Babb Bits

What's up with Wisconsin being rated below one-loss California? Charles Babb says something stinks in the national ratings. Also, was Maurice Clarett a better freshman back than Adrian Peterson? Charles discusses that and more in today's Babb Bits.

Peterson and Clarett comparisons

Ok. Let's get this straight. Comparing Maurice Clarett and any other freshman tailback in the last twenty years outside of Hershel Walker from Georgia is a load of bunk. This is not because Clarett was from Ohio State and this Web site covers Ohio State. That notion could not be farther from the truth.

The main reason why Clarett was twice the back as Adrian Peterson during their freshman seasons is because Clarett was a complete back. For those touting the superiority of Peterson, exhibit number one should be to force them to watch the Texas Tech game, where Clarett made his first start as a true freshman. There they are – the Buckeyes – lined up on a goal line situation, and what is this freshman doing? Is he trying to remember his assignments? Is he thinking, "I hope I don't mess up!" Is he thinking, "Now which way does this play go?" Nope. Clarett was standing there counting all the players to make sure that the offense has enough men on the field.

Clarett was a better blocker and receiver than Peterson at this point in their respective careers. While Peterson was being brought along slowly because he could not yet pick up blitzes or run inside effectively the first half of the season, Clarett blocked better than a fullback, knew the entire offense, and made his living grinding out carries in the middle of the line in his very first game. Oklahoma took Peterson out of the game when they wanted to score a touchdown against Texas since he was struggling to get to the end zone. Clarett, meanwhile, was money once you put him inside the 10-yard line. He simply found a way to score the touchdown. When his quarterback was in trouble, it was Clarett who was available to catch the football, move the chains, and save the day for the offense, in contrast to Peterson – who is great at running the ball but is not known as a threat without the ball in his hands.

The second reason is that Peterson is in a much more balanced offense. Unlike Clarett, he does not have a green offensive line with a first year starter at quarterback – he has a Heisman winning quarterback with three seniors and five returning starters up front. Unlike Clarett, teams are not able to simply key on Peterson running the football, but must instead seek to stop Jason White and his bevy of talented receivers first and hope Peterson does not get loose to win the game. Unlike Clarett, Peterson has not had to carry the offense and be banged up to where he is physically less effective.

And as for the Heisman talk? Just as Clarett was not deserving in 2002, neither is Peterson in 2004. The best player in the nation is Reggie Bush of USC. He dominates wherever he is lined up and has single-handedly won multiple games for the Trojans.

Having said all of that, please understand one other item…

In the long run, Peterson is a better back than Clarett and will be deserving of legitimate Heisman consideration. He is not better this year, but barring an injury, his sophomore season should be phenomenal. He is exactly what his high school coach described to me over the phone two years ago: "Eddie George with more speed." He is a phenomenal talent with an incredible future ahead of him. Even better, perhaps, is his attitude. Instead of allowing the attention and accolades to get to him, Peterson has maintained a humble attitude and puts his team first.

For all the talk of the improved Buckeye offense…

The real tests are still to come.

The Ohio State rushing attack has improved, yes, but it is still not consistently gaining enough yardage to win football games on its own. Head coach Jim Tressel might have pulled down the football a bit after staking a 14-0 lead against a Penn State team that has struggled mightily this season, but even so… The Buckeyes continued to implode (see the Pittman or Smith fumbles) when given chances to put the game away.

The Buckeye offense hit rock bottom when they had to face Wisconsin, Iowa, and NC State over a four game period. Those are some solid defenses. The defensive lines of those three opponents – Wisconsin and NC State in particular – are just brutal. They have made mincemeat of quarterbacks all season and knocked several out of football games. Undoubtedly, this contributed to the loss of Justin Zwick to injury. By way of contrast, Penn State and Indiana are less than the brightest lights on the other side of the football. In fact, Indiana is woeful defensively and Penn State could not consistently pressure a quarterback if you gave them a running head start.

The offense is making progress. That much is clear. However, fans should believe it when Jim Tressel and other coaches say this unit has a long way to go.

Wisconsin and the Rankings.

It is getting old.

