Let me know if any of you would be interesting in participating in a poll. I may start one next week if there is sufficient interest.
LSU plays Auburn this week, so if you’re interested, here is my LSU/Auburn Rivalry blog.
1 Auburn 1
2 Florida St. 3
3 Alabama 5
4 Oregon 4
5 Oklahoma 2
6 Miss. St. 10
7 BYU 7
8 TX A&M 6
9 UCLA 16
10 Nebraska 23
11 Ole Miss 8
12 Notre Dame 12
13 Ga. Tech 17
14 LSU 13
15 Arizona 22
16 E. Carolina 14
17 Baylor –
18 Georgia 15
19 S. Carolina 9
20 Louisville –
21 Okie St. 20
22 NC State 24
23 TCU –
24 Marshall –
25 Missouri –
Full computer rankings 1-128 (as I will explain, these are not in agreement with the top 25 given above)
Out of rankings: (11) Penn St., (18) Rutgers, (19) Arkansas. (21) Washington, (25) Virginia
Explanation and future rankings
As I mentioned last week, this is my transition week into adopting all or most of my computer rankings.
I would have liked to have kept Arkansas, after its very good game against Texas A&M, and Virginia, which lost to two top-10 teams above and beat a top-20 team. I didn’t keep them because they were not in the top 35, and I didn’t want to deviate more than 10 spots.
The team where I deviated the most was East Carolina. I couldn’t justify putting them behind a Baylor team whose best win is Iowa St. Georgia has one win over an ACC team, but East Carolina has two.
South Carolina is the only two-loss team that made it, but the Gamecocks did so on the strength of their wins. Virginia’s just weren’t strong enough to merit consideration.
I don’t like ranking Missouri, but they have three wins over FBS teams. Obviously one of them is a very good win. I consider Indiana a bad loss, but it will take some time for them to show up that way even if the Hoosiers are in fact bad. Indiana is 2-2, including an FCS win; but the FCS team they beat is Indiana St., who is otherwise undefeated and has a win over an FBS team. So for right now it’s just sort of a mediocre loss. I do have Missouri a few spots below where the computer put them though.
I certainly didn’t want to put USC (the loss to Boston College isn’t looking so good) or Minnesota (who was destroyed by TCU) in the top 25 even though the computer had them there.
The only other team I was really reluctant to rank was Marshall, but they’re undefeated, and I couldn’t justify putting anyone else ahead of them.
I tried with Michigan St. and Ohio St., because I certainly think either would beat Marshall; but there just isn’t a good argument being that I’m trying to transition into the objective system. Michigan St. was the best available team; but they were 10 spots lower than Marshall, so there was really no way to justify bridging that gap. Ohio St. was even lower.
Michigan St.’s only wins are Jacksonville St., Eastern Michigan, and Wyoming, so I don’t think that’s good enough. At least Marshall beat Akron (who beat Pittsburgh). I know that isn’t much to go on, but it’s more than Michigan St. has; and again, the formula is something to go on as well.
It’s also more than Ohio St. has to go on. Navy and Cincinnati are just not looking like good wins right now. Cincinnati only beat Miami U. and Toledo, and Navy now has three losses after losing to Western Kentucky. Even if the Buckeyes do have better wins than Marshall does, that still doesn’t address the loss to Virginia Tech, whose only other wins are William and Mary and Western Michigan.
Cincinnati travels to U. Miami (the one in Florida) in a couple of weeks and also plays East Carolina in November, so if they win a string of games, that will help Ohio St. of course. Two byes and two wins over MAC teams (with two FBS wins between them) doesn’t help much right now though.
Ohio St. and Michigan St. both have decent opportunities to join the top 25 next week.
I moved the top 25 teams an average of four spots each. There are only four teams that I moved 7 or more spots up or down. I moved Arizona down 8, North Carolina St. down 7, East Carolina up 10, and Louisville up 7. I am trying to avoid any larger jumps next week.
Note that I still moved East Carolina down two spots compared to last week, I still moved Arizona up 7 spots as compared to last week, and I moved North Carolina St. up two spots as compared to last week despite a loss.
