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Tag:Midseason Reports
Posted on: October 18, 2011 12:00 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 3:19 pm
 

Eye On College Football Midseason Report Big East



Posted by Chip Patterson


Offensive Player of the Year: Geno Smith, West Virginia. In Dana Holgorsen's high-powered offense, the quarterback's communication with the head coach and on-field decision making is pertinent to the system's success. Smith has been a victim of a few slow starts, but has finished every game with an impressive offensive output. Smith is averaging 359.8 yards per game through the air, and completing 64.0 percent of his passes. His ability to find receivers in space has been crucial for the Mountaineers, who only recently found their running game. With 16 touchdowns and 3 interceptions there have been few mistakes for the talented junior, who's next challenge will be leading this team to a conference title. Also considered: Mohammed Sanu, Rutgers; Ray Graham, Pittsburgh; Tavon Austin, West Virginia.

Defensive Player of the Year: Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have jumped out to a fast start despite only recently finding certain answers at the quarterback and running back position. A huge part of that has been stout play on the defensive side of the ball, led by linebacker Steve Beauhamais. Rutgers' leads the Big East in scoring and total defense, with Beauhamais contributing 32 tackles and ranking 4th in the conference in tackles for loss. Beauhamais also has added 3.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions to cap off a well-rounded defensive stat line for the leader of one the league's best defensive units. Also considered: JK Schaffer, Cincinnati; Sio Moore, Connecticut; Terence Garvin, West Virginia.

Coach of the Year: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia.
After Bill Stewart's unplanned early exit, Dana Holgorsen deserves credit for stepping in and quickly taking ownership of the program. Much of the staff is still in place, including defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, but there has been no apparent dissension within the program since Holgorsen's promotion. The most conflict Morgantown has seen was the head coach's shot at the fan base after a home game played before a well-below-capacity crowd. Also considered: Greg Schiano, Rutgers; Butch Jones, Cincinnati.

Surprise: Rutgers. With a 5-1 start and two conference victories under their belt, head coach Greg Schiano has all but erased the horrid memories of the 2010 season. While they've shuffled the quarterback and running back positions, arriving on Gary Nova and Jawan Jamison as the apparent starters, the defense ranks 12th nationally only allowing 16.0 points per game. It hasn't always been pretty, but the Scarlet Knights are finding ways to win. Also considered: Cincinnati

Disappointment: Pittsburgh. After promises of "high-octane football," head coach Todd Graham has very little to show from his no-octane Pittsburgh Panthers. There is very little consistency on either side of the ball, with the offense riding running back Ray Graham to stellar performances at times (South Florida) and failing to find the end zone in other contests (Utah). With the talent returning from last season's squad, the Panthers were projected to challenge their backyard rivals for the Big East title. After losing four of their last five, a return to the postseason is even in doubt. Also considered: Louisville.

Game of the Year So Far: Wake Forest at Syracuse. The Orange overcame a 20-7 halftime deficit to knock off Wake Forest 36-29 in overtime on the first night of the college football season. Quarterback Ryan Nassib picked apart a Wake Forest back seven for 15 fourth-quarter points to kick off a "win by any means"-type season for the Orange. Also considered: Maryland at West Virgina.

Game of the Year (To Come): West Virginia at Cincinnati. Three teams poised to race for the Big East title down the stretch seem to be these two teams along with Rutgers. The only way to ensure a championship is to go undefeated in conference play and this is the best chance for someone to knock off the Mountaineers. The Bearcats have an offense that can keep up with West Virginia in a shootout, and their defense is one of the best in the nation at forcing turnovers. Look for Paul Brown Stadium to be lubed up and rocking when West Virginia comes to town on Nov. 12.

CHAMPION: West Virgina. It will take at least one upset or a furious charge from Cincinnati or Rutgers to keep the Mountaineers from claiming the Big East title and returning to a BCS bowl.

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Posted on: October 18, 2011 11:56 am
Edited on: October 18, 2011 1:23 pm
 

Eye On College Football Midseason Report: ACC



Posted by Chip Patterson


Offensive Player of the Year: David Wilson, Virginia Tech. One of the most important aspects of Virginia Tech's success has been their ability to lean on the ACC's leading rusher for production while new starting quarterback Logan Thomas becomes accustomed to the offense. Wilson carried the load early, averaging 129.0 yards per game in his first four outings. Thomas has shown his rapid development in back-to-back wins against Miami and Wake Forest, and now Virginia Tech is more dangerous offensively than they've been all season. Wilson not only has shown the capability to carry a 20+ attempt load, but has rushed for 120+ yard in six of Virginia Tech's seven games. Also considered: Tajh Boyd, Clemson; Lamar Miller, Miami; Tanner Price, Wake Forest

Defensive Player of the Year: Sean Spence, Miami. Few defensive players have meant more to their unit than Spence has in Coral Gables. After serving his one game suspension in the opener, the senior linebacker has reinserted himself as the playmaker of the Hurricanes defensive unit. In many cases this season, Miami's defense has been shaky - missing assignments and finding themselves out of position. On more occasions than I can count, Spence comes flying across the field to save the play with a big tackle. His game-saving sack of North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner to ice a must-win road game in Chapel Hill on Saturday was a perfect example of Spence delivering when the Canes need him most. Also considered: Luke Kuechly, Boston College. Jeremiah Attaouchu, Georgia Tech. Andre Branch, Clemson.

