Weekend’s Best Game May Have Just Ended

September 13, 2008

Kansas and South Florida may have just turned in the best game of the weekend. Todd Reesing and Matt Grothe each played well, both teams racked up points, and even as USF’s defense was crumbling down the stretch, Georgie Selvie finally stepped up and made his presence felt.

Kansas owned the first half as USF’s offense had trouble getting going. The script was flipped in the third quarter as USF shut down the Jayhawks’ offense and the Bulls went on a scoring spree. USF would take a 34-20 lead at one point.

KU came roaring back using both sides of the ball, and Reesing made some incredible plays while just scrambling around looking for an open man. The announcers said he was like Fran Tarkenton, but since I’m a Gator and as such the world expects me to think football began in 1990, I’ll say he was like a miniature Matt Jones. I do mean miniature – Jones is 6’5″, while Reesing is 5’11” in cleats.

Just as it appeared Kansas was driving down for the winning field goal with under a minute to go, Reesing made his first mistake. He heaved one deep ball to many, and USF picked it off and returned it to within field goal range. After winding the clock down, the Bulls just barely put it through the uprights as time expired.

This was a magnificent game, and the only turnover was the one interception at the end.

I still don’t fully trust Grothe after seeing this one though. He made a freshman mistake by throwing the ball after passing the line of scrimmage on USF’s second to last drive, something that led to a punt that set up Kansas’ final drive. A great quarterback doesn’t make that kind of mistake in crunch time.

Still, it was a highly entertaining game, perhaps more so than anything we get on Saturday. Let’s hope not, but it set the bar pretty high for entertainment and excitement factor. Almost as exciting as a hurricane to a bear:


2008 Big 12 Picks

August 12, 2008

NORTH DIVISION

The Pick: Missouri

Missouri versus Kansas was probably one of the toughest picks for me to make. The Big 12 has replaced the Pac-10 as the “all offense, no defense” conference, meaning that a team that can play defense will have a definite advantage. I suspect Mizzou will have the better offense, but Kansas could have the better defense.

I think the difference between the offenses will be greater than the difference between the defenses, so the Tigers get the edge. They just have so many weapons on offense that they are impossible to ignore.

There is some defined risk here. As I pointed out in my analysis of Gary Pinkel’s coaching record, the last time Missouri had any expectations was 2004. Despite having one of Pinkel’s best defenses and Brad Smith returning at quarterback, they stumbled to a 5-6 record that season. They won’t fall that far, but one great year does not wash away all the rest. They must still prove they can win with the spotlight on.

The Runner-Up: Kansas

Kansas’ schedule was a complete joke last year, but at least they completely blew out their non-conference pastries. Plus, it’s not the Jayhawks’ fault that the conference schedule rotated out Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech.

They got to have their year in the sun with an Orange Bowl at the end. Much like Missouri they now must prove they have something sustainable, and the opportunity is there to do just that. The Big 12 South heavies return to the slate, and Kansas takes a trip to play USF in Tampa.

I don’t expect them to lose five games like Rutgers did in 2007 after its dream 2006 season, even though I’ve drawn a parallel between those teams in the past. KU returns a lot more talent than Rutgers did, and I can’t really see them losing more than four. Still, they are a potential faller, so I don’t think they’ll win the division.

The Dark Horse: Nebraska

Most people would label Colorado the dark horse of the North, but I’m going with the Huskers. In the three games that returning QB Joe Ganz started last year, Nebraska scored 54 points a game, including 39 against the otherwise stingy Kansas defense. The offensive scheme this season will not be a whole lot different, so the potential for fireworks from Ganz is there.

Obviously defense was a huge problem last season, but new head coach Bo Pelini will work to get that straightened out in short order. The Blackshirts won’t be back to being the terrors they were in the ‘90s, but they will make some strides in the right direction.

I still think Nebraska is a year or two away from being ready to compete for the division title. The Huskers do miss Texas and get Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado in Lincoln though, so the schedule is somewhat favorable in that sense. If Kansas crashes to earth and Missouri breaks under pressure, the old bullies of the Big 12 North could slide in to capture the division.

