5 Things Learned from College Football’s Week 8

October 24, 2011

Could this finally be the year Kellen Moore and Boise State make the National Championship Game?

This past week in college football was one of the more hectic weeks we have seen in a long time, as we saw two undefeated title favorites in Oklahoma and Wisconsin go down, along with several other notable upsets that really shook up the national title picture.  Let’s take a closer look at some things we learned from these games in the week 8 review.


1) Alabama-LSU might be the best regular season college football game we have seen in some time.


While it will not be and end of the year matchup, it seems abundantly clear at this point in time that Bama and LSU are the two best teams in college football, and they both have a week off to prepare for their massive showdown on November 5 in Tuscaloosa.  Both teams are undefeated, and they have simply dominated their SEC opponents this month, with Bama’s closest October game being their 38-10 win at Florida, and LSU’s closest being a 35-7 win at home against Kentucky.  Whichever team wins this showdown will have the inside track to the SEC West title, the SEC title, and ultimate the national championship, so this will definitely be a game not to be missed.


2) Oklahoma State has the inside track to the national championship game.


While they may not be as good as Bama, LSU, or even Stanford, OKSU now appears to have a great chance to run the table and make the title game.  They currently sit at #3 in the BCS standings, and play a strong enough schedule from here on out that they probably would not lose that rank if they were to run the table.  The schedule has been kind to them, as they get tough games against Baylor, Kansas State, and Oklahoma at home, with their only real road test against Texas Tech, where they will hope to avoid the knockout that TTU delivered to Oklahoma.  They also would not have to play in a conference championship game, unlike the LSU-Bama winner, Stanford, or Clemson.  While I wouldn’t count on OKSU to run the table, they certainly are capable, and if they were they should be playing in the national title game.


3) Stanford should run the table.


While Stanford currently sits at #6 in the BCS polls, they may be the most dominant team in the country outside of LSU and Alabama.  Their closest game this season was a 37-10 win at Arizona, and they have been dominant on both sides of the ball, currently sitting in the top 5 nationally in points for and against per game this year.  Perhaps this dominance has been a result of a weak schedule to this point, and while it does pick up towards the end of the year, there is no game they will not be a favorite to win.  Outside of their showdown against Oregon at home, the only tough games are at USC and versus Notre Dame, before a Pac-12 title game showdown against either Arizona State or USC (again).  If Stanford can run the table and Oklahoma State loses, they are going to be tough to keep out of the title game, even if Boise State and Clemson go undefeated.


4) Boise State may have a legitimate title game claim by season’s end.


Wisconsin’s hail-mary loss to Michigan State may well prove to be the best thing that has ever happened to Boise State’s football program.  As it stands, they appear to be odds-on favorites to run the table in the Mountain West and finish 12-0.  Also, they currently sit at #4 in the BCS rankings.  While they would probably get passed by Stanford, Clemson, and Kansas State if any of those teams were to go undefeated, Boise appears to have a pretty good chance of being one of only two undefeated teams at the end of the year, alongside the Bama-LSU winner.  Stanford (as addressed above) probably has the easiest route, though the home matchup against Oregon will be very tough.  Oklahoma State still has Bedlam to deal with, KSU faces a beast of a schedule in its last four games, and Clemson has to deal with games at Georgia Tech and South Carolina before the ACC title game, all games they could lose.  If all these teams lost and Boise was one of two undefeated teams standing, I think the BCS could view them as the #2 team in the country, and they could finally get their long-awaited shot at a national championship game.


5) The Big Ten is a mess.


While this is more of something we haven’t learned than something we learned from week 8, Wisconsin’s loss to Michigan State threw a monkey wrench into the Big Ten standings.  As it stands, Michigan State would play Penn State in the Big Ten title game, a result that nobody predicted going into the year.  While both teams still face tough schedules to close out the year, right now it appears that the Michigan State at Nebraska and Penn State at Wisconsin games will determine the two representatives of the Legends and the Leaders in the Big Ten title game.  With that said, teams like Purdue, Michigan, and even Iowa are only 1 game out in their divisions, so this should make for a hectic ending to a league that is very even top to bottom, except for Minnesota and Indiana[1].

