How bad is the Big East?
Anyone want to know just how you can tell the BCS is a farce?
The Big East still has their automatic berth.
This is a conference whose number one team is Connecticut. Yes, the same Connecticut who has played D-IA football for only four full seasons. Yes, the same Connecticut who is 20-26 over that span.
Aside from a Rutgers upset over a disappointing Michigan State squad and a West Virginia win over a sloppy Maryland team, the conference has performed abysmally. Purdue pounded Syracuse 51-0 in the first week of the season while Boston College eked by Ball State 19-11. In week two, Connecticut scored 16 4th quarter points to pull out a win against that world renowned gridiron powerhouse, DUKE, and Rutgers was slapped around by New Hampshire. Week three (its most impressive showing) saw Pittsburgh lose to Nebraska in a game tighter than expected and West Virginia walk away from a game they probably should have lost. Week four was back to normal with Boston College losing to Wake Forest, Syracuse being pounded 31-10 by Virginia, Temple losing 45-10 to Toledo, and Pittsburgh having to come from behind late and defeat D-IAA Furman 41-38 in overtime.
This week it's more of the same – if not worse. Bowling Green blasted Temple 70-16 with the falcons gaining nearly 650 yards of offense while a 2-2 Virginia Tech squad dominated West Virginia, downing them 19-13. The Mountaineers had 10 first downs, were 0-13 on third down conversions, scored just one offensive touchdown, and had the ball only 24 minutes in the game.
The bottom line here is that the BCS needs to give the Big East the boot. Without Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami this is a conference that would do well to play the Mountain West or Conference USA to a standstill.
With the loss by West Virginia to a sub-par Virginia Tech program, don't be shocked if the BCS invokes the ‘Big East Rule' as early as 2007. This rule is a stipulation that was added after Syracuse was pounded 31-10 in 1999 by Florida State after winning the conference championship. The dissatisfaction of fans, media, and bowl officials forced the BCS to act to ensure a conference is worthy of being included in the mix. It states that if any of the major conferences with a guaranteed spot do not have a representative with an average of 12th or better in the BCS standings over a period of 4 years, they can lose their slot. Miami's rankings in 2003 will clearly help them, but Miami is no longer around to save the conference from its own mediocrity.
A trio of Connecticut, West Virginia, and Louisville do not appear up to the task of maintaining that kind of lofty status and pollsters are not likely to be as forgiving for a one loss team that plays a cupcake schedule versus a one loss power conference team.
NCAA sanctions are now catching up to Alabama. It often takes a couple of years to see the full effect and depth is where it shows up most. Instead of having several players who are able to step up in the case of an injury, teams are frequently undermanned. Brodie Croyle's loss has left the Tide without a capable quarterback. Mike Shula and his offensive coordinator will be answering some angry Alabama fans this week after play calling late in the game that all but showed they had given up hope of beating South Carolina.
Auburn is probably pretty embarrassed about now. Why? Only months ago the university was looking to unload Tommy Tubberville and would have pulled the trigger had their man, Bobby Petrino, given them a ‘yes' instead of turning them down like a young lady does a balding, flabby 40-year old suitor. If you have a few moments, check out this article. After reading it, check out the score of Saturday's game between Auburn and Tennessee and look at the national polls.
Oklahoma and Texas meet in their annual tilt this weekend. Mack Brown needs a win to quiet critics. If he continues to lose to Oklahoma, his detractors will simply bide their time for an off year and have his head mounted on a pike. With a loss on Saturday, that day could have come as soon as this January had Matt Jones not fumbled away an Arkansas win against the Longhorns with only minutes remaining. Make no mistake; Brown needs this victory just as John Cooper had to have his 1994 victory over Michigan.
