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Archive for November, 2008

Report Card vs. Colorado State

BYU 45, Colorado State 42
Cougar team grade: C-plus

After yielding 42 points Saturday to Colorado State—20 more than the Rams were averaging—the Cougars have now given up 109 points in their last trio of games. Remember those two early season back-to-back shutouts over UCLA and Wyoming? Don’t try to figure out where that team went. It will drive you crazy.

Just hope they figure out how to get some of that mojo back on defense before they hit the road to Colorado Springs and Salt Lake City later this month.

Cougar Offense grade: B

Despite three turnovers that contributed to half the Ram scoreboard, the offense is beginning to click like the version folks saw earlier this season.

First, the bad. Max Hall fumbled on BYU’s second play from scrimmage and the Rams cashed it in for seven points and a quick lead. Much later in the game, with three minutes remaining, he tossed an ill-advised pass that was intercepted. One play later, CSU scored on a 55-yard touchdown pass. J.J. Diluigi fumbled in the fourth quarter and the Rams scored four plays later. That’s 21 points the offense gave the Rams.

Fortunately for BYU, the good was really good. Hall managed to overcome his two turnovers with 391 yards passing (28 of 35 with five TDs). His two favorite targets had huge games: Dennis Pitta had 12 receptions for 175 yards and two TDs. Austin Collie had his seventh straight 100-yard receiving performance with nine for 159 yards and three touchdowns. Michael Reed was largely overlooked with 16 yards gained on two receptions. Still, opposing defenses respect him and he keeps them honest on his side of the field.

Harvey Unga bulled out 130 yards on 24 carries (5.4 per-attempt average) and scored the Cougars’ other touchdown. Fui Vakapuna only had two carries, but he picked up 17 clutch yards and caught another pass for seven.

Cougar Defense grade: C

The numbers don’t lie. The Cougar defense isn’t the same animal it was earlier this season. Still, with the offense bailing it out, the unit’s bend-but-not-break personality managed to work once again.

The defense gave up 392 total yards (270 passing, 122 rushing) and Colorado State scored on two long pass plays. Gartrell Johnson became the first 100-yard rusher against BYU this season with 102 yards on 18 carries (5.7 per try).

Even though it seemed like Billy Farris could pass at will against the Y, he barely completed over 50 percent of his throws (18 of 35). The Rams converted 5 of 12 third-down attempts and failed once on a fourth-down try. That’s a big improvement over the 11 for 15 third-down conversions UNLV recorded last week against the Cougars.

If you take away the seven points Hall handed to the Rams on the first possession of the game, the short field the Rams picked up on their fourth-quarter interception that led to a quick score, and the questionable penalty on the blocked punt attempt that led to CSU’s second touchdown, the defense played well enough to win this game better than the final score indicates.

Cougar Special Teams grade: B

The Cougar special teams turned in a solid, above-average performance. Mitch Payne was perfect on six extra point attempts and he nailed a 30-yard field goal that turned out to be the winning margin. Justin Sorensen recorded four touchbacks off seven kickoffs.

C.J. Santiago punted twice for a 48.5-yard average. Spencer Hafoka fumbled a punt early in the fourth quarter that Brandon Howard recovered after losing 18 yards from the fumble point.

Collie averaged over 25 yards per kick return on four tries. O’Neill Chambers returned two kicks for a 21.5-yard average. The Rams averaged 29 yards per kickoff return on three opportunities and 9 yards per punt return

Fourth and inches …

Despite winning, Pete Carroll is whining…An absolute must-read for college football fans is Bill Plaschke’s column in the Los Angeles Times this week. Plaschke calls out USC’s Carroll, who recently has been complaining about the unfairness of the BCS, and articulates why the system is working, for the most part. Here’s the link: Bill Plaschke on Pete Carroll and the BCS

Coaching carousel…Some plum coaching jobs are up for grabs now as Ty Willingham is officially out atWashington, and Tennessee gave Phil Fulmer the boot.ClemsonSyracuseKansas State, and even Toledo, where Tom Amstutz has decided to step down, are traditionally competitive programs eager to find the right leader.

It was interesting while it lasted…Minnesota had a legitimate shot at the Rose Bowl Game this season had it finished 11-1. The Gophers ended their run by losing to Northwestern last week on an interception returned for a touchdown with 24 seconds remaining in the game.

