|1||Auburn||12-0||vs. #15 South Carolina (9-3)||1|
|2||Oregon||11-0||at Oregon St (5-6)||2|
|9||Oklahoma||10-2||vs. #12 Nebraska (10-2)||14|
|12||Nebraska||10-2||vs. #9 Oklahoma (10-2)||18|
|13||Nevada||11-1||at Louisiana Tech (5-6)||19|
|14||Boise State||10-1||vs. Utah St (4-7)||3|
|15||South Carolina||9-3||vs. #1 Auburn (12-0)||15|
|16||Virginia Tech||10-2||vs. #20 FSU (9-3)||13|
|20||FSU||9-3||vs. #16 Virginia Tech (10-2)||21|
|21||West Virginia||8-3||vs. Rutgers (4-7)||-|
|24||UCF||9-3||vs. SMU (7-5)||-|
|25||Northern Illinois||10-2||vs. Miami (OH) (8-4)||-|
|Dropped Out: Arizona, NC State, USC, Iowa|
|Also Receiving Votes: Arizona, Maryland, Hawaii|
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Now, I'm not about to assume the role of a 2009 Auburn fan and try to spin a "moral victory" out of what happened in the Iron Bowl, okay? But let's put this in perspective. Bama had them beat and let them off the hook. Minus two egregious pass plays that resulted in TDs, the defense played it's game of the year. They did everything I thought they needed to do to win: they forced Auburn into 3rd and long situations, the linemen kept Newton in front of them and then finished tackles, they expertly defended the middle of the field against play action passes, even the defensive backs (most of whom I called out by name prior to the game) did a mostly amazing job covering their assignments and offering run support. The first half was a master class in defending Gus Malzahn's offense. The second half wasn't quite so strong, but still should have been good enough to win. Like I said in Unsolicited Advice, there's not shutting Auburn down, you just have to slow them down enough to let your offense win it.
And for a quarter and a half, the Tide offense did it's part. Jim McElwain called about half a game that put his 2009 SEC Championship masterpiece to shame. He got the ball to Julio Jones early and often to devastating effect, and utilized smart scheming to minimize Nick Fairley's impact on the game.
But then the guy who never fumbles fumbled, and the football improbably rocketed 20 yards straight down the sideline, mere inches from the boundary, into the endzone.
Not long after, Fairley whipped redshirt freshman Anthony Steen (starting his first SEC game in place of injured Freshman All-American right guard Barrett Jones) and stripped Greg McElroy of the ball. In another surreal moment, the shellshocked Steen stood motionless over his quarterback as the ball skittered around his feet, realizing too late that it was a live ball. Fairley recovered.
Both plays were equal parts great plays by Auburn and outright bizarre occurrences that, had the ball bounced another way, as the saying goes, should have, at minimum, resulted in two field goal attempts for Alabama. And even if the young Tide kickers made just one of those two...they would have represented the winning points.
But this is still just the first half we're talking about. The Bama offense had 30 minutes worth of opportunity to finish the job after half time. However, in the second half, the offense, which had been so dynamic and unpredictable early, crawled back into it's shell and could only muster 3 points the rest of the way. They tried to play it safe and let the offensive line grind out the victory, but as suspected going in, the interior line was not man enough to play straight up against the Fairley-led Auburn line. This was definitely not 2009's OL.
As if things weren't going badly enough, Bama's best opportunity to retake the lead late in the game was without two of it's top receivers due to injuries. And then McElroy was knocked out of the game with a concussion. The defense managed to secure one more offensive possession, but at that point, circumstances had thrust a redshirt freshman with minimal playing experience into the untenable position of leading a last-second scoring drive. It was destined to fail.
In the end, that's kind of how the whole game felt: like destiny. Auburn was just destined to carry on it's national title chase. Sure, scheme and execution had a lot to do with it, and Auburn having two world class players did, too. But you can't hep but look back at the two bizarre fumbles and all the key late injuries and think, "It was just GOING to happen." And you have to come to terms with it.
Sometimes you're just on the other end of Cody's Hand.
But, again, not to make this a MORAL VICTORY~!!! situation, but think of it this way: Auburn came to Bryant-Denny with one of it's best teams ever, maybe it's best player ever, and played what, in no uncertain terms, was a rebuilding Tide team. Despite that, it took two freakish plays and a rash of injuries to key personnel for Auburn to escape with a 1-point victory. Not taking anything away from Auburn: they earned the win, they deserved to win. But they got a lot of help along the way, too.
Don't take this game as an indication that Auburn is on it's way up and Bama is on it's way down. Quite the opposite. This is as high as Auburn is going to be for a long time. And 9-3 is about as low as Bama is going to be for a good, long while, too. And it was a 1-point game. The future is bright for the Tide, and I'm really excited about the 2011 team.
In fact, I'll be back in the coming weeks to review the 2010 season as a whole and figure out what went right, what went wrong, and what it means moving forward, specifically next season (spoiler: it's positive.)
So it comes to this, does it?
The final showdown between two rivals, for the time being, and it is for all the Big 12 Marbles. It’s funny to think about in that context, but that is the reality of what we are facing on Saturday when Nebraska plays Oklahoma for a final time. I am not ruling out future meetings, but for all intents and purposes this should be treated as the last game of the rivalry. I am not going to break this down from a technical standpoint, but I am going to try and convey my emotions going into this game, and what I hope will happen.
On June 11th 2010 the Nebraska Cornhuskers were approved to make the jump to the Big 10 Conference and in all the madness that surrounded the move, the one thing that was never brought up was the end of two rivalries. I am not sure many of you can understand what it is like to know you have to make a new rival. It’s weird, I obviously have my intrapersonal rivalry with all my Ohio State supporting friends, I have a personal bitter rivalry with Michigan (1997 should still OUR National Championship), and the prospects of Nebraska/Iowa aka “FARMAGEDDON” The fact that remained was that we as Nebraska fans, lost our two biggest rivals in Colorado and Oklahoma. The Colorado rivalry was more prevalent since the two teams played every year, but to me, Oklahoma would always be the rivalry.
So what about the final game? What about the last game of a rivalry for the time being? I obviously hope Nebraska wins, but more than anything I want to beat our rival one more time on the (second) biggest stage of them all. I am not going to go overboard and want an absolute drubbing, but I do want to win, I want to win this game more than I wanted to win the Texas game, and that was the most hyped I have ever been for a Nebraska game. I don’t think many of you understand how great it would be to win this game; I am aware that many people have national titles, and conference titles, but you always come back the next year to defend and to repeat. This time there is no coming back; there is no repeating as champion, there is just THIS GAME. That’s it. I can’t think of anything that will be sweeter than having to watch Dan Beebe hand the Big 12 Title over to the Cornhuskers, and him knowing that, for the time being, we are the LAST Big 12 Championship Game winners. He already doesn’t want to give the Big 12 North Trophy over to the Huskers, and that’s fine, but he will HAVE to hand over the Big 12 Championship Trophy to Nebraska, and that will be even better. I wouldn’t even care if they won the Fiesta Bowl so long as I get to see that scene in Dallas on Saturday Night, and to take out your two main rivals in back to back weeks? That will be even sweeter. There will be none of me buying Tostitos, or scheduling out songs to play in the event of a win. There will only be a win...
