SMQ IS ON THE MOVE - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Yes, yes, the rumors are true. Wait, what? Nobody was talking about SMQ? Oh.
But it is a fact this morning the operation of Sunday Morning Quarterback is officially moving off Blogger: The new url is simply sundaymorningqb.com. That will be this site's home. Very, very little has changed or will change there. Updates on the site you are reading should cease indefinitely.
2006 PREVIEW, VERY, VERY OMG FAST: THE SEC - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Kickoff of the SEC season is a little less than four hours away, a good time, it would seem, for SMQ to put up some conference predictions, wouldn't you say?
The SEC hasn't had a consensus, head-and-shoulders favorite in about a decade, and the morass is as murky as ever. All agree Florida, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee and Georgia will be worthy competitors for a league championship. All know Alabama and probably Arkansas and South Carolina, maybe Ole Miss, are quality competition with very high and attainable postseason hopes and represent the perpetual threat of an upset that puts a screeching halt to all previous speculation; i.e., all projections, as always, are tentative. But some (say, Arkansas) are more tentative than others (Kentucky).
For the sake of time, preliminaries have been dispensed.
1. Florida (#6) This is one terrifying defense, both for opponents bound to be routinely Siler-smashed by a devastating front seven and to Gator fans desperately praying no quarterback gets off a pass into the blissfully young secondary. Much bigger problems include the offensive line and running game in general, which is not going to help Chris Leak go out with the kind of bang he’d like if his blazing receiver squadron again are banned from taking routes further than ten yards downfield this year. Not a ringing endorsement, but SMQ's giving Urban Meyer he benefit of the doubt here. He scrapped the option and opened things up a little later on in the season, and the end results against Florida State and Iowa were good omens. Still, though, this is the defense that ought to solidify the Gators’ newfound status as a more conservative (relative to the "Fun 'N Gun," elements of which carried over throughout the Zook Era), primarily defensive-minded team. 2. Auburn (#9) Kenny Irons, surgical play-action game, etc. Auburn’s very good. SMQ's lingering doubts about the Tigers on a mythical title level derive from their defensive line, which is hell on the pass rush and has done well stopping the run, but remains a little light in the pants to run the table in a league stocked with quality power rushers; the linebackers are still all safeties. The graduation of Tommy Jackson at DT and OTs Marcus McNeil and Troy Reddick will add a full mile per gallon to team bus trips, and is probably being underrated in terms of how much the team will miss them. 3. LSU (#10) Including quarterback, this is the best and deepest set of skill guys in the league, with questions lingering instead on both lines. On defense, end Melvin Oliver and especially the tackles, Kyle Williams and Claude Wroten, seemed to mean the world to the defense, and live forever in the nightmares of Brodie Croyle and Chris Leak; new young behemoths such as Glenn Dorsey will not have the same effects immediately. Otherwise, the only potential derailment comes via an unexpected QB meltdown/controversy of the malignant variety. 4. Tennessee (#15) See above, minus the "good problem to have" quarterback situation: Tennessee’s defensive line was an unstoppable force and an unmovable object, the only really real, consistent positive in a dismal season, and, like LSU's, has largely shuffled off to seek fame and fortune among the professionals. Erik Ainge begins working without a safety net, i.e. Rick Clausen or Brent Schaeffer, a sign of certain gore if David Cutcliffe's hypnotic mind tricks fail to turn the skittish junior into Peyton Manning. Weapons at receiver and in the running game are available if the ball can reach them often enough.
- - - - - It's sink or swim for Erik Ainge and Tennessee
5. Georgia (#22) Hope justifiably springs eternal where Mark Richt and three of the last four SEC East title are concerned, but not when assessing UGA's quarterback, offensive line, defensive line and secondary situations, all of which feature hordes of newbies moving into long-occupied positions. That pretty much everyone outside of SMQ regards the Bulldogs as surefire division contenders again in spite of such youth is a testament to the stability Richt's instilled in a short time. But that doesn't get you past eight wins by itself. 6. Arkansas SMQ had guessed just checking out the huge number of returning players and last year’s vast start-to-finish improvement that the Razorbacks would be among his Blog Poll top 25, but the final tally left them just outside. He should say for the record that, while Phil Steele's going slightly overboard at No. 13 on a team with such quarterbacking uncertainty, Arkansas' good on both lines, can run (can really, really run) and stop the run, is going to be a formidable out for the league's big boys, and possibly a West contender. But do not scar Mitch Mustain for life by tossing him to the dogs against USC, SMQ begs. 7. Alabama The Crimson Tide were among the handful of teams – Penn State, UCLA, and Texas Tech among them – who rode a crest of coalescing senior leadership to a "career year" in '05, but who are likely to slip back into more familiar patterns this fall. For Alabama under the Perplexed-Looking Mike Shula, that means six or seven wins and looming "hot seat" intonations for the coach by random bowl time, extensions be damned. That assessment might send Bammer fans into a crimson rage, but the attrition from last year’s Mack truck defense – just good enough to put an offense led by an experienced quarterback over the top as it was – will make too much difference for even a sober John Parker Wilson to make up in his first year behind center. 8. South Carolina A specter is haunting the secondaries of the Southeast…the specter of Sidney Rice! Were it only that the rest of the team had the ability of the freakish, under-exposed sophomore, the 'Cocks wouldn't need another immensely talented apparition, Steve Spurrier, on the sideline to raise them this high. Without a reliable running game and attrition hitting hard a quality defense, USC isn't in a position to cash in on 2005's late success just yet.
- - - - - Who dares attempt to cover Sidney Rice?
9. Ole Miss Has the feel of a team lurking around the declaration of "sleeping giant" status on the strength of The Orgeron's recruiting prowess in the nation's best football state, but, like fellow 3-8 victim Arizona out West, there’s no room here to rise. Being better, while replacing virtually all of the defensive line and receivers and breaking in talented transfers Brent Schaeffer and BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the offensive backfield, means beating going back to beating the Vanderbilts and only losing by one touchdown instead of two (or, in the case of Mississippi State, three). Beware the linebackers, though, where Patrick Willis figures to rock even while shedding the memorable club from which he drew most of his strength during his prolific '05 campaign. 10. Mississippi State Another case of "improvement" that will result in tangibly in only a few more rings per cowbell (god help us if State ever gets on a roll, and all-consuming ESPN does the inevitable cowbell feature; the entire state would go temporarily deaf by the validation). SMQ, being familiar with the books on a few recent Bulldog recruits from their high school days, knows this team has some quality talent, but none of it is on offense, where a new backfield crop will only exacerbate the woeful prospects at quarterback and in the passing game in general. Ought to keep more games within striking distance, and take solace in that. 11. Kentucky One high-quality player, in this case Rafael Little, does not a competitor make, and Kentucky's myriad deficiencies across the field are omnipresent and show no signs of allowing the 'Cats anywhere near the cellar door. What is the last winning team UK took down? 12. Vanderbilt Might have all the air of a team "on the rise" after upsetting Tennessee, terrifying Florida and coming very, very close to breaking even in-conference, but at the same time lost to Middle Tennessee State with a first round draft choice, becoming in the process the only I-A team to lose to a Sun Belt program. The odds of the whole being better without Jay Cutler are next to nil.
2006 PREVIEW, VERY, VERY QUICKLY: THE BIG EAST - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - If this is getting done, the time is now.
Check here and here for SMQ's previous thoughts on the Big East's power couple, Louisville and West Virginia, and why the Mountaineer hype will be up in smoke in short order.
