The Sweep: Week Three

The Sweep previews one of the best weeks this college football season. Read on for our Top 25, seven thoughts across college football, and who "The Sweep" likes in this week's biggest games. Ohio State's a double-digit underdog; can they pull a Stanford and shock the Trojans?

Week 3 Poll

1. Oklahoma (Change: +1)
2. USC (Change: +1)
3. Florida (Change: +1)
4. Georgia (Change: +2)
5. Ohio State (Change: -4)
6. Missouri (Change: +1)
7. Texas Tech (Change: +1)
8. LSU (Change: +1)
9. Auburn (Change: +2)
10. Texas  (Change: +2)
11. Penn State (Change: +2)
12. Wisconsin (Change: +2)
13. USF (Change: -3)
14. Alabama (Change: +1)
15. Cal (Change: +2)
16. Utah (Change: +0)
17. Clemson (Change: +1)
18. West Virginia (Change: -13)
19. Oregon (Change: +2)
20. BYU (Change: 0)
21. Virginia Tech (Change: +1)
22. Kansas (Change: +1)
23. Arizona State (Change: +1)
24. East Carolina (Change: +2)
25. Wake Forest (Change: 0)

Added: East Carolina
Dropped: Notre Dame (Last week: No. 19)

Poll justifications and second-person psychoanalysis of football teams:
Ohio State, that was some real, classic Tresselball.  I love it. Make it really interesting until the fourth quarter and then realize that you're a whole lot better than the Ohio Bobcats.  That doesn't happen to a No. 1 team in the nation.  Then again, Ohio State isn't the No. 1 team in the nation without Beanie Wells, who was out for Ohio and is questionable for USC. However, OSU won half its games by a touchdown or less en route to the 2002 national title, including, memorably, a 10-6 barnburner over Purdue. ("Caught,  Jenkins! Michael Jenkins!") It's the Tressel way, for better or worse.

West Virginia, that was some performance against East Carolina.  I never thought I'd see an offense with Pat White and Noel Devine score only three points against a non-BCS opponent, even if they are the BCS-crasher of the week.  East Carolina, welcome to the poll, and for more on West Virginia's brain-fart, see below.

I'd like to include Penn State in the top ten, but I just don't have room.  Still, I'd like to recognize how impressive they've been in the last two weeks.  I've almost, almost forgotten about Anthony Morelli.  Seriously, how did he start the last two years?  And why did it take Galen Hall two years to think of the "Spread HD?" Bonus points to Penn State for my PSU alum friend lending me his "Rudy Sucks" tee shirt just in time for Michigan-Notre Dame.

Speaking of Notre Dame, you won purely because of the luck of the Irish. No other reason.  San Diego State took you to the wire, and the Aztecs put up similar stats against you and Week One opponent Cal Poly. SDSU coach Chuck Long wasn't sure which team was tougher, which means you're out of the top 25. We have more on Notre Dame below too. 

Finally, I have East Carolina at No. 24, lower than just about anyone else.  Yes, you have two nice wins, and strung them back-to-back for bonus points.  And, surely, these are big, program defining wins.  However, there's still plenty of time left in the season for a sloppy loss to a Memphis or some other middling Conference USA team.  Dominate your conference for a few weeks like a top-15 opponent would, and we can talk about moving you up the polls.  Right now you're too trendy for me. The Pirates could finish 10-2, or they could finish 6-6; I'm just not sure.


The Magnificent Seven – Seven Thoughts from College Football Nation:

