Life is a movie. So I’m dropping knowledge.
(If you got that reference, I will mail you two shiny nickels. It’s tangential to this.)
It’s easy to say that this Alabama team is good.
They proved that much in burying Clemson’s season and condemning Tommy Bowden to a midseason canning in a half-hour of game clock, and likely doing the same, on the road, in the face of a “fearsome” blackout, to Georgia’s national title dreams.
But ‘Bama, besides a thorough beating of Arkansas, hasn’t exactly set the world on fire against lesser foes, letting a Hurricane Gustav-wearied Tulane team stick around forever with sloppy play, then surviving late charges by Kentucky and Ole Miss. And now they will be without gargantuan defensive tackle Terrence Cody for an indefinite interval, with just three weeks until their date against a physical LSU team in Tiger Stadium.
Yet this Alabama team reminds me strongly of another SEC team in recent memory: the 2006 Florida Gators. Like those Gators, this Tide squad seems to play to its competition, rather than at its own peak; the offense is congealing around a senior quarterback with a sheik’s collection of young thoroughbreds at the skill positions; the defense is solid, keeps the team from surrendering leads, and will be underrated all year long, mostly thanks to a junior college transfer who made an enormous impact.
There’s a set of parallels with LSU’s team last year, too, but I don’t think they’re as strong. And at this point, it really doesn’t matter; Alabama’s schedule is easier than either of those teams’ late-season slates, with climbing-out-of-the-crater Tennessee at Neyland next, that post-Bleauxout LSU team, and offensively inept Mississippi State and Auburn to finish, and this team seems to have survived a pair of SEC scares, which is usually the limit for a true national championship contender.
This year, everything could come up Crimson.
The movie has one character who basically rules Los Angeles with all the street acumen he’s sharpened over his long career; the ethics charges leveled against him bounce harmlessly, and the idealistic young guy who gets paired with him can’t do anything but deal with it as he gets dragged further and further into the abyss.
Unfortunately for Washington State, there was no twist on Saturday. USC played Alonzo Harris, shellacked Wazzu 69-0, took a 41-point lead at halftime as most of their first team exited, saw Mark Sanchez throw for 253 yards and five TDs in that first half, had three backs go over 100 yards rushing while the Trojans attempted one pass after Sanchez departed, rolled up 625 total yards and yielded just 116, conceded just four first downs, and ended the Cougars’ 280-game scoring streak, one that dated to the first term of the Reagan Administration.
USC is capable of looking like a behemoth; against teams without Jacquizz Rodgers, the Trojans defense has allowed 7, 3, 10, 0, and 0 points, and their offense is balanced, deep, and strong in the trenches. It remains to be seen whether another naive young punk can see through that scary veneer.
Courage Under Fire
Penn State trailed 10-0 and 17-7 on Saturday. Shadows of their long losing streak to Michigan grew longer in Happy Valley. The recent history of folding in big games seemed likely to repeat itself.
But Michigan wouldn’t score after midway through the second quarter, and the Nittany Lions shoveled 39 straight points on that ignominous streak and chucked some dirt in the direction of the other claim. Evan Royster rushed for 174 yards, Daryll Clark was unspectacularly effective, and Penn State’s speed on both sides of the ball dominated the second half, which went 32-0 to the squad from State College.
Wisconsin was a top-ten team entering September 27th, less than a month ago.
In their games since, they have been upset in heartbreaking fashion by Michigan and bested in similar style by Ohio State, housed by Penn State, and embarrassed by Iowa. The Badgers’ defense has allowed 103 points in those four games after yielding just 41 in its first three; Allan Evridge went from effective to execrable in a matter of weeks; the offense has committed 13 turnovers in those four losses after committing four in the three wins.
A month ago, “On Wisconsin” might have been a worry at Camp Randall; now, with the Badgers dwelling with Indiana in the Big Ten cellar, Wisconsin on a schedule is a likely win for an opponent.
He Got Game
Terrelle Pryor is not like you or me.
I wouldn’t have done what Pat Forde reveals Pryor did; I wouldn’t have even considered it. I know there’s no really comparable situation for me, but there’s nothing that would compel me to tell someone to take me out of such a situation if I didn’t prove myself. Even if I said it, I might not mean it.
That’s because I don’t have the deep vein of confidence Pryor has and the talent to match. The pride of Jeannette High glided around and past Michigan State on Saturday; he’s as fluid a runner on the football field as Usain Bolt is on a track, all long legs and angles, neither stress nor effort evident.
And though he’s maybe Vince Young’s match in that aspect already, his Gas Station Special in the passing game (7 of 11 for 116 yards and a score) against the Spartans showed he’s turning his wheels into a weapon through the air, moving defenders around and breaking down zones so receivers can break loose. The angles a quarterback can create when moving around or out of the pocket often ruin the possibility of jumping routes and make small windows gaping holes; Pryor, no older than I am, seems to understand this, and that’s something his athletic predecessors (Young, Michael Vick) and contemporary (Tim Tebow) have struggled with throughout their careers.
His arm strength and touch need work, and he needs to go from game manager with game-changing talent to game-changer with game-managing skills. But Terrelle Pryor is a prodigy who will pan out.