What was he thinking? Trailing 24-22 in last week’s game against Wisconsin, Michigan State’s desperation drive stalled at the Badger 27-yard line with 22 seconds on the clock and no timeouts left. The Spartans frantically raced their kicking unit onto the field when Wisconsin coach coach Bret Bielema called a timeout in an attempt to ice kicker Brett Swenson. Then he called a second timeout before Swenson calmly banged in the game-winning 44-yard field goal. The announcers were incredulous that Bielema called the timeout rather than forcing Swenson to make the kick under a far more stressful and disorganized kicking situation. I watched the game and the announcers were spot-on. Michigan State would have barely got the field goal attempt off if Bielema had just let the clock run.

Props to Florida’s Meyer for putting values-based discipline ahead of winning: Urban Meyer kicked cornerback Jacques Rickerson off the team Tuesday after he was arrested on a charge of felony assault on his girlfriend. “Jacques Rickerson is no longer part of our team—that is not what our program is about,” Meyer said in a press release.

The Mountain West Conference still has three teams in the BCS rankings…BYU is No. 15, TCU is No. 12, and Utah is No. 8. BSU and Ball State give the non-BCS coalition five teams in the BCS.

BCS Busters still standing: Say goodbye to Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane lost to Arkansas last weekend, 30-23. Utah, Boise State and Ball State are still standing with Boise State having the easiest path to remain undefeated. Utah has to get through TCU this Thursday night and BYU on Nov. 22.

Heisman ThermometerHottest until Tech loses: Graham Harrell, Texas Tech. Still hot enough to win: Colt McCoy, Texas. Hotter every week: Tim Tebow, Florida. Hot, but not hot enough: Sam Bradford, Oklahoma.

Conference Power Meter: 1. Big XII. 2. SEC. 3. Big Ten. 4. MWC 5. Pac-10 6. ACC. 7. Big East. 8. C-USA. 9. WAC. 10. Sun Belt.

Top games this weekend and why:
No. 11 TCU at No. 10 Utah. If TCU wins, it will take the MWC crown away from two-time defending champions Brigham Young. If Utah wins, it’ll still need to get by BYU on Nov. 22.
No. 23 Maryland at Virginia Tech. The Terps have four tough conference games to close out the season. If they want to make it to the conference title game, it all starts with this key road game.
No. 12 Ohio State at Northwestern. The Wildcats are an exciting, rather unpredictable team. On paper, the Buckeyes should roll over Northwestern, but never underestimate Pat Fitzgerald and his team.
No. 22 Georgia Tech at No. 19 North Carolina. There isn’t a closer conference race in the country than the ACC’s Coastal Division. Georgia Tech has an easier route remaining than North Carolina and a win over the Tar Heels will put them one win away from the ACC title game.
No. 21 California at No. 7 USC. Cal’s had better chances at wrestling away the Pac-10 title from USC in the past five years, but maybe the Bears have learned something from all the past disappointments.
Notre Dame at Boston College. Notre Dame has never lost to Pitt and Boston College in the same season. Expect a real dogfight.
No. 3 Penn State at Iowa. The Hawkeyes are a better team than their record indicates and they are tough to beat at home. It’s a huge test for Penn State after clearing the biggest hurdle two weeks ago at Ohio State.
Stanford at Oregon. Jim Harbaugh is working a miracle in Palo Alto and Stanford can become bowl-eligible with a win over the Ducks.
**Co-Game of the Week** No. 1 Alabama at No. 15 LSU. Nick Saban leads the Tide into enemy territory. Don’t be surprised if ‘Bama gets the boot from its top ranking after this game.
**Co-Game of the Week** No. 8 Oklahoma State at No. 2 Texas Tech. This is a must-win contest for both teams. Can Texas Tech sustain the emotion it marshaled against Texas last week?

Upset Specials: I was 2 for 3 last week, correctly picking Georgia Tech over Florida State and Cincinnati over USF. This week: Stanford over Oregon, Virginia Tech over Maryland, LSU over Alabama.

Keys to Game vs. San Diego State Aztecs

Some analysts say that all you need to know about this weekend’s matchup is that the BYU Cougars have won their five home games this year by a 207-55 margin, and San Diego State has been outscored 202-47 in losing all five of its road contests. They are probably right.

However, there’s really more to figuring out this game than the potential margin of victory.

With a share of the MWC championship and a BCS invitation still a legitimate possibility if they finish the regular season 11-1, the Cougars cannot afford to overlook any opponent.