...then we will play the songs, one last time!
Nebraska 20 – Oklahoma 17.
Friday, November 26, 2010
It'll be close, all of Auburn's games against good teams have been. And being at home, I think we'll see a better effort from the Bama defense than we saw in road losses to South Carolina and LSU. They are clearly a much different unit at home. But despite posting strong scoring defense numbers in Bryant-Denny (only 2 TDs allowed on defense), they have been far from dominant and haven't played any offense as lethal as Auburn's with Cam Newton. And when you watch the tape, all the things Bama does poorly on defense (tackling, playing assingment sound, containing the edge) are exactly the areas that Auburn typically exploits for huge numbers.
If we were talking about the 2009 defense taking the field today, I'd take Bama in a heartbeat. But this year's D just isn't ready yet, and the offense hasn't proved consistent enough to make up the difference.
Auburn 31, Alabama 27
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Much like the offense, the Auburn D is powered by one spectacular player, defensive tackle Nick Fairley. If something good happens for their defense, Fairley is usually the catalyst. His combination of power, quickness, and technique has generated 7.5 sacks, and he currently sits in the top 10 in tackles for a loss (18). I wasn't able to find a metric for the number of times he's blown up a play without getting tackle credit, but, trust me, it's happened a ton. (Again, I'm resisting the urge to make snide remarks about his penchant for putting questionable hits on the QB. 'Cause I'm classy like that. But, for real, he's dirty.) Most of Bama's focus in this game will have to be on reducing his impact. If they can keep him from busting up plays from the snap, the Tide should be successful attacking this D.
So here's some thoughts on how they might go about all that...
The interior Offensive Line needs to man up. On the offensive side of things, this has been my biggest disappointment of the year. The OL has unexpectedly lost the ability to dominate a game the way the 08 and 09 units did, and it's short-circuited what was supposed to be the strength of this year's offense: the two-head monster of Ingram and Richardson. Part of their struggles could be attributed to injuries (as of this writing, it's still unclear if All-SEC guard Barrett Jones will play on Friday), and part of it could be the result of all these teams with bye weeks coming up with special schemes to stop the run...But, if anything, the 2010 Tide offense is FAR less one-dimensional than the 09 squad and especially the 08 offense. Yet those lines rarely failed to assert their control over loaded boxes. These guys have just lost that will to dominate. I don't know if they don't have the right mix of guys or what, but there's really no excuse for how badly they were whipped by Drake Nevis at LSU. They even let GEORGIA STATE win the battle inside at the goalline and forced Ingram to run wide to score last week. That's embarrassing. And wouldn't you know it...the weakness of this offense is going to be matched up against the best Auburn has to offer in Fairley. If this OL can't find it within themselves to muster one solid 2009-caliber effort, it's going to be a "Honk if you sacked McElroy" kind of game. If they do, well, then you've got a ball game.
Jim McElwain is going to have to call another 09 SEC Championship Game. With the deficiencies at the point of attack duly noted, it's going to take another gem from McElwain if Bama is going to be successful. He's going to have to keep Auburn guessing all day like he kept the Gators guessing last season. This can't be a game where they run Ingram up the middle into the teeth of the defense for a quarter or two, and do nothing, before deciding to cut it loose. It didn't work against LSU, it didn't even work in the early going against Mississippi State. And if they go that route against Auburn, Bama is going to find themselves in a hole, playing catch up. A losing proposition, for sure. The offense must come out guns blazing. I mean, if this is the only game left that means something, then call it that way. Cut it loose. I actually liked some of the wrinkles McElwain threw into the Mississippi State game to blow it open (lining up Ingram out wide and throwing a screen to him, giving it to Julio on a speed sweep). MORE OF THAT. And if you're going to run Ingram, do it to the OUTSIDE. Hit them with those toss sweeps and counters. Keep the play away from Fairley and let those struggling interior linemen flatten linebackers and defensive backs on the edges.
Get the ball in Julio's hands. Look, guys...I understand how much you love Ingram. He had a legendary year in 09, and minus any lingering issues from the knee injury, he's probably an even better player now. I love him, too. But the offensive line has failed him. He's a square peg (literally, have you looked at him?) and they've become a round hole. It's just not happening. This is Julio's year. GIVE HIM THE BALL. The coaching staff has been fighting it all season, but it's been clear over the second half of the schedule that Julio is playing the best football of his career and is by far the best player right now. He caught 7 balls for 100+ yards AFTER he broke his hand against South Carolina. He beat a future Top 10 Draft pick to the point of it being a no-contest against LSU. This offense HAS to get him the ball more often, especially in this game. There is no one in Auburn's secondary that's a match for him. He's ready to dominate these guys. If the coaching staff can engineer at least 15 opportunities for him to get the ball in his hands, in the air or on the ground, starting early in the game, I think Bama is going to be in great shape to win it. It may cut into Mark's carries, but he'll have to understand. And they're buddies, so they can hash it out over a fishing trip or something.
And that's basically all. It's a seemingly simple task: minimize Fairley's impact. If Bama can do that, and then unleash Julio, they should have no trouble scoring enough points to win the game.
But will they?
I still have another 40 hours or so to figure that out. Be back with The Pick some time between now and then...
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
|1||Auburn||11-0||at #9 Alabama (9-2)||1|
|2||Oregon||10-0||#20 Arizona (7-3)||2|
|3||Boise State||10-0||at #19 Nevada (10-1)||3|
|4||TCU||11-0||at New Mexico (1-10)||4|
|6||LSU||10-1||at #11 Arkansas (9-2)||5|
|7||Stanford||10-1||Oregon State (5-5)||9|
|8||Ohio State||10-1||Michigan (7-4)||7|
|9||Alabama||9-2||#1 Auburn (11-0)||10|
|10||Michigan State||10-1||at Penn State (7-4)||11|
|11||Arkansas||9-2||#6 LSU (10-1)||12|
|12||Oklahoma St||10-1||#14 Oklahoma (9-2)||13|
|13||Virginia Tech||9-2||Virginia (4-7)||14|
|14||Oklahoma||9-2||at #12 Oklahoma St (10-1)||15|
|15||South Carolina||8-3||at Clemson (6-5)||17|
|17||Texas A&M||8-3||at Texas (5-6)||22|
|19||Nevada||10-1||#3 Boise State (10-0)||18|
|20||Arizona||7-3||at #2 Oregon (10-0)||23|
|22||NC State||8-3||at Maryland (7-4)||25|
|23||Miss State||7-4||at Ole Miss (4-7)||21|
|24||USC||7-4||Notre Dame (6-5)||19|
|25T||Iowa||7-4||at Minnesota (2-9)||20|
|Dropped Out: Northwestern|
|Also Receiving Votes: UCF, Florida, West Virginia, Ohio|
I'm not going to preface my advice with a big to-do about how great Cam Newton is. What's left to be said at this point? If you want more fawning over him, go read an Auburn blog or something. Not that I'm denying his greatness...because I'm not. He just doesn't need anymore hype from me. I think everyone for Bama is well aware of what the challenge is here. (And if it makes any Auburn fans feel better, I'm resolving to avoid snide remarks about his eligibility. FAIR AND BALANCED.)
