Seven Ways 2007 Could Have Been Crazier

June 16, 2008

The 2007 college football season will long be remembered as a season of chaos. The #2 ranking was a curse, Appalachian State and Stanford supplied two of the biggest upsets in the history of the game, and we ended up with the first two-loss champion since the polls named champions before the bowls.

It was a season for the ages, and we’ll likely not see anything like it again. Before we permanently put it in the past with the 2008 season, let’s take a look back at seven close calls that could have made 2007 even crazier than it was. All rankings are the teams’ rankings at the time of the game.

September 1: #4 Texas 21, Arkansas State 13

As you can tell by the ranking, expectations were high in Austin at the beginning of 2007. Everyone was looking forward to seeing how Colt McCoy would follow up his excellent freshman year, and the assumption was that the Longhorns would have a chance to win two titles in three years.

Arkansas State had other plans. The Indians outgained the Longhorns by 57 yards for a total of 397, and they scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to pull within eight with a minute to go. Texas recovered an onside kick to ice the game, and they were just happy to win on the same day that Appalachian State took down Michigan.

Texas had another close call two weeks later at UCF, but the Knights at least won Conference USA. The Indians finished 5-7 out of the Sun Belt, but it still says a lot about a season when Arkansas State winning in Austin would not have been the lead story of the day.

September 8: #5 Wisconsin 20, UNLV 13

The Texas-Arkansas State game had the underdog score late to pull it close. In this contest, it was four-touchdown favorite Wisconsin overcoming a one point UNLV lead by scoring a touchdown with 1:53 to go.

It was a rather pedestrian game, with UNLV leading 10-9 after three quarters. The result was very surprising considering Wisconsin had just put up 42 points in a win over Washington State. The Badgers just slept on the overmatched but very game Rebels in a match played far from the cozy environs of Camp Randall.

In the end, Wisconsin controlled the game with its rushing attack and some heady play from QB Tyler Donovan. After a couple more close calls, Wisconsin would lose its first game a month later against Illinois, but it nearly was one of the first in the long line of huge top 10 upsets in 2007.

September 8: #20 Hawaii 45, Louisiana Tech 44

Hawaii had many close calls on it slate in 2007, but none was closer than its game in Ruston. Hawaii needed overtime to defeat head coach Derek Dooley’s upstart Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.

In a decision reminiscent of Boise State’s in the Fiesta Bowl, Tech decided to go for two in the first overtime, figuring it would be next to impossible to keep Colt Brennan from scoring again. The conversion pass was deflected and the Warriors escaped.

It turned out to be the first of two trips to Louisiana for Hawaii. The Warriors became the second WAC team to break into the BCS but collected its first loss at the hands of the team once coached by Derek’s father, the Georgia Bulldogs.

September 29: #12 Boston College 24, UMass 14

It seemed like it was going to be a nondescript win for BC against an in-state I-AA opponent. The Eagles had a 17-0 lead at the half and everything was going swimmingly.

UMass is a power in I-AA though, having not lost since the championship game against Appalachian State the previous season. As BC head coach Jeff Jagodzinski pointed out after the game, the Minutemen had plenty of I-A transfers, and they showed their ability by scoring 14 points to pull within three in the third quarter.

BC would answer with a touchdown late in the third, and the 24-14 margin would hold up for the rest of the game. UMass would go on to make the final four of the I-AA playoffs where it fell to Southern Illinois.

October 20: #5 Oklahoma 17, Iowa State 7

Oklahoma had already been upset by Colorado, and in preparation for this game, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops gave his team a list of top 25 upsets that had happened the previous week. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference as the normally potent Sooners needed the entire game to beat Big 12 North doormat Iowa State.

The Cyclones scored their only points of the game in the first quarter, but it wasn’t until a Sooner field goal with 1:34 to go that Oklahoma put the game away for good. It was the closest game between the teams since Iowa State lost by a count of 17-14 in Norman in 1998.

This one was in Ames though, and had the Cyclones pulled it out it would have been a signature win for new head coach Gene Chizik. Instead, Oklahoma headed home with its national title aspirations intact for another week.