1. Louisville (#14) In reality, SMQ believes Louisville will finish in the top ten if it loses only to Miami, pending the bowl match-up. The Cardinals deserve the role of favorite a year removed from losing the league title in overtime after an admittedly fouled-up onside kick call and returning the league's leading passer (Brian Brohm), rusher (Michael Bush) and receiver (Mario Urrutia). The defense gets a little bit worse rep than it deserves, though the numbers were skewed favorably by Elvis Dumervil's pass rush prowess, and three new defensive linemen with Phil Steele notations PS#330 by their names aren't likely to match that production. Six of the back seven, however, are back. Miami and West Virginia=coming to Louisville. 2. West Virginia (#18) SMQ's "prove it" team of the year. A stellar choice on paper, and would be a disappointment even to SMQ if it were to win fewer than nine. But history says WVU has never been able to sustain year-to-year momentum following a "breakthrough" season like the one it clearly produced in 2005. When you've got ten starters back from an offense that ended last season by kicking ass to the tune of at least six yards per carry in each of the final four games (SMQ will spot them .1 yard against Cincinnati), that is reason for optimism, but a carbon copy is probably too optimistic. Pat White's one-dimensional nature is a burden, but will not necessarily be a problem in more than two or three games if the veteran offensive line handles its business against the teams it's supposed to. SMQ thinks we'll know pretty quickly how much merit his doubts carry. 3. Pittsburgh A bowl game beckons with any semblance of a run game. The Thanksgiving turnstile effort at West Virginia skewed some not-horrible numbers against the run, where the Panthers are pretty experienced this time around. Linebacker H.B. Blades and cornerback Darrelle Revis are a couple of the best defensive players in the country in terms of production and "expert" ratings. Tyler Palko can still be one of the top ten quarterbacks in the country, depending on what's going on at any given moment with the offensive line and his receivers' health/hands. A more experienced line (four returning starters) that improved towards the end of last year will help him out.
- - - - - I need a running back!
4. South Florida All defense here. The offense was weak and lost its one legit star, running back Andre Hall, which makes the Spring benching and conversion to receiver of super-hyped/flummoxed quarterback Carlton Hill in favor of the imminently replaceable Pat Julmiste all the more painful. Linebackers and secondary should be good; a second bowl bid should be coming, even if the Bulls are at just six wins again, if only to make up for past snubs when they were in Conference USA. 5. Rutgers The Knights could make a top 25 list or two if Ryan Hart returned, because Mike Teel threw ten interceptions to just two touchdowns in limited injury replacement time. The running backs, Raymell Rice and Brian Leonard, are an excellent combo, though, and a lot of catches return. The biggest hit may be on the defensive line, which was very solid, aggressive (47 sacks!) and now 75 percent new, but probably not very improved. 6. Connecticut Should have a competent running game, but with some quarterback issues; Dan Hernandez or Matt Bonislawski could both play. Unsung linebacker Danny Lansanah received no honors as a freshman despite leading the team with 80 tackles and collecting three sacks, eight tackles for loss, five pass breakups and two interceptions. The top ten defense will miss its other star, James Hargrave, but should be easily one of the top two or three in the conference. Good things can happen here if the offense can get its act together. 7. Cincinnati SMQ guarantees one upset by 2005's youngest team, one that was terrible but that also returns everyone and should be much improved. This may not be monumental upset, but will inch the team up to near .500. Cincy had a four-year bowl streak prior to last season with Gino Guidugli at the helm, and is not a pushover in this spot. This may not show on the final record. 8. Syracuse The Orangemen are pushovers. Or were, at least, and there's no reason to think they won't be again. Statistically, as bad as any team in the nation lasat season.
2006 PREVIEW, QUICKLY: THE PAC TEN - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Say what you will about the PAC Ten - we know you will - but at least recognize this: these no defense-playin' fly boys ain't playing scared. Eight of the league's ten teams play opponents ranked in the top 20 outside of the conference, and the two that don't, Arizona State and Oregon State, have strenuous visits to Colorado and Boise State, respectively. In the opening week alone, three West Coast teams are visitng SEC stadiums; another (Arizona) comes to LSU in Week Two, the same day Washington visits Oklahoma. And when other schools were falling over themselves to schedule Buffalo and East Tennessee State in the new 12th game slot, the PAC Ten did the right thing by adding a ninth game. No more avoiding Oregon (UCLA) or missing out on a cupcake the rest of the league gets to devour (Washington State will relish that visit from Arizona this time around).
This is one of the country's deepest conferences, perhaps its best from top to bottom, where every team seems to be 'on the rise.' Except one, natuarlly, and it couldn't possibly rise any higher. Also perhaps the only league in which literally every team looks like a legitimate bowl contender; there are probably no projected last place teams anywhere better than Stanford and Washington, which says something (don't know what, but something).
Underlying Literary Themes in the PAC Ten Isolation and Exile - Sam Keller had nothing but nice words about his brief reign as the starting quarterback at the People's Democratic Republic of Arizona State, which ended in a coup d'etat by Keller's one-time comrades, who forced the apparent figurehead to install Rudy Carpenter in Keller's position despite the close but free and fair selection of Keller just days earlier. Yet, deep inside, the exiled Keller must be hoping his eminent takeover at Nebraska will result in a Holiday Bowl showdown with his old mates in 2007; in the meantime, imagine Keller as Uma Thurman's character in Kill Bill, methodically, psychotically prepping for vengeance.
Death and Dying (Death is part of living, giving life its final meaning) - "Death" is an overreaction to the monumental exits at USC, but there will be some deserved mourning in the wake of the departures of two Heisman Trophies, a mythical championship and a half, three PAC Ten titles, an ongoing, 23-game conference win streak and mostly unverified scandal with Leinart, White, Bush and Co. The replacements must now brave an inevitable winter - 11-2 OMG Outrage!! - before its talent can fully bloom, according to the Cruel Laws of an Indifferent Universe.
Bildungsroman - At Arizona, Dick Tomey and especially John Mackovic after him represent forms of loss, discontent and rebellion that jarred the Wildcats into a long, arduous, and gradual process of maturity, consisting of repeated clashes between their needs and desires and the views and judgments enforced by an unbending social order in which they were frequently on the bottom. In hiring Mike Stoops, a frustrating beginning has given way to a revelation (quarterback Willie Tuitama and a 52-14 head-exploder over UCLA), some subsequent setbacks (a three-touchdown home loss to Washington the next week) and the manifestation of the spirit and values of the external social order within the program. By the end of the season, UA will be able to more accurately assess its new place in PAC Ten society.
SMQ Must Justify... UCLA won ten games in 2005. Washington State won three. So SMQ says the first number's almost cut in half, and the second doubles. These teams were virtually identical last year in terms of yards and points and yards allowed and points allowed; outside of USC (an extreme outlier), Washington State to three ranked teams (including UCLA) and Arizona State by four points or less apiece, while UCLA frantically rallied for miraculous late wins on four different occasions - Washington State, in overtime, being one of them. Consider also that WSU outgained UCLA in conference games, averaging more than a yard more per carry and allowing a yard and a half less per carry; in six conference losses (again, not including USC), WSU fell by an average of 4.3 points while suffering a minus-five turnover rate and missing 3-8 Arizona, whereas UCLA won six league games with a plus-six turnover ratio and didn't play 10-win Oregon. Under the new 3-2-5-e rule, the Bruins would have likely watched the seconds tick off four more losses in '05; the Cougars, two more wins. With Washington State plugging in JUCO star JT Deidrechs for Jerome Harrison and returning everyone else, and UCLA losing Drew Olson, Maurice Drew and half the defense, those fortunes will meet about halfway this time around.
- - - - - If you lost five out of six games by four points or less, you'd need a hug, too
Most Likely To Prove SMQ Wrong Obviously, one picks against the Trojans at his own risk. SC's won 30 of its last 32 PAC Ten games, for god's sake. Cal has provided the stiffest conference test now three years running, but is not quite on the same plane, talent-wise, and could finish as low as fourth (in the PAC Ten, that is, not the nation).
If One Thing Is Certain... One team will allow at least 500 yards and 35 points per game. Last year, Washington State gave up 501.6 a pop, with UCLA right behind at a little over 497, and both allowed five touchdowns or more on a consistent basis. The Bruins could again fall so low, but a massive rebuilding project at Stanford makes the Cardinal uniquely qualified. Given the level of offensive firepower everywhere (save maybe Washington), it's an inevitability.
Alternate Endings The USC-Cal winner is the presumptive favorite; barring that, Oregon and Arizona State have rough and unlikely designs on crashing the big-money series their own selves. UCLA may have the guns to compete in such an area again, whereas Washington State could be slipping back into the cellar. Oregon State, Stanford and Washington are clearly the three worst teams, but it shouldn't surprise anyone to see any of them in the postseason hunt. A wide, wide open league with a lot of possibilities, all of them about equally plausible.
Jeff Tedford + deep, Heisman-contending (and upstanding!) backfield + bitchin' run defense + misleading record due to close losses X (Cruel Laws of Indifferent Universe + Wide open mythical championship race) = Picture perfect sleeper.
Question the "bitchin' run defense" if you must, but this was certainly true of a similarly experienced group in 2004, when the Bears allowed 2.7 per carry (just 1.6 to USC) and 16 points per game while playing in an offense-mad league, and this year's front seven crop - which allowed 3.3 a carry over the season as an entirely retooled unit last year - is at least as talented as that one (and has an all-America type corner backing it up, Daymeion Hughes, who was just a rookie starter in '04). Question the quarterbacks, you must, but do so with Tedford's history of guiding talented, inexperienced passers into sudden, must-have draft studs firmly in mind. 2. Southern Cal (#4) Nationally, Texas may be able to claim talent equivalency. That would be about it. But no team in recent history has thwarted the malaise - by which SMQ means maybe two losses, three max - that inevitably follows the departure of production on the level of the Big Three from the Trojan backfield, which itself obscures the exodus of three offensive linemen, both defensive tackles and three-fourths of the secondary, the vast majority of which is collecting hefty paychecks these days. And still SC probably deserves to be favored in every game, even if the cosmic order dictates somebody with an offensive pulse - Nebraska, Arizona State, Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame - will shut down the surprisingly anonymous, youth-and-injury-plagued backs and pressure the new quarterback into enough mistakes to rend a scarlet and gold garment or two. 3. Arizona State (#20) Keller's overthrow and effective banishment can have only psychological effects here, and not necessarily negative ones. There should be no worries whatsoever with El Presidente Rudy Carpenter emerging - or else - as the leader of the offensive junta. Worries are entirely on defense, where there is justified optimism about the addition of former all-Big Ten end Loren Howard, a Northwestern transfer just before last season, but how good was Northwestern' defense with him? More shoot-out ball is eminent, and the Devils are equipped for it.
- - - - - Hey, Rudy, no pressure, man, right?
4. Oregon (#21) There is slight trepidation surrounding the new backfield tandem of Dennis Dixon/Brady Leaf and Jonathan Stewart/Jeremiah Johnson, without much else to worry about besides two new corners. Stewart is to be feared. Asking for consecutive ten win seasons is probably biting off more than these Ducks can, um, chew, but this is by and large a "beat goes on" situation that will compete with anyone. 5. Washington State Had the league's best offense (in total yards) behind USC, produced the nation's leading regular season rusher and put the fear of god into winning teams on a weekly basis, yet only won a single PAC Ten game, against Washington, because of an atrocious defense and what SMQ presumes was the worst luck in the nation (possibly karmic retribution for Ryan Leaf?). The skimpy margin between this team and eight wins was recounted above; better bounces and ample experience on defense ought to close that gap by about half. 6. UCLA The other side of the coin, the fortuitous team that preyed on many a hapless secondary and Lady Luck's near-boundless favor to win ten must be due to revert to the mean, which, under Karl Dorrell, has been about six wins. L.A. could top that by a game, maybe two. But the hammering it took in two losses late in the season is an ominous sign; how many teams go 6-2 in-conference and are outscored overall by opponents by five touchdowns? SMQ knows, he knows, Ben Olson brings the lefty pain (and over-aged Mormon mission karma), but that fortune, sans the Drews, cannot continue. 7. Arizona While previewinglos gatos montesas in the offseason, SMQ was swayed by the Arizona media department's near-revolutionary screed declaring the arch of history compelled a bowl berth by a Wildcat team "peopled by those who believe," but he's since lost his dose of impetus: the fact is that the depth of the conference and 'Zona's iffy running game put them again on the outside of postseason developments. 8. Oregon State A little unfair to drop the Beavers this far after a sudden string of competiveness and fight this decade, and with nothing like a mass exodus occuring on either side; in fact, the quarterback, two quality wide outs, a former all-conference tight end, a 1,300-yard rusher and all five offensive linemen return from a perfectly capable offense. And the kicker! My god, the kicker! And the team was a ghastly minus-14 in turnover margin, a sign of eminent turnaround. But not every team in the league can rebound all at once, so, with ball-sucking vortex Mike Hass and the top two tacklers (and top three sackers) gone, SMQ predicts further five-win doom for the Beavers. All the preceding is moot, however, if Matt Moore cuts the picks (an NCAA-high 19 last year) in half and Yvenson Bernard, a poor man's Mike Hart as a tough but very short plugger, doesn't need 30 carries to break a hundred. 9. Washington Another potential up-and-comer, were the position not so capably filled by half the rest of the league. Isaiah Stanback is a baseball and former track guy playing quarterback and can run, run like the wind, but is a middling passer and has never completely wrestled the job from Casey Paus and Johnny DuRocher. The team's also going on its ninth year without a 1,000-yard rusher, according to Phil Steele, with no prospects in sight. The defense was actually respectable, and features another surely-destructive Tuiasosopo over there (backup linebacker Trenton), but Ty Willingham's not taking these guys anywhere in the PAC Ten at 21 points a game. The signature win the past two years (out of three to choose from) is Arizona last year. 10. Stanford Quarterback-for-life Trent Edwards can be classified as a positive by now, but remember: the Cardinal became the indispensable key to the absurdity of the 2005 version of the College Football Victory Chain Linker by losing to I-AA UC-Davis, a game in which (without Edwards) its offense was held under 200 yard total yards. Stanford improved from there, certainly, but pretty much the whole, terrible defense graduated, and it didn't improve that much.
SMQ REPS DA WESTSIDE - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - California took wide, broad steps today in fulfilling SMQ's irresponsible mythical title projections when Jeff Tedford, as expected/hoped, named Nate Longshore the starting quarterback for the Tennessee game over ticking time bomb Joe Ayoob. It's the second straight year Longshore's beaten out Ayoob for the job and despite the caution advised by SMQ's new "J.P. Losman Rule" (applicable to players who, like the Buffalo Bills' third-year quarterback, must be "named the starter" over multiple seasons), the law does not apply in Longshore's case because he was instantly injured for the season in the Bears' 2005 opener, not jettisoned, like Ayoob, for poor performance.
SMQ, like the rest of the world, has never seen Longshore take a college snap, because he's only had about 15 or so, all against Sacramento State. Longshore is a huge (6-5, 230) redshirt sophomore who came in well regarded out of high school two years ago, but more importantly, he's not Ayoob, without whom the Bears will forge on unless absolutely necessary. With just a little bit better play from the JUCO transfer last year, an 8-4 team with a dominant running game could have easily taken at least two more games - Oregon State (a three-point loss in which Ayoob was 13 of 39 with two interceptions) and Oregon (10-26, 88 yards, 3 INT, 0 TD in another field goal defeat) - and maybe UCLA (a touchdown loss wherein the sharply-dressed and hygienic Marshawn Lynch and Co. averaged eight yards per carry). Ayoob was benched after a dreadful 98-yard, four-intercetion debacle against USC, which may not have cost the Bears a win (though the Trojans were "held" to 434 yards and 35 points on 4.0 yards per carry and 246 yards passing, only a small nudge above SC's season low totals in each category), but certainly did not give them a chance. When bar brawling Steve Levy, Ayoob's replacement for the Stanford and BYU wins, returns from suspension, Ayoob may yield - again - to him as well.
- - - - - Yeah, Joe, you're doing greaaaat, but we're gonna need you to go ahead and stay over to the sidelines this weekend, mmkay? Greaaaaaat...
