John Mitchell: We are entering week six of the college football regular season and things are getting clearer. We are starting to separate the contenders from the pretenders and it’s been a wild ride though the first five weeks of the season. With me to preview the week six action as always are Zach Bigalke and Matt Strobl.
Zach Bigalke: Did you say something, John? My ears are still ringing after being in attendance at Autzen last weekend for Oregon-Stanford. But that can’t stop me from getting excited for this week’s contests — especially since it will help drown out the inanities of the commentary.
Matt Strobl: Last week was paradise for those who love offense. I’m still reeling from all the scores in the 30-40 point range. And beyond. I’m not sure week 6 can keep up that pace though.
Mitchell: Thanks guys, let’s dive right in. Oregon jumped Boise State in both major polls this week. Do you think Oregon should have leaped ahead of them?
Bigalke: Do I believe Oregon should’ve hopped above the Broncos? No, I still think Boise should be viewed as the top team in the land. If the Ducks were going to be rewarded (and they should be after a huge showing against the Cardinal) it should’ve been another top-four team that dropped. Namely, why does Boise not get credit for a dominating shutout while Ohio State’s shaky conference opener kept them at #2? The Buckeyes look the least deserving of their spot, and Boise State got hosed by the pollsters while the name-brand powerhouse with the weaker performance got an undue benefit of the doubt.
Strobl: No. Oregon’s offense is formidable. Even frightening. And Stanford was a high quality opponent. Still is, for that matter. But when you cough up 31 points and make as many mistakes as the Ducks did, I don’t see how you can leapfrog another team in the polls. That’s especially true when the team that was jumped had a devastating win of its own. This is another example of Boise’s wins being worth less than those earned by AQ teams. Unfortunately, the Broncos won’t get to slap Oregon around this year like they did in 2008 and 2009, so they’re powerless to do anything about the change.
Mitchell: Personally, I didn’t rank Oregon ahead of Ohio State in our own rankings last week, but I can’t honestly blame the people that did. While I think that Boise State deserves to be ranked third, there is a case that can be made for Ohio State, Boise State, and Oregon to be ranked #2 behind Alabama. So, in my opinion, I have it as a 2A, 2B, and 2C kind of thing. The Ducks were extremely impressive in their win over Stanford in Autzen last Saturday, and they went to Knoxville and beat Tennessee. Even though Tennessee is down from previous seasons, it’s still impressive to travel across multiple time zones and win in a stadium as hostile as Neyland. Boise State has been just as impressive with wins over Virginia Tech, in a “neutral site” that was essentially a road game, and a home win over Oregon State two weeks ago. Both teams are deserving of the #2 ranking along with Ohio State and at this point, I really don’t think it matters.
Once again, we saw Les Miles have another gaffe in clock management as LSU narrowly avoided losing to Tennessee last Saturday. How much longer can Les Miles realistically keep his job in Baton Rouge?
Strobl: Miles won a title. Sort of. That kind of success affords a coach a lot of leeway, but The Hat is certainly doing his best to snatch unemployment from the jaws of security. Miles isn’t a very good coach and, based on how he’s reacted to adversity, isn’t all that nice a guy either. I can’t forget how willing he was to throw his own players under the bus after bad losses — contrast that to someone like Mack Brown who took unequivocal responsibility for the Longhorns’ loss to UCLA and you can see a real lack of integrity in Baton Rouge. Of course, Bobby Petrino has a job, so universities are obviously happy to overlook all kinds of flaws so long as a coach wins games. Miles’ real problem is that LSU has been getting a little bit weaker each year since Nick Saban left. I’d guess that even if he survives 2010, Miles won’t have too much longer to wait before the program makes a change.
Mitchell: It’s time for LSU to stop living vicariously through that National Title in 2007. Yeah, LSU won the National Title that season under Les Miles with Nick Saban’s leftovers. If you remember back to that season, Les Miles did everything he could that season to blow the National Title. The Bengal Tigers lost two games that season, including their final regular season game to Darren McFadden and Arkansas. It could have been worse because of that near disaster against Auburn. There was eight seconds left in the game and LSU was in field goal range. Miles infamously said afterwards that they had plenty of time after he had Matt Flynn throw the fade pass into the end zone that if tipped by the Auburn defensive back, would have been game over and Les Miles never lifts the crystal football. That was just one of many examples of coaching lapses during his tenure in Baton Rouge. As an Alabama fan, I hope that Miles keeps his job for a long time, because as long as he is there, I don’t see LSU as big competition in the SEC West as usual. But, it’s definitely time for Les Miles to be fired and for the program to move on with someone else.