November 17: #20 Tennessee 25, Vanderbilt 24

The last time the Commodores went to Knoxville, they pulled off the upset and got their first win over Tennessee since 1982 and first win in Knoxville since 1975. For most of the game, it looked like they would make it two in a row.

Tennessee made a 16 point comeback in the fourth quarter and Vanderbilt missed a field goal with 33 seconds to go to give the Vols a one point win. It’s difficult to believe, but Vanderbilt actually had a 24-9 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

By pulling this one out, Tennessee prevented Georgia from facing LSU in the SEC Championship Game, something that perhaps would have given us a more satisfying end to the season.

December 1: #13 Arizona State 20, Arizona 17

USC clinched a berth in the Rose Bowl earlier in the day, but Arizona State was still in the race for a BCS at large bid. All it would take to remain eligible was a win over its in-state rival.

Arizona, who was playing to become bowl eligible for the second straight year, had other ideas. The Wildcats jumped out to a 7-0 lead and kept within a score of the Sun Devils until an Arizona State touchdown with 4:27 to go. Arizona would tack on a touchdown with 26 seconds to go, but an offsides penalty on the ensuing onside kick would end its hopes of winning.

Arizona State would end up getting passed over in the BCS selection process for Georgia, Kansas, and Illinois, but had it lost this game it wouldn’t have been in the discussion at all.


Surfing Through the SEC Football Schedules

May 7, 2008

The Gainesville Sun’s Robbie Andreu put out his preliminary projections for the SEC, and it got me thinking. I am not ready to put out my projections yet, mainly because there are too many good teams in the conference just to throw an order together right now. Projecting the SEC finish will take a lot of research.

I did end up looking at each school’s schedule, mainly focusing on the non-conference games. If you haven’t yet done that, you’ll be glad to know that the SEC schedules this year are less cupcake-y than past years.

For the record, I am fine with schools raiding the bakery for fundraiser games a couple times a year, but I do expect BCS schools to play at least one BCS opponent. I also think playing I-AA teams is inexcusable except for the very best I-AA teams, like Appalachian State, which are better than the Utah States and FIUs of I-A anyway.

Here’s a rundown of the SEC non-conference schedules, in alphabetical order:

ALABAMA

BCS Opponent: @ Clemson (Aug. 30)

Cupcakes: Tulane (Sept. 6), Western Kentucky (Sept. 13), Arkansas State (Nov. 1)

ARKANSAS

BCS Opponent: @ Texas (Sept. 13)

Respectable Non-BCS: Tulsa (Nov 1)

Cupcake: Louisiana-Monroe (Sept. 6)

I-AA: Western Illinois (Aug. 30)

AUBURN

BCS Opponent: @ West Virginia (Oct. 23)

Respectable Non-BCS: Southern Miss (Sept. 6)

Cupcake: Louisiana-Monroe (Aug. 30)

I-AA: Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 8 )

FLORIDA

BCS Opponents: Miami (Sept. 6), @ FSU (Nov. 29)

Respectable Non-BCS: Hawaii (Aug. 30)

I-AA: The Citadel (Nov. 22)

GEORGIA

BCS Opponents: @ Arizona State (Sept. 20), Georgia Tech (Nov. 29)

Respectable Non-BCS: Central Michigan (Sept. 6)

I-AA: Georgia Southern (Aug. 30)

KENTUCKY

BCS Opponent: Louisville (Aug. 31)

Cupcakes: Middle Tennessee (Sept. 13), Western Kentucky (Sept. 27)

I-AA: Norfolk State (Sept. 6)

LSU

Respectable Non-BCS: Troy (Sept. 6)

Respectable I-AA: Appalachian State (Aug. 30)

Cupcakes: North Texas (Sept. 13), Tulane (Nov. 1)

OLE MISS

BCS Opponent: @ Wake Forest (Sept. 6)

Cupcakes: Memphis (Aug. 30), Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 15)

I-AA: Samford (Sept. 13)

MISSISSIPPI STATE

BCS Opponent: @ Georgia Tech (Sept. 20)

