Is it time for the 49ers to bench Alex Smith?

San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks Troy Smith (L), David Carr (C) and Alex Smith carry pink towels to promote the breast cancer awareness campaign during pre-game warmups before their NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Atlanta, Georgia, October 3, 2010.   REUTERS/David Tulis  (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL HEALTH)

49er fans once again have had about all they can take when it comes to the play of Alex Smith.

Following yet another rough performance by his starting quarterback in a 16-14 loss to the Falcons on Sunday, 49ers head coach Mike Singletary said that he never thought about pulling Smith during the game. Why would he? Smith killed two potential scoring drives with interceptions, but coaches don’t make it a habit to pull their starting quarterbacks when their team has the lead. And up until the final seven seconds, the Niners had the lead the entire time.

But while the thought didn’t cross his mind on Sunday, I wonder if Singletary is considering making a quarterback change now. Smith hasn’t been dreadful, but the bottom line is that he isn’t making enough plays in the vertical passing game – or enough plays period. The situation in Atlanta was set up perfectly for him: he had a 14-0 lead, a solid game plan under new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson and a defense that was holding the Falcons to field goals instead of touchdowns. All Smith had to do was keep the chains moving, protect the football and allow the Falcons to kill themselves with dumb mistakes.

But once again, he failed to do that and now San Fran is 0-4 after many pundits (this one included) projected them to win the NFC West. Given how bad the division is, that goal can still be attained but not if Smith continues to play as poorly as he has.

The problem is that Singletary has options at quarterback, but they’re not very good. We’ve all witnessed David Carr’s handy work and Nate Davis is still incredibly raw. The wild card is Troy Smith, whom the Niners signed a month ago after the Ravens dumped him. But he’s coming off a brutal preseason and doesn’t have the accuracy or decision-making to be a starter at this juncture. Despite Smith’s play, he still gives the 49ers the best chance of winning at the moment (however long that is) and Singletary may have no choice but to stick with him.

Then again, why continue to do something if it isn’t working? If Smith can’t produce under Johnson, then Carr, Troy Smith or Davis should get an opportunity. The Niners can’t continue to be derailed by inconsistency at the quarterback position or else this season is about to get longer than it already has been.

It’s now or never, Alex Smith.

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Buffalo shocks No. 12 Ball State, ends Cardinals perfect season

Buffalo BullsIt’s amazing how just one play can turn the tide of an entire football game. Take a play in unranked Buffalo’s stunning 42-24 upset of No. 12 Ball State in the MAC Championship Game on Friday night.

Up 17-14 and driving for more points following a Bulls’ fumble, Cardinals’ RB MiQuale Lewis took a handoff from Buffalo’s 8-yard line and rushed straight to the pile on at the goal line. Lewis appeared to have gotten in for a touchdown, but officials placed the ball at the 1 and the call upheld following review. After a Lewis two-yard loss and a 5-yard false start penalty, the Cardinals faced 3rd and goal at Buffalo’s 8-yard line. Highly touted quarterback Nate Davis than scrambled on 3rd down, leaped for the end zone and was smashed by multiple Bull defenders. The ball came lose, was scooped up by Buffalo’s Mike Newton and returned 92-yards for a touchdown.

Ball State never recovered. On their ensuing possession, a botched snap led to another Cardinal fumble, and another Buffalo recovery and touchdown. Davis then fumbled once more in the fourth quarter, which led to yet another Bulls touchdown.

What’s amazing is that if officials determined Lewis got in the end zone earlier in the third quarter, Ball State would have taken a 24-14 lead and who knows, they probably would have went on to win and cap off their perfect season with a MAC title. For all intents and purposes, it looked like Lewis was clearly in. And before the botched snap occurred on Ball State’s next offensive possession, officials overturned a reception by the Cardinals that would have put them in the red zone and a chance to take the lead again after Buffalo went up 21-17.

But regardless of whether they were screwed or not, Davis and Ball State have to overcome those calls. There’s no excuse for four fumbles and personally, I thought the Cardinals were flat all night. And that’s not to take anything away from Turner Gill’s Bulls, because they played with intensity and fire the entire night.

This puts the debate to rest about whether or not Ball State deserves to play for a national title. One loss doesn’t ruin a great season, but a team can’t be even remotely considered in a title discussion when it losses to a previously 7-5 Buffalo team, especially when the elements were in Ball State’s favor. (The game was in Detroit at Ford Field, which is certainly more of a hike for Buffalo than it is for Ball State. Plus, with the game being on turf, that certainly played into Davis and the Cardinals’ hands with how good their offense is.)

Eating crow: Ball State is no joke

Ball StateA couple weeks ago Ball State University turned in an unimpressive victory against fellow MAC opponent Miami of Ohio and I wrote how the Cardinals and the BCS were a joke.

Well, the BCS is still a joke – but Ball State isn’t. I was wrong about this team and I’m more than willing to eat crow. (I know a couple of Ball State fans that would be more than willing to watch me eat every bit of that crow, too.)