Bigalke: Apparently the LSU powers that be don’t mind the threat of imminent cardiac arrest week after week as they watch their football team. Can you even believe that just a few years ago we were expecting Miles to bolt Death Valley for Ann Arbor? At this point any team would be hard-pressed to hire Miles after his body of work. But the Mad Hatter isn’t the only thing dragging down the Tigers. Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton came over a couple seasons back from Oregon; we instantly saw LSU regress and Chip Kelly getting the most out of the Ducks. When the defense plays as well as it has but the offense continues to be a hodgepodge of high-end recruits getting lowball results, I have a feeling Crowton will be gone before Miles.
Mitchell: There are still a multitude of undefeated teams remaining in college football, some that have received more praise than others. What unbeaten team is most likely to be exposed?
There are still a good many undefeated teams remaining in the FBS, and there are plenty that will be exposed during the remainder of the regular season. One that sticks out in my mind is Northwestern who is sitting at 5-0, but haven’t really been tested. They have wins over Vanderbilt, Illinois State, Rice, Central Michigan, and Minnesota on their resume, none of which really stick out as impressive. The wins over Vanderbilt, Central Michigan, and Minnesota were by a combined eight points. The Wildcats nearly saw their undefeated run end last week against Minnesota, but they were able to hang on to a 29-28 win. They have a great chance at getting to 6-0 with a home game against Purdue this weekend and then get a week off before they host Michigan State who is undefeated in their own right. They had their easier games early and will finish out the regular season with four of their last six games coming against Michigan State, Penn State, Iowa, and Wisconsin. I think eight wins is the peak.
Bigalke: 13 teams remain alive for undefeated seasons amongst the BCS schools. Four potential BCS Busters are still blemish-free. So which will be exposed this weekend? We have several matchups of unbeaten teams, but the one I expect to be exposed as a pretender has been spending all year confusing fans and voters. We’ve already discussed LSU, but this is the week they’re finally going to roll snake-eyes. Florida is better defensively than anyone they have yet played, and while the Gators have an anemic offense they will have redemption on their minds after last week’s beatdown against Bama.
Strobl: Seventeen teams have unblemished records, but common sense and the remaining schedule tells us that there will be far fewer than that by season’s end. In fact, the list will be culled this very weekend, because either Kansas State or Nebraska is going to suffer its first loss. My money is on the Huskers to stay undefeated. I like Florida’s chances to rebound against the aforementioned Les Miles and LSU, so that’s two. And Michigan and Michigan State will meet to reduce the number of Big Ten undefeated by one. So in all, I expect three teams to earn their first losses. Of all five involved in these matchups I think Kansas State is in the most trouble. Florida could have a hangover after the ‘Bama beatdown, which might allow LSU to eke out another shabby win. The Wolverines-Spartans rivalry is too close to call. So while the Wildcats could surprise me and move to 6-0, I’m not holding my breath.
Mitchell: What team was the biggest disappointment last weekend?
Bigalke: In my eyes, despite the fact they pulled out the victory, Ohio State was a huge disappointment. This was supposed to be the year that the Buckeyes returned to play for another national title? This team looked abysmal for long stretches against the Illini, and I was flabbergasted when I saw OSU sitting right there at #2 in the polls Sunday. Were the voters watching the same top four teams that we were? How Boise State drops and Oregon fails to garner a single first-place vote while Jim Tressel’s squad continues to generate more respect than they deserve at this point is beyond me.
Strobl: The Gators. I figured that Alabama would win, but I never dreamed it would be such a one-sided victory. I assumed that if nothing else, the force of Urban Meyer’s will would keep Florida within spitting distance. Instead, he badly mismanaged his personnel — something I’m not used to seeing. Trying to run the option with John Brantley? Calling the Tebow jump pass with Trey Burton in the backfield? Series after series was full of mystifying play calls that had me totally befuddled. It seemed like Meyer was trying to force his players into roles they weren’t equipped for, and Alabama took full advantage. Mistakes were inevitable; the Gators skill players just weren’t being used as expected. Perhaps Meyer thought that going against the grain would give him the element of surprise. And I suppose it did, but his guys were the ones being surprised.
