Non-Emotional FSU Preview

November 26, 2008

I hate FSU. No team gets me angrier, faster than FSU. However, it’s worth a look at where they are while stifling that as best I can. Here goes…

Before the season began, I made a prediction that FSU would be a six-win team in 2008. I caught a lot of flak for saying that from some of the Bleacher Report commentariat who did not read the article, but I clarified at the beginning that I was talking about wins over I-A competition.

The Seminoles are sitting at 8-3 right now, with two wins over I-AA schools at the beginning of the year back when they were trying to get around the full brunt of suspensions from last year’s academic scandal. In other words they have six wins over I-A competition, exactly where I saw them being. Since I expect to see a Gator win on Saturday, I think they’ll finish the regular season that way.

I didn’t get all the details of it right, though the end outcome was spot-on. For one thing, Christian Ponder has been a lot better than I thought he would be. On top of that, his mobility has helped FSU have a credible running game for the first time in years.

Some of that credit should go to offensive line coach Rick Trickett, since FSU’s offensive line is entirely freshmen and sophomores. Some should go to Jimbo Fisher for creating an offensive framework for success in the ACC. It’s a bit early yet to say it’s definitive proof that he’s the best guy to follow Bobby Bowden as head coach. It only proves that he’s a better offensive coordinator than Jeff Bowden was, and I don’t think that was ever in doubt.

Statistically, the Seminole defense has also been better than it was during the past two seasons’ 7-6 records. The strength of that defense has often been cited as the key for FSU having a chance to pull the upset win on Saturday.

However, we’ve heard this before. We heard how LSU, Georgia, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina all were going to slow Florida down with their tough defenses, and they all didn’t turn out to be that great at stopping the Gators. I’ll pull out the chart I made before the South Carolina game, updated to be current and including FSU both with and without its wins over I-AA teams included:

Defenses & the Florida Effect
Team Yds/Game Points/Game Yds/Game net UF Pts/Game net UF
LSU 320 25.45 304.5 22.9
Kentucky 328.45 21.09 316.7 16.9
Georgia 308.36 23.82 301.9 21.3
Vanderbilt 317.55 19.82 307.1 17.6
South Carolina 280.36 19.27 256.5 15.6
FSU 272.64 18.55 ??? ???
FSU, net I-AA 295.44 21.89 ??? ???

As you can see, FSU’s defense suddenly isn’t quite as fearsome when you remove their demolishing of not just two I-AA teams, but two bad I-AA teams. It really is similar to the SEC defenses that Florida has been shredding ever since the Ole Miss loss. I’ve seen where some FSU fans have tried to make the case that FSU’s defense has more speed than any other the Gators have faced, but I’d love to see them tell that to Rennie Curran’s face. It’d be awesome.

In short, no, FSU’s defense is not materially dissimilar to any of the others that Florida has faced. The biggest difference is that it has a Rhodes Scholar on it, but nothing else stands out.

The Gators, meanwhile, play a little defense themselves. Here is a handy comparison of the two teams’ defenses with the results of playing I-AA teams removed.

Defenses
Team Total Defense Scoring Defense
Florida, net I-AA 274.9 11.3
FSU, net I-AA 295.44 21.89

Florida is a full 10 points a game better and about 20 yards a game better. The first string defense hasn’t given up a touchdown since the LSU game back on October 11. The defensive line could be a little thin with starting DT Lawrence Marsh nursing a sprained MCL and backup DL Matt Patchan out, but the overall unit is very, very good.

If it sounds to you like I’m trying to make the case for another massive blowout, I’m actually not. For whatever reason, Florida never plays that well in Tallahassee. Steve Spurrier never won there, and even with FSU’s downturn this decade the best Florida has been able to do there is a win by seven. Under Urban Meyer, two nine-win Florida teams have won the games in Gainesville by scores of 34-7 and 45-12; in Tallahassee with an eventual 13-game, national title winner the score was 21-14.

I’m not closing the door on the possibility of a large win, as Florida has surprised me in just about every game since the Ole Miss loss in its ability to win and win big. The fact still remains that UF hasn’t won in Tallahassee by double digits since a 10-point win in 1984, and you have to go back to 1972 to find a Florida win there by more than 10 points.

I think Florida has an excellent chance to score its first win by more than 10 points since the final year of Richard Nixon’s first term because of they are focused on the task at hand. They are not looking ahead to Alabama, and they will be ready for this game.

That is important because I don’t think FSU can beat Florida outright. The Seminoles will need help from the visitors in the form of turnovers or busted coverage on defense as Ole Miss received. If Florida comes out sharp, they will win going away.

I still don’t fully trust them, or any other Gator team for that matter, to absolutely win in a blowout in Tallahassee because it hasn’t happened in my lifetime. However the Gators have delivered Les Miles, Mark Richt, and Steve Spurrier their worst losses ever all in this season, a fact I never would have believed before the year began. If there ever was a year to break a trend, this is it.

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SEC Power Poll, Week 13 Released

November 26, 2008

The voting was a little light, but that happens when it’s a holiday week. Full poll with comments here.


SEC Power Poll Ballot, Week 13

November 25, 2008

1. Florida

I saw nothing against the Citadel that made me think they should move.

2. Alabama

After a nice week off, it’s time to break Auburn’s Iron Bowl streak in emphatic fashion. There’s no excuse for not doing so.

3. Georgia

Given the periodic defensive struggles for UGA in the second half of this season, I’d be scared to death of playing Georgia Tech if I was a Bulldog fan. What they did to Miami was sick.

4. Ole Miss

In four career meetings against Les Miles, Houston Nutt is 2-2 with 13 more points scored in those games. A win in the Egg Bowl likely clinches a Cotton Bowl berth.

5. LSU

I have the Tigers ahead of South Carolina only because of the head-to-head result.

6. South Carolina

If the Gamecocks beat Clemson, can we give them the ACC title? No one in that conference appears to want it, and they used to be in that league once upon a time.

7. Vanderbilt

You would think the Commodores would get up for a rivalry game, but they appeared to still be hung over from celebrating the bowl berth.

8. Kentucky

The six wins and bowl bid are nice, but the Wildcats haven’t yet beaten a team that currently has a winning record. None of them even have the chance to, with 5-6 being the best record of any they’ve beaten.

9. Auburn

The team that nearly beat Georgia had better show up. In fact, they better bring that team but make it even better, or else it will be an ugly Iron Bowl.

10. Tennessee

Where was that team we saw Saturday against Wyoming? Or for that matter, where was it in every other game of the season?

11. Mississippi State

I’ll give the Legion of Croom credit. They are still fighting.

12. Arkansas

That was a big step back, although Casey Dick’s little brother Nathan put up some nice numbers. So much for the bowl hopes.


Rainey Honored by SEC

November 25, 2008

Chris Rainey was named SEC Freshman of the Week for his ridiculous rushing numbers against the Citadel. As improbable as it was going to be given that Florida was playing a I-AA opponent, the Gators extended their streak of having at least one player name All-SEC after every win. I guess it helped that Julio Jones had the week off.

In injury news, Matt Patchan is out but Lawrence Marsh could play against FSU. I think Florida would still win without either, but I’d prefer to have Marsh playing.


BCS Outlook, Week 14

November 24, 2008

The process of how games select their participants is outlined here.

If the season ended today, the following teams would get the automatic bids based on the current BCS and conference standings:

ACC: Georgia Tech (5-3 in conference, beat fellow 5-3 FSU and VT has only 4 ACC wins)

Big 12: Texas (above Oklahoma in the BCS poll, giving them the South Division tiebreaker)

Big East: Cincinnati (5-1 in conference, holds tiebreaker over 4-1 WVU)

Big Ten: Penn State (clinched Big Ten title)

Pac-10: Oregon State (holds tiebreaker over USC)

SEC: Alabama (undefeated so far)

Non-BCS: Utah (12-0, won’t be passed by any other non-BCS teams)

Other: Oklahoma (a non-conference champ in top 4 of BCS standings, thereby getting in automatically)

The Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl get first picks for at-larges since they lost their tie-in teams. This year, the rotation after they pick replacements is Fiesta-Sugar-Orange. The order of the selections goes like this:

  1. Sugar takes Florida to replace #1 Alabama to lock in an SEC team
  2. Fiesta takes Oklahoma to replace #2 Texas to lock in a Big 12 team
  3. Fiesta takes USC, the most desirable at-large left and a nearby team
  4. Sugar takes Utah
  5. Orange takes Cincinnati

I am making the assumption that the Sugar Bowl will want to set up an “Urban Meyer against his former team” storyline. It will have the luxury of doing so because of how well Florida fans travel. Plus, Utah at this point probably brings quite a few fans themselves, and I don’t know how big a crowd Cincinnati will bring.

In total:

BCS Title Game: Alabama vs. Texas

Rose Bowl: Penn State vs. Oregon State

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. USC

Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Utah

Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Cincinnati

Contingencies

If Virginia Tech beats Virginia, then they go to the ACC title game instead of Georgia Tech. Not much else matters, because the ACC will not be getting any at-large teams this season. Whoever wins goes to the Orange Bowl and that’s that.

If Florida defeats Alabama in the SEC title game, then just flip them. Same thing goes if Oklahoma hops over Texas, something that could happen since OU is a very close third and will get a better bump in the computers for beating Oklahoma State than UT will get for Texas A&M. I assume either would beat Missouri in the Big 12 title game. If Cincinnati somehow loses to Syracuse and West Virginia takes the Big East, I could see the Sugar Bowl taking them instead of Utah.

If Missouri wins the Big 12 title game over Texas, then all bets are off. I would venture a guess that Oklahoma slides up into the No. 2 spot. I could see voters putting USC (and only USC, not Penn State) in the No. 2 spot if they still believe that you must win your conference (or at least tie for the lead) to play for the title. Utah has no shot at all of going to the national title game.

A Missouri win puts the Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl. That much is certain. If Oklahoma goes to the national title game then, just drop them in place of Texas above. If USC goes to the national title game, look for the Fiesta to avoid an all-Big 12 game and take Utah or West Virginia (if available). That pushes Oklahoma to the Sugar, with either Cincinnati or Utah in the Orange.

Then again, Oklahoma and Mizzou didn’t play this year and taking OU guarantees high ticket demand moreso than any other available team. If that ends up being the case, the Sugar probably takes Utah, leaving the Orange with Cincy.

The Fiesta Bowl does get to pick in front of the Sugar in the event of a Big 12 team being No. 1 and an SEC team being No. 2. The Fiesta would not be able to take an SEC at-large without the Sugar Bowl’s permission under BCS rules though, due to the SEC tie-in with the Sugar. That is why the Rose Bowl never could have taken Georgia last year: the Sugar wouldn’t have allowed it. In the same vein, I doubt the Sugar would let the Fiesta take a one-loss Alabama team this year.


Programming Note for This Week

November 24, 2008

This week is Thanksgiving week as you all know, so content will be a little light. Also: if you post a comment and you haven’t already had a comment approved, it will not appear until I manually approve it (which may take a while). I do that because the WordPress spam filter is not as robust as I’d like.

Have a good Thanksgiving, and beat FSU!


Let the BCS Fretting Begin

November 23, 2008

Urban Meyer said he’d be disappointed (or something to that effect) if the Gators didn’t hit 60 points this weekend. We got to 70, so mission accomplished.

Something that will be on Gator fans’ minds this week is whether Oklahoma’s big win could put the Gators’ national title game hopes in jeopardy. It’s one thing to put up 70 on a I-AA team with the backups going most of the way, but it’s another entirely to put up 65 points on the undefeated No. 2 team.

In the short term, no one should be shocked at all to see Oklahoma pass up Florida in the standings. With LSU crashing and burning to turn a good win into just a win, it’s hard to make a case for UF to be ahead of OU. In fact, I’d be surprised if the Sooners were not the new No. 2 behind Alabama.

Now before we get too ahead of ourselves, there still are two more weeks to go before the BCS selections. Oklahoma has been known to drop shockers or Oklahoma State this decade, and it is never easy for Florida in Tallahassee. Alabama won’t be a picnic either. Throw on top of that two straight Texas A&M upsets over Texas the past two years and Missouri waiting in the Big 12 title game, and you can see the chances for peril.

No matter what happens in the Big 12 though, I still say that if Florida wins out they will go to the national title game. That is especially true if Alabama beats Auburn (which they will).

We learned in 2006 that voters as a whole do not want rematches. We saw in both 2006 and 2007 that winning your conference is an important factor too. Twice we’ve seen a Big 12 team not win the league and still go to the national title game (2001 Nebraska, 2003 Oklahoma), and both times that team lost. There’s no way voters will ignore that.

I don’t expect to see Florida get to the No. 2 spot until after a win over Alabama (should it come), because poll inertia wins until the final ballot when voters manually choose who they want to see play for it all. Texas can’t impress anymore because of how bad Texas A&M is, and the way Oklahoma beat Texas Tech will override the 10-point loss at a neutral site to the Longhorns.

In other words, rest easy Gators. All we can control is ourselves, and taking care of business should be all we need.