5 Things I Think – Going into Week 6

FootballI’d like to offer my sincerest apologies to MOTSAG readers for missing Week 5. It was an exciting week of games, and the aftermath was just as intriguing. Connecticut head coach Paul Pasqualoni was fired after his 28th game leading the Huskies (with a mere 35% winning percentage). This season the Huskies are 0-4 that includes losses to an FCS school, albeit a top ten one (Towson), and Buffalo. It’s a tough school at which to succeed in football and that only got tougher with the expansion of their conference from eight teams to ten, and soon to be fourteen teams. USC head coach Lane Kiffin was fired during a late-night discussion at the airport following the loss to Arizona State in which the Sun Devils put 62 points on the scoreboard against the Trojans. AD Pat Haden, who has been adamant about Kiffin’s job security all season, apparently couldn’t bear it anymore. The one thing the Trojans were doing well this season was play defense and perhaps when he saw that 62 in lights, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back (Hump Day!) for Haden. The worst thing that happened to Kiffin at USC was winning 10 games in his second season despite the NCAA sanctions that came down on the program six months after he was hired because of the Reggie Bush fiasco. That made it look like he could be successful regardless of these scholarship sanctions when in fact, he had a roster still filled with talent, so they hadn’t really hit him yet. Against the Sun Devils, the Trojans only had 56 scholarship players, and while that’s not an excuse, it’s not a cause for comfort either. The Kiffin-haters loved this dismissal just as much as they’ll hate it the next time he’s hired somewhere.

Texas’ Athletic Director announced this week that he’s retiring effective August of 2014. His name, DeLoss Dodds, has never seemed as appropriate to me as it has this season. It’s a season filled with turmoil and demands for Mack Brown’s dismissal due to the Longhorns’ underachieving thus far. What is it about his name that seems appropriate? If you say his name real fast, it kind of sounds like “The Lost Odds”, doesn’t it? That phrase sums up the storyline perfectly so far, I think. I don’t think Mack Brown will be back next season, as I don’t think the Longhorns can win the Big 12 or even survive it with a winning conference record. If you missed last night’s game against Iowa State, a game Texas barely won, you missed an action-packed game. Additionally, I think Kiffin’s early-season firing was predicated on the idea of getting a head start on the Longhorns in terms of a search for a replacement. When’s the last time two programs of this caliber had coaching vacancies? I can’t remember it happening in my time as a football fan. The season is heating up both on and off the field, so let’s go ahead and jump into Week 6!

1. #25 Maryland at #8 Florida State (11am CST ESPN): The Terrapins, despite their taste in helmet decor, are looking good so far this season. They’re undefeated and have already won as many games as they did last season. If you’ll remember, Randy Edsell’s team finished the season last year having to start a linebacker (Shawn Petty) at quarterback due to the injuries that piled up at the position. Petty didn’t have a chance anyway as the Terrapins finished their season against Georgia Tech, at Clemson, Florida State, and at North Carolina. This season there is some stability behind center as C.J. Brown is completing 67% of his passes, averaging 10.5 yards per attempt, and has thrown seven touchdowns versus only one interception. They’re coming off a bye week after beating West Virginia (did you see the Mountaineers against Oklahoma State?) 37-0. Florida State, led by freshman phenom “Famous” Jameis Winston at quarterback, hasn’t really been tested yet this season although I was surprised that Boston College was able to put 34 points on the board against them last week. The Seminoles are third in the nation in points scored per game (51.3), behind Baylor (69.7) and Oregon (59.8), but will they be able to put up those kind of numbers against the Terrapins? They will certainly be tested given that Maryland is third in the nation in points allowed per game (10.3). Tallahassee is a tough place to play and I don’t know if Randy Edsell’s team is ready. The Terrapins are only allowing 98.5 yards rushing per game but they haven’t faced a backfield this deep. Wilder Jr., Devonta Green, recently converted safety Karlos Williams, and of course, the aforementioned Winston will be tough for the Terrapins to handle for 60 minutes. I think this game might start out close as they feel each other out, but I think as the game progresses FSU’s athleticism will be too much and they’ll pull away. FSU wins handily.

