Sizing up which BCS title threat has impressed the most; more Mailbag
Despite speculation, it's unlikely 'Bama, Oregon, K-State and ND all stay unbeaten
K-State may be less explosive than others, but remaining schedule seems easiest
Plus: WVU struggles, Boise's BCS chances, reaction to Florida's resurgence, more
|The Mandel Initiative Podcast|
|Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione discusses scheduling and the story behind this week's Notre Dame game. Stewart and Mallory look ahead to Week 9.|
This week we reached that inevitable point in the season when half my inbox consists of panicky hypothetical questions based on a certain implausible scenario, so let's go ahead and nip them in the bud, shall we?
Hey Stewart. What odds would you give Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame all going undefeated?
-- Wood, Minneapolis
I'd say 100-to-1. If we've learned anything from 14 years of the BCS, it's that someone will miss a chip-shot field goal. Or lose to a 4-7 team at home. Or face Oklahoma and USC on the road.
I understand that Alabama is, well, Alabama, and will probably be the last team standing at the end of the season. But the Tide have been beating up on mediocre competition. Oregon is scary good. I went to Florida, so I am thrilled to death by its resurrection. But K-State has to be No. 1 now, right? It has been the most impressive team in the country this year, and by a considerable margin.
-- Jeff, Baltimore
It just so happens I've attended both of Kansas State's big road victories, at Oklahoma and at West Virginia. I've also seen routs by Alabama (against Michigan) and Oregon (against Arizona State) in person. I've not yet covered a Florida game, which may help explain why I keep (incorrectly) picking the Gators to lose.
And K-State is impressive, no question. For one thing, no team in the country has two road wins of such high quality. The Wildcats won in Norman, which almost no one ever does. They held Geno Smith and West Virginia to 155 passing yards, the lowest of any game in Dana Holgorsen's eight years as a head coach or offensive coordinator. We all know about Collin Klein, but I'm not sure people have fully warmed up to just how talented the Wildcats' defense is. Meshak Williams and Adam Davis get to the quarterback. Linebacker Arthur Brown is an elite playmaker. Cornerback Nigel Malone and safety Ty Zimmerman are among the best in the country at their respective positions.
Yet, I still can't say I agree with Jeff that they've "been the most impressive team in the country this year by a considerable margin." First of all, if you're going strictly by résumé, it's Florida, with the Gators' road win at Texas A&M and home victories over top-10 foes LSU and South Carolina. If you're going by the eyeball test, I'd still have to go with Alabama or Oregon. Neither has played the greatest competition to date, but they've been consistently dominant in all phases. And what puts them ahead of K-State in my mind is their explosiveness. With Oregon, there's the threat of someone breaking a 70-yard run on any given play. With Alabama, AJ McCarron is every bit as effective a passer as Klein, and while Klein and John Hubert are productive runners, Tide tailbacks Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon are more dangerous.
All that being said, K-State may have the best chance of the three to run the table, with this week's game against No. 15 Texas Tech serving as possibly its toughest remaining test. Alabama plays three ranked teams in the next three weeks, most notably No. 6 LSU, while Oregon has remaining games against No. 7 Oregon State, No. 10 USC and No. 19 Stanford. And unlike the Wildcats, both the Tide and Ducks would have to play a conference championship game to finish undefeated. That's not to say K-State won't get upset (see the introduction to this column), but at this point, it has certainly proven it's capable of winning out.
With the Ducks pulling starters by halftime in five of their seven games, their stats are often misleading. Do any of the SI number crunchers have efficiency measurements for Oregon's first halves, when the Ducks have outscored opponents 234-46 to date, specifically defensively? Cheers.
-- Aaron, Portland
When looking for efficiency numbers, I usually rely on Bill Connelly's S&P ratings, which can be found at Football Outsiders. His offensive and defensive rankings grade success on a play-by-play basis (rather than cumulative yardage totals) as measured by down and distance and position on the field, and they eliminate garbage-time data, which addresses the problem Aaron addresses. They're also adjusted for strength of opponent, and thus can be a bit haphazard early in the season, but we're reaching a point where things are starting to even out.
According to those numbers, Oregon ranks third in the nation in defensive efficiency, behind only Alabama and Oklahoma. I'm not sure the exact ranking matters, but the fact the Ducks are included in the top 10 (as opposed to 46th in the NCAA's total defense category) is more reflective of their play. For instance, Oregon allowed Arizona State to gain 408 yards in last Thursday's 43-21 win. By conventional metrics, that's not considered a strong performance. However, it looks a lot different upon recognizing the Sun Devils notched more than half those yards (206) in the fourth quarter, when they trailed 43-7, and when the Ducks, from what I could see, were playing primarily guys not listed on their two-deep. If I were to name the top 10 to 15 defenses in the country from what I've seen, they'd mostly align with those sitting at the top of that S&P list.
So can we call Geno Smith's early-season stats what they were yet? PlayStation numbers against inferior defenses.
-- Pat, Atlanta
It was never realistic to think Smith would maintain his historic early-season pace, and you knew he'd eventually come back down to earth. But I would not have anticipated as severe a crash as we've seen the past two weeks. Sure, the quality of the defenses are a big part of it. I like to say that college football season is a bit like The Da Vinci Code: With each week, a new layer gets peeled back and changes much of what we previously knew. And after watching Texas' and Baylor's defenses in their games since West Virginia played them, you can see why the Mountaineers enjoyed the high degree of offensive success they did.
Still, it's extremely uncharacteristic for a Holgorsen offense to put up the kind of paltry numbers it did the past two games. There are two extenuating circumstances to consider. For one, there's no overstating the impact of star receiver Stedman Bailey's ankle injury. Bailey missed the second half of the Texas Tech game and was a shell of himself against K-State. Also, Grantland's Chris Ryan may be on to something here. Is it not possible that two trips to Texas in two weeks might wear down a team a little bit? I'm still beat from last week's San Francisco-to-Phoenix-to-Pittsburgh-and-back jaunt, and I didn't have to go to practice or watch film upon returning. (Though I did immediately watch the Homeland episode I missed. ... Wow.)
Hey Stewart, I just wanted to say thanks. You've picked against my Gators three times this season, and three times you've been wrong. Keep up the great work ... I guess? Please pick Georgia next week.
-- Frank, Raleigh, N.C.
Touché. I can't remember being proven wrong by the same team so repeatedly in one season. But around the time Florida took a 21-3 lead on South Carolina last week while gaining around 30 yards of offense, I finally said, "No more. You've won me over, Gators." And that was before they managed to beat a team by 33 points while gaining just 183 yards, which I didn't think was humanly possible. So I'm done picking against Florida (much to Frank's chagrin).