1. System of a down:
2005 – 1761 yards, 3.9 yards per carry.  2006 – 2240 yards, 4.7 YPC. 2007 – 2602 yards, 5.3 YPC.  2008, through two games – 5.3 YPC.
These represent the total rushing yards per year and yards per carry under Urban Meyer.  Notice that these numbers have improved every year, as Meyer installed his system and his QBs had a chance to gain experience in his complicated spread attack.  So far this year, however, Florida is averaging the same yards per carry as 2007. Admittedly, it's hard to extrapolate based on just two 2008 games, but Florida's rushing average should only decrease as its schedule toughens, and the Gators have better running back talent now than in previous years, so they should be running better than last year, not even. Maybe we're seeing the peak of the spread?
Much has been made of Florida's inability to find an "every-down" back.  However, no such back was available during Meyer's time at Utah. (No single player rushed for over 1,000 yards during the BCS-busting year of 2004. But there were three in the 600-800 yard range, including QB Alex Smith).  2008 represents the sixth year of Urban Meyer's offense and its fourth year in the SEC, ample time for Meyer to recruit the players he wants in his offense.  So,  I don't mean to say that the spread isn't capable of producing powerful running games (see West Virginia with Steve Slaton and Pat White).  What I am saying though, is that defenses have adjusted over the last five years, getting slimmer and quicker, and so the spread, and running out of it, may have hit its heyday a year or two ago.
I don't care what your offense is, if you can't run out of it, it's not going to win you football games. The spread, to my eyes, is in danger of heading down that route. Plus, Meyer's version of the spread appears to be more of a West-Coast/controlled-passing offense, which inherently limits rushing effectiveness even further. Look, most teams would die for 5.3 yards per carry, so call me a contrarian, but I'm seeing the tip of the iceberg on the horizon.

2. If it ain't broke, don't fix it:
Ever since the departure of Rich Rodriguez (blessed be his name) and the beatdown of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, West Virginia doesn't seem to have made the right choices, especially when they have been obvious. First, there was the impulsive hiring of Bill Stewart.  Next, they decided to tinker with an offense that ran over, around, and through Oklahoma's vaunted, Stoops-coached defense, to the tune of 48 points. In that game, Pat White seemed in complete command of the offense, leading it to home-run after home-run during the second half.  Why change it?
Stewart decided to add more motion and passing to the attack, which worked fine against Villanova, who only belongs in the Big East for hardwood-related purposes.  This weekend though, it seems like White relied too much on the pass and lost his ability to run, which makes that offense go.  Where was the crisp spread option that put the White-led Mountaineers on the map a few years ago?  What was the real motivation to adjust an offense that needed no such thing?

3. Meta-celebrations:
Under the new communistic regulations, could BYU be penalized for celebrating Washington's celebration that resulted in a 15-yard, game-deciding celebration penalty? That is the question I am wondering now.  Will the NCAA be implementing thought police to judge the intent of a celebration?  A penalty call, such as a celebration penalty, should never, ever decide a game.  This penalty could actually decide more than just one more loss for the Herculean Jake Locker and his floundering Huskies.  Yes, add one more nail into the coffin of the Willingham era in Seattle.  How's that for unforeseen consequences, NCAA Rules Committee? 

4. Catch me lucky charms:
In South Bend on Saturday, Notre Dame was oh-so-close to losing to one of the FBS's worst teams, nearly falling behind 20-7.  I believe this will really be the season that determines if Big Ol' Charlie is an actual coach or a talented offensive schemer who cannot effectively develop players to fit his system.  So far, from the first game, this version of the Irish looks marginally better than last year's, which was a "football team" in name only.  This year will show whether Weis can teach fundamentals and mentor to the coiffed Jimmy Clausen, instead of just being the football equivalent of that math professor you had in college: brilliant, but completely unable to communicate that brilliance in any helpful matter.

5. Know your role:
I've been pretty grouchy so far.  (You try a 20-minute bike ride in Atlanta's 90-degree heat and humidity… sweating profusely… in a suit… to a job fair.) So let's highlight something positive from this past weekend.  I really enjoy seeing a veteran QB do exactly what he's supposed to do.  This weekend, Wake Forest's Riley Skinner and Florida's Tim Tebow both found themselves in tight games during the final quarter.  As veteran QBs, they knew their exact role in this situation: find a way and lead the team to victory, whatever it takes. They know the offense, they have a better understanding of the pace and speed of the game, and they should feel confident enough to make all of their teammates better as well.
Far too often then, I feel disappointed when I watch a two- or three-year starting QB take over a fourth quarter drive, only to see it stall.  But both of these players exhibited poise, control and confidence in leading their teams down the field.  Tebow helped break open a tight game in the fourth and, in the best game you didn't see this weekend, Skinner led a last-minute drive down the field to put the team in field goal range.  Both were rewarded with victories. In my opinion, that makes for great football. 

