Monday, October 30, 2006

Finding Ways to Lose

Against Clemson we dug ourselves into a hole and came back strong only to lose a close game late. Against NC State we dug ourselves into a hole, stormed back to take the lead, then lost a close game late. Against BC we made numerous big mistakes but we played our way back into the game only to lose a close game late. Are you seeing the pattern here? In what has become the most frustrating FSU season in recent memory the 'Noles continued their trend of finding ways to lose to inferior opponents in a 24-27 loss to Maryland. At least Clemson is good. At least Boston College is decent. Maryland sucks. And they beat us. Fuck.

The Good
- Xavier Lee looked great in his first career start, completing 22-of-36 passes (with at least four drops) for 286 yards and 2 TDs, plus 50 yards rushing on top of that. X kept the 'Noles back in the game and made the plays to put FSU in position to win. It's clear that Lee can make plays that Drew Weatherford physically can't make. I don't expect him to look that good in every game but it certainly wasn't his fault FSU lost and I expect him to be the starter next week against Virginia.

XLee stood tall against the Terps

- Antone Smith may have cemented his role as the lead back. He runs with more toughness than Lorenzo Booker and is equally dangerous out of the backfield. He gets downfield quickly and can break tackles. Next season we need to quit rotating the backs and get Antone 15-20 carries per game.

The Bad
- The defense stepped up in the second half holding Maryland to just 37 yards and seven points, but by then the damage was done. The Terps sliced through the usually tough 'Nole D like a hot knife through butter in the first half putting up 20 points and almost 200 yards of offense. Ralph Friedgen did a good job of forcing FSU's freshman starters to make tough decisions against misdirection plays and the Terps were able to take advantage of great field position to get easy scores. What's really hurting FSU is that they have no playmakers in the back seven capable of creating turnovers so FSU is always forced to go on long scoring drives and always seems to be fighting the momentum of the game. The D has been heroic at times but with no depth they appear to be running on fumes.

- The offensive line did a decent job of blocking - even in the running game - but they continued to kill drive after drive with false starts and holding penalties. On a day when everyone else on offense performed pretty well it was the OL that held the offense back all day...with some help from the receivers. If Mark McHale is still employed by FSU next season I will be very, very disappointed (that goes for Daryl Dickey, too).

The Ugly
- Graham Gano had a tough day right after I praised his work so far this season. My bad.

- Penalties, Turnovers, and Mistakes. Where do you place the blame here? Of course you have to look at the coaches because well-coached teams don't beat themselves, right? But is it Jeff Bowden's fault that Greg Carr dropped a first-and-goal pass in the waning moments of the 4th quarter? Is it Mickey Andrews fault a bunch of walk-ons missed tackle after tackle on the punt return team? For the second week in a row FSU beat themselves with dumb plays and crucial errors. I got BC flashbacks when Carr fumbled in the first quarter, leading to Maryland's first touchdown. Then more flashbacks when the offensive line started killing drives with false starts. Greg Carr's big drop was a new twist, which was kind of refreshing, but the botched kick at the end of the game was vintage FSU. Every loss hurts, but when you outgain the opposition by 235 yards, your QB plays well, the running game is clicking, and the defense plays their heart out in the second half AND YOU STILL LOSE there's nothing to do but shake your head and drink heavily. Bring on Virginia!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Mid-Season Grades

Okay, I know that we reached mid-season a week ago, but since I got a chance to attend the Boston College game I wanted to wait to grade the team's progress - or lack thereof - until after I'd seen them for myself. As much frustration and anger as there is in 'Nole Nation right now, if you look objectively there's also been a lot to like in this sub-par season. Keep your head up FSU fans, for hope is not lost. On to the grades...