So let's talk about that challenge. What's the #1 thing the Tide defense is going to have to do to slow down the Auburn defense*?
Force Auburn into 3rd and long situations. Now, I know you might say, "That's the key to slowing down any offense," and you'd be right. But it's especially true for Auburn because so much of their offense is centered around the run or the threat of the run. If you can put them in, say, a 3rd and 7, the Tigers have to chunk a huge portion of their playbook and ask Newton to do some things that he's not extremely good at doing. If the game can be boiled down to Newton passing the ball against a confounding Nick Saban nickel scheme, you have to like Nick Saban's odds to win that match more often than not.
However, as 11 teams have already learned, getting Auburn to 3rd and long ain't easy. And if you can get them in that situation, there's still no guarantee Newton won't turn a pass play into a 50 yard run. So how can the Tide do what no one else has? I HAVE SOME THOUGHTS...
Finish tackles at and behind the line of scrimmage. I think this has really been the bane of the Bama defense all year, even moreso than the young DBs struggling in coverage. You expect that. You don't expect a Nick Saban defense to whiff on as many tackles as this year's has. It might be an understatement to say that there have been dozens upon dozens of instances where a Tide defender or multiple defenders have had a play stopped for no gain or a loss only to fail to complete the tackle and let it go for a gain (often a substantial one). That can NOT happen against Auburn. Their spread scheme creates wide open spaces on the field. One missed tackle at or behind the line opens up a world of possibilities for a guy like Cam Newton. In fact, that's how he's made a lot of his hay this season. But it's not just him you have to worry about. Onterrio McCalebb is a homerun threat in the open field, and Michael Dyer will hurt you if he gets to the second level of your defense. Auburn is going to be enough of a problem for the Tide defense without giving them "bonus yards" on second chances when you've go the play sniffed out. Finishing those plays will be key to getting Auburn into the obvious 3rd down passing situations Bama needs to create if they're going to get Newton off the field.
Defensive linemen must keep Newton in front of them. Another way Newton has preyed on opposing defenses is by taking advantage of overeager defensive ends that rush past him upfield, creating huge running lanes to the outside. The key for Bama's DL will be to never get deeper than Newton and always keep him in their sights. To borrow an overused phrase, "Don't try to be a hero." Every week I see ends who think they're going to throw their best Dwight Freeney on the OL and be the guy who blows up Newton in the pocket, and every week, they fail. You may get him once doing that, but more often than not, he's going to take the escape route you just created and hit a big gain. The ends and rushing linebackers just need to focus on holding the edge and providing a solid contain, and simply let the interior linemen push the pocket into Newton's face and funnel him towards their waiting arms, as opposed to chasing him around the field like wildmen in a race they will surely lose. This is another way the Tide defense can limit Newton's ability to create "bonus yards" if coverage is doing it's job downfield. You may not be generating sacks, but a throwaway incompletion is a win. And is especially preferable over a 6, 15, 30, or 75 yard run by the quarterback.
Defensive backs must offer consistent run support and contain the edges. This has really irked me this year, but maybe I just got spoiled by bulldogs like Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson the past couple of seasons. The DBs have been some of the worst offenders when it comes to whiffing on tackles around the line of scrimmage, and they've been especially bad at knowing where they are in the play and what their role is in run support, specifically as it pertains to backside contain. Dre Kirkpatrick gets caught up in the trash and let's a run get outside him at least once a game. Robert Lester, for all his ballhawking skills, is a terribly inconsistent tackler. DeQuan Menzie does a lousy job getting off or around blocks at the Star position, at least by comparison to the standard Arenas set. Even the great Mark Barron has been guilty of overpursuing plays and losing track of his assignment this year. The only guy who seems to have gotten better as the season has gone on is DeMarcus Milliner, but is he mentally ready for the Auburn offensive scheme? Nobody attacks the edges quite as well as the Tigers have this year. Whether it's the 3 or 4 reverses they run every game, the fly sweeps and tosses to the deadly McCalebb, or just good ol' Newton busting out into the open field, they put your perimeter run defense to the test with regularity. If you can't contain it, you're done. They'll gash you all day. To win this game, this secondary must play far above the standard they've set thus far this season.
Defend the middle of the field in the passing game. Auburn doesn't do a lot in the passing game, partly because they don't have to, partly because, despite his gaudy passing efficiency rating, Newton is still not a very accomplished passer. He has a strong arm, but his accuracy is sketchy and his ability to make reads in a progression is unproven. I think Auburn OC Gus Malzahn has done a great job tailoring this offense around what Newton does well. But when you pay attention to the rare times Newton drops back to throw, he's throwing the same routes over and over again: 10 yard hitch on the sideline, 10 yard drag across the middle (usually to Darvin Adams), all the screen passes, the little crossing routes, the occasional deep throw. It's fairly rudimentary stuff that's easy to defend if you can get Auburn into obvious passing situations when you know it's coming (that being the afformentioned hard part). All that said, I've noticed one play in particular that has developed into what I'd call their "dagger" play in the passing game. (For my purposes, a dagger play is one you're ruthlessly effective at running and that is equally demoralizing to the defense.) It's a play action pass where they fake the read option then Newton pulls up and throws a middle seam route to either the tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen or slot receiver Emory Blake. They started running this more in the second half of the season, and they really like running it inside the 20 to get in the endzone. It plays to Newton's strengths because the run action creates some open spaces down field and allows him to simply power a throw through a large window off one read. And it really works on a defense's psyche because everyone focuses so much on that option, so when the tight end turns up in the endzone with the ball in his hands, it makes you question everything you're doing from that point forward. Bama MUST take that throw away from Newton (along with that 1o yard drag) and make him beat them to the outside where his mostly unrefined passing skills can present opportunities for the secondary to make plays on the ball.
And they can expect to see that middle seam to the tight end early, and perhaps often. Go watch tape of some of Bama's recent games. Ole Miss ran a similar play, but the TE dropped it off his hip with open field in front of him. LSU ran the exact same play as Ole Miss and completed it for a long gain. So did Mississippi State. So did GEORGIA STATE. I promise you Malzahn has seen the tape. If the Tide hasn't figured out how to stop that yet, they're going to lose. And by this point, maybe they would deserve to.
*"Slow down" is the operative term here. Even if the Bama defense shows up and tackles better than they have all season, covers better than they have all season, and makes fewer mental mistakes than they have all season, there is still going to be no "shutting down" this offense. Newton is going to get his yards. You have to be prepared to accept that. Even LSU (currently ranked #5 in total defense) gave up 500 yards to Auburn. In fact they were outgained by almost 300 yards in that game. But what was the final score? 24-17. Despite Newton and Auburn more than doubling them up in yardage, LSU slowed them down enough in key situations to be IN that game till the end. And if they had discovered an offense by that point in the season, they probably would have won it.
That's all Bama's D has to do. Just slow them down enough to let the offense win it.
I'll be back tomorow to talk about how they'll do that.
