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Random Thoughts -- College Football Week 5

   by Larry Ness - 09/25/2012

Thirty schools were still unbeaten entering last weekend’s play and 27 remain unscathed when this weekend’s play opens with No. 8 Stanford visiting Washington on Thursday night. The losers were Oklahoma (more on the Sooners in my closing thoughts), then-No. 19 UCLA and then-No. 22 Arizona. Both the Bruins and Wildcats had been early season surprises with UCLA opening 3-0 after back-to-back losing seasons and Arizona doing the same, coming off a 4-8 season in which Mike Stoops was fired. The Bruins lost at home 27-20 (as eight-point favorites) to another of this year’s early surprises, Oregon St (just 2-0 in 2012 but with wins over then-No. 13 Wisconsin and now UCLA),. The Beavers jumped from being unranked to No. 18 in the latest AP poll As for the Wildcats, Rich-Rod’s new team was a big underdog at Oregon (three TDs) but was expected to at least get into a shootout. Instead, Arizona was blanked, 49-0!

Oregon’s impressive win and LSU’s 12-10 ‘squeaker’ at Auburn, saw the Ducks move into the 2nd spot behind Alabama in the latest AP poll (the Tide received 59 of 60 first-place votes). LSU fell to third but somehow got the lone other first-place vote. Oklahoma’s loss dropped the Sooners to No. 16 in the latest poll, while both UCLA and Arizona dropped out. Michigan, ranked No. 8 in the preseason, but ranked 18th when it visited South Bend Saturday night, is now out of the top-25 after a 13-6 loss. The Irish forced six turnovers, five from Denard Robinson. Notre Dame is now 10th in the AP poll, while Rutgers (No. 23) and Baylor (No. 25) joined Oregon St as this week’s newcomers. Georgia ranks 5th and South Carolina 6th, giving the SEC four of the AP’s top-six teams.

Nineteen of the AP’s top-25 are still unbeaten (No. 13 USC is the highest-ranked one-loss team), leaving eight schools unbeaten and unranked. Iowa St and Texas Tech are two of the Big 12’s SEVEN unbeatens but neither is ranked. Minnesota and Northwestern of the Big Ten are both unranked, as are two WAC schools, UT-San Antonio (in its first season of FBS play) and Louisiana Tech. Throw in Cincinnati of the Big ast and Ohio U of the MAC (Bobcats are 4-0 for the first time since 1976) and the list is complete. Northwestern is the closest to breaking through, as the Wildcats had 89 points, just behind No. 25 Baylor's total of 92. La Tech deserves some mention, as the Bulldogs went 8-5 last year (11-2 ATS) and have opened 2012 at 3-0 (2-1 ATS), having scored at least 50 points in each win, averaging 54.7 PPG.

At the other end of the food chain we have nine schools which remain winless, after Colorado, Navy, New Mexico and UNLV got off the schneid with their first wins of 2012 last Saturday. Colorado deserves mention as the Buffs lost 69-14 the previous weekend at Fresno St but bounced back by winning 35-34 at Washington St, as 18 1/2-point underdogs. Let’s also hear it for New Mexico, as the Lobos’ 27-14 win at New Mexico St ended the nation’s longest active road losing streak at 24. There was no good news for Tulane fans, as the Green Wave lost at home 39-0 to Ole Miss, extending the nation’s longest active losing streak to 12 in a row, as well as also losing their seventh straight home game (also the longest active streak). Tulane hosts UL-Monroe on Saturday and the early number makes them an 18 1/2-point home ‘dog, meaning loss No. 13 in a row (and eight straight at home), is likely.

Two winless schools are worth noting, Southern Miss and Houston (both are 0-3). The Golden Eagles began 2012 with 18 consecutive winning seasons, while the Cougars were 13-1 (ranked No. 18 in the final AP poll), just last year. Southern Miss will host No. 19 Louisville on Saturday (early number has the Cardinals favored by 10 1/2 points) and Houston is at Rice, where the Cougars are early road favorites of 4 1/2 points (Owls are 1-3 but with a 25-24 win at Kansas and a 54-51 double-OT loss to Marshall on their resume).

No. 15 TCU owns the nation’s longest active winning streak at 11 in a row (beat Virginia last week, 27-7) and the Horned Frogs will visit SMU on Saturday (early number makes them a 16 1/2-point favorite). TCU will be one of 14 ranked teams facing unranked opponents this weekend, with No. 8 Stanford at Washington on Thursday night being the first. As I’ve noted throughout September in my articles, ranked teams have struggled against unranked teams, ATS. They stand 70-7 (.910) SU but just 32-44 ATS (that’s 43.0 percent). Top-25 teams in danger of losing SU this weekend (by virtue of competitive pointspreads) would include No. 8 Stanford (minus-seven) at Washington on Thursday plus No. 12 Texas (minus-2 1/2) at Oklahoma St and No. 18 Oregon St at Arizona (Beavers are 2 1/2-point underdogs), both on Saturday.