Coach of the Year: Dabo Swinney, Clemson. After last season's disappointing 6-7 finish, Swinney made some swift changes on the coaching staff and hit the recruiting trail hard. With 42 of his 85 scholarship players either true or redshirt freshman, the ability to bring that youth into the program and develop them quickly would be essential to the Tigers' success. Clemson's uber-talented lineup, led by sophomore Tajh Boyd and true freshman Sammy Watkins, has played with the enthusiasm and energy of their coach. Swinney's personality is all over this team, and this team is undefeated and sitting in the top 10. Pretty good job for a coach who once held the "interim" tag. Also considered: Jim Grobe, Wake Forest

Surprise: Wake Forest. After a disastrous 2010 season, with no notable additions to the roster, the media selected the Demon Deacons to finish at the bottom of the ACC Atlantic Division in the preseason poll. However, what wasn't considered is that Jim Grobe's best teams tend to show up when there is continuity from one season to the next. Grobe and his staff have a roster made of mostly of high-IQ recruits from Florida and Texas that were passed over by some of the powers that dominate those areas. Wake Forest still has several ACC challenges ahead, but the 3-1 conference start and victory over Florida State is plenty to hang your hat on at this point in Winston-Salem. Also considered: Clemson

Disappointment: Florida State. Coming into the season, the buzz was back in Tallahassee. Florida State had a strong finish to Jimbo Fisher's first season at the helm, and returned 17 starters from the squad that knocked off South Carolina in the Chick Fil-A Bowl. They gave Oklahoma everything they had in a memorable top-five bout in Tallahassee, but after that 24-13 loss things began to unravel for the Seminoles. Much of the frustrations can be blamed on a long list of injuries, but three straight losses is incredibly disappointing considering the expectations coming into the season. Also considered: Boston College

Game of the Year So Far: Clemson at Maryland. The game of the year might have been this past weekend with Clemson's 18-point comeback victory over Maryland in College Park. From the Terps' freshman quarterback CJ Brown lighting up the Tigers defense for 162 yards rushing to Sammy Watkins' 89-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter, there was no shortage of fireworks in the 56-45 Clemson win. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris (former Tulsa OC) reportedly told Swinney after the game the 28 combined fourth quarter points was "just like another night in Conference USA." Also considered: Miami at Maryland; Georgia Tech at Virginia; Oklahoma at Florida State.

Game of the Year (To Come) - Clemson at Georgia Tech, Oct. 29. With Virginia Tech turning the corner and Georgia Tech picking up their first division loss against Virginia, this game will be a must-win for the Yellow Jackets. In addition to being a rematch of the 2009 ACC title game, both teams are hoping this will be a preview of the 2011 title game in Charlotte. Georgia Tech has the offense that can keep Clemson's explosive weapons off the field, but the rushing attack has been sputtering in their last two outings. The kickoff has already been set for 8 p.m., and Bobby Dodd Stadium should be packed for a inter-division showdown under the lights.

Atlantic Division Champion: Clemson. Six conference wins normally can put you in a good spot to lock up the division, and a home victory over North Carolina will bring the Tigers to 5-0 with Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and N.C. State left on the schedule. Even with an upset against the Yellow Jackets the Tigers should lock this up in the coming weeks.

Coastal Division Champion: Virginia Tech. The beginning of the season showed a Hokies team struggling to impress while Georgia Tech was setting all kinds of offensive records. At the midpoint, Virginia Tech is playing their best football while the Yellow Jackets are looking to get back on track on both sides of the ball. Typical early loss, strong finish season for Frank Beamer will result in another ACC title game appearance.

ACC Champion: Clemson. After that memorable comeback win against Maryland, you have to feel like the Tigers have that never-say-die attitude needed to claim the conference crown. After falling short in 2009, Clemson claims their first ACC title since 1991.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview
Posted on: October 18, 2011 11:11 am
 

Eye on College Football Midseason Report: Pac-12



Posted by Bryan Fischer

Everybody is still trying to get used to calling it the Pac-12 but the football being played out West hasn't changed much at all from last year. Stanford still has the best player in college football and a punishing style of football that has them on the fringe of the national title race. Oregon continues to put up points faster than anybody and even if a few players are hurt, they just plug another player in to break big plays. There's been surprises too, like Washington doing just fine with new starter Keith Price under center. It's not as strong top-to-bottom as it was last year but there's plenty of quality football (and plenty of money) that Larry Scott couldn't be happier to watch.

With that, let's get onto the superlatives for the year thus far. There was plenty of competition every step of the way, and truth be told we could have handed out some ties on a lot of these categories, but if college football fans wanted ties we wouldn't have overtime, so here we go.

Offensive Player of the Year: Andrew Luck, Stanford. The object of many NFL general managers affection, Luck has gone out and played nearly flawless despite a rebuilt offensive line and a brand new cast of wide receivers. He's tossed 18 touchdowns against just three interceptions and positioned the Cardinal for a Rose Bowl for the first time since 2000. Watch him pick apart any secondary on a nice Saturday afternoon and it's a thing of beauty. Without Luck, one wonders if Stanford even makes a decent bowl game so it's easy to see why he's the Pac-12 offensive player of the year at the halfway point. Also considered: LaMichael James, Oregon; Keith Price, Washington; Robert Woods, USC.