I want to go back to the teams I skipped over for a second, I’ll have no problem ranking USC if they beat Arizona St. next week and are still in the computer top 25. I just think they need that additional quality win in light of Boston College losing to Colorado St.
Minnesota has a bye week, so they’ll probably fall slightly on their own. If their past opponents are still good enough for them to stay in the top 25, I will probably still put them there. TCU plays Oklahoma, and Michigan travels to Rutgers, so we shall see. The Gophers are 22nd in the computer formula right now, so if they stay 22nd, that won’t bother me anyway.
I’m not 100% sure that next week won’t be another transition week, but I’m leaning toward going to the computers exclusively or almost exclusively (sometimes I slightly rearrange the very top teams in early October) next week. I take serious issue with a relatively small number of the results for this point in the season.
I predict I will stick to the computer rankings in full after the games of October 18. Alabama plays Texas A&M that day. Auburn is idle, but in the two weekends before their bye (i.e., this coming weekend and the following weekend) they play LSU and Mississippi St. Mississippi St. is idle the week of the 18th as well, but not before playing Texas A&M and Auburn. Florida St. plays Notre Dame on the 18th. Oregon plays UCLA on the 11th (which could also make or keep UCLA #1), followed by Washington on the 18th.
Nebraska plays Michigan St. this Saturday, but I doubt they can get enough points in the next three weeks under any combination of wins and losses by the other teams I mentioned. The Huskers are idle on the 11th and play Northwestern on the 18th.
Oklahoma is back at #10, but they have a decent combination of games in the next three weeks: TCU, Texas, and Kansas St.
I had a couple more LSU thoughts. I never fully process everything the first night. As you may know, LSU has not had an undefeated season since 1958. Now that I’ve seen two national championships, really my long-term hope as a fan is to see another, so the first loss will always be somewhat frustrating.
There has been a game or two every season going back as long as I remember where I get intensely frustrated with the coaches and so forth. I was going to detail several of them, but I decided it would be pointless griping to do so. Hopefully it won’t happen again this season even if there are losses. I think I gave an adequate explanation of why I felt that way in the post-game blog.
I do have some hope that this season can turn out well. Some of the prognosticators have already written LSU off as a contender, but how many one-loss teams have been written off for the two-team playoff (aka BCS) only to come back into the picture or even to play in the title game? There was a one-loss team just about every year.
Of course, in 2007 we had a one-loss team many did write off at #1 (Ohio St.) and a two-loss team at #2 (LSU) going into the championship. If they have to finish with one loss to make the playoff, that means they have to win nine in a row to do so. I certainly wouldn’t put money on that, but I would be less surprised by that than I was by everything that happened in the 2011 calendar year.
Les Miles and LSU after the Tigers won the SEC Championship in 2011.
To paraphrase the Mark Twain quote, the reports of LSU’s long-term demise are greatly exaggerated.
I’m not worried about it yet. The last time I was worried about it was 2009 when LSU lost to Houston Nutt’s unranked Ole Miss Rebels. Disastrous time management and Les Miles’ instructing quarterback Jordan Jefferson to spike the ball had caused time to run out on LSU’s final possession at the Ole Miss 6-yard line (Final score: Ole Miss 25, LSU 23), not that they really deserved to win anyway. That was LSU’s 8th loss in 20 games. Rather than spiraling downward from there, LSU has gone 47-10 since the 2009 season ended. If you’re winning over 80% playing the type of competition LSU typically plays, you’re doing something right.
However, a long-term decline is inevitable. I don’t think a single early-season loss to a veteran dual-threat quarterback is a sign it’s all going to hell in a hand-basket, but at some point LSU is not going to be a serious title threat for a while. It will even happen to Alabama. Saban may have to retire, but it will happen. It wasn’t that long ago that Alabama had no serious national-title-contending teams for a decade or so. When they did win in 1992, it was their first national championship since 1979.
Anyway, if LSU has peaked, it has still been a period of success to be extremely proud of. Compare the Tigers to other top programs from around 2003 (the year of LSU’s first national championship since that 1958 undefeated team I mentioned).