Cupcakes: Louisiana Tech (Aug. 30), Middle Tennessee (Oct. 25)

I-AA: Southeastern Louisiana (Sept. 6)

SOUTH CAROLINA

BCS Opponents: NC State (Aug. 28), @ Clemson (Nov. 29)

Cupcake: UAB (Sept. 27)

I-AA: Wofford (Sept. 20)

TENNESSEE

BCS Opponent: @ UCLA (Sept. 1)

Cupcakes: UAB (Sept. 13), Northern Illinois (Oct. 4), Wyoming (Nov. 8 )

VANDERBILT

BCS Opponents: Duke (Oct. 25), @ Wake Forest (Nov. 29)

Cupcakes: Miami University (Aug. 28), Rice (Sept. 13)

* * *

Only LSU doesn’t have a BCS opponent. Alabama, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt do not have I-AA opponents. LSU should not lose anything for playing Appalachian State, though, especially because Mountaineer fans have already begun predicting a victory on Charlotte sports talk radio.

LSU’s slate is the only one I’d call “shameful” in the bunch, though I am not happy about all of the non-App State I-AA teams you see listed. However, until the NCAA reverses the rule and stops allowing wins over I-AA teams to count towards bowl eligibility, those games are sadly inevitable.


Gators Pregame: Vanderbilt

November 3, 2007

It’s homecoming. It’s Vandy. Vandy hasn’t won at Florida Field since 1945. Florida should win. The end.


Schedule Analysis: Part 4

August 9, 2007

Don’t forget to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

October 27: Georgia (in Jacksonville)

Death, taxes, and Florida over Georgia, right? Well, it’s not that simple, but is has seemed that way since 1990. It took Ron Zook being fired earlier in the week for Georgia to beat Florida the last time they did, back in 2004. The only other time since 1990 that Georgia has won this game was 1997, the year after Florida won its first national championship. We are now presented in 2007 with the same situation. Does that mean Georgia‘s time has come once again?

The answer is a solid maybe. A lot probably depends on how the quarterbacks of the teams grow this year. Matthew Stafford was decidedly uneven in his performance as a freshman, and Tim Tebow basically was a running back who occasionally did halfback option passes. Stafford had to beat out three other guys to become the starter last year, but now is the undisputed top guy at the position. Tebow was Chris Leak’s backup and change of pace guy, but now is the undisputed top guy at the position. While Stafford probably won’t ever get pulled other than in the second half against Western Carolina (and maybe Troy), Tebow will likely come out of games for brief periods in favor of Cameron Newton. Urban Meyer said he plans to continue the two-quarterback system, and last year said that one of the reasons he did it was so he could talk to the QBs face-to-face on the sideline.

One point of intrigue is Mike Bobo. Mark Richt let the former Bulldog QB call plays for the last two games of 2006, both wins, and plans on doing the same this year. Will he remain as successful as the season goes along and defensive coaches get more film of his strategy? Bobo has said that he plans on establishing the run first, which makes sense because Georgia has a lot of depth at running back and no depth at receiver. While Georgia‘s offensive line will be young, it will probably end up being fine. This game will present a big challenge to the Gators’ young front seven.

Georgia is doing a bit of rebuilding on defense after it gave up more than 24 points only once in 2006. It’s not nearly as extensive as what Florida is going through, having lost nine starters, but it may be a concern for the Bulldogs this year. In fact, Georgia‘s best cornerback was declared academically ineligible and entered the NFL supplemental draft. This news should make any Gator fan perk up because Florida is loaded on offense this year, especially at receiver. While rivalry games never seem to turn out the way they should on paper, Florida should have noticeable success on offense against Georgia.

This brings up a good point: this is a rivalry game. While it has been eclipsed in recent years by the rivalry with FSU, and some might even argue Tennessee, it is still Florida‘s oldest and most traditional rivalry. Young Gator fans like myself almost take it for granted that Florida will beat Georgia, just as sure as Phil Fulmer is fat at it always gets freezing cold in Gainesville the week of the FSU game (or at least it seems like it does). Older, I mean, um, more experienced Gator fans relish every victory as payback for the many years where the Bulldogs beat up on the Gators seemingly every year. Georgia fans have completely lost their minds over this game though, going as far as “taunting” myself and my fellow Gator Band members in 2005 saying, “You should have won by more!” The atmosphere and split stands in Jacksonville also make for a very special weekend every year.

