Monday, October 28, 2019

The Week In Football: Vols Win, Will Muschamp's Grave Gets Deeper, and Oklahoma's Defense Implodes

It was another great weekend of college football, mostly thanks to the fact that Tennessee finally beat Will Muschamp in a football game. And not only beat him, but trounced him by almost three touchdowns!
Let’s just start there…
Tennessee Won Their Third Game Of The Year And Moved Closer To Bowl Eligibility
The Vols won their third game of the year, and now only need to go 3-1 in November to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2016. I wrote about the Vols in more detail on Saturday, but in short, this was the best, most complete game this team has played since probably against Kentucky last season. The defense held the Gamecocks scoreless in the second half, the offensive line actually held blocks long enough for the downfield passing game to open up, and that group even consistently won the line of scrimmage against what Pruitt had said earlier in the week was the best defensive front the Vols had seen all season.
The seniors, the Butch Jones recruited guys, were the ones who stepped up. Daniel Bituli had 15 tackles and a blocked punt return for a TD. Darrell Taylor had two sacks and a pass deflection on a key 4th and short in the third quarter. Jauan Jennings had 174 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and even Marquez Callaway hauled in a 55 yard touchdown and returned a punt for another score. Hell, Jarrett Guarantano played arguably the best game of his career before he broke his left wrist (11 completions for 229 yards and two touchdowns).
The Vols last four games go like this: UAB, at Kentucky, bye week, at Missouri, Vanderbilt. Strangely enough, UAB on Saturday could be their toughest remaining game. The Blazers are 6-1, and their only loss was to Western Kentucky, who is in first place in Conference USA East (UAB is in Conference USA West). Three weeks ago we all would’ve though Missouri would be their biggest challenge, but that was before the Tigers lost consecutive weeks at Vanderbilt and at Kentucky by 22 points. Ugly. 
If not UAB or Missouri, then it’s the Wildcats, though that game is probably easier considering that Kentucky did start a wide receiver at quarterback the last two weeks. There’s no way that Tennessee could lose to two different Kentucky teams starting two different wide receivers at quarterback right? That’s reserved for Derek Dooley, former UT coach and current Mizzou offensive coordinator.
The Vols are playing better right now than every team remaining on their schedule, and they have a pretty good chance to run the table from here on out and finish with a winning record in conference for the first time since 2015, something that seemed impossible back in September. Holy crap, if only they took care of business against Georgia freaking State and were able to play pass defense against BYU, we could be looking at a 9-3 season and a chance to pick up win number 10 in the bowl game, something that hasn’t happened since 2007.
Regardless, Pruitt has to get some credit for the Vol play the last month. Almost everyone in the fanbase (including me) was basically ready to send a moving truck to his house like Bill Battle in the 1970s, but since the bye week they’ve been a completely different team. The question for Pruitt is going to be whether or not he can consistently beat the teams the Vol fans truly want to knock off, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. He’s 0-6 against them so far. Next year, with both the Gators and the Tide coming to Neyland, would be a nice time to at least beat one of them.
Both USCs Are Going To Have New Coaches In 2020
We already know Southern California is going to be coached by Urban Meyer next year, but who will be the coach at South Carolina? It won’t be Will Muschamp, who on Saturday dropped to 3-5 in his pivotal fourth year.
The Gamecocks have four games left, three of which are extremely losable. They should beat Vanderbilt at home this week (though Muschamp and his Natty Light gut could be out of town on Sunday night if they don’t), but there’s a good chance they don’t win any of their final three. They host 20th ranked Appalachian State on November 9th. Do I think the Mountaineers are the 20th best team in the country? No. Do I think they’re a good team that’s completely capable of beating this South Carolina team? Of course. They travel to Texas A&M on November 16th, a team that is better than them, then get their bye week before hosting Clemson on November 30th. The Clemson game could be for Muschamp’s job if the Gamecocks don’t go undefeated over the next three weeks. 
These South Carolina people are not going to be patient, waiting for ole Will to get it together, while there’s another team in their state, Clemson, who has won two of the last three national titles and will probably be in the playoff for the 5th straight year. If Clemson can be THAT good, then can’t South Carolina at least go to a bowl game every year?
