Posted on: January 14, 2011 12:29 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Earlier today, our own Dennis Dodd posted his pre-preseason top 25 for the 2011 college football season. We here at the College Football Blog wouldn't dare disagree with our esteemed colleague's opinions ... but every year there's teams that vastly exceed the expectations of even the wisest prognosticators (like, say, Auburn in 2010) and some that disappoint despite some seemingly major advantages (like, say, Iowa in 2010).
So later today we'll name five more teams we think can crack Dodd's top 25 next season, and right now we'll name five that are in his top 25 that might slip out ... or, at least, fail to live up to where they're currently placed. Without further ado (and in no particular order):
1. Auburn (15). Slipping from first to 15th already seems like quite a slide, but the Tigers' losses are so major they could easily fall even further. The offensive line loses four starters representing approximately 200 collective career starts; Nick Fairley's departure is only the capper for an entire defensive tackle rotation that must be replaced; Auburn's two best linebackers are graduated, along with the best corner and best safety; and, oh yeah, that Cam Newton guy will be replaced by either a redshirt junior who's never started a game (Barrett Trotter) or a true freshman (Kiehl Frazier). The schedule also turns nasty, with this year's home dates against South Carolina, LSU, Arkansas, and Georgia all on the road. Gus Malzahn's continued presence means Auburn will have a fighting chance of getting back to eight or nine wins, but a bad break here or there could leave Gene Chizik's bunch outside the top 25 entirely.
2. Michigan State (9). The Spartans lived on the margins somewhat in 2010, needing big late comebacks to beat teams like Northwestern and Purdue while stumbling badly against more talented teams like Iowa and Alabama. And now Mark Dantonio loses three senior offensive linemen, soul-of-the-defense All-American linebacker Greg Jones, and offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, who took the vacant Miami (Ohio) head coaching position. For a team that may have already been not-quite-as-good as their record, those are big blows.
3. South Carolina (17). Their appearance on this list isn't necessarily about the Gamecocks themselves, though the losses of end Cliff Matthews on defense and guard Garrett Chisolm on offense will be larger than people think. It's about their SEC divisional rivals at Florida and Georgia bouncing back from subpar seasons, and a schedule that hands them tough road trips to Athens, Knoxville, Starkville, and Fayetteville. It's the sort of slate that likely has four losses on it lurking somewhere.
4. Northwestern (24). We love the plucky Wildcats as much as anyone, but the way the 'Cats were memorably run over at Wrigley by Illinois, it's hard to see them being physical enough to make that much headway in the new-and-improved Big Ten. Five of their seven 2010 wins came by a total of just 15 points, and for a quarterback whose underrated running skills are as much a part of his success as his throwing accuracy, Dan Persa's Achilles injury is a killer.
5. Oklahoma State (7). OK, so with Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon back and the Big 12 South not yet back to its 2008 glory days, it's not likely for the Cowboys to slip all the way out of the top 25. But the Cowboys haven't always done well with the kind of expectations they'll be dealing with in 2011, the defense still needs major work, and without Kendall Hunter the Pokes will have to work to ensure the running game can keep opponents from simply blanketing the Weeden-to-Blackmon connection. But the biggest loss by far is Dana Holgorsen, without whom the 2009 Cowboy offense was shut out by Oklahoma even with weapons like Hunter and Zac Robinson around. If Mike Gundy doesn't find a quailty replacement, the Cowboys may wind up as 2011's most overrated team.
Tags: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Barrett Trotter, Big 12, Big Ten, Brandon Weeden, Cam Newton, Cliff Matthews, Dan Persa, Dana Holgorsen, Don Treadwell, Florida, Garrett Chisolm, Gene Chizik, Georgia, Greg Jones, Gus Malzahn, Illinois, Iowa, Iowa, Justin Blackmon, Kendall Hunter, Kiehl Frazier, LSU, Mark Dantonio, Miami (Ohio), Michigan State, Mike Gundy, Nick Fairley, Northwestern, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Purdue, South Carolina, Zac Robinson
Posted on: January 1, 2011 4:41 pm
Edited on: January 1, 2011 7:21 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Alabama dominates Michigan State from start to finish, bludgeoning the Spartans 49-7.
