My friend Lee recently asked me, “Why is it a foregone conclusion that Alabama is No. 1? I get that they won last year but why is nobody even considering Florida State?” In a way, I think he answered his own question. Alabama is the two-time defending champion and was No. 1 in the preseason polls. Voters probably consider Florida State (and maybe Baylor or Ohio State, too) but 95 percent settle on the Tide. That’s what I’d do. And why not? Alabama is undefeated with some impressive wins (at Texas A&M; last Saturday against LSU).
That being said, as I’ve written before, it still surprises me that more voters aren’t just considering but actually ranking Florida State or Baylor at No. 1. Against FBS competition, those two teams rank in the top three in both yards per play and yards per play allowed. They’re dominating both sides of the ball, so it’s no surprise Baylor (42.7) and Florida State (39) are the top two in the country in scoring margin. Alabama is a distant third at 30.3, which was about the margin for the best team at this time last year. Florida State’s smallest margin of victory this season is 14 points; it’s second smallest is 27. Baylor’s smallest is 10 and second smallest is 35.
I still think more undefeated teams will lose and the national championship will be controversy-free, but if somehow Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, and Baylor win out, it will be a shame the playoff doesn’t debut until next season.
The national championship race got a little less crowded last Thursday, when Oregon lost to Stanford 26-20. Over the last two seasons, the Ducks have been really good against every team except Stanford. Last week’s defeat and Oregon’s 17-14 loss last year are the only two losses they’ve suffered the past two seasons. As the complex chart below shows, Oregon’s high-powered offense dips dramatically against the Cardinal.
*Oregon totaled just 381 yards against Cal but I excluded that game since it took place in a monsoon.
The two games against Stanford are the only contests, Pac-12 or otherwise, in which Oregon hasn’t scored at least 35 points over the last two seasons. Offensively, Oregon is Oregon against everyone but Stanford, when they turn into Wake Forest.
Going backwards: After Michigan squeaked by a bad UConn team to move to 4-0, I wrote: “The Michigan offense has looked pretty good when it’s not giving the ball to the other team or moving backwards. There is much room for improvement if the Wolverines can turn the really bad plays into simply not good plays. But there’s no telling whether that will happen.” It has not happened. While Michigan has cut back on its turnovers (12 through the UConn game; six in the five games since), negative plays have become an even bigger problem than they were earlier in the season. Michigan leads the country with nine negative plays per game. I thought the offensive performance against Penn State was bad. The last two weeks have been far worse, as Michigan can’t get anything on the ground and allows far too many sacks. The result is two straight games with negative rushing totals: -48 against Michigan State and -21 against Nebraska last Saturday. Looking at some of these statistics, it’s surprising Michigan is 6-3. Any time Michigan runs the ball on first down and the play isn’t blown up behind the line of scrimmage, I think of that scene in Little Giants: “They gained a yard!”
Nothing like the first (over)time: Mack Brown, who has been a head coach since overtime became a part of college football in 1996, coached in his first overtime game on Saturday, a victory over West Virginia. How is that possible?