanquished. Mizzou's defensive line is one of the most physical in the country and Michael Sam is better than any of the players on Alabama's D line. Their offense is multidimensional and deep enough to have gotten successfully through the toughest stretch of their season despite losing their starting quarterback for most of that stretch. They are one 10-minute span away from being 12-0 and ranked ahead of both Auburn and Ohio State.

In short, the more focus is placed on the Iron Bowl, the more likely I think Auburn is to lose to Missouri. I will write a post about the Iron Bowl and will probably publish it this week, but it will be strictly for nostalgia and will not be mixed in with a "season is progressing and coming to a head" post. This is a weird superstition when you consider that I am not on Auburn's team or coaching staff and that I have absolutely no impact on what will happen come Saturday, but hey, all superstitions are weird and they have a lot to do with what makes sports so fun.

Domination in the Palmetto State
The Iron Bowl's dramatic finish and dethroning of Alabama very deservedly hogged the national spotlight. Unfortunately, it did so at the expense of many other fine storylines from Rivalry Weekend that would have otherwise gotten more press.

One of those storylines involves the significant and prolonged success of the South Carolina Gamecocks. Saturday night, they slapped down Clemson by a score of 31-17 to mark the fifth straight year they have defeated their hated cross-state rival. By bringing their regular season record to 10-2, the win marked the third straight year they will finish with double digits in the win column. Both are firsts for the program.

It says something positive about the Cocks that they are ranked in the top ten and no one in America seems surprised. It says something even more impressive that they once again made a mockery out of Clemson, in a year during which the latter spent considerable time being thought of as a national title contender. Dabo Swinney is arguably the third best coach in Clemson history after Frank Howard and Danny Ford, yet he is 1-5 against South Carolina and therefore many people consider him incapable of winning the games that matter. When I was a kid the Tigers were a longtime national power and the Cocks were a longtime afterthought. Not anymore.

Central Florida
I don't know what to make of this team. They are 10-1 and on the verge of earning a BCS bowl bid. They knocked Louisville out of the top five and pulverized Teddy Bridgewater's Heisman hopes in the process. They damn near beat South Carolina in a 28-25 battle that ranks as their only loss. Therefore, I want to rank them.

On the other hand, they needed improbable last minute heroics to get past 1-11 Temple and 2-10 South Florida. And while I keep telling myself that having the poise to execute those heroics is deserving of a spot in the national rankings, I also keep telling myself that a team which deserves to be ranked would not let itself get into positions where it needs late heroics to skate by such woeful opponents. To be in that position once can easily be excused, but to be in that position more than once is a not-good trend.

Heisman Watch
LSU and Mizzou have pushed Johnny Football out of the conversation, and an unprepared, 16-point outing against 7-5 Arizona has pushed Marcus Mariota out of it as well. In my mind it is now a two-horse race between Jameis Winston and A.J. McCarron, and I can make an equally strong case for both.

I don't like saying this as an Auburn man, but if I had a vote, right now I think I would cast it for McCarron. His performance in defeat last night did more to convince me he is deserving of the award than any of his performances in victory, and his post-game demeanor proved he is a man of character. Most significantly, I can not ignore that Winston, as phenomenal as he is, simply has not shown how he will react in tough circumstances.

Without further ado...
...below is the Stanton's Space Top Twenty, based on what has happened so far this season. There could be upheaval after the handful of games coming up this weekend, but for now, here you go:

1.    Florida State
2.    Ohio State
3.    Auburn
4.    Alabama
5.    Missouri
6.    Oklahoma State
7.    Michigan State
8.    South Carolina
9.    Stanford
10.  Baylor
11.  Arizona State
12.  LSU
13.  Clemson
14.  Oregon
15.  UCLA
16.  Northern Illinois
17.  Wisconsin
18.  Duke
19.  Texas A&M
20.  USC

Note: The scoreboard photo is courtesy of my fine friend and fellow Auburn grad Sandee Foster -- though it is my understanding that it was taken by the daughter of another fine friend and Auburn grad, the wonderful Adicia Coulter. Yesterday, said daughter could be seen waving her orange and blue pom pom behind the stage on ESPN College Game Day.

No comments: