The Essay Question
Forget what you once knew. The Big 12 is full of lies.
It’s amazing how one Saturday can make the previous Saturday look totally irrelevant. On Oct. 6, undefeated West Virginia out-gunned undefeated Texas 48-45, making a statement as the frontrunners in the Big 12 with Geno Smith as the frontrunner for the Heisman. A week later, Dana Holgorsen returned to Lubbock and all hell broke loose. The Mountaineers’ unstoppable offense fizzled against Tommy Tuberville’s No. 2 ranked defense, putting up only 408 yards, but, more important, a paltry 14 points despite taking no sacks or giveaways. The West Virginia defense was what we thought it was, and Texas Tech took full advantage behind Seth Doege’s 499 passing yards and six touchdowns in a 49-14 evisceration.
This was the same Texas Tech team that lost by three touchdowns to Oklahoma the week before -- and, of course, that’s the same Oklahoma team that destroyed Texas at the Cotton Bowl for the second year in a row early Saturday afternoon, winning by the embarrassing score of 63-21 (combined score the last two years: 118-38).
College football is ripe with parity, and the only two teams that haven’t been challenged yet are Alabama and Oregon. The Big 12 as a whole looks like the SEC East, a bunch of good but flawed teams beating up on each other and occasionally blowing each other out. Two run-first, defense-oriented teams are left unbeaten in each (Florida and Kansas State), and in both cases it’s highly likely that they’ll lose at least one game.
The beauty of a round-robin format like the Big 12’s nine-game conference schedule is that it’s the fairest way to determine a champion. We just have no idea how good the teams actually are during the season. Nobody in the conference has a truly impressive nonconference win (Kansas State over Miami?). While we marveled at West Virginia’s shootout with Baylor, the Bears spent this Saturday losing 49-21 to a TCU team that just lost its star QB, Casey Pachall, for the season. We’re impressed by Texas’ offensive resurgence, but then we realize that Manny Diaz’s defense is possibly the most underperforming unit in the country. We dismiss Texas Tech’s gaudy defensive numbers as a product of a laughably weak early schedule, and then the Red Raiders hold West Virginia to 14 points.
We’re left with nothing but confusion, and that’s not a bad thing. It appears that no one in the Big 12 is going to win the national title this year, but that doesn’t mean the conference title race won’t be the best in the country. West Virginia looked horrible this week, but the Mountaineers could easily bounce back to beat Kansas State next Saturday night. Oklahoma will probably beat Notre Dame in a couple weeks, and then go out and lose to Iowa State or something, and Paul Rhoads will be so proud.
The Big 12 appears destined to end up with four two-loss teams, and the only indication of actual conference strength will come from bowl games, which are unpredictable. But that’s part of what makes college football so much fun, and nobody knows confusion like the new-look, 10-team Big 12.
With a few breaks, Notre Dame can beat anyone. We can keep waiting and waiting for Notre Dame’s defense to give an inch, but even when it does finally give an inch, the refs fail to account for it. Yes, Notre Dame picked up another big win, edging Stanford 20-13 in overtime, but, two days shy of the seven-year anniversary of the Bush Push, the Fighting Irish finally got some luck at the goal line in South Bend. After Tommy Rees (who again replaced Everett Golson, who was injured late) threw a TD pass to T.J. Jones to give Notre Dame an overtime lead, Stepfan Taylor got Stanford down to the four-yard line. David Shaw called for Taylor up the middle. Then again. Then again. And on fourth-and-one, Taylor got the call again; he was stuffed, but he kept driving his legs, rotated, kept his body off the ground and appeared to reach the ball across the goal line. He was ruled down, and instant replay failed to reverse it. Notre Dame’s defense still hasn’t given up an offensive touchdown since Sept. 8 against Purdue (Stanford’s TD came on a fumble), and it might not give one up to BYU next week either.