In other West Coast news, the San Diego-based Poinsettia Bowl, which is an actual game played between two real teams, was so taken with the military manliness of Navy's chart-busting triple option that it decided a return visit was a must-have for the city's massive armed forces community. Problem is, Navy's already taken, by the prestigious Meineke Car Care Bowl (the Midshipmen have a tie-in to face George Foreman and his sons), so the San Diego Credit Union took the next best thing: Army! Actually, the second-to-next-best thing, since Air Force is tied in with the Mountain West's affiliations. All the Cadets have to do to send Bobby Ross back to the site of his greatest triumph (the 1994 AFC Champion Chargers) is go 6-6. Even, SMQ guesses, if those six are Arkansas State, Kent State, Baylor, Rice, VMI, Tulane and the aforementioned USAFA, the dirty half-dozen most likely to fall to Army this season. If they make it on those merits, the Cadets and the Poinsettia Bowl truly deserve each other.
SMQ HOMERISM: KEEP YOUR ENEMIES CLOSE Orson Swindle on Southern Miss at Florida, from a Gator perspective - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - A mere five days from the dramatic, long-awaited debuts of their adopted programs in bloody struggle against one another, SMQ sat down with prominent blogger/uber-Florida fan Orson Swindle over lollipops made from reduced olive brine, olive flavoring and salt crystallized in isomalt and stuffed with blue cheese to discuss the state of their respective teams, and of college football in general, specifically the relative socioeconomic effects of the paternal hierarchy enabled by the hegemonic ethos of the sport's corporatist ruling class.
Instead, we wound up getting smashed, inappropriately hitting on our waitress, brawling over the legacies of Michael Tobias and Ed Chester, getting tossed out onto the street in a heap and slurringly dictating this and the following from the back of a cab before being booted from it, too:
SMQ: What are you hoping to see from this game, realistically? In other words, how much can you read into what happens Saturday as a preview of the rest of the season?
Orson: It will determine the course of Florida football as we know it for the next fifty years, SMQ.
It's actually not that important, but it does represent a game of real value in that it combines "most likely gonna win yawn stretch game" against an out-of-conference smaller foe with a legitimate test of where the Gators stand coming out of fall camp. USM has the reputation of being a giant-killer without actually slaying all that many giants. In other words, for game one two weeks before going to Knoxville to play the Vols, they're pinup model perfect, and not just on the surface of things.
The Golden Eagles' defense is notoriously feisty, something we'll need to see since Leak got two free passes in the fluffy prelude to being stymied by the Tennessee D last year. Yet it's not too much of a bad thing, since their secondary is shot through with inexperience and our offensive strength happens to lean on our deep, immortal crew of of Highlander wideouts. So it'll be a challenge where we need it (up front) but a gimme where we can likely score when we really have to (through the air just about anywhere past the linebackers).
The offense...well, the offense could get hurt. We mean that, as in thrown aside, trampled, mugged, hit with tire irons, and hurt. You may recall the Orwell line,"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." These are those men, and we are the ones sleeping comfortably at night because of them. On our behalf, they will do harm to a USM offense that has been outgained in C-USA play consistently for two years now. Prayer, as always, helps, unless we're talking about Brandon Siler. Nothing will help you with him, and bullets will only make him angrier.
- - - - - Brandon Siler: Can only be stopped by driving a stake through his heart
SMQ: 1-10, how concerned are you about this game? Is there any particular aspect of Southern Miss that concerns you?
Orson: Take it as a 5 for "Respectful and properly wary." We doubt Meyer will have the team thinking four easy laps around the fifteen minute clock and out; they know USM's got a knack for keeping things close, and that everyone's soft-peddling expectations thanks to off-season chatter about the schedule, the season, and the excellent flag football quarterback they're sporting under center.
USM's overall M.O. of being sound on special teams, stout on defense--especially through the line--and somehow winning games despite doing diddly-poo on offense. Teams that can do this should scare the hair off your knuckles, and with good reason: they can hang around, look like they're doing bupkis for three quarters, and then enter the fourth surrounded by the aura of potential upset around them. They're doubly frustrating because as an overdog it feels less like them winning and more like you losing to yourself. The lasting implications of games like these are, as you cannily noted with the Nebraska and Alabama examples in your review, damaging, persistent, and season-wrecking.
The real indicator of whether Florida came to play will ultimately be Rece Davis. Rece Davis breaks in game for to alert viewers about "shocking developments" in-game. If Rece Davis doesn't mention our broadcast at any point between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., we'll toast his name gleefully and call the night a success. If he does, we'll be waiting with the brick in hand, ready to kill the evil box showing us things we don't want to see with one surehanded toss.
SMQ: Is there anything specific about USM - other than the obvious talent gap - you think the Gators can exploit?
Florida can exploit two things:
1. The secondary. Tasty and full of holes, it's angel food cake for Chris Leak and the wideouts. Most of the indications from practice have been a greater reliance on the deep ball, a trend beginning with the Outback Bowl and continuing through this season. You'll see at least five good ones, with at least three going to Dallas Baker, identifiable as the one with arms hanging to his knees with the hands of a gecko. He's not a bad player, from what we hear.
Since we think Florida's run offense will be as anemic against you as it was against every other opponent of substance, we'll call for a ton of passing early to attempt to knock the will out of USM's skull in abrupt, rude fashion. If that doesn't work, well, we'll be hearing from Rece, most likely.
- - - - - Hidden indicator of USM success: Rece Davis face time
2. The O-line. This says less about USM's O-line and more about Florida's d-line, which if as good as advertised should be making four-man clothesline runs into the backfield all night. Fear Scoop.
SMQ: Given the planned karaoke-related debauchery of the EDSBS tailgate in Atlanta, how much of this game are you planning to even watch?
Orson: All of it. The tailgating will be work, so we'll be sticking to one form of alcohol only. (At EDSBS, this is what passes for "professional discipline.) We'll be able to tailgate a bit, get the all the video footage and schmoozing we'll need, and then retire to the nearest sports bar or even back to the EDSBS lair for the entirety of the game. Festivity's nice, but once the whistle blows it's time to get your Viking on and burninate stuff. Our whistle, regardless of what else is going on in college football, blows at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Everything else is gravy.
SMQ: How will you react if Florida loses?
Orson: Agony. Hair-pulling. The piling of ashes upon the head. The mad thumping of our fist against our chest. It will all happen at once and it will not resemble anything in the neighborhood of pretty. Then we will weep for five minutes before posting a 15,000 word screed about the need to excommunicate Pope Urban stat.
For the sake of the English language, let's all hope that stays in the realm of the hypothetical, shall we?
ARKANSAS TECH: NOT MUCH TO SAY WHEN YOU'RE HIGH ABOVE THE MUCKY-MUCK - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - A quick tidbit discovered while cruising the news after watching an apparently tranquilized Ed Orgeron literally grunt his way through the preseason edition of "The O Show" with a terrified co-host in the Ole Miss locker room (though the Orgeron did not appear, unfortunately, in any commercials throughout the half-hour, the otherwise inept production did pull out the 'wow' factor with one stunning blonde "reporter" at the Rebels' summer camp for women, whose wooden voice overs could have been salvaged if she were onscreen for more than six seconds), where SMQ caught a story on the ESPN news wire with the headline:
Wonder Boys' quarterbacks must make up for lost time
Is this a story about an intramural team? No! It was referencing the offseason misfortunes of two injured quarterbacks at Arkansas Tech, which does actually field a Division II football team officially dubbed "Wonder Boys." The rest of Arkansas Tech's male teams are also known as "Wonder Boys," though the women's teams - which outnumber the men's, six-five, in a blatant violation of Title IX - are the "Golden Suns." In which galaxy does there exist a golden sun?
- - - - - Wonder Boys: Misguided attempt to recruit a confused and girlishly attracted Katie Holmes? Probably worth the effort
Only a day earlier, the wire service had picked up this headline:
Boll Weevils heavy underdogs again this year
Due to the eradication efforts of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, SMQ should think so.
Actually, this article was previewing - seriously - last Saturday's matchup between the aforementioned Boll Weevils of Arkansas-Monticello and the favored triple option attack of the Southern Arkansas Muleriders. The game was the first of this college football season, and was scheduled to be played at a high school stadium because "a new turf installation project at the Muleriders' Wilkins Stadium isn't expected to be finished in time." Arkansas-Monticello's site is reporting an 18-15, comeback Mulerider victory, a "heartbreaker" for the scrappy Weevils, who allowed the winning touchdown pass with just 1:09 left in the game. No attendance estimate was available.
