Monday, October 03, 2011

College Football Summary: Week 5

Is it me or have the big games between top 10 teams been a little boring? One team always seems to build a huge lead and the game is decided before the 4th quarter even starts. Thankfully, you get surprisingly good games like Auburn/South Carolina. Here are the top stories from this weekend's games:

Someone in the AP Poll voted Boise State #1. That means that they've seen LSU, Alabama, and Oklahoma play and were not as impressed by any of them as they were by Boise State. LSU has beaten Oregon and West Virginia. Alabama has beaten Florida and Arkansas and is allowing 8.4 points per game. Boise State beat Georgia, which is a solid win, but I don't know how anyone could not vote for LSU, Alabama, or Oklahoma as the best team in the country.

The LSU/Alabama game on November 5th looks like it will be a national title quarterfinal game, with the winner going to the SEC Championship game (national title semifinal). LSU's defense is capable of shutting anyone down.

The Sooners fell to #3 despite destroying Ball State 62-6, but that's understandable considering what LSU and Bama have done. OU is averaging over 40 points per game, and they'll get a chance for an impressive win if they can beat Texas on Saturday.

Alabama does not get phased. They looked more comfortable playing in the intensity of Gainesville than the Gators were. They've been to big games, they play in the SEC spotlight every week. They execute under pressure, and as talented as LSU and OU are, Alabama's poise gives the Tide the edge.

The Badgers were 4-0 against some weak opposition before Saturday. They crushed Nebraska and are now leading the way in the Big Ten. However, they've yet to play on the road. We saw how Nebraska fell into quicksand in Madison and Wisconsin will be just as vulnerable when they leave home. They've got tough trips to East Lansing and Columbus this month. And a meeting with #19 Illinois in Champaign in November.

I had my doubts because they're so young, but Clemson is clearly the class of the ACC. They've beaten Florida State and Virginia Tech, not to mention a win against Auburn. They're just a solid team, and that is good enough to win the ACC by a mile. Georgia Tech is the only other viable contender in the conference. Not only do the Yellow Jackets run the ball well (378.2 rush yards per game), they've figured out how to occasionally yet effectively pass it (208.8 pass yards per game). They'll host Clemson on October 29th, and these two might meet again on December 3rd (ACC title game).

Auburn beat SEC East contender South Carolina. Alabama beat SEC East contender Florida. Both wins came on the road. Meanwhile, SEC West contender Arkansas beat Texas A&M in Arlington. The SEC West was 5-1 this weekend, even though 5 of 6 teams played on the road. When A&M joins the SEC, they'll likely be in the West. And after a few weeks in that division they might get homesick for the Big XII and games against Baylor and Iowa State.

If every Big East game this weekend were cancelled, would you notice or care? I wouldn't. The Big East is looking into expansion, but I can't imagine any BCS teams that would want to leave the Big Ten, ACC, or SEC to join the Big East.

Baylor's Robert Griffin III got picked off for the first time all season on Saturday, and it cost the Bears a win against K-State. That being said, he threw 5 TD passes before that, and his defense couldn't keep the Wildcats out of the end zone. Baylor only has a limited rushing game to run time off the clock.

RG3 completes 82% of his passes, he has 18 TDs and 1 INT, he's thrown for 1,308 yards. He's on pace to throw 54 TDs, 3 picks, and over 3,900 yards. He is the entire Baylor team. The Bears have the 84th ranked scoring defense. Griffin is responsible for 67% of Baylor's total offense (1,308 passing yards, 173 rushing yards, out of 2,211 total for Baylor). He is 2/3 of the 4th best offense in the country. He's scored 19 of their 25 offensive touchdowns.

I know there are plenty of other worthy Heisman hopefuls with gaudy stats on teams that will contend for the national title. But the fact that Griffin is the entirety of his team's offense and is solely responsible for a mediocre program being in the Top 25, makes him Heisman material. For me, at least.

I Don't Like the Francona Move, But I Understand It

Although he wasn't fired, and although it seemed to be a mutual breakup, the Red Sox' owners were not supporting Francona. Even if Francona wanted to work in such an environment, I doubt the Sox were going to pickup his option. There have already been reports that the ownership decided 2 weeks ago to cut him lose. This seems like a mutual breakup but it's not. Imagine if your girlfriend said "I'm not attracted to you and want to sleep with other men." You probably wouldn't want to see her anymore, but it wouldn't be a mutual breakup.

The Red Sox' collapse was not Terry Francona's fault. At least not nearly as much as the players' fault. No manager, no matter how insightful, inspiring, or ingenious, could get Erik Bedard to be anything but Erik Bedard. No manager could coax a shred of decency from John Lackey.

A very vocal and very stupid minority in Red Sox Nation are blaming Francona for lack of control in the clubhouse. The leaked incident about starting pitchers drinking during games is being used as People's Exhibit A against Francona, who has always been a player's manager.