SOUTH DIVISION

The Pick: Oklahoma

The Sooners have been the default pick in the South almost every year this decade, and that shoe definitely fits them this year. I actually had Oklahoma as my national title pick last season; if they had kept their focus against Colorado or Sam Bradford didn’t get hurt against Texas Tech, then they would have been in the title game ahead of LSU.

Bradford had an amazing season last year as a freshman, and thanks to a massive and massively talented offensive line he should be able to continue the success. The offense goes from dangerous to lethal if DeMarco Murray can stay healthy. The defense has a lot of question marks, but Bob Stoops usually gets it in top shape.

In my opinion, this is the Big 12 team with the best shot at going undefeated. There are of course uncertainties when it gets to BCS time, but that’s well after the conference title has been decided.

The Runner-Up: Texas Tech

When it comes to the Red Raiders, I’m like Fox Mulder: I want to believe. I like what I’ve read about Mike Leach the person, not even counting all of his hilarious eccentricities. I like seeing his offense rack up insane amounts of yards and points, and Michael Crabtree is a joy to watch.

That said, the questions about defense are completely legitimate. I’ve heard all the stats and factoids thrown around about the improvement under the mid-season replacement defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, but they still gave up 200+ yards rushing five times after he took over. Maybe a whole offseason under McNeill will make a difference, but the jury is still out.

When it comes down to it, Texas Tech just isn’t that good on the road in the conference, and they play at Kansas and at Oklahoma. Mack Brown has owned the Red Raiders, going 8-2 against them, but both losses were in Lubbock (where they play this year) and the Longhorns have a vulnerable secondary with two freshmen starting at safety. A win over UT is possible.

I have a feeling that they will post a 6-2 conference record, placing second in the South for the second time in four seasons. However, if Leach is ever going to win the division, this is the year to do it. If they can upset Oklahoma again, the South could be theirs.

The Dark Horse: Texas

It’s a little odd calling Texas a dark horse when it has won ten or more games each of the last seven seasons, and it won nine each of the three years before that. For those scoring at home, that means nine wins is the fewest in the Mack Brown era.

The Longhorns’ grip on that ten wins a year streak has been slipping with them needing a bowl win each of the past two seasons to preserve it. Colt McCoy had a rough year last season, tossing up 18 interceptions behind a highly suspect offensive line. This season, there are questions at running back, receiver, and safety. You can add to that a brand new defensive scheme under new coordinator Will Muschamp.

Mack Brown has never finished below second in the Big 12 South since he arrived in 1998, but this is the year that streak gets broken. Now, it is a young team, so it will get better as the year goes on, and they will have a Leak/Tebow dynamic with McCoy and John Chiles.

There are just too many holes filled with nothing but question marks though to predict a top-two finish in the South given how much is returning in Norman and Lubbock. If the Red Raiders disappoint and the Sooners stumble again, the Longhorns will be in position step up and take the division, but I don’t believe they’ll reach up and grab it themselves. The 2009 season is a different story, but for now it’s 2008.

Champion: Oklahoma

BCS At-Large: Texas Tech


Potential Fallers in 2008

July 30, 2008

Yesterday, I explained the theory behind using performance in close games in one season to pick potential risers and fallers in the next season. Basically, it works off the assumption that if you get a lot of breaks one year, you won’t get them again the next year and vice versa. I also outlined the candidates for risers in 2008.

Today is time for the other side of the story – the potential fallers.

For these purposes, a “close game” is defined as a game where the final score is eight points or less – in other words, one touchdown and conversion could tie or swing the game. Teams that made the main list had at least three more wins than losses; teams on the watch list had two more wins than losses and played at least four close games.

Only BCS conference teams (including Notre Dame) were analyzed.

Arizona State Sun Devils, 10-3 overall, 3-0 in close games

Arizona State was a surprise in Dennis Erickson’s first year. It was picked to finish sixth in the conference, but instead the Sun Devils won ten games and had a conference record identical to USC’s mark.