Seasons with losses of four games or more since 2003 (inclusive):
LSU 2, with two BCS championships, one runner-up in the same period.
Ohio St. 2, with two BCS runners-up
Oklahoma 2, with one BCS runner-up
Oregon 4, with one BCS runner-up
USC 4, with one BCS championship, one runner-up (and one AP title)
Texas 4, with one BCS championship, one runner-up
Florida 5, with two BCS championships
Auburn 6, with one BCS championship, one runner-up
Florida St. 7, with one BCS championship
LSU has won two national championships since the last time either Oklahoma or Ohio St. won one, so I wouldn’t switch places with them either.
Tennessee had won a national championship in 1998, just 5 years before LSU won in 2003, but the Vols haven’t had a season with fewer than four losses since 2004. They had a decent run in 2007, but the loss to LSU in the SEC championship game (after Les Miles told everyone to have a great day) was Tennessee’s fourth. That’s certainly an example of a program I hope LSU is not similar to in the foreseeable future.
Alabama wasn’t really a relevant team in the early 2000s, but they’ve had 4 seasons with four losses or more in case you wanted to know, all from 2003 to 2007. Of course, since then the Tide has had three BCS championships and two Sugar Bowl berths.
Tennessee and Alabama were the only programs that won a major national title from 1992 forward that I did not include on the list above. I included Oregon, which hasn’t won any, but they arguably should have made the BCS championship game in 2001 and have been a consistently strong program since, so I thought they deserved inclusion.
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(Logos are posted for teams that are new to the rankings for the year.)
1 Auburn 1
2 Oklahoma 3
3 Florida St. 4
4 Oregon 2
5 Alabama 5
6 TX A&M 6
7 BYU 10
8 Ole Miss 9
9 S Carolina 11
10 Miss. St. –
11 Penn St. 12
12 Notre Dame 8
13 LSU 7
14 E. Carolina 15
15 Georgia 13
16 UCLA 17
17 Ga. Tech –
18 Rutgers –
19 Arkansas –
20 Okie St. 25
21 Washington –
22 Arizona 23
23 Nebraska –
24 NC State –
25 Virginia 19
Out of rankings: (14) Pittsburgh, (16) Boston Coll., (18) Va. Tech, (20) USC, (21) Louisville, (22) Ohio St., (24) Missouri
Explanation and future rankings
I’m putting this at the bottom because it’s probably too boring and technical for many of you, but I do get questions about these things often.
Just to get to the point, what I’m going to do is make next week (and possibly the following week) a transitional period. I will compute and publish my computer rankings, but I won’t use those for my official top 25 right away. I’ll try to ease into that. For instance, if I don’t have a team ranked this week, but they’re #10 in the computer ratings after next week, I will put them between #15 and #20, then maybe if they’re still #10 the following week, it won’t be as dramatic to actually rank them #10. Or maybe they’ll lose, and it won’t be a seesaw from unranked to #10 to #20-something.
I’ve already made some changes in anticipation of what may happen in moving toward that system. I gave very little weight to any preseason preconceptions about given teams or their opponents.
I did my best to do the ratings above fairly, but it has gotten difficult, and that’s why I can no longer use a fully subjective system going forward. I continue to second-guess myself and remain unsatisfied.
There are a lot of conflicting motivations at this point. I’m still moving from “Are you going to be a good team?” to “What have you proven?” At the same time, I don’t want to put a team in the top 25 based on an early-season scheduling quirk and have that team get blown out. It will take some time before the teams that look good in games and teams that look good based on objective measures line up.
There is a team like this every year. In 2011, Stanford didn’t really play anyone until October 22, then they played three of the next four against ranked teams and the fourth game was against Oregon St. on the road (which is rarely an easy win). Then the Cardinal still had to play Notre Dame (who was also ranked at the time) later on in November. This was the year they played in the Fiesta Bowl despite losing big to Oregon.