LSU isn’t dead yet. Alabama is the best team in the SEC by default, but after the Tide, the race is a fantastic mess. After getting worn down physically by Florida, LSU somewhat surprisingly pulled the same trick on a South Carolina team that had just blown out Georgia. The Gamecocks clearly play better at home than on the road, but they held a 14-10 advantage heading into the fourth quarter in Death Valley until LSU started grinding them down, and freshman tailback Jeremy Hill emerged as the star of the game with a 50-yard touchdown run, finishing with 124 yards and two touchdowns. Everyone in the conference is chasing Alabama. For LSU, that means containing Texas A&M’s explosive offensive in College Station next week before getting another shot at the Crimson Tide in Baton Rouge on Nov. 3, a game that could change the trajectory of the season if LSU wins. For South Carolina, that means regrouping to beat Florida next week to take back control of the SEC East and set up a showdown with Alabama or a rematch with LSU in Atlanta.
Sonny Dykes could soon be infuriating Nick Saban on a yearly basis. It’s quite possible that three big SEC jobs will be open this offseason: Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee. All three teams play Alabama every year, and we all know nobody likes pass-first teams that eschew defense more than Nick Saban. It’s hard to imagine Tennessee going back to Louisiana Tech for another coach if it gets rid of Derek Dooley, but Dykes will get a job somewhere, even if the Bulldogs fell short, 59-57, Saturday night in Shreveport. Louisiana Tech fell behind 27-0, staged multiple comebacks, recovered an onsides kick and nearly won despite giving up 395 passing yards, 181 rushing yards and six total touchdowns to Texas A&M freshman star Johnny Manziel.
Bulldogs QB Colby Cameron still hasn’t been intercepted this season, even though he attempted 58 passes in the game, completing 44 for 449 yards and five touchdowns. It also must be mentioned that receiver Quinton Patton caught 21 passes for 233 yards and four touchdowns. TWENTY-ONE. Sure, both teams are terrible at playing defense, but there’s nothing not entertaining about two Air-Raid coaches, Dykes and Kevin Sumlin, dueling late into the night. Besides, the world has a way of balancing itself out, as this was simply a way to atone for the 19-16 Iowa-Michigan State field-goal fest that ended 11 hours earlier. Sumlin and Manziel are going to be a really interesting pair in the SEC the next few years; perhaps Dykes can join the fray too.
Never assume Duke will win a football game … even after jumping out to a 20-0 first-quarter lead against a deflated Virginia Tech team at a deflated Lane Stadium. The Blue Devils, who haven’t gone bowling since 1994, are just one win away from eligibility. But actually winning that sixth game could be a real challenge. Duke did everything right to start on Saturday, dominating every phase of the game with a 62-yard touchdown pass, two field goals and a 20-yard interception return for a TD. Then, Virginia Tech RB Martin Scales scored, and then the wheels fell off. Virginia Tech remembered who it was and scored 41 straight points, while Duke is left to somehow try to shake off a crushing loss that looked at first like a landmark victory. The remaining schedule is brutal, by ACC standards: North Carolina, at Florida State, Clemson, at Georgia Tech, Miami.
Grading the Rest of the Weekend
A: Oregon State (42-24 win at BYU)
How do you earn an “A” in The Professor? Stay undefeated in a backup quarterback’s first start on the road by scoring 42 points against a defense that had given up 10 points total in its previous three games. Once again, it’s worth repeating that Oregon State won only three games last year. Three. The Beavers are now 5-0, and while QB Sean Mannion (knee) will be out a while longer, Cody Vaz alleviated some concerns by throwing for 332 yards and three touchdowns against the aforementioned stingy BYU defense.
A-: Ole Miss (41-20 win vs. Auburn) and Mississippi State (41-31 win vs. Tennessee)
First: Gene Chizik’s head-coaching record without Cam Newton now stands at 22-34. Second: Congratulations, Ole Miss! The Rebels had lost 16 straight SEC games, but they finally snapped the skid by adding to Auburn’s 1-5 misery. Auburn managed 213 total yards in the game yet still trailed by only four heading into the final quarter. The Rebels scored 17 in the fourth, though, and tailback Jeff Scott finished with 137 rushing yards and 70 receiving yards, with a 55-yard TD catch. Ole Miss gets a minus attached to the A because nobody gets an A for beating Auburn anymore.
