Offensive explosion in college football

What happened to the notion of defense in college football (or the NFL for that matter)?

The Alabama-Texas A&M game was memorable, with Johnny Manziel working his magic and Nick Saban’s crew putting on a clinic on the offensive side of the ball. Yet meanwhile neither side could play a lick of defense. This is what we’re seeing everywhere in college football, as the new spread offenses have completely changed the game.

We have a number of teams that have not been stopped on offense, with Oregon leading the way. Other offensive juggernauts include Clemson, Louisville, Florida State, LSU and Ohio State tearing up defenses.

We’ll see as the year goes on if any of these teams or the other contenders can put together a defense that can slow down these high octane offenses. That team will have an excellent shot at playing for and winning a national championship.

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College Football Week 3 Picks & Predictions

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 6 Texas A&M, 3:30PM ET
The most anticipated matchup of Week 3 will take place at Kyle Field in College Station today. One thing that has made Nick Saban so successful is his ability to get his team focused on one game at a time. But you know he and the Crimson Tide have circled this date since Johnny Manziel and A&M rolled into Tuscaloosa and upset ‘Bama a year ago. The Aggies are just 1-4 all-time at home against top-ranked teams and since the start of the 2008 season, the Tide are 41-0 when it has fewer turnovers than its opponent. Look for ‘Bama to limit its mistakes, keep the ball on the ground (they’re 51-0 when rushing for at least 140 yards) and generate pressure on Manziel. If they can stay disciplined defensively and maintain good gap responsibility, they should get their revenge.
PREDICTION: ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE -9

Tennessee vs. No. 2 Oregon, 3:30PM ET
Butch Jones tried to ratchet up the tempo this week in practice in order to get his players ready for what they’ll see today in Eugene. But Oregon is too fast, too athletic and too skilled on the perimeter for an overmatched Tennessee squad. The Ducks are 4-0 against the spread in their last four games overall, 4-1 ATS in their last five home games, and 6-1 ATS in their last seven games following an ATS win. The Vols, meanwhile, are 0-4 against the number in their last four games versus the Pac-12 and 0-7-1 ATS in their last eight games following an ATS win. Look for Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas to run wild on a gassed Tennessee defense in the second half.
PREDICTION: OREGON DUCKS -28

No. 19 Washington vs. Illinois, 6:00PM ET
This game has become more interesting in the past two weeks. Washington turn heads by crushing Boise State in Week 1 and Illinois surprised the masses by routing a previously underrated Cincinnati team 45-17 last Saturday. While quarterbacks Keith Price and Nathan Scheelhaase will receive all of the attention tonight, keep an eye on Huskies junior middle linebacker and defensive leader John Timu (13 tackles vs. Boise), and the duo of Jonathan Brown and Mason Monheim for the Illini. The under is 5-1 in Illinois’ last six neutral-site games and 4-0 in the Huskies’ last four games in September. While defense won’t dominate this game, the combined score should fall under the total.
PREDICTION: UNDER 63

No. 21 Notre Dame vs. Purdue, 8:00PM ET
The Fighting Irish have won five straight games against the Boilermakers but two of those contests were decided on Notre Dame’s final drive. The Irish have new players on both sides of the ball that are growing on the job, which is part of the reason why their defense allowed 411 yards per game over their first two contests. Quarterback Tommy Rees is still trying to find his rhythm as a passer too, so look for this game to be somewhat tight. The underdog is 6-2 against the spread in the last eight meetings between these two teams and the Irish are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games overall.
PREDICTION: PURDUE BOILERMAKERS +18.5

Media hero-worship shifts to Nick Saban and Alabama

Now that the media has fed on the Penn State scandal for the past year after building up Joe Paterno as a saint on the sidelines for the past 40 years, some are naturally moving on to other subjects to deify.

With Alabama coming off of two National Championships in the past three years, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Nick Saban is the next coach to get glowing coverage from many in the media. Rachel Bachman and Ben Cohen have just written a profile of Saban in the Wall Street Journal where they take great pains to explain Saban’s greatness. Here’s an example of some of the gushing “analysis.”

The stunning volume of victories and championships and NFL draft picks has Alabama redefining college-football success as we know it. How, exactly, does the Tide do it?

Really? Redefining success? This sort of dominance over several years hasn’t been seen before in college football? Didn’t Alabama lose a game last season?

The writers go on to explain Saban meticulous attention to detail in the recruiting process, and I guess there’s some insightful reporting into Saban’s methods. But is there anything really new here? Saban is at one of the top football factories in the country and he’s grabbing the best recruits. It’s no different than what other successful coaches have done, and probably less impressive than what Urban Meyer achieved several years earlier at a school that doesn’t have Alabama’s tradition.

More notable, however, is that they also don’t dig into some of the less noble tactics used by Saban and others in the SEC like oversigning which is mentioned in passing near the end of the article after they’ve nestled Saban comfortably on his pedestal.

Here’s another nugget from the article.