There are a lot of media outlets that assume that just because a team isn’t in one of college football’s main conferences (i.e. SEC, Big 12, Big 10, Pac-10, etc.), that they would never be able to compete with the big boys. I fell into that trap after watching the Cardinals a few weeks ago, but I was wrong in my assumptions. After beating top MAC teams in Central Michigan and Western Michigan the past two weeks, Ball State has more than proved that they are legit.

How do we know that Ball State wouldn’t compete with Oklahoma? Boise State certainly did when they beat the Sooners in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. It’s time to stop assuming that just because a team plays in the MAC that they couldn’t hold their own.

BSU’s Nate Davis has been one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and while he doesn’t face defenses as good as Alabama, Texas, Florida and Oklahoma every week, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t deserve the opportunity to see what he could do on a national stage. He has tremendous arm strength, great leadership and has showed all season that he’s a tremendous competitor.

We need a playoff in college football. Undefeated teams like Ball State, Utah and Boise State deserve the opportunity to see if they can compete against the likes of ‘Bama, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma. If they get waxed like Hawaii did last year against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, so be it. But maybe they’ll surprise some people, too. The main thing is, they deserve a shot. And college football fans deserve a better system.

No. 17 Ball State’s season on the line vs. Central Michigan

Nate DavisNo. 17 Ball State puts its season on the line Wednesday night in Mt. Pleasant when they take on MAC rival Central Michigan at 7:00PM ET.

I know, I know – it’s MAC football. Who cares right?

Most will look at this game and shrug it off as just another useless game in the middle of the week, but the ramifications for both teams are pretty high and it should make for an exciting game. First and foremost, Ball State is 10-0 and trying to prove that its an elite program, although if last week’s performance against Miami of Ohio was any indication, the Cardinals are who we think they are – a great MAC team, but one that would get destroyed by the likes of any team ranked ahead of them in the polls.

Meanwhile, the Chippewas are 8-2, but more importantly (at least to them), they’re 6-0 in the MAC. A CMU victory would not only be a huge upset, but it would also catapult the Chips into first place in the MAC West Division and a chance to win the conference for the third straight year. This isn’t just a MAC game – it’s the MAC game of the year.

The Cardinals have essentially steamrolled their competition this season, but also haven’t played any truly tough opponents, unless you consider Navy and Indiana as tough. They did crush Northern Illinois – who has vastly improved this season – 45-14 on November 5th, but the Huskies are still far from an elite team right now.

An upset might be in order tonight. At one point this season, CMU quarterback Dan LeFevour was considered a candidate for the Heisman Trophy but an ankle injury sidetracked his season. He led the Chips to win over NIU last week and appears to be healthy again.

The key in this game, however, will be whether or not CMU’s defense can slow down Nate Davis and the BSU offense, which is averaging close to 40 points a game. The Chips certainly have the offense to compete with the Cardinals, but their no-huddle approach only gets BSU’s explosive passing attack back on the field quicker. And CMU has been known to allow opponents to sneak back into ball games in the second half (see their game at Northern last week as proof), which certainly would spell disaster against a solid Cardinal team.

Either way, football is being played on a Wednesday night. And not only that, but a team is actually unbeaten and ranked…and is playing on Wednesday night. You can’t ask for more.

The BCS is a Joke Exhibit 34B: No. 14 Ball State

If Ball State is the 14th-best team in the nation, than Charlie Weis is the coach of the year. How this team is ranked higher than BYU, TCU, LSU and even Tulsa is beyond me.

The Cardinals put their unbeaten season on the line Tuesday night against fellow MAC opponent Miami of Ohio and they came away with a 31-16 victory. They might have won by double-digits, but this was one of the least impressive performances by ranked team I’ve seen all season.

First and foremost, Miami of Ohio is a bottom feeder in the MAC. Yet they were able to score on every possession in the first half except for one, which they could have scored on had they not turned the ball over on a fumble in Ball State territory. Had the Redbirds not killed touchdown drives on their own with poor execution (i.e. dropped passes, passes thrown into double-coverage, etc.), they could have easily hung 30-plus points on the Cardinals. At one point late in the second half, a Miami receiver dropped a touchdown pass with nobody around him because the defender had fallen down 10 yards away from the play. And again, this isn’t a very good Miami of Ohio team. Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t lining up under center. If they played even a decent MAC team on Tuesday night the Cardinals probably lose.

Granted, this was only one game and they did crush Northern Illinois (a decent MAC team) a week ago. But if Ball State gets into a BCS bowl game (highly, highly unlikely even if they go undefeated), they’ll get shredded. If they played Florida tomorrow, they would lose by 70. If they played anybody with remotely a decent defense, they would get embarrassed.

Nate Davis is a great player and Ball State’s offense is fun to watch against other MAC opponents, but this isn’t like previous years where an undefeated Boise State or West Virginia team deserves a chance to see what they can do against the big boys. In fact, I’d be willing to say that the Cardinals don’t get past Central Michigan or Western Michigan the next two weeks. I don’t mean to crap all over a nice story, but the reality of the situation is that Ball doesn’t have the horses to stack up against other ranked programs.

Update: Eating crow: Ball State is no joke

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