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SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
11/04/2006 04:03:00 PM

Saturday Observations Part II

Oakland Arena
Freshman QB Nate Davis threw for 250 yards and a touchdown against Michigan's vaunted defense.
Folks, we have a twist. Yes, we’re still on course for a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown on Nov. 18 -- only No. 2 is suddenly playing like No. 22.

I was willing to shrug off Michigan’s low scoring outputs against Penn State, Iowa and Northwestern. No Mario Manningham. No big deal. Just killing time until the Ohio State game.

But then came Saturday’s near-disaster against Ball State. You read that right -- Ball State. With three minutes to go, the Cardinals (3-6), starting a freshman quarterback at the Big House, had the ball at the Wolverines’ 2-yard line, down 34-26, in position to potentially tie the No. 2 team in the country.


You can’t blame this one on Michigan’s struggling offense: the Wolverines put up 507 yards. You can’t blame this one on a slow start, either: Yes, the Maize and Blue did basically hand the Cardinals nine points at the start on Mike Hart’s fumble (his first in 600-something touches) for a safety and Chad Henne’s interception for a touchdown, but they eventually got up 31-12.

Strangely, it was Michigan’s vaunted defense that nearly blew it, allowing Ball State QB Nate Davis to complete a 54-yard touchdown, a 62-yard pass to set up another touchdown and to drive the Cardinals 85 yards in the final minutes before they got flagged for a false start on fourth and goal at the 2 and failed to convert from the 7.

Was it a fluke or the latest sign of a team on the decline? Do the Wolverines now need to be worried when they visit Indiana next weekend or was this wake-up the call they needed? Whatever the case, Michigan probably deserves to be punished in the polls tomorrow, but we pollsters are going to have enough trouble figuring out who should be No. 3 this week, nevertheless No. 2. So I assume the Wolverines will stay where they are -- but they’re not exactly inspiring confidence.

∙ I’ve had some fun at Joe Paterno’s expense at times, but there was nothing funny about the gruesome knee injury Penn State’s venerable coach sustained on the sideline Saturday. I sure hope it’s not as bad as it looked (the fact that he couldn’t move his leg while sitting on the bench certainly isn’t encouraging) and I know we all wish him a speedy recovery.

∙ Alabama’s Mike Shula is going to have a heck of time trying to live down this one. Many of the Tide’s ever-demanding faithful were already starting to come down on their fourth-year coach before 'Bama suffered the worst possible loss imaginable Saturday to Mississippi State. Shula’s team didn’t just lose at home to a 1-7 team -- it lost to a team coached by Sylvester Croom, the revered former ‘Bama player who many felt at the time should have gotten the job instead of Shula.

I knew the Tide (6-4) would take a step back this season after losing so much from last year’s 10-2 team, but the most troubling aspect about ‘Bama this season is the way it so blatantly plays up and down to the level of its competition. The Tide nearly knocked off both Tennessee and Arkansas and played Florida tough in Gainesville, but they also struggled to beat Duke and Ole Miss and now lost to Mississippi State. That’s not good.

∙ From a national perspective, there’s almost no reason at this point for me to continue following the ACC -- and yet, for some reason, I can’t look away. It’s like a soap opera that’s so bad, it’s entertaining. Maryland (7-2), left for dead just a couple weeks ago, established itself as one of just two remaining contenders in the Atlantic Division (the other will be decided by tonight’s BC-Wake game) and accelerated Clemson’s embarrassing fall from grace with a dramatic 13-12 victory at Death Valley.

I’m not sure how good any of these ACC teams are at this point, considering the league’s title front-runner at this point, Georgia Tech, got pounded by that same Clemson (7-3) team two weeks ago, but the Terps have a heck of a defense, and QB Sam Hollenbach showed tremendous pose in leading his team down the field in the final two minutes to set up Dan Ennis’ game-winning field goal.