-- A --
The Linebackers. Led by senior Buster Davis the FSU linebackers have been easily the most dominant and consistent group on the team. Despite losing starting WILL Geno Hayes and key back-ups Marcus Ball, Jae Thaxton, and Derek Nicholson the LB corps has continued to play at an extremely high level. Davis has been an iron-man as the only healthy MIKE on the team. Junior Lawence Timmons has been great in coverage when he's not blowing up running backs, and true freshman Dekoda Watson - a converted DE - stepped into a starting LB role against Boston College and delivered with eight tackles. If you want to quantify how amazing the LBs have been, consider that the DT position has been ravaged by injury yet the 'Noles still rank in the top 15 nationally against the run. Kevin Steele has done an amazing job with these guys and next year if Ball, Nicholson, and Thaxton can come back healthy this could be far and away the best LB corps in the nation.

The Freshman Class. A large part of FSU's downfall this year has been the forced reliance on freshman in key spots. Against BC a whopping FIVE freshman were forced into starting roles, and freshman mistakes contributed to the loss. However, when you look at the speed and skill the incoming class has brought to team it wouldn't unrealistic to say this is the best class FSU has brought in in a decade. Everywhere you look freshman are making huge contributions: TE Brandon Warren has been the team's most reliable receiving threat, LB Marcus Ball was a revelation at SAM LB and on special teams, SS Myron Rolle has been steady in the secondary, and the aforementioned Dekoda Watson has come up big wherever the coaches play him. And that doesn't mention the contributions of Caz Puirowski, Kevin McNeil, Matt Hardrick, Justin Mincey, or Patrick Robinson. When FSU fans howl about the state of the team they would do well to realize that while dark clouds are hanging over the current season the future is bright for the 'Noles new crop of stars.

The Kicking Game. After his debacle against Penn State in the Orange Bowl last year a lot of people thought that Gary Cismesia would be a liability in 2006. We all remember what happened to Xavier Beitia after his miss against Miami in 2002, and FSU fans conditioned to expect kicker melt-downs were sure we'd see "Weed" go up in smoke as well. Much to my surprise Cismesia has been a rock this season going 9-10 on FGs, with his only miss coming in the Troy debacle. Converted place-kicker Graham Gano has been outstanding at Punter as well. His average per punt has steadily climbed throughout the season, peaking with a brilliant performance against BC where he average 47.5 yards/punt and would have had two punts downed at the one-yard line had Joslin Shaw not gotten too cute with the first one. It's almost painful to think of how many times the kicking game has done in FSU in the past, only to see the kickers come through just as the rest of the team is falling apart.

-- B --
The Defensive Line. Despite being absolutely gutted by injury the DL has continued to produce no matter who Odell Haggins plugs in. It's hard to belive how many injuries have hit the Defensive Tackles, which looked to be one of the deepest positions on the team coming into the season. It's been so bad that DEs Alex Boston and Justin Mincey have been moved inside, hurting FSU's pass rush. Fortunately Everett Brown (another stand-out freshman) has stepped up and is starting to pressure opposing QBs with regularity. The rush isn't up to FSU standards, but with our best pass rusher playing tackle that's to be expected. In light of all the injuries you have to be impressed with the steady production of Andre Fluellen and the determination shown by the whole unit. Odell has proved once again that he's one of the premier DL coaches in America.

-- C --
Jeff Bowden. The running game hasn't progressed as much as expected, and in a few games we've seen the issues with Time-Out usage and clock management resurface, but Bowden the Younger has made unmistakable progress as a play-caller in this, his sixth season in the role. I wooul dprobably be rating him higher than this if not for the abysmal decision to throw short right before the half against BC and the tendency of the offense to start off slowly. Still, for the firsts time we've started to see signs of competence in the booth: setting up defenses, shifting formations, integrating the TE and FB into the offense, and long sustained drives are all signs that the light may be turning on for JB. The epic 99-yard drive against NC State alone is worthy of a C. We still need to get the offense going in the first quarter so we're not forced to come back all the time, and obviously the running game must pick up, but for the first time I'm starting to think that Jeff can be an asset to this team instead of a crippling liability.

The Running Backs. Obviously I realize that FSU's running game is still a shambles, but that has more to do with the offensive line than the backs. When given enough opportunities Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith have shown that they can produce. And even when they're not getting carries they've been instrumental in the passing game, illustrated by pair combining for 14 catches for 150 yards against BC. FB Joe Surratt has provided the physical running the team lacked last season - though he's been mysteriously absent the last few games - and now that Jamaal Edwards is coming back hopefully he can start to contribute as well. I'm sure the backs are frustrated because as much as they've contributed there's no question they are talented enough to do so much more.