Since Erickson generally has a great second year and he will have a senior returning to start under center, it would seem unlikely that ASU will fall off too much, but you never know.

Boston College Eagles, 11-3 overall, 3-0 in close games

Boston College was one of the milder surprises of 2007. The Eagles were picked second in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, but they ended up winning the division and even spent a little time at #2 in the polls. Having the best quarterback in the conference definitely helped make that possible.

Matt Ryan especially helped in the close games, none more memorable than the win over Virginia Tech. He is gone now, and so are some other key players. The expectations have fallen with BC now projected fourth in its division, and a regression to a normal (near .500) success rate in close games would help make that prediction come true.

Kansas Jayhawks, 12-1 overall, 4-1 in close games

Kansas was definitely one of the big surprise teams of 2007. I would tend to doubt that anyone, even Mark Mangino, would have expected a 12-1 season. With them accounting for 25% of the Jayhawks’ total wins, close games were a big part of Kansas’ success last season.

Most people expect the Jayhawks to come back down to earth, similar to how Rutgers did in 2007 after its dream 2006 season. It’s hard to argue with that considering how almost no one gets that many breaks two years in a row.

Kentucky Wildcats, 8-5 overall, 4-1 in close games

Rich Brooks talked at SEC media days about having the best offensive line in his time at Kentucky. That will help since he’s breaking in a new starting quarterback. He also said he’ll have the best defense during his time at Kentucky. That is a little like Spinal Tap saying they are the loudest rock band in the world – it doesn’t mean a whole lot.

Despite Brooks’ optimism, Kentucky almost certainly will fall off some. The Wildcats lost too many good players, and they probably can’t do so well in close games two seasons in a row.

Mississippi State Bulldogs, 8-5 overall, 4-0 in close games

Mississippi State was actually not all that much better in 2007 versus Sly Croom’s three previous seasons. Timely turnovers largely made the difference in going from three wins to going bowling.

At this point, Croom has begun building some quality and depth that did not exist when he started. Despite that fact, it will be very difficult to sweep all of the team’s close games again.

Northwestern Wildcats, 6-6 overall, 4-1 in close games

I’d bet that if you ask most college football fans if Northwestern was bowl eligible last season, most would say no. The Wildcats did in fact get to six victories on the back of four close wins.

This is a team that is trying to be on the rise under Pat Fitzgerald, and with a senior quarterback returning along with most of the team’s important offensive weapons, it could very well be. It will have to make its own luck though, since the fates will probably not be with them after the close game performance last season.
Oregon State Beavers, 9-4 overall, 4-0 in close games

Oregon State is a team that hasn’t really fit the Pac-10 stereotype that well over the past few seasons. The Beavers win with power running and defense, two excellent allies in close games.

The electric Sammie Stroughter will be back after missing last season, but with just 10 starters back and a banged up offensive line, it’s not clear that OSU can repeat its nine-win success of last season. All else being the same, falling to 2-2 in close games will put the Beavers at seven wins, which would be disappointing but not completely unexpected.

Virginia Cavaliers, 9-4 overall, 6-2 in close games

Virginia was definitely a surprise nine-win team, especially after the Cavaliers lost at Wyoming 23-3 to begin the season. Thanks to a lot of close wins, they obviously got things turned around.

However, there are many reasons to think that UVA will not see the same success. For one, Chris Long is gone, and then there’s the entire rest of Al Groh’s record at Virginia. It will be difficult to have the same success in close games, so Virginia will probably go back to the 5 to 7 win range that has been the norm under Groh.

The Watch List

UConn Huskies, 9-4 overall, 3-1 in close games

LSU Tigers, 12-2 overall, 4-2 in close games

NC State Wolfpack, 5-7 overall, 3-1 in close games

Texas Longhorns, 10-3 overall, 4-2 in close games

Wisconsin Badgers, 9-4 overall, 4-2 in close games

Postscript

Here is the order of conferences in terms of average number of close games per team in 2007. It reflects the competitiveness of the SEC, the parity of the Big East, and the demise of defense in the Big 12.