Offense: The Tide were entirely too physical for the Spartans from the get-go, with both members of the Mark Ingram-Trent Richardson tag team at running back punishing State tacklers of all varieties, particularly at the goal line. The Alabama offensive line mauled the Spartan defensive front, giving the backs huge lanes and quarterback Greg McElroy all day to throw. Julio Jones simply abused the defensive backs assigned to cover him (as shown). And McElroy showed off the precision that marked his 2009 national title run, completing 13 of his 17 passes for a whopping 12.9 yards per attempt.
Yes, that should about cover it. But somehow, given the degree of domination -- 265 first-half yards to Sparty's 67 and an easy touchdown on the first possession of the second half to push the lead to 35-0 -- it doesn't. GRADE: A
Defense: Just as overwhelming as the Tide offense. Led by a huge game from linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Nico Johnson, the Tide so limited what had been one of the Big Ten's best rushing attacks that the Spartans finished the day with -48 rushing yards. (Yes, that's right: 48 rushing yards fewer than no rushing yards at all.) The Tide pass rush did everything to poor pounded State quarterback Kirk Cousins (who left the game in the third quarter after a particularly brutal sack) but tap dance on his helmet. It took until the dying minutes of the third quarter (by which point 'Bama had already pulled many of their starters) for the Spartans to even crack triple digits in total offense. In all, a total whitewashing. GRADE: A
Coaching: The Tide came out focused and motivated, immediately applied the boot to Sparty's throat, and never removed it. Can't ask for anything more than that. GRADE: A
Offense: Cousins led a couple of nice first-half drives, one that reached the Alabama 32 and another the Tide 2. But he also had a major hand in submarining both those drives, throwing a Robert Lester interception to end the first and (following a crucial illegal substitution penalty that pushed the ball back to the 7) fumbling on yet another sack to end the second.
After those, well, the Spartan offense's day would be best summed up by a montage of quarterbacks desperately scrambling back to cover a ball 10 yards behind them, State receivers dragged down 10 yards behind the line-of-scrimmage on futile end-arounds, and wobbly players of various positions limping off the field. It was U-G-L-Y past the point of alibi. GRADE: F+
Defense: With the kind of talent boasted by the Tide, when Alabama (and particularly McElroy) is on their game, there's not always a lot any defense can do. But the "tackling" display by the Spartans -- proud, always-energetic All-American middle linebacker Greg Jones mostly excepted -- would have been borderline-embarrassing if they'd been facing the New Orleans Saints. Alabama's first five possessions, not counting the run-out-the-clock situation at the end of the first half, covered an average of 69 yards and ended: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. That, folks, is not good. GRADE: F+
Coaching: Mark Dantonio and his crew did an excellent job with this team during the season and were facing a substantial talent deficit today, but his team was far too sloppy to hang with the likes of Alabama and showed zero fight after going in at the half down 28. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell did one of the best jobs in the country this year, but his attempts to use misdirection on slow-developing end-arounds and screens were never goign to work against a team with 'Bama's speed. GRADE: F
FINAL GRADE: Unless you were an Alabama fan or the sort who enjoys burning insects to death with a magnifying glass, this game was interesting for the 120 seconds or so Sparty drove inside the Tide 10 and a forgone-concluded utter slog for every minute thereafter. Grade: D-
Posted on: December 31, 2010 9:27 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
The Basics: Alabama (9-3) vs. Michigan State (11-1), Jan. 1, 1pm ET
Why You Should Watch: If you're a fan of defensive football, then this game may be your dream matchup. Now, on the surface, not many people seem to be giving Michigan State a chance in this game, and it's understandable. After all, Alabama is the defending national champ and has a bit of a chip on its shoulder following what it feels is a disappointing season. Nobody seems to be paying much attention to the fact that Michigan State has only one loss, and has been a very solid team all season. This one could turn out to be one of those New Year's Day shockers.
