Most compelling story lines

October, 7, 2008

Here are this week's most compelling story lines:

  1. The Red River Revival: It's been four years since both Texas and Oklahoma were ranked in the top five for this showdown in Dallas. Still, for all the hype, keep in mind that last season's 28-21 OU win was the first time since 1997 that the game wasn't decided by double digits. Regardless of that detail, this one should be a blast. Both QBs are playing at an incredibly high level; Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford are prime contenders for the Heisman. Bradford is second nationally in pass efficiency at 204.97, and McCoy is fourth at 197.94.

  2. The most compelling subplot here: Just how much improved is Will Muschamp's Texas D? This is its first real test as statistical powers collide: OU's fourth-ranked scoring offense (50 points per game) versus Texas' fourth-ranked scoring defense (11 ppg). Bradford and a very experienced Sooners O-line will be challenged by a Texas team leading the nation in sacks (four per game).

    OU's defense also has been a pleasant surprise, as it has gone from surrendering 228 yards per game to giving up 159, thanks in part to the strong work of new starting corners Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson.

    Don't tune in late, because the first quarter will be pivotal. OU has been lethal coming out of the chute, ripping opponents 103-3 in the opening quarter behind its fast-break, no-huddle attack. The Dallas Morning News, with a stats assist from, determined Bradford has thrown eight of his 18 touchdown passes in the first quarter and 15 of his 35 completions in the quarter have been for at least 15 yards. However, Texas' defense has yet to allow a first-quarter touchdown this season.

  3. Slugfest in the SEC: The past two national champions meeting would seem to be top-story material, but Florida's loss to Ole Miss undercut some of the buzz of this game. Still, it should be must-see viewing when LSU comes to The Swamp. LSU has been a pleasant surprise, especially the stellar play of freshman QB Jarrett Lee and RB Charles Scott. The Tigers' win at Auburn was very impressive, although now that Auburn has slid some in terms of national perception, LSU still has its share of skeptics.

  4. Then again, so do the Gators. Their offense, which was expected to be devastating, has struggled at times. Injuries along the offensive line are part of that, but finding a consistent running threat to take some pressure off Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin has been a major concern. The LSU defense will serve as a great proving ground for the young Gators speedsters, who have been spectacular in games against Hawaii and Arkansas but not much of a factor in games against more physical competition.

    I think this game also affords Tebow a great chance to get back into the Heisman race. Some of my colleagues have written him off, and I just don't think you can do that, not after all he's already proven.

    Still, expect a lot to be made of Tebow's drop-off this season. The stats: He's gone from No. 2 in the nation last season in passing efficiency with a rating of 172 to No. 24 this season at 148. He's had a big slide in total offense. In 2007, he finished No. 10 with an average of 322 yards a game. He currently is No. 43 with 236 yards a game. Tebow also has sunk in passing yards, going from second in the SEC last year with an average of 253 yards a game to fourth this year with 205 yards a game.

    LSU defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois added an additional spark to this game by vowing that his linemates, if the opportunity presents itself, will try to knock Tebow out of the game.

    "If we get a good shot on [Tebow], we're going to try our best to take him out of the game," Jean-Francois said Monday, according to the Orlando Sentinel's Web site.

    A final point about this game, from a coaching perspective. Pat Dooley has a really good column on the perception of Les Miles:

    "If it was Steve Spurrier or Richt or Meyer making some of the calls Miles made a year ago and again this season against Auburn, they would be called "aggressive play-callers" or "riverboat gamblers." With Miles, those calls become head-scratchers."

    I agree 100 percent with Dooley's take. Miles is underrated and doesn't get the respect he deserves for a couple of reasons: (1) He is quirky, shooting more from the hip than a lot of other top coaches; and (2) He took over Nick Saban's program, and a lot of folks still believe he's won with Saban's players. Then again, some point out that Urban Meyer won with a starting lineup of mostly Ron Zook recruits.

  5. BCS Buster Ceiling: I enjoy the BCS buster angle, but my hunch is a lot of the talk will fade. Not because BYU, Utah, Boise and the others are going to lose in the next few weeks, but because a capping process is starting to take place. BYU, with its potent offense, got jumped by USC this week. This was after the Trojans blew out Oregon and the Cougars beat Utah State by three TDs. Would it have mattered if BYU had beat Utah State by 40 (and covered the point spread)? Probably not.

  6. I think we're at the point where pollsters have set their glass ceiling for a team that won't be facing other ranked teams on a semi-regular basis, meaning the Cougars are going to be jumped by one-loss teams after those teams knock off other top-25 teams. I'm not saying BYU will plummet to No. 16, but I doubt it will be higher than No. 9 by the end of the month.

  7. JoePa's Bunch Surging: Penn State has gotten everyone's attention now, and you have to respect how balanced this team is. The Nittany Lions' slick Spread HD attack, which had been averaging 50 points per game, struggled some in Saturday's 20-6 victory at Purdue, but the D, without any big names, really stepped up. One thing I've noticed is that whenever PSU has had one of its better teams in the past decade, some great pass-rushing DEs have emerged, whether it was Michael Haynes or Tamba Hali. This time, it's happening on the outside.

  8. As Bernard Fernandez writes, "What the Lions don't have is high-profile superstars like Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, Sean Lee and Tamba Hali, who have come to define the Penn State defense in recent years. Aaron Maybin, a redshirt sophomore defensive end who became a starter in the second game this season after Evans was suspended, has since emerged as the leader of the No-Names, registering a 5-yard sack of Painter that boosted his Big Ten-leading total to seven.

    'We basically tried to do what we've been doing since the beginning of the season -- rush the passer and eliminate the run,' Maybin said of Penn State's latest domination of the high-tech but physically underwhelming Purdue offense."

    This week's challenge is the power rushing game of Wisconsin. It's hard to predict what kind of mood the disappointing Badgers will be in coming off consecutive losses to Michigan and OSU.

  9. Kent State -- New Cradle of Coaches: Here's a cool nugget e-mailed in from blog reader Tony from Cleveland: Kent State is on top of this week's AP poll. All three top-ranked teams are coached by former Kent State assistants: No. 1 Oklahoma (Bob Stoops, 1988), No. 2. Alabama (Nick Saban, DB, 1970-73) and No. 3 Missouri (Gary Pinkel, TE, 1971-73).

Other former Kent State assistants or players include Lou Holtz and Dom Capers.


•Sure, Jeremy Maclin is great, but how about some praise for Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant? Jenni Carlson writes that Bryant is just as good as Maclin:

"The Oklahoma State receiver is every bit as good as his Missouri counterpart. Maclin is being hyped as a Heisman Trophy candidate while Bryant is being overlooked … Sure, Maclin is dynamic as a return man, having returned one kickoff for a touchdown, but Bryant is no less dangerous. He has taken two punts to the house. Chew on this -- Maclin is averaging 10.3 yards per punt return, Bryant 23.6."

My three cents: If I had my pick of the two, I'd take Maclin, but you can't go wrong with either guy.

•Dante Love, Ball State's terrific WR/return man, is making great progress in his rehab, Graham Watson reports.

Love suffered a cervical spine fracture and a spinal cord injury during the first quarter against Indiana on Sept. 20 and needed a five-hour surgery to stabilize the injury. A full recovery is anticipated, although it's unlikely he'll ever play football again.

"He's getting close, and hopefully Friday, he may get out of the rehabilitation center," coach Brady Hoke said. "He's making great strides, and everything's going real positive. I know he's getting after it three times a day down there and really making great progress."

When Love is released from his rehab center, he will return to Muncie, Ind., to continue his rehab in the athletic facilities at Ball State. Hoke said he won't be with the team this weekend, but having him at a home game down the road would not be out of the realm of possibility.

•If you're a big fan of recruiting or high school football, you have to check out the ESPN RISE Football Blog. One of the driving forces behind it is former Cal Bears wideout Brian Stumpf, who is as plugged into the high school scene as anyone I know.

•Is the SEC better than the Big 12? Longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution writer Tony Barnhart says it is and says it's because of the league's defenses.

I tend to agree with him. As I've said before, I've never seen a better group of quarterbacks playing in one league at the same time. Out of the NCAA's top 15 passers, seven come from the Big 12 (No. 2 Sam Bradford, No. 3 Zac Robinson, No. 4 Colt McCoy, No. 5 Chase Daniel, No. 10 Josh Freeman, No. 12 Graham Harrell and No. 14 Todd Reesing). All but Freeman (63 percent) and Harrell (67 percent) are completing more than 70 percent of their passes. That is unreal. Now would they be operating at such a high efficiency if they were facing SEC defenses every week? Maybe not. Although it is worth noting that the SEC got involved in league play a little sooner than the Big 12, so the QB numbers are likely to dip a little.

The highest-ranked SEC passer is Tim Tebow at No. 24, and he is connecting on 62 percent of his throws.

•Beware of the Elf. Eric "The Elf" Morris has his own package named for him. Like many schools that are putting a receiver or tailback behind center for a direct snap, Texas Tech has adopted its own name, which is a little different than G-Gun or Wild Rebel or Q-Attack. Don Williams reports.


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