  1. SEC – 5.08 close games per team
  2. Big East – 5.00
  3. Big Ten – 4.73
  4. ACC – 4.42
  5. Pac-10 – 4.40
  6. Big 12 – 3.25

The team with the most close games was Alabama with ten; the team with the fewest close games was Baylor with zero.


Did the BCS Get it Right? Part II

January 9, 2008

Yesterday, I examined whether in hindsight the BCS got the national championship game participants right. As I have pointed out in the past though, that’s only half of the BCS’s mission:

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is a five-game arrangement for post-season college football that is designed to match the two top-rated teams in a national championship game and to create exciting and competitive matchups between eight other highly regarded teams in four other games.

So, did it get the second half correct?

The Sugar Bowl

Participants: 10-2 Georgia vs. 12-0 Hawaii

Result: Georgia 41 – Hawaii 10

This game sure set the tone for the 2008 rendition of the BCS. It was unwatchable unless you are a Dawg or you just liked seeing Hawaii get its comeuppance for actually thinking it belonged in the BCS and then daring to be sanctimonious about it. I feared for Colt Brennan’s life at times, and this game spooked June Jones so much that he actually willingly took the job at SMU.

The Rose Bowl

Participants: 9-3 Illinois vs. 10-2 USC

Result: USC 49 – Illinois 17

This game had the largest margin, and honestly USC could have made it even bigger if it wanted to. Illinois was overmatched from the start, and the Trojans just kept pouring it on as the Illini kept giving the ball away. From everything I’ve read, the nation wanted to see Georgia in this game, but that was kept from happening by two main things: 1) the BCS rules made it so the Sugar would’ve had to give permission to the Rose to take UGA, which it did not, and 2) the Rose Bowl officials think it’s 1960 and believe that there’s nothing better than a Big Ten/Pac 10 matchup.

Illinois had to be in a game somewhere since it finished in the top 14 and was the only eligible team left after you accounted for Hawaii’s auto bid and Georgia and Kansas’ selections. However, it should have been in a game versus someone around its talent level such as Hawaii, Kansas, or Virginia Tech. Note: it’s pretty sad if definite tiers can be seen within the BCS, but that’s the way it goes with the BCS.

The Fiesta Bowl

Participants: 10-2 West Virginia vs. 10-2 Oklahoma

Result: West Virginia 48 – Oklahoma 28

This game was probably not as close as the score indicates, though not nearly to the same degree as the Rose Bowl. The conventional wisdom said that OU had the better talent and was on a roll, as opposed to the poor old Mountaineers who had inexplicably lost to Pitt, keeping them out of the title game, and had lost head coach Rich Rodriguez. Instead, WVU rolled to a comfortable victory, and Bob Stoops’ bowl record now suddenly looks a lot like Larry Coker’s does.

The Orange Bowl

Participants: 10-2 Virginia Tech vs. 11-1 Kansas

Result: Kansas 24 – Virginia Tech 21

This one was the only actual close game, but it was the bad kind of close. Poor offensive execution by both sides hamstrung progress for these two defensive-minded teams, and yet each scored multiple touchdowns. This game proved that Kansas was good but not overwhelmingly so, and that VT (and by proxy, the ACC) probably just was not that good this year. That is all I have to say about the Orange Bowl.

The BCS National Championship Game

Participants: 11-2 LSU vs. 11-1 Ohio State

Result: LSU 38 – Ohio State 24

Ohio State got a garbage time TD late against an LSU prevent defense to keep within three scores, though the game really wasn’t that close after the first quarter. Again the SEC champion embarrassed Big Ten champ OSU in the biggest game of the year, turning the BCS’s experiment of having a special 5th game for the championship into a blowout-fest.

This game technically doesn’t fall under the second part of the BCS mandate, but the fact that it ended up a one-sided blowout reinforces the fact that the first part was botched.

Conclusion

So did the BCS fulfill its mission of creating exciting and competitive matches in the non-championship games? Absolutely not. Only one game (Orange Bowl) was competitive, and none were terribly exciting. As a showcase for the sport, the BCS gets a rating of “EPIC FAIL” for the 2008 bowl season.