Keys to Victory for Alabama: I think the biggest key for Alabama in this game is that it wants to play in it. It's not crazy to think that the Tide might show some disinterest in this one. After all, this is a team that feels it's supposed to be getting ready to defend its title in ten days, or at least in a BCS bowl game. Not playing in Orlando in the "second-tier" Capital One Bowl.
Of course, on the flip side of that, this could be an angry team. One hell-bent on destroying the Spartans. If Alabama cares then I see no reason why it shouldn't pick up the victory. The Tide are more talented than Michigan State at just about every position. Plus, one of Alabama's weakness is it's pass protection and Michigan State hasn't had much of a pass rush all season. Still, that doesn't mean Alabama should fall into the trap of trying to throw all day. Yes, Julio Jones is a monster, but the secondary is probably the one aspect of this game in which Michigan State has an advantage on the Tide.
Instead we should get a healthy dose of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, and seeing those two matchup against MSU's Greg Jones is something that every college football fan should enjoy.
Keys to Victory for Michigan State: The Spartans have used a balanced offense to find success all season, and that shouldn't change in this game if they want to pull off the upset. Yes, Alabama is tough against the run, but the Spartans have a few options at running back with Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper and have the ability to wear the Tide down.
Also, just because the Spartans will be without B.J. Cunningham -- the teams leading receiver -- that doesn't mean they don't have options in the passing game. Plus the Tide will be without Mark Barron, which will only help matters. Kirk Cousins has been one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football this season, and he'll still have plenty of weapons at his disposal in Mark Dell, Keith Nichol, Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum.
The X-factor could be the speedster Keshawn Martin. He's very dangerous in space, so look for the Spartans to try and find him some.
The Capital One Bowl is like: the movie 300. The Spartans will be playing the role of the Spartans, and Alabama is the giant Persian army marching in looking to crush everything and everyone in its path. All that's missing are the air-brushed abs and gratuitous nudity. Will these Spartans emerge victorious, or end up in a pile of bodies?
Posted on: November 29, 2010 11:53 am
Edited on: November 29, 2010 11:54 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
As many schools have wound down their regular season, the time has come for 2010's series of accolades and awards. There will be predictable nods, deserving players snubbed, and a guarantee of AT LEAST one slightly irrational fan base being furious by the omission of their star player. The first notable All-America team was released on Monday morning, the AFCA FBS Coaches' All-America Team.
It is the only All-America team that is voted on exclusively by the coaches, and it was not surprising to see the team headlined by Oregon's LaMichael James and Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers. Auburn fans, don't worry, your boy made the cut.
Check out all of the coaches' selections below:
A few notes on the list:
- Despite constant criticism for a "down year," the ACC has as much representation on the list (4) as the SEC and Big 12. Only the Big Ten (6) produced more players on the 2010 team.
- As Bryan Fischer pointed out, there were four Texas natives selected to the All-America team. Outside of TCU's Tank Carder, none of them even play for a school in Texas. How should that reflect on the in-state universities, particularly Texas head coach Mack Brown? I know that the 2010 Longhorns would have benefited significantly from a Kendall Hunter or LaMichael James in the backfield.
- There was little turnover from last year's squad, with Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones being the only repeat selection from 2009. However, the same could be true for next year's list. Only ten players on the list could return for 2011, and there is no guarantee that they all will.
Posted on: November 2, 2010 6:56 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
If there's been one defining, overarching narrative to the 2010 season to date, it's been ... well, maybe it's been the upheaval at the top of the polls that's seen preseason outsiders Oregon and Auburn seize control of their national championship destiny with four weeks remaining in the season. But if there's been two co-defining narratives, the second, without question, would be the rise of non-AQ teams like Boise State , TCU , and Utah into not only the BCS bowl picture but the BCS national championship picture.
