For most teams, the 2014 season is half over and finally in one of the most bizarre seasons in memory, there is finally some things we can assume we know, if not count on. (Predicting the four playoff teams is not one of them.)
We now know with certainty that you can’t count Baylor out of any game. LSU is not the LSU we’re used to, despite a win at Florida. Michigan and Florida will be hiring new head coaches in the offseason. The “Magnolia Schools” – Mississippi State and Ole Miss are legit. Jameis Winston is a dolt that find some way to diminish his pro draft stock on at least a by-weekly basis, and like it or not a Big 10 team stands a very good chance of landing one of the four playoff spots. After yet another exciting, surprising weekend, here’s why we know what we know.
1. MSU is the real deal. The Bulldogs have now done something just four other teams have done, beat a Top 10 team three straight weeks. First it was 8th ranked LSU in Baton Rouge, then 6th ranked A&M in Starkville, and this past weekend 2nd ranked Auburn at home. In each, now leading Heisman contender Dak Prescott has led the offense to big first-half (if not first quarter) leads. Against LSU, State led 17-3 at the half. Against A&M it was 28-10 at the half and 34-10 midway through the third quarter.
With ESPN’s GameDay moving from Oxford, MS the week before to Starkville (another first for Chris, Lee, Kirk & Desmond), and CBS’s Vern & Gary calling the action, MSU jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead over Auburn, and held on for the 38-23 win. Against the Aggies and Auburn, State took advantage of turnovers – three against A&M, four against Auburn – the most crucial a Ricardo Lewis fumble on a State kickoff with 11:33 left in the 4th. Two plays later Josh Robinson ran it in from the one yard line for his second TD of the game to give MSU the insurmountable 38-20 lead. The Bulldogs get this weekend off then travel to Kentucky before hosting Arkansas on November 1st, two weeks after that a road trip to Alabama. Clear those two hurdles and the SEC West is half-way to having the Egg Bowl (the season-ending match-up with Ole Miss) determining the division winner. Beating the Hogs & Tide is no easy task, but its quite possible State will be favored in both games.
2. The reason the Egg Bowl – rather than the Iron Bowl match-up of Alabama hosting Auburn – might determine the SEC-West is because Ole Miss has joined MSU in earning the “legit contender” tag as well. The Rebels followed up their victory over Alabama with a convincing 35-20 victory over A&M in College Station. Kyle Field set the record for largest crowd for an SEC game and football game in the state of Texas, but had little to cheer about as the Aggies were basically out of this game after falling behind 21-0 at the half. Ole Miss went three & out on its opening drive then forced the same from A&M. On their next two possessions, the Rebels went 69 yards and 99 yards for touchdowns capped by Bo Wallace running into the end zone on the exact same play. Then the “Land Shark” defense took over scoring a pair of TD’s – a 75 yard interception return for TD by safety Cody Pruitt, the other a 21 yard scoop and score fumble recovery by LB Keith Lewis.
In a game that pit the top-scoring offense in the SEC (A&M) vs. the top scoring defense (Ole Miss), defense prevailed. For the Aggies, rebounding from back-to-back losses to the Magnolia boys means a second consecutive victory in Tuscaloosa over Alabama, we’ll get to their current disfunction in a moment. The Rebels host Tennessee this weekend, travel to LSU the next before hosting Auburn. Three straight wins against that group would’ve been unpredictable for even the most avid Rebel fan for most of the past 50 years, but it’s doable this year, despite the difficulty.
(SIDE NOTE: This was my first trip to Kyle Field for an A&M game – I’d been there to call high school football – and I must say the atmosphere inside the stadium is the best I’ve witnessed. The orchestration of 110,000 fans cheering in unison is a sight to behold, and the halftime performance of the Corps of Cadets band is a must watch.)
3. Baylor kept it’s hopes for a playoff spot alive – I’m guessing the winner between the Sooners and the Bears in Norman, OK on Nov. 8th finds its way to Pasadena or New Orleans for one of the semi-final match-ups – however this week’s trip to Morgantown is a definite trap game for Baylor.
