Folks, we are now a third of the way done with the 2012 college football season, which is why on this last Monday of September I decided to share 33 thoughts on everything that’s happened so far (a third of the season. Thirty-three thoughts… see what I did there?).
From title contenders, to duds, Heisman contenders, and yes, even replacement refs, here are 33 thoughts on the college football season so far…
1. Right now Florida State is the No. 1 contender to play Alabama for the National Championship
If I had one take away from all the great college football Saturday (and one takeaway from the entire month of September really) it’s that Florida State is the team best equipped to take on Alabama for a BCS title right now. Sorry fans of LSU, Oregon, USC and Arkan--- err, never mind. But as of right now, on September 24, 2012 give me Alabama and Florida State for all the oranges in Miami (hmm, that one didn’t quite have the same ring as “All the Tostitos,” huh?).
And to me, what was most impressive about Florida State’s win over Clemson on Saturday (which I would argue was the best game between two truly elite teams this season) was the ‘Noles ability to get things done on both sides of the ball. Coming into the season we knew Florida State’s defense was nasty, but what no one (myself included) knew, was whether they would put up enough good points to beat really good teams.
Yeah, about that.
Right now Florida State’s biggest problem might be keeping all their playmakers happy. Looking across the board, Chris Thompson might be the best running back in college football through four games, James Wilder is a straight hoss up the middle, there is talent at wide receiver and Nick O’Leary is emerging as one of the best tight ends in the country as well. Not to mention that the offensive line- which could barely block a strong wind last year- has emerged as one of the best in college football too.
Then there’s E.J. Manuel, and speaking of old E.J…
2. Couldn’t you make the case that on Saturday he had the best game of any quarterback in any game so far this season?
Like you I watched the Clemson game and knew that Manuel, but it wasn’t until I looked at the box score until I realized what an epic performance Manuel had actually put up. His final stat line? Manuel completed 27 of 35 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns, with another 102 yards on the ground.
To which I ask, if that wasn’t the best game any quarterback has played in college football this year (relative to the competition), what is?
For Manuel what was most impressive was that he seemed to give his team exactly what they needed, when they needed it Saturday night. In the first half Clemson was trying to take away Thompson up the middle and throws deep, and Manuel reciprocated by running the ball a lot. In the second half it was the opposite; they took away the run and Manuel beat them with his arm.
It was a truly spectacular performance and created a truly scary reality for the rest of college football: Florida State was already tough to beat before Manuel got hot. If he keeps playing like that they’ll be damn near unbeatable.
3. Oh by the way… Clemson is definitely a Top 10 team too
If I had one additional takeaway from Saturday beyond “Umm, Florida State is stupid, scary good” it’s that Clemson isn’t far behind.
Look, like the rest of you I’ve been guilty of making all the bad jokes about Clemson through the years, but in my defense, well, they didn’t give me much reason not to. After all, if there were three things in life that seemed guaranteed as recently as two years ago it was death, taxes, and Clemson gacking up at least two games a year they had no business losing. After all, there’s a reason we all used to say that Clemson had “Clemson-ed” themselves multiple times every season.
But the team I saw Saturday night, was a Clemson unlike I’ve ever seen, and one I really felt like could’ve played with anyone in the country. Forget the talent (which is obviously there), forget Nuke Hopkins and Sammy Watkins (who we knew were good) and forget Tajh Boyd (who no longer looks like a pregnant woman in her second trimester), what was most impressive to me Saturday was the confidence which Clemson played with. That was a club that not only thought they could play with a Top 5 team on the road, but thought they should win, and only lost because Florida State simply had more bullets in the holster than they did. Simply put, Clemson didn’t give away that game, as much as Florida State just went out and won it.
Still, it doesn’t take away from what we all saw Saturday night.
And if that particular Clemson team shows up every week from here on out, they might not lose again this season.
4. So in the preseason, I picked LSU and Oregon to play for the BCS title
But admittedly, how fun would it be to see Florida State’s defensive line go up against Alabama’s line in the BCS title game?