So it's perhaps something of a shame that the lists of semifinalists for the Lombardi Award and the Thorpe Award -- given to the nation's best down lineman or downhill linebacker and best defensive back, respectively, and both announced within the past week -- do little to acknowledge that rise. The lists:
Lombardi AwardSam Acho, Defensive End, Texas, 6-3, 260, Sr., Dallas, TX
Jeremy Beal, Defensive End, Oklahoma, 6-3, 267, Sr. Carrollton, TX
Da'quan Bowers, Defensive End, Clemson, 6-4, 275, Jr., Bamberg, SC
Adrian Clayborn, Defensive End, Iowa, 6-4, 285, Sr., St. Louis, MO
Jared Crick, Defensive Tackle, Nebraska, 6-6, 285, Jr., Cozad, NE
Nick Fairley, Defensive Line, Auburn, 6-5, 298, Jr., Mobile, AL
Cameron Heyward, Defensive Tackle, Ohio State, 6-5, 288, Sr., Suwanee, GA
Rodney Hudson, Offensive Guard, Florida State, 6-2, 282, Sr., Mobile, AL
Greg Jones, Linebacker, Michigan State, 6-1, 240, Sr., Cincinnati, OH
Ryan Kerrigan, Defensive End, Purdue, 6-4, 263, Sr., Muncie, IN
Jake Kirkpatrick, Center, TCU, 6-3, 305, Sr., Tyler, TX
Drake Nevis, Defensive Tackle, LSU, 6-5, 285, Sr., Marrero, LA
Thorpe AwardPrince Amukamara, Sr., Nebraska
Mark Barron, Jr., Alabama
Chimdi Chekwa, Sr., Ohio State
Brandon Harris, Jr., Miami (Fla.)
Cliff Harris, Soph., Oregon
Tejay Johnson, Sr., TCU
Joe Lefeged, Sr., Rutgers
Rahim Moore, Jr., UCLA
Patrick Peterson, Jr., LSU
Tyler Sash, Jr., Iowa
Congratulations are in order for all 22 of these players, each of which is, without question, an outstanding college football athlete and certainly deserving of the honor of becoming a semifinalist.
But it feels remiss not to note that in this year of unprecedented prominence for non-AQ programs, only two of those 22 players represent a non-AQ team, and those two -- TCU 's Jake Kirkpatrick and Tejay Johnson -- each represent the same team. The other 53 teams? Nothin'.
This can be explained, to some extent, by the undeniably true fact that most of the game's best athletes and players ply their trades in BCS leagues. But no one on the Boise State defense that currently ranks third in both scoring and total defense (or Utah's, which ranks sixth in both categories) is worthy of inclusion? Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry , tied for third nationally with 9.5 sacks and seventh nationally with 13.5 tackles for loss (one of only four players to rank in the top 10 in both categories) can't get a nod? Strong safety Domonic Cook of Buffalo leads the country in both passes broken up and interceptions; there's not room enough for him here?
There's no question that it's always going to be an uphill climb for non-AQ players who rarely play on national television and even more rarely receive the sort of fawning from scouts and writers that helps buoy campaigns for national honors, and that's fine. But it's worth wondering whether, in a season like this one, if the climb ought to be quite this steep.
Pictured: Boise State defensive lineman Ryan Winterswyk.
Tags: Adrian Clayborn, Boise State, Brandon Harris, Cameron Heyward, Chimdi Chekwa, Cliff Harris, Da'quan Bowers, Drake Nevis, Greg Jones, Jake Kirkpatrick, Jared Crick, Jeremy Beal, Joe Lefeged, Lombardi Award, Mark Barron, Nick Fairley, Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara, Rahim Moore, Rodney Hudson, Ryan Kerrigan, Ryan Winterswyk, Sam Acho, TCU, Tejay Johnson, Thorpe Award, Tyler Sash, Utah
Posted on: October 10, 2010 3:38 am
Posted by Adam Jacobi
1. Perhaps Denard Robinson's competition matters. Hey, we'll be the first ones to admit to falling in love with Denard Robinson's early-season performance. Sure, Michigan's opposition wasn't very good (at all), but lots of other teams were playing cupcake schedules at the same time, and nobody -- except maybe for Cam Newton -- was doing what Shoelace was doing. But Michigan State provided a pretty easy blueprint for containing Robinson: have a decent defense and don't do anything stupid with them. The Spartan defense, led as always by All-American linebacker Greg Jones, played disciplined defense against the explosive sophomore and forced him into three interceptions -- two of which came in Michigan State's end zone. Sure, Robinson ended up accounting for 301 yards (215 passing, 86 rushing), and those are good numbers, but remember: he's basically their entire offense. So while giving up 301 yards of offense to one guy isn't ideal, holding the entire team to 377 yards is much more palatable, and that's exactly what the Michigan State defense did. Next up for the Wolverines: Iowa -- and 60 more minutes of that defensive intensity.