I’ll tell you one Gator who doesn’t take a win in this game for granted is Urban Meyer. He is an unthinkable 6-0 so far in rivalry games (versus Tennessee, Georgia, and FSU). His only loss in the state of Florida was in 2002 when Bowling Green lost at USF. The winner of this game probably won’t be guaranteed to be in the SEC title game with Tennessee and South Carolina expected to be better, but the loser almost certainly will need help to get to Atlanta. With so much on the line, I have to expect that Meyer will find a way to win this game. Georgia has more overall experience, but Florida is the more talented team. No one maximizes talent like Urban Meyer does, so if my earlier prediction is correct, he will improve to 8-0 in rivalry games following this one.

November 3: Vanderbilt (HC)

After inexplicably having LSU for homecoming last year (on the first weekend of October, no less), Florida returns things to normal and has homecoming in November against an SEC bottom feeder. Well, sort of.

Vanderbilt probably will finish last in the SEC East again. It was the only SEC East team not to go to a bowl last year (which is pretty incredible, when you think about it). Bobby Johnson has had the Commodores respectable the past couple of years, and last year proved it wasn’t just Jay Cutler doing it. Chris Nickson has come in and is one of the more dangerous guys in the conference for both sides. He can be electric with his running and passing, but he was erratic at times and committed more turnovers than he would have liked. With Earl Bennett and George Smith to throw to, he has a couple of the best targets in the league.

Vandy is a team that seems to play Florida well, at least a lot better than it should play. Urban Meyer has had particular trouble with the ‘Dores, needed double overtime to win his first game with them, and winning by just 6 points last year. Florida and Vandy have played every year since 1992, a side effect of the SEC expansion and introduction of divisions, and the results have been as follows: Florida wins by 10 or more happened 10 times, Florida wins by fewer than 10 happened 5 times, and wins by Vandy did not happen.

So, about once every three years, Vandy gives Florida a serious run for its money. It’s either an aberration that two of those five close Florida wins have come in the last two years, or it’s a sign that Vanderbilt is getting better. I lean towards the latter. The talent at Vandy is as higher this year than I can ever remember it being, and Johnson has done about as well as can be expected at a private college with no athletic director (yes, really) playing in the toughest football conference in the country. Vandy had a couple of really close losses last year, and should have gone to a bowl in 2005 except that it inexplicably lost to a bad Kentucky team.

So where am I going with this? Well, I don’t think that it will be a repeat of 2005, but I don’t think it will be a blowout either. It will probably play to the standard script, where Vanderbilt stays close longer than it should and Florida pulls away at the end. How much the Gators can pull away depends on how well the defense can keep Vanderbilt’s offense from moving the ball. In addition to Nickson, Bennett, and Smith, Vandy has a fairly good running back tandem with Jeff Jennings and Cassen Jackson-Garrison. If those two stay healthy, it will open up opportunities in the passing game and allow Nickson to spend less time running around like he did last year.

I don’t think this is a winnable game for Vanderbilt. Even with everything Florida has lost and everything Vanderbilt has coming back, it’s still Vandy. The Commodores will struggle to win more than the four games they won last year. However, it won’t be a comfortable day for all the Gators groggy from Gator Growl and the festivities the night before.


Florida – Vanderbilt Preview

November 4, 2006

I’ve got nothing really. I’ve been so busy the past three weeks (with out-of-town office visits/interviews in each) that I’ve really slacked in updating this. Such is the life of a senior with a variable schedule.

Look, it comes down to this: if Florida loses today, it’s a monumental upset that sets the program back to the immediate post-Spurrier days and probably costs Florida a spot in the SEC title game. There’s nothing else to say, really. Florida has better players at every position. They should win comfortably.

