Separating undefeated contenders from pretenders; more Mailbag
Michigan State could finish with 10 wins; rival Michigan won't be so lucky
Searching for the anti-Les Miles in the college football coaching ranks
Plus: Poll outrage, bowl projection confusion, offensive identity issues
Apologies in advance if this week's Mailbag seems a bit chaotic. About 15 seconds before my deadline to file, Les Miles called and told me I had to sub in three new questions.
Stewart: Michigan fan here, but even I recognize that our team is headed for disaster, possibly starting next week. So my question for you is, which of these undefeated teams right now are the biggest frauds? LSU, Michigan, Michigan State or Oklahoma? How would you rank these teams, and how do you predict they will finish their seasons?
-- Dan C., Los Altos, Calif.
"Fraud" is such a strong word, don't you think? In fact, in most instances it's a felony. All these teams are guilty of is possibly not being as good as the pollsters currently say they are. So let's rephrase it to "team likeliest to finish the farthest from its current ranking." And let's go in reverse order.
4. Oklahoma (currently No. 6): The Sooners have been sloppy, inconsistent at times on offense and suspect on defense. But they're also 5-0 against a more than respectable schedule (Florida State and Air Force are both ranked, and until this week Texas had been ranked for 10 years). They're going to slip up at some point, but they'll still be in the top 10 by season's end.
3. Michigan State (currently No. 17): The Spartans have been one of the surprises of the season so far due to a formidable rushing attack and an improved defense. Michigan State has a history of second-half collapses, but these Spartans have already beaten what was supposed to be one of the league's top three teams (Wisconsin) and they don't face Ohio State. Ten wins is possible.
2. LSU (currently No. 12): Even the most devout Tigers fan must concede that this team is headed for a fall, what with its utter ineptitude at moving the ball and a daunting remaining schedule (at Florida, at Auburn, Alabama, at Arkansas). Win just one of those three with defense, however, and the Tigers are looking at a 9-3 record and top 20 ranking.
1. Michigan (currently No. 18): Sorry, Dan. At least you know it's coming. Denard Robinson has been spectacular, but the Wolverines are entering the stretch of their schedule where he'll no longer be able to do it alone, and the nation's 102nd-ranked defense is in for a world of hurt. With Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State all to come, 8-4 is probably the best-case scenario. But D-Rob could still win the Heisman. At least you've got that going for you.
The game is over and nothing will change regarding LSU-Tennessee. Too many men on the field for Tennessee is half the distance to the goal. But since LSU's center [T-Bob Hebert] threw his helmet on the field of play, and the game can't end on the defensive penalty, shouldn't the Tigers have been penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, thus running the untimed play from around the 16?
-- Travis, Knoxville
This has been a popular question since Saturday's debacle. For a very thorough explanation of the entire officiating sequence, I highly recommend listening to this interview with SEC Coordinator of Officiating Rogers Redding on 790 the Zone in Atlanta. In a nutshell, if the officials had seen and chosen to call the penalty, then yes, that's exactly what would have happened. Given the bizarre circumstances, however, I don't see how they could have enforced it, seeing as everyone (the officials included) thought the game was over. And if you're being technical about it, you'd have to throw the same flag on Tennessee, which had several players run onto the field in celebration before the play was officially dead.
"We are always going to allow that immediate, initial spontaneous burst of emotion," said Redding. "It would be irresponsible of the officials in my judgment to penalize that ... It would be so technical, and so over-officiating to have called anything like that at the very end of this game."
I can't disagree, though it does bring to mind the infamous excessive celebration call last year on A.J. Green and others like it. If Redding wants his officials to allow for bursts of emotion, they better be consistent about it going forward.
Really enjoyed your story on Les Miles. (He reminds me of former Michigan State coach John L. Smith, yet Smith was rarely as lucky or fortunate as Miles has been.) Who is the anti-Les-Miles? The coach who you think is an outstanding game manager, strategist and play-caller who has been repeatedly unlucky or unfortunate in the final outcome of games?
-- Peter, Raleigh, N.C.
That's a tough question. No coach in recent memory suffered more bizarre, last-second losses than Minnesota's Glen Mason, but I'd hardly call him an "outstanding" strategist. Chris Petersen is the best in-game coach in the biz, but he's been the furthest thing from "unlucky."
The guy who comes closest to fitting the bill is Bobby Petrino, who may well be the best play-caller in the country (go back and watch the way he so thoroughly frazzled Alabama's defense in the early parts of that game) but hasn't had the overall talent level to pull off a breakthrough upset. He came close against Florida last year and Alabama this year. Plus, I covered two particularly gut-wrenching losses he had at Louisville: The 2004 game at Miami, when Kerry Rhodes let a game-sealing interception slip through his hands; and the Cardinals' 2006 loss to Rutgers, decided in part when William Gay jumped offsides on Jeremy Ito's initial (missed) game-winning field goal attempt. Both were the Cardinals' only losses of the season.
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