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Teams that could beat Notre Dame November 22, 2012

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From the latest edition of Sports Illustrated. The Latin phrase at the top translates to “The Miracle of Our Lady 2012”

In case some dear readers have been hanging out in a cave for an extended period of time, Notre Dame is now the no. 1 college football team in the nation for the first time in 19 years to the month.  Given the national following the Fighting Irish have, there has been more than a bit of hoopla over this development.  Without going into obscene details, I can see Regis Philbin and other ND-loving celebrities losing control of themselves right about now.  But just because the Irish are no. 1 by default, does not mean they are invincible?  Of course not.  Yes, they are undefeated; yes, they have beaten some decent teams.  To be fair, Notre Dame is formidable.  Brian Kelly has done an incredible job of bringing in a talented receiving corps for the offense while massively upgrading the team’s talent defensively.  Their front five and front seven are both sufficiently physical to compete with anybody.  But there are teams out there that would give ND fits, if not ruin their season outright if the two played each other.  I therefore submit this list of teams to a candid world:

Practically sure things:

LSU:  Without a doubt, LSU would give Notre Dame all it would want and then some.  Over the past decade, there is no team that has been known to show up in big games and win them like LSU.  Yes, they lost at home to Alabama this year.  Yes, they lost the national championship game to Alabama at the end of last season.  Yet ought these not to be a strong commentary on the Crimson Tide’s prowess rather then to the Bayou Bengals’ detriment?  The Tigers have won two national titles within a decade.  Aside from the BCS game this past season, they have won almost all of their bowl games*.  Stretch the scale of time back to 15 years, and every time the Irish have played the Tigers in a bowl game (the 1997 Independence Bowl, the 2006-’07 Sugar Bowl), LSU has won both games handily.  The odds, talent, and the mindset are all in LSU’s favor.  Notre Dame ought to pray that the two teams do not meet anytime soon.

*LSU’s only bowl losses were to a tough Texas team in the 2003 Cotton Bowl, and inexplicable losses in the Capital One Bowl to both Iowa (30-20 on Jan. 1, 2005), and Penn State (19-17 on Jan. 1, 2010).

Stanford:  Don’t laugh.  Yes, they already lost to Notre Dame this year, but by that same token, let us put things into perspective.  A), the game was in South Bend, B) the weather was horrible, C) what did the Cardinal in was two consecutive horrible play calls on the goal line in overtime.  Now imagine the two teams playing each other again, this time on a neutral field, and reasonable weather.  Stanford has the personnel to fight the Irish effectively on the line on both sides of the ball.  They sport a very physical front seven, and their offense is ground-and-pound.  This approach was two horribly-called plays shy of working under very adverse circumstances on the road.  Imagine how well it would work in, say, Glendale, Ariz., or Pasadena.

Texas A&M:  The Aggies have proven that they can move the ball on tough defenses.  Quarterback Johnny Manziel has gotten better and better as the season has progressed.  They moved the ball effectively on Alabama, after all.  Moreover, Coach Kevin Sumlin has proven to be an excellent motivator in getting his men ready for big games.  Some of their margins of victory are impressive.  For example, they beat a respected Mississippi State squad 38-13, and then turned around the following week and beat then-no. 1 Alabama.  What this tells me is that you can count on consistent play from A&M at this stage of the season.  That, plus quick defense and superior quarterback play add up to being too much for the Irish to handle.

Ohio State:  Yes, Brian Kelly has proven to be one of the best coaches in the college game.  But so has Urban Meyer, and his resume of winning big games with more teams, one could argue, trumps Kelly’s.  Never count out Meyer in big games.  Moreover, once he brings in more of his own style of players, they will execute his spread offense all the more effectively.  True, the Buckeyes were playing some teams too closely for comfort earlier in the year.  After all, they only scored 29 points on abysmal UAB, of all teams!  But lately the offense runs like a well-oiled machine.  During their last games, they have averaged scoring 49 points each.  Their lower scores during that span were 29 points (where Purdue’s defense actually showed up) and 21 points against Wisconsin’s traditionally stout ‘D.’  Notre Dame has not encountered anything like Ohio State’s offense throughout this memorable season of theirs.