ICanHasCheezburger.com


Did the BCS Get it Right?

January 8, 2008

Now that LSU has defeated Ohio State for the BCS title, did the system set up the right championship game? I’ll do a quick rundown of the 1-loss and major conference 2-loss teams then make my case. After all, everything’s clearer with 20-20 hindsight. Teams are listed in alphabetical order, and the “Best Wins” category lists wins over .500 or better teams from major conferences (and Hawaii, if applicable, since the Warriors made a BCS game and had only one loss).

1 Loss Teams

Hawaii Warriors

Best Wins: Boise State, Fresno State

Loss: Georgia, 41-10

No wins over a major conference foe besides the Pac 10’s doormat, Washington. I feared for Colt Brennan’s life in the Sugar Bowl. No way, no how. I’m calling this one right now.

Kansas Jayhawks

Best Wins: Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech

Loss: Missouri, 36-28

While losing only once (and only by 8 points) is impressive, beating a perpetually suspect Virginia Tech team and a 7-6 Oklahoma State team is not, so Kansas is not helping itself much with the schedule.

2 Loss Teams

Georgia Bulldogs

Best Wins: Auburn, Florida, Georgia Tech, Hawaii, Kentucky, Oklahoma State

Losses: South Carolina, 16-12; Tennessee 35-14

The team was lost and listless until injuries forced Mark Richt to play Knowshown Moreno as a feature back. Uninspired play also forced Richt to pick a new motivational gimmick each week starting with the Florida game, all of which worked. This team was playing some of the best football in the country at the end of the year, but you must consider the season as a whole.

LSU Tigers

Best Wins: Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State, Ohio State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia Tech

Losses: Kentucky, 43-37 (3OT); Arkansas, 50-48 (3OT)

It’s hard to accept a national champion who had two losses and gave up 50 points in a game during the season. Still, no one had a better array of wins, and as LSU fans will be quick to point out, the Tigers were undefeated in regulation and won the system everyone agreed upon.

Missouri Tigers

Best Wins: Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech

Losses: Oklahoma, 41-31; Oklahoma, 38-17

Missouri only lost to one team all year, except that it did so on two separate occasions. The Tigers did have wins over BCS participant Illinois and Arkansas, a team that beat LSU.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Best Wins: Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin

Losses: Illinois, 28-21; LSU, 38-24

Ohio State had the #1 rated defense in the regular season and was one of the most consistent teams all year. It did however play in the Big Ten, which dropped a stink bomb in bowl season and looks awful now. Plus, Illinois was thrashed by USC and the final score of the LSU game was closer than it should have been.

USC Trojans

Best Wins: Arizona State, Illinois, Oregon State

Losses: Stanford, 24-23; Oregon, 24-17

The Arizona State and Illinois wins were certainly impressive. However, it took until November 3 for the Trojans to beat a team that would finish above .500 for the year. The Stanford loss was unimaginably bad, and though USC had it’s backup QB playing the game, so did the Cardinal. Oregon with a healthy Dennis Dixon was probably the best team all year, and USC lost by just a touchdown.

West Virginia

Best Wins: Cincinnati, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Rutgers, UConn

Losses: USF, 21-13; Pittsburgh, 13-9

The Fiesta Bowl win was a huge statement, the Miss State win was nearly as big as LSU’s, and the UConn win was overwhelming. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, the Pitt loss was nearly as bad as USC’s loss to Stanford, and the team couldn’t get anything going against USF. In its defense, WVU lost Pat White for large stretched during the two losses.

As a side note, Pitt’s 13-9 win over WVU that sent LSU to the championship game was the same score as the UCLA win over USC last year that sent Florida to the championship game.

Conclusion

Who are the top two teams?

Hawaii is eliminated, period.

Kansas had just two wins over teams that finished above .500 for the year. You’re a nice story, Jayhawks, but you’re also eliminated.

