Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Random bowlthoughts

At some point, you're getting a 2008-in-the-rearview kind of post from me ... but that post will be long and time consuming and with bowls on this afternoon (including actual SEC action!) it's not getting done today. So here's a sort of random collection of responses to the bowl season we've seen thus far, starting with this, because you really can't see this often enough:

Sneak preview? I think what we saw from Oregon and Oklahoma St. last night was a pretty good indication of what we're eventually going to see from Florida and Oklahoma in the national title game. Both games are matchups of incredible offensive teams, stunning blends of All-American talent and ingenious coaching. But in both games, one team is just a little bit better on defense. In both games, one team--that same team--is just a little more committed and capable in the running game. And in the Holiday Bowl, those edges eventually won the game for Oregon, as their defense hung in just long enough to start landing some haymakers and the Poke D eventually fell apart in the face of the Ducks' ultra-polished ground game. I'm expecting the same thing from the Gators: perhaps an early deficit, perhaps a tight game into the fourth quarter, but eventually it's the Gator D I see making more plays and the Gator ground game--the most explosive in the country--winning the final period.

Running QBs? Particularly when you live in the age of Pat White and Tim Tebow, the topic of whether you can trust a running quarterback to stay healthy in the face of prolonged battering at the hands of your modern BCS-level defenders is a sensitive one. If I'm an Oklahoma St. fan this morning, I'm sort of wondering if it's really worth sending Zac Robinson into the fray to pick up seven yards in the second quarter if the killshots he ends up taking mean you don't gain any yards at all once the fourth quarter rolls around.

Then again, if I'm an Oregon fan this morning, I'm thinking that what finally got our offense going wasn't the two stud RBs or Chip Kelly ingenuity, it was Jeremiah Masoli straight wrecking fools. Without Oregon's running QB, they don't win that game. But even the Ducks have fallen victim to the too-many-hits theory, as they did two years ago when Dennis Dixon went down and ruined the best team in the country.

Is there a right answer? After watching last night, I think it might be this: yes, generally, you should have your QB run. But if he's not the sort of guy who can stand up to it or if you don't have a backup you feel comfortable turning to, you might want to think twice about it.

Dude, the WAC is over. It's not just the 1-4 mark, the hideous home loss by Hawaii to Notre Dame, Fresno's final pratfall in what was supposed to be their breakthrough season. It's that these teams just do not have it from a physical standpoint. Watching Maryland-Nevada yesterday, I didn't have much doubt that if the two coaching staffs had switched sides at the end of the season, with Chris Ault directing the Terps and Ralph Freidgen calling plays for the Wolf Pack*, it would have been a Maryland bloodbath. For all of Friedgen's supposed "guru" reputation, I thought the Terps looked pathetically predictable on offense--off-tackle run first down, off-tackle run second down, seam or comeback route over the middle on third down. By contrast, Ault's pistol look looked as creative, as unorthodox, and as productive as you might expect given Nevada's obvious physical limitations.

But that's the thing: those limitations weren't just there, they were obvious, as obvious as they were when Georgia gobsmacked Hawaii straight out of the Superdome last January, as obvious as they were when TCU shoved Boise up and down the field a week ago. And eventually (i.e. the moment Maryland's bowling ball running back's one-half suspension ended) they caught up with Nevada, just as they did Boise and Fresno and Hawaii. I'm as big a proponent of quality mid-majors getting their BCS shot as anyone, but for the time being, if we're talking about a WAC team we're going to need to see some definitive regular-season proof that these limitations have been reduced or neutralized (a la Boise's rout of a good Oregon St. team in 2006) before we can take them seriously.

Really? Like Doug, I'm not feeling the widespread love for Ole Miss against Texas Tech. Love like this prediction from Chris Low:
Ole Miss 38, Texas Tech 28: The Rebels were on the kind of roll to end the regular season that the last thing they wanted to see was a month break after their 45-0 shellacking of Mississippi State on Nov. 28. They get a chance to continue that momentum and make one of their most convincing statements yet about what kind of team they are against No. 7-ranked Texas Tech in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. All season, we debated the Big 12 offensive thing versus the SEC defensive thing. Well, the Rebels are good enough defensively to hold the Red Raiders under 30, and that will be good enough to win.
And ... how, exactly, are the Rebels "good enough defensively to hold the Red Raiders under 30"? Yes, thanks to their studly defensive line Ole Miss is tremendous against the run and has arguably the SEC's best pass rush. Guess what? Against a team that couldn't care less about running the ball and gets rid of the ball too quickly for that pass rush to be a substantial advantage--remember, even Auburn found a way to keep the Rebels without a sack for the day--that d-line doesn't mean much. What does mean a lot against a team like Tech is the secondary. The secondary that let Kodi Burns throw for 300 yards. That finished 11th in the SEC in passing yardage allowed. And that will be facing a Mike Leach-coached team that's had a month to prepare. Under 30? If Ole Miss keeps Tech under 45, I'll be surprised. A year ago a lot of people thought a hot Arkansas team was going to upset a Missouri team that had rolled through the Big 12 season save for a bad performance against Oklahoma. That didn't work out so well, and I just don't see that it'll be a different story for Ole Miss.

Bowls are awesome. It's not just that watching a game that clearly means so much more to the players and coaches involved than it should always makes for great viewing--apparently, Jason Whitlock got a big lump of coal in his Christmas stocking--but the chance to watch Air Force's option, Oregon's Masoli, Nevada's pistol, Boise's Ian Johnson (one last time), Louisiana freaking Tech and freaking Rice go nuts in front of their home crowds, basically every single thing that happened in that UNC-West Virginia game ... I mean, if you don't like these things, you don't like college football, and you're probably a Communist.

All right, Vandy's about to come on, so I'm going to enjoy the first half, while it stays competitive.

*Remember, it's two words at Nevada, one at N.C. State.


Ben said...

Vandy poo poos your competitive talk.

Jerry Hinnen said...

I didn't realize BC's quarterback was going to be such a walking disaster zone. And then, of course, in truest Vandy fashion, they score the gift TD off the punt fiasco and the gift FG off the back-to-back 15-yard flags.

Can't say I can think of any program, though, that deserves a bowl win like that one more. Kudos, 'Dores.

Ben said...

"And then, of course, in truest Vandy fashion, they score the gift TD off the punt fiasco and the gift FG off the back-to-back 15-yard flags."

True. The luck of the Commodore finally turned. Hurray for feel good stories.