∙ Finally, kudos to Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who earned his first career Big Ten victory with a surprising 21-7 win at Iowa. Sophomores QB C.J. Bacher and RB Tyrell Sutton led the Wildcats’ (3-7) previously anemic offense to 443 yards, but more impressively, Northwestern’s longtime Achilles heel, its defense, managed to hold Drew Tate and the Hawkeyes to 264 yards.
posted by Stewart Mandel | View comments |


Posted: 4:19 PM   by Anonymous
Concerning the ACC:

I think that college football analysts and fans have sunk into the belief that for a league to be a good league, it must have at least one elite team. If a conference fails to have such a team, then it will rightfully be eliminated from the national title hunt early in the season.

However, I think the ACC is disproving that this season. I think it's safe to say that there are no elite teams (although the media has tried to dub several teams as such over the course of the season), but rather a whole mess of good, but flawed, teams. I disagree with the notion that this indicates that a conference lacks strength: after all, people keep harping on the parity in the SEC as one of its claims for conference superiority.

I would go so far as to argue that the ACC might actually be one of the better leagues this year. Even the winless teams, Duke and North Carolina, are capable on any given day of pulling an upset: just ask Miami or Wake Forest.

However, because the traditional powers and subsequently the new media darlings have all fallen, the national media has viewed the league as having a terrible season.

Oh, and Stewart: the loser of the Boston College-Wake Forest game tonight is not eliminated from the ACC Atlantic race, as Boston College, Wake Forest, and Maryland essentially still play a round robin: a three-way tie is certainly possible if each team goes 1-1 against the other two.
Posted: 4:37 PM   by IrishSS
Why does Florida continue to get respect as a top-10 (or as Lee Corso said on Gameday this morning, #3) team? They haven't beaten any quality teams convincingly and have been struggling to put away subpar opponents almost all year.
Posted: 4:39 PM   by Anonymous
hmm...Louisville's win over WVU looks a lot better now, doesn't it?
Posted: 4:42 PM   by Anonymous
Not making excuses, but... I'm gonna make some excuses. LLoyd Carr started putting reserves in early against Ball State, and any time Michigan got over a ten point lead, he would put them back in. Trying to rest the starters up for Nov. 18th I guess. The corners who got beat on the two long Ball State passes are both back ups, one of them (Johnny Sears) is a freshman.
Posted: 4:43 PM   by Anonymous
Michigan's troubles today fall squarely on Carr. He is simply unwilling to let the dogs loose on his former assistant coaches. The scrubs came in too early (especially on defense), the offense was too content to run and run and run, but even more so, the D stopped blitzing and going for the kill. Maybe it was a mental lapse on the part of the players. but from the stands it sure looked like Lloyd took it too easy, too soon. He's lucky his poor decisions didn't seriously cost his team.
Posted: 4:56 PM   by Anonymous
Mandel: Craig James called Paterno an "Old fart" on the air, after the game. Thoughts?

Is this the tone college football analysts use about him behind closed doors?
Posted: 4:59 PM   by Anonymous
eh, i dont think the michigan game means that much. They dominated the game statistically. Take out hart's fumble, henne's int and the big pass plays against michigan's backups and it was much as to be expected. the oddity was the first string D coming back in and gaving up the last drive before holding on.

Plus, look at weird games in the past. OSU had plenty in their 2002 nat'l title year. for god's sake if cincy doesnt drop a pass in the end zone at the end of the game, they beat them! UM was up big for most of this game.

