The Sweep: Down goes USC, down goes USC!

Oregon State was no 41-point underdog, but it was still mighty shocking as the previously hapless Beavers shocked the Trojans. The Sweep has five thoughts on that game and a freshly updated poll. Plus, we link across the Internet to some college football comedy genius, and, last but not least, try to keep our hot streak going with our picks. Enjoy!

Week 5 Poll... post-Oregon State edition

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

Added:
Boise St., TCU, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado
Dropped: West Virginia, East Carolina, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Cal



Told you OSU would beat USC: Just thought it would be the Ohio State variety.

They say not to bury the lead, so here's five thoughts on the biggest game to-date this college football season...

1. How big a break was catching Oregon State in the season opener? USC ran for only 86 yards on Oregon State's front four. Just a month earlier, Stanford was north of 200 as the entire OSU front seven was starting for the very first time. If they keep this up in Corvallis, the November Oregon State will be 21-point favorites over their August bretheren.

2. I'm leaving USC pretty high because their 35-3 thrashing of Ohio State is still the best win anyone has posted all season, and I think the loss is reminiscent of their Stanford 2007 collapse, a fluke (well, more on that in a bit) in that it is not at all reflective of their talent level. Win out, USC, and it could be the 2004 season all over again -- you get Oklahoma for the national title, and some SEC team is hung out to dry because it suffers its one loss later than the Trojans do. I don't think anyone emerges from the SEC unscathed, so I do think USC's in the driver's seat if it wins out.

3. However, you've got to start questioning Pete Carroll's ability to psych his team up week in and week out. I think this could be the end of the beginning for Carroll's honeymoon period in L.A., because you only get so many mulligans before that aura of invincibility collapses.

USC has been able to defy rational limits on recruiting because of their success selling that aura. Playing for USC under Carroll was like playing for Miami 20 years ago or Notre Dame 40 years before that -- better to sit on the bench for Pete Carroll than start at any other Pac-10 school. Fads come and go quickly though (especially in L.A.) and once USC is no longer the hot thing, it'll be a self-fulfilling prophecy as the recruiting starts to crash back to Earth and the win totals inevitably do shortly after.

Don't get me wrong, we've been looking in vain for a USC collapse for four years now, and the Trojans have plenty of time to turn their season around. But, again, you can only lose to the bottom half of your conference so often before questions get raised. The Oklahomas or Floridas or Ohio States of this world aren't losing to Baylor or Mississippi State or Indiana every season.

4. Oregon State, by the way, owes a game ball to the NCAA Rules Committee for passing the new clock rules this past offseason that shorten games. I can't find the exact number, but I've read that teams are running five to ten fewer plays this year versus last. Over time, the better team will eventually assert its dominance on the scoreboard, so the shorter you make the games, the more upsets you can expect to see. Sure enough, last night, USC would have had a chance at a game-winning touchdown with another five or ten plays against Oregon State. I think the increased number of upsets is a huge, underrated positive to come out of these new clock rules.

5. I think the biggest winner Thursday night might have just been Penn State. Remember them? They clobbered Oregon State 45-14 on Sept. 6. Scary thing is, that's actually the closest game of the season for the 4-0 Nittany Lions. Wisconsin looked very human in a 13-10 clunker over Fresno State, Ohio State has proven itself eminently beatable, Illinois' defense is still in psychotherapy following the Missouri loss and Michigan will be really good... in two seasons. The odds of Penn State going 12-0 or 11-1 just skyrocketed in my eyes, and, therefore, so does their poll position. This weekend's tilt with Illinois will be very telling.

Elsewhere...

East Carolina, Fresno State... no way: A couple of pretenders here. Fresno State is in the big-boy poll at 25 -- for needing double overtime to beat Toledo? The Sweep is passing. Just like I called last week, East Carolina has started its slide to 8-4 after the gaudy season-opening wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia. They beat Tulane by five two weeks ago, and then, last week, lost in overtime to the same North Carolina State team that lost 37-0, yup 37-0, to South Carolina.

Wake Forest defies gravity:  One of the tenets of The Sweep (and, not incidentally, the algorithms that the wise guys in Vegas use) is that turnovers and other game-turning plays will decide games in the short term, but even out over the long run. The one statistic with the most sticking power, therefore, is not the final score (which is largely a function of luck), but the total yardage margin. It's the gravity of college football -- you can use a turnover or two to leap up into the air and steal a game or two, but if you're consistently getting outgained, you're going to come crashing down eventually.

