Friday, November 30, 2012

College Football Week 14: The Everything Burrito


I recently treated myself to a steak dinner at a local restaurant and, not having had steak in quite some time, I savored every last morsel of meat, right down to the fatty parts that most people cut off because their "refined" palettes are too good for the excess fat (but I, being impoverished, do not make such discriminations).

I hope this column is like a fine steak after a long, dark steak-less period in your life. The season is nearing its glorious end where two teams will play in a national championship game that everyone will complain about and we've got a lot of ground to cover: conference championships, the Heisman trophy presentation and rivalries (sorry, no NHL report cards as requested; the NHL is on ice). So pop some Adderall and let's get to it.

Championship Weight


Before we get to the fatty parts of the steak, let's stick with what has been the lean, choice cut of this column for its illustrious two-year existence: previews and predictions. 

ACC Championship, No. 13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech 

We'll roll through these championship games in order of ascending entertainment value (excluding the C-USA title game because 1. I'm my own editor and 2. The game between UCF and Tulsa doesn't have BCS implications. Sorry Golden Knights and Hurricanes.). By that token, it's no surprise the ACC title games slides into dead last, as the ACC has been an absolute dumpster fire this year. How bad is the ACC? Coaches are leaving to coach at Kentucky (which is and always will be a basketball school), that's how bad. 

Speaking of sinking ships, if Florida State has shown they can do anything this year, it's beat up on inferior competition (NC State notwithstanding) and they should be able to do just that against Georgia Tech. 

In college football, you are who you play and if you look at GT's schedule, their 6-6 record becomes even more underwhelming. A 21-point loss to Middle Tennessee State, a 24-point loss to BYU, a mid-season firing of the defensive coordinator and then a dismantling at the hands of Georgia last week suggest that any team with marginal offensive talent can score on the Yellow Jackets. 

While the Seminoles are perhaps not as good as we thought they were (that's the best you're getting Gator fans. I will tip my hat no further.), they are still talented on offense and at least should be able to score on Saturday. Triple option be damned, 'Noles win in Charlotte. 

Pac-12 Championship Game, No. 16 UCLA vs. No. 8 Stanford 

Wait, didn't we just do this? We did? That's right, Stanford will play UCLA for the Pac-12 title less than seven days after beating them in their regular season finale, 35-17. 

What did we learn last week? Only that Stanford's defense could handle Jonathan Franklin (1,506 rushing yards, 11 TDs) and Brett Hundley (3,234 passing yards, 26 TDs) and that between Stepfan Taylor and Zach Ertz, the Cardinal can muster enough offense to beat the higher scoring members of the Pac-12 (as they did with Oregon earlier in the month). 

What will we learn Saturday? That defense really does win championships. The Cardinal will stymie the Bruins for a second consecutive week, this time on their home turf. Stanford silences UCLA...again. 

Big Ten Championship, No. 12 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin

While the ACC has been awful, the Big Ten has suffered a down year as well, thanks in part to NCAA sanctions, but also thanks to just some really awful football. One of the bigger disappointments in college football this year has been Wisconsin, who made the Rose Bowl the past two years and will be playing to do so again on Saturday. 

The only thing standing in their way? The Grenade Launcher and the Cornhuskers offense. It took some time, but after giving up 63 earlier in the year to Ohio State, I think we can put the "Blackshirts" moniker normally given to Nebraska's vicious defense to rest and recognize that Taylor Martinez and the offense is the strength of this team. 

And I think that strength will carry Nebraska to victory. It's just been too disappointing a year for Wisconsin between Montee Ball's injuries and a five-loss season, including last week's overtime loss to a Penn State team that literally had NOTHING to play for except pride (and while we're here, good for Bill O'Brien and the guys on Penn State's squad, who, while they won't get to go to a bowl game, far exceeded everyone's expectations). 

I'll take the Huskers to win and replace the Badgers in the Rose Bowl this year. 

