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Friday, November 2, 2012

Beware the Pothole in Week 10

My house was recently hit by a big storm called a hurricane. You might have heard about it, it was on the news - not my house, the hurricane. A hurricane is a specific type of tropical cyclone. It is also the name for a very mediocre football team, which is bad news for the folks in Blacksburg. Hurricanes are dangerous because 1) they come with a lot of water and 2) they blow stuff around and generally make a mess. At our house, the hurricane knocked out one fence plank, one table leg, and pulverized a lawn chair. It made a mess, but in the end we were very lucky. We wish the best to all of those that were less fortunate.

You must now be asking what this has to do with Notre Dame? College football could be facing its own storm, a figurative storm that could really make a figurative mess of things. There are currently four teams that are clear-cut title contenders: the aforementioned, and too oft-mentioned, Notre Dame, Oregon, Kansas State, and Alabama. They each play a game this weekend. In each case there is a solid reason to believe they could lose. A loss or two would be very disruptive to the current landscape of 2012 college football season. I have nothing against any of these teams, but that would be awesome!

When looking for reasons they might lose, why the upcoming opponent might be an  axle-snapping pothole, the easiest of the four is Alabama at LSU. LSU is a really good team. Flawed, yes, but still very good. The Tigers are the 3rd highest rated defense, they are #2 at preventing explosive plays, and Les Miles has a knack for winning big games. The problem is that Alabama is better in almost every facet of the game, even the winning big games part, particularly when it comes to offensive production. The model likes Alabama by 15. I guarantee Alabama will double LSU's point total. Yeah, I'm fearless.

Number two on the list is Oregon at USC. The funny thing about this game is that USC was supposed to be the favorite, at least until real life got in the way and the two teams started playing games. Then USC lost to Stanford, who lost to Washington, who lost by 35 to Arizona, who lost by a gazillion to Oregon. The leading theory on USC's struggles is that Lane Kiffin is a moron, and while I can't refute that statistically, I would also point to the turnovers on 16.5% of possessions and 4.7 plays/possession. I'm no mathematician . . . well, actually I am a kind of mathematician . . . but even if I weren't a mathematician I could tell you those two stats add up to a lot of pain for USC against Oregon. The last thing you want to do against Oregon is give the ball back quickly after you get it. The model likes Oregon by 6. I'd take Oregon if they were giving Mitt Romney's tax rate. I'd take Oregon if they were giving MY tax rate (which is much, much higher).

Kansas State just got finished with Texas Tech and recently disposed of West Virginia and Oklahoma before that. If Kansas State had a tough game left on the schedule I might call the visit from Oklahoma State a potential trap situation. But trap games are a myth - on average teams do not play worse in games sandwiched between two tougher opponents - and Kansas State is not looking ahead to TCU or Baylor or Texas. Well, maybe Texas. Collin Klein and crew might be licking their chops for that game. I hitched my wagon to the K-State train a while ago and I'm not getting off now: Kansas State has the most efficient offense in the country, better than Oregon's. The model likes them by 14 and that seems fair to me.

Finally, Pitt and Notre Dame will play a fine game of football. Notre Dame will win this football game because they are much, much better at football. If other factors were more important - luck, number of coaches over the past 23 months, number of seasons not coached by Charlie Weis, etc., Pitt might have a solid chance of winning. They don't. Pitt does one thing well - complete passes. Notre Dame does one thing less spectacularly on defense - allow completions. But no team has ever been completed to death. Notre Dame stays undefeated for another week.

I think the college football landscape will fare better this weekend than my plastic lawn set.

I have a bit more faith in a couple other teams looking to pull off an upset this weekend. Georgia appears to have won the SEC East by beating Florida last Saturday. The Bulldogs just need to beat Ole Miss and Auburn to lock up the top spot. Auburn is terrible, but Ole Miss is better than most people think: they have the 31st best power rating, the third best team Georgia will face in the regular season, and they gave Alabama their toughest game to date (-19 points). Granted, "not so bad" doesn't win football games against good teams. But Ole Miss should be able to score points so if Georgia stumbles out of the gate offensively - and as they've done against the two top teams they've played so far - Ole Miss will be able to apply some psychological pressure early. I'm not taking Ole Miss or even Ole Miss and the points, but I think Ole Miss has a better chance of pulling off the win than you might think, for what that's worth.

And Ohio State will host Illinois this weekend . . . I'm joking. Illinois is terrible. Illinois is worse than Auburn.

Speaking of terrible teams, I close with a quick note on Tulane. To start the season, Tulane was one of the worst teams in the history of the world, and given that I am a cruel, cruel person and a bully, they were a running, semi-weekly punchline for me. That changed a few weeks ago when Tulane beat SMU. Now, our Green Wave have won two of their last three. They have moved out of the basement in every major offensive statistic (including rushing yards per game!!) except rushing efficiency. This is not to say that they are at all good, they are still very, very bad at football, just a celebration of the fact that someone else is worse (and that's Memphis. Memphis is just awful.)


  1. Nice Post. I'm hoping for any of those aforementioned teams other than Oregon to lose. The pac-12 just doesn't get the BCS respect.

    1. As I'm writing this ND is going to OT against Pitt. It'll be interesting to see what happens there. No way Oregon loses in my mind, but I can't say I agree that the Pac-12 doesn't get BCS respect. Where's the evidence?