Anyway, getting back to this year, Florida St. is a good example of some of the difficulties. The Seminoles are not even in the top 10 based on wins and losses that have happened so far this season (a loose description of what my computer rankings consider). They beat Clemson, who I really believe is a good team, and Oklahoma St., who might be a good team also, but that doesn’t do it at this point. Clemson doesn’t look any better than Northwestern because the Tigers are winless against FBS competition (but both Clemson and Northwestern have an FCS win). Florida St. doesn’t get credit for beating an unsuccessful (so far against Division I anyway) FCS team, nor do they get credit for a bye week. So that leaves Oklahoma St. The Cowboys have a somewhat respectable win over UTSA, but beating the team who beat UTSA is hardly something to hang your hat on.
Oddly enough, Florida St. has a good chance to improve its rating by beating North Carolina St., who I do not believe is a good team, but three FBS wins at this point over teams with four combined FBS wins makes them look good for the moment. All three of those teams are probably well below average, but that won’t be clear until later.
There is a preliminary step in the process where I get initial ratings of teams between 0 and about 7. So if right now, North Carolina St. is 6 and Clemson is 1, maybe in a couple weeks, they’ll both be 3.5, and at the end of the season Clemson might be about 5 and North Carolina St. about 2. So Florida St. might get similar credit for the two wins combined for the rest of the season even if neither team ends up anything like what has shown up so far.
It helps Florida St. that Clemson will likely get a wins of some quality by playing North Carolina and North Carolina St. in the next two weeks. Oklahoma St. isn’t playing a great team in Texas Tech, but that will be an opportunity for them to add some substance to their resume.
The other major contenders already rate highly. Alabama, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Oregon all rate in the top 7 of the current computer ratings. Florida St. is still in the top 20 though.
So what I’m going to do is release my first computer ratings next week (a week earlier than originally planned), but I’m still going to do subjective ratings for next week and possibly the week after that. They just won’t be purely subjective. Let’s say the winner of Miss. St. and Texas A&M comes out #1. I might move Miss. St. up to #5 or A&M up to #3 or #4, but I wouldn’t rank either #1, at least not for a couple more weeks.
It’s also possible I’ll do another transition week after October 4. In other words, the subjective ratings may overlap with the computer ratings for a couple of weeks, but what I feature here will be the subjective ratings.
Also, sometimes for the first few weeks of the computer rankings, I change the top 5 of what I post here. I always make clear what those changes are, and I never make any subjective changes on my ratings site. I try to keep any subjective preferences off of that site.
Although that Missouri had a good chance to win the SEC for a while in the championship game last year, I’m still glad I didn’t take the leap and make them #1. They should never have been regarded as the top team to beat in the country last year. I also wouldn’t want to take that step early on for A&M, Miss. St., Arizona, N.C. St., or UCLA. On the other hand, if one of those teams is undefeated and rises to the top a month from now or more, I’m not going to alter anything.
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I partly thought of some of the points of discussion below based on reading a blog from B.O.B. here. There is a group of FCS teams that deserves respect. He singled out one of them in his blog, but I elaborate on a few more examples. LSU used to avoid playing any FCS opponents, and I'm certainly in favor of avoiding the mediocre or bad ones, but I think it can be a really good experience to play ones that are among the best of their subdivision. So that's what I meant in the comments about the teams being better to play than the likes of Southern and Grambling. I wasn't talking about seeking out some recruting edge. LSU has routinely played in-state FBS opponents (they play one on Saturday, in fact), so I really don't think they're more worried about Southern and Grambling. The better FCS teams give different looks and expose weaknesses. I think they're more difficult to plan for in some ways. In LSU's case, there is usually not a serious risk of losing, but all it takes is a bad game and for the FCS team to be particularly good and it could happen. Michigan was a program in much better shape than it is now and had an otherwise successful year when it lost to Appalachian St.
