1st and 10

Ten thoughts on the past week in college football, and a look at the week ahead. 

[1] Who wants to play Ohio State right now? The Buckeyes look to be the most complete team in the country, and are firing on all cylinders. While this blogger thinks Penn State is overrated, they are still a strong team and there’s no doubt they came out ready to play. However, if not for 3 lost fumbles (one in the end zone that would have buried the Nittany Lions down 14-0 after the first two Buckeye drives), Ohio State wins by even more. Even though Penn State used those turnovers to make the game close, it never felt like Ohio State was in danger of losing. They outgained Penn State by 190 yards, ran for 229 yards on a previously-top 5 rushing defense, and held the ball for almost 10 minutes longer. Oh, and they also have Chase Young, which brings us to…

[2] The NCAA’s handling of the Chase Young situation, which is an absolute joke–but not the way most talking heads are saying. Look, this blog wholeheartedly endorses the (long overdue) steps the NCAA is taking to allow players to profit off of their image and likeness (bring back NCAA Football, EA Sports!), but the fact is, those rules haven’t been implemented yet. Again, the NCAA selectively enforced a rule they have had on the books for decades, which only reinforces the belief that this bloated bureaucracy is perpetually inept. Why do some guys get to transfer without having to sit out a year (Justin Fields, Shea Patterson, Tate Martell) while others, like Notre Dame’s Alohi Gilman, who transferred from the Naval Academy due to the Obama administration’s rule change prohibiting service academy members from deferring service to play in the NFL, had to sit out a year? On the topic of selective enforcement impacting Notre Dame, why can Chase Young violate NCAA bylaws by taking money, whether it be from an agent or “family friend”, and only get a two game slap on the wrist (missing games against Maryland and Rutgers and coming back rested for the stretch run), but when 5 ND players were found to have cheated on homework assignments in 2016 (not an NCAA violation), and ND retroactively adjusted their GPAs, suspended them for the entire season, and self-reported to the NCAA, this farce of an organization made the Irish forfeit 21 wins those players had participated in over 2 years. Never heard of this? Read ND President Fr. John Jenkins’ letter taking the NCAA to task.

[3] In terms of ND reaction, most Irish fans (this blogger included) still don’t really know what to make of this season. If you had said at the beginning of the season, ND would finish with a 10-2 record with losses at Georgia and at Michigan, most people would have nodded in agreement. But, the way the Irish lost to Michigan, in addition to likely keeping them out of the New Years, completely soured the season. That being said, if ND wins at Stanford and then in the bowl to close the season, the Irish would have 3 straight 10+ win seasons for the first time since the 1980s, hold a 17 game home winning streak (3rd longest in school history), and have achieved a 33-6 record over the last 3 years. Also, despite the (valid) criticism of Brian Kelly teams struggling in big games, the Irish would hold the 2nd longest winning streak over non-ranked opponents in the country at 22 games, behind only Alabama. Kelly deserves credit for planting ND firmly in the second tier of college football programs, behind only the SEC giants, Clemson, and Ohio State, but must show that he can take the next step. He’ll have two huge opportunities next year, as the Irish play Wisconsin at Lambeau Field and then host Clemson in South Bend in November (anyone else hoping for it to be 20 degrees?).

[4] It’s impossible to talk about Clemson without talking about the conference they play in. Don’t get me wrong, the Tigers are legit and I peg them as the second best team in the country behind Ohio State, but it is absolutely justifiable to point out their schedule has been soft. In fairness to the Tigers, they can’t help the fact that their Power 5 out of conference opponents Texas A&M and South Carolina are both having down years, but wow, they’ve been able to take advantage of a very mediocre ACC. At this point, the pillowfight between Virginia and Virginia Tech will determine which unfortunate member of the ACC Coastal will be sacrificed to the Tigers in Charlotte in two weeks.

[5] When thinking about mediocre, you can’t help feeling a bit of schadenfreude for Texas. Since Sam Ehlinger proclaimed Texas “back” after beating a Georgia team who had half its defensive starters sitting out in the Sugar Bowl, the Longhorns are 6-5. That record could be even worse, as Texas needed two field goals from Dicker the Kicker as time expired to beat Kansas!? and Kansas State. Also, those 5 losses include setbacks to fellow Texas schools TCU and Baylor, the latter an absolute beatdown this past week that was nowhere near as close as the 24-3 score indicated. Even more embarrassing for Texas, is these recent losses aren’t even considered upsets per Vegas–someone needs to ask Ehlinger if you can really be “back” when you’re an underdog to Iowa State and Baylor in back-to-back weeks. Do yourself a favor and get on the Red Raiders this weekend against the Horns–this team seems like they’ve quit, which reflects terrible on their “savior” of a coach, Tom Herman.

