College Football Weekly Update – Top Teams Continue To Struggle

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In this week’s edition, I’ll take a look at Florida and Alabama’s struggles, other national title contenders, Pittsburgh’s fabulous freshman Running Back and preview the biggest games of the week, including USC’s showdown with Oregon. As always, you’ll find my top 25, Heisman list, and sure-fire predictions.

Top Teams Struggle Again

Last week, it was Florida and Texas that struggled to pull out close wins. This week, Texas played perhaps their best game of the season while inferior teams gave SEC powers Florida and Alabama big tests.

Alabama played their worst game of the season and had to be saved by two blocked field goals by Terrence “Mount” Cody.

Tennessee put up 341 total yards while Alabama had just 251 yards. The Vols further exposed Alabama’s lone weakness – their lack of a passing game. Alabama Junior Greg McElroy has passed for over 200 yards just three times and has now gone three straight games without a touchdown. McElroy was 18-of-29 against the Vols but only had 120 yards. He is completing just 59.9% of his passes and has only 9 TDs. Luckily for the Tide, he has done a good job of taking care of the football (McElroy has just 3 interceptions).

The most surprising part about Alabama’s struggles in the passing game is that they have one of the most talented, if not the most talented Wide Receiver in all of college football – Sophomore Julio Jones. As a true freshman last season, Jones had 58 receptions for 924 yards and 4 TDs. Through 8 games this season, Jones has caught just 20 passes for 229 yards and 1 TD.

Alabama’s Heisman Trophy candidate Mark Ingram had another productive game, rushing for 99 yards on 18 carries, but he had a key fumble while Alabama held on to a 12-3 with just 3:29 to go that nearly cost the Tide the game. After scoring a touchdown with 1:19 left, Tennessee recovered the onside kick before Cody made his second block of the game.

Alabama is going to need to find some offense because they face LSU on November 7, travel to Auburn for their annual rivalry game, the Iron Bowl, against Auburn. If they get through that unscathed, they will likely face Florida in the SEC Championship game.

In fact if they don’t get it together, they’re going to have a lot of trouble scoring on a very good LSU defense in two weeks. Never mind that the Gators have the top ranked defense in the entire NCAA (Alabama is 4th).

Florida may have the top ranked offense but their offense has been sub-par. They have only had one good offensive performance in conference (a 41-7 win over Kentucky) and have struggled against two teams with losing records who possess just one conference win a piece(Arkansas and Mississippi State). The Bulldogs have the country’s 65th rated total defense while the Razorbacks have the nation’s 105th ranked defense.

Florida did have an excellent day rushing the ball, but like Alabama, struggled passing. Tim Tebow was 12-0f-22 for 127 yards, 0 TDs and 2 INTs (which were both returned for TDs).

Tebow is obviously struggling in the passing game. He is being sacked more often and is not very accurate. He seems to have trouble reading a defense and has been a little too quick to run sometimes. He doesn’t have a good chemistry with his receivers and I think that may be because he doesn’t trust any of his pass-catchers outside of WR Riley Cooper and TE Aaron Hernandez, who combined to catch 9 of Tebow’s 12 completions.

The Gators need to find a passing game but luckily for them, they have time to do it. They have three regular season games left against teams with a shot to beat them (and I’m not sure how realistic those chances are anyway). They host Georgia on Saturday in the World’s Largest Cocktail Party, but the Dawgs are just 4-3 and have at times struggled on each side of the ball. They finish the season by hosting Florida State in Gainesville. The Seminoles have finally found a Quarterback in Junior Christian Ponder, but the they can’t stop anyone and should be a good cure for Florida’s offensive woes. Their toughest regular season game left will probably be the November 14th game at South Carolina. South Carolina plays excellent defense and the Gamecocks Sophomore QB, Stephen Garcia has really improved.

Of course, the Gators still have the probable SEC Championship game with the Tide. Neither team can afford to be one-dimensional against the other’s defense.

It’s a Crowd Behind the Top Three

It seems like a foregone conclusion that the National Championship game will feature the Florida-Alabama winner and the Texas Longhorns, but what happens if these teams slip up? Who would jump in and take their place?

There are four unbeatens outside of the top 3 – Iowa (4th in the BCS), TCU (6th), Boise State(7th), and Cincinnati (8th).

Iowa obviously has the best chance of those three because they play in the Big 10, have a win at Penn State and if they do finish the season unbeaten, will also own a road win over Ohio State.

Southern Cal is the one-loss team most likely to make the title game, but if LSU runs the table and pulls off upsets of Alabama and Florida (SEC title game), they would seemingly be a shoe-in to make the game.
And what if Oregon defeats USC this weekend? They have one loss and would most likely jump all of the unbeatens outside of Iowa. This would create quite a bit of controversy since Boise State dominated the Ducks 19-8 in the first week of the season.