Defensive Player of the Year: Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State. Burfict has built of a reputation for playing beyond the whistle and that sometimes overshadows how good he is between the lines. Despite losing several starters to the Sun Devils defense, the unit has still performed very well. He's much more dangerous on blitzes this season and is sixth in the conference in sacks. Burfict doesn't fill the stat sheet like others might but his impact on the field can be felt on every snap. Also considered: Chase Thomas, Stanford; Mychal Kendricks, Cal

Coach of the Year: Steve Sarkisian, Washington. Need to replace one of the most productive quarterbacks in school history? No problem for this former signal-caller, who has the Huskies offense humming and off to a 5-1 start and an appearance in the top 25. They've got a tough stretch of games coming up but they're almost assured of going to a bowl game for the second consecutive year. Also considered: Dennis Erickson, Arizona State; David Shaw, Stanford.

Surprise: Washington State. The conference bottom-dweller for so many years, the Cougars are much, much more competitive in 2011. They've won three games already and should be 4-2 but let a late lead slip at UCLA. There's still an outside shot of a bowl game but considering they're even this good despite quarterback Jeff Tuel has missed most of the season, returning just last week against Stanford. Also considered: Washington

Disappointment:  Utah. Everybody knew it would be a difficult transition for the Utes to a BCS league and the week-in and week-out grid. But not everyone expected the injuries, such as a season-ending one to quarterback Jordan Wynn, and trailing off in the second half of just about every game. They went on the road and beat Pitt so maybe they'll have a little momentum headed into the back half of their schedule (which is much easier than the front half). Still, for a team some touted as the possible Pac-12 South winner, the .500 record isn't what was expected. Also considered: Oregon State; Arizona; Cal

Game of the Year (so far): Utah at USC. We wouldn't exactly call this a scintillating game but it had drama and was hard-fought until the end. The first ever Pac-12 conference game, it pitted the league's most storied member against the league's newest. There was plenty of drama, as the Utes drove down the field in a last-minute to set up a game-tying field goal. But the kick was blocked and, in a unsual series of events, run back by USC for a touchdown while officials signaled that the points would be taken off the board due to unsportsmanlike conduct. Only hours later was their mistake corrected and the points added to the final score, sending Las Vegas sports books into a frenzy. Also considered: Oregon vs. LSU, Arizona State at Oregon.

Game of the Year (to come): Oregon at Stanford. The defacto Pac-12 championship game, this is a top 10 match up with the winner likely headed to the Rose Bowl at the end of the year. The Cardinal led last year before the Ducks stormed back on their way to the national championship game. This year Stanford will likely be favored to win the game at home and they're better equipped to stop Oregon's high-powered offense with the Pac-12's best defense this year. Running back LaMichael James should be back in the starting lineup by then so this is a battle of Heisman trophy runners-up from last year in Luck and James.  Also considered: Stanford at USC, Oregon at Washington.

North Division Champion: Stanford. See above, the division champion will be decided in Palo Alto in early November. Technically Washington still has an outside shot and they do host Oregon but they're not an elite team like the Ducks and Cardinal are. With Andrew Luck under center and an improved defense, the road to the first Pac-12 North title, and league championship, runs through Stanford. Also considered: Oregon.

South Division Champion: Arizona State. Thanks to a head-to-head win and USC being ineligible, the Sun Devils have locked up the South well before the end of the season. They don't have to play Stanford this season but in their first big test against elite team, they fell short against Oregon. Still, the schedule is easy the rest of the way and they will be favored to win out before playing at the North winner in the Pac-12 Championship game at 10-2.

Pac-12 Champion: Stanford. Having the best player in the league, the best defense in the league and the biggest game of the year sets up nicely for first year head coach David Shaw. Winning the inaugural Pac-12 title and a trip to Pasadena for Stanford's first Rose Bowl in over a decade would have been unexpected just two years ago but here the Cardinal are, in the driver's seat. They also have a chance to move into the top five and on the cusp of a national title appearance if still undefeated at the end of the year. Also considered: Oregon.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview

Posted on: October 18, 2011 10:36 am
Edited on: October 18, 2011 2:57 pm
 

Eye on College Football Midseason Report: SEC

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

At the top, midseason 2011 remains the best of times for the SEC. Alabama and LSU have given the conference not one but two highly viable -- some might even say favored -- candidates for a sixth straight national title. It's not even such bad news that one seems all-but-destined to eliminate the other from the title race when they meet in Tuscaloosa Nov. 5; assuming both clear their final hurdles this week, that game should arrive with more hype, more anticipation, more coverage and more viewers than any regular season college football game since Ohio State and Michigan clashed as undefeateds the final week of 2006. From a national title perspective, the SEC has never mattered more.

But anywhere other than the top, these are the worst times for the SEC in a while. A plague of injuries, inexperience, and ineffective coaching has gutted much of the league's offensive bite and turned what used to be riveting battles amongst the league's wealthier-than-thou middle class into glorified slapfights. Take this past weekend: Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State and South Carolina combined for a total of 49 points across two hideous games; lambs-to-the-slaughter Tennessee and Ole Miss lost to the league's top two by a combined 76 points; and Georgia and Vanderbilt played a game most notable for the screaming match between its coaches afterwards. It was ugliness all the way around--and that's with the conference's worst offense, Kentucky, on a bye. 