What must seem disconcerting to michigan fans (I'm not one) were the dropped passes by their receivers. Other than that, I would assume they'll beat up on Indiana. OSU? who knows but records generally don't matter. Otherwise john cooper would be a great coach.
Posted: 5:08 PM   by Anonymous
Yeah, I was at the Michigan game. The backups were in waayyy too early on D, and they got burned deep a few times. The starters had to come back in and stop Ball State (who had 8 tries from inside the 10) from tying it. I'm not too worried, the D was forcing them to 3 and outs for most of the game. That being said, it was still a pitiful performance and Ohio State won't exactly be shaking in their boots watching this game.
Posted: 5:29 PM   by Anonymous
Did we just hear the death knell for Shula? People in 'Bama country have been grumbling all season.
Posted: 5:32 PM   by Anonymous
Yeesh. Is it just me or are there just a ton of average-ish teams this year. For instance, I DO think Florida deserves top-10 talk, just because there aren't many teams that have looked better. Still, it's looking more and more like Ohio State could play the 13 toughest teams in the country and sweep them.
Posted: 5:37 PM   by OSU old guy
This is NOTHING NEW. For decades, the top big ten teams _ usually OSU and UM have been more conservative than George BUSH/Jerry FALWELL on offense. It really does not matter in the end. As the case forever, the only gane that matters is Ohio State vs Michigan...............
Posted: 5:44 PM   by Anonymous
Florida gets respect as a top ten team because it beat a good Tennessee team (#8 now) on the road, a good LSU team, and it should have beaten Aubrun, minus one bad fumble call. 'Bama is no push-over either
Posted: 5:47 PM   by K
The more I look at this Michigan team, the more I think that they are no more than the eighth or ninth best team in the country. The defense is surely over-rated, very good, but over-rated. Clearly not as good as last year's Penn State and Ohio State defense. Chad Henne seems to be reverting to last years form which may be normal and the good days are the oddity. Unless they can recapture their September form I think they will lose by at least ten to Ohio State and then again to Cal in the Rose Bowl. Either they are getting worse or opposing teams are figuring out what they are doing offensively and defensively.
Posted: 5:49 PM   by CryingBoulderite
I know this is a tough concept, considering Mandel has been harping on them all season, but maybe Maryland is actually good. Maybe the Terps lofty position in the standings isn't indicative of the ACC being weak, but of Maryland being legit. The running game wasn't there, but other than that they were pretty darn impressive over Clemson. Flashy, no, but methodological. When they needed a yard, they got a yard.

... And for the record, I have no particularly allegiance to Maryland. I’ve simply noticed that it seems every time Mandel brings up the Terps it's to poke at them, and I'm not sure they deserve it.
Posted: 5:53 PM   by Anonymous
Florida continues to get respect because they are successfully navigating the toughest schedule in division one; and for all the people complaining about them not putting up style points just forget about it. While Vandy had a late surge against Florida, the Gators were able to control the game. While they aren’t blowing out teams, Florida is at least a much more balanced #3 team than Louisville or Texas who have seemed to forget how to play defense.

While Brohms performance was impressive, I don’t see how either WVU or Louisville could ever hope to compete for the national championship while fielding a competitive team on just one side of the ball. How can anybody really think that what WVU did to that Louisville defense won’t be three times worse when they go up against Ohio State or a quality SEC opponent like Arkansas or Florida…Heck I would even bet USC could burn them for over 600 yards and their still a potential contender for the national title. Point is, even if Louisville runs the table they should not play for the national championship until they can produce a more balanced team.
Posted: 6:07 PM   by Anonymous
I am tired of hearing the argument that the big easy is a good conference which deserves a shot at the nc. louisville the best team right now in that league just happens to be a decent team at most playing a weak schedule.Big deal, they beat a wv team which was so overrated.. And please nd fans don't talk about weakness when you got blown out at home by a michigan team that barely, I mean barely, beat a cupcake team (ball who???) at home
Posted: 6:08 PM   by Anonymous
As an OSU fan who is currently frustrated by the lack of OSU Offense against Illinois currently (the game is still in progress). I pose the question is today a chess match against Carr and Tressel in order to see who can show the other the LEAST amount before the BIG game?
Posted: 6:12 PM   by Alan
Wisconsin, at the end of the first half, intentionally ran the whole team off sides on two successive kick offs, in order to use up the reamining time.

It is one thing to take advantage of a rule.

It is another thing to deliberately violate a rule to gain an advantage.