And we can’t forget about Cincinnati. They seem very likely to go unbeaten and they do play in a BCS conference (although the Big East seems to be the weakest of the six BCS conferences).

If I had to pick the team most likely to make the championship game outside of Florida/Alabama and Texas, it would have to be USC. They have already defeated Ohio State and Notre Dame on the road and will have beaten Oregon in Autzen Stadium. The Trojans also have the name recognition and it is widely thought they would have the talent to compete with one of the aforementioned teams.

Dion Lewis Continues to Run Wild As The Panthers Streak

Pittsburgh has one four games in a row to put them at 7-1 (4-0 in the Big East) for the season. Panthers’ Quarterback Bill Stull has been one of the most improved passers in the country. Last season, he completed just 57% of his passes and had more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9), but Stull has had an excellent senior season. He is completing 67.3% of his passes and has a TD to INT ratio of 16 to 4.

Stull has really helped improve the Panthers’ offense but the real hero may be True Freshman Running Back Dion Lewis. He has rushed for 1,029 yards on 185 attempts for an average of 5.6 yards per carry. He has rushed for 11 TDs and also has a receiving touchdown. Lewis has been especially good as of late. He rushed for 158 yards in a 24-21 over UConn, 180 yards at Rutgers and 111 in the Panthers blowout win over USF Saturday.

Lewis is just 5’8 but he weighs 195 lbs. and has shown power and durability, but what may stand out the most is his ability to break long runs. He made in 85 yard run at Buffalo, but then struggled breaking the big play after that.

Until recently.

Lewis had a 33 yard run against UConn, a 58 yard scamper against Rutgers and a 48 yard run against South Florida. Lewis has been unbelievably durable for a freshman. His season-low in carries is 19. And he has had 99 carries in his four conference games.

Pittsburgh’s dominating win of USF shows just how much better the Panthers have been playing. After a close win over Navy and a loss at North Carolina State, the Panthers have improved in every game this season.
And that’s a good thing. The Panthers have a bye before hosting Syracuse, but then face a very tough three-game gauntlet to end the season. They host Notre Dame, travel to West Virginia for the Backyard Brawl and then finish at unbeaten Cincinnati.

If Stull and Lewis keep up their high-level of play, Pittsburgh may be in line to win the Big East and advance to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2005.

Performance of the Week

The POTW this week is a tie between two ACC players who are in similar situations. They are both among the best at their positions in the country, but have failed to gain their national recognition because of their team’s lack of success.
Both players lead their teams to come-from-behind victories this weekend.

CJ Spiller, Running Back, Clemson


The Senior Running Back has been one of the most electrifying players in the country over the past four seasons and may have had the best performance of his career on Saturday. CJ Spiller had a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in addition to having 81 yards rushing and 104 receiving. He had 310 all-purpose yards and two TDs as the Tigers upset Miami in Overtime 40-37.

Christian Ponder, Quarterback, Florida State

The Junior Quarterback has had an excellent season. On Thursday night in Chapel Hill, he rallied his team from a 24-6 deficit against the Tar Heels and lead the Seminoles to a 30-27 victory. At one point in the second half, Ponder completed 16 straight passes. Ponder finished 33-of-40 for 395 yards and 3 TDs against what was the nation’s third ranked pass defense. In his last three games, Christian Ponder is averaging 365 yards through the air, while completing 75 pct of his passes with 8 TDs, 0 INTs.

The Heisman Race

Wow, where to begin? Tim Tebow had another disappointing game and this week Mark Ingram joined him, fumbling on a key possession that almost lost the Tide the game.

1.Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Last week: 18 attempts, 99 yards
Season: 153 attempts, 1,004 yards, 8 TDs, 19 receptions, 186 yards, 3 TDs

2.Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame
Last week: 26-of-39, 246 yards, 2 TDs
Season: 150-of-230 (65.2%), 2,050 yards, 16 TDs, 2 INTS, 1 rushing TD

3.Colt McCoy, QB, Texas
Last week: 26-of-31, 269 yards, 3 TDS, 1 INT
Season: 182-of-254 (71.7%), 1,806 yards, 14 TDs, 8 INTs, 1 rushing TD

4.Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
Last week: 12-of-22, 127 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INT, 22 carries, 88 yards, 1 TD
Season: 84-of-132 (63.6%), 1,159 yards, 8 TDs, 4 INTs, 121 attempts, 466 yards (3.9 ypc), 6 TDs

5.Case Keenum, QB, Houston
Last week: 25-of-36, 233 yards, 1 TD
Season: 241-of-344 (70.1%), 2,734 yards, 20 TDs, 4 INTs, 3 rushing TDs

My Top 25
1.Alabama
2.Florida
3.Texas
4.Cincinnati
5.Iowa
6.TCU
7.USC
8.Boise State
9.Oregon
10.Georgia Tech
11.LSU
12.Oklahoma State
13.Penn State
14.Virginia Tech
15.Pittsburgh
16.Utah
17.Houston
18.Ohio State
19.West Virginia
20.Miami
21.South Carolina
22.Mississippi
23.Notre Dame
24.Arizona
25.Wisconsin

Game of the Week
#5 Southern Cal @ #10 Oregon
8:00 PM EST, ABC
The Line: USC -4.5

College Game Day finally got it right. ESPN’s crew will be at Autzen Stadium come Saturday morning.