Key to defeating the Aztecs

1. Focus on this game and put it away quickly. The Cougars have two incredibly tough road games against Air Force and Utah after the contest with the Aztecs, but they can’t take this one for granted.

Two months ago, San Diego State went to South Bend, Ind., and nearly upset Notre Dame. Six losses later, it can be argued that the Aztecs are totally deflated and incapable of putting up any sort of battle like they did against the Fighting Irish. That is precisely why the Cougars need to get after the Aztecs and put the game out of reach within the first 40 minutes of regulation.

Aside from their only win (over Idaho), the only team besides Notre Dame to allow the Aztecs to hang around was Colorado State. The Aztecs raced to an early lead and fought the Rams all the way before losing 38-34. In that game, the Aztecs’ Atiyyah Henderson rushed for 177 yards and Ryan Lindley passed for 166 (24 of 33 with a touchdown and a pick).

2. That’s it. What—no other keys to winning this game? Well, no disrespect to San Diego State, but the fact is that the Cougars haven’t lost at home since the end of the 2005 season, 18 games ago. This is their last game at home this year. They have survived two consecutive last-minute shootouts the past couple of weeks, and they are extremely motivated to put a complete game together and use it as a launching point for the final two contests of the season. The defense is going to look better, and there’s no stopping Max Hall, Austin Collie, Dennis Pitta and Harvey Unga in this game.

Conversely, the Aztecs are playing for little more than scant pride and a desire to get the season over with.

Prediction

BYU’s offense is humming and the defense is struggling, but both units will turn in solid performances against San Diego State in the final home game of 2008. The only question mark in this game is how long coach Bronco Mendenhall will keep the starters on the field. BYU 49, SDSU 10

Report Card vs. San Diego State

Final score: BYU 41, San Diego St. 12
Team grade: B-plus

As expected, the Cougars ran into little resistance Saturday against the Aztecs in their final home game of the 2008 season. Now sporting a 9-1 record, BYU’s win marked the 18th straight home victory — a school record.

Two staunch conference rivals remain on the Cougars’ schedule and they’ll need to vanquish both of them if they want to grab a share of the MWC title this year. BYU travels to Colorado Springs next week to face the Air Force Academy and Salt Lake City on Nov. 22 to take on bitter rival Utah.

Cougar Offense: B-plus

First, the negatives. The Aztec defense gave up an average of 292 yards on the ground per game entering the BYU contest. BYU gained just 101 yards rushing on 37 carries (2.7 yards per try). Harvey Unga had only 38 yards on 12 carries before leaving in the third quarter with a shoulder stinger. The team’s lone turnover was a fumble that SDSU converted into a field goal near the end of the third quarter. The Cougars were also a disappointing 46 percent on third-down conversions (6 for 13).

Max Hall (25 of 30 for 319 yards and three TDs) had another solid game in hooking up with his three top receivers. Austin Collie extended his streak of 100-yard receiving games to eight with nine catches, 126 yards and two touchdowns, including a 61-yard TD grab. Senior Michael Reed compiled 97 yards on five catches, featuring a 56-yarder, and Dennis Pitta added 60 more yards on five receptions.

Senior Wayne Latu carried three times for 15 yards and a touchdown. Does anyone else notice how much quicker Latu hits the line of scrimmage than Unga and Fui Vakapuna?

Cougar Defense: B-plus

The Aztecs entered the game averaging 231 yards passing and 66 yards rushing per contest. BYU held them to 163 yards passing (68 yards below their average) and gave up 119 yards rushing (53 yards above their mean). The Cougars intercepted Ryan Lindley once and recovered three fumbles for a plus-3 turnover margin.

Senior linebacker David Nixon registered 14 tackles and snagged the Y’s lone interception.

It would be refreshing to say that the Cougar secondary was responsible for holding Lindley to 19 of 34 passing (4.5 yards per attempt), but Lindley’s inconsistency in delivering an accurate ball had more to do with his final stats than the defense.

BYU held San Diego State a touchdown below its 18-point-per-game average.

Cougar Special Teams: A-minus

Mitch Payne was a perfect 5 for 5 on extra points and nailed two field goals from 33 and 25 yards out. Justin Sorensen had just one touchback on eight kickoff attempts. C.J. Santiago averaged 41.5 yards on four punts, nailing one inside the 20-yard line.

