Monday, October 6, 2014

Six Weeks In

On September 15th, I wrote that the first three weeks of the college football season taught us "nothing, except that the whole idea of pre- and early-season polling is stupid."

Now that we are six weeks into the season, we really haven't learned much else. At this point in a season you can usually get an accurate sense of who is for real and who is not, who the top few teams are, and certainly who the top ten or so are. This year, however, everything is truly and precariously up in the air.

Everything we've actually learned has been in the negative rather than the affirmative. We can say with certainty that LSU is reeling; that South Carolina was greatly overrated after beating Georgia; that Nebraska is lost and aimless; that the Big Ten is every bit as bad as those who mock it claim; and that Texas is so bad it may very well finish near the bottom of the Big 12.

Stanford has only the eighth best record in the Pac-12... Georgia Tech is one of only ten unbeaten teams, though not a single person in the sports media has said a word about them... Indiana is the only team from the Big Ten to win a good game out of conference... Will Muschamp acted like it was a colossal achievement for his Florida Gators to beat Tennessee, even though they've beaten them ten years in a row... Against Cal, Washington State QB Connor Halliday three for an astonishing 734 yards while leading his team to 59 points -- and they lost.

Both the AP and coaches' polls have Florida State and Auburn ranked 1-2, for good reason. However, anyone who has watched them play can see that both teams' weakness, right now, is its offensive line; and everybody who knows football is aware that weakness in the offensive line is a kiss of death when it comes to winning the national championship.

The national press corps acted stunned that Ole Miss beat Alabama and Mississippi State beat Texas A&M. Maybe their surprise is a result of those games taking place on the same day, but they should not be surprised because: 1) Ole Miss has been stocking up nationally renowned recruiting classes and entered the weekend giving up only 8.5 points per game; and 2) Mississippi State has been dominating the line of scrimmage and looking like a force ever since the first play of the season.

I am an Auburn graduate/partisan and Auburn is ranked near the top of the polls, so I can't help but share my thoughts about my team. This year's group of receivers is the best in America and the best in school history... Nick Marshall has completed the right throws at clutch times since game one, and his passing has improved every week... Cameron Artis-Payne is a workhorse of a RB who hasn't lost a fumble despite his heavy load... On defense, the tackling is lights-out, better than it has been since the Tommy Tuberville era and maybe even since the Pat Dye era... A downside is that the defenders have surrendered far more yards on first down than I am comfortable with; however, they have more than made up for it by shutting the door hard on second and third down -- as evidenced by them holding LSU to 0-for-13 on third down conversion attempts and 0-for-4 on fourth downs... In Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost, they have two of the best simultaneously playing linebackers in school history.

Unfortunately, I already mentioned the "but," and that is the offensive line. Actually, I'll make it a "twofer but" by adding that the D line is also a weak link.

Don't get me wrong. Neither line is bad. But after coming within 13 seconds of the national championship last season, winning the national title has become this team's measuring stick. That might be an unfair standard to hold young men to, but it is what it is -- and so far the O line has at many times failed to hold its run blocks long enough for Cameron Artis-Payne to make his cuts, while the D line has way too often allowed holes to open up for opposing running backs... The skill players on offense have overcome the sketchy run blocking, while the linebackers and secondary have bailed the D line out. But against the brutal schedule Auburn faces from here to the end of the season, you can't rely on that happening every week... All of which means that although I know Auburn is one of America's best teams and I expect them to have a damn good season when all is said and done, I don't expect them to win the national championship. Unless the lines improve, that is. Which they certainly could.

In any event, based on what has happened up to now, below is the Stanton's Space Top Twenty. Of course, "based on what has happened up to now" means this will change significantly between now and season's end.

1.    Florida State
2.    Mississippi State
3.    Ole Miss
4.    Auburn
5.    Baylor
6.    Arizona
7.    Oregon
8.    Alabama
9.    Michigan State
10.  Notre Dame
11.  Oklahoma
12.  Georgia
13.  Kansas State
14.  UCLA
15.  Texas A&M
16.  Oklahoma State
17.  TCU
18.  East Carolina
19.  Georgia Tech
20.  Ohio State

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