5. Speaking of Alabama’s offensive line
As best I can tell, it’s the biggest difference between the Crimson Tide and the two teams that most thought would compete for a title with them in the preseason (LSU and USC). Right now poor LSU and USC can’t get out of their own way up front right now, while Alabama only seems to be getting better by the game.
We saw it two weeks ago when Matt Barkley got buried six feet under the Stanford Stadium turf against the Cardinal, and I saw something similar when LSU nearly got upset on the Plains Saturday night. Poor Zach Mettenberger never had time in the pocket, and frankly at this point I’m still not sure whether he’s a good quarterback or not. And it’s simply because LSU’s frontline couldn’t handle Auburn up front.
Meanwhile at Alabama it’s the exact opposite, where the best offensive line in college football in 2011 is somehow better in 2012.
And really, whether you like the guy or not, I thought Gary Danielson said it best last week when he described Alabama’s offensive line by saying “As much as they like A.J. McCarron, Alabama’s offensive linemen actually get offended when Nick Saban calls a pass play. They’d much prefer to mash the other team into the ground.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
By the way, you wonder why the Crimson Tide are 4-0 and the unquestioned favorites going forward?
6. The most pleasant surprise of the 2012 college football season is undoubtedly the Florida Gators, and the reason is Brent Pease
Look, I’ve already spent way too much time praising the Gators so far this season (not to mention apologizing to Will Muschamp), but I’d remiss if I didn’t mention them here. This team is good. Really good. Like, “Wait, why can’t they win 10 or 11 games” good.
And while all the praise is going to the improved play of Jeff Driskel and the swag of Will Muschamp, not nearly enough is going to new offensive coordinator Brent Pease. When he got to Florida the guy was put into basically an impossible situation, essentially being asked to win with Urban Meyer’s players, while running Muschamp’s offense. Granted, that doesn’t sound terrible on paper, but is much tougher in reality. And if you don’t believe me, just ask Charlie Weis.
But to Pease’s credit, when he got to Florida he didn’t try to force the pro-style down people’s throats (like Weis did last year) but instead seems to have adapted to his player’s strengths, while also giving Muschamp the offense he wants. Sure, there’s plenty of pro-style elements, specifically with the running game of Mike Gillislee. But at the same time, have you noticed how much more often Driskel is running the ball than he did last year? Notice how Trey Burton is again taking snaps out of the shotgun like he did under Meyer two years ago? How Jordan Reed is again involved in the passing game?
That’s a credit to Pease and a credit to Florida for adapting. They’re 4-0 because of it.
7. The second most pleasant surprise in college football has to be Notre Dame
And like at Florida, it comes down to the coaching (and of course, some pretty good players too). Brian Kelly has been a “coach” in every sense of the word this year, completely changing up everything he’s comfortable with, because it benefits this specific team and this specific group of players.
Understand, I watched nearly every game Kelly coached at Cincinnati, and what he did there is night and day compared to what he’s doing this year. Think about it:
At Cincinnati Kelly ran a high-tempo, fast-paced offense. This year at Notre Dame he has slowed it down and tried to limit possessions. At Cincinnati he preferred to pass the ball 40 times a game. This year he prefers to keep it on the ground with his running backs. At Cincinnati Kelly saw the defense a diversion from his explosive offense more than anything else. This year he’s leaning on that same defense. At Cincinnati the guy would’ve rather jumped into the Ohio River than play two quarterbacks. At Notre Dame he’s living and dying with both Everett Golson and Tommy Rees.
This isn’t the same Brian Kelly, and because of it, this isn’t the same Notre Dame either.
Also, have I mentioned the Irish are 4-0 for the first time since 2002?
8. The most disappointing team in college football is…
Well actually, for the sake of the sanity of their fans, I’m not even going to mention their name. But for those who aren’t quite sure which team I’m talking about, let me give you a few hints.
A. The team I’m thinking of has a nickname that rhymes with “Shmm-azorbacks.”
B. They have a coach whose name can be translated to “Will never be a head coach, not even at the Pop Warner level” in French.
