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Random NCAA Football Thoughts
by Larry Ness - 09/08/2012
CFB Random Thoughts (Sep 6-Sep 8)
The first weekend of the 2012 CFB season (Aug 30-Sep 3) was very uneventful, although Texas State (a five-TD underdog) did beat Houston 30-13. This was NO fluke, as the Bobcats led in yards 444-to-326 and in FDs, 23-to-15. Remember, Houston was 13-1 last season and finished No. 18 in the final AP poll, plus many preseason publications had them contending in C-USA’s West division in 2012 (Cougars are now 0-2 in 2012, after losing a second straight home game, 56-49 to La Tech). However, I did point out in last week’s column that top-25 teams playing non-ranked opponents had their hands full ATS. Those teams were a perfect 20-0 SU but were a losing proposition ATS, going 8-12. It was a particularly ‘ugly’ ATS performance by top-10 teams, which went 1-7 ATS. The lone winning ATS team amongst top-10 teams being No. 7 Florida State, as the Seminoles crushed Murray State 69-3, as 44-point favorites on the “extra-game” board.
CFB’s second weekend provided many more surprises but none bigger than No. 8 Arkansas (minus-29 1/2) blowing a 21-point lead at Little Rock in a 34-31 OT loss to UL-Monroe. The was Louisiana-Monroe's first win over a ranked team since joining the FBS in 1994 and is was no fluke. The Warhawks outgained the Razorbacks 550-to-377 in yards and 30-to-21 in FDs. QB Kolton Browning threw for 412 yards (3 TDs / 1 INT) and added 69 yards rushing, including the game-winning scamper from 16 yards out in OT. To add insult to injury, Arkansas’ Heisman hopeful QB Tyler Wilson, did not return in the second half after taking several big hits to the head in the first half. Arkansas was not alone in losing as a ranked opponent to an unranked foe. No. 12 Wisconsin traveled to Oregon St and lost 10-7 as a six-point favorite, No. 16 Nebraska lost 36-30 at UCLA as a four-point choice and No. 18 Oklahoma St (84-0 winners over Savannah St the week before) lost 59-38 at Arizona, as 10 1/2-point favorites.
When all the dust had settled, the 24 ranked teams in action last Saturday (then-No.9 Va Tech, tied with South Carolina, was the lone ranked team not to play this past weekend), finished 20-4 SU but 9-14 ATS (FSU beat Savannah St 55-0 but that game was called due to bad weather in the third quarter, resulting in a “no play”). That leaves us a two-week running total of 40-4 SU (.910) for ranked teams vs unranked opponents but just a 17-26 ATS mark (40.0 percent). I’ll continue to keep an eye on this as the season progresses.
It was a bad weekend for the people of Colorado, as well as Big Ten fans. Coloradans, like Nevadans, have the bad luck of being a “swing” state in the upcoming presidential election and are therefore constantly bombarded day and night with political ads. I’d include UNLV football fans in this conversation but they’ve long ago given up on the idea that the Rebels have a football program (UNLV owns one winning season the last 17 years!). Just for laughs, I’ll mention that UNLV lost 17-14 at home last Saturday night to Northern Arizona, an FCS team which had lost its season-opener 63-6 to Arizona St.
I’m sure the good people of Colorado wanted to have a little pleasant diversion on Saturday but Colorado, a three-TD favorite, lost at home to CS-Sacramento, 30-28. The “writing may have been on the wall” for Colorado St fans, as even though the Rams were coming off a 22-16 upset of Colorado last weekend, they were 1 1/2-point home dogs to North Dakota St. The oddsmakers had it right, as the reigning FCS national champion North Dakota State Bison won 22-7. Air Force, located in Colorado Springs, played at Michigan this past Saturday and didn’t exactly clamp down on Wolverines QB Denard Robinson like Alabama did the previous weekend. Robinson became the first player in major college football to have at least 200 yards rushing ( 20-218 with two TDs) and 200 passing (14-of-25 for 208 yards with two TDs and one INT) in three games in his career. Former Texas star Vince Young was the only other player to pull off the feat twice. However, there was a ‘silver ‘lining’ that came out of Ann Arbor, as the Falcons easily covered their 31-25 loss as three-TD ‘dogs.