Now, this year’s team doesn’t beat anyone but UCF comfortably, and games at Vandy are always closer than they should be for everyone. If Florida somehow loses though, that’s a huge hit against Urban Meyer’s credibility and especially Dan Mullen’s, a guy who a lot of people have been questioning. I’ll say Florida wins 28-17, but I have no confidence in that pick’s accuracy.


The Offense

October 30, 2006

Okay, enough of being a homer. Let’s face it – Florida is somewhat fortunate to be 7-1 with an offense that sometimes lacks cohesion, and absolutely lucky to be ranked 4th in the BCS under those circumstances. Every week it’s something different; sometimes the scheme is good but the execution is not there, other times the execution is pretty good but the scheme is puzzling at best. In the case of the Georgia game, both execution and scheme were bad.

In some ways, it seems like the coaches get stuck up on things that are good in theory rather than focusing on what goes on in the games. For instance, they are very big on getting players “touches.” I’ve always hated that term because it subtly implies that a player will excel simply by placing his hands on the ball. Just get this guy X number of touches per game, and things will be great. A case in point was the one play the coaches ran for Jarred Fayson on Saturday. He came in on one play and had a pass underthrown to him, as if the coaches suddenly thought “Oh no, we need to get Fayson a couple of touches this game,” and threw him in to catch a screen. He then disappeared for the rest of the game.

I prefer more of a basketball style approach – find the open man, and feed the hot hand. Just run good plays and let the fourth-year starter at quarterback decide who gets the ball. It’s like Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen are micromanaging the offense rather than letting it flow. There’s more to it than throwing either the occasion deep bomb to placate the fans and sideways screen passes. Georgia played a lot of zone, and as anyone who knows football well knows, you attack the zone with someone, usually the tight end, going over the middle. Andre Caldwell got his 40-yard touchdown doing just that. Why they didn’t “feed the hot hand” by going back over the middle in the 10 – 15 yard range is beyond me.

Part of micromanaging also is overthinking things. According to a quote from Meyer in today’s Alligator, it took DeShawn Wynn getting in Meyer’s face in the third quarter in order to get him carries. Urban said that did change his mind. Why he decided in the first place that a guy who ran for more than 100 yards on Tennessee was not fit for carries against Georgia raises plenty questions. Meyer spent some of his post game comments talking about how displeased he is with the drop back passing game since Chris Leak doesn’t get enough protection. I would think that using Wynn early to open up the pass would be a good way to buy Leak more time. I’m not advocating the Auburn game offense of Wynn up the middle nearly ever down, but Wynn is a better option between the tackles than Percy Harvin is (and yes, they did run Harvin up the middle in the first quarter). It’s about balance.

Now, part of the offensive struggles may have had to do with Leak and his not-concussion/headache/whatever it was that plagued him from late in the second quarter. Urban said Leak used three unnecessary timeouts after getting a particularly bad hit. It also seemed that some of the penalties could have come from miscommunications dealing with that. I don’t know, but I do know that the penalties need to stop. They kill momentum and disrupt the offensive game plan. Turning third-and-shorts into third-and-longs has been a specialty for the Gators this year, and they will not beat Auburn or Arkansas in the SEC title game if they get penalized as much in that game as they have all season.

One interesting thing I gathered from the morning and midday talk shows today is that there is somewhat of a Tim Tebow backlash starting up. I never thought I’d even get a hint of that this year, but it’s starting. I think his key fumble that led to a Georgia touchdown and his general ineffectiveness (aside from a couple of plays) has reminded people that he is fact a freshman and that he is not Superman. The St. Timothy image I talked about early in the season is fading. Some complain that using Tebow disrupts Leak’s rhythm and that the switching of quarterbacks leads to some of the false start penalties. They decide that for those reasons, Tebow may be better off left on the bench, almost that he’s more trouble than he’s worth now that defenses know that he’s going to run off-tackle left nearly every time.