6. DNR Order:
As in Do Not Resucitate, as in which coach has vital signs somewhere between critically and legally brain dead?  Week Two just passed and I think it's time to start the coach death watch list, as we've already seen some incredibly poor performances by teams that should be demonstrating some growth and improvement.

Greg Robinson and Syracuse lost again, this time to the mighty Akron Zips.  (Wait a minute and listen closely. You might hear them lose another game.) If he isn't fired by week eight, I can only conclude that the Syracuse athletic department enjoys failure.
Status: Flat-line, prepare for organ harvesting. 

I already elaborated on Ty Willingham , who got unlucky big-time.  Coming up just short against BCS-buster BYU is a big opportunity that slipped by. The Seattle Times series over the summer might pressure the administration to keep Willingham, a noted disciplinarian and "does things the right way" coach, but at some point, you have to win some games too.
Status: Pull the plug, we can't bring him back.

Finally, week one's most notable loss occurred at Pittsburgh.  Though Pitt did beat Buffalo this past week, I'm sure the final score will not please Panther fans nor inspire confidence in Dave Wannstedt .
Status: Shock administered, analyzing heart rhythm. 

7. Now, bring me that horizon:
Saturday looks like it's going to be one of those days when you can start your day at 7 a.m. PT with the always enjoyable College Gameday and sit there through the end of the evening games, just soaking up the blessings bestowed upon us by the scheduling gods.  This weekend features the best slate of intersectional matchups I've seen in a while.  Kansas at South Florida Friday night, and then for the main course, Oregon at Purdue, Michigan at Notre Dame, UCLA at BYU, and of course Ohio State at USC.  We also get NC State at Clemson and Georgia at South Carolina in some early conference play.  I'm interested in seeing how Clemson rebounds from the Onslaught in Atlanta and if NC State will manage to score this season against a FBS opponent, after striking out against South Carolina.
Finally, Ohio State is playing USC in L.A.  Just thought I'd mention that.  The decade's two best coaches, and two best teams, overflowing with talent and passion.  Even if Beanie Wells isn't available, you know Ohio State will still force a close, exciting game.  Can we bring vintage Keith Jackson back for this one?

And finally, it's "The Sweep's" weekly picks, or what we like to call…


Stick to your day job:

Last week: Well, I got Penn State versus Oregon State right. Called 45-20, saw 45-14. Outright whiffed on East Carolina, which meant the week came down to Miami +21 against Florida. Florida led by 20, only for Urban Meyer's last-second field goal to saddle "The Sweep" with a losing record. Tough business this is. Mighty suspicious, by the way, kicking a field goal with seconds left that just happens to cover the spread…

1. Kansas (+3.5) at South Florida
These are two of the best defensive teams in the country, so the 3.5 is like a six-point spread. South Florida's better, but after losing two corners in the NFL Draft's first round this past April, I have to hedge my bets here.
South Florida 24, Kansas 21 (OT)

2. Wisconsin (-2) at Fresno State
This isn't David Carr's Fresno State anymore. Wisconsin is a proven top-20 team year-in and year-out, whereas with Fresno State, one year it's flirting with a perfect season and the next it's 7-5 in the WAC. I'm going with the tortoise over the hare, big. Wisconsin wears down Fresno in the trenches.
Wisconsin 41, Fresno State 21

3. Ohio State (+11.5) at USC
The spread was about a field goal coming into the season, but USC looking amazing, Ohio State looking pedestrian and Beanie Wells looking injured have each pushed the margin up a couple of points. USC averages 40 points per game, and if they're winning, there's pretty good odds they'll cover the 11.5 points. So I'm calling for USC pretty easily, but if the visiting Buckeyes can hang around for a few quarters and force the game to the wire, I still think veteran Ohio State finds a way.
USC 31, Ohio State 17

Season: 2-1 straight-up, 1-2 vs. the spread


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