C. And their quarterback has Jay Cutler’s arm, Justin Bieber’s haircut, but sadly the same amount of money in his bank account as I do, because he decided to pass up a trip to the pros to come back for his senior year of college.
9. Ok, it’s Arkansas. Speaking of the Razorbacks...
I’ll ask you all the same question I asked on Twitter Saturday night: Should wins against Arkansas even count towards their opponents bowl eligibility?
At this point, I’m honestly not sure.
10. Want more Arkansas jokes?
Too bad, because they’re coming anyway.
As a matter of fact, after seeing the Hogs lose again on Saturday, I decided to update my SEC West projections, and how I see the division playing out. I put them out on Twitter and they got such a good response, I decided to share them here.
Here are my new 2012 SEC West projections:
2. Alabama’s Backups
3. Mississippi State
7. Texas A&M
8. Ole Miss
9. Alabama’s Third Stringers
10. LSU’s Flag Football Champions
Everyone seemed to enjoy my power rankings on Twitter, with my only complaint coming from a follower with the handle @RyanTerrana. Ryan’s complaint? He thought there should be a few more teams between “LOL” and “Arkansas” with suggestions including “LOLZ” and “LMAO.”
Frankly, it’s hard to disagree with him.
11. One More Arkansas Thought
And that’s that at this point it’s pretty clear that Bobby Petrino is the biggest winner of the 2012 college football season so far. Every time Arkansas loses another game he adds another zero to his paycheck, and at this point I’m pretty sure he could have the pick of any woman in Arkansas as his next mistress if he were so inclined.
(By the way, wouldn’t “Who Is Bobby Petrino’s Next Mistress” be the single most compelling reality TV show ever?)
At the very least, give credit to Petrino for disproving an age-old theory: I’m still not sure if nice guys finish last, but what has become quite clear this fall is that dipshits can finish first.
Somewhere, Sean Payton is nodding his head in agreement.
12. I do have to mix in one pseudo-NFL thought in here and that’s…
That I love the replacement referees. As far as I’m concerned, any topic, subject or talking point that keeps the mainstream media from arguing about the BCS is cool with me.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is: Long live the replacement refs!
13. Alright, now, back to actual football and I’ve got to say…
While all the talk in the SEC going forward will be on LSU and Alabama, I think the single most interesting subplot in college football right now has to be the race in the SEC East. Seriously, at this point, what is the difference between South Carolina, Georgia and Florida? Heck, from a talent standpoint, what’s really the difference with Tennessee, although the chances of them winning the division at this point next to none?
So while everyone else is going to start to focus on the November 3 matchup between Alabama and LSU, I’m much more interested in October 6. That’s when LSU goes to Florida and South Carolina hosts Georgia.
It’s also when we’ll start to get the answer to the question of “How the East was won.”
14. By the way, you know how we always talk about college football being a cyclical sport?
Has there ever been a better example of that than the SEC this year?
Heck, it was just two years ago that four SEC West teams (Auburn, Alabama, LSU and Arkansas) each won 10 games or more, and now here we are in 2012 and couldn’t you make the case that of the six best teams in the league, four (Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee) are from the East? Maybe Mississippi State is in the mix, but that’s still four of seven for the East, and likely six of nine if you add Missouri at that point.
Anyway, let’s get off the SEC and go out West, where I’ve got to say…
15. USC just isn’t that good right now
Now admittedly, I didn’t get to see Saturday’s game with Cal, if only because the Pac-12 Network is an evil entity that isn’t available in my cable package. At the same time though, after another relatively unimpressive win, it does raise a point I brought up last week: Right now, USC simply isn’t who we thought they were. And neither is Matt Barkley.
Look, I know the offensive line could best be described as “abominable,” but at the same time, anyone who has watched Barkley this year knows he’s not the same guy as he was in 2011 either. That Matt Barkley had confidence. He made smart decisions. He instinctively knew when the pass rush was coming, when to quickly get rid of the ball and when to chuck it 20 feet out of bounds.