At any rate, since SMQ considers 'Razorbacks' second only to 'Gamecocks' in the annals of exceedingly cool regional mascots, he can only surmise the state's Depression Era mascot-assigning panel used up its entire cache of style points on its flagship school. Either that or they just pulled up to the edge of the respective campuses and named the teams the first thing they saw there. Which still would not explain "Wonder Boys," as if anything possibly could.
UPDATE Wikipedia, trusty as ever, comes up with an answer too strange to be made up (not that anything on Wikipedia could ever be made up, of course):
2006 PREVIEW, QUICKLY: THE BIG XII - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Five seasons out of six this decade have featured a Big XII team in the mythical championship game, a testament to the talent concentrated in its top programs, and the monopoly they seem to have on it compared to mostly far-behind underlings, always on the brink of a losing season: it's still Texas, Oklahoma, and everyone else.
In 2005, of course, it was just Texas and everybody else, and the deflation of the initial hype surrounding the Sooners following the dismissal of their starting quarterback might be an indication it will be again. Surely no team from the North will seriously contend. Colorado's won four of the last five division crowns, the past three of those by teams that barely broke even in the conference, and the last two by teams that were outscored over the course of the season. The void left by the demise of Kansas State and Nebraska as counterweights to Oklahoma and Texas will only be replaced anytime soon, it appears, by a resurgent Nebraska program - if it is, in fact, resurgent, and not merely mired in the division's race to December destruction.
Underlying Literary Themes in the Big XII The Development and Image of the Hero - Colt McCoy is an actual hero, with the lone ridin', gunslingin' name to boot, but will never come anywhere the shine Vince Young emitted on the field. If the young quarterback is going to earn the spotlight any time soon, it'll be for qualities like "maturity" and "unselfishness" in the course of making the easy plays, maybe one here and there in a jam and not screwing up handoffs before one of UT's ridiculous stable of backs can get his talented hands on it. Otherwise, the cameras will be picking up a kid who's "flustered" and "trying to do too much." Which is still preferable to a true freshman.
Individuality/ The Individual in Society (Society and a person's inner nature are always at war) - SMQ's favorite coach is Mike Leach, who's so out of place in the contemporary society of college football, his own fans have begun dubbing him "TSO" - The Strange One. In a culture of coach-as-politician, Leach is a savant, something like a pizza delivery boy thrown into the general's chair, making it up as he goes with the rulebook but no indoctrination as to how to go about it. In that sense, there's a correlation with Leach's reported fascination with pirates, vikings and Deadwood, all operating in violent, lawless societies that have to form their own rules for survival, some of which confuse or appall mainstream culture. And also with Donald Trump.
- - - - - Swing your sword, Coach. Swing your sword.
Religion and Faith - Nobody else thought Bill Callahan's attempted shift to the dreaded "West Coast" of pro-style quick passing was all that great an idea, given Nebraska's historical success at, affection for, and recruiting emphasis on, running over people. It didn't help that the team continued to average almost five yards per carry in 2004, while getting itself intercepted out of a bowl game for the first time in many decades. Converts may have begun milling around the icon of Bill Walsh only after Zac Taylor threw for 392 and creamed Colorado on the road, then snuck by Michigan in a less explosive but more run-friendly, affirming year-end win. And last week, Callahan added his greatest convert in deposed Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller, who will bring instant legitimacy to the 2007 passing attack, when all of the skill guys are scheduled to return. If he comes out of this fall with ten wins - or at least a trip to the conference championship - the congregation's going to start bursting at the seams for the long-awaited return ascension to mythical title speculation.
SMQ Must Justify... The respective trajectories of Texas Tech and Texas A&M under their current administrations is pretty clear: Raiders hot, Aggies cold. Other than the one guy who voted for A&M in his BlogPoll ballot, SMQ's not aware of anyone besides his own self going with TAMU over Tech.
Key backfield and line components are back from a very good, deep, underrated running game at A&M that averaged 5.7 a carry, and peaked against Oklahoma and Texas to close the season. So, of course, is 75 percent of the secondary that gave up more passing yards per game than any other, anywhere - this will not, however, have an effect on the four automatic wins (The Citadel, Louisiana-Lafayette, Army and Louisiana Tech) to open the season.
Texas Tech benefited from a similarly snuggly soft schedule to hit the elusive ten-win, top 20 peak last year, and could potentially match that again with more than 200 catches returning and allegedly the most talented quarterback yet (either Graham Harrell or the pugilistic Chris Todd) joining TSO's unstoppable pitch-and-toss attack. But: the Raiders' are a team that slumps a bit away from home (16-22 on the road under Leach), meaning an extra loss or two, or more, on top of the assumed Texas-Oklahoma defeats from among the much stiffer road slate of TCU, UTEP, Texas A&M, Colorado and Iowa State is not at all a reach.
The Aggies' struggles on the road are even more severe (3-12 under Franchione), but this makes it all the more favorable for them that Tech, Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska all come to College Station. So this is a schedule pick: SMQ says TAMU should be favored in at least eight of its first nine games before the November gauntlet, the same ratio Tech had against even softer softies in '05, and it didn't much slow voters from jumping on that bandwagon (the Raiders were 10th at 6-0 when they were dropped by Texas, and back up to No. 13 when they fell to Oklahoma State three weeks later).
Most Likely To Prove SMQ Wrong If it finds anything in the general size and weight of a running game, Iowa State could finally break on through to the championship game. We've all been waiting for that next step since the Seneca Wallace Era, and this is the best personnel Dan McCarney's had to work with in any era of his extended tenure here. Bret Meyer can throw; Todd Blythe, Austin Flynn and Jon Davis can catch; the offensive line is a seniors' club; Brent Curvey is a productive tackle (61 tackles, 6.5 sacks) who led the defense's holding opponents to 3.0 per carry.
In the same breath, the offense produced just 2.7 a carry, only improved upon a little by a healthy Stevie Hicks, and this held against terrible teams like Army, Baylor and even Illinois State. And with chances to lock up the division in the season finale the last two years, ISU's let Kansas and Missouri sneak away with overtime wins that handed the title to bearly-treading-water Colorado. Until it corrects those trends - both toughness issues - and its secondary, while we're at it, Iowa State's just average or slightly below.
If One Thing Is Certain... Harrell or Todd will throw for 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns. Or whoever's back there for Texas Tech. That's a conservative estimate, too. We're used to rent-a-fifth-year-senior slingers at Tech, but Leach's options this year mean he'll be starting his youngest passer since sophomore Kilff Kingsbury in his first season in 2000, but this isn't going to be an issue. The entire offensive line and receiving corps are back in full force.
Alternate Endings SMQ's suggested before Nebraska could be one the country's leading mythical title shockers, and along with that - especially with the upset-friendly nature of the championship game - goes the outside chance of a league title. Texas A&M reserves the right to self-destruct at all times. The middle of the pack can go in any conceivable order; on paper, Colorado is a descending team SMQ has placed at six for potentially flimsy reasons. And assuming Baylor is about the equal of Oklahoma State and possibly Kansas, the Bears are only a couple upsets from climbing into the middle of the pack themselves for the first time since the league was formed.
