NCAA Football Round-Up Week 4
by Brian Miller(NCAA Football)
Posted on October 1, 2009, 9:53 PM
Same group of guys; another week of college football to evaluate; you already know the deal. Andrew decided to write us a book this week, lucky us. Just a note that the rankings below were compiled before this weekdayís games.
Rank Team (First Place Votes)
1. Florida (2)
2. Alabama (1)
7. Boise State
8. Virginia Tech
13. Ohio State
19. South Florida
21. Oklahoma State
Brian: We've primarily used these questions to look into the past or the end of the year, let's look at the this next week this time. There are three match-ups that pair top 25 teams this week. Oklahoma @ Miami, LSU @ Georgia, and USC @ Cal. Give us your thoughts and a prediction for each game. Andrew: LSU @ Georgia: I currently have LSU ranked 6th right now by virtue of teams in front of them losing and because on talent- pure talent- they have the potential to beat any team, any day.
But ultimately paper is only good to wipe your nose with- and on the field where it matters most, LSU has been extremely fortunate to be 4-0 let alone 2-2. And while John Chavisí D has certainly not been worth the amount they paid for him this offseason, I think it starts on the other side of the ball. If in the next few years they turn it around Iíll eat my words, but to me Gary Crowton is if not the worst Offensive Coordinator at a major program among the worst. He was the OC on the worst offensive season Georgia Tech has had in the modern college era in a year they went 1-10. He was the OC on two of the worst Chicago Bears teams in the past 20 years when they ranked 25th and 28th out of 31 teams in the league in scoring. He was Head Coach and play-caller on BYU when not only did he lead at the time the premier non-BCS program to their first losing season in 28 years, but to three straight losing seasons for the first time in over 40 years at the time- including being ranked 70th nationally in scoring his final year there. He went to Oregon and put together two reasonably good offensive years (top 20 in YPG both years), but when he bolted for LSU after his second season as OC I can tell you I knew a few Duck fans and none of them were shedding tears. And you know what? With the exact same players Crowton had Chip Kelly had Oregon between Ď07 and Ď08 average 55 more YPG and more importantly 10 more PPG in than they had in Crowtonís last year there. He won a national title with LSU in í07 in spite of LSU dropping 3 spots nationally in scoring offense and 11 spots nationally in YPG. Last year was a rocky road (dropping all the way to 30th in scoring but most importantly 51st in YPG) but hey- Jarrett Lee was a problem at QB. Bring in Jordan Jefferson, O-Line returns players, Brandon LaFell came back, Charles Scott came back. And what has the result been? Through 4 weeks the once-explosive Bayou Bengal offense is averaging only 29 PPG (52nd nationally) but even more appalling is the paltry 310 YPG (105th of 120 teams in that category.) LSU has brought in a top 10 class in each of the last four years including two top 5 efforts, among them including 2 blue chip (top 15 among their HS class) QBs, 4 blue-chip RBs, 14 elite O-Lineman, and perhaps most disappointingly 9 top WRs- including 3 ranked at the top of their position. Now recruiting is absolutely an inexact science, but you donít misevaluate that much talent.
Why is this worth noting? Because while Willie Martinez himself has underperformed with his talent, this Georgia D led by Rennie Curran is still by far the best challenge LSU will have faced at this point. Between the Hedges in a very hostile environment LSU will not win unless they put points on the board and early and can stop the mercurial Bulldog running game. If you want the matchup to watch in this game itís LSUís super sophomore CB Patrick Peterson (nee Johnson) going up against Georgiaís all-everything soph in WR AJ Green. Peterson thrives on a physical press and has natural instincts at the position beyond his years, and for him to hold Green in check and force Joe Cox to find another option to beat them is as far as I can see the only way LSU can win. Still, gut says Green sneaks out for one big play as a dagger late. Georgia 31-17.
OU @ Miami: J-Rock Harris is a superb quarterback and all-around football player, total winner on every level. The way he is literally the heart and soul of this team even as a true sophomore cannot be understated. But even the best quarterbacks and coolest quarterbacks need time to throw. Miami fans may want to point to the weather, but Virginia Tech had to play in that same weather too. Every good team faces inclement weather every now and then. And the real difference between last week and the first two was that they played was that it was the first rested, veteran D-Line they faced (Remember- FSU started two freshman on the DL against them and Georgia Tech who already had three new starters on the D-Line was playing their 3rd game in 12 days- suicide for any paper thin and inexperienced Line.) Jason Worilds and the Hokies never let Harris get comfortable at any point other than the first drive of the second half. Now they play what in my opinion is the best D-Line in the entire nation and arguably one of the 5 best positional units any team has across the nation.