Except in 2012 I haven’t seen any of those qualities, but instead a guy who is tentative in the pocket, terrified of the pass rush and someone who, for some strange reason decides to continues to make weird decisions throwing the football. The Stanford game was bad enough, and it only continued against Cal this weekend. I mean seriously, did you see the pick Barkley threw in the end zone against the Bears?
I’m not quite sure what’s up with Barkley, but whatever it is, this is just not the same guy from last year. And USC isn’t the same team because of it.
16. Staying in the Pac-12
How impressive was Oregon State’s win Saturday at UCLA? Given that they went 3-9 last year and given that everyone (including myself) left them for dead, I’d say “pretty damn impressive.”
Beyond the obvious (mainly, Sean Mannion being about 600 percent better than he was last year), what really stood out to me was how physical the Beavers were on defense. Going against a UCLA team that has garnered a reputation for being tough, the Beavers basically “out-toughed” them on defense, controlling the trenches, and sticking it to people in the open field. Yes, I’m talking to you Jordan Poyer.
By the way, I’ve got to ask: Behind Oregon and Stanford is Oregon State the third best team in the Pac-12 right now? Because I’m kind of thinking they are.
17. Staying with the Beavers for a minute:
Did you see what Mike Riley did after the big win on Saturday night? If you didn’t, well the old ball-coach decided to do something and fun, and treat his whole team to dinner… at In-N-Out Burger. That’s right, double-doubles for everyone!
Just finished our business in LA, now it's time for a little fun, headed to In-N-Out as a team!#GoBeavs2012— Mike Riley (@Coach_Riley) September 22, 2012
Not only is this the single coolest story in all of college football right now, but also raised two very big thoughts for me:
A. I’m stunned that this wasn’t somehow an NCAA violation.
B. How much must it sucked to have been working at this particular In-N-Out Burger, on this particular day?
18. Onto UCLA…
And onto to the fact that I don’t really think there’s much to take away from this loss for the Bruins. Nobody thought UCLA was going undefeated, and if they were going to lose, it kind of made sense that it’d come in a noon kickoff (after two night games), on a hot afternoon, right before a two-game road trip.
So to casual college football fans, let’s not overreact here. This wasn’t “UCLA being UCLA.” This wasn’t some sign of the apocalypse or proof that this team was overrated. It was a bad performance from a good team, which over the course of the season happens.
All the credit in the world to Oregon State, but let’s not make too much of this, ok?
19. Stanford better watch out this weekend:
Look, I’ll be the first to admit that Stanford’s win over USC blew my socks off the other weekend. Not only will their defense give Matt Barkley nightmares for years to come, not only was Josh Nunes about 40,000 times better than I expected him to be, but we also learned that apparently, David Shaw is a heck of a coach, too. Given that I’d never heard him speak up until two weeks ago (and thought there was a reasonable chance he was actually a deaf mute), that’s saying something. Yes, the Cardinal are for real.
The Cardinal also better be very careful this weekend.
For all the credit they deserve after the win a few weeks back, they still haven’t played a road game yet, something they will do Thursday night when they go to Washington. And while I’m not saying Stanford will get upset, in a loud Husky Stadium on a Thursday night, it wouldn’t surprise me either.
20. And oh by the way...
For all the fun we’ve had in the Pac-12 this year, and for all the great debate we’ve had about teams like UCLA, Stanford, Oregon State and others, let’s not forget one thing: Oregon is still far and away the favorite to win this conference.
Doesn’t it tell you everything you need to know about Oregon that they scored 49 points on Saturday night and everyone was still questioning what was wrong with the offense?
21. Moving to the Big Ten, I’m wondering if, gulp, Nebraska is the favorite in the Big Ten
Yes, that pains me to say, if only because I’ve been pretty hard on Nebraska in the past. After all, the Cornhuskers are the same team which I once described as a team similar to an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond”; in essence, one whose season always seems to start the same and end the same with the same boring story lines in between. At this point with Nebraska it’s pretty safe to chalk them up for 9-10 wins, no bad losses, an irrelevant January 1 bowl game and no interesting storylines along the way.