Questionable teams:

Florida:  Yes, their defense is practically impregnable.  Good luck moving the ball on the Gators.  The problem is on the offensive side of the ball.  Jeff Driskel is a mediocre quarterback at best, and Notre Dame’s defense will not play dead simply because they are facing such a vaunted program.  The game would be very low-scoring, with the outcome depending on how well Driskell executes, which is a crap-shoot.

South Carolina:  On paper, this team should be a very formidable foe for the Irish.  A strong running game, one of the best QB’s in college football in Connor Shaw, and defense with potential NFL talent, anchored by Jadeveon Clowney.  The problem lies in consistency.  The Gamecocks blew out a tough Georgia team earlier in the year, only to embarrass themselves at Florida a few weeks later.  After that, they played an awful Tennessee much more closely than the game should have been, again, on paper (they won that game only 38-35).  The Ol’ Ball Coach triumphing over the hot-headed Irish Coach will depend on the team that gave Georgia its only loss of the year to show up.

Georgia:  The Bulldogs have an incredibly talented offense led by experienced, highly-rated quarterback Aaron Murray.  On paper, the offense would give Notre Dame’s talented defense all they could handle.  Defensively, Georgia sports a typical talented, ultra-quick SEC defense.  The problem, like that of South Carolina, is consistency.  Yes, they could theoretically take Notre Dame, but it all comes down to which team shows up against them:  the team that beat Florida handily on an ostensibly neutral field, or the team that lost badly earlier on to South Carolina?

Alabama:  Easily the least-questionable team within this category.  The only reason they are in said category as opposed to the above one is that Texas A&M exposed a chink or two in their impressive armor.  Their defense is talented, but young, and their offense is not the most imaginative of teams at their level.  But let us say that the two – Bama and ND – end up playing each other in the BCS national championship game.  Give Nick Saban a month to prepare – a luxury no team has had thus far, to be sure – and he is practically unstoppable.  Advantage, Crimson Tide.

If any dear readers think other teams merit being added to the list, I would be more than happy to entertain suggestions!  (P.S.: Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!)

College Football Week 8 Awards October 22, 2012

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 8, pre-week 9] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Glad I’m not him: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Lucky guy: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Poor guy: Danny Hope, Purdue
Desperately seeking a clue:  Charlie Weis, Kansas
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: David Cutcliffe, Duke

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

Desperately seeking … anything:  Kyle Whittingham, Utah

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 10 USC  (beat Colorado 50-6)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 12 Georgia (beat Kentucky 29-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Kansas (lost to No. 8 Oklahoma 52-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Navy (beat Indiana 31-30)
Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did:  No. 17 South Carolina (lost to No. 3 Florida 44-11)

Dang, they’re good: Florida
Dang, they’re bad: Auburn
Did the season start? Iowa
Can the season end?  Boston College

Can the season never end?  Kansas State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 18 Texas Tech 56, TCU 53
Never play this again: No. 2 Oregon 43*, Arizona State 21
What? No. 4 Kansas State 55, No. 25 West Virginia 17
Huh?  Duke 33, North Carolina 30
Are you kidding me? Toledo 29, Cincinnati 23

Oh – my – God:   Navy 31, Indiana 30

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 5 Notre Dame @ No. 8 Oklahoma (notwithstanding Georgia vs. No. 3 Florida in Jacksonville)
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Kent State @ No. 18 Rutgers
Best non-Big Six matchup: Navy @ East Carolina
Upset alert: No. 13 Mississippi State @ No. 1 Alabama

Must win: No. 20 Michigan @ Nebraska
Offensive explosion: No. 15 Texas Tech @ No. 4 Kansas State

Defensive struggle: Missouri @ Kentucky
Great game no one is talking about: Cincinnati @ No. 16 Louisville, Friday, 8 PM

Intriguing coaching matchup: Bob Stoops of Oklahoma vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame
Who’s bringing the body bags? Colorado @ No. 2 Oregon
Why are they playing? UMass @ Vanderbilt

Plenty of good seats remaining: Hawaii @ Colorado St.  (notwithstanding Indiana @ Illinois)
They shoot horses, don’t they?  No. 22 Texas A&M @ Auburn

*If Oregon did not call off the dogs at halftime, they could have scored 86 points, not just 43.

