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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Some Final Football Thoughts

These are some final thoughts, now that the college football bowls are over.

First and foremost: congrats to FSU. In a similar vein, congrats to Jameis Winston, who finally had his "Heisman Moment" in that game-winnng drive. And huzzah that the SEC's overblown streak is finally over. I say overblown, because realistically the streak involves LSU, Alabama, Florida, and Cam Newton Auburn: impressive (4 different dominant teams! wow!) but really, that doesn't prove that the entire SEC is dominant. Bob Stoops was right, and he proved it on the field this year by whipping Alabama. The streak is over, in any case, and good riddance.

Second, if the SEC won all those championships (as opposed to the specific team that got invited to those games), then the entire SEC also lost this one. There were chants of "S-E-C! S-E-C!" once again when Auburn went up. I think they stopped about a minute later when it became clear that FSU would score again--this in a drive which took scarcely over a minute of game time. I didn't hear chants of "A-C-C! A-C-C!" when FSU took that final lead, because the ACC didn't win that game: FSU did. Of course, the fact that the ACC went 2-0 in its BCS bowl games this year (as opposed to the SEC's 0-2 record) could be taken as a nice bit of dominance for the conference, even if their number 3 blew a 21 point lead to Texas A&M. I don't know if fans around the country were chanting "Oh and 2! Oh and 2" or "Lost the game! Lost the Game" in response to the "S-E-C! S-E-C!" chants, but it would have been warranted.

The final rankings looked mostly fair, though I would have ranked MSU ahead of Auburn (they went 12-1 and won their BCS game against a very good Stanford team and an good Ohio State team; Auburn went 11-2 and beat a good but an overrated Alabama team and a good Missouri team). In general, I thought that the SEC's teams largely finished ranked too high (a friend of mine once remarked that this was "typical SEC inbreeding," this in response to that aweful Alabama-LSU championship). My top 10 would be something like this:
  1. FSU
  2. MSU
  3. Auburn
  4. UCF
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Oregon
  7. South Carolina
  8. Alabama
  9. Clemson
  10. Stanford

South Carolina's argument for being ranked so highly is that they beat UCF, Clemson, and Mizzouri, but UCF had no other loses and dominated Baylor in the Fiesta bowl, whereas South Carolina got whipped by Georgia (whom Clemson beat, back when they were healthy) and lost to the Tennessee team that both Alabama and Oregon blew off the field. Also arguably Alabama could be ranked higher, but I give the edge to a healthy Oregon. Alabama, Oregon, and South Carolina (and to a lesser extent, Clemson) are realistically interchangeable on this list, but I think they should all three be ranked lower than Oklahoma, thanks to that Sugar Bowl game. UCF could arguable be ranked lower, too, thanks to that close loss to South Carolina, but they had the better record and a few quality wins of their own.

Stanford (and lower down the list, Arizona State) is problematic, because I think they would beat at least half of the teams ranked ahead of them if they met at a neutral site (in Arizona State's case, maybe a couple of the top-10 teams, provided they aren't playing in a let-down bowl). Standford certainly did beat Oregon, and soundly, and I would take them over UCF, Oklahoma, Clemson, and possibly South Carolina and Auburn. On the other hand, they seem to lose to talented teams who match their style of play, so, probably Alabama and certainly FSU and MSU would beat them, and they finished with 3 losses, which is one more than anyone else in the top 10.

Overrated and Underrated in the final AP Poll:
I also think that Arizona State (#21) was under-ranked, largely thanks to that frustration loss to Texas Tech (a pattern with the Pac-12 in Holiday Bowl Games). They finished 10-4 and should at least have been ranked ahead of the 10-4 USC (#19) team that they clobbered in the regular season, as well as perhaps the 10-3 UCLA (#16) team that they beat. UCF (#10) was also very underrated: their one loss was by a field goal against a South Carolina Team which finished ranked 5th; they beat #15 Louisville (that team's only loss) and #13 Baylor (one of two losses); the one real complaint against them is that most of their wins were a bit closer than they should have been.

The most over-rated teams are from the SEC. Missouri (#5) was the most overrated team: they had one good win this season (Oklahoma State), and other than that beat a 9-4 Texas A&M team and a 9-4 Vanderbilt team. Their next best win was over banged-up Georgia. The 12-2 record was good, possibly top-10 good (some people will complain that I have UCF too high, for example). I would probably rank them 11th or 12th. I suppose that to be fair, Alabama's two best wins were Texas A&M and #14 LSU, but few would complain about making them a top-10 team. And Texas A&M's best wins were Rice (!), Vanderbilt (!), and Duke (!). And it seems to me that overall, all those teams who beat Texas A&M got a lot of rankings traction out of it.

Moving on to other football topics, Texas hired Charlie Strong. This seems like a solid hire, though I'm curious to see what he does with his staff. I'd either retain Greg Robinson for another year in the hopes that Will Muschamp becomes available after that, or else go after Gene Chizik for defensive coordinator, though I guess defense is one of Strong's, erm, strong suits. I think that 10-3 with a win (or at least close loss) against OU would count as a reasonably successful debut, depending on injuries etc. They play UCLA out of conference next season, so between that and OU and resurgent KSU and Baylor and possibly OSU, it could be a tough slate. But give him a couple of years, and we'll see.

For what it is worth, Strong was not my first choice. I think he's a good choice, but of the (reasonably likely) candidates whose names were tossed out, I'd have preferred either Art Briles or Jim Harbaugh (even if that meant waiting a little longer), or Mark Dantonio. Briles said no, and I guess they decided that Harbaugh wasn't worth the wait, and Dantonio similarly said no. I was left scratching my head as names like Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher, Gus Malzahan, and (earlier) Nick Saban were tossed out. None of these guys was going to be a realistic choice, and even Briles and Dantonio would have been longshots (they're both happy where they are).Jim Harbaugh was also unlikely, though he hasn't exactly signed a contract extension.

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