1. Texas (#7) Outside of the quarterback, this team is a cinch for number one across the board. Redshirt freshmen, though, don't win mythical championships; this is a hard, fast rule until it's broken. Rookie quarterbacks don't win Super Bowls, either. But McCoy's going to have as good a shot as anybody ever has. 2. Oklahoma (#12) Adrian Peterson may be prepared to shoulder an historic responsibility, but the main benefit here is an all-around dominating front seven on defense. Drop off from Rhett Bomar to Paul Thompson or not, the passing game and offensive line are incriminating evidence against a full Sooner resurgence. Peterson will not defeat Texas and Oregon on his own. 3. Nebraska (#16) More unyielding run defense here, with a lot of untapped potential on offense. The Huskers' ironic weakness is the offensive line, which allowed Zac Taylor to be bludgeoned 3.2 times per game and failing to produce enough space for a four-yard-per-carry average in any game until the bowl, which should make Tom Osborne and anyone who remembers the mid-nineties Nebraska teams weep. The new running backs, at least - Malon Lucky and Kenny Wilson - are about as highly-rated a pair as they come. Missing Oklahoma and getting Texas at home is a positive; psychologically, much probably rides on the competiveness displayed in the September trip to USC. 4. Texas A&M Another losing season - which would be Franchione's third in four years, and certainly his last here - is very unlikely because of the schedule. But also consider the competitive season finales against Oklahoma and Texas, two games in which the offense ran wild and was in a position to win late, as a sign of better fortune to come. Highly-touted quarterback Stephen McGee has played a little and ought to be into a reasonable rhythm by November. 5. Texas Tech The quarterback is supposed to be a bigger-armed version than we've seen from Tech before, but SMQ's not sure what this means in terms of production. Could Matt Leinart come in here and throw for more yards or touchdowns? The key here's going to be showing more consistency on defense, against the run and especially in the pass rush (just 18 sacks in '05, none against a respectable line). 6. Colorado One of the riskiest picks, because, even with four of the past five division titles and a pretty solid defensive core returning, a second place finish in the North is dependent entirely on self-help Zen master/OMG total techno whiz kid Dan Hawkins' influence on the offense. Running game might work, but who throws, and to who? 7. Iowa State Ought to scare everybody to death with the talked-up skill guys, but there would be worse bets than taking ISU's opponent in all five of the Cyclones' road games. That would mean beating Nebraska and Texas Tech (and let's not completely discount Toledo) at home to finish in the black again. 8. Kansas State Elevated by the potentially rejuvenating effects of a new coach and a huge number of returning starters. Depressed by a weird quarterback situation that's been shuffled, diced, sliced, tossed about and reconfigured a couple time since Ell Roberson graduated, to the ultimate ascension of underwhelming senior Dylan Meier or true freshman Josh Freeman in the wake of transfers by last year's starting combo, Allan Evridge and Allen Webb, and by some guy named Kevin Lopina. Also gave up 669 yards passing in one game, to Texas Tech, of course, but was not really so bad against the pass otherwise. 9. Missouri A lot of starters are returning - judging from the tackle numbers, every defensive player on the roster was in the rotation last year - but none of them accounted for 3,600 total yards and 29 touchdowns. If Mizzou could barely break even over four years of a guy like Brad Smith running the show, why should it get the benefit of the doubt now that he's gone? Both guys vying to replace him, coincidentally, are named 'Chase,' and that's kind of annoying. Well, no, very annoying. 10. Kansas Carried into a second bowl in three years in '05 by a legitimately stout, underrated defense that was decimated by graduation. That leaves the low-octane offense to make up the difference with a new quarterback, probably a redshirt freshman. Still too-far behind, talent-wise. 11. Oklahoma State The offense has a chance, but sweet lord, the defense allowed 300 yards rushing on four different occasions. Not much upside to that, or to a quarterback situation featuring two guys with completion percentages in the 40s; the only guy on the plus side of that mark last year, Donovan Woods, moved to free safety. This indicates something very bad about both of these positions, though SMQ knows not exactly what. 12. Baylor The Bears showed some fight by starting 4-1, including taking Texas A&M to overtime (again) and stunned Iowa State, had a couple of scores called back that could have ended an upset of Texas Tech, and closed another ultimately dismal year by beating Oklahoma State. If Phil Steele is to be believed, quarterback Shawn Bell is the underappreciated, inexplicably benched lynchpin of a bowl run, and the numbers indicate this could be the case. It's also the case, though, that BU was 2-6 in the league and is more or less bereft of serious weaponry sufficient to hack it to the postseason, especially when Washington State and TCU are waiting outside of conference play.
2006 PREVIEW, QUICKLY: THE BIG TEN - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - The Big "Ten" presumptively separates this season, as in the past, into two tiers of quality, the first represented by legitimate championship contenders (Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa) and the other by potential sleepers with a chance to knock off one of the favorites, but less opportunity to actually replace one (Penn State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan State). The sheer quantity of quality teams here is going to drive records from the superlative to the middle - again: seven teams broke even in league play for the third consecutive season last year, also the third straight year no team has navigated the league without a loss. Among the so-called power conferences, only the ACC approaches such parity by the same measures during that span.
Beating up on each other, as often noted regarding the dog-eat-dog nature of the SEC, diminishes the opportunities for a top team to make it the distance unblemished, as only Penn State (1994), Michigan (1991 and 1997), Iowa (2002) and Ohio State (2002) have managed since 1990. If Ohio State, preseason national favorite in the AP, Coaches and Blog polls, is going to be the sixth addition to that list, it's going to owe it in part to providence. Or Woody Hayes.
Underlying Literary Themes in the Big Ten Innocence and Experience - Certainly few teams have ever been deemed the national preseason favorite with nine starters removed from probably the country's best defense, one that bid adieu to three of the NFL's first 18 draft picks, three others in the first four rounds and another first-team all-conference selection and must now field an entirely new back seven. Few such contenders, though, have also returned the collective firepower that Ohio State welcomes back on offense, which itself lost two first round picks (Santonio Holmes and Nick Mangold) from the group that averaged more than 38 points over its last seven games, all wins - four of them against winners, though only one (Michigan) against a better-than-average defense. Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. seem to have only scratched the surface of their potential otherwordliness, which - even if Ginn displays some of the go-to chops he's sorely lacked to date - will not necessarily manifeset itself in greater production within the generally conservative philosophy that feeds the ball to Antonio Pittman - and surely also super recruit Chris Wells - 25-30 times a game. But it should outscore at least ten teams out of twelve, if not better, depending on the trajectory of the defense's coming-of-age.
- - - - - Do you know Marcus Freeman? If you don't by October, the Buckeyes are in trouble
Evolution and Change - The Big Ten isn't far removed from its reputation as a conference full of tough, slow, grinding sorts of teams playing on skin-ripping terrain consisting of dirt and ice and beating each other into submission in World War I-like battles of attrition. Then comes the spread at Purdue, and the spread option at Northwestern, and within the decade the league's got ten teams averaging more than four touchdowns a game, eight teams giving up more than 380 yards and zero teams allowing under 200 yards passing. Minnesota and Penn State were the only teams to average more rushing yards than passing. Northwestern tied for third place while allowing 6.2 yards per play. More than half the teams finished with double-digit interception totals; all had double-digit touchdowns passing. Eight of the league's top ten passers return for '06, which means the football equivalent of guerilla war tactics - SMQ can't even think of what strategic innovation would suffice to carry on this analogy - are the next refuge for overmatched defenses.
The Individual in Society (A person's identity is determined by place in society) - Laurence Maroney has departed to further excite fans of the New England Patriots, Gary Russell to behave in a lackadaisical fashion towards academics at a random junior college, and subsequently a little uncertainty exists regarding the fate of presumptive replacements Amir Pinnix and Brylee Callender: only one 1,000-yard performance, or two? This pending their pledging to the Gophers' absurd fraternity of running backs, whic has produced ten 1,000-yard rushing performances in seven years, a string from Chris Darkins to Thomas Hamner to Tellis Redmon, Terry Jackson II and Marion Barber III before Maroney and Russell. The machine-like offensive line, now absent Greg Eslinger and Mark Setterstrom, is nevertheless conducive to this ongoing feat; returning starter numbers may officially read "2" up front, referencing center Tony Brinkhaus and tackle Steve Shidell, but guard Tyson Swaggert and Joe Ainslie are seniors with more than four good years of solid starting/playing time between them. Massive (6-6, 270) all-Big Ten tight end Matt Spaeth may as well be a part of that group, too, all of which leads to much adulation for Pinnix (467 yards, at 6.0 a pop, as a junior) or welcome JUCO transfer Callender, or both.