Mitchell: I was going to say Florida, but since Matt already hit on that, I’ll go elsewhere. I hate to sound repetitive, but Georgia was not only the most disappointing team last week, they may be the most disappointing team during the season. For whatever reason, I’ve continued to have faith in Georgia to get it together. I predicted their loss to South Carolina, but I really thought they would rebound against Arkansas, and I never would have guessed they would have fallen to 0-3 in the conference with a loss to Mississippi State. Surely, they wouldn’t fall to 1-4 on the season and lose to Colorado in Boulder. Wrong. The excuse of not having AJ Green in the first four weeks was fraud as they lost to Colorado even with the presence of AJ Green. It’s going to be a long season in Athens and I no longer have any faith in this team.
What team was the most impressive last week?
Strobl: I realize that Wisconsin was probably overrated at #11, but I was still impressed with what Michigan State was able to do. Against a major conference threat and operating without their coach, the Spartans not only won by double-digits, but did it with determination and focus. Every time the Badgers began to claw their way back into the game, MSU had an answer. The Spartans overcame and early 10-3 deficit by scoring 17 unanswered points, going up 20-10 before Wisconsin finally answered. And while the Badgers twice pulled within three points (20-17, 24-21), Kirk Cousins was able to rouse the MSU offense and engineer drives that kept the game out of reach. Hats off to Don Treadwell for a huge interim win.
Mitchell: Oregon. I loved the way they responded after getting into an early 21-3 hole in the first quarter of their game with Stanford. They went into the half trailing Stanford 31-24, but then didn’t allow Andrew Luck and the Cardinal to get a single point more as they dominated the second half and beat Stanford 52-31. I’m still not sold on the Duck defense, but their offense can keep them in any game they play. LaMichael James was incredible with 257 rushing yards for Oregon and QB Darren Thomas came into his own with a great performance on the national stage. He threw for 238 yards with 3 touchdowns and ran for 117 yards and added another touchdown. The Ducks proved themselves to the nation that they were legit National Title contenders this season.
Bigalke: Last year we saw Stanford jump out to a big lead in Palo Alto against Oregon and survive a comeback bid for the upset. This year Andrew Luck appeared to be guiding the Cardinal to another statement win after going up 21-3 in the first quarter at Autzen. But the Ducks rebounded from there, winning the final three quarters 49-10 and running away with their own eye-opening result. Ducks QB Darron Thomas shook off two early interceptions, DB Cliff Harris shook off a KR fumble to nab two picks off Luck, and LaMichael James had a career day on the ground against a stout defense. Oregon proved they are for real this season last Saturday.
Mitchell: What surprised you the most in week five?
It was surprising to see how far Florida has fallen without Tim Tebow. We knew Florida wasn’t going to be as good this season with Tebow’s departure, but I don’t think anyone expected this. They were completely inept against Alabama and were blown out of Tuscaloosa 31-6. Florida proved to be extremely overrated at #7 and didn’t even play like a top 25 team against the #1 Crimson Tide. John Brantley was touted as the third best QB in the SEC last season as Tebow’s backup and that has shown to be wrong. We were also seeing Trey Burton, who was being touted as the next Tebow, and that talk was quickly digressed when Burton threw the INT on the jump pass and was a non factor in the game. Florida was supposed to be a program that didn’t have to rebuild, but it’s looking to be a rebuilding kind of year in Gainesville even if rebuilding for Florida means 9-10 wins and a berth in the SEC Title game.
Bigalke: I was most surprised by the fact Washington State was able to do something last year’s Big XII champion couldn’t — hang with the potent Pistol rushing attack of UCLA. While the final score says that the Bruins won 42-28, the game was close until the final few minutes. Paul Wulff’s side came alive for the first time during his tenure — and while the losing will almost certainly continue this week with Oregon traveling to the Paloose, Cougars fans have to be at least heartened to see their team can battle valiantly in overmatched situations.
Strobl: The balance of SEC power was the biggest shocker, but since I’ve already hassled Florida, I’ll go with BYU’s fourth loss. Look, we knew that the team would be taking a step back after Max Hall’s graduation, but what the heck is happening in Provo? There’s no shame in losing to Air Force or Nevada — both are legitimately strong teams despite their conference affiliations. Nor is it particularly troublesome that BYU fell to Florida State on the road. But the way they lost that game was shocking. The Seminoles took the Cougars apart in the second half, and for BYU to follow that up as they have tells me something about the state of the program. Utah State hasn’t beaten BYU in a decade; this was a game that Bronco Mendenhall’s group should have taken. Perhaps not easily… USU did play Oklahoma tough in week 1, but BYU should have won nonetheless. The offense is in shambles, averaging just over 15 points per game. The team has allowed 144 points — nearly a 2:1 ratio of points against. Did the off-season decision to leave the Mountain West distract the program from its preparations? Or was the dropoff in talent really this severe?