The story of the TCU Baylor game should’ve been about the Horned Frogs who led 58-37 with eleven minutes left in Waco. However, led by Bryce Petty throwing two of his six touchdown passes on the day, Baylor rallied to score 24 points in the final 10:39 to pull out a 61-58 win.
Not to diminish Baylor’s amazing comeback, but after TCU’s Marcus Mallet intercepted Petty and went 49 yards for the touchdown that gave the Frogs the 58-37 lead, can someone please explain why head coach Gary Patterson chose to pass on nine of TCU’s final 17 plays? Or for that matter after taking the 21 point lead why Jaden Oberkrom – who had been knocking 60+ yards on every other kickoff on the day, instead punches it 45 yards so that following Trevor Clemons-Valdez’s 10 yard return Baylor is set up at their own 45 so they can score in four plays? The massive choke by the Frogs means they’re out of the playoff picture, even if by some tie-breaking miracle they end up first in the Big 12.
4. As for the seventh-ranked Crimson Tide, I knew Fayetteville would be a tough trip. The Hogs are good and somethings not right in Sabanville. While his popularity is as high among the faithful as its ever been, his team’s emotionless “just play the next play” mentality is wearing thin on the players in a game played by most with high emotion. Arkansas controlled the clock and shut down the Bama running game limiting the Tide to just 66 yards on 32 attempts. At his weekly press conference on Monday Saban went to his favorite motivational tool in trying to rally his team, bully the media (because it’s truly all their fault anyway). Which team finds its way on Saturday in Tuscaloosa is anyone’s guess, but the opportunity for A&M to go 2-0 there is as good as it’s gonna get
5. Undefeated Arizona lost at home to Southern Cal, and only reinforced my suspicion that the Pac-12 will get shut out of the playoff. At who’s expense? Try the Big-10. I’m not saying that Michigan State which took the day off (again) in a win over hapless Purdue, or Ohio State which literally had the weekend off are worthy of “Top 4 Teams” discussion, but a 12-1 Big 10 team will get the nod over two-loss teams from any other conference but perhaps the SEC. (Will the committee really reward a Ole Miss or MSU team that goes into the SEC Title game undefeated, only to lose to Georgia with a playoff bid – at the expense of the Midwest and the Buckeye nation? I’ll believe that when I see it.)
6. This week’s marquee match-up will pit now second-ranked Florida State hosting fifth-ranked Notre Dame. For many (most?) its hard to root for the Irish unless your predisposed to that position, but how can anyone – even in the Seminole Nation – actually root for FSU on Saturday night? Their sleepwalking through a mediocre at best ACC has nothing to do with it.
That Jimbo Fisher is punching his ticket to hell by defending the indefensible Jameis Winston is all the reason you need to pray for the “Luck of the Irish” this week. Reminding us that you’re innocent until proven guilty in regard to Winston’s Student Conduct Code hearing on Friday for alleged sexual assault in December of 2012, Fisher said, “There is no victim because there was no crime.” And he knows this why? Because Tallahassee police fell over themselves in covering for the future Heisman winner, or because Jameis told him so? If we’re not supposed to pass judgement until a case can be heard, than how can you possibly know there is “no victim” Jimbo?
Oh that’s right, because Fisher knows that Winston is so honest that all he needed to hear was a “no” response to his questioning the QB about some 800-plus certified autographed memorabilia items that are flooding the market. Certified by the same company that certified Georgia running back Todd Gurley’s autograph on memorabilia items which has the Bulldogs’ Heisman contender in street clothes on game day while the situation is sorted out in Gainesville, GA. But for the Ciminoles head man, a no from Winston was good enough for him to turn and blame, “the poor kids whose life’s dream is to get a Winston autograph,” but might now have to forgo that opportunity because of the more than 800 Winston signed items currently available for sale – not that Jameis ever collected a penny – he said so. So Jimbo, you want us to believe – that you believe – those sweet little eight year old kids took those autographed items which were once their life dream and hocked them on Ebay?
Go away Fisher. Go away Winston. Go away FSU. You all disgust me.
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