Notre Dame still stinks. Newsflash: Notre Dame is a mediocre program. Even when Michigan fails to take down their South Bend foes, it matters little. Notre Dame is a sub par team and program these days. They are improved from last season and probably will play well enough to reach a bowl and save Willingham's job. Next year they might even go further if they ride the arm of Brady Quinn and legs of tailback Darius Walker. Still, this is a program that is not among the national elite and not likely to be back in that class for several years. If asked to give odds, I would say Willingham has a 1 in 10 shot of still having his job in 2007. Recruits hoping to play for him would do well to consider his job security – or lack thereof.
If Wisconsin gets by Ohio State on Saturday, don't be shocked to see them in the Rose Bowl. This is a team that returned 17 starters from 2003 and does not play Michigan but end the season by playing: Purdue (away), Northwestern (home), off week, Minnesota (home), Michigan State (away), and Iowa (away). Alvarez's best teams are those with dominant lines, a stud tailback, a smart quarterback, and solid cornerback play. Don't look now but this edition of the Badgers has all four components.
West Point's decision to bring in Bobby Ross was perhaps the best hire in the off-season. Winless in 2003, the Black Knights very nearly upset a solid TCU team. With games against South Florida, East Carolina, and Tulane remaining look for them to end their winless streak. Given today's limitations and the international environment, the service academies will probably struggle to have consistent success, but Ross has won virtually everywhere he has traveled and has had a remarkable career aside from his encounter with Barry Sanders.
That would be the pastime of Buckeye fans across the nation Saturday evening. With ESPN scheduling Alabama and South Carolina prior to the Ohio State game against Northwestern it appeared to be almost a given the kickoff would be missed. Those odds appeared to have neared that of a certainty when at 8:33 EST, the game clock read 13:00 with Alabama trailing 20-3.
Instead, Buckeye prayers (and those of the ESPN operators) were seemingly answered. Ohio native and former Ohio State assistant Lou Holtz showed what he learned from his tutelage under Woody Hayes and ran the football, trying to bleed as many seconds as possible. Then, in what has to be one of the more bizarre series of play calls in recent memory the Tide chose not to take advantage of a Gamecock turnover with 6:29 left, rushing the ball on four straight downs.
Unbelievably, the game ended at 8:51 – leaving ESPN 2 with a gap in programming that was filled by highlights and pre-kickoff discussions. In only 18 minutes, the two teams had run off 13 minutes of game clock…
Give Credit to Northwestern
This is not a great team for the Wildcats, but neither is it one devoid of any talent. The coaching staff designed a gameplan that would use their top players extensively and the players executed that offense to near perfection.
Northwestern outplayed the Buckeyes, and their offensive coaches and players flat out embarrassed the OSU coaches and players on the defensive side of the ball.
Last Tuesday, my question to the Buckeye defenders was, "What is the problem with the rushing defense? Do you realize you have given up 380 yards this year already when you gave up only 880 in 13 games in 2003?"
Several mentioned that this was a problem (Hawk for one), while at least two others said they felt it would sort of work itself out and materialize now that Big Ten play had arrived.
This team will find itself on the short end of the scoreboard against Wisconsin, Purdue, and probably Michigan if the defense does not figure out how to stop the run. The Wildcats came straight at the Buckeyes and gashed them for big yardage right between the tackles.
Basanez and the Wildcats were fantastic in their conversion of 3rd and long. For the evening, the 3rd down plays looked like this:
1. 3rd and 11. Pass completed for 20 yards and a first down.
2. 3rd and 1. Run right up the middle for 3 yards and a first down.
3. 3rd and 5. Pass incomplete.
4. 3rd and 24. Delayed handoff for 2 yards.
5. 3rd and 2. Run right up the middle for 2 yards and a first down.
6. 3rd and 6. No pass rush by OSU, pass completed for a first down.
7. 3rd and 7. Rush for 4 yards.
8. 3rd and 5. No pressure on Basanez but pass still incomplete.
9. 3rd and 10. Pass completed for first down to sideline.
10. 3rd and 5. Pass completed across middle with a missed tackle by D'Andrea. First down.
11. 3rd and 10. Pass completed for a first down with no significant OSU pass rush.
