Monday, November 3, 2014

Ten Weeks In

Don't look now...
...but Missouri, who lost to Indiana and got shut out 34-0 at home by Georgia, is all alone atop the SEC East and in the driver's seat to reach the SEC Championship Game.

That fact encapsulates everything about this crazily unpredictable and nonsensical season. And since the season is crazily unpredictable and nonsensical -- and everyone in America assumes the SEC West will win the conference and maybe send two teams to the four-team College Football Playoff -- perhaps it's not so nuts to consider the possibility of Mizzou reaching Atlanta and pulling an upset to win the SEC and thereby causing voters' minds to melt from coast to coast. 

Go Lower Midwest, Young Man!
You don't have to convince me how good Kansas State is, and over the last couple weeks much of America has come around to my way of thinking about Bill Snyder's Wilcats.

And you don't have to convince me that TCU is a legitimate top ten team, though you do have to convince me that they are a national title contender. Over the last couple weeks, much of America seems to have persuaded into the latter way of thinking about Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs.

When the two teams meet in Fort Worth on Saturday, it will be for the inside track to the Big 12 crown and to make a case for being in the College Football Playoff. I cast my lot with the WIldcats.

Go Upper Midwest, Young Man!
When Michigan State and Ohio State lock horns, the stakes will be extremely high for Michigan State -- and for the Big Ten.

The Big Ten's reputation is in tatters and MSU's hard-nosed approach to football is the only thing about the conference th8at garners any national respect. Meanwhile, OSU's reputation as the most overrated program in the country is so deserved that if the Buckeyes were to defeat the Spartans, America would respond not by saying "OSU is good" but by saying "man, we were wring about MSU."

Auburn, Part One
Every team has strengths and weaknesses. That has been true for every team ever, all the way up to the professional level and the Steelers dynasty of the 1970's and 49'ers dynasty of the 1980's. And when you watch every game a team plays, you become just as familiar with its weaknesses as you do with its strengths. For that reason, you will not find me placing my beloved Auburn Tigers #1 in my rankings below.

Yet I am here to say this: Auburn's body of work is better than any team's in the country: They have beaten two top ten teams on the road, they pulverized LSU 41-7, and their lone loss was on the road against the team that most most voters are ranking #1.

Auburn, Part Two
In the wake of their well-deserved, 35-31 win over Ole Miss two nights ago, almost all of the media attention has been on the horribly broken ankle suffered by Ole Miss WR Lequan Treadwell with a minute and a half remaining as he tried to score a go-ahead touchdown.

From a human interest perspective, that is as it should be. However, Treadwell clearly fumbled, and facts are facts, and as John Adams once wrote: "Facts are stubborn things."

Auburn, Part Three
In any event, the real story of the Auburn-Ole Miss game was how much Auburn outplayed the Rebels and won the game outright. Naturally, you won't hear the real story from the MSSM that are eternally eager to use words like "lucky" and "fortunate" to describe AU victories.

Those who watch sports know that the most dangerous opponent is a top-notch contender coming off a loss with its back against the wall. Ole Miss was just such an opponent on Saturday, and Auburn beat 'em in their own house.

Long-standing conventional sports wisdom says that a good defense beats a good offense. Ole Miss entered Saturday as one of the most feared defenses in America, having given up only eight touchdowns in eight games, yet Auburn scored five against them will relative ease... Ole Miss's defense had not given up 20 points in any game all year, yet Auburn hung 35 on them... Auburn moved the ball seemingly at will, piling up 507 total yards and 248 on the ground; and when they didn't score, it was usually because they stopped themselves with penalties.

Those who trumpet the "Auburn is lucky" canard by pointing to Treadwell's fumble and QB Bo Wallace's fumble on the prior drive are ignoring: 1) the fact that Wallace did not fumble, but was stripped of the ball; 2) the fact that many, and probably most, ball carriers would not hold onto the ball through the kind of tackle that Kris Frost put on Treadwell; and 3) the fact that Ole Miss had a continuous spell of good fortune all night long by virtue of an avalanche of 15-yard and 3rd-down penalties that extended Ole Miss drives and snuffed out Auburn drives.

In short, don't by the "Auburn is lucky" canard. Llike the old saying goes, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and "Auburn is lucky" is nothing more than jealous bullshit peddled by people whose teams fail in the clutch while Auburn comes through in the clutch. "Auburn is lucky" is something I've been hearing since George H. W. Bush was president, and those who speak it will never stop speaking it; but the rest of us don't have to fall for it.

And now...
...based on what has happened, here is the Stanton's Space Top Twenty:

1.    Florida State
2.    Mississippi State
3.    Alabama
4.    Oregon
5.    Auburn
6.    Michigan State
7.    Kansas State
8.    Notre Dame
9.    TCU
10.  Ole Miss
11.  Oklahoma
12.  West Virginia
13.  Ohio State
14.  Arizona State
15.  Nebraska
16.  Duke
17.  LSU
18.  Utah
19.  Georgia

20.  UCLA

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