First: Derek Dooley’s record at Tennessee and Louisiana Tech now stands at 31-37. Second: Congratulations, Mississippi State! About five people in America may be aware of this, but the Bulldogs are unbeaten at 6-0. Of course, they beat two FCS teams, and none of the six teams they’ve played are currently above .500, including those FCS teams. So let’s not get carried away here. Still, you have to be impressed with Mississippi State’s defense, as CBs Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay helped locked down Tennessee’s explosive passing game, holding Tyler Bray to only 148 passing yards.
B+: Alabama (42-10 win at Missouri)
Another week, another easy win. The Crimson Tide continues to take care of business, scoring at least 33 points in every game and giving up no more than 14 points en route to a 6-0 record. Missouri played without QB James Franklin, but it’s hard to imagine he’d have made a difference. Both Eddie Lacy (177 yards, three touchdowns) and T.J. Yeldon (144 yards, two touchdowns) had huge games, and we’ve yet to see one reason why Alabama isn’t the best team in the country. Alabama only gets a “B+” though, because the Tide turned the ball over two times, and I don’t want Nick Saban to get mad at me for building his team up too much.
B: Louisville (45-35 win at Pittsburgh)
Pitt is a weird, weird team that still seems beyond judging at the moment, but, nevertheless, Louisville got a double-digit win on the road in a game that started at the bizarre time of 11 a.m. Teddy Bridgewater made some big plays, completing 17 passes for 304 yards, including a 75-yard TD pass to DeVante Walker. The Big East appears to be a three-horse race between Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati, all of which remain unbeaten.
B-: Maryland (27-20 win at Virginia)
Maryland has essentially been forgotten at this point. The uniforms hoopla is over, and everyone must have gotten tired of making fun of Randy Edsall. But this is a team that’s already doubled its win total from two to four, and the Terrapins pulled off the impressive feat of beating Virginia by a touchdown on the road despite rushing for -2 yards as a team on 29 attempts against the nation’s No. 81 rush defense. That’s pretty impressive in its own way, right? Credit to Stefon Diggs for returning the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
C+: USC (24-14 win at Washington)
Matt Barkley in six games: 1,475 yards, 16 touchdowns, six interceptions. Matt McGloin in six games: 1,499 yards, 12 touchdowns, two interceptions. Of course, USC mostly beat Washington thanks to a Penn State connection, as transfer Silas Redd ran 26 times for 155 yards and a touchdown. Even at 5-1, USC just feels so underwhelming.
C: Kansas State (27-21 win at Iowa State)
Right in the meaty part of the curve, that’s where Bill Snyder wants to be. No fancy “A.” No showing off. Just six-point wins in Ames, and a 20-minute edge in time-of-possession. Kansas State remains unbeaten, and Collin Klein ran for another three touchdowns.
C-: Oklahoma State (20-14 win at Kansas)
Oklahoma State got out-gained by Kansas, which is pretty hard to do considering the Cowboys ranked No. 1 in the nation in total offense entering the weekend, and Kansas ranked No. 97 in total defense. The Cowboys’ ridiculous streak of 22 straight games with at least 30 points was bound to come to an end, but not against Kansas.
D+: Ohio State (52-49 win at Indiana)
Sorry, Buckeyes, no credit for scoring 52 points against Indiana. Good offenses are born with the ability to score 52 points on Indiana, which gave up 41 in a loss to Ball State. Braxton Miller was great again, rushing for 149 yards, and Carlos Hyde added another 156, but the story of the night was the horrid play of the Buckeyes defense. To be fair, the Indiana offense is actually pretty decent, but come on.
D: Iowa 19, Michigan State 16
Look, I love a good defensive football game. I proudly supported the first Alabama-LSU game last year, a hard-hitting defensive game that showcased two elite defenses flying all over the field. But this is different. Yes, both Michigan State and Iowa have some talent on defense, but this was the most predictable result imaginable. Seven field goals! There was some brief excitement when Mark Weisman scored from five yards out to send it into overtime -- touchdowns are rather scarce in Iowa City these days -- but all goodwill was erased when the teams failed to find the end zone in two overtime periods. They might as well have skipped the first three downs and gone straight to a Dan Conroy-Mike Meyer field-goal kicking contest. Iowa, which lost to 2-4 Central Michigan, currently leads the Legends Division.