MAC Championship, No. 21 Northern Illinois vs. No. 17 Kent State

Whoa, a MAC team is ranked in the BCS Top 25? Wait, TWO MAC teams are ranked in the BCS Top 25? Now you're telling me there are two WAC teams also in the Top 25? I think the Mayans might have been right about 2012.

All kidding aside, (and I never thought I'd say this), but the showdown between the Golden Flashes and the Huskies could actually be worth the watch. Friday's game in Detroit pits pedigree against passion. The Huskies have won 11 games each of the last three years while Kent State eclipsed five wins for the first time since 2006, willing their way to an 11-win season. 

Both teams have dynamic playmakers in NIU's Jordan Lynch (who leads the team in passing and rushing, accounting for a total of 39 TDs) and Kent State's tandem of Dri Archer and Trayion Durham, both of which are over 1,000 yards and are tied for a team leading 14 touchdowns. 

In the end though, I think NIU is the overall better football team. They're more experienced, play better defense than the Golden Flashes and Lynch can and will carry his team to victory if he has to. NIU by a nose (sorry James). 

SEC Championship, No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia

Easily the most compelling game, not only because of its national title implications but also because it pits the best offensive line in the country against one of the best defensive units in the country, specifically keep an eye on Barrett Jones vs. big ole John Jenkins (that's 660 total pounds of lineman right there). 

On offense, it's well-documented that Alabama likes to run the ball first and pass second, but boy can the Tide run. Between Lacy and Yeldon, Alabama might have the best one-two rushing punch in the country, but don't forget about AJ McCarron, who has shown he can step up in big games (remember LSU? Not sure if those were tears of joy or tears of surprise. "Sweet Baby Bear Bryant, did I really just do that?!?!" We're gonna go with joy.).

Defensively, Alabama is scary good. Bama, as we've seen, is incredibly disciplined, sometimes almost to a fault. Sure Texas A&M was a hiccup, but Johnny Manziel isn't your average quarterback (which we'll touch on later) and he attacked the Tide with something you don't encounter much in the SEC: athleticism at the quarterback position.  

If Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has time to sit in the pocket and read the defense, I imagine it would be much like if I tried to read Egyptian hieroglyphics. Some folks are saying Bama's secondary is their weakness, but Bama and star defensive back Dee Milliner are third in the country in passing defense, allowing just 5.75 yards per pass attempt this season. Also don't forget that Saban takes personal pride in coaching the secondary and I'd be shocked if they come up short in a game of this magnitude. 

When it comes down to it, the Tide have been there before. Saban and company will be up for this one and I don't think Murray has it in him to win the big one, or at least he hasn't shown he can and to do so against Alabama would be a tough place to start. A lot of people are picking Georgia, but you're king until you're dethroned, right? The Tide take care of the Dawgs in Atlanta. 

The Heisman Trophy

Annually awarded to the "most outstanding player in college football," the Heisman trophy's criteria allows for a little wiggle room. "Most outstanding" means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, which is why the country is divided over this year's candidates.

Your finalists are Matt Barkley, Geno Smith...wait, sorry I'm stuck in September. Here are the real finalists:

Collin Klein, Quarterback, Kansas State University

Let's start with Optimus Klein. I tweeted earlier in the year that Klein was Tebow 2.0, minus the obnoxious self-righteousness and indeed their playing styles are eerily similar. But it was Tebow's character that made him so popular and propelled him to a Heisman victory in 2007.

Unfortunately for Klein, he doesn't quite have the flair or following that Tebow had. Also unfortunately for Klein, he got shut down by a god-awful Baylor defense late in the year, and, as I think we'll find out, the Heisman trophy is very much a "what have you done for me lately?" award.

Simply put, he doesn't have enough flash in his game and, quite frankly, K-State hasn't marketed him very well. As much as it pains me to say, I wouldn't put my money on Klein taking home a bronze trophy in December.

Manti Te'o, Linebacker, Notre Dame

Te'o has been outstanding for the nation's "best" team ("best" in quotations because imagine if we had a selection committee for the BCS rankings instead of computers. Think March Madness but with football. Do you think Notre Dame, with three wins of just three points over Purdue, BYU and Pitt, would still be number one? Didn't think so.) and is hoping to be the first primarily defensive player since Charles Woodson to win the Heisman trophy.