Friday, November 19, 2010
|3||Boise State||9-0||Fresno State (6-3)||4|
|5||LSU||9-1||Ole Miss (4-6)||5|
|6||Wisconsin||9-1||at Michigan (7-3)||6|
|7||Ohio State||9-1||at #20 Iowa (7-3)||8|
|8||Nebraska||9-1||at #22 Texas A&M (7-3)||7|
|9||Stanford||9-1||at Cal (5-5)||9|
|10||Alabama||9-2||Beat Georgia State 63 to 7||11|
|11||Mich State||9-1||Purdue (4-6)||10|
|12||Arkansas||8-2||at #21 Miss State (7-3)||13|
|13||Oklahoma St||9-1||at Kansas (3-7)||14|
|14||Virginia Tech||8-2||at Miami FL (7-3)||15|
|15||Oklahoma||8-2||at Baylor (7-4)||16|
|16||Missouri||8-2||at Iowa St (5-6)||20|
|17||South Carolina||7-3||Troy (5-4)||23|
|18||Nevada||9-1||New Mexico St (2-8)||22|
|19||USC||7-3||at Oregon St (4-5)||24|
|20||Iowa||7-3||#7 Ohio State (7-3)||12|
|21||Miss State||7-3||#12 Arkansas (8-2)||18|
|22||Texas A&M||7-3||#8 Nebraska (9-1)||-|
|24||Northwestern||7-3||vs Illinois (5-5)||-|
|25||NC State||7-3||at UNC (6-4)||-|
|Dropped Out: Utah, Florida, UCF|
|Also receiving votes: FSU, Northern Illinois, Temple, Utah, Miami FL|
Thursday, November 18, 2010
I'm not going to waste your time acting like this will be some sort of legitimate athletic contest. This is actually a pretty embarrassing situation with one of the most storied programs in college football history getting ready to beat the daylights out of a start-up program in its first year of play. And for what? A favor to a loser coach we ran off a couple decades ago? I don't get it. Nonetheless, we're going to play the game. Hopefully we'll put it away early without ultimately looking like total Bielemas for running it up against these Georgia State kids and keep everybody important healthy for Auburn next week.
The two things about this game I'm actually interested in?
1. How many people show up. Alabama actually has a pretty strong tradition of putting good crowds in the stands even for these walk-over games. However Bama rarely ever plays games on week nights. The last time the Tide played on a Thursday night during the regular season was against Southern Miss in 2001. The odd scheduling (arranged for the benefit of Bama's prep for Auburn next Friday), coupled with the lack of a strong opponent, could lead to quite a few people staying home. Throw in the general damper 2 losses have put on the general mood lately and you've got a recipe for wide open spaces in the stands tonight.
2. Will Georgia State get in the endzone? Alabama has only allowed 32 points at home this season through 5 games. Opponents have only managed to score 2 TDs in Bryant-Denny Stadium. That would be a pretty impressive stat to carry into the Iron Bowl. It's highly doubtful the Panthers will even get a sniff of the endzone against the 1st defense, but they may have some opportunities once the subs start coming in (maybe as soon as the 2nd quarter). This may be the one thing that keeps even me motivated to watch this game the whole way through.
Be back sometime soon to talk about the one game left that matters for Alabama...
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Alex: By far it is Texas's fall. How many teams go from losing the national championship game to possibly being last in the conference?
J Martin: It has to be Texas' fall. I never bought into the Garrett Gilbert craze, never thought he was going to step in and be an instant superstar after he made a few good throws against Alabama in the BCS title game. I never bought into this idea that Texas was suddenly going to become a pro-style, power running team and not miss a beat on offense despite not having the personnel to do it. And yet I also never thought we'd be here in the 2nd week of November wondering if Texas was even going to make a bowl. That's shocking. With the talent and the coaches that the Longhorns have, they should never, ever, lose 5 games in a year. But here they are, sitting at 4-5, staring down the barrel of two more.
Kevin: Texas is a huge surprise but I think Okie State is just as surprising. In our pre-season preview we picked Okie State DOA and chose them to come in a tie for 5th with Baylor. Phil Steele picked them dead last in the Big 12 South calling it a rebuilding year. ESPN said they would finish in 5th and 7-5.
Ross: The rise of Baylor, the fall of Texas, and the continued (and even greater) success of Oklahoma State have all been pretty remarkable surprises, but I'd have to say the freefall of Texas been the biggest stunner. In hindsight, it wasn't totally crazy to see Baylor and Oklahoma State being good since they each returned an offensive star (RB Kendall Hunter for Okie State, QB Robert Griffin for Baylor), although it would have been nuts to project this much success for them. But Texas slumming it at 4-5 and in real danger of not even making a bowl? That's absurd to even contemplate -- especially after seeing them get so thoroughly and comprehensively beaten by UCLA, Iowa State, Baylor, and Kansas State. None of those losses were fluky in the slightest -- Texas just got completely outplayed. For that to happen with a team with such obvious talent (unless the recruiting services were wildly inaccurate) is mind blowing. Barring an unlikely turnaround, this is going to go down as one of the most sudden, surprising, and inexplicable collapses of a major program in recent history.
Who is the Big 12 Player of the Year so far?
Alex: Taylor Martinez is your PotY. Nebraska would be dead in the water amongst Colorado and Kansas had it not been for his surprise appearance at QB this season.
J Martin: Can I give it to 2 guys if they're on the same team? Statistically, it's Justin Blackmon at Oklahoma State. He's in the top 2 in receptions per game, receiving yards per game, and scoring. The latter of which he's done despite missing a game due to suspension. He makes big plays and he makes them often. However, I'd also have to give credit to his quarterback Brandon Weeden. Someone has to get Blackmon the ball, right? I think Weeden's emergence as a quality spread quarterback has been the biggest factor in OSU's rise from being declared DOA in most preseason publications to a Top 25 team and possible conference champion.
Kevin: This is a toss up between Kendall Hunter (1240 yds, 6.1 ypc, 14 TD) and his QB Brandon Wheedon (leds the Big 12 in passing yds, yds/attempt, TD, QB rating, etc).
Ross: Baylor QB Robert Griffin III. Without him, Baylor's a 2-3 win team rather than being a legitimate conference title contender. He's leading the conference in total yards (416 yards rushing, 2859 yards passing), has accounted for 27 touchdowns, and he's the unquestioned leader of that team. He's been incredible. Oklahoma State has the league leaders in passing (Brandon Weeden), rushing (Kendall Hunter), and receiving (Justin Blackmon), but their combined excellence works against identifying one of them as the singular best player in the league.
What is the most interesting game left on the Big 12 schedule?
J Martin: There are far too many interesting games left on the Big 12 schedule. Can I cheat and give two answers again? As of today, it's Oklahoma State vs. Texas. That's a huge swing game for Texas' bowl hopes. If they win, they're in. They'll easily top FAU the next week. But if they lose...the Texas vs. Texas A&M showdown on Thanksgiving gets bigger than it's been in years, with the Aggies getting the chance to send Texas home for the holidays. There's nothing more interesting than watching a national power fall on it's face (as I have learned the hard way).
Kevin: I've got Oklahoma/Oklahoma State because this is the game that the Big 12 South should come down to. Plus, it's in Stillwater which should make this very very interesting.