12. 3rd and 11. Pass completed for 27-yard touchdown with yet another wide receiver screen.
13. 3rd and 10. Scramble by Basanez for 5 yards.
14. 3rd and 7. Pass completed for first down.
15. 3rd and 10. Pass completed for first down.
16. 3rd and 10. Pass intercepted when Basanez missed an open receiver.
17. 3rd and 5. Pass incomplete.
18. 3rd and 8. Pass incomplete.
By my unofficial count, the Buckeyes were burned for first down conversions 58% of the time when they had the Wildcats in third and long situations. Talk about a disaster. Couple that with a 50% conversion of third down and 5 yards or less, and the Buckeye defense gave the Wildcats way too many chances to stay in the football game.
Just in case anyone says ‘Tresselball' lost this game…
Take a look at the first down play calling for the Buckeyes. It was unbalanced, but it was not unbalanced running the football. This team did exactly what every pundit has been screaming for over the last 3 seasons.
Here are the OSU first down plays:
1. Pass intended - sack and loss of 5 yards
2. Run by Ross no gain.
3. Pass. Near interception.
4. Pass. Interference penalty called on Backes.
5. Pass to Roy Hall with 5 wide receiver set and no backs
6. Pass for 3 yards
7. Run by Ross (3 yards)
8. Pass to Holmes deep - Incomplete
9. Run Pittman (4 yards)
10. Run Pittman (5 yards)
11. Run Pittman (4 yards)
12. Pass and near interception
13. Designed pass. Zwick sacked, fumbles, and Northwestern recovers to score right before half.
14. Run by Ross (6 yards)
15. Pass incomplete to Nicol
16. Run by Ross (8 yards)
17. Run by Joe (1 yard)
18. Run by Ross - Touchdown
19. Pass - Incomplete
20. Pass intended but Justin Zwick scrambled 8 yards
21. Pass intended but Zwick scramble 11 yards
22. Pass to Holmes. Incomplete.
23. Run Pittman (5 yards)
24. Pass. Incomplete
25. Run Pittman (3 yards)
26. Run Pittman (-3 yards) inside 5-yard line.
27. Pass intended but Zwick scrambled.
28. Pass intended but Zwick scrambled.
29. Pass thrown incomplete into the turf.
30. Touchdown pass thrown to Holmes.
31. Pass incomplete. Bomb to Holmes nearly caught but dropped. The defensive back grabbed Holmes' arm before the ball arrived.
1. Run Pittman (3 yards)
By my count there were 19 plays that were a pass on 1st down and only 12 rushing...
Tresselball you say?
Not hardly. The real problem was the lack of execution and number of incompletions. Those are just as bad as running the ball up the gut and getting nothing and actually are a good deal worse. Fans and pundits may like them more, but the harsh reality is they put incredible pressure on a young defense. Why? The extra clock time left Northwestern's offense with more time on the field against the out-coached and overmatched Ohio State defenders.
Before anyone says Tresselball… Part II
Buckeye fans are constantly screaming for Tressel to take the football and try to score with it right before the half with the clock running down. Tressel meanwhile has been known to tell his players to take a knee, go into the locker room and make adjustments.
If you have been to games in recent years – a couple of times the fans have even expressed their displeasure at these types of decisions.
Against Northwestern, Tressel chose to be aggressive. When Justin Zwick failed to secure the football, this backfired. Northwestern recovered the fumble and proceeded to use the field position to put three points on the scoreboard as time expired in the first half.
Without those three points the game likely never goes into overtime and the Buckeyes might have won.
The End of the Ross Era?
The insertion of Antonio Pittman in several crucial situations may mean changes are on the way unless Lydell Ross' performance improves. Pittman's yards per carry are higher by over a yard per touch right now, and one player said this week that Pittman provides a spark to the offense.
Unless something drastically changes, the Buckeyes might soon go to a rotation of the two with Pittman gaining more and more carries. Ross probably is the better back for goal line situations based on recent game performances, but one cannot argue with Pittman's results in other areas on the field.