USC, you only had 3 wins over above-.500 teams, and you still lost to Stanford. Total body of work counts, so you’re eliminated.

Ohio State had only 5 wins over winning teams, but it also played a pillow-soft non conference schedule and the Big Ten was deplorable this year.

West Virginia had also 5 wins over winning teams, but it was the weakest set of wins out of the teams with 5. WVU, you’re eliminated.

We’re now down to Georgia, LSU, and Missouri. LSU does belong in the top two because it had seven wins over .500 or above opponents and wins over two other BCS conference champions (ACC, Big Ten). Between Missouri and Georgia, the Bulldogs had more wins over teams .500 or better and beat a team (UK) that beat LSU. But, Missouri’s losses were better and the Tigers played just as well as UGA did in each’s bowl game.

For the moment, I have to pick the team with more quality wins, so I go with Georgia. That leaves an LSU/Georgia game. It might make people from the Midwest or West unhappy, but honestly those two deserved it more.

So no, the BCS didn’t get it right.


Good News, Tim

November 24, 2007

It’s cold and snowy in Kansas City, and the game between Kansas and Missouri is a night game. That hinders the passing game and favors defense, and Kansas has the better defense. Todd Reesing has no realistic shot of winning the Heisman, but Chase Daniel does. Conditions that favor Kansas hinder Daniel and help Tim Tebow in his cause.

Because last night was probably too little, too late for D-Mac. Pay no attention to ESPN in that regard, because they need to have a race to keep people watching. If Tim has a big game today, it’s his to win.


A Quick Note on Kansas

November 24, 2007

One thing I see put forth in Kansas’ favor this year is that yeah, they have a weak schedule but at least the Jayhawks have been blowing everyone out. This is actually true – KU leads the NCAA in margin of victory at 31.62 points per game. The next highest is Boise State at 25.88 points per game.

I calculated margin of victory back to 2000 (the earliest the NCAA’s comprehensive online stats go) and found that sustaining a margin of victory of over 30 points a game is rare – never has more than one team managed to do it, and no one could do it in 2006 or 2003. The following are the teams that could do it:

2007: Kansas (31.62 points per game), 77th ranked SOS (as calculated by the NCAA)

2005: Texas** (33.75), 7th

2004: Louisville (30.05), 70th

2002: Kansas State (32.97) 49th

2001: Miami, FL** (33.78) 19th

2000: FSU* (32.12) 3rd

**Won National Championship

*Played in National Championship Game

Notice a trend? If the SOS is among the best, the team at least played for the national title, if not won it. If the SOS is not so good, the team was not in title contention.

The 2004 Louisville team appears to be the closest match to 2007 Kansas. For a refresher, 2004 Louisville romped through its final year in C-USA, lead by QB Stefan LeFors and RB Michael Bush. It lost its only game against good competition, a 41-38 classic against Miami, who would finish 9-3.

The 2002 Kansas State team had an odd year, going 11-2 but finishing second in the Big 12 North to 9-5 Colorado thanks to the Buffs having just one conference loss compared to K-State’s 2. Those Wildcats in those heady days were lead by the electric duo of QB Ell Roberson and RB Darren Sproles. The losses were to Colorado by 4 and Texas (who’d finish 11-2) by 3. They did, to their credit, have a huge 27-20 win over USC.

The point? If you run up the score that much, you’re going to finish with a nice record. After all, bad teams won’t win enough games to run it up that much, and likely aren’t able to run it up at all. However, unless you do it against a top-flight schedule, you’re probably not good enough to make the national title game. Kansas will get to play Missouri and possibly Oklahoma, which will help in the SOS department, but I doubt they’ll get higher than the 49th of ’02 KSU. Plus, with as good as the Tigers and Sooners are, it’s not likely they’ll sustain that 30+ margin of victory. It’s also overwhelmingly likely that the Jayhawks will lose in the next two weeks based on all of these facts.

One interesting thing though, is that in 2000, the top three teams in SOS were 1) Florida, 2) Miami (FL), and 3) FSU. That’s got to be a record, having the top 3 in SOS all play in the same state.


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