Ross: Oklahoma-Oklahoma State. Not only is it the annual "Bedlam" game and a heated rivalry between two top programs that's seen a few upsets in recent years, but it's likely to be the game that decides the Big 12 South race this year. The stakes should be very high for this game, which ought to make it awfully intense. There's also a lot of star power in this game, since you have arguably the Big 12's two best quarterbacks (Weeden and Landry Jones), two best running backs (Hunter and DeMarco Murray), and two best wide receivers (Blackmon and Ryan Broyles). This game has all the makings of a wild shootout between two high-powered, star-laden offenses, which should make for a pretty exciting affair.
Who wins the Big 12 South?
J Martin: I like Oklahoma State. Baylor is having a nice year, but it's hard to take them seriously as a legit title contender. Same with Texas A&M. And after the Sooners' loss to A&M, it's perfectly conceivable that they could slip up against Baylor or Texas Tech and take themselves out of the running before they get to Okie State. Meanwhile, unless Texas can muster another Nebraska-caliber effort this weekend, the Cowboys are playing a one-game season from this point forward. The odds are in their favor.
Kevin: Right now I'm leaning towards Okie State because they have the home-field advantage in the final game. Ask me again next week and the answer could be very different.
Ross: I think Oklahoma State edges Oklahoma on the basis of an easier schedule and home-field advantage in their season-ending clash. Texas is reeling and Kansas is dreadful, which should enable Okie State to get to 6-1. Oklahoma should be able to handle Texas Tech at home, but they've struggled on the road and Baylor will be very tricky. Assuming they get by that game, a season-ending road game against Oklahoma State looks pretty daunting, too. Baylor and Texas A&M are out of the running since Oklahoma State already has head-to-head wins over them and they'd need Okie State to drop TWO more games in their final three -- which doesn't seem likely.
Has Tommy Tuberville's debut season at Texas Tech been a success?
Alex: I say yes as it is hard to gage a coaches success rate over the first season. Texas Tech made a huge mistake when they fired (and not just reprimand) Leech. Tubbs needs his own players for his system and do remember he was on the way out of Auburn before exploding with 2 and 1/2 great seasons. He is holding his own, give him three more years before the axe comes crashing down at a school without any expectations.
J Martin: I think he's mostly succeeded at maintaining the status quo under Mike Leach (win 7-9 games consistently) while avoiding the meltdown that a lot of Tech fans feared when considering Tub's last foray into the spread offense. That was probably the best case scenario for this season.
Kevin: I wouldn't call it a "success" but it's not a failure. Tech should go 2-1 in their last 3 which would put them at 7-5. If he continually posts 7-5 then that's not what Tech wants but if he can build on this season then I think we can look back on it as a success.
Ross: If he can string together three more wins and close out at 8-4, it would be a pretty solid season. Anything less than that would be pretty disappointing. The wins over Baylor and Missouri are nice, but the losses are embarrassing, especially the games against Texas (in light of what they've become) and Iowa State (Tech collapsed in ugly fashion against them). Plus, this was a very vulnerable Big 12 and a favorable schedule for them -- no Nebraska, the worst Texas team in well over a decade, and an Oklahoma team that's good but not great -- so only mustering a 7-5 schedule with that would be pretty lackluster. 8-4 still wouldn't be great, but it would at least be palatable. Still, it's hard to look at this season and think that Mike Leach couldn't have done more -- and possibly led Texas Tech on the breakthrough season that Oklahoma State instead seems to be enjoying.
Friday, November 12, 2010
OUT: Tim Brewster
2010 Record: 1-6
Record at Minnesota: 15-30 overall, 6-21 conference
Tim Brewster was a prime candidate to get axed coming into this season and did little to help himself through the first month of the season, yet he somehow evaded my first roundup of coaches on the hot seat. Pure negligence on my part. And now he's gone. Brewster had never been so much as a coordinator at the college level, nor a head coach at any level, when Minnesota tabbed him to be their head coach in 2007. Apparently they had grown dissatisfied with Glen Mason's consistent ability to get the Gophers to a bowl game (5 in a row at the time of his ouster, 7 bowls in 10 seasons overall), but not much else, and decided a guy with no experience whatsoever held the key to taking UM to the next level. And it was a disaster. Despite some favorable scheduling allowing the Gophers to sneak into back to back Insight Bowls, it was clear the program was regressing all the while, ultimately bottoming out in this miserable season. Brewster leaves Minnesota never having beaten any of the school's chief rivals and never winning a single one of those 1,001 trophies they have in the Big 10.
Potential Candidates: Everyone from Tony Dungy, Phil Fulmer, and Mike Leach has had their name attached to this job. Obviously none of those guys are realistic candidates. I talked a bit about this already in this week's Big 10 Q&A, so I'll reiterate that the best, and in my opinion most likely, candidates are successful non-BCS head coaches like Kevin Sumlin from Houston and Al Golden from Temple. Sumlin previously spent some time at Minnesota as an assistant. This is not a great job, but it's not a bad one either. They can get a good coach, but they're not going to get the big names (like Jim Harbaugh) or the elite assistants (like Gus Malzahn).
OUT: Dan Hawkins
2010 Record: 3-6
Record at Colorado: 19-39 overall, 10-27 conference
In their last season in the Big 12, the Buffaloes went out with a whimper, and so to did Dan Hawkins. After a hugely disappointing 2009 season, there was little hope for improvement this season, but a lack of financial resources (aka their boosters suck) kept them from turfing Hawkins. The Hawk leaves Boulder having taken the Buffs to just one bowl game (an Independence Bowl loss to Alabama in 2007) and never posting a winning record. His teams were an astounding 2-24 outside the state of Colorado. Basically, his entire tenure at CU was one big public service announcement for the likes of Chris Peterson and Gary Patterson: Be sure you've got the right job before you leave your mid-major utopia. They ain't all Florida.
Potential Candidates: Though they seemingly came up with the cash to send Hawkins packing, there's still no indication that they're in financial shape to make competitive offers for the better candidates looking to hop aboard The Carousel. There's a reason Bill McCartney is a serious contender for the job. He'll come cheap, and he has enough positive vibes attached to his name to satisfy a portion of the base. It also helps that Kansas State has had moderate success since bringing back another old Bill last year. I honestly think he'll be the coach there. If not, the Buffs are realistically looking at second tier assistants and the like. Best case scenario here is maybe enticing Troy Calhoun to come over from Air Force, but he's turned down better jobs.
Now let's get happy. Take a look at some coaches who were on the hot seat heading into this season but have managed to significantly improve their situation since we last checked in on them.
Ralph Friedgen, Maryland
2010 Record: 6-3
Given the low standards for achievement that currently exist at Maryland, I think Friedgen has done enough to ensure he gets another year. The Terrapins are going to a bowl. Everything else is gravy. It would take going 0-3 the rest of the way and losing the bowl game before anyone there is going to reconsider Friedgen's job.
Next 2 weeks: at Virginia, vs. Florida State
Chances for Survival: 95%
Ron Zook, Illinois
2010 Record: 5-4
This team has really surprised me. Those "replace all the assistants to keep your job" gambits rarely pan out. I give most of the credit to new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, who's managed to squeeze some life out of an offense that had been increasingly moribund since the departure of Rashard Mendenhall, but Zook will reap the rewards of another year as head coach. The one hitch here could be that two of the Illini's wins have come against FCS competition, meaning they have to hit 7 wins to be bowl eligible. However, Illinois' last 3 games are all winnable, and I imagine the administration was in on the scheme to fluff up the win total at the possible expense of post season play. 6 wins should give the return of the Zooker in 2011.
