Rising star QBs could make this the Year of the Shootout; more Mailbag
There have never been so many quarterbacks capable of shredding defenses
The Fighting Irish could be out of BCS contention after a mere three weeks
Plus: Mississippi State's draw, Toledo's upset chances, Mike Stoops' future
There was a moment Saturday night in Ann Arbor, probably around the third quarter, when I started to ponder what I was going to write from the Notre Dame-Michigan game. I actually asked myself: "What am I doing here? These are two unranked teams. We are learning absolutely nothing about either of them. In hindsight, was it really a good idea to pick which game to cover solely because of lights?"
Needless to say, by game's end I was very grateful to have witnessed what turned out to be an all-time classic ending. And based on the TV ratings, a whole bunch of you are happy you tuned in.
Can you remember a day with more exciting finishes? Just off hand, Auburn's goal-line stand against Mississippi State, the crazy fourth quarter of the Georgia-South Carolina game and then the great finish of Michigan- Notre Dame. Those were just the ones I saw. It seems like Texas-BYU and Ohio State-Toledo were also very exciting games. Do you think this is a preview of the entire season? I would like to know so I can buy stock in pacemakers.
-- Matt, Atlanta
I certainly hope so (about the games, not the pacemaker). And I'd add last Friday's Missouri-Arizona State game and Saturday's Iowa-Iowa State bout to that list. We're only two weeks in, so it's a little early to start keying in on potential season-long themes, but the two common denominators in all of those save Texas-BYU were turnovers and offensive explosiveness. The turnover fests are not unusual early in the season. The offenses ... they're only going to get better, which potentially means a year full of 45-42 games.
My College Football Overtime column this week led with several teams facing tenuous quarterback situations. But as I got into the Spreading the Field section, it felt like I was mostly compiling a list of absurd quarterback stat lines. It seems quarterbacks, with the help of increasingly refined offensive schemes and play-calling, are becoming more and more advanced each year, while defenses are showing little sign of catching up. I know it's only two weeks in, but right now there are 28 FBS quarterbacks completing at least 70 percent of their passes -- and that doesn't include Andrew Luck, who's currently at 68.5. That number will shrink as teams start facing tougher competition, but it wasn't that long ago that 60 percent was a benchmark for quarterbacks and 70 percent was some mystical number. Now, we see a guy like Brandon Weeden complete 22 of his first 23 passes against Arizona and admire it for a few minutes before moving on because it's not entirely unexpected.
Go right on down the list: Kellen Moore (82.4), Ryan Tannehill (80.8), Russell Wilson (79.4), Kirk Cousins (79.1), Tyler Bray (78.5), Robert Griffin III (77.8), Brock Osweiler (74.4) and so on. There have never been so many quarterbacks so capable of shredding a defense, and it could make for some very entertaining football the rest of the season. Remember the Year of the Big 12 Shootout in 2008, featuring Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Graham Harrell and Chase Daniel? This could be the Year of the Nationwide Shootout, including in the SEC, where Georgia-South Carolina and Auburn-Mississippi State were both notably lacking in defense (albeit against the rush more than the pass) and were ultimately decided by one team finally making a stop or forcing a key turnover at the end. And while Denard Robinson completed just 45.8 percent of his passes against the Fighting Irish, the main reason that game was so entertaining was because it seemed like neither team fielded a defense in the fourth quarter. It was like watching a PlayStation game come to life.
There are obviously exceptions to the above trend, most notably the No. 2 (Alabama) and No. 3 (LSU) teams in the country. The Tide and Tigers follow a more traditional formula: swarming, suffocating defenses and ball-control offenses. There will not be three touchdowns in 72 seconds when those two meet Nov. 5, unless it's three monstrous sacks, forced fumbles and touchdown returns. We'll find out this weekend whether either or both No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 5 Florida State fit the same mold. Ultimately, the national championship will come down to who plays defense. But until then, I'm guessing the typical Saturday for any team ranked around sixth or lower is going to be marked by incredibly accurate quarterbacks marching up and down the field. It should make for many more fun endings.
Who has the advantage Thursday night? LSU because it played an FCS team at home while Mississippi State lost to Auburn in a heartbreaker? Or Mississippi State because it has a home game and the higher ranked team usually gets upset in the Thursday night games?
-- Denny, Denver, Colo.
They probably cancel each other out. A couple of years ago, when it seemed like every Thursday night game ended with the home fans storming the field, I said a team has got to be nuts to voluntarily agree to a Thursday night road game. But on the other hand, who did Mississippi State tick off at the SEC office to get stuck playing the No. 3 team in the country on four days' rest following a game against the defending national champs? The fact that the Auburn loss ended the way it did makes it that much tougher for the Bulldogs to recover.
It should be raucous in Starkville, and the home crowd will definitely give Dan Mullen's team a boost. But it seems like the Thursday night upset rash ended a couple of years ago -- almost certainly as punishment for ESPN sticking Craig James in that time slot. If anything, Friday is the new Thursday, with Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore magically invoking drama the way Gus Johnson does every March. The duo's last four Friday night regular season games have been the Boise State-Nevada overtime thriller, Miami of Ohio's last-second MAC title upset of Northern Illinois, Baylor-TCU and Missouri-Arizona State. Not too shabby. Meanwhile, the two Thursday night games so far have been Wisconsin 51, UNLV 17 and Oklahoma State 37, Arizona 14.
But if anyone has the ability to reverse that trend, it's obviously Les Miles. If his Tigers play defense the way they did against Oregon, the crowd is only going to be able to do so much for the Bulldogs. At the same time, I'll still be nervous for LSU every week until the day it recruits a new quarterback.
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