Before I post my other thoughts on that topic, I gave some more thought to his divisions there. Most of them are good, but I wouldn't put the Texas teams with the Southern California teams. That doesn't make sense tradtionally or geographically. The traditional teams to group together are the Pac-8. So that's the Pac-12 minus Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Arizona St., all of whom are much closer to Texas than the Southern California teams are. Utah is the only one that comes within a couple hundred miles of being as far. The four relatively new Pac-12 teams also in general have more experience playing the relevant Texas teams. I can also tell you that the Southern California teams want it the way I'm suggesting as well because they would not agree to the Pac-12 divisional alignment unless it was guaranteed they would both play all three of the other California teams every year. I don't think they really care whether they play Arizona or Washington teams, but it even seems to me (at least if you talk to USC fans) that the Oregon opponents are a bigger deal than the Arizona ones. Anyway, here's my regularly scheduled blog...
This isn’t the main thing I’m going to write about, but I heard it after I published my blog about the LSU-Wisconsin game. Since Les Miles took over at LSU, the Tigers are 22-21 when trailing in the fourth quarter, the only team in the FBS to have a winning record during that span (apparently, they don’t count the last-second loss to Clemson as “trailing in the fourth quarter”; but no one else comes close regardless). Miles is also back above the 80% mark as head coach of the Tigers. After winning 85% in his first three seasons, Miles’ winning percentage had fallen to 77.3% after the 2009 season. The Tigers are attempting to finish with double-digit wins for the fifth consecutive year since then. It would be Miles’ 8th overall in 10 seasons.
By comparison, Nick Saban won 75% of his games at LSU and had two double-digit-win seasons in five years, falling just short of a third on the last play of his stint at LSU. I understand Saban didn’t take over a program in the same shape; but he was still considered a strong success overall, so building on his tenure is still something to be proud of. Not many coaches can step into a situation like that and improve it, so Miles deserves a good deal of credit.
I don’t have too much to say about the Sam Houston St. game itself, but although LSU won extremely easily, that was not necessarily the expected result.
Ameer Abdullah’s great run with 20 seconds left saved Nebraska from potential embarrassment.
After the Nebraska-McNeese St. game (if you missed it, Nebraska scored the winning touchdown with 20 seconds left with the Cowboys essentially one tackle away from forcing overtime), I want to talk a bit about FCS opponents. They really vary. A number of the scores were pretty close. Of course, you also have your 70-point wins against such opponents as well.
Sam Houston St. went to the FCS championship game in the 2012 season, so they could have been among the best teams this season. I was looking at the margins Sam Houston St. won by that season. They won seven games by 35 points or more and beat Southeast Louisiana, 70-0. I think there is as much of a gap between the top and bottom of FCS as there is of FBS. Maybe Sam Houston isn’t as high on the scale this season; but the team they lost to in that championship game, North Dakota St., seems to be about the same after the Bison’s 34-14 win over Iowa St. So I don’t think there is a real appreciation of that.
Most people dismiss the opposition right off the bat. I know a Kansas St. fan who just assumed North Dakota St. was nothing to worry about last year, for instance. There is a general lack of appreciation of the fact that if you play a playoff-level FCS team, there is a good chance that team will be clearly better than a low-level FBS team.
One of those teams that is routinely toward the bottom of the FCS is Nicholls St. (which just lost to Arkansas , 73-7), but even they have a recent win over an FBS school. They beat Western Michigan last year, but when they played would-be bowl teams, the results were more predicable: losses to Oregon, 66-3, and to ULL, 70-7.
Anyway, I’ve noticed the quality of FCS opponents on LSU’s schedule of late. The Tigers played Furman last year, and while that’s not typically one of the top FCS teams (although they are competitive in one of the top FCS conferences), they still did a decent job. LSU only led by four at halftime and didn’t lead by more than 11 until less than 17 minutes remained in the game. The Paladin defense folded after that, and LSU ended up winning by 32; but that was still a better exercise than Kent St., whom LSU led 31-7 in the second quarter, or UAB, whom LSU led 35-7 in the second quarter last season. LSU let both teams back into the game a little bit before pulling away, but I don’t think that’s the same kind of pressure.
In 2012, LSU blew out Idaho, 63-14, but then struggled to beat Towson, 38-22, two weeks later. Towson failed to make the playoffs that year despite only losing twice in FCS play, but they advanced to the FCS finals last year (they also lost to the Bison of NDSU) after again only losing two games in FCS play. They played no FBS opponents last season, however.
A similar combination of results took place in 2010 when LSU beat McNeese St., 32-10, after trailing in the second quarter and leading only 16-10 after halftime. The Tigers then went on to beat ULM, 51-0, later that season. LSU plays ULM next week, by the way.
LSU had only played an FCS opponent twice in the previous six seasons, both times being against Appalachian St. In the first meeting in 2005, the Tigers, who would win the SEC West, only led the Mountaineers 14-0 after three quarters before pulling away slightly in the fourth to win, 24-0. Appalachian St. at one point drove to the LSU 15 while it was still 14-0 (before missing a field goal), so the game was in doubt for a long time despite the lack of points. The Tigers had easier wins that season @Mississippi St., @Vanderbilt, @Ole Miss, and in the bowl game against Miami. LSU also blew out North Texas at home by more than twice that margin in that season.
So if I wanted to give LSU a test in a given year, I’d pick a top-20 FCS team over a bottom-20 FBS team every time. Just something to keep in mind.
Also, McNeese wasn’t the only team with a good result last week. Eastern Kentucky got the only win (over Miami U.), but there were some others that were in doubt fairly late. Stony Brook gave Connecticut all they could handle. Rutgers only beat Howard by 13. Eastern Washington was neck-and-neck with Washington the whole game, falling short by only 7 points. Southern Mississippi only beat Alcorn St. by 6, and UNLV only beat Northern Colorado by a single point.
Finally, I don’t think Missouri St. made Oklahoma St. too nervous, but I thought it was interesting that the Bears only lost by 17 after the Cowboys were a touchdown short of beating Florida St. in Week 1.
By the way, LSU plays McNeese St. and Eastern Michigan next season. I would not be surprised if they had more trouble with McNeese St.
HAPPY BELATED NEW YEAR TO ALL!!! Here we go - Irish Shu is here with a look back at the now-completed Fighting Irish football season. In the last edition I recapped the first 6 games, so now I'll review the last 7 including their bowl game.
USC: This was a game that had me concerned. So-Cal had owned the Irish in recent years and was looking for a big win to continue the era of interim Coach Ed Orgeron who had replaced the fired Lane Kiffin. It did turn out to be an ugly game during which ND’s QB Tommy Rees and S.C’s stud receiver Marquise Lee both left the game with injuries (Lee has hurting to begin with) but the Irish D toughed it out and held on for a gutty 14-10 Irish win. It was the first home win over the Trojans since 2001 and only the third night game played in South Bend in the past 2 decades.
In addition to the relentless pressure from the Irish D, USC also killed themselves with nearly 100 yards in penalties. The win came in spite of a very poor effort from backup QB Andrew Hendrix in the wake of the injury to Rees. I was among the many who had been calling for Hendrix to have a chance to play and prove himself…well, he blew that chance. He looked very uncomfortable, failed to complete any passes and mustered only 27 yards of offense in the second half….that makes it all the more impressive that the Irish won this one.
AIR FORCE: This would turn out to be one of the best played games of the year for the Irish…but when it comes against a Falcon team that was on their 4th quarterback of the season and would finish 2-10, I would have been disappointed with anything less. Rees had a career day going 17-22 for 284 yards and touchdown throws to 5 different ND receivers in a 45-10 rout.
The feat of completing TD throws to 5 men was the first time that had ever happened in Irish football. The Air Force option attack did gash the Irish D for 290 yards, but the inability of the Falcons to finish drives and their turnovers proved costly to them, as well.
NAVY: The Midshipmen came to play and played one of their best offensive games of the year. They gutted the Irish D for 331 rushing yards, finished with a 15-minute advantage in time-of-possession, and committed NO penalties and NO turnovers to 2 for the Irish…but in spite of all that, the Irish still won 38-34. WHEW! Why did this happen? Because the Navy D was not able to stop the Irish O, which finished with over 500 yards and very impressive balance between the run and the pass. Freshman Irish running back Tarean Folston had his breakout game with a 140-yard rushing day and the game ended with a sensational play on D when safety Eliar Hardy and frosh linebacker Jaylon Smith snuffed-out a Navy end-around on 4th and 4 and stopped the receiver for no gain to preserve the win.
