College Football Weekly Update: SEC Showdown Set


SEC Championship Showdown Set

The second the clock hit 00:00 in Alabama’s 24-15 victory over SEC West divison-rival LSU, the showdown was set.

The rematch of last season’s SEC Championship game that college football fans have been waiting for since the season began will be played. The BCS’ top-ranked team, Florida, will take on the second-ranked team, Alabama on December 5.

Of course, each team has to win out, but that seems like a formality. Florida travels to South Carolina before hosting Florida International and rival Florida State to end the season.

Alabama plays on the road, at Mississippi State, but then host Chattanooga and Auburn.

Mississippi State and South Carolina could present some match-up problems for the Tide and the Gators, but it’s hard to see either team losing. The Gators are 16-point favorites, while the Tide have opened up as 13-point favorites.

After each team faces a cupcake, both teams have to battle their in-state rivals, Auburn and Florida State, but neither rival looks to pose much of a threat.

The Tigers came out of the gate hot, starting the season 5-0 with wins over West Virginia and Tennessee. Since that time, the Tigers are just 2-3 with their wins coming at home over Mississippi and Furman. They were blown out at Arkansas and LSU and lost a home contest against Kentucky. Auburn is on a bye the week before they play Alabama, a luxury that the Tide don’t have, but as mentioned above, the Tide face Chattanooga the week before, so it’s likely they will be able to spend some extra time preparing for the Tigers. Alabama defeated Auburn 36-0 last season.

The Gators shouldn’t have a problem in their rivalry game either. Florida State is 4-5 and has arguably the second worst defense of any BCS school in the entire nation (Washington State). Even with Florida’s struggles on offense, no team has any trouble scoring in bunches against the Seminole defense. Their offense was rolling until Quarterback Christian Ponder separated his shoulder in the Seminoles’ loss at Clemson Saturday. Florida State has to turn to Redshirt Freshman E.J. Manuel and although Manuel is very talented, he has thrown just 4 passes in his career. The Gators have defeated their rivals five consecutive times, including a 45-13 victory over the ‘Noles last season.

The two played in the SEC Championship last season when the 2nd ranked Gators beat the top-ranked Tide in a very tight game, 31-20. The two teams were fairly evenly matched last year and that seems to be the case again this season.

Alabama and Florida have arguably the two best defenses in the country. Florida ranks second in total defense, while Alabama is fourth (Texas leads the nation while TCU is third). The Gators give up 4 yards per play while the Tide give up slightly less at 3.9 yards per play (in comparison Texas gives up 3.5 yards per play but has faced lesser competition).

Both teams have had some major struggles on offense. Neither offense has been all that effective and both Quarterbacks have struggled, especially in the red zone. Tim Tebow has just 11 TDs and 1,531 yards through the air and 578 yards on the ground (3.7 ypc) with 9 more TDs. Greg McElroy is completing just over 59% of his passes and has only 1,721 yards.

The good news for both squads is that both QBs have looked much better in recent games (McElroy vs. LSU and Tebow vs. Georgia).

The Gators average 6.58 yards per play on offense while the Tide average 6.06, but do be fair the Gators have an easier schedule than the Tide. Alabama has seen several better defensive clubs than the Gators have.

As we get closer to December, we will have much more coverage of what will most likely be an epic battle for not only the SEC Championship, but a berth in the National Championship game.

So Much for the Ducks

I raved about Oregon after their blowout win over Southern Cal last week here.

So much for that.

Stanford got out to an early 24-7 lead, was up 31-14 at the half and held on for a 51-42 victory over Oregon.

Last week, Oregon’s defense looked like world-beaters, but after USC managed to put just 14 points on Arizona State and the Ducks’ defense was torched by the Cardinal, they look anything but.

Oregon gave up 51 points and 505 total yards on the ground to a very balanced Stanford attack. Stanford had 251 yards passing and 254 yards rushing.

You can’t blame Oregon’s offense. They came to play. They put up 570 yards and 42 points to make a game of it. Jeremiah Masoli had 334 yards and 3 TDs while rushing for 55 yards and a score. LaMichael James had 125 yards and a TD on the ground.

Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh thinks that his Quarterback Andrew Luck is the best Quartberack in the country. I’m not sure about that but, Luck was very good Saturday, completing 12-of-20 passes for 251 yards and 2 TDs. The real story of the game was Stanford Running Back Toby Gerhart.

Gerhart rushed for a school-record 223 yards on 38 carries and had three scores. He now has 1,217 yards on 233 carries (5.2 ypc) and 16 TDs on the season.

Speaking of Oregon, Oregon and the Pac-10 have re-instated Running Back LaGarette Blount.

Everyone remembers Blount for his punch of Boise State defensive end Byron Hout after a poor performance in which he rushed for -5 yards on 8 carries, but in 2008, Blount was a very good back. In fact, Blount rushed for 1,002 yards on just 137 carries in 2008.

LaMichael James has been great for the Ducks, rushing for 1,043 yards this season, but he is rather small (he’s listed at 5’9, 180 lbs.). Blount is a big back at 6’2, 240. He will give the Ducks a power back so they can have a “thunder and lightning” combo.

I thought Blount’s suspension may have been too severe in the first place. I absolutely agree that there is no place for something like that in college football, but a season-long suspension seemed like too much. After all, he was antagonized by Hout and Hout received no public punishment.

Ponder Out For the Season

You have to feel for Florida State Quarterback Christian Ponder. He was having an excellent season for the struggling Seminoles, but suffered broken ribs during the first half of FSU’s win over North Carolina State. He tried to play with those broken ribs against Clemson but was off all game, throwing a career-high 4 interceptions. Ponder separated his shoulder attempting a tackle after his final pick and will now miss the rest of the season. Highly-touted Redshirt Freshman E.J. Manuel will step in and start the Seminoles’ final three games (@ Wake Forest, Maryland, @ Florida). Ponder finished the season completing 68.6% of his passes for 2,717 yards with 14 TDs and 7 interceptions. He also rushed for 2 TDs.

How can Charlie Weis survive this season?

After another home loss to Navy, the Irish dropped to 6-3 on the season. With games still to come at Pittsburgh, home against Connecticut and at Stanford, Notre Dame will more than likely lose another game and have a change to lose all three. Pittsburgh is a 7-point favorite and I’d expect Notre Dame to be a road underdog against Stanford as well.

After one year at Notre Dame, Weis went 9-3 and won the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year award. The Irish were defeated by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl 34-20. In the middle of that second season, Weis was given a huge, 10-year contract extension just five games into his head coaching career. The n his next year, he went 10-3 and the Irish were blown out 41-14 by LSU in the Sugar Bowl.  In 2007, the Irish won just 3 games and followed that up with a 7-6 campaign in 2008.

That makes Weis just 35-24 at Notre Dame and the Irish have just one bowl win (over Hawaii).

In comparison, Ty Willingham was 21-15 at Notre Dame and Bob Davie had a nearly identical record of 35-25.

If the Irish win out, with their schedule, I still find it hard to believe that Weis would keep his job. After all, he has lost two games to Navy after the Irish had previously won 43 games in a row against the Midshipmen.

Iowa’s luck runs out

I don’t think anyone is surprised that Iowa’s run came to end. They had been living on the edge every week, barely eeking out wins over Northern Iowa, Arkansas State, Michigan and Michigan State. They had to block two field goals to defeat Northern Iowa, had to stop a two-point conversion try and a last-effort drive by Michigan and had to score on the game’s final play to beat Michigan State. After the Hawkeye erased a 10-point fourth quarter deficit against Indiana for a 42-24 win, many were beginning to think that Iowa was a team of destiny and with just three games left, maybe they could complete a perfect season.

Once Quarterback Ricky Stanzi went down, hope seemingly went out the window. Iowa had a 10-0 lead before Stanzi was sacked, injured, and fumbled. The fumble was recovered by Marshall Thomas in the end zone for a Northwestern touchdown to cut the lead to 10-7. The Wildcats would score twice more and Iowa couldn’t muster much of anything on offense.