Except in this particular case that “irrelevant January 1 bowl game” might end up turning into the “Rose Bowl,” and it might have more to do with the rest of the conference than anything Nebraska does or doesn’t do. I mean really, what have we seen from Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin or anyone to believe that they should be favored over the Cornhuskers going forward?
22. Staying in the Big Ten, I’m just gonna say it: Braxton Miller should be the Heisman Trophy favorite right now:
I know, I know, I’m going to get quite a bit of flak for saying it, but frankly I don’t care. If I had a vote for the Heisman, today, September 24, 2012, I’d give it to Miller.
There are three big reasons why:
A. No, Miller’s stats aren’t elite, but seven passing touchdowns and five more rushing aren’t bad either. The latter is especially impressive when you remember that Urban Meyer has gone out of his way to limit Miller’s carries early in the season, and he could easily have more yards and scores on the ground if his coach simply let him run it more.
B. The kid makes 2-3 plays a game, every game that no one else in college football can make. That includes Denard Robinson who might have more straight speed than Miller, but doesn’t come close to combining the shiftiness and elusiveness that Miller has which comes with it. Right now, Miller is a player unlike any other in the sport.
C. If the Heisman Trophy really is supposed to honor the player who is most valuable in college football, who is more valuable than Miller?
While some would make the case for a guy like Geno Smith (who does have better numbers than Miller), my argument is that West Virginia would still probably be undefeated without him. But for anyone who has actually taken the time to watch Ohio State this year, you know that there is a 0.0000 percent chance they’d be undefeated with anyone other than Miller at quarterback. I’ve watched all four games the Buckeyes have played this season, and my best guess is they’d be 2-2 with someone else under center.
At the end of the day I’m not saying Miller will win the Heisman, or even that he’ll be in New York at all. But if the vote happened today? Miller would have mine in a heartbeat.
23. My only other Big Ten thought is as follows…
Man is Michigan bad.
I mean, like really, really bad. They can’t block anyone on offense. They can’t tackle on defense. And other than Denard Robinson running the ball (and not throwing it), I don’t see anyone else capable of making big plays against good teams.
Now, because the Big Ten is so bad, this team will end up winning its share of games. But on the national level, I’m not even sure they’re one of the Top 30 teams in the country.
24. Until proven otherwise, Kansas State is the Big XII favorite
I’m still not sure how Bill Synder does it (my guess is with smoke, mirror and a little bit of pixie dust), but after going to Oklahoma and getting a win Saturday, I’ve got to ask, how are the Wildcats not the favorites in the Big XII at this point? Yes the schedule is daunting, and sure, it’s going to be tough to go to West Virginia, TCU and Baylor and get wins. At the same time though, how can you count them out of any game left on the schedule either?
Sadly though, while a lot of the conversation is on Kansas State this morning, even more of it is on…
25. Oklahoma “Oklahoma-ing” themselves
You know how earlier in this article (about 9,000 words ago), I talked about Clemson “Clemson-ing” themselves? Well, with that program now turning things around, it’s time for them to pass on the adjective to another team, and I nominate that team to be Oklahoma. There’s no doubt that Saturday night the Sooners “Oklahoma-ed” themselves to the nth degree.
So what does “Oklahoma-ing” actually constitute? Well, it basically involves showing up flat (usually at home), against an inferior team and allowing that team to out-will you in a victory. In the process, you’ve got to be sure to show as little fire, energy and excitement as possible, and even when you’re down late, the least amount of urgency as well.
That’s “Oklahoma-ing,” which is exactly what the Sooners did Saturday night. It’s also what they’ve basically been doing to themselves the last two plus years.
26. Texas can’t win the Big XII in the next three weeks, but they can lose it
Admittedly, I know nothing about Texas. Understand, that’s not my fault as much as it is Texas’. They’ve played just three games, with two of them coming on the broadcasting abyss that is the Longhorn Network, and the other one a nice win over an average Ole Miss team. Then they had a bye. Meaning they could be a Top 10 team, Big XII favorite and National Championship dark horse. Or they could be a total dude.