It would be the last loss Navy would suffer this season as they would go on to post a 9 and 4 record to match that of the Irish…however, this win and the prior win over Air Force would prove costly to the health of the Irish D-front. Having consecutive games with the 2 service academies which both employ the option and cut-blocking took out several players including lineman Kona Schwenke and Sheldon Day, and linebacker Ishaq Williams. The Irish D was already missing starters Louis Nix and Jarret Grace to leg injuries prior to this, and it made a bad situation worse. The Irish D would go forward dipping further into the reserves from here.
PITT: As well as the Irish had played in their 2 games prior to this one, that’s how poorly they played against the Panthers at Heinz Field. Pitt capitalized on 3 Irish turnovers to their none, including 2 very costly “Turnover Tommy” interceptions (one in the Pitt end zone to prevent a touchdown) and the Panthers avenged last year’s triple-OT loss with a 28-21 win that would knock the Irish out of BCS Bowl contention. In addition to the turnovers, including one Pitt fumble caused by a QB sack in the fourth quarter which the Irish did not pounce on, penalties also proved costly. They didn’t have many penalties, but the ones they committed were big. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt was ejected in the first half for targeting the Pitt QB (and I’ll agree with my pal, the Beeze, when I say that was a BULLSHIT call – Tuitt was lowering his head to try to get UNDER the QB’s head and the QB lowered his head, as well),
and a pass interference penalty on a 4th down play would extend a drive that Pitt would score on. The overall-sloppy play in this game, in-particular, baffles me to this day…but shit does happen, and with all due respect to Pitt, that was shit.
BYU: The Irish had a bye week to shake-off the loss to Pitt and hopefully bounce back against a good BYU team with one of the country’s best running quarterbacks in Taysom Hill.
Despite cold and snowy conditions, the Irish D contained Hill well-enough and won their last home game on senior day 23-13. This time, it was running back Cam McDaniel who had a career day with 117 rushing yards. Folston added 78 yards and a score. Rees’ last home game was an adequate performance for him as he went 15-28 for 235 yards and a score. It was a good tune-up for what would be one of their toughest opponents of the year (of which they had several, as always) in…
STANFORD: The Irish were game in this one and made it close, but still lost to the eventual Pac-12 Champion 27-20. Stanford Senior RB Tyler Gaffney tore the Irish D for 189 yards and a score and the Cardinal D held the Irish O in-check by allowing them only 263 total yards…and yet the Irish STILL had their chances to pull-off the win. Rees threw for 2 touchdowns in the 3rd quarter to help bring the Irish back. Then they had 2 final drives in the fourth quarter to try to tie the game but, alas, both ended in Rees interceptions and the Cardinal held-on.
Incidentally, Gaffney getting close to 200 yards against ND isn’t really a shame when you consider the year he had – he finished his season with over 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns, so he was tough for most teams to handle. Stanford would go on to win their second consecutive Pac-12 title and go on to the Rose Bowl to lose a close one to Michigan State – a team whose only loss this year was to – guess who? NOTRE DAME!
Pinstripe Bowl vs. RUTGERS: The season ended with a bowl win over a .500 Rutgers team that was a sloppy game for both teams. Sloppy because the Irish were missing about a dozen players with the flu. Sloppy because the field at Yankee Stadium was in poor shape with a lot of torn turf and divots that skill players on BOTH sides slipped and tripped on. Sloppy because both teams had to settle for more field goals than they would have liked in-part due to said field conditions. When all was said and done, though, Tommy Rees ended his career with a 319-yard effort against one of the poorest pass defenses in the country and the Irish did win 29-16 in a game that, with all due respect to the Scarlet Knights, was closer than it should have been. The REALLY cool thing about this game? The MVP award. It went to outgoing senior tackle Zack Martin – the first time an O-lineman received a Bowl MVP trophy in 54 years, and it was very well deserved.