Next 2 weeks: vs. Minnesota, @ Northwestern
Chances for Survival: 80%
Now for a couple of guys who've helped themselves over the past several games but aren't quite out of the woods just yet.
ON THE EDGE OF THEIR SEATS
Rich Rodriguez, Michigan
2010 Record: 6-3
RichRod is going to a bowl. Coming into the season, that seemed to be the top criteria for retaining his job. Thanks to that 67-65 win over Illinois, he's done it. With a game against 4-5 Purdue coming up this weekend, 7 wins is within reach. All that said, this Michigan team hasn't made it look easy, even in wins (see 67-65), and as great as the offense has looked with Denard Robinson, the defense has shown no signs of improvement. If anything it's regressed, and that's what's holding this team back. So there's still reason for important, influential people surrounding the program to think a change is in order. Especially considering many of those people HATE Rich the way Rich hates Tate Forcier. An upset loss to Purdue would put him in peril once again. On the other hand, an upset win over Wisconsin or Ohio State would shut everyone up. I think Rich is still living game to game. His chances for survival might look much different next week.
Next 2 weeks: @ Purdue, vs. Wisconsin
Chances for Survival: 70%
Mark Richt, Georgia
2010 Record: 5-5
Five games into the season, I was pretty sure the only thing that could save Richt's job was his enormous buyout (somewhere in the neighborhood of $10mil, allegedly). But UGA regrouped at home and got their act together against bottom dwellers Tennessee and Vanderbilt, ultimately ripping off 3 straight wins. A win against Florida would have gotten him off this list completely, but his Bulldogs at least looked competitive in defeat. However, Richt now finds himself in the untenable position of needing to win at least one out of his last 2 games to reach bowl eligibility. And if Cam Newton plays (all indications are he will as of now), Georgia has no shot of beating the Tigers. So that boils the whole season down to their big game with Georgia Tech. The Yellowjackets haven't looked much better than Georgia this year, but it's a rivalry game. You just never know how those are going to shake out. A loss there will make for quite the awkward Thanksgiving weekend in Athens.
Next 2 weeks: at Auburn, vs. Georgia Tech
Chances for Survival: 70%
And then there's this guy...
PLEASE COLLECT YOUR PERSONAL BELONGINGS BEFORE EXITING
Dennis Erickson, Arizona State
2010 Record: 4-5
Similar to Illinois, the Sun Devils elected to pad their win total with 2 games against FCS opponents this season. In order to reach bowl eligibility, they will have to win out the rest of the way to get to a bowl and save Erickson's job. The good news is two of those games are at home where they've played a bit better than on the road. The bad news is one of those games is against mighty Stanford, who ASU doesn't have a snowball's chance in Dennis Erickson's seat of beating.
Next 2 weeks: vs. Stanford, vs. UCLA
Chances for Survival: 10%
Finally, we have one new addition to the watch.
Robbie Caldwell, Vanderbilt
2010 Record: 2-7
Caldwell only has his job because Bobby Johnson quit to close to the start of the season for Vanderbilt to get anybody else. Since taking over, the Commodores have been awful under his watch, the lone bright spot being stealing a win from Ole Miss early in the Jeremiah Masoli experiment. Since then, they've barely even been competitive in the SEC. Vanderbilt isn't as ruthless as other SEC schools when it comes to demanding results, but I can't see them tolerating this much longer. No one there was really happy with how Johnson basically left his coaching staff on their doorstep in the middle of the night. Barring a major upset down the stretch (say, against Tennessee), they're going to clean house and start over very soon.
Next 2 weeks: at Kentucky, vs. Tennessee
Chances for Survival: 10%
Thursday, November 11, 2010
LAST WEEK: 4-2
#24 KANSAS STATE (6-3, 3-3) @ #17 MISSOURI (7-2, 3-2) (FSN, 12:30pm EST)
In all likelihood, this is the battle to determine the runner-up to Nebraska this year, since the Cornhuskers already have wins over both the Wildcats and the Tigers; Nebraska would need to lose two of their final three remaining games. Two of their final three games are home dates with Kansas and Colorado; a loss in one of those games doesn't seem hugely probable at all. Thus, welcome to the Big 12 North runner-up derby. K-State is coming off a total beatdown of Texas and while Texas may be a huge disappointment and underachiever this year, there's still something to be said for so thoroughly dismantling them. On the flip side, Missouri is coming off a come-from-ahead loss to Texas Tech in which they leapt out to a 17-0 lead and then apparently went home, letting Texas Tech score the next 24 points and win the game. Mizzou has lost two in a row (they lost to Nebraska the week before last) and could use a win here to at least keep alive the hope of a 10-win season and a decent bowl trip. K-State has been brutally one-dimensional on offense (run run run), but it's hard to see that being enough against a surprisingly good Mizzou defense.
THE PICK: MISSOURI 24, KANSAS STATE 14
#20 VIRGINIA TECH (7-2, 5-0) @ NORTH CAROLINA (6-3, 3-2) (ABC/ESPN, 3:30pm EST)
For all intents and purposes, Virginia Tech has all but locked up their umpteenth Coastal division title since the league split into divisions in 2005 (OK, technically their fourth division title in the last six years). They would need to lose two of their final three games to not claim the Coastal crown yet again; anything's possible in the topsy-turvy world of the ACC, but that seems like a tall order, given how well VT is generally playing now. North Carolina scored a big (and surprising) road win over Florida State when FSU once again fell victim to "Wide Right," but it may be asking a lot for their battered and beleagured team to come up with a similar effort against a rested VT team. Here's guessing they keep it close for a while, but VT is able to pull away in the second half.
THE PICK: VIRGINIA TECH 27, NORTH CAROLINA 17
PENN STATE (6-3, 3-2) @ #9 OHIO STATE (8-1, 4-1) (ABC/ESPN, 3:30pm EST)
A month ago, this game looked like a total laugher for OSU, another speedbump on their way to the (potential) conference-deciding showdown with Iowa on 11/20. Then Penn State's freshman QB Robert Bolden got hurt and PSU turned to little-used walk-on QB Matt McGloin. Improbably, McGloin sparked the offense and has led them to three straight wins and rejuvenated hope of a decent season in Happy Valley. Mind you, those wins do come with some caveats -- they came against Minnesota, Michigan, and Northwestern, three of the worst pass defenses in the league (and, in the case of Michigan and Minnesota, defenses that frankly aren't good at much of anything). Ohio State represents a quantum leap in quality from what Penn State has been playing the past few weeks, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Two of those three wins also came in the friendly confines of Happy Valley, while the lone road win was in Minneapolis -- not exactly hostile territory these days. Columbus, OH, on the other hand, will be very hostile territory. OSU has occasionally looked a bit shaky on the road, but they've been positively murderous at home and they're going to be too much for an inexperienced PSU team. McGloin may be able to keep it close for a bit, but that's about it.