Wake Forest was actually outgained in conference play the year it won the ACC (in a 9-6 thriller over Georgia Tech in the conference title game) and earned the right to get slaughtered in the BCS. I'd never before seen a team win its conference with a negative yardage margin and never have sence. That simply blew my mind, and as a result, I thought Wake was a flash in the pan. Well, Wake Forest held Florida State to 220 yards last Saturday, and you can't fake that. Clemson has the flashier offense, but Wake Forest has the best defense in the ACC. They have to be considered a co-favorite out on the (L)East Coast.

 

College football funhouse...

Throughout the decades, authors far more talented than I have written inspiring prose about the unique passion that is the groom to the bride that is college football. To me, the craziest part is that those Grantland Rices didn't even have the Internet.

As someone who gets a good 80 percent of his college football coverage over the Internet, let me say it is an absolute treasure trove for the passion surrounding this glorious sport. Plus, there's more analysis than you can wrap your mind around, as I've learnt more about the Xs and Os of this sport in a few years in front of my computer than I'll learn from a TV for the rest of my life. But, really, sports are supposed to be fun, and, here, nothing touches the Internet.

Maybe it's generational, as most of these bloggers are within ten years of me, but I've never laughed harder in my life than reading about college football on the 'Net. So without further ado, here are some of my favorite links from the blogosphere. And, fair warning, don't open these in front of the boss or the kids:

 

1. Pat Forde annoys me. Not personally, mind you. He seemed nice enough as we sat in the Lexington, Ky. media room at the 2007 NCAA Tournament and cheered together as VCU upset Duke. I've seen him at Stanford games since then, and I always do like his fashion sense -- he's the sharpest-dressed sportswriter I've ever seen. But his columns drive me up a wall. I could try to air my grievances, or I could let this Iowa blog do it a million times (1,000,000) better than I ever could. (Warning: raunchy.) Pure comedy gold.

 

2. For the next time that us Stanford fans get told that our academic model isn't all that special, what with Cal and Michigan and (insert whomever of Northwestern/Duke/Wake Forest/Notre Dame is doing decently this year) having good academics and football teams. Michigan DT Marquees Slocum posted this (again, warning: raunchy) R-rated quiz on his Facebook profile. He's no longer playing with the Wolverines, but his legacy will shine on forever. Stealing Bubbles kills me even now.

Bonus points to Marquees because of the Jim Harbaugh/Mike Hart "Michigan football players are academic jokes" spat. I'm a huge Michigan fan, but there's no argument here. Further bonus points because Stanford athletes are now lectured at about their online presence because of stories like this. 

 

3. Finally, the best national college football blog in the nation, edsbs.com (okay, it has a Florida and SEC slant, but us Booties should be pretty immune to that by now, and besides, the SEC is the absolute epicenter of the college football world right now) is a daily must-read for me and deserves a link all its own.

Their coup de grace, however, is the Fulmer Cup -- a mythical national title awarded to whichever team gets in the most trouble over the offseason (and named after Tennessee's unfortunate success in said competition over the years). Felonies, arrests, misdemeanors -- they all have specific point values, there's weekly "scoring" updates and police blotter with hilariously biting commentary, lively debate over the allocation of bonus points, and, best of all, a mythical national title, won this year by Alabama.

 

And finally, our picks section, also known as Don't Quit Your Day Job:

Last week: For the second straight week, the Sweep went 3-0, with Georgia, LSU and Wake Forest all winning easily. It's still early, but this is shaping up into a pretty strong season.3-0 straight-up, 3-0 against the spread.

Season:
7-2 against the spread, 8-1 straight-up


TCU (+17.5) at Oklahoma
Ugh, this is going to be the week that kills me, because I'd much rather have the week's three best games be pick'ems instead of these double-digit spreads implicitly asking, "Can TCU's second string get a garbage-time touchdown in the fourth quarter?" TCU's offense really didn't show me that much against Stanford, and I don't think Andy Dalton's going to be able to score enough against the Sooners here.
Oklahoma 40, TCU 13

Illinois (+13.5) at Penn State
Penn State hasn't played a team with a pulse, but they've won by 56, 31, 42 and 42 thus far this season. They get the benefit of the doubt against an Illinois team that's allowing 30 points per game.
Penn State 41, Illinois 21

Alabama (+6.5) at Georgia
The most naive mistake in sports betting is always going with the big favorite, but, hey, at least I know I'm a sucker. I really am not sold on Alabama. I called the East Carolina collapse last week, and this week, it's that time of the season where the SEC flavor du jour goes sour.
Georgia 21, Alabama 7


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