Letís also not ignore that this is an atrocious Miami D. A Florida State offense that admittedly has been Jeckyll and Hyde this season put up over 400 yards against them. Virginia Tech carved them up and if not for clock control and nursing the lead couldíve been even worse. The lone impressive effort came against a team that has a D-1AA ability to throw the ball consistently and I can tell you that they had such a bad blocking day from their receivers and A-backs (necessities for a team built on the outside pitch) that they benched all but two players from skill positions after the game. And now... they play a very, very good offense. People are going to assume that Oklahoma is just without a QB now with Jones in the backfield. Lemme tell ya- Landry Jones is a blue-chipper. Heís the most highly regarded prep QB they have on their campus, heís got the size, the mental capabilities, and all the tools. This isnít a drop-off like Heupel to Hybl, talent-wise this is right up there. People ask why if I say all this Landry Jones struggled so much against the only legit defense he faced, and the bottom line is this: Heíd never practiced a lick with the first team offense- and at a position that relies so much on chemistry with the receivers there isnít a quarterback in the nation who can be thrown into the fire without any chemistry, all with an O-Line that frankly is average at best. Well Jones has had three weeks of practicing with that first team now, heís shown a connection with not only Ryan Broyles but added a check-off in Brandon Caleb, theyíve changed up their O-Line, they still have as dynamic a 1-2 punch at RB as any school in the nation, and I think heíll be able to come out there with more of a playbook for him than Bradford wouldíve had for his first game being eased back. Did I mention Miamiís defensive captain and leading tackler in the secondary Randy Phillips is out for the game? Yeah...
Really on paper in every facet OU seems to have the advantage. But I will say this- itís in Miami, a week after being humiliated and humbled, and you better believe Coach Shannon knows whatís at stake- itís a slippery slope for any teamís season to get run out of the stadium two straight weeks. And if the Miami O-Line can overachieve and give Harris some time on even half his throws- with that suspect Sooner secondary? You may have to throw out whatís on paper at that point. To use a line Gameday has abused in recent years, itíll be closer than the experts think, but I think that Stoops and company will come up with a big stop late and adds insurance. Oklahoma 27-17.
And the biggest one, USC @ Cal: No, itís not for the Pac-10 title like people thought before the season. But with both these teams losses being to conference foes, you can bet that the team that loses is out of the race for the Rose Bowl. Cal is a tough team to figure in that they usually play USC well, theyíre usually well-regarded among coaches, but... it never. Really. Comes. Together. And donít think last week was just a hiccup- Cal hasnít looked good since the second quarter of the Minnesota game. Even worse is that as a unit theyíre playing one of the stingiest run defenses in the nation and Iíd daresay that even without that Linebacking trio from last season they look no worse right now in that regard with Chris Gallippo and Michael Morgan really coming into their own. Jahvid Best may break one run for a big gain that may skew his final numbers, but Iíd bet that roughly two thirds of his carries this Saturday wonít break past three yards.
And yet, Cal may still be okay. Because for all of USCís strengths, you cannot go through a season of major college football with a true freshman as your Quarterback and come out unscathed. Using recent years for relevance as an example, almost every elite quarterback that had success as a freshman- Vince Young, Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, JaMarcus Russell, Andrew Luck, Jake Locker, Michael Vick among them- redshirted first. Tim Tebow and Brian Brohm were used only in special packages as a freshman. Guys who actually held the reigns as true freshmen:
*Brady Quinn (2003), 9 losses
*Chris Leak (2003), 5 losses
*Chad Henne (2004), 3 losses- the losses being their two biggest rivalry games and the bowl
*Matt Stafford (2006), 4 losses including rivalry games to Florida and Tennessee
*Josh Freeman (2006), 6 losses
*Juice Williams (2006), 10 losses
*Jimmy Clausen (2007), 9 losses
*Tyrod Taylor (2007), 3 losses while splitting snaps with Sean Glennon, the three losses among their six games against ranked opponents
*Terrelle Pryor (2008), 3 losses- but perhaps as big as any loss the closed playbook and conservative play-calling due to hesitance over giving full reigns to a freshman and a key late turnover cost the Buckeyes another Big Ten title and shot at the Rose Bowl, leaving some to wonder how that (or the Fiesta Bowl) may have played out differently with Todd Boeckman back there.
Now clearly in the long run it can pay off- 7 of those QBs went on to lead their team to BCS bowls within the next two years, with a chance that Jimmy Clausen may (fair or not, but thatís a whole other issue) join them this year. But the point remains that no true freshman BCS QB has led their team to a one-loss or better regular season in the past decade. The numbers are against Matt Barkley that heíll be the first. Not thaaaat long ago USCís offense was fear-inducing under Norm Chow. This is their second OC since, the talent has not been left for wanting especially along the O-Line and depth at RB, Damian Williams would be the #1 target at all but maybe 5 programs in the nation, Blake Ayles and Anthony McCoy are tremendous safety valves at TE. But the offense has been, for lack of a better word, flat. The passing game specifically has been very vanilla, and whether or not thatís from tighter play selection or Barkleyís performance himself it is something that an All-American like SydíQuan Thompson has to be salivating over. This game in my opinion is going to come down to which team can take the most advantage of whatever breaks in field position or turnovers they can get, with each team having multiple shots to put the game away but the offense only ultimately putting out as much as needed for the W. USC 14-10.