It's funny how this vocal minority aren't blaming the grown men who acted like this. Francona isn't a disciplinarian, but he's not supposed to be a babysitter. During a game, is he supposed to do surprise inspections of the clubhouse? Like some college dorm RA, looking for booze.

I think we can guess who the problems were in this clubhouse. John Lackey is quite clearly a scumbag. He sounds like he's drunk all the time. He also pitches like he's drunk all the time.

Erik Bedard doesn't strike me as a good character. Some players, when they get a chance to play for a contender in a pennant race, step up their performance. Bedard seemed to lazily cruise.

JD Drew, at the very least, is not a positive influence.

Josh Beckett is a fraud. He's a fake Texas Tough Guy. He's a wannabe Stone Cold Steve Austin that gets sidelined by blisters and the slightest of illnesses. I can't say he was a clubhouse problem, but he doesn't seem to be much of a leader.

Then there's the excuse makers. Every time this team struggled, there were excuses. Injuries. The lack of a DH in interleague play. God. Et cetera.

This clubhouse was full of babies and jerks. And while they were winning, these character flaws were hidden. They were exposed when the losing started. It's the chicken and the egg, really. Does poor chemistry cause losing, or does losing cause poor chemistry. One thing I know from the past is that good chemistry prevents losing from lasting too long (See: 2004 ALCS).

Blaming Francona for how adults act is a bit silly. He's not a schoolteacher or a babysitter. He's a baseball manager. And he is who he is. He's not going to change his style because the players under his charge are misbehaving.

But even though it's not his fault that the players didn't respect him, when the situation deteriorates like it did in September, it's time to change managers. If employees don't respect their supervisor, even if it's not the supervisor's fault, you have to change supervisors.

This team is poorly assembled, though. Do Bill James and his mathmagicians take character (or lack of) into consideration when they recommend a player to Theo? I feel like Francona was a teacher given a classroom of drug addicts, troublemakers, and morons. Then he was fired because they acted like drug addicts, troublemakers, and morons.

The question now is who replaces Francona? Who replaces a man who averaged 93 wins in his 8 seasons here? Who replaces a 2 time World Series winner? Who replaces a guy who handled players like Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis while simultaneously handling the Boston Sports Media and did so while never throwing anyone under the bus? What kind of man can juggle that well?

The Nation wants discipline. But Earl Weaver is not walking through that door.

Sox fans are clamoring for Joe Maddon. That'd be fine with me. It couldn't hurt Crawford's performance. But that guy is hardly Bill Parcells. He's not as laid back as Tito, but he's not a whip-cracker either. And why would he want to leave Tampa Bay? Why would he want to leave a contender that has great young pitching for a semi-contender that has awful veteran pitchers? Why would he want to leave a clubhouse full of character for a den of drinking and excuses.

To be honest, I don't think changing the managerial situation will turn this team around. Signing a top starting pitcher (CJ Wilson would be nice), giving Lackey his outright release (it's a better investment to pay him $15 million to not pitch here), getting Buchholz and Youkilis back, adding a reliable set-up man to the bullpen. These are the things that will bring October baseball back to Boston.

Back in Order

It wasn't immaculate, but the Patriots got back to the business of winning in Oakland Sunday afternoon, thanks to Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, and some Raiders' penalties.

It's safe to say that Welker is back. He caught 9 passes for 158 yards. He's on pace for 160 receptions. He's Brady's favorite target again, he's getting yards after the catch, he's getting himself open on 3rd downs.

Vince Wilfork is the defensive MVP of the Patriots. He not only holds down the middle of the defensive line (which is extra hard on the road as Haynesworth apparently does not like to travel), but now he's making plays. Two interceptions this season, which is only one shy of Arrington for the team lead.

Turnovers saved the Patriots in this game. Chung's interception ended an Oakland drive that should have been a touchdown. The Pats do not have a good defense, but if they can retrieve the ball (and the offense can hang on to it), then they can be saved.

I had a thought during this game. Why not use Matthew Slater as a defensive back? He can't be much worse in coverage than the safeties currently employed by the Pats, and at least he can tackle.

I'm glad the Patriots fully utilized Ridley. 97 yards on 10 carries, and a touchdown. He can be more effective than Ellis (getting more yards per carry), and more dependable than Woodhead to get those 2 must-have yards.

The Raiders did the Patriots plenty of favors. Richard Seymour's childish antics with Brady are the foremost example. But even just running the ball instead of taking advantage of the Patriots' weak zone defense felt like Oakland was trying to not take advantage of the Patriots' biggest weakness. Thanks.

The Pats are now tied with the Bills for first, with a big divisional game this Sunday. Jets at Patriots, Sunday at 4:15.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo