Let’s play a little game of “Name That Team”
This school has beaten:
-A 4-loss team by only 10.
-A 5-loss team by only one point.
-A 5-loss team by only 14.
-A 4-loss team by 7 in overtime.
This team is 2-7-1 against the spread this season, with only Akron (2-8) being worse. Impressive? Not very. Can you name this team?
If you guessed the Florida State Seminoles, you would be WRONG.
The answer is the “consistently more dominant” Alabama Crimson Tide. The teams they beat that I mentioned above are West Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU. Alabama teams from recent years would have beaten teams of this caliber by about three or four touchdowns. Not so much this season. Yes, I realize that Alabama will very likely go on to win the SEC and be a lock for the playoff. But after watching Alabama play in just about every game this season, it’s blatantly obvious that this is the most vulnerable Crimson Tide team since the 2010 version that finished the regular season 9-3.
While Alabama has played very well at home, they’ve continued to struggle on the road. Struggling against a top ranked team on the road is completely understandable (such as against #5 LSU in 2012, which Alabama survived 21-17). But other than Ole Miss, playing on the road shouldn’t be affecting Alabama this much, considering how average their road opponents have been this season. The Tide’s inconsistent play this year reminded me of a tweet I saw back in June, weeks before the season began, from the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum. He had Pete Roussel, a college football analyst and founder of coachingsearch.com, on his radio show that afternoon.
After watching Alabama’s offense blow out Florida at home, and then struggle against Ole Miss and Arkansas in consecutive weeks, it reminded me of Finebaum’s tweet, so I looked up Alabama’s offensive stats for these three games. Roussel couldn’t have been more right.
I realize that many will point out the fact that Alabama just beat Mississippi State, who was previously ranked #1. While this is easily Alabama’s best win of the season, I think this past week showed that Mississippi State was overrated as well. Their three wins over ranked opponents that vaulted them up to the #1 spot don’t look nearly as impressive as they once did. In fact, those three ranked teams the Bulldogs beat all lost on Saturday. The wheels on the Gus Malzhan locomotive seem to be falling off after back-to-back losses to Texas A&M and Georgia. After being ranked #3 in the inaugural College Football Playoff poll, it’s remarkable to imagine Auburn finishing the regular season 8-4 if they lose to Alabama in the Iron Bowl. LSU fell to 7-4 after managing to only put up 123 total yards and zero points against Arkansas, giving the Razorbacks their first SEC win in two years. Even Texas A&M, who at one point this season was ranked in the top ten, blew a late lead to Missouri, dropping their record to 7-4 and out of the Top 25. Before the season began, I predicted Mississippi State would win about 9 or 10 games, which they’re definitely on course to do, but I never thought they would content for a national title. If they lose to Ole Miss next week they’ll fall to 10-2, with their losses coming very late in the season, instead of earlier in the year like Alabama, Ohio State, or TCU. I think this tricked all of us into thinking that the Bulldogs were the best team in the country, after starting the season 9-0.
As for the rest of the top teams, they all have their weaknesses as well. While Marcus Mariota and Oregon may be playing just as good or better than anyone else in the country right now, Oregon’s defense may come back to bite them if they reach the playoff. The Ducks’ defense is currently ranked #53 in ESPN’s team efficiency ratings. As recent national title teams have shown, defense is key to winning championships. No matter what Mariota can do, an average defense may prove to be Oregon’s achilles heel. Florida State continues to pull a rabbit out of its hat late in games, but you have to wonder what’s causing them to have to come from behind each week. While I do think the Seminoles have the talent to beat anyone in the country, they won’t always be able to dig themselves out of an early hole, especially against a good team in the playoff. A week after a convincing win over Kansas State, TCU dropped out of the top-4 in the playoff poll after surviving against Kansas. Even if the Horned Frogs win out, they won’t even win the Big 12 unless Baylor loses another game. A lack of a conference championship game could ultimately hurt the Big 12, especially compared with Ohio State which could add a win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game to strengthen its resume. Overall, I think the top teams have a lot more parity between each other than usual. If the BCS was still in place this year, can you imagine the endless debate if Alabama, Oregon, FSU, Mississippi State, TCU, Baylor, and Ohio State all won their remaining games? Luckily the 4-team playoff will help settle things on the field. The only problem is deciding which three teams out of that group should be left out.
Melvin Gordon and J.T. Barrett have played their way into serious Hiesman contention
It’s nearly unfathomable to believe what Melvin Gordon did against Nebraska’s defense last Saturday. In only THREE QUARTERS Gordon rushed for 408 yards, breaking the FBS single-game rushing record, which was previously held by TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson in 1999. Yes, you read that right. Gordon didn’t even need the fourth quarter to break the record. Had he continued playing, he probably rushes for over 500. Performances like these are what earn you trips to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York. They’re also the type of performance that serves as the final nail in the coffin for coaches on the hot seat. While Gordon has been hobbled by injuries earlier this year, it’s clear that no one player (aside from Marcus Mariota) has meant more to his team’s success than Melvin Gordon. If he continues playing well and Wisconsin keeps winning, Gordon is pretty much a lock to attend the Heisman ceremony. If Oregon trips up, and Wisconsin were to upset Ohio State in the Big Ten championship, don’t be surprised if Gordon wins the Heisman.
Speaking of Ohio State, I think it’s pretty clear that this isn’t the same Buckeye team that lost to Virginia Tech at home. Likewise, J.T. Barrett isn’t the same quarterback. After having a “deer-in-headlights” look early in the season, Barrett has shown remarkable poise and maturity as a true freshman. The graphic below truly shows how much ahead of the learning curve Barrett is, and how much the Buckeyes have been able to rely on him to win games, instead of winning in spite of his play. Since throwing four interceptions in his first two games as a starter against Navy and Virginia Tech, Barrett has accounted for 34 touchdowns and only four interceptions in Ohio State’s last eight games, which included big wins over Michigan State and Minnesota. While Barrett doesn’t currently have an edge in the Heisman race compared to Mariota, Gordon, or Alabama’s Amari Cooper, look for him to be a finalist if he guides the Buckeyes to a spot in the playoff. With original starter Braxton Miller set to return next season, Urban Meyer might have a legitimate quarterback controversy on his hands i the offseason, which many not necessarily be a bad thing.
Saturday’s TV Schedule
All times Eastern.
12:00- Charleston Southern at #10 Georgia, SEC Network
12:00- #25 Minnesota at #23 Nebraska, ESPN
12:00- Eastern Kentucky at Florida, SEC Network
12:00- Penn State at Illinois, ESPN2
3:30- Boston College at #3 Florida State, ABC/ESPN2 (regional)
3:30- #8 Ole Miss at Arkansas, CBS
3:30- #15 Arizona at #17 Utah, ESPN
3:30- #16 Wisconsin at Iowa, ABC/ESPN2 (regional)
3:30- #24 Louisville at Notre Dame, NBC
4:00- Western Carolina at #1 Alabama
7:00- Samford at #14 Auburn, ESPNU
7:00- Miami (FL) at Virginia, ESPN2
7:30- Vanderbilt at #4 Mississippi State, SEC Network
7:30- Oklahoma State at #7 Baylor, FOX
7:30- #20 Missouri at Tennessee, ESPN
8:00- #19 USC at #9 UCLA, ABC