2. TCU at #11 Oklahoma (6pm CST Fox): Last week Oklahoma was finally tested and they took down Notre Dame by a couple of touchdowns. Blake Bell showed that he could throw the ball, which is something about which I think we were all dubious. I’m interested to see how the Sooners do against a pretty strong defense, especially against the run The Horned Frogs are only allowing 115 yards per game while Oklahoma has the 17th-best rushing attack in the country at 257 yards per game. The Sooners are averaging 48 rushing plays per game so these two forces are bound to battle and I think it could come down to Bell’s passing skills. TCU is tied for fifth in the country in interceptions gained, with nine in just four games played, so I don’t know how that will affect Bell’s comfort level in the pocket. On the other side of the ball, TCU is 65th in the nation in scoring offense and Oklahoma is only allowing 12 points per game. The Horned Frogs are a shocking 106th in the nation in third down conversions (31.48%) and Oklahoma is tied for 15th in the nation defending third downs (allowing only 28.57% to be converted). If they are going to struggle that much on third down this Saturday, and give the Sooners extra possessions, they’re going to need to cause some turnovers and excel in the return game. TCU is excellent at returning kickoffs as they are fifth in the nation in returns of at least 30+ yards and there’s a chance they may get several opportunities to improve upon that number with Oklahoma getting extra possessions. I actually think TCU has a chance to keep this game close if they can get their running game going and convert a few third downs. I also think that this may be a classic trap game for Oklahoma as they may very well be looking ahead at the Red River Rivalry (against Texas) in Week 7. Oklahoma still wins.

3. #4 Ohio State at #16 Northwestern (7pm CST ABC): College GameDay is in Evanston this week and this is probably the biggest game Northwestern’s played in since 1995 when the Wildcats won the Big Ten title and went to Rose Bowl (where they lost to USC). Current head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who will surely be a highly considered candidate for the USC and Texas openings, was a linebacker on that squad. The Wildcats are coming off a bye week that was perfectly placed in their schedule. Not only are they fresh and get to play a Buckeyes team that just came off a brutal game against the Badgers, but it allowed a little more time for their star running back, Venric Mark, to become healthy enough to play. Mark was hurt during the Wildcats’ Week 1 game against California and hasn’t played since. His replacement, Treyvon Green, hasn’t exactly played poorly in his place though. Green is averaging 6.85 yards per carry and over 100 yards per game since he’s taken over, so just because Mark is back, don’t expect Green to disappear from the game plan. What causes a lot of teams problems, and I’m sure this week will be no different, is the Wildcats’ quarterback duo of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. They’re both good passers and good runners. Colter can do a little bit of everything. In 2012, he caught 16 passes as a receiver, and in 2011, he caught 43 of them. They are often on the field at the same time, which, this year, usually means either a running play or some kind of play-action. However, don’t be surprised if Colter resurrects his times lining up as a wideout in attempt to throw off the defense a little. The Buckeyes lost their defensive leader, Christian Bryant, for the season last week on the second-to-last play against Wisconsin. Urban Meyer has stressed all week what an integral part Bryant played for the defense and that someone will need to step up and fill that role. In addition to his leadership role, Bryant was third on the team in tackles. This is the second real test for the Buckeyes and this time they don’t get the luxury of playing in front of their home crowd. I think the key will be the running game for the Buckeyes. Northwestern is only allowing 119 yards rushing, but they haven’t really played a run-heavy team so that number may be a little misleading. I don’t like applying the transitive property to football projections but the only team Northwestern and Ohio State have in common is California. NU beat them by 14 and TOSU beat them by 18. That could mean that these two teams are somewhat evenly matched (at least against high-powered offenses with weak defenses) and then the home team generally gets three points. That puts TOSU winning by one. It’s not exactly scientific, but this fan will take it. The only thing that gives me a little pause, and I’m not usually superstitious, is that my favorite athlete of all time is Michael Jordan, and his statue outside the United Center in Chicago was photographed wearing a Northwestern jersey this week. Buckeyes win, Buckeyes win, but I’ll be nervous until the clock strikes triple zero.