Alabama vs. LSU should be a classic. And Arkansas, still easily top-10 caliber and as exciting as ever, is blameless. But are the hobbled back-nine of the SEC capable of giving us anything else deserving of that label in 2011's second half?

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Trent Richardson, running back, Alabama. It's easy to forget Richardson's 2011 season actually got off to a slow start, with only 148 yards on a 3.8 per-carry average through the Crimson Tide's first two games. Since then: five games, 764 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 8.2 yards-per-carry, the sort of per-attempt number starting tailbacks for national title contenders achieve only in video games. It's not just the production, either; Richardson has showed off the proverbial total package and then some, flashing breakaway speed, bone-rattling power, and startling elusiveness, sometimes -- as in his Heisman-reel tour de force against Ole Miss -- all on the same play.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyrann Mathieu, cornerback, LSU. The only serious defensive candidate for the 2011 Heisman, the Honey Badger has stormed onto the national scene on the back of a wave of big plays: the strip-and-fumble-return for touchdown against Oregon, the dazzling interception-and-return-to-the-1 against West Virginia, the sack-strip-and-fumble-return for touchdown against Kentucky. But those game-changing efforts shouldn't obscure what Mathieu does on an every-down basis: namely, lead the nation's No. 4 defense in solo tackles and spearhead the nation's No. 6 secondary in opponent's passer rating.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Les Miles, LSU. Nick Saban obviously deserves commendation as well, but with the ridiculous stockpile of defensive talent in Tuscaloosa and the rock-steady stability of Saban's program, the Tide were never in any danger of not being really, really good. Miles, however, had to navigate a major offseason shakeup of his offensive coaching staff, the Jordan Jefferson barfight brouhaha on the eve of the season (amongst other distractions), and a handful of offensive line injuries to have his team where it is now--atop the AP poll and well on their way to bringing an 8-0 record to Bryant-Denny Stadium.

SURPRISE: Auburn. Few SEC teams have legitimately exceeded expectations in 2011 -- LSU and Vandy are the only other two, frankly -- but none has been as big a shock as the Tigers, who had been predicted by many to sink to fifth (or worse) in the West and general irrelevancy in Year One A.C. (i.e., after Cam). But despite being a Vegas underdog in all four of their SEC games (and scoring 20 points or fewer in their most recent three), a newly-energized defense and timely plays on offense and special teams have Auburn sitting at 3-1 in the league and 5-2 overall. If Miles's and Saban's teams hadn't run so far away from the pack, Gene Chizik would be a hot favorite for SEC Coach of the Year.

DISAPPOINTMENT: Mississippi State. The 0-4 SEC record isn't that bad, honestly; at Auburn, vs. LSU, at Georgia, and vs. South Carolina is a reasonably tough road to hoe. What is that bad is that Dan Mullen's veteran offense has looked so lost, scoring just one offensive touchdown over its last three conference games. This was supposed to be the season Mullen started winning games against the heavier hitters of the SEC, but thanks to his team's offensive struggles, the Bulldogs are now losing games (and in uglier fashion) to the same caliber of team they defeated in 2010.

GAME OF THE YEAR--SO FAR: South Carolina 45, Georgia 42, Sept. 10. Thanks to the lack of offensive fireworks and Alabama and LSU horse-whipping opponents on a weekly basis, candidates for this honor are few and far between, But back in Week 2 the Gamecocks and Bulldogs played a back-and-forth thriller that may still wind up deciding the SEC East. Marcus Lattimore powered for 176 bruising yards, but the player of the game was Gamecock defensive end Melvin Ingram, who scored touchdowns on both defense and special teams and capped his breakout performance by snaring the Dawgs' last-gasp onsides kick. 

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GAME OF THE YEAR TO COME: Alabama vs. LSU, Nov. 5. Do we even have to spell out why? Consider that the average score to-date between one of these two behemoths and an SEC opponent has been 37-8, and the only thing keeping either one from being heavy, heavy favorites to win the league title is the other. With the pair currently ranked No. 1 and 2 in the BCS standings, it's not an exaggeration to think of this as a BCS championship semifinal.

AND YOUR SEC CHAMPIONS ARE: Alabama out of the West, purely on the basis of getting to host the Game of the Century of the Year, and Georgia out of the East--the Bulldogs have far fewer offensive question marks than the Gamecocks and the easier schedule down the stretch. And as for the SEC Championship Game, well, when the best of this year's West meets the best of this year's East, there's only one outcome worth predicting. We like Alabama to win this year's SEC title and advance to the BCS national championship.

Posted on: October 18, 2011 10:20 am
 

Eye On College Football Big 12 Midseason Report



Posted by Tom Fornelli


We've reached the midway point of the college football season, and we can't think of a better time to hand out some mid-season awards. I mean, giving out mid-season awards two-thirds of the way through the season would be pretty stupid, right?

So taking a look at what has been a pretty good season for the Big 12 as a whole so far this season -- save for Kansas -- it wasn't that easy to come up with people to give these awards to. Plenty of players, coaches and teams all deserved consideration, and I realize plenty of people will disagree. So feel free to leave your choices in the comments.