The Irish running game really took over in the second half by repeatedly running to Zack’s side and they had success doing so. Martin will head into the NFL as one of the best Irish linemen to ever play, having never missed a game in his Irish career with a school record 52 career starts…and his leadership will be missed, for sure.
So to wrap it up the Irish football season was overall-disappointing, but not bad when one considers that, of the 12 regular season opponents the Irish faced, 9 went to bowl games, 3 played in BCS bowls and the Irish beat one of those 3 (Michigan State)…still, if the Irish can beat Michigan State and the Pac-12 runner-up in Arizona State, and play Stanford as close as they did, then why, WHY did they choke against Michigan and Pitt???...yeah, I know the answer. Turnover Tommy.
Speaking of Tommy Rees, in spite of his several costly mistakes and lack of natural athleticism and the ability to run, I will give him this pat-on-the-back; statistically he actually did very well in spite of all that. True, throwing 37 interceptions in a 4-year career is not good, but he did finish with 7,670 yards and 61 touchdowns. The yardage put him in 3rd place in ND school history in that category behind only Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen. With the Pinstripe Bowl victory, Rees joined Tom Clements, Joe Montana, Tony Rice and Rick Mirer as the only Notre Dame quarterbacks with two bowl game victories as a starter…it does make me wonder how much more impressive his career would have been if only he could RUN.
So, farewell to Tommy, thank you, and I’m REALLY looking forward to next year’s quarterback battle between Malik Zaire and the now-reinstated and supposedly-improved Everett Golson…assuming Golson doesn’t f-up and get himself kicked out of school again.
Other concerns as we head to next year: replacing lost starters.
Thankfully the Offense returns largely-intact; Rees will be replaced by a better running QB and while the O-line loses the awesome Zack Martin and Chris Watt, they get just about everyone else back. TJ Jones and his over-1,100 receiving yards will be missed, but a whole ton of very good receivers come back, including DaVaris Daniels. There is talk that their best tight end in Troy Niklas might declare for the draft, but hopefully he’ll stay. ALL the best Irish running backs will be back next year. The offensive coordinator in Chuck Martin did leave for the head coaching job at Miami of Ohio, so whoever replaces him will have some great athletes to work with.
On defense, though, the losses are more notable. Along the front the Irish lose Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt to the NFL – OUCH! - and a couple linebackers, too, including Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox who was very good. The secondary also loses a couple. Another big loss is that of the D-coordinator in Bob Diaco who left for the head coaching gig at U-Conn. Hopefully his replacement can get the D to reload rather than rebuild…the losses of Nix and Tuitt, in-particular, will make that challenging. I do look forward to the continued rise of sensational frosh LB Jaylon Smith. That guy made some impressive stops and should only get better.
As for how my other teams fared:
MONTANA GRIZZLIES: Had a good bounce-back year as they went 10-3 and made it back to the FCS playoffs which they do regularly. They did lose in the first round to Coastal Carolina, which became cannon fodder for eventual FCS champion North Dakota State (their third in a row). Oh well, a good year nonetheless.
NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS: Had a pretty good year as they finished 9-4 and beat Georgia in the Gator Bowl, but they are far-removed from the clock-controlling ground game and Blackshirt D that made them champions. Coach Bo Pelini and his sideline tirades didn’t help the program’s image, either…nor did a lot of the buzz that he should be canned. Next year for the Huskers should be interesting given all of that.
COLORADO STATE RAMS: Definitely improved this year! The Rams finished an 8-6 season with a thrilling come-from-behind New Mexico Bowl win over Wazzu 48-45. This is the best they’ve done in some time, so we’ll see if they can build on it.
CUSTER COUNTY COWBOYS: My hometown high school team is a regular participant in the playoffs and has won a few state championships. They did not make the playoffs last year, but did make it this year in spite of having a predominately young team again…however; they lost a heartbreaker in the first round by one point. Next year should be even better, I hope.
Fellow You Gabbers: It is always a pleasure!!! Have an awesome 2014! Take care, Irish Shu