Monday, September 14, 2015

Second Impressions

My September 8th post opened with the following sentence: "In the college football world, opinions and generalizations based on only the first week of the season have a tendency to be, um, inaccurate." As if to prove me right, Week Two looked a lot different than Week One. Here are some thoughts now that Week Two is over:

Classic might be too strong a word, but three of Saturday's games turned out to be the kind of dramatic nail-biters that make the game awesome.

Chief among them was the high profile showdown between #5 Michigan State and #7 Oregon. The former edged the latter on a cool night in East Lansing, largely on the strength of two TD passes by Connor Cook and two scoring runs by LJ Scott... However, in a bit of a surprise for a fairly high-scoring game, it was defense that made the difference as the Spartans stuffed the Ducks' prolific offense all four times they went for it on fourth down. One of those stops came on a goal-line stand in the second quarter and another came on the Ducks' final possession... Circle November 21st on your calendar, for that is when the Spartans travel to Columbus to do battle with Ohio State, in a late-season contest that may well have major national title implications.

Meanwhile, down in Knoxville, Tennessee dominated Oklahoma for three quarters and looked to be back among the nation's elite -- only to see the Sooners rise up and storm back like a cyclone roaring east from Tornado Alley... After completing just 8 of 25 passes in the first three quarters, Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield proceeded to go 11 of 14 the rest of the way, forcing the game to OT by throwing one TD pass to Samaje Perine with 8:20 remaining, then another to Sterling Shepard with only 40 seconds left on the clock. Then, after Tennessee went up by a touchdown in the first overtime, Mayfield ran it in on fourth-and-goal from the one to force a second overtime -- during which he threw an 18-yarder to Shepard that proved to be the game-winner. All three of his scoring throws came on third down... Just like that, what had been a 17-0 Tennessee lead morphed into a 31-24 Tennessee loss; and thus, Bob Stoops's reputation as an SEC killer remains intact and we learned that his moniker "Big Game Bob" still applies.

However, the most exciting game took place in Charlottesville, VA, where Notre Dame and Virginia went back and forth like Balboa and Creed... The Irish jumped to a 12-0 lead with a touchdown, missed two-point conversion, and two field goals. Then the Cavaliers scored a pair of TD's to go up 14-12 at halftime; the second of those scores was a perfect 42-yard bomb from Matt Johns to Keeon Johnson, completed despite the fact that threw it while leaning back with a defender in his face... Then the Irish scored a pair of third quarter touchdowns which allowed them to start the fourth quarter holding a 26-14 lead -- only to see Johns run one in from four yards out, pulling the Cavs within 26-21 just two minutes into the final frame... Then it became super dramatic in the game's final six minutes, as Virginia drove 80 yards in 13 plays, capped by a one-yard run by Albert Reid to put them up 27-26 (the two-point conversion attempt failed). Notre Dame got the ball at their 20 and seven plays later DeShone Kizer threw a perfect 39-yard TD to Will Fuller on a flag route, followed by a two-point conversion toss to Torii Hunter, Jr., making the final score 34-27.

My Auburn Indulgence
I probably shouldn't call this an "indulgence," because Auburn's game against Jacksonville State felt like torture, but it was also a perfect example of how different the college football world can look from one week to the next.

As laid out in the already-linked September 8th post, I was fairly high on my Tigers after their Week One win over Louisville. But when they played I-AA foe Jacksonville State on Saturday, they struggled to find their bearings and were fortunate to escape with a 27-20 overtime win. The defense went from looking very strong to looking hapless. The offense went from productive and promising to unambiguously subpar. Other than the fact Auburn came back to win, there was literally nothing positive about Saturday's game, which came within one or two plays of being the worst loss in school history.

But then again, does anyone with a brain have any idea why the AP rated Auburn #6 to start the season? We finished last year with three straight losses and a record of 8-5. We lost one of our most effective, level-headed quarterbacks ever, and are playing lots of freshmen and sophomores. Plus, we played Saturday with four major injuries on the defensive side of the ball.

Basically, this year's Tigers prove something I have thought for years: There should be no college football polls until the season's first month is in the books. Until then, nobody knows enough to develop an opinion worthy of respect.

In Week One the SEC went 12-1 and notched good victories against the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12. That collective performance helped send it into Week Two with ten teams ranked in the AP Top 25.

But in Week Two it went 9-5; and while that record might seem worse than it is because it includes SEC-on-SEC games, it also includes a loss to the MAC and harrowing escapes against the Sun Belt and American Athletic, plus Auburn's harrowing escape against I -AA Jacksonville State. That collective performance resulted in three of its teams dropping out of the AP Top 25.

So what does that mean? Probably not much, other than what I already said: There should be no polls until the season is a month old, because right now we don't know squat. For the record, I am an SEC guy and am sure that in more years than not, the SEC is the best top-to-bottom conference in the nation; however, I am also sure that the gap between it and everyone else has never been as wide as it's often made out to be.

On a bad precipice
Central Florida:  Less than two calendar years removed from a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor, the Knights are 0-2 with a loss to lowly Florida International, and just learned that starting QB Justin Holman will be out two to four weeks with an injured throwing hand.

South Carolina:  The Knights' September 26th opponent has problems of its own. Although the Gamecocks do have a non-conference win against North Carolina to their credit, they looked very unconvincing eeking it our and then they followed it up by losing at home to Kentucky. And now they just learned that their starting QB, Connor Mitch, could be out for the season due to a separated shoulder and hip infection.

The Mountain West Conference:  It went 0-10 against the Power Five conferences on Saturday. Sure, Boise State had a lead over BYU in the final minutes and lost on a Hail Mary, but does that make things any better?

And now...
...I am signing off because this post has already been long and not very insightful. Until next time, take care.

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