“He’s incredibly honest in the recruiting process,” said former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, the starter on the 2009 national-title team who now plays for the New York Jets. “He tells kids, ‘Hey, you’re going to come in and redshirt. Look, you’re going to do this. You’re going to do that.’ He tells them exactly what he thinks. I think a lot of people respect that because so much of the recruiting process is an unknown.”

Wow. Saban sounds great. I guess it’s nice to hear this from Saban’s starting quarterback, but wouldn’t we learn a little more about what really goes on in college recruiting and at Alabama in particular by talking to some of the kids who lost their scholarship after one year because they weren’t quite as “special” as Saban thought when he recruited them? Of course we would, but that wouldn’t fit the happy storyline being promoted here. This isn’t about reporting; it’s PR fluff.

If the writers or the Wall Street Journal wanted to do some reporting, they might have considered looking into the random nature of NCAA enforcement and sanctions, and how many schools are learning to dodge the NCAA by just refusing to self-report problems. That’s why a tattoos for memorabilia scandal brings down a coach at Ohio State, while an alleged suits for memorabilia scheme reported in detail by SPORTSbyBROOKS gets ignored by the national media, Alabama and the NCAA. If a story doesn’t make it to ESPN or SI, it just didn’t happen. Right? Perhaps if publications like the Wall Street Journal would do some real investigating relating to this topic, they might have a real story about Alabama, or on the other hand they could say with confidence that Alabama student-athletes were avoiding the pitfalls encountered by players at Ohio State and North Carolina.

Some might argue that this was a simple football story, and there’s no need to bring in the ugly side of college football every time we discuss a top program. I get that, and it’s a fair point. Sometimes we all just want to enjoy the games. But when we get a profile exalting the recruiting “genius” of millionaire coaches like Saban, it’s journalistic malpractice to settle for token mentions of issues like oversigning and ignore well-documented allegations of misconduct.

Rick Reilly recently wrote a column where he admitted to “engaging in hagiography” as one of the many journalists who turned Joe Paterno into a saint. Of course Reilly had no idea of how that image would ultimately be destroyed, but he regretted focusing only on the positive spin surrounding Paterno’s success. A professor had called him and warned him that Paterno wasn’t a saint as everyone assumed, so there was a real story there had Reilly decided to actually do his job. Just like there’s a real story around all of today’s best coaches as well. Some are better than others, and many of them try to run clean programs. But it’s hard to take profiles like this one about Saban at face value if the issues bubbling under the surface are ignored.

The recruiting wars

Urban Meyer. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Urban Meyer made quite a splash with a monster recruiting class at Ohio State, but some of his fellow coaches in the Big Ten weren’t too happy that he came in and “flipped” players. The whining from Bret Bielema and Mark Dantonio seemed a bit much according to David Whitley, who pointed out that recruits had every right to change their minds after a coach of Meyer’s caliber joined Ohio State.

But Whitley makes a larger point – that the Big Ten has much more honorable recruiting practices than the SEC. Yes, the SEC is currently winning all the titles, but Whitley points out some pretty pathetic actions by Les Miles and Nick Saban. The oversigning has gotten out of control.

Hopefully the push by the Big Ten towards 4-year scholarships will put even more pressure on the SEC to clean up its act.

LSU survives in overtime, has inside track to national title game

Louisiana State University quarterback Jordan Jefferson (L) crack up with teammate center back Tyrann Mathieu after beating the University of Kentucky at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana October 1, 2011. Jefferson was just released from suspension by LSU this week. REUTERS/Dan Anderson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Defense and kickers, that’s what might have just decided the national championship. LSU survived a 9-6 overtime slugfest tonight against Alabama in a matchup of the top two teams in the country.

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but that doesn’t mean it was bad football. Quite the contrary, actually. These are two defenses unlike many we’ve seen in college football, and that’s fun to watch. They’re big, they’re fast and they’re physical. And let’s remember, when these two teams aren’t playing each other, the offenses do just fine.

The key in this one wound up being Alabama’s ineptitude in overtime, as the Tide went backwards and were forced to try a 52-yard field goal, which missed, um, poorly. LSU merely had to run the ball and set up a field goal on its possession, and it did, kicking a 25-yard game winner from the center of the field.

But A.J. McCarron struggled all game long, and Nick Saban showed late the lack of confidence he had in his quarterback by not calling a timeout with a little less than 2 minutes left and LSU set to punt it away. A coach that’s confident in his quarterback and offense calls that timeout and gives them a chance to drive for a game-winning field goal. Saban sat on his timeout and played for overtime.

Now, unless there aren’t any unbeaten teams remaining, there’s no chance we get a rematch here, nor should we. While I feel these are the country’s two top teams, they’re certainly not unbeatable, not with those quarterbacks. If either team runs into a situation where its defense is struggling against a good team, it’s in a lot of trouble. Do you trust McCarron, Jarrett Lee or Jordan Jefferson to bring a team back at the end of a game? I don’t.

That said, would you bet on either defense failing? I wouldn’t.

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