THE PICK: OHIO STATE 31, PENN STATE 13
GEORIGA (5-5, 3-4) @ #1 AUBURN (10-0, 6-0) (CBS, 3:30pm EST)
Ah, the first of our SEC triple-header to close out this week. This game looked intriguing a few weeks ago, but primarily as a potential trap game for Auburn. There were reasons to like Georgia anyway -- an offense that's become increasingly dynamic over the course of the season, an extra week to prepare, the hoary old "anything can happen in a rivalry game" chestnut, the possibility of Auburn looking ahead to Alabama -- but then Newtongate happened and things got even crazier. At this point, it's almost hard to remember that Auburn ACTUALLY HAS TO PLAY A GAME ON SATURDAY. With probably the biggest news story of the year swirling around them and a potential national title shot still on the line, the Auburn players have to go out and perform against a Georgia team with nothing to lose. Can you say "pressure"? If he even plays, will the controversy surrounding Newton derail his (and Auburn's) incredible season? It's impossible to say. Literally, any result in this game seems plausible; Auburn could come out flat and distracted and get smoked by a Georgia team better than its 5-5 record. Conversely, they could come out pissed off and motivated and destroy Georgia. Or it could be a nail-biter won by either team -- or anything in-between. For now, I'm assuming that Newtown plays and that he comes out using the controversy as motivational fodder. But that could certainly be dead wrong.
THE PICK: AUBURN 38, GEORGIA 34
#23 SOUTH CAROLINA (6-3, 4-3) @ #22 FLORIDA (6-3, 4-3) (ESPN, 7:15pm EST)
Two teams going in opposite directions. After an ugly 3-game losing streak, Florida's rebounded to win two in a row and in the 55-14 rout of Vanderbilt last week, the offense actually looked (gasp) good. Meanwhile, South Carolina got blasted on its own field by Arkansas and lost for the second time in four games, with the two losses sandwiching unimpressive wins over Vanderbilt and Tennessee. On the other hand, the counter-argument is that South Carolina sandbagged the Arkansas game because they knew it had no bearing on their main goal, an SEC East title. The division title comes down to this game, with the winner getting the honor (?) of meeting Auburn (or possibly LSU) in the SEC Championship Game. The key question for South Carolina is whether or not they can turn the clock back a month and play like they did when they stomped a mudhole all over Alabama and established themselves as the dominant team in the East. They've dozed through their four games since then (going 2-2, as noted) and haven't looked remotely as dominant. Florida remains a flawed team -- let me know when the offense looks menacing against something other than the pussycat Vanderbilt defense -- and for once, South Carolina may actually have the more talented team, at least in terms of starters. But it's hard to bet against Urban Meyer in big games and easy to bet against perpetual choke artists like South Carolina -- especially when their own performances over the past month have been so listless.
THE PICK: FLORIDA 28, SOUTH CAROLINA 24
#19 MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-2, 3-2) @ #12 ALABAMA (7-2, 4-2) (ESPN2, 7:15pm EST)
Mississippi State has somewhat amazingly -- and quietly -- remained in the polls for a full month now. Mississippi State! If you had told me before the season that at this point in the season Mississippi State and Alabama would have the same record I... would not have believed you. That said, same record = teams of equal quality. Mississippi State's best win was over a reeling Florida team; since then they also have a pair of narrow wins over UAB and Kentucky and an offense that can only do one thing well: run the ball. Their defense is stout, but against a pissed-off Alabama offense that may not matter. Bama at home, at night, off a loss... hard to see this one going well for Mississippi State, no matter how surprising they've been this season.
THE PICK: ALABAMA 31, MISSISSIPPI STATE 13
ESTABLISH THE RUN AND CONTROL THE CLOCK
Georgia's best defense against Auburn's high powered attack and Cam Newton might just be to keep them off the field. Statistically Auburn is pretty good against the run as they are 18th Nationally giving up 114 yards per game. That being said, Georgia is ranked 14th Nationally and we've seen them give up some big yardage on the ground to the likes of South Carolina, Colorado and Mississippi State. Georgia needs to establish Washaun Ealey and Caleb King early and then work off of the play-action pass and get the ball to it's playmakers: A.J. Green (85 rec yards/game and 7 TD in 6 games), Kris Durham (9th in the Nation at 19.7 ypc), Orson Charles and Tavarres King (3rd in the Nation at 20.4 ypc). Redshirt Freshman Aaron Murray has shown a lot of poise and moxie this year and is currently the 18th ranked QB in terms of passer efficiency in the nation. Murray had a tough first half against Florida but battled back to come very close to leading Georgia to a come from behind win. Murray has to come out poised and settled in the first half of this game as the atmosphere will be wild. The more Georgia can control the clock the more it's defense will be rested and fresh when Cam and Auburn have the ball.
WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE
Georgia has done a much better job this year than they did last year in terms of turnovers. In 2009, Georgia finished 118th out of 120 teams. This year Georgia is 21st in the country in turnover margin. Unfortunately, Georgia lost the turnover battle against Florida and that was the single deciding factor in their loss in Jacksonville. Georgia turned the ball over 4 times and got just 1 turnover and they lost the game in Overtime. Georgia needs to protect the ball against Auburn and not put themselves in a position where they have to defend on a short field.
When you are playing an undefeated team that is in the National Championship hunt there is no settling for Field Goals. Georgia needs to attack and they need to score Touchdowns. Auburn's defense has given up some points this year (43 to Arkansas, 34 to Kentucky, 31 to Mississippi) as they rank 55th in scoring defense. Georgia has had 47 red zone attempts this year but has settled for a FG in 27% of these situations. This is a game where Georgia needs to go for the jugular when they smell blood.
I think those are the 3 biggest things Georgia can do to win this football game. I also think it's important for Georgia not to get down early. The Auburn fans are looking for an opportunity to let out their emotions. If Georgia can get up early they could calm the beasts that will be in the stands on Saturday. If Auburn gets up by a score or two early it will be total pandemonium. I also think Special Teams will be very important. Georgia needs to get points out of their Special Teams, and I already mentioned that I don't want them to settle for FGs so that means that Brandon Boykin and Brandon Smith need to make something happen. I think Georgia has a legitimate shot to win this game but right now I am leaning towards Auburn winning this game by about 10 points. Despite losing 5 games this year Georgia has only lost by a total of 35 points and their biggest loss came by only 12 points. Georgia will be in this game. Can they make the plays to shock the Top 25 and their rival?
Alex: Even after tanking against Iowa, Michigan State has a chance to slip into the Rose Bowl. Iowa/Ohio State is the toughest game any of these teams have to face, with Michigan State/Penn State a close second. If Michigan State were to blow the game Wisconsin is Pasadena bound. However to answer the question I still feel Iowa is the best team in the Big 10 in the slimmest of margins over Wisconsin.
J Martin: My instinct is to say Ohio State is still the "best" team by virtue of having the most talent of anybody in the conference. However, they lost convincingly to by far the best team they've played and haven't been challenged otherwise, so I feel like I don't really know this team as well as the others. Conversely, there's a fair amount of empirical evidence supporting Wisconsin as the best of the bunch. They thumped OSU at home, then went on the road and edged out Iowa on the road in consecutive weeks. That's awfully impressive.