Offensive Player Of The Year: Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor. There are so many good offensive players in this conference, but from my perspective, there is nobody whom I enjoy watching more every Saturday than Robert Griffin. He has track speed, but unlike a lot of quarterbacks in college who can run, Griffin prefers throwing the ball and he has one of the most accurate arms I've ever seen. Which is why he's completed 78% of his passes in 2011 for 1,950 yards, 22 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. He trails only Russell Wilson with an efficiency rating of 205.7, and he's rushed for another 295 yards and another 2 scores. The man can do it all. Also considered: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State; Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma; Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M

Defensive Player Of The Year: Sean Porter, LB, Texas A&M. This wasn't the easiest of decisions, but after weighing a few options like Tony Jefferson and Arthur Brown, I went with Porter. Texas A&M's secondary may not be having the best season, but it isn't because Porter isn't doing his best to help out. The linebacker has 38 tackles this season, 9 1/2 for loss, and leads the entire Big 12 with 7 1/2 sacks. Also considered: Arthur Brown, Kansas State; Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma, Jake Knott, Iowa State

Coach of the Year: Bill Snyder, Kansas State. Okay, so this one was easy. Bob Stoops and Mike Gundy are doing fantastic jobs with their teams, but that doesn't come as much of a surprise. Now, Kansas State being 6-0 and being ranked eleventh in the initial BCS rankings? That was not expected, but maybe it should have been. After all, Bill Snyder has pulled this off in Manhattan before. Also considered: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma; Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Surprise: Kansas State. Obviously this is Kansas State. As I said above, the Wildcats are 6-0 and a serious contender in the Big 12. Before the season started, most pundits had Kansas State pegged to finish somewhere around sixth or seventh. Heck, I even picked them as my sleeper team before the season began, and even that just meant fifth place. Also considered: Nobody

Disappointment: Missouri. I thought about putting Texas A&M here, but the more I thought about it, Missouri is more disappointing to me than the Aggies. I didn't think Mizzou would compete for a Big 12 title this season after having to replace Blaine Gabbert, but I didn't expect the offense to look so anemic under James Franklin either. The good news is the Tigers and Franklin looked very good against Iowa State last week, and hopefully that trend will continue. Also considered: Texas A&M, Kansas

Game Of The Year (So Far): Oklahoma State at Texas A&M. We all knew that Oklahoma was going to contend for a Big 12 title coming into the season, the bigger question was which team would challenge them? Well, this game would give us the early indicator, and Oklahoma State came back from a 17-point deficit on the road in College Station and let the Big 12 know that it's a team that came to play in 2011. Also considered: Arkansas at Texas A&M, TCU at Baylor

Game Of The Year (To Come): Oklahoma at Oklahoma State. It's called Bedlam for a reason, people. As if the rivalry between these two schools didn't mean enough, there's a chance that when Oklahoma comes to Stillwater on December 3rd, not could these teams be undefeated and playing for a Big 12 title, but for a berth in the BCS title game as well. There's a long way to go before then, but I'd love to see it happen. Also considered: Oklahoma at Kansas State, Texas A&M at Oklahoma

Big 12 Champion: Oklahoma. Kansas State and Texas A&M will have something to say about it before it's over, but I think that this conference race will come down to the two schools from Oklahoma. So when I compare the two teams, I see two very strong offenses, but I only see one strong defense. Because of that, I have to go with the Sooners at this point, but I'm far from certain here. Also considered: Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas A&M
Posted on: October 18, 2011 5:42 am
Edited on: October 18, 2011 3:02 pm
 

Eye on College Football Midseason Report: Big Ten



Posted by Adam Jacobi

It's been one heck of a year in the Big Ten's first go at a 12-team lineup, and if there's anything close to a certainty after the first seven weeks of play, it's this: Wisconsin is really, really good. The Russell Wilson free agent acquisition purely academic-based graduate school enrollment decision has worked out beautifully for the Badgers, who are currently rolling toward, at worst, a Rose Bowl berth.

With that, let's get onto the superlatives for the year thus far. There was plenty of competition every step of the way, and truth be told we could have handed out some ties on a lot of these categories, but if college football fans wanted ties we wouldn't have overtime, so here we go.

Offensive Player of the Year: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin. This was a tough, tough call, especially with Denard Robinson over in Ann Arbor putting up huge numbers against tougher competition, but the fact is that Wilson has exceeded nearly every expectation set for him at Wisconsin, not only from the standpoint of his offense's prodigious production but also his own level of play. Yes, Wisconsin's schedule has been cake so far. But offensive player of the year isn't a question of RPI, it's a question of production, and Wilson's systematic dismantling of Nebraska's once-vaunted defense proved the Badgers are capable of running it up on anybody. Also considered: Denard Robinson, Michigan; A.J. Jenkins, Illinois; Montee Ball, Wisconsin

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Defensive Player of the Year: Whitney Mercilus, Illinois. Illinois is a surprising 6-1 right now, and that start has been primarily responsible to not only the heady play of QB Nathan Scheelhaase, but the Illini's imposing front seven. Leading that charge is defensive linemanWhitney Mercilus, who leads the nation in sacks per game and ranks fourth in TFLs (TsFL if we're being super-accurate), and has been that disruptive force on the defensive line that folks generally thought Illinois wouldn't have after Corey Liggett decided to go pro after 2010. Also, his name sounds like "Merciless," and that's an even better name for a defender than former Iowa linebacker Pat AngererAlso considered: Lavonte David, Nebraska; Mike Martin, Michigan