That amounts to cheating.
Posted: 6:16 PM   by Anonymous
I think nd fans shouldn't talk about weakness just 'cus the irish team got owned and blown out by michigan at home. By the way michigan barely beat a cupcake team ball who?? at home. I think michigan is just a tad overrated just a tad. So this means that ND really sucks. And please stop making excuses michigan fans.
Posted: 6:20 PM   by Allowishes
Florida is in the top team because they are winning in the SEC. AND are one bad call away from being undefeated in the SEC. The have a stout defense AND a very good offense. They will win the SEC and will have a decent argument for being in the national championship game. Why does someone always question this every week. Do they not watch any other college football games except their own teams? How many sports writers in print and one TV explain that the SEC is one of the best conferences this year and Florida has won very tough games week in and week out.
Posted: 6:29 PM   by Anonymous
GO U NU! Ohio State better watch out next week!
Posted: 6:37 PM   by Anonymous
Down in 'Bama, I knew OC Radar was gone by the end of the season. Now, he may be gone by the end of the weekend.

We can't get rid of Shula. Coach Mal gave him the ol' "statement of approval" on Thursday. Besides, it costs too much-- at leat that's what I hear. My checkbook is open, though...
Posted: 6:41 PM   by Anonymous
Ohio State has no heart! When they play their next quality team, they WILL Lose!
Posted: 6:52 PM   by Anonymous
If Michigan and Ohio St. or any of the SEC teams are the best teams in the country, the college football world is in a state of stupidity. WVU and LOUSIVILLE could run all over any team in the nation at this point.
Posted: 6:53 PM   by Anonymous
Two Things

1) Florida was not "one play from beating Auburn." There was a lot of game left, and a field goal wouldn't have been a gimme.

2) If Penn State wanted the ball so badly, why accept the offsides penalties and make Wisconsin re-kick? PSU got caught being stupid.
Posted: 6:56 PM   by Anonymous
Hey SEC fans or big ten fans name one team in the SEC or Big Ten that can stop WVU and Lousiville from scoring 30. WVU and Lousiville both have average defenses, but they have 2 of the best offenses in the country, unlike the SEC teams that dont play offense whatsover and above average defense. Get over yourselves already.
Butch Davis to 'Bama? Only a matter of time.
Posted: 7:33 PM   by PM
Mandel, will be interesting to hear what you have to say about your all universe QB Troy Smith after today's absolute non-heisman performance. The guy is great don't get me wrong, but yourself and media cohorts are a bit to early in crowning him.
Posted: 7:34 PM   by Anonymous
ok first off, the big plays that ball state had were almost exclusively against the scrubs on D. the defense was dominating ball state for the entire first half. secondly, the offense put up over 500 yards of offense, and was rolling for most of the game, save for a couple of uncharateristic mistakes. and lastly, Michigan was not the only top-2 team to have a close call today.
Posted: 7:47 PM   by Anonymous
WVU could NEVER "run all over" Michigan, LSU, or even Ohio State. NEVER. Neither they nor Louisville would get close to 30 on any top SEC or Big Ten team this year. Oh, and before you bring up UGA for the millionth time, that win gets weaker and weaker by the minute.

Defense wins championships, not coming undefeated from a mid-major conference, no matter how much ESPN might try to hype the Big Least.
Posted: 7:50 PM   by Allowishes
Auburn did not score an offensive touchdown. WVU and Louisville can't hang with the size an speed of the SEC or the Big-10.
Posted: 8:11 PM   by Anonymous
From a Michigan Fan...
See, I told you they can score when they need to. They trailed for the second time this season and scored in about two minutes. Still more fuel for the nail-biting atmosphere Carr creates for his fans due to the conservative playbook when they have the lead.
This game was in the bag and the second stringers let them back in.
They didn't have to come back late and score some on some miracle drive to win it.
They just had to get their heads back in the game and away from the hoop-la of OSU-Michigan.
Posted: 8:15 PM   by Anonymous
maybe the big easy fans should stop using crack or something, saying that wv or louisville will beat any of the true top 10 teams(not artificially inflated like wv,louisville and rutgers) on any given saturday is such a joke. They should eat some crow and shut up. the big least play no D at all and its teams are overrated. When they play somebody then they should speak up meanwhile shut up.
Posted: 8:22 PM   by Anonymous
To the guy that was calling out SEC and Big Ten schools to stop WVU and Louisville from putting up 30, I can give you Ohio State, Florida, LSU, Michigan, a healthy Auburn, and probably Wisconsin. You call out the offenses, but they are conservative because of the strong nature of the defenses in those conferences. I think they would all slow down WVU by playing keep away. Louisville would be much tougher, but the teams I listed probably would still outscore Louisville. Calm down in Big Easy land, you still have to beat Rutgers before you can talk.
Posted: 8:23 PM   by Anonymous
As a Michigan fan, I am sick of Carr. He plays football as a game of containment, whereas Tressel plays to win. During past seasons, we have watched Carr blow more games in the fourth quarter because he plays conservative, prevent, scared football. Now he is about to blow a whole season in its fourth quarter for the same reason.