[1] Except for Indiana and Minnesota, but take them out and we have 10 teams, so it’s perfect


NFL Disappointments

October 18, 2011

Mike Vick and the 2-4 Eagles may well be the biggest disappointment so far this year in the NFL

Along with the surprise NFL teams we have every year, there are those that disappoint.  We aren’t merely talking about teams that had moderate expectations before stinking; we are talking about playoff-caliber teams that completely fall off the radar.  Often times injuries play a big role in this, but for some teams they just fall apart.  Let’s take a look at some of the teams that have fallen well short of expectations this year, and see if there is any hope for them to get back on track.


Philadelphia Eagles (2-4, 4th NFC East)


The “Dream Team” of the 2011 season seems to have had its wings clipped early on this season, sputtering to a 1-4 start before a potentially season-saving victory at Washington this past week.  Despite that win, Philly still sits at an unremarkable 2-4.  This is in large part due to their front seven on defense, which is in the bottom third in the league in rushing yards allowed per game.  This shortcoming has allowed other teams to dictate the tempo of games.  Also, QB Mike Vick has not played nearly as well as he did last season.


Prediction: 25% chance of making the playoffs.  While the Eagles have been struggling, they are only two games out of first in the weak NFC East.  Also, they get a bye week now before a favorable schedule to close out the year, with 6 home games and only 4 road games, two of which come at Seattle and Miami, both very beatable teams.  If the defense turns things around, I could see them finishing as high as 10-6.  But I wouldn’t count on that just yet, as even with Rex Grossman giving up 4 interceptions, the Eagles only managed to beat the solid if unspectacular Redskins by 7 points.  I think they’ll finish 7-9 or 8-8 and miss the playoffs, but they have the most upside of any of the underachievers on this list.


Kansas City Chiefs (2-3, 3rd AFC West)


After making the playoffs last season and appearing to be one of the true up and coming teams in the league, the Chiefs have sputtered to an uninspiring 2-3 start.  They have been decimated by injuries, losing their best offensive player (RB Jamaal Charles) and defensive player (S Eric Berry) and even budding TE Tony Moeaki to year-ending injuries, all before week 2 had ended.  There have even been rumors of the Chiefs firing Todd Haley mid-season due to a rift with GM Scott Pioli, which would further complicate things.  QB Matt Cassel has looked shaky, but at least he and the Chiefs have righted the ship to some extent, getting to 2-3 with wins over Indy and Minnesota, who are a combined 1-11 right now.


Prediction: 3% chance of making the playoffs.  While the Chiefs only sit 2.5 games out of first in the AFC West with a crucial home game coming up against the Chargers in two weeks, I just don’t see them even sniffing the playoffs this year.  They face a brutal 6 week stretch beginning week 11, with games at New England, versus Pittsburgh, at Chicago, at New York Jets, versus Green Bay, and versus Oakland.  They are going to be hard pressed to win any of those games.  I don’t see them winning more than three more games, with the most likely victims being the Dolphins and the Broncos (twice).  At this point, a 5-11 season with the injuries suffered by KC could be considered a success, but nonetheless it would be a massive disappointment for a team that looked so promising after last year.


Saint Louis Rams (0-5, 4th NFC West)


The Rams came into this year with legitimate NFC West title hopes, having missed the playoffs by only a game last year behind a rookie QB in Sam Bradford.  Now, instead of making a leap forward with a maturing team, the Rams have taken a quantum leap backwards.  Both sides of the ball have been pathetic, with the offense mustering an NFL-worst 9.8 points per game, and the defense allowing a 3rd-worst 27.4 points per game.  While Bradford hasn’t progressed much, much of the blame can fall on his receivers, a group which may be the weakest in the NFL.  On defense, the Rams have been killed by injuries, as they have lost their three top corners.  The combination of injuries and insufficient talent has doomed them this year.