Drew Weatherford. Maybe too much was made of Weatherford's freshman season when he led the ACC in passing and showed tremendous toughness even as he killed FSU in a couple games. His progression hasn't been as great as expected and he's still prone to the killer mistake such as the game-ending pick against NC State. He struggles with his accuracy on long throws, he runs too soon sometimes, and his ball fakes are terrible. And you know what? I love the kid. He's probably the toughest SOB we've ever seen at QB, he works his ass off, and he's always willing to take responsibility for bad plays or bad games. I still think he's the guy for this team, and if you don't agree consider the case of Chad Henne, another talented QB who endured a shaky sophomore campaign and is now at the helm of the undefeated Michigan Wolverines. If we can get Drew some decent coaching (more on that later) he could be another great one for FSU.

-- D --
The Secondary. Oh, what might have been had Antonio Cromartie returned for his senior season! Instead of an All-American shut-down corner FSU has made due with some under-performing upperclassmen and some talented youngsters. The result has been a pass defense ranked 70th nationally, far below FSU's lofty standards. The loss of Trevor Ford looms large as JR Bryant has continued his disappointing career, forcing true freshman Patrick Robinson into the starting line-up at Boundary Corner. The excellent Tony Carter has been dinged up leaving the diminutive Michael Ray Garvin to take on the daunting challenge at Field Corner (where the DB is often in one-on-one coverage). Roger Williams, expected to be the leader of the secondary, got off to a terrible start missing tackles, dropping interception, and getting caught out of position time and time again. Myron Rolle has been steady and has played great for a true freshman, but we need him tobe more of a playmaker. The secondary wass directly responsible for the NC State loss and simply hasn't been good enough to allow Mickey Andrews to play his sstyle of defense. With the talented youngsters growing up in a hurry there's hope for the future, but if FSU is going to win out the secondary must play better NOW.

The Offensive Line. The sad thing is that a 'D' is actually an improvement from last season's 'F-' performance. The pass blocking has actually been very good. Drew hasn't been pressured nearly as much as he was last year, which has contributed to the drop in interceptions an dthe development of the short passing game. However, the run blocking is still abysmal. The line simply gets no push against the defense and FSU's backs are constantly hit at or behind the line of scrimmage. After an entire summer spent on conditioning and focusing on the run the effort of the line has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season. As if that wasn't enough, mental mistakes have cost the 'Noles dearly as well. For whatever reason whenever FSU reaches the red zone the OL tends to make a stupid mistake that kills the drive and costs FSU points. Against BC at leat 10 points were taken off the board by dumb penalties and bad snaps. It doens't matter how good our backs are, how much Drew progresses, or what plays Jeff calls - if the line can't block FSU won't win. Period.

The Wide Receivers. I really thought FSU's receivers were going to surprise the nation this year. It seemed that we had the perfect mix - the lightning-quick Chris Davis in the slot, the powerful DeCody Fagg patrolling the midde, and Greg Carr providing the deep threat. Unfortunately it hasn't worked out that way. Davis has been plagued by fumbles and drops, Fagg has been injured as usual, and for some reason Carr has disappeared from the game plan as FSU has gone away from the deep ball. What's left is a disappointing crew of talented yet enigmatic performers. The sophomores - oft-injured Rod Owens and drop-prone Richard Goodman - aren't going to provide any immediate relief, but freshmen Preston Parker and Damon McDaniel have looked great in limited opportunities. For FSU's offense to click we MUST get the receivers more involved in the offense. Hopefully that will start against Maryland thiss weekend.

Kick Returns, Coverage, and Blocking. As good as the kicking game has been, the return and coverage units have been well below FSU standards. Chris Davis hasn't been able to fill the void left by Willie Reid's departure, and the coverage units badly miss Pat Watkins, Marcus Ball, and Jae Thaxton. This is an area that is usually a weapon for FSU, yet with the notable exception of the Clemson game, kick-blocking and coverage has been a liability all season. With all of the injuries we may not have an answer for this problem until 2007.