While Arkansas plays Ole Miss this week in the Giggity Bowl, I’m more excited about their game in two weeks. You know, the one against the most statistically overwhelming offense in America, which happens to be masterminded by the guy, Gus Malzahn, who inadvertently triggered the beginning of the end for Houston Nutt in Fayetteville?
Tulsa has topped 60 three times and 70 once; only SMU managed to hold the Golden Hurricane under 40. The team gives up almost 30 points a game (27.1, to be precise), and, somehow, its margin of victory is 29.4 points per game; the defense has allowed only one opponent under 20 this year, and Tulsa’s still more than doubled up every team but Central Arkansas and SMU.
David Johnson has almost half as many passing touchdowns (31) as he had career passing attempts entering this year (63); he’s thrown three or more scores in every game this year and has two six-TD performances. USC had 625 yards of total offense this Saturday? The Golden Hurricane’s perfect storm averages 624.7 yards of total offense, has only netted less than 600 twice this year, and fell nine yards short of a mind-boggling 800 in their 77-35 decimation of UTEP this weekend.
Most importantly, Tulsa is 7-0, and Arkansas is their only remaining nonconference game; a date at Houston could be rough, but if Malzahn’s meteorological menace can blitz the Hogs, there’s no reason, short of some special seeding technique or an aberrant deep well of pass rushers somewhere in C-USA, Tulsa can’t go undefeated.
And, man, would they make that look fun.
Man on Fire
Texas is unequivocally the best team in the country.
That sentence is thanks to Colt McCoy, who has triggerman skills we haven’t seen since perhaps Danny Wuerffel or Ty Detmer. McCoy’s game log for this year may be from NCAA 09, with 19 TDs to three picks, one game with fewer than 200 yards through the air, an astonishing 81.2% completion rate, and two games in which he misfired twice and thrice. In fact, his “worst” game of the year was a 20-for-29 performance against UTEP, still just a hair shy of 70%, usually a high-water mark for field generals, and especially ones who’ve attempted as many passes (197 through seven games) as McCoy has.
Then there’s his newfound running ability, which, though diminished in his last two outings, earned him more yards than any other Longhorn in every game prior to Colorado, and has given Texas six TDs, second only to hulking gatecrasher Cody Johnson. And, of course, there are the stories like this one about his moxie and poise.
Talk about Brian Orakpo or Sergio Kindle or the scary nature of Texas’ defense all you want; it was shocking, returning from dinner after missing the whole of the first half Saturday night, to turn on the TV and find a 35-3 margin on the scoreboard to begin the second, and more because of the second figure than the first.
That defense, though, has allowed over 30 points to both Oklahoma and Missouri, and all McCoy does is ignite an offense that’s yet to score fewer than 38 and has crested half a hundred four times. McCoy may not be as dynamic a college quarterback as Vince Young, and he’s not ever going to be as legendary as the specimen who preceded him.
But when his career in Austin is over, he may be remembered as better.
Déjà Vu/The Manchurian Candidate
There will be another BCS snafu this year. Count on it.
There’s a lot to process here, but there are two key pieces of information in charts:
- The #1 team in the BCS when it is first released has gone to the BCS Championship Game in each of the past five years.
- Only one team in the history of the BCS, #12 LSU in 2003, has made it to the BCS Championship Game after not being in the top ten in the initial rankings.
So what does that mean? Well, it means that Texas, despite having to play Oklahoma State and travel to Lubbock, has to be an odds-on favorite to make the title game.
And it means that teams in the lower half of the top ten in the BCS may need more than a little help to get to Miami for that game this year.
It’s conceivable that either Georgia or Florida could run the table and stand as a 12-1 team on BCS Sunday, but if a currently undefeated Big 12 South team and Penn State are both unblemished then, too, it would be difficult to take a one-loss team with a slightly more difficult schedule over an undefeated. Oklahoma has it easier; they would beat two current top ten teams and potentially a third for the Big 12 Championship should Texas lose twice. USC will soar as Ohio State does, and if the Buckeyes beat Penn State this week, that may be a bigger win for the the Men of Troy than Jim Tressel’s troops.
But say LSU goes unbeaten the rest of the year and Florida beats them again in the SEC Championship, with only Texas staying undefeated in the Big 12 and Penn State falling to Ohio State this weekend or, say, Michigan State down the road. Do the Gators edge USC with a stronger overall strength of schedule, or does USC’s win over Ohio State, maybe its only one over a team that will be ranked on BCS Sunday, count for more?
It’s these sorts of scenarios that make college football endlessly interesting, sure, and that ensure that we’ll have two teams who managed not to lose at the right times playing for a national championship. But the field is as black and blue as ever; is comparing bruises to find the nicest peach better than putting a bunch of them together and seeing who stands last?
Oh, and I’m calling Ohio State the Manchurian Candidate of this year, because if that team gets back to the title game by dominating for the rest of the year while the Big 12 South beats itself up or USC loses a close one again, I’m pretty sure the Football Bowl Subdivision will qualify for Homeland Security attention.
Comments? Suggestions? Disagreements? Leave ’em.