Kevin: I've got Wisconsin. They lost to Michigan State but since then they have beat Ohio State and Iowa. Ohio State hasn't beaten anybody and Iowa has 2 losses. If Iowa routes Ohio State I might be persuaded to change my opinion.
Ross: TBD until after the Iowa-Ohio State game, but right now it's either Iowa or Wisconsin. Wisconsin went 2-1 against the other three teams, losing fairly badly to MSU but getting an impressive win over OSU and winning a squeaker over Iowa. Iowa has the most impressive win of the lot with their 37-6 beatdown of MSU, but they also lost that game to Wisconsin. Gun to my head right now I'd probably say Wisconsin by a hair.
RichRod is 6-3 and Ron Zook is 5-4. Will they be retained or shown the door?
Alex: I do not feel as if either coach should be shown the door. They have beaten the teams they should have, and lost to the upper echelon of the Big 10. I have never felt that either team was ready to break out of the middle tier. Illinois can still be an 8-win team as it has a better defense and no offensive juggernauts left in the schedule. Giving Michigan 65 points was just an anomaly, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Fresno State will not touch that figure. Michigan is looking at a 7 or 8 win season. Wisconsin is a loss, Purdue is a win and Ohio State is an unknown. Michigan is tired of getting beaten on by the Buckeyes and they might just make a big splash in the Ohio State pond, which would lock RichRod in for another season.
J Martin: I think both of those guys are going to stick around. Rodriguez probably needs to beat Purdue this weekend just to be sure, but he's at least done the minimum amount necessary to keep his job. Plus, he's got Denard coming back, and he can sell his ability to maximize his talents as opposed to starting over with a new coach and a new offensive philosophy. Zook isn't quite there yet, but I feel pretty good about his odds of beating Minnesota and maybe even going out west and beating Fresno. They should probably just make Paul Petrino head coach, though.
Kevin: I do think they both deserve a chance to come back and build on what they have accomplished so far this year (barring a complete collapse at the end of the year).
Ross: Both will be retained. Rodriguez should win at least seven games this regular season (they ought to beat Purdue this week) and they could certainly win a bowl game for an 8th total win, depending on the match-up. It's also not completely unreasonable that they could pull off an upset of Wisconsin or Ohio State, given their incredibly explosive offense. Either way, 7-8 wins and one of the nation's best offenses should get Rodriguez another year -- provided he agrees to make some changes on defense. Zook will be retained with a few more wins -- which seems like with three more games against Minnesota, Northwestern, and Fresno State. With a bowl game, they could win nine games, which would be remarkable. As it is, a 7-5 regular season seems like a good bet -- and that's good progress after the last two disastrous seasons.
Who is the Player of the Year in the Big 10 so far?
Alex: Denard Robinson from Michigan. This will change by years end but he got Michigan off to a rocketing start which may well help Rich stay in Ann Arbor. Robinson is currently 1st in Rushing, 2nd in Total Offense, 6th in Passing and 7th in scoring. There is not one Big 10 player that can boast such numbers. The fact that he is out with an injury is what will cost him this title by years end, but there is no way to deny him the pole position as we stand in early November.
J Martin: Denard, of course. He's very impressive for a guy who's probably only logged about 6 games worth of field time.
Kevin: From a statistics stand point Denard looks very good but I have a problem picking a "Player of the Year" from a team that is 2-3 in the conference. So it's John Clay of Wisconsin. Leads the league in rushing TDs and is 2nd to only Denard in yards rushing.
Ross: It's Denard Robinson and it's not even close -- 118/186, 1814 passing yards, 13/7 TD/INT, 183 carries, 1349 rushing yards, 12 TD. And he did that despite missing time in every game this season because of injury. He's been simply sensational and the leading reason why Michigan's offense has gone from "good" to "amazing."
Where does Nebraska fit in next year? Will they be the pre-season favorite to win the Big 10?
Alex: Nebraska is going to be a middle of the pack team. I would say 4th at very best but probably around 6th. The Big 12 is not as defensive minded as the Big 10, and Nebraska is not as good now as many think they are. If they get better a solid fourth is in the future, but if they get worse a battle with Michigan or Illinois for 5th and 6th place could be in store for the Huskers. Also note that many of these transitions do not go as planned. The ACC brought Miami, BC, and Virginia Tech into the fold and the one that they WANTED to contend for the title (Miami) did not. VT and BC have had very good success since the transition. In the SEC Arkansas and South Carolina were brought in before the 92 season and neither has won a conference championship. This is not Nebraska walking into an inferior conference, and the Huskers best remember that.
J Martin: They'll be one of the two most talented teams in the conference the moment they set foot through the door. Whether they'll be the favorite to win the conference depends on if Pryor comes back to play his senior year at Ohio State. The Buckeyes with a superstar QB will always get the benefit of a doubt. But Taylor Martinez and that Pelini defense will give them a battle for it, that's for sure.
Kevin: I'm tempted to pick Nebraska first in the Big Ten out of the gate. If Roy Helu Jr wasn't a Jr I probably would. At this point I'm slotting them 2nd or 3rd but they have a legit shot at winning and contending for the Big Ten title next year.
Ross: It's hard to say without knowing exactly what Nebraska returns next year, but based on their play this year, they should be a solid contender -- but not an overwhelming favorite by any means. The schedule -- games against Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State -- will prevent that. They should probably finish in the top five of the league, though.
Who should Minnesota turn to in order to turn their program around?
Alex: You could ask me this for any struggling team in the nation and my first choice will always be Mike Leech. He has done more for the passing game than anyone in the past two or three decades. If he can bring TTech to a nationally recognized level, he can do it for any team. Other choices include Skip Holtz, and Art Briles.
J Martin: There are a lot of positives to the Minnesota job, but the program was run into the ground over the past few years. It now safely qualifies as a "rebuilding job." For this sort of rebuilding job in particular, I'd look for an up-and-coming head coach still looking to make a name for himself a the BCS level that will be willing to really hustle for the program. Someone like Kevin Sumlin from Houston or Al Golden from Temple. Both have already had their names linked and both would be good choices. The last thing you want to do is hire some tired retread head coach or roll the dice on a hotshot assistant with no head coach experience.
Kevin: From an outsiders perspective I see Minnesota as a team that is going to have a really tough time contending for the upper echelon of the Big Ten year in and year out. Because of that I would go the Georgia Tech route. Get Ken Niumatalolo of Navy (23-12). Doing this causes Minnesota to be a difficult game for everybody on their schedule once they get some kids in to run the offense. The Big Ten is having a lot of trouble trying to stop Rich Rod and Michigan just imagine what would happen if you threw in an option type offense for them to have to deal with as well.
Ross: That's tough to answer, since I don't exactly want to see Minnesota improve their fortunes. That said, assuming Minnesota can't get one of the seeming home run hires like Chris Peterson or Gary Patterson or Jim Harbaugh (and they aren't going to get a guy like that), they should focus on a guy who's really hungry to prove himself and who understands the Big Ten well. The last thing they need is a retread like Phil Fulmer or Lou Holtz. Someone like Don Treadwell (the current Michigan State offensive coordinator) might be a good fit.