Oregon has played extremely well since their season-opening loss at Boise State. They have been very impressive in the Pac-10, going 4-0 and winning every game by double-digits, but they will face by far their biggest test of the season when they host the Trojans Saturday.

The Trojans on the other hand have struggled in recent weeks, winning close games against Oregon State and Notre Dame. The Trojans have had late-game defensive lapses in each of the last two games. Notre Dame scored 21 second half points, including two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and they nearly scored a third before the USC defense stopped the Irish inside the goal line on the game’s final play.

The Trojan defense looked like it was back to normal after holding the Beavers to 9 first half points and holding a 21-9 halftime advantage, but the Trojans let Oregon State move the ball up and down the field in the second half. The Beavers got within 6 with 5:41 to go before the Trojans were able to run out the clock.

While the Trojan’s defense has been struggling, USC’s offense has really come around. They had 501 total yards against Notre Dame and 429 against Oregon State.

Even with their struggles, I still like USC’s talented defense. Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli has been playing much better but I think USC can pressure him into mistakes. I really like the way USC’s Freshman QB Matt Barkley has improved and USC’s running game has been very good as of late even without Stafon Johnson. Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford have combined for 992 yards and 11 TDS. I think USC will control the ball and keep Oregon’s offense off of the field. I like the Trojans in this one.

Other Big Games and Potential Upsets
*All games are on Saturday unless otherwise specified

North Carolina @ 14 Virginia Tech – 13.5
Thursday, 10/29, 7:30 PM EST, ESPN

UNC had their best offensive performance of the season in a 30-27 loss to FSU last week, but Virginia Tech is a whole different animal. I expect the Hokies to completely shut down the Heels and win the game.

19 West Virginia @ South Florida +3
Friday, 10/30, 8:00 PM EST, ESPN

West Virginia has been improving each week, while the Bulls have been playing worse. I like the Mountaineers by one long Noel Devine run.

20 Miami @ Wake Forest +6.5
3:30 PM EST, ABC/ESPN 2 Regional

Last year, Miami upset the Deacons to all but end their chance of winning the ACC Atlantic. This year, Wake can do the same. I don’t think they will. Miami is coming off a terrible defensive showing in a 40-37 loss to Clemson while Wake Forest lost 13-10 to Navy in a game where Navy didn’t attempt a pass. I think Riley Skinner and the home crowd can keep Wake in it, but Miami will be able to run the ball and should wear the Deacon defense down in the 4th quarter. Miami wins. I think Wake Forest can keep it close, but a blowout wouldn’t surprise me either.

Georgia @ 2 Florida -17
3:30 PM EST, CBS

It’s one of the truly great games in college football. Sure, Florida has dominated the series over the past 19 years (UGA has won just 3 times), but the World’s Largest Cocktail Party is always a good time. With Florida’s offensive woes, I expect Georgia to stay in this game, but I think Florida’s defense will be too much. They will pressure Georgia QB Joe Cox into mistakes and win the game. I like Georgia to cover, but I like Florida to win.

21 South Carolina @ Tennessee – 5
7:45 PM EST, ESPN

The Vols have been playing much better. They dominated Georgia and nearly defeated Tennessee last week, losing on a blocked field goal. Tennessee’s offense has been playing better and they might have enough firepower to defeat the Gamecocks. Both teams have stingy defenses and I think it comes down which QB, South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia or Tennessee QB Jonathon Crompton, plays better. A few weeks ago the overwhelming answer would have been Garcia but it’s probably a toss-up now.

3 Texas @ 12 Oklahoma State +8.5
8:00 PM EST, ABC Regional

The Horns are coming off perhaps their best performance of the season, a 41-7 blowout win over Missouri. The Cowboys have not lost since their week 2 upset loss against Houston and have had just one close game (a 36-31 win at Texas A&M). OSU is 3-0 in the Big 12 so a win here would put them in the driver’s seat in the Big 12 South and could potentially (with some help) get them back in the national title picture.

I really like both Quarterbacks and both offense, but I like Texas’ defense a lot better than the Cowboys’. I think Oklahoma State can keep it close with the home crowd, but the Longhorns will pull away late.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and an avid college football fan. Subscribe to his RSS feed and add him on Twitter to follow him daily.)