T.Cow: Oklahoma-Miami: I think the downpour last week played a big part is Miamiís lack of offensive execution. Iím not taking anything away from the Hokies defense, but it would have been a closer game without the rain. Whether the U was exposed or had an anomaly that game will be determined here. A lot was made about right tackle Matt Piphoís performance last week, and I think the OU defensive front with Beal, English, and McCoy can continue to expose it. OU has a bend but donít break defense. This unit will give up the yards, but in crunch time, theyíll make a stop by forcing a turnover. Offensively for the Sooners, whether Bradford plays or not wonít make that much of a difference. Jones may not have as good of a deep ball, but OUís bread and butter are the short passes (due in part to the inexperienced o-line) and letting the wideouts get the YAC. For the Miami defense, the gameplan has to be stop Ryan Broyles. Yeah Oklahoma has other weapons (Caleb, Murray, Brown), but itís clear that Broyles is Jonesí (and probably also Bradford's) go to guy. I hate picking the score when my team is playing, but gun to my head, I think OU takes this one 28-17.
LSU-Georgia: I have LSU as #4 in my rankings (and thatís largely because they win while others lose), but they havenít looked all that good and should have lost last week if Miss St knew how to hand the ball off to Dixon. Credit to the Tigers for winning, but their offense has looked bad. Georgiaís defense is statistically bad, but those numbers are skewed because of their tough schedule playing 4 BCS teams so far. Offensively, AJ green has been phenomenal. While Joe Cox can be erratic, he has shown flashes of goodness. I think LSU gets exposed here and loses 31-17.
USC-Cal: I can talk about how SC needs to improve on its 3rd down efficiency, spread the field a bit more, and go into a statistical dissection, but if there is anything to learn about college football the last few seasons, itís never pick against Pete Carroll in a big game. The guy just has a knack for winning when the national spotlight is on his team. (The unranked teams are a different story.) Hell, Iíd probably still pick USC if Aaron Corp was QBing the team. Add to the fact that Cal played so poorly in Eugene last week, I donít see SC losing. This will also be the nail on the coffin for Bestís Heisman chances. SC grinds one out 21-13.
Andrew: I'm asking this one cause I know that 1) we've lightly discussed this before with differing opinions, and 2) it's a little different than the normative. Going into the season the Tight End landscape was Jermaine Gresham, then Rob Gronkowski, and then everybody else. Well now both number 1 and 2 in Gresh and Gronk officially out for the year, who are your three best BCS school Tight Ends? I had trouble narrowing it to three once I got down to my final ten (Wisconsin's Garrett Graham, Arkansas' DJ Williams, Iowa's Tony Moeaki, Washington's Kavario Middleton, Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph, Oregon's Ed Dickson, USC's Anthony McCoy, Florida's Aaron Hernandez, Michigan's Kevin Koger, and South Carolina's Weslye Saunders) but ultimately settled at Hernandez, Rudolph, and Graham as my top guys. So who you got?
T.Cow: Itís so difficult to rank tight ends especially in college football because they wonít have the offensive production as the other offensive skill position players. Pass and run blocking arenít a stat that can just be looked up to quantify. Outside of rare big performances here and there, this has almost become a lost position in the college game. So with my limited knowledge and in no particular order, Iíll go with:
Aaron Hernandez Ė Tebowís go to guy feels more like a WR playing the TE position. Heís deceptively quick and has a good ability to find open space.
Ed Dickson Ė His production really depends on which Masoli that shows up, but the Cal performance shows his potential. Scouting reports also indicates that he is a good run blocker with good hands.
Garrett Graham Ė Led Wisconsin in reception and TD last season and team leader in TD so far this season. Had a great performance against Mich St.
Brian: Tight ends? Couldnít we have discussed an important position like nickelback or long snapper? Itís such a hard position to evaluate in the college game on opposite ends of the spectrum teams like Texas Tech donít even carry them on their roster and on a team like Ohio State theyíre viewed as nothing more than slightly more mobile tackles. As for the question I think Hernandez is the most important tight end for his team because Florida lost Harvin and Murphy and Tebow needs someone reliable to get the ball to. However, I argued that Wisconsinís Garrett Graham was a top three tight end before the year and with the injuries to the other top two I think he easily ascends to the top spot. Heís simply a very good receiving tight end in a system that likes to throw to the tight end.