I think that’s a fascinating development. Even the hits for this site from people searching for Tebow’s name have fallen off and nearly disappeared in the past three days. I think people are realizing that Tebow cannot yet run the offense, that trying to run two different offenses concurrently won’t always work, and that Chris Leak really is the best option for winning this year after all. Now, all it probably will take is a 30-yard run against Vanderbilt for the Tebow madness to start again, but for now there are at least a few fans who are deciding that picking Chris Leak as the quarterback and sticking with him is the best option for success.

It also may be that, just like with Leak and th booing nonsense earlier in the season, that they are not upset with Tebow as much as they are with the coaching staff. The coaches definitely deserve some criticism after that game since Georgia is clearly rebuilding this year and Florida can be an elite team when it wants to be. That game should not have been close. I wonder if the players slipped back into a Zook-era trademark move of relaxing when they get a big lead. Not only is the Meyer regime trying to get by with players recruited for a different scheme, it also has to deal with the culture of complacency that grew up in Ron Zook’s three years. Losses were bad and “not acceptable,” but there were never any consequences really, since they were “getting better and better every week.”

Do not get me wrong here, I am not blaming Ron Zook for anything. His direct influence doesn’t pass the limits of Champagne, Illinois these days. However, even Steve Spurrier in his last couple of years tended to whine a lot more than he did when he first started. I do question the mental toughness of Florida football, and that includes the fans too. We were all spoiled in the ’90s, and it seemed like Florida could do whatever it wanted to simply by showing up. The Tennessee loss in 2001 ended for good any thought of that since Spurrier owned Phil Fulmer, the SEC East was on the line, and Florida still lost.

This year, a lot of good fortune and bad turnovers by opponents in critical times has propelled Florida to where it is now. As I mentioned before, Florida has yet to put together a full game, but neither has any of UF’s opponents. Auburn’s second half was the best half of football played against the Gators, and if not for two uncharacteristic and costly turnovers by Chris Leak late, it still might not have been enough to beat the Gators. There is something about this team that is a double-edged sword – it keeps them from playing sharply, but also keeps the opponents from doing so either.

In the end, the Gator defense has been winning the games week in and week out. The front seven has been excellent in stopping the run outside of the Auburn game, and the secondary has getting a lot of big plays (once again, except for the Auburn game) while letting the smaller plays go. Reggie Nelson in particular has saved the secondary many times, at least when the coaches don’t have him playing 30 yards off of the line of scrimmage (just like in – get this – the Auburn game). Florida has the luxury of playing around with all sorts of things on offense since the defense has been so adept at keeping opponents out of the end zone. They haven’t been perfect, but they’ve been tremendous.

So what about this week? It’s just Vandy right? Well, Vanderbilt beat Georgia and has been very well-coached under Bobby Johnson. Using well-coached and Vanderbilt is not a common occurrence, so that should tell you something. Sure, Jay Cutler is gone, but there were plenty of other guys besides Cutler working to take Florida to double overtime in a game that Florida very well could have lost in regulation if not for a suspect celebration penalty on the Commodores. Florida has better size, speed, and talent all over the field, so the Gators should absolutely win.

As we know, though, Vandy doesn’t make things easy for anyone. They played Michigan to a closer final score than Notre Dame did. Florida should win, but it won’t be a cakewalk.


Georgia is the New Tennessee

October 14, 2006

After losing at home on homecoming to Vanderbilt, Georgia is officially this year’s 2005 Tennessee. They have no offense, the defense is slowly deteriorating, and everyone seems to be losing confidence. Vandy is not as bad as it seems, with each of its conference losses coming by less than a touchdown. Bobby Johnson has a good thing building there, and while I don’t think Vanderbilt will ever be a bowl team year in and year out, they certainly seem to be set to be competitive consistently.

Iowa’s loss to Indiana is even worse. By the way, did you know that Mark May picked Iowa to go to the national title game in the preseason? Yes, it’s true, and yes I’ll remind you every time the Hawkeyes lose. It’s about time there was some crazy upsets. This year has been mostly quiet in that regard.

Also, just a tough break for Adrian Peterson. He finally gets to play in front of his father, has a giant day in a blowout win, and ends up breaking his collarbone. He’s one of the better guys in college football and a tremendous player who is fun to watch. That’s a shame.


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