-- F --
Daryl Dickey and Mark McHale. While Jeff Bowden takes all the heat for FSU's anemic offense it is these two useless individuals who should be taken to task. FSU fans realized long ago that our QBs tend to regress during their career, which begs the question "what the hell does Dickey do all day?" During the Dynasty Years the 'Noles enjoyed a steady stream of talented, fundamentally sound QBs. Then Dickey took over the QB Coach position and we've seen a never-ending series of bad reads and bad throws since. In addition, details like ball fakes, snap counts, and thorwing mechanics are apparently ignored by Dickey since our QBs never seem to improve in these areas. Our QBs deserve better. McHale was brought in to correct the lethargy and unfocused OL play that had become common under Jimmy Heggins. McHale's offensive lines can't run block at all, but at least he's a terrible recruiter! Bobby and Jeff aren't going anywhere, but for FSU to improve we must revamp the coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball.

So that's it. A promising season has been derailed by injuries, inexperience, and poor coaching. Note the mass of 'C' and 'D' grades and you'll see why this season has been such a disappointment. Although this season is done as far as championship hopes go, with our wealth of talented youngsters we must still focus on improving and getting ready for 2007 - and beating UF of course! The 'Noles have been right there in every game and are not far removed from being 7-0 right now. With better coaching and better luck we'll be right bak in the ACC and National races in 2007. Now the onus is on Bobby Bowden to make the right moves in the off-season to make that happen. The hope here is that the old man can see the problem and make the necessary changes to right the ship.

Here's to a better second half and a great 2007 season!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Thoughts on FSU/BC

I returned from Tallahassee early Sunday morning with a heavy heart. I had just watched my 'Noles earn a heartbreaking home loss to Boston College. And I mean it - FSU earned that loss more than BC earned the victory. If not for a plethora of bad mistakes and a terrible call by the Ron Cherry-led crew I would have witnessed a 20-3 FSU victory instead of the 'Noles's third consecutive ACC home loss. To be honest I don't know what to make of this team - they play great in fits and spurts but they seem to find ways to lose big games. In any other situation I could blame injuries and youth, but after five seasons of excuses I have no patience for excuses. Anyway, here are my observations from the game...

The Good
- The crowd! I picked a great game to come back to FSU, since the crowd was hyped up for the Black Out. There were black shirts everywhere and the special black jerseys were much sweeter than I thought they would be. The stadium was packed and the Doak was rocking on every BC third down. Despite the loss it was a great atmosphere and I'm glad I went.

- The defense played their hearts out and stood tall despite all the injuries. Buster Davis and Lawrence Timmons were all over the field, and Andre Fluellen continued his excellent season. Roger Williams, who I called out a few weeks ago, played a tremendous game and Myron Rolle was in on a ton of tackles. I noticed youngsters such as Bud Thacker and Dekoda Watson making big contributions, and the young secondary played well for the most part. If not for the massive injuries I believe FSU would have challenged Michigan for the #1 defense in all the land. As things stand we just have to use this as a learning year for 2007, and it appears that many of our young players are well ahead of the curve.

- The offensive execution between the 20's was excellent. Coming into this game I thought BC would play field position, keep their defense back, and force FSU to execute on long drives...which is pretty much what happened. For most of the game FSU made that look like a mistake by running a short passing game and running for good yardage after the catch. I truly believe that Jeff Bowden had the right game plan for BC, and Drew executed the game plan very well for the most part. Drew looked finding the open man, plus he made several throws on third-and-long to extend drives. There's no doubt that the offense has improved from last season, though there's still a TON of room for improvement.

- The pass protection was good enough to allow the short passing game to thrive, and for most of the game Drew had a ton of time to find his receivers. The OL has looked really good in the passing game, and those who would question Jeff's game plan should look at the OL on pass plays vs. run plays to see why he went the way he did. As with every other facet of FSU's game, the pass protection was great for MOST of the game. On the two most important snaps for FSU - third- and fourth-down plays with 3 minutes to go in the fourth quarter - the line was responsible for the breakdowns, first on a bad snap, then on a missed blitz pick-up. Again, FSU failed to finish.