Same deal at Wisconsin: the Badgers never pulled the "double-decker" trick of two 1,000-yard guys Minnesota's managed three straight seasons (SMQ's spotting Maroney the 10 yards he lacks from 2003), but the string of star backs trotted out by Barry Alvarez was at least as impressive, and sometimes - as will have to be the case this year for Alvarez's replacement, Bret Bielema - completley unexpected, as when true freshmen Ron Dayne and Anthony Davis and transfer Brian Calhoun, in 1996, 2001 and 2005, respectively, exploded all over unsuspecting upper Midwestern defenses (even if, as is true with Minnesota, too, this didn't happen so frequently against better units). Jamil Walker, P.J. Hill ("Powerful," notes Phil Steele) and a bunch of other current no-names will be familiar to viewers of the second rate, 11 a.m. ESPN2 games "announced" by Chris Spielman shortly, and everyone else soon after.
SMQ Must Justify... Penn State and Wisconsin finished 12-4 in-conference, won January bowls and had top ten seasons. Purdue lost its first five league games, did not beat a winning team and had its first losing season since the early days of the Tiller Era. Including double-digit losses to the aforementioned squads represented by predatory cartoon mammals. Obviously, the Boilermakers are going to finish on top of this presumably middle-class triumverate. As much as Penn State fans believe in the talents of Anthony Morelli, an 80 percent new offensive line and similarly inexperienced starters on the D-line and in the secondary, PSU's recent record is one of mediocre-to-poor program with the occasional uplift from a long-abused senior class, and one revelation (Larry Johnson, Michael Robinson) in particular; the results of four of its six efforts this decade have come down on the wrong side of the ledger. The rockin' linebackers and skill guys - where, as at Ohio State, there's a better-than-adequate workhorse back and very fast receivers who have not established themselves yet as consistent weapons - are going to keep the Lions out of four/five-win purgatory, but playing at Notre Dame, at Ohio State, at Purdue, at Wisconsin, along with Michigan in town, means they also will not exceed eight wins again, and might be lucky to get there. Whereas Purdue has established itself as a solid bet to win seven in years of non-cataclysmic turnover, and returns all the surrounding elements - a good collection of receivers and a virtually the whole of a veteran line that held opponents to a sensational nine sacks in all of 2005 - to give Curtis Painter the chance to mature into a reliable passer before being pulled at midseason for complete noob Keith Smith. Which is maybe not such a convincing argument. But at least give Purdue the edge of playing Penn State and Wisconsin at home and - though SMQ can't believe he's going to fall for this again, after naming an entire rule based on the hype of Purdue's '05 schedule - missing Ohio State and Michigan again entirely. This program is not incompetent enough to let that fortune pass a second year without taking some meager advantage.
Most Likely To Prove SMQ Wrong Which brings us back to the plucky Badgers, a team SMQ has somewhat written off due to the departure of astonishingly successful (.603 winning percentage, three conference championships in 15 years at a previously floundering program) Barry Alvarez to direct athletics and serve among the shortest-lived TV crew on record. It's tempting to underestimate a young, first-time head coach inheriting a team with some lingering problems on the offensive line (37 sacks allowed last year) and defense in general (418 yards allowed per game, at 4.6 yards per carry) , with something like 35 career touches among the returning backs, and basically none by the receivers. Last year's team also pulled out close games with the aid of a +13 turnover ratio, never falling on the negative side of that number, any repeat of which would defy reasonable probability.
And yet: there's the inevitable running back of doom (or at least of infinite frustration, as far as opponents are concerned) waiting in the wings. John Stocco, incredibly, is 20-5 19-6 as a starter. The defensive line, poor as it was against the run, is intact, with two highly-recuited/no-longer-spring-chicken tackles and some pass rush ability. All just waiting, wanting, wishing to make SMQ look like a fool for placing Wisconsin all the way down at seventh.
If One Thing Is Certain... Michigan State will suffer a debilitating setback that will wreck its season. Sooner or later. This does not mean the first loss, if the first loss is an "acceptable" one (i.e. overtime at Michigan last season), but a defeat in some scarring psychological fashion on the order of the self-inflicted ten-point swing that cost the Ohio State game at home last year. If it's sooner - say, Pittsburgh or, god forbid, Illinois in September, a la the Rutgers loss in 2004 - MSU will probably come out of the tailspin in time for a November bowl run. If it's later, like Northwestern or Indiana, early hopes will fade. It's a schizophrenic race to 6-6 either way.
Alternate Endings In a season wide-open enough to result in non-ironic number one and number two votes for Cal, it's a little surprising no voter was willing to pull the trigger in the top spot on Iowa, whose veteran quarterback, defensive line and recent success make it an attractive "sleeper" pick, and legitimate contender to win the league over the near-unanimous favorite, Ohio State. Spots four through eight can sensibly be shuffled any and every which way, and although SMQ would love to give underdog nods to Northwesterm, which lost its coach in a sudden, tragic medical calamity, or Indiana, whose coach mentored Randy Walker and himself had surgery to remove a brain tumor, the large number of returnees at Illinois probably makes it and Coach Redacted most likely among the bottom three to crash a bowl game.
1. Ohio State (#3) The favorite in every game, by SMQ's reckoning, the September trip to Iowa actually being the toughest to get around, given the likely devastating effects of Texas' quarterback youth at that early stage. If there's a loss in there - again, those nine new defensive starters say there must be - that's probably it. The defense should be in some semblance of adequate form by Michigan time. 2. Michigan (#5) On paper, the most complete team in the conference, and one of the most balanced in the country. Scared SMQ away from a number one pick by the collective qualms Mike Hart's injury problems, two new defensive tackles anchoring a gradually slipping run defense, Chad Henne's progression and Jim Tressel/Troy Smith's general ownership of the Wolverine defense. All but the last are small issues, but they add up. 3. Iowa (#13) Another pretty good-looking team on paper, but hampered by a pair of new corners, the loss of the nation's busiest (and longest-running) linebacker combo and a lack of quality options for Drew Tate at receiver. May have the best chance of beating OSU, but got lit up in Columbus in '05, and SMQ's not willing to pull the trigger on that prediction. Like Michigan, last year's somewhat misleading five-loss total shouldn't be discarded entirely, but it also shouldn't surprise anyone if the Hawkeyes wind up in one of the big money games. 4. Purdue (#25) The jury's out on Curtis Painter, but in general, the receivers are a good group and the passing game seems to be back on track the past two seasons after a couple down years. The defense graduated an awful lot, but regressed so much in '05 that even seven or so new guys figure to improve the results. No better than last year on paper, but too healthy to finish below .500 again. 5. Penn State A mix of old and new means a "reversion to the mean" year for the sort-of rebuilding Lions, the trick being to figure out what the mean here is. If the program's not in bad enough shape to consistently go 3-8, or in good enough shape to consistently go 11-1, which are PSU's most recent rercords, then 7-5 or 8-4 against a tough schedule seems about right. Only the tiniest sliver of a hair behind Purdue. 6. Michigan State Given they'll beat Notre Dame on the road one week and go down in flames to Northwestern the next, or vice versa, and there is no rational method to determine which of these outcomes is pending, the Spartans are in the dead-middle until further notice. All bets are off if Matt Trannon finally reincarnates Plaxico Burress, or is mutilated and reassembled into a servicable kicker.
- - - - - If he can handle basketball, too, why not try field goals?
7. Wisconsin See above for all the reasons this is a stupid pick. But Bielema's going to have to earn automatic top four status in this league on his own with a seemingly weapon-less offense before SMQ overlooks the Badgers' deficiencies on defense. 8. Minnesota No reason to panic or anything, but does Bryan Cupito emerge from the dreadlocked shadows of Laurence Maroney as a cool, capable senior leader at quarterback, or collapse in the improbable event his new rushing crutch doesn't measure up? Makes no difference if the defense is more or less smacked around for the umpteenth consecutive year. 9. Northwestern Inevitably slotted at ninth with quarterback-for-life Brett Basanez's graduation and the precarious talent gap with the other perpetual middle-of-the-packers, but with Randy Walker, it was ninth with a shot at fifth by way of the usual tricks (along with the more conventional wiles of the few legitimate talents, like RB Tyrell Sutton). Without him, and with instead the uncertainty inherent to the ad hoc ascension of the country's youngest head coach, it's ninth and look out below. 10. Illinois Not at all competitive against anyone last year, including Indiana. But almost all those guys are back! 11. Indiana Also not in serious contention to win a conference game outside of Illinois, which it visits with less returning, um, talent.