Manti's disadvantage is twofold. First, his impact on the game is often difficult to quantify being on the defensive side of the ball, and all too often the Heisman is about stats. That said, Te'o isn't in the Top 50 in the country in solo tackles or sacks. Additionally, Te'o only plays defense.

No special teams, no return yardage, just hard-nosed football, which isn't "sexy" enough to win you the Heisman anymore. I'm not saying he doesn't deserve it (if you know me, you know I love defense), I'm saying his game doesn't translate into a successful Heisman campaign.

Johnny Manziel, Quarterback, Texas A&M

Which brings us to Johnny Football. Manziel has done a lot of growing up this year but has hit all the criteria we've seen lacking in the other two guys. Johnny has racked up the stats (second in total offense this season) and Manziel has a signature win (Johhny Football ran circles around No. 1Alabama in Tuscaloosa earlier this month). And unlike Klein and Te'o, Manziel plays with some flash.

Manziel is sensational, something that can't be said for the other candidates. You're holding your breath when Manziel is scrambling past defenders; you're not glued to your TV as Collin Klein crams the ball down the defense's throat at the goal line.

The trend continues (Cam Newton, RG3), another dual threat quarterback will take home college football's most coveted trophy. 

Fine with Fighting

I recently attended a rivalry game (can you guess which one?) and allow me to first say this: College football rivalries embody everything that is good and holy in the sport: competition, history, and most of all, passion. 

That being said, there feels something fundamentally wrong when those who have no family history with a university and did not attend the university for which they are cheering, personally attack those that do and did. 

Don't get me wrong, I love trash talk, yelling obscenities at opposing fans and teams, and caring entirely too much about the outcome of a football game. 

But something feels amiss to me when someone who has arbitrarily attached themselves to a football team, and not a school, drags the name of the opposing school through the mud. You love your team, I love my university. As far as I'm concerned, you don't have a dog in the fight. 

Perhaps I'm being a touch too sensitive in light of my team's recent loss and perhaps I'm not seeing the bigger picture here (college football is big business, the more people with a rooting interest, the better it is for the sport), but please, bandwagon fans who have only been watching since 2006, stay in your own yard. 

While we're here, I have a question for Florida fans. I'd wager 95% of the Florida fans I know are not only outstanding individuals but also know a thing or two about football (it hurt me to say that, but sometimes the truth hurts). That said, at a FSU game earlier this year, I watched a Florida fan being escorted from the student section in Doak Campbell after flying the bird and trying to pick a fight with everyone around him for the better part of the first half. 

It's important to note that FSU was playing Duke that week, so really there was NO REASON FOR HIM TO BE THERE. That was not the first time I've seen something similar to this happen. 

My question for you all is this: Do you witness similar things from rival fans at home UF games? Are these the bandwagoners I described earlier in this section? Were these incidents isolated and not representative of the Florida fan base as a whole? 

Sound off either in the comments or e-mail the blog. When I asked folks what they wanted to read prior to this column, the response was great. Keep the requests and questions coming, I'd love to do a mailbag of some kind soon. 

Enjoy your football and we'll see each other again before bowl season. 

5 comments:

  1. A Clemson fan was kicked out of our (South Carolina's) game against Florida a couple years ago. Same kind of scenario, starting fights, throwing up the bird, etc.

    Also, Lynch is a junior (sorry my inner MAC nerd is coming out).

    You're going 4-0 this week.

    I would like to see an article about FSU playing the MAC champion in the Orange Bowl if it so happens, pretty please

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  3. Good catch on Lynch. Could've sworn he was a senior.

    And I'd love to do that FSU-MAC Orange Bowl article if it comes to pass.

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  4. It's more of I'm an NIU fan that a "catch" per se. But I appreciate your blog giving more coverage to the MAC this year than ESPN ever did.

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  5. And well deserved coverage. That was one hell of a game.

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