Coach of the Year: Ron Zook, Illinois. This award is usually a euphemism for "team that overachieves the most," which is the only reason why Jim Tressel didn't win it year after year despite Ohio State mashing its opponents to pulp. But truly, Ron Zook deserves recognition for what his players have accomplished so far, even after three stars declared early for the NFL. Illinois wasn't supposed to be good. It is good. That doesn't happen in football despite a coach. Not at this level. It happens because of a coach, and that's why Ron Zook deserves recognition so far this year. Also considered: Bret Bielema, Wisconsin; Brady Hoke, Michigan

Surprise: Michigan. The consensus among Big Ten media was that whileBrady Hoke was the right hire and Denard Robinson was the conference's most dynamic playmaker, the Wolverine's latest ascension to Big Ten prominence was at least a year away. Not so, as the Wolverine defense has looked surprisingly adept thus far as Michigan has stormed to a 6-1 record early. They could use a bit of help in the Big Ten race, but not as much as you'd think, and this Wolverine offense might be the only one in the Big Ten that can keep pace on the scoreboard with Wisconsin if the championship comes down to those two teams. Also considered: Illinois

Disappointment: Ohio State. Everybody knew difficulties were coming once Jim Tressel resigned and Terrelle Pryor was sent packing, but Ohio State has always prided itself on an overall talent advantage against everybody else in the Big Ten, and that advantage has yet to manifest itself this season. OSU has been throttled by Miami and shut down by Michigan State, and even when the Buckeyes were spotted a late 21-point lead at Nebraska they couldn't seal the deal. Perhaps last week's win over previously unbeaten Illinois is a sign of things to come, but for now, it looks like OSU is just lucky to be over .500 on the season, and that is stunning. Also considered: Nebraska; Minnesota; Northwestern  

Game of the Year (so far): Notre Dame at Michigan. Was this a pretty game? Lord no, not for one second of the contest's 60 minutes or the fans' three and a half hours. Was it an exciting game? Of course it was, and it leads off our list of the best games of the year in the Big Ten. For three quarters, Notre Dame looked like it was snuffing Michigan out, holding a 24-7 lead headed into the final stanza. Then Denard Robinson came alive, erupting for four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and even an Irish touchdown with 30 seconds left proved to be too much to leave the Wolverines as Michigan marched 80 yards down the field in just three plays and scored the game-winning TD with two seconds left. Pandemonium ensued, and Michigan fans had to be asked (politely) by police to leave the stadium after the win. Now that's the way to host your first home night game ever. Also considered: Ohio State at Nebraska; Nebraska at Wisconsin 

Game of the Year (to come): Wisconsin at Michigan State. Excepting the first Big Ten Football Championship Game in league history (aside from all the de facto championship games between Michigan and OSU, anyway), the game of the Big Ten's regular season actually takes place this weekend as Wisconsin travels to the only team that beat the Badgers last year and the team that has the last, best shot of upending them this year: Michigan State. Past that, games against OSU, Illinois, and Penn State loom for Bucky, but those team look like Wisconsin roadkill until proven otherwise. Also considered: Nebraska at Michigan; Ohio State at Michigan

Legends Division Champion: Michigan State. MSU took a huge step forward from its early-season loss to Notre Dame by not only beating Michigan, but doing so in a very important way: beating the Wolverines on the ground. Sparty was pushed around on both sides of the ball against ND, which seems very un-MSU this year, and the Spartans' cakewalk of a schedule from here until last week precluded any definitive assessments of the team's actual merit. The dismantling of Denard Robinson's offense and MSU's active defensive attack were both better than we've seen out of any Wolverine opponents this year, and both factors portend well for the upcoming Michigan State-Nebraska matchup.Also considered: Nebraska; Michigan

Leaders Division Champion: Wisconsin. It's going to take multiple upsets to take the Badgers out of contention for the Leaders Division crown, and a team that steamrolls its opponents on such a consistent basis doesn't usually make itself available for those types of losses. This bodes poorly for everybody else on the Badgers' schedule. Also, Montee Ball looks like he's going to set records when it comes to touchdowns, as the talented junior has racked up 18 (16 rushing, 1 receiving, 1 passing) in just six games. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Also considered: Illinois

Big Ten Champion: Wisconsin. It has to be Wisconsin until anybody can demonstrate an ability to bottle the Badger attack, and no defenses thus far have so much as demonstrated an ability to take either the run or the pass out of the Badger offense. And if you can't stop the conference's most prodigious rushing offense from even passing, you're not really playing defense, you're just praying. And let's be honest: that's terrible advice for anyone who wants to see his team take the conference crown this year. Also considered: Michigan State, but only to be sporting about it

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Posted on: October 19, 2010 4:29 am
Edited on: October 19, 2010 5:30 am
 

Midseason Report: Big Ten

Posted by Adam Jacobi

We're halfway through the regular season, so it's time for the Midseason Report. Who the real contenders are in the Big Ten is pretty clear. Who'll actually win the conference, however, is a little more muddled. This certainly looked like Ohio State's conference to lose seven days ago -- and it still might be -- but Wisconsin's superlative 31-18 upset of the Buckeyes in Madison muddled the picture somewhat. Here's a list of the contenders for the conference crown thus far.