Iowa had a good run, but you can only live on the edge for so long.

Performance of the Week:

Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford
Gerharts rushed for 233 yards on 38 carries and had 2 TDs as Stanford upset Oregon.

The Heisman Race

1.Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
Last week: 22 carries, 144 yards, 5 receptions, 30 yard
Season: 175 carries, 1,148 yards, 8 TDs, 24 receptions, 216 yards, 3 TDs
2.Colt McCoy, QB, Texas
Last week: 33-of-42, 470 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Season: 231-of-317 (72.9%), 2,447 yards, 17 TDs, 9 INTs, 1 TD rushing
3.Case Keenum, QB, Houston
Last week: 40-of-60, 522 yards, 3 TDs
Season: 325-of-458 (71%), 3,815 yards, 28 TD, 5 INT, 3 TDs rushing
4.Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame
Last week: 37-of-51, 452 yards, 2 TDS, 1 INT
Season: 209-of-308 (68%), 2,770 yards, 20 TDs, 3 INT, 1 TD rushing
5.Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
Last week: 15-of-20, 208 yards, 1 TD, 16 carries, 27 yards, 1 TD
Season: 114-of-173 (66%), 1,531 yards, 11 TDs, 4 INT, 155 attempts, 578 yards (3.7 ypc), 9 TD

My Top 25

6.Boise State
7.Georgia Tech
12.Ohio State
16.Penn State
18.Oklahoma State
21.Virginia Tech
22.South Florida
25.West Virginia

Game of the Week
#11 Iowa @ #12 Ohio State
3:30 PM, ABC
The Line: OSU – 17

Iowa Quarterback Ricky Stanzi doesn’t have very good numbers at all (2186 yards, 56%, 15 TDs, 14 INTs) but he had a knack for making a big play down the stretch. James Vandenberg was awful replacing Stanzi went down with an ankle injury in Iowa’s 17-10 loss to Northwestern. Vandenberg was 9-of-27 for 82 yards and an interception. He also missed a wide open Iowa receiver late in the fourth quarter on a play that could have tied the game.

Iowa has been very ineffective running the ball this season. They have just 1,192 yards in 10 games. That’s just 119 yards per game and only 3.4 yards per carry. Against a top-flight defense like the Buckeyes, I don’t see how Iowa is going to be able to move the ball without Stanzi. Actually, I don’t see how they would be able to score against this well-coached Buckeye defense even if they had Stanzi.

Penn State entered last week’s game averaging just under 31 points per game. They scored 7 against the Buckeyes and their one touchdown came on a controversial 4th-and-one where it looked Daryll Clark’s sneak may have been stopped short. The Lions finished with just 201 total yards

Ohio State, on the other hand, rushed for 190 yards per game and averages 4.7 yards per rush even with a mostly ineffective passing game. Terrelle Pryor was still relatively ineffective last week against Penn State, but he made big plays when he had to (2 TD passes) and managed the game well, avoiding a turnover. The Buckeyes put 228 rushing yards on a very stingy Penn State defense. That’s almost as many total yards as Penn State gave up per game coming in (254).

I’m not sure the Buckeyes will score enough to cover, but I think their defense is going to dominate and the game will never really be in doubt.

What Else to Keep an Eye On

#13 Houston @ Central Florida +5.5

The Knights hung with Texas for 2.5 quarters before losing 35-3. Case Keenum is coming off back-to-back 500 yard games and Colt McCoy shredded the Knights for 470 yards last week. The Knights do have some talent on their roster, especially on the defensive line. If UCF has Quarterback Brett Hodges and Running Back Brynn Harvey back from apparent injuries, they may be able to give the Cougars a game.

#2 Florida @ South Carolina +16
CBS, 3:30

I thought the Gamecocks’ stingy defense might give them a chance in this game, but they have given up 31 to Tennessee and 33 to Arkansas in the last two weeks. The home crowd may keep South Carolina in the game early, but they just don’t have enough on offense to beat the Gators.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor at NFL Mocks Subscribe to his RSS feed and add him on Twitter to follow him daily.)