I have no idea. But I will within a few weeks.
Why’s that? Well, have you seen their schedule over the next three weeks? In a lot of places it could be considered “cruel and unusual punishment.” It starts this weekend at Oklahoma State, goes through the following weekend with West Virginia and concludes with a visit to the Cotton Bowl to play Oklahoma.
As I said at the top, at this point Texas can’t win the Big XII, but they can lose it in the next few weeks.
We’ll find out if the Longhorns are legit soon enough.
27. Staying in the Big XII, my only thought on West Virginia is that I’m still not sold on them.
I wasn’t in the spring, wasn’t in August and still am not after a sloppy win over Maryland.
From Day 1 I’ve said I thought this team was a 9-3 ball-club at best. We will find out one way or another when they host Baylor this weekend.
28. Oh, you thought I forgot about Baylor, didn’t you?
No, no, no. How could I possibly forget my favorite, zany, point-scoring, touchdown-giving-up team in college football? I can’t. And I won’t.
What I will say though is that I stumbled across a fascinating stat about the Bears in research for this article.
In the lead-up to the season there were quite a few people who thought the Bears would take a step back, in large part because Nick Florence simply wasn’t the dynamic playmaker Robert Griffin III is. That’s still true, but did you know that through three games this year he’s proven to be a more adept runner than RGIII was last year?
It’s crazy, but it’s also true, and through three games Florence is actually averaging 7.6 yards per carry, up from the 6.9 point that Griffin did through three games last year.
Now of course, that stat basically means nothing and will likely be a lot different by the end of the year. I’ll be the first to admit that.
Still kinda interesting, no?
29. Also, I couldn’t help but laugh the other day…
When I was listening to an interview with comedian Adam Carolla and he said, “You know who I really feel bad for these days? RGII. It must really suck to be that guy.”
I don’t know why, but for some reason that joke just cracked me up.
A few more thoughts as we close out this massive, stupidly long article…
30. The Dark Chiz Rises
Is my favorite, random, credit-some-dude-who-has-way-too-much-time-on-his-hands YouTube video of the 2012 season. Seriously, if you can’t appreciate Dan Mullen whispering into Gene Chizik’s ear at the midway point of this video, well I don’t even know what to tell you.
31. It should be a fascinating race to the finish line in the Big East
No, seriously, there's nothing to joke about here. Louisville and Rutgers are two legitimately good teams.
If you’re not paying attention, start right now.
32. By the way...
What parallel word do we live in where Iowa State and Minnesota are a combined 8-0, yet Arkansas and Michigan are a combined 3-5.
I mean seriously, who saw that coming?
33. Oh, and one more thing...
Who’s ready to start up the last two thirds of the college football season?
Also for his continued take on all things sports, and updates on his articles, podcasts and giveaways, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook.com/AaronTorresSports or by downloading the Aaron Torres Sports App for FREE for your iPhone or Android Phones
Good stuff and as much as I would like to, I can't really argue with you about WVU. I'm heading up to Morgantown this weekend and can't wait to see how they fare in their first conference test. Having said that, and I know you're going to laugh, but don't sleep on Maryland. That was a talented (gulp) well-coached team and the Diggs kid is a player. Just saying, they could snagg a few wins in the ACC.
As much as it pains me to say this, I actually agree with you on Maryland. I obviously took interest in the UConn game, and was surprised that at least defensively, they actually have some pretty good, well-coached athletes. The problem is offense, where their line and quarterback play are just brutal. And also, I do agree with you on Stafon Diggs. Dude is a total stud.
Anyway, I guess we will find out more this weekend when the Mountaineers play Baylor. I kind of think the Bears keep it close for at least awhile, but eventually I do think WVU will win. Then, things get interesting when they go to Texas next week.
Enjoy the game this weekend, my friend!
@Aaron_Torres hard to take anything in that blog seriously when the first sentence is factually inaccurate
Good stuff as always, Aaron. One minor quibble: Husky Stadium is closed for renovations. Washington is playing their home games in whatever the Seahawks are calling Qwest Field this year.