Collie returned one kickoff for 41 yards and O’Neill Chambers totaled 63 kickoff return yards on three tries. Reid White returned one punt for a yard.

The Cougars gave up 21 yards on one punt return and quashed the other two SDSU attempts for minus-4 yards. The Aztecs picked up 110 yards on six kickoff returns.

Top 10 Playoff Scenario

This playoff scenario was originally published in my Fourth and inches … column in 2007.  It was reposted in my November 8, 2008 column.

If a playoff is ever going to happen…it will have to maintain conference affiliations with the big four traditional bowl game partners…I came up with a 10-team playoff system a couple years ago that would utilize the major bowls and keep their traditional conference affiliations intact…here’s how it would work:

The Cotton Bowl and Holiday Bowl host play-in games to reach the final eight…the four teams playing in these two qualifier bowls would have to be ranked in the top 16 final BCS standings and be a conference champion from the MAC, WAC, MWC, C-USA or Sun Belt. Historically, you will note that there usually wouldn’t be more than one team from this pool. However, this year could be different. The other slots are filled by the highest ranking teams remaining in the top 16 BCS standings.

In a season like this year, you could conceivably end up with this type of play-in scenario:

Dec. 25
Holiday BowlTexas versus WAC champion Boise State: Winner goes to Sugar Bowl
Dec. 26
Cotton BowlFlorida versus MWC champion Utah: Winner goes to Fiesta Bowl

The final eight matchups:

Jan. 1
Rose Bowl: Big Ten champion Penn State versus Pac-10 champion USC
Orange Bowl: ACC champion North Carolina versus Big East champion Cincinnati

Jan. 2
Sugar Bowl: SEC champion Alabama versus Holiday Bowl winner, Texas
Fiesta Bowl: Big XII champion Texas Tech versus Cotton Bowl winner, Florida

Final four matchups:

Jan. 8
Rose Bowl winner USC versus Fiesta Bowl winner Florida (with Rose and Fiesta alternating each year as host for the semifinal)
Jan. 9
Orange Bowl winner North Carolina versus Sugar Bowl winner Texas (with Orange and Sugar alternating each year as host for the semifinal)

The host site for the national championship game would alternate between the four sites each year…this means that each major bowl site would host a final four game two of every four years, a national title game once every four years, and have the extra game week off once every four years…

National championship game:

Jan. 16
Winners of the Jan. 8 and 9 games
Florida versus Texas

This only adds a week to the season, and it allows for all the other bowl games to be played…it assures tradition of the bowl games can accommodate a playoff.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

No. 1 Alabama struggled, No. 2 Texas Tech romped, and sportswriters voted to tighten the gap between the two teams to just 30 points this week. The biggest change in the Top 25 occurred when Penn State lost a nail-biter to Iowa, dropping out of the third slot and any further discussion as a national title contender. There’s still a lot of flux at the bottom of the rankings as the teams occupying the No. 22-25 slots were not ranked last week.

1. ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (10-0). The Crimson Tide conquered LSU in overtime and earned the West Division berth in the SEC title game on Dec. 7. They need to be aware of Mississippi State this weekend. They are unpredictable.
2. TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (10-0). OK, I’m willing to accept the Red Raiders are for real now after they completely dismantled a very good Oklahoma State team, 56-20. They have a bye this week and then face Oklahoma on the road Nov. 22.
3. FLORIDA GATORS (8-1). The Gators knocked of Vandy, 42-14, and welcome back former coach Steve Spurrier and his No. 24-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks to The Swamp this weekend.
4. TEXAS LONGHORNS (9-1). Texas handled conference foe Baylor, 45-21, and the remainder of the season looks very manageable now that Kansas is on a major downswing. The Longhorns will face the Jayhawks on the road this Saturday.
5. OKLAHOMA SOONERS (9-1). The Sooners completely demolished Texas A&M on Saturday, 66-28. They’ll gladly use a bye this week to prepare for their shootout with Texas Tech on Nov. 22.
6. USC TROJANS (8-1). The Trojans continue to excel on defense and under-perform on offense as evidenced by an uneven 17-3 home win over Cal on Saturday night. They head to Palo Alto this weekend to avenge last year’s monumental upset loss to Stanford.
7. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (9-1). Penn State failed to get the job done in Iowa City against the Hawkeyes, losing 24-23 on a last-second field goal. Still, if they handle Indiana this week and Michigan State on Nov. 22, they can punch their ticket to Pasadena and the 2009 Rose Bowl Game.
8. UTAH UTES (10-0). The Utes survived ranked conference rival TCU last Thursday night, 13-10, leaving them two wins short of a return visit to a January bowl game. Utah travels to San Diego this Saturday to take on the Aztecs.
9. BOISE STATE BRONCOS (9-0). The Broncos took care of 2-8 Utah State on their puke blue smurf turf last Saturday and this week head across the state to take on 2-8 Idaho. While BSU has the easiest schedule of all the ranked teams, you have to admire that the Broncos never slip up against the weaker teams like USC did against Stanford last year or Florida did against Ole Miss this season.
10. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (8-2). The Buckeyes knocked off a tough Northwestern team on the road last week (45-10) and are eager to avenge last year’s home loss to Illinois this week in Champaign-Urbana.
11. OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS (8-2). The Cowboys ran into the Red Raider buzz-saw in Lubbock on Saturday night, losing 56-20. They hit the road again this week to take on Colorado in Boulder.
12. MISSOURI TIGERS (8-2). Mizzou got back on track with a decisive 41-24 victory over Kansas State and will continue mowing through the bottom of the Big XII this weekend as they travel to Ames to take on Iowa State.
13. GEORGIA BULLDOGS (8-2). Georgia survived a tenacious Kentucky Wildcat squad on the road last weekend, 42-38. Instate rival Auburn stands in the Dawgs’ way of a last-ditch attempt to earn a BCS bowl invitation this Saturday.
14. BALL STATE CARDINALS (9-0). The Cardinals get one last breather this Tuesday night against a MAC bottom feeder (Miami of Ohio) before the two toughest games of their conference schedule threaten their improbable run at a January bowl game.
15. TEXAS CHRISTIAN HORNED FROGS (9-2). The Frogs beat themselves more than Utah did last Thursday night, missing two chip-shot field goals en route to a bitter 13-10 defeat. Now, amid rumors that coach Gary Patterson is leaving for a better-paying BCS head coaching gig, TCU will need to regroup during its bye week and get ready to take on a very gritty Air Force Academy team on Nov. 22.
16. BYU COUGARS (9-1). Brigham Young easily handled San Diego State on Saturday, 41-12, breaking a school record with its 18th straight victory at home. The Cougars will try to stay in the MWC title picture when they take on the Air Force Falcons in Colorado Springs this weekend.
17. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (7-2). The Tar Heels soundly defeated a strong Georgia Tech team at Chapel Hill on Saturday, 28-7. Another ACC roadblock faces them this weekend when they take on the Terrapins at College Park, Md.
18. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (9-2). The Spartans officially pushed Purdue off the ledge and out of bowl contention with a 21-7 victory last weekend. They have this week off to prep for their most important battle of the season at Penn State on Nov. 22.
19. LSU TIGERS (6-3). The Tigers lost an overtime heartbreaker to rival Alabama, effectively ending their SEC title hopes and a chance of playing in a BCS bowl game this season. Another Alabama school (Troy) visits Baton Rouge this weekend.
20. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (7-2). The Seminoles smacked down Clemson last weekend, 41-27, and welcome Boston College to Tallahassee on Saturday for a key ACC contest.
21. PITTSBURGH PANTHERS (7-2). Pitt dominated Louisville on Saturday, 41-7, and staked its claim to a share of first place in the Big East title race. Only problem is that they’ll have to get through Cincinnati on the road Nov. 22 to remain on top. They get a bye this week.
22. CINCINNATI BEARCATS (7-2). The Bearcats squeaked by West Virginia in overtime, 26-23, setting them up for a huge Big East battle with Pitt on Nov. 22. They’ll take a slight detour thru Louisville this Friday (Nov. 14) before worrying about the Panthers.
23. OREGON STATE BEAVERS (6-3). The Beavers laid the UCLA Bruins to rest for the bowl season with a workmanlike 34-6 victory on Saturday. The Cal Bears invade Corvallis this weekend in Pac-10 action.
24. SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (7-3). The Gamecocks took care of business with Arkansas on Saturday, knocking off the Razorbacks, 34-21. Can they deliver head coach Steve Spurrier an upset win against Florida this weekend? Don’t bet on it.
25. TULSA GOLDEN HURRICANE (8-1). Tulsa had the week off to nurse wounds from its loss to Arkansas last week. They return to C-USA action this Saturday on the road at Houston.