Saturday, November 24, 2007

Hog Wild

Great game in Baton Rouge yesterday, as LSU became the latest championship contender to fall by the wayside after a triple overtime loss at the hands of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

For LSU, long considered the best team in the country, this game effectively ends their BCS chase (unless about 5 other teams lose as well). It may also precipitate the move of head coach Les Miles to the Michigan Wolverines. Not everyone would object to that. In the wake of this game and several other close calls, many are starting to questions Miles' coaching ability. Given the amount of talent he inherited at LSU, his failure to get them over the hump these past two years when he arguably had the most talented team in the game, a series of close calls against less talented teams this year, and a trend of questionable play calls and fourth down gambles have given credence to the thought that Miles has been more lucky than good with the Tigers. All this despite not losing a single game in regulation this year.

For Arkansas, this game may have saved coach Houston Nutt's job, and revived Darren McFadden's Heisman hopes in the wake of his dominant performance. Nutt has been rumored to be on the chopping block after failing to get his team over the hump during his decade-long tenure at Arkansas. Despite the lack of conference titles and national accolades, Nutt has recruited well, kept the team competitive, and done better than the Hogs had for a long time before he arrived. Yet, his inability to get them to compete regularly with the LSUs and Floridas of the world may mean the end of his tenure. I hope they keep him on. McFadden, the tailback who finished second in the Heisman voting last year, spent much of the game taking snaps in the shotgun and running a spread option offense. He ran for over 200 yards and 3 touchdowns, and threw for another touchdown after taking a snap. Despite being spied by one or two Tigers at all times, McFadden made the defense look silly most of the time he touched the ball.

A few other thoughts on this game:

• Who calls a swing pass behind the line of scrimmage on 4th and short? Les Miles, that's who. That was one of the worst calls I've seen all year, and only a missed tackle saved LSU's season (for a little while longer).

• When LSU came back, the main thought running through my head was "even if they do win, how are they going to compete with Kansas, Missouri or West Virginia". The Tigers never seemed to adjust to the Wild Hog spread option offense, and have been gashed the last three weeks for at least 200 yards on the ground. Against a strong running team, they're in serious trouble. That goes for the SEC Title game and whatever bowl game they end up in.

• LSU's Jacob Hester might become the most successful white running back since John Riggins. The kid can play, and I could see him getting picked on the first day of the 2008 NFL draft.

• If you're the Miami Dolphins, how do you not draft Darren McFadden if he enters the draft this spring? Yes, Ronnie Brown is one of the best young backs in the league, but after watching McFadden run the offense against LSU why not give him the option to do the same in the NFL? They could put him in at QB part of the time, and use a conventional offense the rest. The Dolphins also have wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., whose speed would make him the perfect wing in this option offense. He could also take snaps in this formation since he played QB in high school. What's the downside for Miami here? Worst case scenario? It fizzles and they still have two outstanding running backs. Best case scenario? You have a multi-dimensional offense that pro teams aren't used to facing. I think this could work wonders.

• Felix Jones, the second string RB for Arkansas, is the real deal. He will be a big-time player in the NFL. He runs hard, isn't afraid to run at defenders, and he has great acceleration. He's flying under the radar for now, but one the offseason workouts and combines start, he's going to fly up the draft board.

Today's games to watch:

• Tennessee needs a win in Kentucky to make the SEC title game, and currently are holding a 14-7 lead over the Wildcats.

• West Virginia should be in the title game if they win out. They're in Morgantown today, but are in tough against the underrated UConn Huskies. Speaking of underrated, the Big East still doesn't get the respect it deserves. Written off after Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College bolted for the ACC, the conference survived a rough transition year but has thrived since with the resurgence of West Virginia and the emergence of programs such as Rutgers, Louisville, South Florida, Cincinnati and UConn. An interesting part of the BCS is that the computer polls have had Big East teams ranked first at times (Rutgers last year and South Florida this year), while the voters have ranked them lower. In last week's BCS poll, both man and machine agreed that West Virginia was third, but the other three Big East teams in the Top 25 (UConn, South Florida, Cincinnati) all scored higher in the computer polls than the Harris or the USA Today. Perceptions are often slow to catch up to reality, and I think the Big East is still suffering from the perception that it's the weakest BCS conference, and from the fact that most of their programs aren't traditional powers. That will change over the next couple of years if they can keep the quality of play up.

• Kansas and Missouri play in the biggest game of the week, with the winner almost a lock to become the new #1 team in the country - Kansas will certainly move from #2 to #1 with a win, while you have to think a victory by #4 Missouri will vault them ahead of #3 West Virginia and into the number one spot, at least in the human polls. This will happen even if the Mountaineers win today. The winner will be in tough against Oklahoma next week, especially with Sam Bradford back at QB for the Sooners.

• Ohio State will continue to sit and wait. A WVU loss should clinch them a spot in the BCS title game.

Other things to watch today:

• A banged-up Oregon team tries to hold off UCLA and keep their Pac-10 title hopes alive.

• Notre Dame travels to Stanford trying to avoid their 10th loss.

• The Iron Bowl between 'Bama and Auburn. Both teams are playing for respect and bragging rights.

• The Heisman watch focuses on West Virginia QB Pat White (against UConn) and Florida QB Tim Tebow (against Florida State) as they try and compete with McFadden's all-world performance.


At 6:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is too bad for LSU. I thought they were definitely going to wrap up this year No. 1. Looks like they will not get what they wanted.

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