Seemingly every time the Big Ten fields a team that is not as sexy looking as perhaps the SEC, ACC, Big 12, or even Pac Ten (with the same or perhaps even better record) the Big Ten squad is ranked lower.

Pollsters use a variety of reasons and excuses to explain this dynamic, but the only thing consistent about the reasons given is their inconsistency. When Ohio State lost late to Michigan State in 1998 with a team some still consider to be the most talented unit in the conference that decade, the Buckeyes were dumped from title consideration. The rationale offered was that John Cooper's squad lost late and championship teams show in November. Yet when Oklahoma lost in the Big 12 Championship game by the largest margin ever by a No. 1 ranked team in 2003, pollsters said it was simply the case of an off night. Huh? The Sooners promptly made fools of these same pollsters by proving it was no fluke when LSU slapped them around for three quarters in the Sugar Bowl. When USC or OU or Miami struggle and allow high numbers of points defensively only to eke out a win with a late touchdown, then the offense is lauded for being "good enough to outscore opponents." Meanwhile, so far the Badgers of Wisconsin in 2004, the Buckeyes in 2002 and the Wolverines in 1997 didn't need to have a great offense to overcome defensive weaknesses.

The bottom line is that there truly is a poll bias. It is one that is pervasive, and it is getting pretty ridiculous. So what if a team's style is not quite as pretty as what the general media would like? So what if a team does not score 40 points a game?

The question is not how pretty they look but rather – how good are they?

Whether or not Wisconsin loses this week, the fact of the matter is that Wisconsin has dominated their opponents. They have no losses. To rank them below California is a joke.

If Wisconsin wins out and is somehow passed over in the rankings by a team with one loss? Look out. It will hit the fan in a big way. The Big Ten should be getting sick of it by now considering Michigan was forced to split its title in 1997, Ohio State was robbed of a chance to compete for a title in 1998 (and 1996), and the Nittany Lions were locked out of title contention in 1994 despite playing a tougher schedule than Nebraska…

Minnesota Collapses

This, like the pantheon of ugly faces Lloyd Carr makes at referees, is apparently becoming a yearly tradition in the Big Ten.

Since taking over in 1997, Mason's record in the first three games of the season compared to Big Ten play (and bowls when eligible) is:

Year

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

Pre-conference

2-2

3-0

3-0

2-1

2-1

4-0

4-0

3-0

Big Ten and Bowls

1-7

2-6

5-4

4-5

2-6

4-5

6-3

3-3

Mason fattens up the Gophers on a diet of cupcake teams so soft that even a toothless offense or defense can swallow them whole. This invariably raises hopes that Minnesota could be returning to the powerful teams of yesteryear.

Ever heard of fool's gold?

The reality is the same as that of West Virginia playing well in the Big East; they are not such a bad team, but their competition is simply atrocious. When Minnesota finally has to play a couple of opponents with more talent than a high school junior varsity squad, they fold.

Against the two teams considered the most powerful in the conference, Ohio State and Michigan, Minnesota has just one win in Mason's tenure. That win came against the Buckeyes in 2000 – the same year their head coach was fired for essentially losing control of the team as it suffered a meltdown.

In other words, it might not behoove fans of other schools to wish they had an offense or a defense or running backs or even a coach like the Gophers until waiting to see what happens in October and November instead of just August and September.

Mississippi Football

Overlooked by the majority of fans is that this small state plays some serious football. Despite a population that is smaller than the combined metropolitan area of Cincinnati and Columbus, they field three Division I-A football teams that in any given year might appear in the top 25.

Right now, Southern Mississippi has a 13-game winning streak in Conference USA. Maybe some would say this is not such a tough task, but I highly doubt they would like to see their favorite team be forced to play Louisville this year. Last year, Ole Miss finished 10-3 with a bowl victory against a very good Oklahoma State program. Though down at the moment, Mississippi State played in the SEC title game not that long ago and recently succeeded in upsetting a highly talented Florida Gators squad – costing Ron Zook his job.

There is talent to spare in Mississippi given the population size of this rural state.

If you don't believe it – just ask a few NFL players what they think of that Jerry Rice dude at wideout or that Brett Favre cat at quarterback.


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