[6] Speaking of Tom Herman, it’s interesting to look back at the last 3 years and compare Texas and Baylor. Following the 2016 season, Baylor hired Matt Rhule and Texas hired Tom Herman after winning a bidding war with LSU (who seems to have done well for themselves). Herman’s hire was roundly praised as re-cementing Texas among the blue bloods, while the hiring of Rhule, who had never coached in Texas, was met with widespread puzzlement due to the belief that without ties to Texas, he’d never be able to make recruiting inroads in Texas high schools. Fast forward to 2017, and it’s Rhule who has Baylor sitting at 10-1 and according to the FS1 broadcast last week, ranked as the second most trustworthy of all Texas college head coaches in a poll of Texas high school coaches (Gary Patterson of TCU was first). Herman better have a good 2020 season, otherwise that seat will be hotter than an August day in Austin, especially if Baylor continues to win.

[7] The Big 12 has been interesting this year for the first time in a long time, because Oklahoma has finally returned to the pack. Even though the Sooners remain the class of the league, they don’t have the same level of talent across the board they’ve had in years past. Per usual, their defense is suspect, costing them the game at Kansas State and making the Iowa State game much closer than normal. But, the defense has also had some good moments recently, pitching a shutout in the second half against Baylor and holding TCU to 24 points on a day the offense only scored 28, a performance that included a couple big fourth quarter stops with the game on the line. The biggest difference in this year’s Oklahoma team has been the inconsistency on offense at times–the first quarter against Baylor, the third quarter at Kansas State, and the fourth quarters against Iowa State and TCU. That inconsistency can be traced to the fact that OU just doesn’t have as many playmakers this year at the skill positions. If teams can limit Jalen Hurts and CeeDee Lamb, the Sooners struggle to put points on the board in bunches. That’s a recipe for trouble with an inconsistent defense. Yes, the offensive numbers are still impressive (this is Oklahoma after all), but over the past 4 games combined, the Sooners have only outscored opponents by a single point, 145-144.

[8] Another team with a small margin for error is Auburn, who despite having one of the strongest defenses in the country is still a home underdog to Alabama sans Tua next week on the Plains. Frankly, true freshman Bo Nix is not an accurate enough passer (57.6%) or good enough runner to beat the Tide at this point in his career. Even though this isn’t a great Alabama defense, the Tide are playing for a chance at the playoff, and Saban is going to take away easy throws and reads from Nix. Count on a couple trick plays from Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, but in the end, the Tide roll and cover the 3 point spread and win a 24-13 game, where the final score isn’t as close as the score indicates.

[9] Finally, all this writing about teams with little margin for error brings us to The Game, Ohio State at Michigan. The talent on the Buckeye sideline means the Wolverines must play a perfect game–just to have a chance. Though Michigan is playing their best football heading into the game, they don’t have a strong enough offensive line or good enough running defense to block or stop the Buckeyes. Ohio State has former 5 star recruits at all 3 levels of the defense, and their ability to get pressure with 3 rushers will be the difference in the game, as they’ll be able to spy Patterson while still playing coverage downfield on Michigan’s big receivers. Michigan will come out fired up, but ultimately Ohio State’s ground game, helped by a couple big third down scrambles by Justin Fields, will wear down the Wolverines. I expect a very similar games in terms of the yardage breakdown and time of possession split to the Ohio State – Penn State game last week, with the only difference being that the Buckeyes clean up the turnovers. Give me Ohio State with the win and the cover, 45-20.

[10] If Ohio State beats Michigan, that will make it 8 in a row for the Buckeyes, and 15 of the last 16. Ohio State has completely flipped this rivalry since the domination of the Wolverines in the late 1980s and 1990s. A close loss to the Buckeyes, while disappointing, will send Michigan into the offseason with hope, especially if they win the bowl game, while another blowout will make for a long offseason of soul-searching in Ann Arbor. If not now, then when for Michigan? Ohio State shows no sign of slowing down, and the Wolverines lose three offensive linemen and Shea Patterson, along with the anchors of their defense, linebacker Khaleke Hudson, safety Josh Metellus, and corner Lavert Hill. There are also a number of juniors who could take the leap to the NFL, such as wide receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins. Key personnel losses, another blowout loss to Ohio State, and the feeling that Penn State and Wisconsin have overtaken Michigan in the Big 10, would lead for a long offseason for Jim Harbaugh. Saturday will be a career-defining day for Coach Khaki in the Big House.

 

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