Getting back to the Big Ten, it was another ‘lost weekend’ in the Pac-12 for the teams from the Midwest. Since Penn St joined the conference back in 1998 (by the way, how about the Nittany Lions blowing a game at Virginia in which they forced four turnovers in UVa territory, didn’t turn the ball over even once themselves, yet lost 17-16 as the team's PK missed an extra-point plus FOUR of five FG attempts) Big Ten teams are now 5-28-1 SU on the road against Pac-12 (previously Pac-10). Wisconsin barely escaped in its first game, beating Northern Iowa in Madison 26-21 as 32-point favorites but Wisconsin was not so lucky this time around, losing 10-7. The Badgers averaged 44.1 PPG last season while Montee Ball ran for 1,923 yards, averaging 6.3 YPC and scoring 33 rushing TDs (added six more catching passes). However, the Badgers have now scored just 33 points in their first two games (after Saturday’s 10-7 loss) with Ball following a modest 120-yard effort (just 3.8 YPC) against Northern Iowa by gaining just 61 yards vs OSU and failing to score a TD for the first time in 22 games.
Wisconsin lost in the afternoon but Nebraska followed with an early-evening 36-30 loss at UCLA, in which the Bruins rolled up 653 yards (344 passing and 309 rushing) against a Nebraska defense which allowed 351 YPG on average in 2011. UCLA senior RB Jonathan Franklin has now topped 200 yards rushing in each of his first two games (214 with three TDs vs Rice and 217 plus three catches for 59 yards and TD vs Nebraska), to place himself squarely into Heisman consideration, although his crosstown rival, USC’s Matt Barkley, threw six TD passes to celebrate his 22nd birthday (I’ll check in on the Heisman race, next week). Think anyone is missing Rick Neuheisel these days in Westwood? Late-night in Tempe, things only got worse for the Big Ten, as Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhasse was not able to go and frankly, it’s hard to see how it would have made much of a difference. Todd Graham’s first season at ASU is off to quite a start, as after beating Northern Arizona 63-6 to open the 2012 campaign, his Sun Devils beat Illinois 45-14.
Welcome to the SEC: Texas A&M and Missouri played their first games in their new conference this past Saturday, with each former Big 12 team opening at home, the Aggies hosting the Gators and the Tigers taking on the Bulldogs. As the famous saying goes, both A&M and Missouri were “looking good” at their respective halftimes. Texas A&M lost four times when leading at halftime in 2011 and it was déjà vu all over again in the team’s first game of 2012. A&M led Florida 17-10 at the half but failed to score in the second half in a 20-17 loss. As for Missouri, the Tigers were clinging to a 10-9 halftime lead but after a 69-yard TD pass in the early third quarter, led Georgia 17-9. However, it was all Bulldogs after that, as Georgia would win 41-20.
AP Poll fallout: The big news in the first regular season poll (out Sep 4), was that preseason No. 1 USC dropped from the top , despite a 49-10 win over Hawaii. No. 2 Alabama leapfrogged the Trojans after the Tide routed preseason No. 8 Michigan, 41-14. It was really much ado about nothing, as the AP’s No. 1 team has fallen from that perch after a win at least once during each season since 2007. The bigger news was that Alabama claimed the AP’s top rating (for at least one week) for the FIFTH consecutive season (all under Saban). The only school to have a streak of more consecutive years with a more impressive run would be Miami-Florida, which rose to the AP’s No. 1 ranking at least once in SEVEN consecutive seasons from 1986 through 1992. Want a virtual ‘lock.’ The 2012 ‘Canes won’t climb as high as No. 1 anytime in 2012, not after they lost this past Saturday, 52-13 at Kansas St!
The new poll was released on Sunday and Arkansas fell from No. 8 to out of the top-25. It marked the second-biggest “fall from grace” in AP history, topped only by preseason No. 5 Michigan falling out of the top-25 after it lost its season opener in 2007 to Appalachian St. Also dropping out of the top-25 were No. 13 Wisconsin, No. 16 Nebraska and No. 18 Oklahoma St. New this week are No. 22 UCLA, No, 23 Tennessee, No. 24 Arizona and No. 25 BYU. Alabama remained No. 1, the school’s 48th week all-time as the AP’s No. 1 team (17 weeks under Saban). That ranks just 8th all-time, as Oklahoma leads the way with a 101 career No. 1 rankings. Notre Dame is second with 95, Ohio State next with 94, USC 4th with 91 and Nebraska 5th with 70.
Join me Wednesday for my NFL Random Thoughts from Week 1 and Friday for my weekend CFB/NFL preview.