Offensive Explosion, C-USA-style:  Who’da thought that the Thursday night Houston-SMU matchup would have led to such offensive fireworks?

Two trends in helmet design:  One of which is the matte epidemic that must be discussed in a future article, having infected teams such as TCU, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Baylor (their green helmets in the recent Alamo Bowl), Michigan State (sort of), and a host of others.  But another emergent trend, one more becoming of ultra-modernity, is the “chrome” effect.  Oregon debuted it during the most recent Rose Bowl, where they triumphed over Wisconsin wearing helmets with chrome [duck] wings on a chrome shell.  Recently, they demolished Arkansas State with chrome [duck] wings on a plain yellow shell.  Now, Michigan State has furthered the trend with a special helmet they wore in their narrow loss to rival Michigan, sporting a chrome-green shell with a silver chrome decal.  Not bad!

Will Muschamp seems like “the guy” after all:  “The guy,” meaning the guy who is capable of maintaining the high level of success that Florida fans have come to expect during the tenures of Steve Spurrier, followed indirectly by Urban Meyer.  Having established his credentials as an excellent defensive coach while at Texas, Muschamp has finally carried that over into a smothering defense on the part of his current team.  Indeed, the Gators have held opponents to just an average of roughly 12 points per game, and that includes a lackluster performance on both sides of the ball during their season-opener against Bowling Green.  Offensively, the Gators have shown considerable signs of life, thanks in part to the able QB skills of one Jeff Driskel.  On that side of the ball, Florida has averaged 33 points per game for the past five games.  Fourteen points was enough to overcome LSU’s stingy ‘D,’ while the Gators put up a whopping 44 points on South Carolina’s reputable defense yesterday in The Swamp.

The “So What” for the SEC:  If these shadows remain unchanged, it will be a Battle Royale in Atlanta between Florida and Alabama come early December.  But first, Florida must take care of Georgia in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, while Alabama has to contend with undefeated Mississippi State.  Bama also has LSU left on their slate, while the Gators’ only major challenge after the Bulldogs (UGA, not MSU) will be a regular-season closer at rival Florida State (thankfully for the Gators, a non-conference foe).  Stay tuned!

The current race in the Big XII:  Kansas State remains firmly in the driver’s seat after dispatching with yet another viable challenger in West Virginia.  Geno Smith might very well be leading a high-powered offense, but the Mountaineers’ defense is clearly another matter entirely, one that Coach Dana Holgorsen would be well-served to shore up at some point.  The challenge for head coach Bill Snyder and the Wildcats is to turn around after a big win against a formidable team on the road, and be ready for the same level of performance at home, as Tommy Tuberville’s Texas Tech Red Raiders are about to come calling.  A loss on the part of KSU could make for a very rather muddled race for top spot in the conference.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma is determined to maintain its insurgent conference championship run, but a number of potential challenges remain with Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and TCU awaiting their respective confrontations.  Having said that, Bob Stoops & Co. have the opportunity to get back into the national conversation, as No. 5 Notre Dame comes into Norman for the biggest challenge the Irish are likely to face the entire year.  The season for both teams hangs in the balance.

Oregon, meanwhile, keeps motoring along up in the Pacific Northwest.  The Ducks remain undefeated, and their scores have been so high, they have practically required oxygen to read them, averaging 51 points each game thus far.  Their no-huddle offense is so fast-paced that it has caused Nick Saban of seemingly invincible Alabama to grumble.  But it will not be a smooth road to Miami for the Ducks for the BCS title game.  In two weeks, they must face resurgent USC.  Just two weeks after that, Stanford will not be playing dead just because Oregon is, well, Oregon, and they close their regular season with in-state rival Oregon State in the annual match-up known as “The Civil War.”  Given that the Beavers have crept into the No. 8 ranking, the game between these two teams this year could very well live up to such an august game title/nickname.  Moreover, that game this year will be in Corvalis, not Eugene.  If the Ducks end up making it to the Orange Bowl part II, they will certainly have earned it.