So when Will gets fired, who should the Gamecocks turn to? For years, people would’ve said Mark Dantonio, who played at South Carolina in the 1970s, but his Michigan State program has deteriorated the last couple of seasons and their offense has been putrid for years. Plus, at 63, he’s not the ideal age to start afresh somewhere. He makes a lot of money at Michigan State; what would it take to pry him away from there? And would he even want the job? So I’d say there’d be no interest from either side.
I think you can win the SEC and a national title at South Carolina. I know they haven’t really been that program historically, but what makes them any different from Clemson on paper? If Clemson can become a powerhouse, why can't South Carolina be a year to year challenger in the SEC? The problem would be finding the right guy, and I don’t know how many people would be banging down the door to compete against the behemoth that the Tigers are in their own state, plus all the programs that the SEC would be throwing at them.
Obviously you call guys like Matt Campbell at Iowa State, PJ Fleck at Minnesota, and Matt Rhule at Baylor and gauge their interest level. They all might turn you down, but it’s worth a call.
Regardless, the program is worse, not better, than it was two years ago when ole Will won nine games in his second year. They’ll be a change in Columbia.
Oklahoma Severely Hampered Their Playoff Hopes
The Sooners new and improved defense faltered badly on Saturday, allowing Kansas State to score on 8 straight possessions and rack 426 yards of offense. K-State held onto the ball for 38 of the 60 minutes, and were able to withstand a furious Sooner comeback that ended when an OU player touched the ball a half yard early on an onside kick.
Obviously the Sooners aren’t eliminated completely from the playoff; they can still win the Big 12 and finish 12-1, but the problem they’re going to face is that their conference is probably the weakest one in the Power 5 outside of the ACC. Only they and Baylor have one loss or fewer, and their Texas win from two weeks ago looks a lot less impressive after the Longhorns went on the road and lost at TCU, a game that saw their quarterback Sam Ehlinger throw four interceptions.
Is the committee going to think two of group of an 11-1 LSU/Alabama, an 11-1 Penn State/Ohio State team, or a 12-1 Pac 12 Champ Oregon/Utah team, is less impressive than Oklahoma? I don’t know the answer, though my inclination would be to say yes, based on schedule and resume. Their best chance now would be to win out and get some carnage in the other leagues.
Jim Harbaugh Got His Best Win As Michigan’s Coach
The Wolverine defense held Notre Dame to 180 yards of offense in the Ann Arbor rain storm, while they gained 437 yards themselves, including 303 on the ground. Irish quarterback Ian Book had the worst game of his career, finishing a paltry 8/25 for 73 yards. ND had 47 rushing yards on 31 attempts in a game that saw the rain going sideways in the first half.
Obviously a huge W for Jim Harbaugh, who has been, with good reason, the most beatdown coach in the country the last year. Do I expect this performance to be one that turns things around for Harbaugh? Does this mean he’s going to start beating Ohio State with some regularity, or hell, at all? Nah, not really. Remember how good the Wolverine defense was last season? They had a streak of like ten games in a row where they didn’t allow an opponent to gain 300 yards of offense. Then, they went to Columbus, faced the Buckeyes, and gave up 62 points and 567 yards. I expect something similar to happen at the end of the month when they host the Buckeyes, who look like the best team in the country right now.
But good for ole Jim. He wins one game and the Harbaugh sycophants in the media claim victory. Guys… can he beat Ohio State once? Just once?
LSU Knocked Off Auburn And Alabama Destroyed Arkansas To Set Up A 1-2 Showdown In Tuscaloosa On November 9th
Is this game going to get the “Game of the Century” label like it did back in 2011? We’ll see if it’s hyped that way by the networks the next two weeks. Regardless, I suspect this one will be higher scoring than 9-6 rock fight that it was in 2011, particularly if Tua is healthy enough to play.