Last weekend there were four games involving top-25 teams but this weekend it’s just two (both on Saturday). No. 9 West Va hosts No. 25 Baylor (Mountaineers are favored by 12 1/2 points) and No. 14 Ohio St is at No. 20 Michigan St (Buckeyes are three-point road underdogs). West Va’s Geno Smith may have emerged as the Heisman favorite, as he enters this game No. 2 in passer rating at 191.2 (81.4% with 12 TDs and 0 INTs plus 1,072 passing yards). Smith is also No. 2 in total offense (379.7 YPG) and ironically, Baylor’s QB Nick Florence stands at No. 1 in total offense with 387.7 YPG. Ohio St’s QB Braxton Miller is being called “the most talented player I’ve ever coached” by Urban Meyer and let’s not forget, he coached Tim Tebow at Florida. Miller is completing 61.2 percent for 754 yards with seven TDs and two INTs plus leads OSU in rushing with 441 yards (6.6 YPC) with seven TDs.

Heisman Flameouts: Preseason favorite Matt Barkley ain’t ‘dead’ yet but after going just 20-of-41 for 254 yards without a TD pass and two INTs in USC’s 21-14 loss to Stanford (Trojans were shut out in the second half), his “bounce-back” effort vs Cal was underwhelming (22-of-34 for 192 yards with two TDs and two INTs). We can say bye-bye to Michigan’s Denard Robinson, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Arkansas long-shot Tyler Wilson. I’ll do a more detailed Heisman update newt week, after September is over.

Closing thought: How long does one get to ‘own’ a nickname? Bob Stoops took over at Oklahoma prior to the 1999 season. He clearly ‘rescued’ this legendary program from six so-so seasons under Gary Gibbs, a one-year stay by Howard Schnellenberger back in 1995 (5-5-1) and the three-year ‘reign of terror’ inflicted by John Blake in Norman, in which the once-proud Sooners were an abysmal, 12-22. OU went 7-5 in Stoops’ first season (including a bowl win) and the very next year, made it all the way to the BCS title game, where the Sooners upset Florida St 13-2, to cap a 12-0 season and give Oklahoma the school’s 7th national championship. The Sooners followed by going 11-2 (won the Cotton Bowl) in 2001 and 12-2 (won the school’s first-ever Rose Bowl appearance) in 2002 and he earned the nickname, “Big Game Bob.”

However, he’s turned into “Big Game Blob” in my estimation since 2003, and NOBODY seems to notice. How can one miss it. The first ‘crack’ in his armour came in the 2003 Big 12 championship game, when the Sooners lost 35-7 to Kansas St, as two-TD favorites. Oklahoma somehow still qualified for that season’s BCS title game but as 6 1/2-point favorites, lost 21-14 to LSU (game was NOT as close as the score!). Oklahoma was 12-0 in 2004 and met undefeated and No. 1 USC in that year’s BCS title game but in this pick’em affair, got blown out, 55-19. Oklahoma made Fiesta Bowl appearances the next two seasons, losing 43-42 to Boise St in the 2006 season (who could EVER forget that ending in OT?) and 48-28 to West Va in the 2007 season (Sooners were seven-point favorites each year!).

Oklahoma returned to the the BCS title game in 2008 and entered its showdown with Florida averaging 54.0 PPG, having topped 60 points in each of its previous five games. What happened? The Sooners looked like a high school team on offense and lost 24-14. The 2009 team fell to 8-5 and while the team finished 11-2 with a Fiesta Bowl win in 2010, that win came 48-20 over a hopelessly overmatched UConn team, looking for a Final Four destination for its basketball program. Stoops’ team was the AP’s preseason No. 1 in 2011 but after a 6-0 start lost at home to Texas Tech 41-38, as a four-TD favorite. For good measure, the Sooners lost three games later 45-38 at Baylor, as two-TD favorites. Oklahoma was ranked No. 4 in the AP’s preseason poll this year but didn’t wait long to disappoint. In just its third game of 2012, Oklahoma lost 24-19 at home to then-No. 15 Kansas St, again as two-TD favorites. It marked Stoops’ first home loss to a ranked team, after opening his career 14-0 in such situations. As Archie Bunker would say, “case closed!”

Join me Friday for my NFL Week 4 Random Thoughts.

Good luck...Larry

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