Prediction: 0.1% chance of making playoffs.  The Rams are pretty much doomed this year, as injuries have ravaged the defense and the offense is sputtering, but at least there may be hope for a slight revival in coming weeks.  They made a great value trade for Brandon Lloyd, bolstering their receiving corps in an effort to improve QB Sam Bradford’s confidence by getting him a guy who would actually play for other teams.  While they are not going to make the playoffs, the offense should become more dangerous, and with games against inexperienced teams like Arizona, Cleveland, Seattle, and Cincinnati, the Rams are bound to find a few wins by season’s end.  I’ll leave the 0.1% chance because they do still play in the NFC West and I’m not completely sold on Alex Smith leading the 49ers.


Indianapolis Colts (0-6, 4th in AFC South)


Ladies and gentlemen, your clubhouse leader for Andrew Luck (sorry, Miami).  As everyone knows, the Colts’ playoff chances were decimated by Peyton Manning’s neck surgery.  But what this year has proven is that he may well be the most valuable player in the NFL.  When Tom Brady missed the 2008 season with a torn ACL, he was adequately replaced by Matt Cassel.  In Indy, there has been no such luck with Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter, even with Painter showing flashes of life recently.  The offense has been abysmal, currently sitting next to last in the league with 284.7 yards per game, despite a veteran O-line, running back, and receiving corps.  The defense has been pretty bad too, allowing 27.2 points per game despite still having DE’s Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.


Projection: 0% chance of making the playoffs.  Unlike Saint Louis, there is literally no way I can see the Colts making the playoffs barring a return by Peyton Manning next week, which just is not happening.  Making matters worse, they face a very tough schedule from here on out.  Regardless of whether Manning comes back, I expect them to get a win or two, but a 2-14 season sounds pretty likely, a far cry from the glory days of Manning.  Hopefully he comes back fully healthy next year.

NFL Surprises

October 12, 2011

Calvin Johnson and the Lions are perhaps the NFL's biggest surprise thus far, sitting at 5-0.

Thanks to the large amount of turnover in the rosters of NFL teams and the fact that schedules are determined by performance the previous year, parity is king in the NFL.  As such, there are numerous surprises year in and year out, especially early on in the season.  Let’s take a look at some of the more surprising teams thus far, and see what their playoff chances look like.


The Good


Detroit Lions (5-0, 1st NFC North)


The Lions appear to be completing a drastic transformation from the laughing stock of the NFL into a real contender thanks to several great drafts that have left them with one of the best QB-WR combos in the NFL in Matt Stafford and Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, an improving RB in Jahvid Best, and a scary defense headlined by Ndamukong Suh and the line.  So long as Stafford stays healthy, the Lions appear to be on their way to the playoffs, especially with the Bears and Vikings appearing to be in the midst of down years.

Forecast: 95% chance of making the playoffs.  There doesn’t appear to be any reason to think that the success of this Lions team has been a fluke; they have talent on both sides of the ball and have already won tough road games against Tampa Bay and Dallas.  Outside of two games against Green Bay and a trip to New Orleans, I see no reason why Detroit shouldn’t be favored in just about every other game they play this year, and they could easily finish 12-4 (or better) and earn a bye in the playoffs.  They could make some serious noise in the playoffs, too.


San Francisco 49ers (4-1, 1st NFC West)


The 49ers appear to be this year’s flavor of the NFC West, as they currently sit two games up on the 2nd place Seahawks in a wretched division.  Unlike last year’s NFC West teams, the 49ers have actually pulled off impressive victories against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.  This turnaround has been sparked by new head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has turned this team into a defensive force with a commitment to running the ball on offense, and has successfully (thus far) made QB Alex Smith more of a game-manager than a game-changer, which has prevented him from making the mistakes that have cost the Niners in the past.

Forecast: 85% chance of making the playoffs.  While it is hard to say if the Niners are for real just yet, this week’s test at Detroit should really tell us something about the mettle of this team.  Regardless of that game’s outcome, the Niners do appear to be the class of the NFC West, and should make the playoffs with 9-10 wins.  Once there, I doubt they will be able to do much damage unless Smith really comes on, but a playoff berth in year 1 of the Harbaugh era would be a success in itself.


Washington Redskins (3-1, 1st NFC East)


Despite starting the butt of many a Bears joke at QB in Rex Grossman, the Redskins are off to a 3-1 start and are atop the NFC East.  While Grossman struggles with consistency, when on, he is actually pretty good.  Beyond him, the offense is dedicated to running the ball, and they have had success with both Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain thus far.  The real strength of the team lies in the revamped defense, which appears to be thriving without the distraction of Albert Haynesworth.  The Skins also have the benefit of playing a 4th place schedule thanks to last year, and they also play the NFC West, against which they are 2-0 thus far.