His talented players must be frustrated like a great race horse at the starting gate, burned out from being held to marginal wins and prevented from airing out their talent. Get rid of Carr, Michigan. Get a winner not a preventer to coach your talented players. Or are the receipts from 200 consecutive 100K attendance plus TV receipts all the success your AD at Michigan wants?

Look for an Indiana upset next week, because Carr won't have them ready again and will be letting his starters rest up for Ohio State.
Posted: 8:35 PM   by Anonymous
hmmm I do recall WVU running all over Georgia last year with a bunch of freshmen, get use to it you have to see WVU and the big east on top for awhile now...once again get over yourselves lol
Posted: 8:36 PM   by Anonymous
hmmm I do recall WVU running all over Georgia last year with a bunch of freshmen, get use to it you have to see WVU and the big east on top for awhile now...once again get over yourselves lol and who was that team that ran all over Michigan today, I can't recall some small school lol you people kill me.
Posted: 8:37 PM   by Anonymous
How old are some of you people? You crack me up with your ignorance.
Posted: 8:40 PM   by Anonymous
How old are some of you people? You crack me up with your ignorance GO ARKANSAS ST., GO ULF, GO BOWLING GREEN, GO BALL STATE. Just some of the big ten, sec wins this year and AT HOME.
Posted: 8:41 PM   by Anonymous
I have to agree WVU and Lousiville could score 30 points on anyone in the country. This is coming from a USC fan of 20 years.
Posted: 11:32 PM   by Anonymous
Did anyone actually watch that Thurs night game? Looked like a WAC game. ZERO defense. More than 1000 yds of combined offense. Two handfuls of turnovers. It was fun to watch, but hard to imagine either might compete for the national championship. Neither team is Top 5 caliber.

U-M and OSU have no excuses for their performance. Of the two weak performances, I think I'd be more concerned with OSU's. Michigan dominated statistically: first downs, time of possession, rushing offense, total offense. Defense continued to shut down the run game, but gave up big plays with bench guys in the game.

OSU disappeared at the half. Against Illinois?? OSU got beaten statisically and was in pretty significant jeopardy of losing.