This will be Ed Orgeron’s best chance to beat Alabama as long as Saban is their head coach. He’s got a Heisman-level quarterback in Joe Burrow, a competent enough defense, and great skill position guys all over the field. Meanwhile, the Tide will be bringing in an injured Tua (or Mac Jones) and an inexperienced defense that is probably the worst Saban has had since 2007. This should be a lot of fun in two weeks.
Should Ohio State’s Chase Young Win The Heisman Trophy?
This is an argument we have every couple of years when someone on defense is arguably the best player in college football, yet gets no real consideration from the Heisman voters, who instead gravitate towards quarterbacks and running backs.
Young is an incredible player, and his contributions went a long way in destroying the Wisconsin offense on Saturday, and by the qualifications of the Heisman, which is supposed to go to “the most outstanding player in college football”, he should be considered, and maybe should even be the favorite. That guy is terrifying and relentless. But we all know that’s not how the committee votes.
The argument that seems to win the day is that while Young might be the best football player on his team, he isn’t more valuable than his quarterback Justin Fields, which therefore means he can’t be the most outstanding player. That argument is nonsensical, because “valuable” and “outstanding” are two different standards, but valuable has basically replaced outstanding in the minds of the voters. Meaning there’s no way Young is going to win the trophy, or even be invited to New York for the ceremony.
You can't force voters to change their standards, and since they really don’t care about the “outstanding” part of the language of the award, shouldn’t we just change it to “valuable”? Seems like an easy fix. Or certainly an easier fix than attempting to change the voting standards of the media members all across the country.
Teams Still Alive For The Playoff
As always, you technically remain alive for the playoff if you are a Power 5 Team with one loss or fewer, excluding the ACC, which is so bad that it should be relegated to the FCS. (* next to the undefeated teams)
ACC: *Clemson
The Tigers beat the hell out of Boston College on Saturday night, and probably won’t play a ranked team until the playoff semifinals. All Clemson needs to do is win out against their crappy schedule to make their fifth straight playoff.
Big Ten: *Ohio State, *Penn State, *Minnesota
Wisconsin drops out of the playoff thanks to back to back losses at Illinois and Ohio State. Minnesota is 8-0, and gets their bye week before facing undefeated Penn State on November 9th, the biggest college game in Minneapolis in… decades probably. This could be a two bid conference, depending on how everything else shakes out. The Big Ten East (and probably entire conference) will be decided on November 23rd when the Nittany Lions travel to Columbus to play the Buckeyes.
Big 12: *Baylor, Oklahoma
Baylor would get in only, I think, if they win out. OU needs some help in front of them, but it won’t matter if they can’t run the table. Baylor gets both Texas and Oklahoma in Waco in November; the problem is that those games will be in back to back weeks.
SEC: *Alabama, *LSU, Georgia, Florida
The ‘Dawgs and Gators play a de facto SEC East Championship and playoff elimination game in Jacksonville this weekend. The winner of that showdown will have to win out and be 12-1 to make the playoff. Meanwhile, the aforementioned LSU-Alabama game on November 9th probably decides the SEC West, but doesn’t technically eliminate the loser from the playoff.
Pac 12: Utah, Oregon
The Pac 12 wants both these teams to run the table and meet in Pac 12 Championship Game, which would guarantee that the Pac 12 champ finishes 12-1. The issue the conference is going to face is that while it’s definitely deeper than the Big 12, is the committee going to think that the winner of this league is better than an 11-1 Penn State/Ohio State team? An 11-1 LSU/Alabama team? A 12-1 Oklahoma team? They’ll probably need more chaos than Oklahoma needs to be able to sneak in.
My Top 4
1.      Ohio State
The Buckeyes are the most complete team in the country. Fantastic offense, great defense. The one flaw in the resume is that they haven’t played a good team on the road yet.
2.      LSU
This is the best offense the Tigers have probably ever had. This is the year for Coach O to beat Saban.
3.      Alabama
The Tide defense is the worst Saban has had since 2007, but he’s the best coach in the country, armed with probably the best passing offense he’s ever had.
4.      Penn State
I’ll throw the Nittany Lions here for now, but I’ll be very interested to see what happens when they go to Minneapolis in two weeks.

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