- Overlooked in the loss was the fact that FSU kicking game was outstanding again. Cismesia was perfect on the day and Gano was unbelievable at placing his punts inside the five-yard line. How ironic is it that when every other facet of the team is struggling the kicking game FINALLY comes around!

- Charlie Ward and the Seminole Tribe were honored during the game and the crowd gave both a warm welcome. It was pretty moving to see the REAL Seminoles and the greatest 'Nole of all honored during the same game. Just wish we could have sent them both home happy.

The Bad
- The offensive execution in the red zone was abysmal. Most people will look at the turnovers and say they're why FSU lost, but the 'Noles repeatedly shot themselves in the foot once they reached scoring territory, and those mistakes hurt just as bad as the turnovers. After FSU's first good drive in the second quarter John Frady had a false-start penalty that killed momentum and led to a punt. Later the 'Noles drove deep into BC territory only to have Frady bounce-pass a snap that Drew was forced to fall on. Field goal instead of a touchdown. And the back-to-back mistakes at the end of the epic 17-play drive in the fourth quarter prevented FSU from tying the game and effectively sealed FSU's fate.

- The run blocking was terrible. Bravo to Jeff and Drew for keeping Antone and Lorenzo involved in the offense, but some semblance of a running game would have been nice. For some reason all of FSU's running plays were draws and traps - slow-developing plays behind a line that hasn't shown it can hold its blocks on running plays. I don't have a problem with JB's play-calling going away from the run game because the passing game was working, but Mark McHale needs to get his guys playing better. They don't have the excuse of being injured this year, they're just not getting it done up front.

- The WRs are still mysteriously absent from the game. Coming into the year I thought FSU had one of the most underrated WR corps in the nation. Now I think they may have been OVERrated. Chris Davis had a big day, but he's been inconsistent all year. Greg Carr had man-coverage but he was only thrown to twice that I saw and we never challenged BC deep. DeCody Fagg was merely and afterthought (granted, he's banged up). Ironically, Jeff Bowden's insistence on NOT throwing any jump-balls may be hurting FSU's offense since teams haven't had to worry about a deep threat. It's a philosophical about-face that has me scratching my head right now.

- One possible reason for the WRs disappearing act may be Drew's struggles on intermediate and deep balls. Getting to see him play in person for only the second time it became clear that on throws deeper than 10 yards Drew really starts to struggle with his accuracy (another reason I liked JB's game plan of controlled, short passing). The big play has completely disappeared from FSU's repertoire in large part because teams can sit back in a zone defense, keep everything in front of them, and wait for FSU to make mistakes. Unfortunately, until we develop a running attack or a deep passing game that strategy will continue to work.

The Ugly
- Turnover and penalties lost the game for FSU, and it's a damn shame because the crowd, the players, the Seminole Tribe, and of course Charlie Ward deserved a win. FSU flat-out outplayed BC for most of the game, only to shoot themselves in the foot twice. When you can't score more than 20 points against good defense you can't afford to give the other team 14 points, yet that's what we did. Caz's fumble was the result of a true freshman trying to do too much. It's understandable and forgivable as long as he learns from the mistake. The interception at the half is another story. EVEN IF the coaches made the decision to try to get a little momentum back after BC's touchdown, what the hell good is a three-and-out pass going to do when there's 24 seconds left and your deep in you own territory?!? That turnover was inconceivable and unforgivable, and Jeff, Dickey, and Drew all share the blame. In their three losses FSU has been right there in position to take the game, and we've found a new way to lose each time. A lot of that is due to having such a young team, but the coaches haven't always put FSU in the best position to succeed either, and that play is a perfect example of how we keep losing games we should win.

- The crowd...I know I just gave them props earlier, but every time a run got stuffed the guys behind me would yell "keep throwing the ball!". Good idea bud, we should be totally one-dimensional! Every time a pass went incomplete the guy in front of me tried to start a "Fire Jeff!" chant. Excellent plan sir, since clearly it's Jeff's fault that Drew missed an open receiver. The nadir came with three minutes to play and FSU driving deep into BC territory, for that was the exact moment that the student section decided to start THE WAVE!!! I swear to God, this actually happened. Obviously the football gods were outraged because they killed the drive immediately. And frankly, I can't blame them.

