Rich Rants: Week 7 - Gurley Knew Better

Week 7 thoughts, musings and ramblings about the weekend.

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Just because you don’t like the rules doesn’t mean you ought to be free to break them without consequences. I hate driving 55 when there are no other vehicles in sight, but I also don’t expect law enforcement leniency if I get flagged for doing 80. Todd Gurley knew better, yet he still put himself in a position to hurt his program and his teammates with last week’s suspension. And those giving him a pass because the NCAA rules are, yes, awful are a part of the problem, not the solution.

Here comes Duke. Just when it looked like the Blue Devils might be retreating, they go out and tag Georgia Tech with its first loss of the season—at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The victory also ended a 10-game losing streak to the Yellow Jackets. David Cutcliffe is flat-out one of the game’s premier coaches, and an extra week to prepare for Tech’s triple-option clearly made a huge difference. Duke hosts Virginia this weekend in a game of the utmost significance in the ACC Coastal.

We’re all getting a little cheated by Marshall’s pillow-soft schedule. And that’s not to suggest that the Herd wanted it to be that way. Marshall hasn’t ducked anyone, and a previously scheduled game with Louisville went on ice for two years after the Cards joined the ACC. The Herd has rolled through its first six games, scoring at least 42 points in each, but no one is paying attention. Unlike, say, East Carolina, which has already played South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, Marshall’s toughest opponent has been Akron or Middle Tennessee, which will make it challenging to earn the Group of Five’s New Year’s bowl bid. I want to see Rakeem Cato and the boys versus a Power Five team this year, but it could take an ECU loss for that to happen.

The Pac-12 South is going to be a madhouse over the next eight weekends. There are legitimately five teams with a shot to win the division, four of which have one conference loss. USC and UCLA have the most talent, but they’ve shown serious flaws and inconsistency in the first half. Arizona and Arizona State are incomplete, yet can beat anyone. And Utah is a wild card. If the South has been decided before the final weekend of the regular season, mark it down as an even bigger upset than the Wildcats toppling Oregon in Eugene two weeks ago.

Beware, Pac-12 North. Chris Petersen finally has Washington playing consistently. The Huskies had a bumpy start in Coach Pete’s debut, struggling with Hawaii, Eastern Washington and Georgia State. But Saturday’s rout of Cal could be a harbinger of a strong second half. QB Cyler Miles was tight through the air, the pass rush was again dominant and LB Shaq Thompson continues to perform at an All-American level. If the Huskies can build on their effort in Berkeley, they’re capable of being the fly in the divisional ointment, which is currently the domain of Stanford and Oregon.

The Nick Saban-Lane Kiffin honeymoon was short-lived. What’s happened to the attack that earned high praise for shredding Florida on Sept. 20? ‘Bama gets a pass for its futility in the Ole Miss loss, because a lot of teams are going to stall against the Rebels. But 14 points against Arkansas? Sure, the Razorbacks are improved, but the Tide has too much talent at the skill positions to rush for 66 yards and convert 4-of-15 third downs. Saban looks angry at the world right now. Kiffin, in particular, will be in his crosshairs if ‘Bama keeps sputtering on offense.

Baylor as the Big 12 champ makes total sense. But I’m not buying the Bears as a bona fide national championship threat. Hey, Saturday was an epic comeback versus TCU. One for the ages. Instant classic. However, this team will get hammered by a premier SEC opponent, say Mississippi State or Ole Miss, in the playoffs. Baylor’s defense was hideous in the 61-58 rally to beat the Horned Frogs, defying head coach Art Briles’ suggestion that his team is physical and less finesse than most assume. Really? Against a truly assertive opponent, the Bears will crumble, much the way they did in last year’s Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF.

Seasons like the one Mississippi State is currently having will become more commonplace as long as 100 or more underclassmen flood the NFL Draft each spring. The Bulldogs are a veteran group operating in a world in which many programs are forced to start over at key positions. Think Butler or VCU in the NCAA basketball tournament facing a North Carolina team with four freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup. While other schools have more blue-chippers on the roster, the Bulldogs’ savvy and experience allow them to roll to new heights, especially in the early stages of a season.

Jim Mora is going to clean house at the end of this season. UCLA has been a major flop in 2014, which falls squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff. Mora assembled a collection of ace recruiters, who often get outwitted on Saturdays. And that’s not going to cut it at a school that felt it was primed for titles this year. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is in danger of being cut loose, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was demoted. Mora has had a terrible first half as the CEO of this operation, but he’s in no danger, even if the wheels come off over the final two months. It’s going to be a fascinating offseason in Westwood.

Oklahoma is in trouble. While championship contenders pick up a head of steam as a season unfolds, the Sooners are coming off their two worst games of 2014. And that ought to be cause for serious concern around Norman. Neither side of the ball was particularly sound in the loss to TCU and the defeat of Texas, and Trevor Knight has been a weak facsimile of the quarterback many thought he’d be this fall. The world will learn a ton about OU this Saturday, when Kansas State visits in a Big 12 showdown that the Sooners must win to remain viable in the Big 12 and national championship hunts.


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