Some of the top teams in the country are showing the classic signs of being set up for a fall, and some don’t. I will now go over some of the teams and why they do or do not look ready to drop like rocks.
So far, Oregon has looked very good, and Dennis Dixon has been spectacular. The Ducks looked like they were just rolling along with a 53-7 win over Washington State, but if you didn’t see anything beyond the score, you’d never suspect anything was wrong.
However, WR Cameron Colvin (he of the fumble out the endzone in the Cal game) broke his ankle in the first half, and will likely miss the rest of the regular season. RB Jeremiah Johnson rushed for two TDs but then fell to a knee injury, and he is out for an uncertain amount of time. Neither is the top at his respective position for the Ducks; in fact, both are number two on the team behind Jonathan Stewart (leading rusher) and Jaison Williams (leading receiver). However, this situation will test Oregon’s depth and put a strain on Stewart especially, since Dixon is the Ducks’ third-leading rusher.
Losing two important skill players in a blowout isn’t just crushing from a personnel standpoint, it can be mentally challenging too. Oregon will probably be fine this week against Washington, but in two weeks they face a still-dangerous USC team, and if the Trojans can get their offensive issues worked out against Notre Dame this week, it could be serious bad news for Oregon. After that come Arizona State, Arizona (who is improving on offense every week), UCLA, and Oregon State. Going 4-2 the rest of the way is definitely possible and wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it probably would disappoint the Oregon fans who are expecting a lot at this point.
Arizona State has also been bit by the injury bug. Leading rusher Ryan Torain is gone for the season with a dislocated and/or broken big toe incurred in the game against Washington last Saturday. Torain had played in 6 of the Sun Devils’ 7 games and rushed for 553 yards on 110 carries. Keegan Herring takes over the starting role, but despite having played in all 7 games, he has just 480 yards on 73 carries. He’s not bad, but he’s clearly not as good as Torain.
While Arizona State has a bye this week to adjust, this injury still comes at a very bad time for the team. So far, ASU has played just two BCS schools with winning records – Colorado and Oregon State – and it took Oregon State a miracle win over Cal and its backup QB just to get back over .500 again. The schedule has been soft, but not anymore the rest of the season.
In two weeks, the Sun Devils get Cal and presumably a healthy Nate Longshore. After that is a trip to Oregon, a trip to UCLA (who is undefeated in Pac 10 play), and then USC and Arizona at home to end the year. It would not be out of the question to see Arizona State finish 3-2 or even 2-3 against that slate. Remember, this team only went 7-6 last year, and while Dennis Erickson is a step up from Dirk Koetter, it’s still roughly that same team.
It’s always bad karma to talk about your upcoming opponent as being ready for a fall since it tends to jinx your team, but whatever. Rich Brooks may have heaped an even bigger jinx on his team this week with his comments.
Specifically, it’s his comments about Andre Woodson deserving to be in the Heisman race. Usually once coaches and players start talking about individual awards, the player in question comes out and flops. Granted, Brooks was talking more in generalities about the award and whether mass mailings and other promotions (the “Joey Heisman” billboard comes to mind) are necessary, and he says no with as many people commenting on the Heisman every week out there and the ability of technology to let everyone see all the important highlights.
He still had these sound bites:
- “Andre Woodson is right at the first discussion in every Heisman ballot, and he should be. So we just have to keep going.”
- “Andre Woodson was not in the conversation when we started the year. He’s in every conversation now, as he deserves to be.”
That’s practically open campaigning for his guy, and that’s classic jinx territory. Hopefully I didn’t negate the jinx by pointing it out before the fact. You know, this is why I’m not superstitious; it’s too hard to keep everything straight. Still, don’t be surprised if Woodson lays an egg this weekend.
Ohio State has Michigan State, and it will be the first big test for the Buckeyes. Purdue is an impostor just like every year, so the Boilers don’t count. Michigan State has a much more impressive offense than you think – the Spartans have better offensive stats than Ohio State does across the board despite playing overall a tougher defensive schedule than OSU. Michigan State’s opponents collectively rank 68th and 75th in total and scoring defense; Ohio State’s opponents collectively rank 86th and 84th in total and scoring defense.
Still, Ohio State has nearly everyone back on defense from last year, and the offense hasn’t completely descended back into the cave where it resided for the first few years of Jim Tressel’s tenure there. It’s hard to say for sure how good OSU is since its schedule is so weak, but Ohio State has top-notch talent and a proven track record and coaching staff.
Out of the remaining games, who will beat Ohio State? Michigan State has a better offense, but a much weaker defense and is probably a couple years away from contending in the Big Ten. Do you think Anthony Morelli could beat the Buckeyes’ defense and hold onto the ball enough to win the game? Wisconsin is in a freefall, and won’t likely come within two touchdowns of Ohio State. Illinois won’t beat them since Ohio State can stop the run, and if you do that you stop Illinois. Finally, what has Michigan done this year that inspires any sort of confidence that it can pull off the game? Chad Henne is still the quarterback, and Lloyd Carr is still the coach. It wouldn’t be a shock, but I would be surprised if Ohio State lost a game the rest of the way.
Rutgers is a trendy pick this week to upset USF. I think part of that is that a lot of the media folks who didn’t pick the Bulls to do this well are looking for any opportunity to see them fall back down. The two most common reasons I’ve heard for USF losing is the weather in New Jersey and Ray Rice.
First, the weather. The game is at 7:30 pm, and the forecast is a high of 70 and a low of 49. The chance of rain is just 10% and the wind at night will be at 8 mph. In other words, it’s going to be classic football weather. It will start in the low to mid 60s and end in the low to mid 50s. That’s really not that cold, and I can tell you as a Florida native that we get that kind weather from November through March or April, so it’s not like all the Florida boys on USF will be freezing. As I said, it’ll be classic football weather, and it won’t play a factor in the game.
Second, Ray Rice isn’t going to be anything the Bulls haven’t already seen this year. They just played against Kevin Smith of UCF, formerly the leading rusher in Div. I-A, and held him to 56 yards. Mike Teel is a better quarterback than UCF’s Kyle Israel is, but Rutgers has yet to play a defense like what USF has, and the Scarlet Knights already have two losses. USF may have a loss or two coming, but I don’t think this week is the week.