2. Don't run up the score on Tim Brewster, please. The second-oddest thing about this week of Big Ten play was seeing Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster get into an arguing match with Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema after Wisconsin's 41-23 victory over the Golden Gophers. The oddest thing came about six minutes prior, when Bret Bielema elected to try a two-point conversion after the Badgers scored a touchdown to extend their lead to 41-16. The try failed, because not even Football God hates Minnesota that much, but Brewster certainly took it personally; the Minnesota coach said some very unprintable words to Bielema on the field, and used the word "wrong" to describe Bielema's decision about 15,000 times in his postgame press conference. Bielema said his little when-should-you-go-for-two card dictated that his team attempt the two-point conversion in that scenario. Even assuming Bielema's excuse is true, we have to wonder why Bielema didn't heed his card's advice 5:16 earlier, when his team scored a fourth-quarter touchdown to go up by 25 the first time. After John Clay's third touchdown of the game, Wisconsin led 34-9 with 11:55 to go, and Bielema kicked a harmless extra point then. Maybe, maybe Minnesota could have engineered 27 points in 11:55, but there was no chance of it happening with 6:39 left, so there's really no sense in kicking the extra point the first time but not the second. Bielema doesn't necessarily owe Brewster an apology; he's Bret Bielema, and he's kind of a jerk, and that's what he does. But at the very least, he owes Brewster and the rest of Big Ten fans an actual explanation of what the heck he was thinking going for two.
3. Penn State just isn't very good. Okay, we sort of knew coming into this season that Penn State would be taking some more lumps than usual on account of their true freshman quarterback, Rob Bolden, winning the starting job in Week 1. And sure, their 24-3 losses to Alabama and Iowa were disappointing, but not really shocking; 'Bama and the Hawkeyes are both pretty legit programs with pretty legit defenses. But 21-point losses to top-15 teams are one thing; a 20-point loss to middling Illinois is another altogether. Illinois controlled the action on both sides of the ball Saturday, shredding Penn State's vaunted front seven for 282 yards on the ground. Mikel LeShoure was a workhorse with 119 rushing yards and a 32-yard reception, and Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase was both efficient (15-19, 151 yards, 1 TD) and mobile (eight carries, 61 yards). Meanwhile, Bolden had one of his worst starts of his nascent career, going 8-21 for 142 yards, a score, and a pretty bad pick-six to Nate Bussey that pushed Illinois' lead to 14-3. It was a freshman mistake, of course, and one he probably won't make next season and beyond. But it's that sort of thing, coupled with a general lack of special talent on the rest of the offense, that dooms the Nittany Lions when their defense isn't perfect. The Nittany Lions are 3-3 (0-2) now. Right now, it's pretty hard to guarantee they're going to a bowl this season.
4. Northwestern is also not very good. Going back to 2008, Northwestern's habit of winning games by close margins -- which is to say, playing both up and down to the competition -- has never really come back to haunt them; coming into Saturday's game the Wildcats were 14-4 in one-possession games since '08, a streak that's both remarkable and completely doomed to come back down to earth sooner or later, and that's where we find the Wildcat today. Two special teams disasters in the fourth quarter -- a blocked field goal and a poorly-kicked game-tying attempt with a minute left -- effectively kept six points off the board for the Wildcats, and a Dan Dierking rush from 7 yards out sealed the 20-17 upset for lowly Purdue. It's a bummer of a loss for the Wildcats, but the type of inexplicable upset that besets them pretty much every year. Their benchmark game is likely their next: Michigan State comes to town, and a win would put Northwestern back on the map. But it would take the Wildcats' best performance of the season, and any time the prerequisite for respectability is something a team hasn't yet shown itself to be capable of doing, odds are that the fans will go home disappointed.