Michigan State (7-0, 3-0): It's generally lazy analysis to assume that a current front-runner -- especially one without any recent history of success -- will maintain its place atop the conference. And yet, Michigan State has, essentially, a two-game schedule to sew up a trip to Pasadena. After all, of the Big Ten teams with one conference loss or fewer, Michigan State has already beaten one (Wisconsin), won't face another (Ohio State), and gets another at home (Purdue, who, yeah). The only games left are visits to Northwestern and Iowa in the next two weeks. If the Spartans win these, they'll have the tie-breaker over everyone in the conference. Add a loss anywhere, and the prospects get a little dicey -- especially since if it comes down to Michigan State and Ohio State both at 11-1. More on that in a bit.

Iowa (5-1, 2-0): If the Spartans are the new frontrunners to the Big Ten title, then the Hawkeyes are the gatekeepers. Iowa has three home games remaining, and they're against the other three teams on this list: Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Will the Hawkeyes beat all three of these teams? That'll depend on the leadership of Ricky Stanzi, the senior quarterback who's playing at a level few would have expected after last season. The Hawkeyes' defense, anchored by Adrian Clayborn and the rest of the line, is still their strong spot. But if Stanzi malfunctions like he did on occasion in 2008 and '09, the Hawkeyes could take a very damaging loss and (probably) watch their Big Ten title hopes evaporate.

Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1): Which Wisconsin team will show up in Iowa City on Saturday? The high-octane world-beaters that ran Ohio State out of the stadium last weekend? Or the semi-suspect squad that looked sluggish against plainly inferior non-conference competition and got outgained by 150 yards in a 10-point loss to the Spartans? Granted, 2009 Iowa demonstrated the folly of reading too much into low margins of victory against putative cupcakes, but Iowa won the majority of their games against upper-level Big Ten competition, and Wisconsin hasn't reached that plateau quite yet. A win in Iowa City changes that outlook substantially. Still, when the Badger rush offense is struggling, QB Scott Tolzien's track record isn't promising. It's probably wise to expect one more loss from the Badgers before the season's said and done. 

Ohio State (6-1, 2-1): Ever thought you'd see the day when a 6-1 Ohio State had arguably the fourth-best chance to win the Big Ten crown? Here we are, though; for as good as Michigan State's prospects look, the Buckeyes' seem to be on the other end of the spectrum. Of the contenders, they've already lost to one (Wisconsin), they play another on the road (Iowa), and the last they miss entirely (Michigan State), which means OSU can't take matters into their own hands and put a loss in the Spartans' column. Essentially, to win the conference, Ohio State needs every other team to lose at least once -- and the Buckeyes only play Iowa in the second half of the season. That's a lot of help needed. The Buckeyes have the talent to keep up their own end of the bargain, of course; that defense is still stellar across all 11 positions, and OSU's offensive line will keep their offense humming. But for all his otherworldly physical talent, Terrelle Pryor still isn't taking over games at the level that, let's say, Cam Newton is. Further, this is Pryor's third year in Tressel's offense. It's Newton's first with Auburn OC Gus Malzahn. Either this trend gets corrected, or Pryor's collegiate career becomes a relative disappointment; it's not as if OSU's a seven-win team without Pryor at the helm, is it? 

Any of these four teams could go to the Rose Bowl without any surprises; Wisconsin's an underdog at Iowa, but not prohibitively so. Yes, technically, Northwestern and Purdue are in the mix for now too, but they're definitely longshots next to these four teams. My prediction is that Iowa effectively eliminates the Badgers from the discussion by beating them this weekend, while MSU handles Northwestern. Iowa then hands Michigan State their first conference loss in Iowa City, all while Ohio State keeps winning. Then, Ohio State knocks off the Hawkeyes in Iowa City. All three teams win out otherwise, and there's a three-way tie atop the Big Ten standings at 7-1. Tiebreaker time!

Iowa will be the first team to be eliminated from consideration, as the Hawkeyes will be 10-2 while OSU and Michigan State are 11-1. Now, a few years ago, the Big Ten had a Rose Bowl tiebreaker after head-to-head competition and overall record that gave the bid to the team that hadn't been to Pasadena in the longest amount of time. This would obviously be Michigan State. But! That tiebreaker was ditched a few years ago and replaced with a Big XII-style stipulation that the highest BCS ranking is awarded the bid. So here we go again. Ohio State, having been ranked ahead of Michigan State when both were undefeated and having an earlier loss than the Spartans, is likely ranked higher at the end of the regular season and sent to Pasadena. Spartan faithful cry foul, but they're rewarded with an Orange Bowl bid in consolation. Iowa represents the conference in the Capital One Bowl, and Wisconsin goes to the Outback for the third time in the last seven years.

Of course, watch Northwestern beat Michigan State this Saturday and render this entire prediction worthless.

Posted on: October 18, 2010 10:40 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2010 4:37 am
 

Midseason Report: Pac-10

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The Midseason Report separates the contenders from the pretenders in each conference race, and in the Pac-10, that means cleanly separating its top half from its bottom half ... and wondering if anyone can catch Oregon. Here's what's happened so far and what might happen down the stretch.

