I’ve taken around a month away from the column, and picked a good week to come back. The proverbial chase for a spot in the national championship game is not only heating up, but got even more complex this past weekend. More and more big games have come and gone, and many are still to come. And the most intriguing and unpredictable time in the college football season, the month of November, is in full swing.
Johnny Football (Johnny Manziel) sure made his presence felt when he stepped onto the national stage for the first time. This past weekend, Manziel lead the Texas A&M Aggies to a stunning upset of the formerly top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, and did it in Tuscaloosa to boot. Manziel played brilliantly in the first and fourth quarter of this game, but it should be noted that the Aggies’ offense sputtered almost to a complete stop during the second and third quarters.
Not to mention that Crimson Tide turnovers and mistakes in general fueled the final quarter for Manziel by giving him momentum to work off of. It worked as the Aggies were able to keep hold of the 20-0 lead they built in the first quarter after the Crimson Tide had clawed their way back and appeared for a while like they were going to complete the comeback and stay undefeated.
It was fitting that the Crimson Tide’s last chance at victory was foiled when A.J. McCarron made his first really big mistake of the season. After going the whole season without throwing an interception, McCarron threw his first INT of the season in the first quarter, but it was the pick that he threw in the fourth that was far, far more costly to his team. On fourth & goal at the Aggie two yard-line, McCarron threw behind his receiver in the end-zone and the pass was intercepted, basically sealing the 29-24 upset for the Aggies with less than two minutes to go.
The Crimson Tide weren’t the only undefeated team to go down this past weekend as the Louisville Cardinals went into the Carrier Dome and got wiped out by the Syracuse Orangemen to the tune of 45-26. The Cardinals can still win the Big East title and earn a BCS at-large bid, but it will no longer have the luster that it would have had the Cardinals been able to complete the undefeated season.
The Georgia Bulldogs won the SEC East this past weekend with a dominating win over the Auburn Tigers, something that seems redundant based on how the Tigers’ season has gone. The Bulldogs are still at No. 5 in the BCS rankings, and will likely play the Crimson Tide in the SEC title game as all the Tide has to do (ironically) is beat the Tigers to clinch the SEC West.
Coming into this week, this was an ideal situation for the Bulldogs to still have a shot at playing for the national title if they could beat an undefeated Crimson Tide team for the SEC title. Now, they still have an outside shot, but now they need teams to lose to have any kind of realistic shot. Also, the Bulldogs have to be cautious not to slip up with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on the horizon. Yeah I know, the Yellow Jackets haven’t been much this season, but it’s a rivalry game, it’s in November, and recent history has shown that it’s possible for the Bulldogs to slip up in that game.
One of the teams that the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide need to lose is the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The golden child of college football had another subpar outing that was overlooked by people because of how mesmerized they are at the fact that the Fighting Irish are still undefeated. But it was another subpar effort, following a home win against the Pittsburgh Panthers that any realistic fan or analyst would agree that the Fighting Irish didn’t deserve, but they showed plenty of grit in gaining the win.
This past weekend, against the Boston College Eagles, the splendid defense that has been the major factor in keep the Fighting Irish undefeated was on full display and in complete control once again while the offense didn’t do much outside of three scoring drives.
I am sticking to my guns that the Fighting Irish’s undefeated run is finally going to come to an end in the Los Angeles Coliseum against the USC Trojans. For one, I believe this is going to be the game where the battle weary Fighting Irish defense will finally give way as the Trojans possess a better and more productive offense than the majority of the Fighting Irish’s opponents this season, and definitely better than the last few Fighting Irish opponents.
On that note, the fact that people across the country (including at Rant Sports) are dismissing the Stanford Cardinal could be a mistake as they head into this weekend’s game with the undefeated Oregon Ducks. Last weekend, the Cardinal won a close, hard fought victory over the Oregon St. Beavers. The win provided the Cardinal with a great preparation game as the Beavers, statistically, have a better rush defense and better overall defense than the Ducks, though the game will be in Eugene, Oregon.
That will certainly play to the Ducks’ advantage, but it’s something that the Cardinal can overcome because they are ready. The Cardinal’s only losses this year have been on the road, but have been by a combined total of 11 points, and let’s not forget the controversy associated with their loss to the Fighting Irish last month with Stepfan Taylor‘s touchdown in overtime being called otherwise.
It does make me a bit sick that people are so sure the Ducks are going to complete the undefeated regular season this year without any problem because all three of the Ducks’ remaining games will provide them with a challenge. They play the Cardinal this weekend at home, then have to go to Corvallis for the Civil War against the Beavers, and then the Pac-12 title game (unless they lose both previous games). And that conference title game could be a rematch against the Trojans or maybe a first meeting of the season against the UCLA Bruins, a team that has also been overlooked by everyone this season despite their successes.
Nothing is for sure in sports.
That’s what makes sports so great and it’s this overlooking of Pac-12 opponents over the last few seasons that has made the Ducks’ regular season losses seem like groundbreaking upsets, when in fact they should have been expected to a degree if you look at them closely. Last year against the Trojans, and their 2009 loss against the Cardinal were caused primarily by something that could end up biting them again: their defense failing them.
The Ducks have given up plenty of points this season, and that’s why I’m not as in awe of them as a team as everyone else. I’ve always been in awe of their offense. Chip Kelly is an offensive genius in the college football world and deserves to be talked about as such. However, he’s never been much about defense and that will always be the Achilles’ heel of a team like the Ducks.
Look at Dana Holgorsen coaching the West Virginia Mountaineers, only with passing instead of rushing: their defense finally gave way and the offense couldn’t deal with actually being down in a game and having to play from behind. I equate it to a bully finally facing off with someone who can fight back and won’t cower in fear.
Don’t be surprised, and don’t say I didn’t warn you if the Ducks do end up losing once in these final three games and once again fail to make it to the national championship game.