MISSISSIPPI IS NUMBER ONE! - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - And in something other than poverty, obesity and teen pregnancy rate! (Though we're still really good at being poor, fat and knocked up, too).
But the most recent distinction is from something called "USA Football," an NFL creation chaired by Congressman/ex-quarterback Jack Kemp described as "a non-profit organization whose aim is to promote the growth of youth and amateur football," which dubs the Magnolia State "the nation's top football state." A few native star players - Deuce McAllister and Archie Manning, L.C. Greenwood and Hugh Green, namely, a contingent that barely scratches the surface of a tradition that also includes Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Brett Favre, Ray Guy, Bulldog Turner, Lem Barney, Deacon Jones and Lance Alworth, for starters - will join in presenting "The Governor's Cup" to Haley Barbour to commemorate the honor.
The rest of the top 10 states based on the USA Football formula: Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Alabama, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, Kansas and Florida.
Fisher DeBerry would crassly and inappropriately note that Mississippi is the state with the highest per capita population of "Afro-Americans," and that five of the other "top ten football states" - Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Virginia - are 2, 3, 4, 6 and 9 in per capita black population. But we know that - although the evident and shameful poverty, education and health care rates in these states are frequently and correctly tied with their even more shameful history of discrimination - any suggestion that race is an indicator of athletic success in our society, even from a cultural perspective, cannot be tolerated.
STILL OVERRATED: LSU'S TIGER STADIUM AS "BEST HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE" - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Kyle at Dawg Sports reports the results of his site's latest poll, gauging responders' opinion of which SEC team's on-campus stadium affords the greatest home field advantage. The winner, not surprisingly, was the much-hyped "Death Valley," LSU's Tiger Stadium. Florida's Ben Hill Griffin comes in second, Georgia's Sanford Stadium third. Sites of numerous atrocities at Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Mississippi State are not listed and, therefore - along with Vaught-Hemingway at Ole Miss, which was listed - received no votes as the stadium bestowing the greatest advantage upon its team.
SMQ has addressed the issue of homefield advantage in the SEC before, specifically targeting the notion of LSU as one of the toughest places to play after statements to such effect by Bob Davie prior to the Tigers' home collapse against Tennessee last September, and found the evidence in its favor lacking. Tiger Stadium is, indeed, a tough place to play, but this is primarily due to the fact LSU is tough to play anywhere, period; the relative advantage of playing in Baton Rouge, as opposed to an opponents' home or a neutral site, is nothing to sneeze at, as shown below, but, as also demonstrated, is not an outsized advantage in any sense, even in the SEC.
These numbers are updated from last year's exercise, and again for fairness and simplicity's sake include only SEC games, so results against Florida States, Clemsons or Georgia Techs are not reflected.
Home Records in SEC Games Since 1998 1. Georgia: 23-6 (.793) 2. Florida: 22-6 (.786) 3. Tennessee: 23-9 (.719) 4. LSU: Home, 21-11 (.656) T5. Auburn: Home, 20-12 (.625) T5. Arkansas: Home, 20-12 (.625) 7. Alabama: Home, 19-13 (.594) T8. Mississippi State: Home, 17-15 (.531) T8. Ole Miss: Home, 17-15 (.531) 10. South Carolina: Home, 13-19 (.406) 11. Kentucky: Home, 9-23 (.281) 12. Vanderbilt: Home, 4-28 (.125)
This is a tad misleading, as Georgia's string of futility against Florida, entirely on neutral ground, doesn't reflect on its record at Sanford Stadium. And, again, the best teams are going to have the best records regardless of where they play. The top home teams, not surprisingly, are also the top road teams:
Road/Neutral Records in SEC Games since 1998 1. Tennessee: 25-10 (.714) 2. Florida: 27-11 (.711) 3. Georgia: 24-14 (.641) 4. Auburn: 21-13 (.618) 5. LSU: 19-16 (.543) 6. Alabama: 17-16 (.515) 7. Ole Miss: 13-19 (.406) 8. South Carolina: 11-21 (.344) 9. Arkansas: 11-22 (.333) 10. Kentucky: 7-25 (.219) 11. Vanderbilt: 5-27 (.156) 12. Mississippi State: 5-28 (.152)
If we're talking advantage ("to benefit; gain; profit"), though, we have to find the benefit each program has gained from being at home. Every team in the SEC but one, Vanderbilt, has a "home field advantage" in the sense it's home winning percentage is better than it's road winning percentage. The "advantage" of playing at home, then, as opposed to anywhere else, can be judged by comparing the above records and measuring the difference:
Advantage of Home Record vs. Road Record in SEC Games Since 1998 1. Mississippi State: +.381 2. Arkansas: +.292 3. Georgia: +.152 4. Ole Miss: +.125 5. LSU: +.113 6. Alabama: +.079 7. Florida: +.075 T8. South Carolina: +.062 T8. Kentucky: +.062 10. Auburn: +.007 11. Tennessee: +.005 12. Vanderbilt: -.031
Tennessee's stadium holds more people than those of Arkansas and Mississippi State combined, yet the Razorbacks and Bulldogs, abysmal road teams by any standard, recently are gaining significantly more from playing in friendly confines. Nobody will ever fear visiting Scott Field, where State was 1-3 in-conference last year, and it wasn't even on Kyle's list, but 38 percent is a huge advantage; apparently, over the past eight years of SEC play, the rickety old place has meant more to its team than any other stadium in the conference. It was, after all, the site of the league's most inexplicable upset of the past decade, when the totally ineptBulldogs knocked off Florida there in 2004. On the road, State is about as hopeless as possible, but at home, they're elevated to "average," which is a big jump.
- - - - - The real "Death Valley"?
Note: this does not mean it's the "toughest place to play" (that distinction, in SMQ's mind, would go to Florida's Swamp), because when you finish 1-7, and the one win is at home, that represents a very large 25 percent advantage without making the place a "tough" one to visit. Still, though, it's an advantage; compared to MSU's performance on the road and at neutral sites, opponents fare worse travelling to Starkville than to any other league venue.
EXILED KELLER FINDS REFUGE, PLANS OPPOSITION REGIME IN NEBRASKA - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Lincoln's Journal Startrumpets deposed Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller's official commit to transfer northward to Nebraska this morning, giving salt-of-the-earth fans of the already-rising 'Huskers more reason to embrace Bill Callahan's once-scorned 21st Century West Coast madness in 2007. Without looking, SMQ guesses Big Sam has a good shot at breaking NU's career passing records in a single season, especially a season that includes an extra regular season game and an expected appearance in the Big XII Championship Game.
And, if we're really, really lucky, a definitive postseason rumble with extreme malice against Rudy Carpenter's fledgling People's Republic of Arizona State.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
And don't let the name fool ya - second guessing the phenomenal athletic feats and split-second decisions of college kids under extreme physical duress is for every day of the week.
AWWW!! The totally nicest people, like, ever!...
How much football does he watch? Dude's got insights on -everybody-, and by everybody, I mean everybody. Throw in some of the best writing in the blogosphere, and we're talking about a daily must-read.
- Burnt Orange Nation
SMQ starts to sound more and more like the Gregg Easterbrook of our ideal memories every day - whip-smart, systematic, omnivorous in his intellectual tastes and yet unafraid of the cheap joke.
- Every Day Should Be Saturday
Sunday Morning Quarterback is one of our favorite football blogs on the internet.
- State Fans Nation
Sunday Morning Quarterback is a killer football blog if you are a college football junkie. It is run by one of the most thoughtful, intelligent, and analytical writers in the college football blogosphere...The guy is thorough and detailed and provides a level of analysis you are not going to find anywhere else .
- Bruins Nation
Just another hack writer who hasn't done one lick of research...
...the pride of Southern Mississippi ever since Brett Favre turned into an ESPN soap opera, has the sort of prose knack that can keep you riveted to a preview about any one of D-IA's scrubbier members ... should be given gifts.