4. West Virginia at #17 Baylor (7pm CST Fox Sports 1): Do you remember that 70-63 battle between these two teams last year during which West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith threw for 8 touchdowns and a mere 6 incomplete passes? Yeah, well don’t expect that to happen this time around. Last week was the first time we’ve seen life out of the Mountaineers. They beat William & Mary by a mere 7 points to start the season and then were shutout and beat by 37 by Maryland. Yet last week, they held Oklahoma State to 21 points and walked away victors. Dana Holgerson finally decided to start Clint Trickett, the transfer from Florida State who was stuck behind EJ Manual (and left because of the emergence of the aforementioned phenom in Tallahassee), at quarterback and suddenly the Mountaineers looked respectable. He didn’t blow up the stat sheet as he only completed 48% of his passes and threw just one touchdown versus two interceptions, but he seemed to inspire confidence in his team and had them believing they could win that game. Baylor, on the other hand, is blowing up stat sheet after stat sheet. The Bears are averaging an astonishing 751 yards per game and 9.84 yards per play. Consider this for a second: Baylor has only played in three games (they’ve already had two bye weeks) and only 19 teams in the country have more total yards than the Bears. Granted, they haven’t really played anyone worth mentioning yet, as the best team they’ve played is probably a toss-up between Wofford (the #17 team in FCS) and Louisiana-Monroe. What we can say is that just like last year when everyone thought coach Art Briles was going to miss RGIII and he ended up being fine as Nick Florence outgaining him in total yards, it doesn’t look like Briles won’t miss Florence much either with the emergence of Bryce Petty. Petty hasn’t run as often as RGIII and Florence did, but then, he hasn’t had to either. Petty already has 1001 yards passing and only has 17 incomplete passes thrown. I’ll be honest, last week I thought Oklahoma State might put 70 points on West Virginia and that didn’t happen at all. I’m not going to say Baylor will put up 70 on the Mountaineers this week (even though they are averaging 69.7 points), but I feel comfortable saying they’ll put 50 on them and I don’t see West Virginia being able to do that even if Trickett is finished shaking off his rust. Baylor wins.

5. #15 Washington at #5 Stanford (9:30pm CST ESPN): I encourage everyone to stay up and watch this game. Going into the season the common thinking was that Stanford wouldn’t be tested until Week 10 when it hosts the Oregon Ducks, but that is not the case. Washington finally appears to be what a lot of us were expecting them to be two years ago behind quarterback Keith Price. They started the season off with a big win over Boise State without their star tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. They are undefeated and have won every game by at least 18 points. They held Arizona, a team averaging over 40 points per game going into their game, to just 13 points (despite the Wildcats running 86 plays). I’ve liked Price for a few years now and it’s taken awhile but he’s finally starting to look like the quarterback I thought he’d be. Almost more impressive is running back Bishop Sankey who is leading the nation in yards per game. He’s not a threat as a receiver out of the backfield (he only has four receptions on the year), which could be valuable against an attacking front four like Stanford’s, but he’s an excellent blocker. The Cardinal has no one who can defend Sefarian-Jenkins one on one so expect him to get chipped coming off the line to slow him down a bit. In the Huskies passing game, keep an eye out for junior wide receiver Kasen Williams, as I expect him to lead them in receiving this weekend. He’s a good route runner and is excellent at finding the soft spot in a zone. The problem for the Huskies lies on the defensive side of the ball, however. The Cardinal probably have the best offensive line in the country and offensively they’re so diverse that game planning is very difficult. Would you believe me if I told you that Stanford isn’t in the top 30 nationally in either passing or rushing yards per game? It’s true. However, the Cardinal convert 57% of their third downs, only commit 4.8 penalties per game, and have only turned the ball over 5 times in four games. They can run it with Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson and then in the passing game, they’ve gone away what we’ve grown accustomed to these last few years. Tight ends have only caught three passes this season while wide receivers Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste have over half of the Cardinal receptions. To be fair, Cajuste is built like a tight end and was recruited to play as one. However, when they saw this kid run and his vertical jump, they agreed to his request to play outside the seams. Washington is on the rise, and I definitely have Stanford on upset alert Saturday night because I think the Huskies will make it much closer than people think, but will they pull off a win? Not quite, the Cardinal win.

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