I guess we'll see next week: neither Indiana nor Northwestern will be games the teams will be able to mail in.
Posted: 12:43 AM   by Anonymous
Actually there was a total of 4 turnovers and 2 of them was because Steve Slaton had no feeling in his arm at halftime and decided not to tell coach. You can't say they have bad defenses, because before the game both teams were in the top 10 in defense, good offenses make average defenses or good defenses look bad. WVU made Georgia's defense look bad in the Sugar bowl last year and they were in the top 5 in almost every category. Your talking probably the best 2 offenses in the nation that would overwhelm any team in the nation.
Posted: 1:20 AM   by Anonymous
I was very disappointed in the Mich game today. However, why should they be punished in the polls???? USC had 3 games in a row that were close and not once did they come close to being dropped in the polls!! I doubt you even watched the game Mandel but UM had their reserves in very early in the game.
Posted: 2:19 PM   by Anonymous
Mr. Mandel, did you watch the Michigan/Ball St game? If you did, you'd have known that the first-team defence gave up a terrible 3 pts on the day. 9 pts were scored on turn-overs. The first touchdown came over the second-string secondary, and the long td drive was done with the second string D in as well. I'm not saying that Michigan shouldn't have won by more than was done, but to attribute a poor game when the backups were at fault (that's a coaching issue) seems somewhat disingenuous
Posted: 4:16 PM   by Muni
I am hard core Ohio State fan. But I am really impressed by Colt Mcoy and Texas. While Troy Smith is almost unchallenged this season, I think Colt Mcoy and his offenece, and Texas defence are worthy chalengers to Ohio State. If Michigan beats OSU, I still favor Texas to be in Glendale.
Posted: 5:41 PM   by Phillygators
I would love to see Louisville play Hawaii!!!! Just see who can outscore the other. I pick Hawaii! At least right now, the Big East has no business being on the same field as OSU, Mich, Florida, USC, ND, Texas, etc. Defense wins championships.(PERIOD)
Posted: 6:02 PM   by AK-47
All everyone can talk about is how good the SEC is and that the Big East is terrible. WVU beat Georgia's top 5 defense easily last year and this is the same WVU offense except with more experience. How can you say that they wouldn't put up 30 points on any SEC team or Big 10 team. Louisville is for real I don't care what anyone says. Rutgers is overrated and that will be shown next thursday. I think that Texas is the best team to play the winner of the OSU vs. Michigan. When they played OSU in september Colt Mckoy was only making his second start and now he's elevated himself to a heisman candidate. Also Texas' number 1 corner was suspended for that game which allow Gonzalez to run free. More than likely the winner of the SEC will be the team to make it regardless of a Louisville loss because the SEC gets way to much credit.
Posted: 9:27 PM   by Dan
Keep in mind that Marylad was one play away from coming back and beating Georgia Tech...that they had been up by a comfortabe margin early in that game.

It's a team that has learned through adversity...they could have folded when West Virginia wiped the field with them...but they kept fighting, and they're hitting their stride.

A down year for Florida State is still a pretty d*mn good year for other teams...and the Terps beat them. Clemson was ranked 19th and the Terps beat them IN Death Valley!

The poster from Boulder was right...Stewart dogs the Terps & the ACC way too often. It's not like we have a bunch of 5-4 teams competing for the league championship over here in the ACC, Mandel.Forget a train wreck...I think it's pretty cool that several teams still have a shot at playing for the league championship.

Go terps!
Concerning the Wisconsin- Penn State game. There is no denying that Wisconsin was the better team on Saturday, but Bret Bielema showed he has a lot to learn about sportsmanship. To tell your players to deliberately go offsides to take advantage of a dumb rule is classless. I sure hope this isn't a sign to come of Wisconsin's post Barry Alvarez era.
Geez - I can't believe Mandel. From a historical perspective the talent in the NCAAF is more diffused than ever and NO TEAM can be underestimated. Every major team has had at least one game where an upstart has given them trouble - these guys still won despite being fed the hype by the media day after day. Yes, Carr has a fantastic way of blowing leads to the lowliest of teams - but guess what - he's one of the winningest coaches in football, with ALL of his QBs drafted into the NFL. Tressel was about to break a 50 year old record by beating every team by at least 14 points! Anybody in the Big Easy doing that? You get your week to crow - but come January, the Little East is going to be lumped with Conference USA after being stomped on by Midwestern defenses. The WAC and the MAC will be considered better conferences (Go CMU!)...and I'm still waiting for Wisconsin to get some respect. But while I'm clearly a Big Ten fan, I have some objectivity - the TOUGHEST conference is the SEC - and their champ should rightly play the winner of the UM/OSU game. Now THAT will be a game. After what I saw the other night Louisville or Rutgers should be playing Boise St. in BCS hand-out Toilet Bowl.
Posted: 10:30 PM   by rat69ta
This post has been removed by a blog administrator.
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