Forecast: 60% chance of making the playoffs.  This week’s game against Philly could determine the Skins’ fate this year.  A win would push them to 4-1 with a schedule with eminently winnable games all the way up to Week 14 against New England, and would all but end Philly’s playoff hopes by dropping them to 1-5.  If the Skins lose, it could really open the door for the Eagles to begin a resurgence, and would allow Dallas and New York to claw their way back atop the NFC East.  As a Skins fan I am biased, but with as bad as Philly has been playing and that fact that it is a home game I think the Skins will improve to 4-1 this week and should finish 11-5 or 10-6, good enough for a playoff berth.


Buffalo Bills (4-1, T-1st AFC East)


The Bills are off to a terrific start this year thanks to a highly productive offense and a turnover machine defense.  Ryan Fitzpatrick has been very good, but the real key to this offense is RB Fred Jackson, who is 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards, allowing the Bills to dictate tempo and keep their defense rested.  While the D is giving up points, they have powered the Bills to key wins against New England and Philadelphia by forcing both Tom Brady and Mike Vick into throwing 4 picks.  By winning the turnover battle, the Bills have managed to outscore their opponents in shootout victories, though repeating this success against run-oriented teams may prove difficult.

Forecast: 40% chance of making the playoffs.  While the Bills do have a few more gimmes in Miami (twice) and home against Denver, they are going to have to improve their defense if they want to make a real push at the playoffs.  If their defense can’t step up, run-oriented teams like the Jets (two games), Redskins, and Titans should put up plenty of points without conceding the turnovers that pass-heavy attacks do, and the Bills are going to struggle to win those games.  While I think the Bills should finish over .500, I think a 9-7 record is most likely for them, which might not be enough to get them into the playoffs, as New England should win the division while the Jets are due for a turnaround once their offensive line returns to health.

Can Justin Verlander Take the Tigers to the World Series?

October 4, 2011

It is rare for a team with just one dominant starter to make the World Series, but Justin Verlander is looking to change that notion

In just a couple of hours, the Detroit Tigers will take the field at home against the New York Yankees, and if the Tigers can win, they will make the ALCS.  There, the Tigers would face the Texas Rangers, a squad with a depleted pitching staff against whom the Tigers would have a legitimate chance of defeating to advance to the World Series.

So what, you might ask, is so interesting about this? Read the rest of this entry »

Game #162: A Night to Remember

September 28, 2011

Tonight, we get to witness a rarity in baseball: there are four games that will decide who does and does not make the playoffs: in the race for the AL Wild Card, Boston plays at Baltimore, and Tampa Bay hosts the Yankees, and in the NL Wild Card race, Atlanta hosts Philly, and St. Louis travels to Houston.  Both of these Wild Card races are tied going into tonight, so things may well not be decided by tonight’s games, as teams ending with the same record play in a 1-game playoff.  However, these games are must-watches for baseball fans, as they are sure to be some of the most exciting events of the year.  Below is a breakdown of each of the four games.

Four Teams are playing for the right to play for this trophy in the playoffs tonight

Boston (Lester) at Baltimore (Simon), 7pm, ESPN Read the rest of this entry »

College Football Week 4 Review

September 26, 2011

Now that school work is done eating away at my free time, I am happy to be back this week with a round-up of the exciting events of week four of the 2011 college football season.  Here are five takeaways from this past week’s games.


Could South Florida sneak their way into the national title game?

1) LSU-Alabama may well be the de facto national title game Read the rest of this entry »

5 Things Learned from Week 2 of the College Football Season

September 12, 2011

Denard Robinson starred in Michigan's 35-31 thriller against Notre Dame


We just finished up another crazy weekend in college football, headlined by the Michigan-Notre Dame (a game which I ignored in my week 2 preview) ending that will be one of the more memorable moments of this season.  Here are some of the things we can take away from week 2.


1) Michigan’s going to be a tough out Read the rest of this entry »