1. Oregon (6-0, 3-0) - Jeremiwho Masoli? The Ducks missed the memo that the offseason dismissal of their starting quarterback spelled the end of any national title hopes, blazing to six straight wins by an average margin of 38 points. That’s been good enough to make them the consensus No. 1 team in the polls entering the second half of the season, and for Chip Kelly to confirm (again) that no one has a better offensive mind or more talent for coaching dual-threat quarterbacks. First-year starter Darron Thomas has racked up more than 1,400 total yards in leading the Ducks to the current No. 1 ranking in total offense. But even Thomas can go overlooked next to tailback and Heisman candidate LaMichael James , the nation’s No. 1 rusher at 170 yards per-game. The Duck onslaught has overwhelmed every team unlucky enough to face it so far, including previously undefeated Stanford , who gave up 49 points in the final three quarters and lost by three full scores at Autzen. Don’t pencil the Ducks in for a national title bout just yet, though; they were outgained by 226 yards in their only serious road test to date, at Arizona State , and still have to visit three dangerous teams in USC , Cal , and Oregon State . Where the Pac-10 title is concerned, however, it’ll be a shocker if it winds up anywhere but Eugene.

2. Stanford (5-1, 2-1) - Not many coaches can claim to have done a better job over the past few seasons than Kelly, but Jim Harbaugh might be one of them. His stunning reclamation project in Palo Alto has only picked up speed in 2010 as behind potential No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck (1,538 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, 65.7 completion percentage), the Cardinal haven’t missed a beat without departed Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart. UCLA was embarrassed 35-0, Notre Dame bludgeoned 37-14. and USC out-shot 37-35. The 73rd-ranked rush defense could stand to find more consistency, but with Arizona and Oregon State both coming to Stanford Stadium, the Cardinal could nonetheless be favored in their final six games. 10 or even 11 wins are within reach ... though with Oregon holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, it'll take some major help to reach Pasadena.

3. Arizona (5-1, 2-1)
- The Pac-10 has the Wildcats to thank for the conference’s most impressive non-league win to-date, the wire-to-wire 34-27 win over otherwise-undefeated No. 13 Iowa . But Arizona hasn’t been nearly as impressive in conference play, escaping Cal 10-9 on a last-minute touchdown, losing at home to Oregon State 29-27, and sleepwalking past hapless Washington State 24-7. Quarterback Nick Foles has been outstanding, completing better than 75 percent of his passes and averaging 267 yards a game. But now Foles is due to miss three weeks with a knee injury, and the ‘Cats haven’t been able to get key senior running back Nic Grigsby (340 yards this season) on track. With road trips to Stanford and Oregon still to come, Mike Stoops will have to recapture the magic of the Iowa game in a hurry to keep the Wildcats a factor in the Pac-10 race.

4. Oregon State (3-3, 2-1) - Give the Beavers this: no one in the country has played a more difficult schedule. There’s no shame in losing competitive games on the road at top-5 outfits like TCU and Boise State, and not a whole lot in being a two-point conversion away from a thrilling win at Washington . But there’s not that much respect in being only .500, either, even with a big road win at Arizona. And with James Rodgers out for the season, it’s worth asking if the Beavers have enough offensive firepower to hang with anyone in their brutal USC-Stanford-Oregon closing stretch. Still, Mike Riley 's teams usually improve as the season progresses, and quarterback Ryan Katz has shown flashes of brilliance (most notably in the 390 yard upset in Tucson). The Beavers will still have their say in how the Pac-10 ultimately plays out. They always do.

5. USC (5-2, 2-2) - Maybe we should include Washington in this space. After all, the Huskies both beat the Trojans at the Coliseum and stand a half-game ahead of USC in the Pac-10 standings. But it’s hard to take a team that’s lost to a flatly terrible BYU squad and Arizona State (at home!) all that seriously. The Trojans, on the other hand, are two field goals -- one Washington’s, one Stanford’s, both on the final play of the game -- away from being undefeated. And the way Matt Barkley is throwing the ball these days (742 yards, 8 touchdowns, no interceptions the last two weeks) and freshman Robert Woods is catching it (19 receptions, 340 yards, 5 touchdowns those same two weeks), it’s safe to call Lane Kiffin ’s team the one in the Pac-10 that no one would want to play. Just ask Cal. Then again: how dangerous can the Trojans really be if Monte Kiffin ’s 90th-ranked defense doesn’t stop allowing the occasional 500-yard game? USC could upset Oregon in L.A. and enter the final week of the season in contention for a championship, or they could be mathematically eliminated in another two weeks. Anything is possible here.

Prediction: Sorry, Ducks fans: the guess here is that Oregon won't become the first Pac-10 team other than USC to advance to the BCS championship game. Even the best offenses can have off-games on the road, and that defense -- which was gouged for 600 yards in Tempe and another 518 against Stanford -- isn't going to be able to take up the slack. Whether at Los Angeles, Berkeley, or Corvallis, Oregon is due to trip up somewhere.

But they won't trip up twice, which means that they'll still be able to settle for a second straight Pac-10 championship and Rose Bowl berth. Stanford will crack double-digit wins, but it won't be enough, and perhaps maybe not even enough to push the race into the season's final week.

Everyone else? Three conference losses at the minimum, though USC will end the season with a ton of momentum and the consensus honor of being the league's third-best team.



 
 
 
 
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