Timeout: A look around the FBS

Photo courtesy of Scott Stuart

Now that we are a few weeks into the college football season and have seen a nice variety of games, here are some of my thoughts on the current landscape.

1. It’s better to lose early rather than late. The Jackets’ loss to Notre Dame this past weekend dropped them from 14th to 20th in the AP Poll, while the Irish’s win bumped them up to sixth. Since it is only the start of the fourth week, the Jackets have plenty of time to climb back towards the top and will still play plenty of highly-ranked foes along the way. As long as the team takes care of business in the rest of its games, this one-possession loss on the road to a very highly ranked team should not hurt them.

2. Ohio State is not looking like a No. 1 team. After their Week One drubbing of Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes have looked very beatable. They struggled to score for three quarters against Hawaii the following week, and they beat the Northern Illinois Huskies of the Mid-American Conference by only a touchdown last weekend. Starting quarterback Cardale Jones is completing just 57 percent of his passes and has been pulled from each of the past two games for J.T. Barrett. After committing five turnovers against the Huskies, the offense will have to clean up its act in order to have any chance at
the playoff.

3. The voters think a little too highly of Ole Miss. It seems like this happens every year: Alabama starts the year ranked near the top, and then when they lose they drop a few spots as the team that beats them skyrockets in the rankings. Ole Miss has certainly looked great, forcing five turnovers against the Tide and hanging 70 points each on their previous two opponents. However, maybe Alabama was simply ranked too highly to start, and Ole Miss took advantage of an offensively undisciplined team to squeak out the victory.

4. Poll inertia and SEC bias are both real, and it’s a potentially dangerous combination. Speaking of the Alabama-Ole Miss game, before the contest the teams were ranked No. 2 and No. 15 respectively, and now they are No. 12 and No. 3. The teams combined to jump two spots simply by playing each other. Also, the fact that Auburn was ranked at all (never mind at No. 18) after that embarrassing scare against FCS Jacksonville state is laughable, and the fact that they are still receiving votes after suffering a blowout loss to LSU shows how powerful preseason rankings can be. Any other team in any other conference that had the same outlook as Auburn at the beginning of the season would not have been ranked sixth, and their fall from grace would have been much swifter. Likewise, despite the fact that Stanford just beat USC, the Trojans are still ranked higher simply because they were ranked higher in the preseason. Finally, relating to SEC bias, Missouri should absolutely not be ranked after barely defeating bottom-feeders Connecticut and
Arkansas State.

5. Neither Florida State nor Clemson look particularly strong, and it is only a matter of time before one of them falters. Florida State played sloppily for much of their game against South Florida, and their offense only managed to score one touchdown at Boston College. Meanwhile, Clemson easily defeated Wofford and Appalachian State but needed to hold on to a three-point lead down the stretch against a bad, winless Louisville. The Tigers’ next two games are against Notre Dame and the Jackets, so we will have a much better understanding about the caliber of this team soon enough.

6. Northwestern is a legitimate dark horse this season. They are currently ranked No. 17 with a win over No. 21 Stanford in week one and Duke this past weekend. Their stymieing defense is ranked first in the nation, surrendering just 5.3 points per game, and their 235 yards per game ranks No. 6. Expect this academic force to show its athletic prowess and make its first bowl game since 2012 easily. Finally, since they avoid both Big Ten powerhouses Ohio State and Michigan State on their schedule, they may even earn a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl.

7. It is very important to have a good kicker. My deepest sympathies are with Texas’s junior kicker Nick Rose. The Longhorns mounted an electric 20-point comeback in the fourth quarter against California on Saturday, only to lose the game 45-44 when Rose missed the game-tying extra point with just over a minute to go. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Harrison Butker’s “The Kick” forever cemented his legacy in Tech’s rivalry with Georgia and in the minds and hearts of Tech’s fans. Too often it seems like special teams play is often ignored or diminished in the minds of fans compared to the offense and defense. Even coaches at the FBS level are reluctant to spend a scholarship on a kicker, considering them easily replaceable. Hopefully the Longhorns game should prove once again just how important it is to recruit and develop talent on the special teams squad: no matter how well the rest of the team plays. A great deal of games are ultimately decided by the kicker.