So where do we go from here? On defense I really can't complain...the coaches did a tremendous job with a bunch of freshmen. The youngsters are getting invaluable experience and next year when Paul Griffin, Emanuel Dunbar, Letroy Guion, Geno Hayes, Jae Thaxton, Marcus Ball, and Derek Nicholson are healthy this could be a frightening unit. I would put FSU's defensive staff against any in the country, and this game just reinforced my respect for Mickey, Odell, Steele, and Colzie.

It's the offense that has me bumfuzzled. There's been undeniable improvement from last year in the play-calling, the pass blocking, and the execution. So why can't we score more than 20 points against good defenses? Why can't we get a balanced offensive effort against good defenses? Why can't we throw the ball downfield? Obviously coaching is the culprit, and I would love to see Daryl Dickey get his walking papers at the end of the season. Honestly, I think the man his been playing Minesweeper for the last six years, because he sure hasn't been coaching up the QBs. Jeff Bowden is a trickier problem. We know he's not going anywhere, but is he ever going to get it done? Before the season I would have said no, but after watching the team this season I'm not so sure. Many people feel that Bobby has relaxed his grip on the offense this season, and the improvements seem to coincide with Jeff's increased responsibilities. So who's to blame? Well, there's only one other place to look...

Being in Tallahassee gave me the opportunity to listen to the post-game show, and it was shocking to hear Bobby after the game. He was dead-on that we killed ourselves, but he didn't know if we had a punt-block called when the Roughing the Kicker penalty was called (we did, for no apparent reason) or if the interception was Jeff's fault or Drew's. He was out of the loop on most, if not all, of the strategic decisions made during the game. And while that may help our performance in fits and starts, what affect does it have on a football team when there is no central figure running the show? Is it possible for FSU to return to glory without a strong, smart head coach who can make the tough decisions in key games? My head says no, but my heart...says no. So I'm going to go with NO. This team has the components in place to be a good team, a championship team, but it lacks leadership both on the field and on the sidelines, and until that void is filled there will be another void in the hearts of FSU fans where championship memories should be.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Top 24 - Week 7

qOur long national nightmare is finally over…the Top 24 is back! Contrary to popular opinion I did not go on a two-week bender after FSU’s heart-breaking loss to NC State that rendered all Championship aspirations for 2006 null and void. In fact, my life has been taken over by a 120-foot-ling curing oven at work. Now that the parts that are supposed to be hot are hot, and the parts that aren’t supposed to be hot aren’t, I can finally get back to the important things in life: namely creating lists arbitrarily ranking college football teams based on my own subjective opinions. Hoo-ray!

Without further ado, the Top 24...