T.Cow: It's well-documented how the 3 posterboys for college football last season, McCoy, Tebow, and Bradford, all stayed for another season. Despite the fact that 2 are undefeated right now and the third is still in national championship contention, Bradford has played only a half of football, Tebow went to the hospital for a concussion, and McCoy has had a slow start this year (5 INTs so far compared to 8 total last year). Hindsight is 20/20, but do you think any of these guys are regretting the decision to come back? Who should have left last year? How much of a hit, if any, do you think their NFL stocks have taken?
Brian: Do I think any of them are regretting their decision to come back? Probably not, Detroit may have won a game but no one wants to be stuck in a Lions jersey. I donít think Bradfordís injury will hurt his draft stock at all, heís still going to be viewed as the number one quarterback in the class and will likely be a Brown or Ram next year and in the top three picks. I donít think McCoyís stock wouldíve been phenomenal last year (maybe he wouldíve stolen Josh Freemanís spot at #17 to Tampa, but itís just as likely that he would slid even further back into the late first or second) and despite his struggles heíll probably end up second or third best quarterback in this yearís class. Nobody in the pro game knows what to make of Tim Tebow and I donít think his injury will scare off anyone (Belichick) who is going to take a chance on him anyways.
Andrew: No, I donít think a single one of them is regretting it right now. I think people donít realize just how gaga some people were with Stafford and Sanchez, especially coming from pro-style systems in college, as the top 2 Quarterbacks of that class.
I think while his stock may have been high at the end of the season, the question of that spread-out offense wouldíve dropped Bradford to the 3rd QB taken. McCoy never wouldíve been a serious first-round candidate at that point barring tremendous workouts as people are worried about his size and frame, rational or not. Most importantly, they still each have a chance to win a national title (yes, even OU) that has eluded them which was a major part in Bradfordís decision to return- not as sure McCoy ever seriously considered it.
Tim Tebow had a Sophomore year where he threw for almost 3,300 yards, completed 67% of his passes, ran for another 900 yards, scored 55 TDs including a 32-6 TD-INT passing ratio...and before he even played a game of his Junior season people were already questioning if he could play QB at the next level or need to change positions. Coming off a year like that he wasnít even a projected first-round pick at QB before the season, which is when every mock draft is filled with the biggest or most-hyped returning names. Last year he had another 30 TDs to only 4 INTs, and again he wasnít discussed as a legitimate first-round and in some cases first-day pick unless heíd think about working out at H-Back or Tight End. If heís always going to face these questions and canít win for losing, he may as well go back where he has a very real chance of winning his 3rd National Title and 2nd Heisman Trophy to cement his legacy and become the most celebrated collegiate player of all time.
And to question Tebow, and even Bradford in the sense of whether he is a top 5 pick vs. a top 15 calibur-pick, does make sense when you look at the offensive systems theyíve come from- not so much to say they canít break the mold, but when you look just at the past 5 drafts with Alex Smith, Jason White, Graham Harrell, Colt Brennan, Chase Daniel, Brian Brohm, Drew Stanton, and Andrew Walter among others all being phenomenal collegiate players in non-pro systems or schemes there is a reason for a team to be weary of dropping down a high-round pick or investment on a player that wonít have taken a five snaps in a game behind center until his first preseason outing.
But ironically, with Sanchez leaving this past draft, there is no Senior QB that holds any weight as a first-round pick other than arguably Colt McCoy towards the bottom of round one. The only two viable Junior prospects are Jevan Snead and Jimmy Clausen (albeit recently some racket has been made over Jake Locker) and Clausen seems unlikely to leave while Snead has looked worse than any of the aforementioned big 3. As such, by not leaving, they entered a far, far less competitive QB draft class and one where even with the seasonís theyíve had, they have still maintained or even raised their draft position (albeit not their draft stock) due to struggling franchises general necessity to select a Quarterback. Bradford should still be the top QB selected this Spring, McCoy still will look to hang around that late 1st-mid 2nd round value with a chance to move up or down based on workouts, interviews, and whatís ultimately right or wrong as important to some teams drafting- how you go out in the bowl game, that lasting impression. Now all of this could be thrown for a skid if Ryan Mallett decides to turn pro as a Redshirt Soph, scouts love his size, his arm, and his having shown in his year at Michigan that he can handle the pro set. But until smoke starts rising over that happening, Iím sticking to my guns and saying none of these guys are going to regret it.
I hope you enjoyed the column. If you have any questions, concerns, or issues feel free to contact us via the Oratory Forums or e-mail Brian at bdmiller @ vt.edu, T. Cow at tangcow @ gmail.com, and Andrew at a.holik @ umiami.edu.