F: West Virginia
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin. Welcome back. The 2011 Heisman finalist is back to his touchdown-scoring ways, this time scoring three touchdowns in a 38-14 win at Purdue. More impressive, Ball racked up 247 yards on 29 carries (plus, teammate James White added 124 rushing yards). Ball ran for 33 touchdowns last year, and he’s now scored eight in his last three games to break the Big Ten’s all-time record for touchdowns.
Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida. Driskel hasn’t been asked to do much as a runner under Will Muschamp, but that changed in a 31-17 win at Vanderbilt. Driskel had three touchdown runs, including a 70-yarder right after Vanderbilt pulled within a touchdown in the final three minutes. Driskel threw for only 77 yards, but his 177 yards and touchdowns on the ground were the difference in the game.
Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers. You can’t fill a box score much better than the senior Greene did in Rutgers’ 23-15 win over Syracuse. He was all over the field, making 14 tackles with 1 ½ sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles. It represented a major step toward repeating as Big East defensive player of the year.
Bernard Reedy, WR, Toledo. OK, Eastern Michigan may not be very good (in fact, it’s winless), but in Toledo’s 52-47 win in Ypsilanti, Reedy had a monster game, catching 11 passes for 237 yards with touchdowns of 58 and 59 yards, as part of a third quarter in which EMU and Toledo combined to score 55 points.
Dri Archer Touchdown Report
Until he gives us a reason not to, it’s time to just give Dri Archer his own category every week. The all-purpose Kent State star is one of the most explosive and versatile players in the country, and he’s a big reason for the Golden Flashes’ 5-1 record. He entered the weekend leading the nation in all-purpose yards (230.6 yards per game), and in a 31-17 win over Army, Archer ran 12 times for 222 yards with an 87-yard touchdown and threw a 24-yard touchdown pass.
Archer’s touchdowns in 2012:
Towson: 15-yard run, 98-yard kick return, 18-yard run
Kentucky: 47-yard run
Buffalo: 11-yard run
Ball State: 99-yard kick return, 23-yard catch, 33-yard catch
Eastern Michigan: 5-yard catch, 98-yard kick return, 64-yard run
Army: 24-yard pass, 87-yard run
Student of the Year
If I had a Heisman ballot …
1. Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame. Another 11 tackles against Stanford. Instrumental in the team’s goal-line stand. The best player on a unit that could give Alabama a run for the title of nation’s best defense.
2. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. One horrible game for the team doesn’t totally disqualify Smith. He’s still thrown 25 touchdown passes with zero interceptions.
3. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State. Ignoring the fact that Ohio State nearly lost to Indiana, Miller is the sole reason the Buckeyes are undefeated. He threw for 211 yards and two touchdowns and ran 23 times for 149 yards and a touchdown in Bloomington on Saturday.
Bowl Eligibility Tracker
There are 35 bowls, which means 70 bowl spots. The last thing we want is for college football to come up short, forcing it to dip into the pool of sub-.500 teams. Eligible teams (six wins) as of Oct. 13:
17*: Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Kansas State, LSU, Louisville, Mississippi State, Nevada, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio, Oregon, Rutgers, South Carolina, Toledo, Tulsa
*Ohio State has seven wins but is ineligible for postseason play.
Ranking the remaining games based on national championship implications:
1. LSU at Alabama, Nov. 3
2. Oregon at USC, Nov. 3
3. Notre Dame at Oklahoma, Oct. 27
4. South Carolina at Florida, Oct. 20
5. Kansas State at West Virginia, Oct. 20
On the Syllabus for Week 8
We had a chance for two clashes between undefeated top-10 teams, but then South Carolina and West Virginia decided to lose. Still, South Carolina at Florida is the biggest game remaining in the SEC East, and Kansas State at West Virginia will have a big impact on the Big 12 title race. Elsewhere, LSU will attempt to slow down Johnny Manziel in College Station, and, on Thursday night, No. 2 Oregon goes on the road to face 5-1 Arizona State.