1. Ohio State (7-0)
W vs. Michigan State, 38-7
Last week, would have been: 1

2. Michigan (7-0)
W vs. Penn State, 17-10
Last week, would have been: 2

3. Louisville (6-0)
W vs. Cincinatti, 23-17
Last week would have been: 5

4. West Virginia (6-0)
W vs. Syracuse, 41-17
Last week, would have been: 6

5. Southern Cal (6-0)
W vs. Arizona State, 28-21
Last week, would have been: 3

6. Auburn (6-1)
W vs. #3 Florida , 27-17
Last week, would have been: 12

7. Clemson (6-1)
W vs. Temple, 63-9
Last week, would have been: 10

8. Tennessee (5-1)
Last week, would have been: 7

9. California (6-1)
W vs. Washington State, 21-3
Last week, would have been: 9

10. Texas (6-1)
W vs. Baylor, 63-31
Last week, would have been: 8

11. Georgia Tech (5-1)
Last week, would have been: 11

12. Florida (6-1)
L vs. #12 Auburn, 17-27
Last week, would have been: 3

13. Notre Dame (5-1)
Last week, would have been: 13

14. Arkansas (5-1)
W vs. SE Missouri State
Last week, would have been: 14

15. Nebraska (6-1)
W vs. Kansas State, 21-3
Last week, would have been: 16

16. Oregon (5-1)
W vs. UCLA, 30-20
Last week, would have been: 17

17. Wisconsin (6-1)
W vs. Minnesota, 48-12
Last week, would have been: NR

18. Boise State (7-0)
W vs. New Mexico State, 40-28
Last week, would have been: 19

19. Pittsburgh (6-1)
W vs. Central Florida, 52-7
Last week, would have been: 22

20. Louisiana State (5-2)
W vs. Kentucky, 49-0
Last week, would have been: 20

21. Oklahoma (4-2)
W vs. Iowa State, 34-9
Last week, would have been: 21R

22. Boston College (5-1)
W vs. #15 Virginia Tech, 22-3
Last week, would have been: NR

23. Wake Forest (6-1)
W vs. NC State, 25-23
Last week, would have been: NR

24. Rutgers (6-0)
W vs. Navy, 34-0
Last week, would have been: 24

What Did I Ever See In You??? … Virginia Tech (#15), Missouri (#18), Iowa (#23) and Thank God. Now we can all stop pretending that Iowa’s good. Hoo-ray!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Black Power!

This Saturday I'll be gracing Doak Campbell Stadium with my presence for the first time in three years. Needless to say, I'm giddy at the thought of watching FSU beat the almighty hell out of Boston College during the first ever Black Out at the Doak. If you want to meet me I'll be the guy in black yelling his head off. Stop by and say hi!

Home Sweet Home, baby. See you on Saturday!!!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hope Is a Good Thing, and No Good Thing Ever Dies

For some odd reason I've been feeling pretty good about my 'Noles and their place in the universe lately. Part of it is the fact that after last weekend's Spinning-Dragon-Kick-To-The-Nuts chain of events anything short of nuclear holocaust seems pretty good, and part of it is that there are some legitimate silver linings beginning to emerge around the dark cloud that has been the 2006 season so far:

- I thought it would never happen, but there's mounting evidence to suggest that Jeff Bowden's head is slowly emerging from his ass. Ever since the offensive debacle against Troy - which by all accounts had a lot more to do with Bobby mucking the gameplan right before kickoff than with Jeff's performance - the 'Noles have shown a balance and diversity in the offense that we haven't seen since the halcyon days of yore (btw, "yore" = the '90s). After two games FSU was averaging 23 rushing yards per game, good for 118th in the nation. However, in the four games since then FSU is averaging 160 rushing yards per game, which would put us at 41st nationally. Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith have started to contribute big plays and JB has done a better job of mixing up formations and getting the ball to his playmakers in space. There's still a long way to go - the 'Noles are smack-dab in the middle of the pack coming at 60th in Total Offense - but the play-calling and preparation have been noticeably better the last few games. The 99-yard TD drive against NC State set a new high-water mark for the JB Era and got me all fired up. If we start to show some consistency this has the potential to be a good offense - who would have thunk it?

- Brandon Warren has emerged as a major playmaker. If FSU were undefeated instead of 4-2 Warren would be considered on the same level as Tim Tebow, Mitch Mustain, and Percy Harvin in terms of impact freshmen. As things stand he'll have to settle for being the best TE in the ACC in just his first year at the I-A level. If FSU can get Greg Carr going on the outside it would open up things even more for Brandon in the middle of the field. Hopefully he'll be ready to go against Boston College and the nation can get a good look at FSU's best TE since Lonnie Johnson.

- Drew. He hasn't had the kind of season FSU fans were hoping for but you've got to admire the kid's toughness and character. He takes huge shots and just keeps getting up. He never makes excuses and is always willing to take the heat. He's a leader, an inspiration, and a credit to the program. And he's only a sophomore.

- I'm not going to say anything about the offensive line until after the BC game. But I will say this...McHale is starting to make his mark.

- About a year ago the coaches seemed to make a conscious decision to put more of a focus on character. Certain malcontents were dismissed from the team and for the first time in several years the summer passed by without incident. Now, despite the disappointing losses, the team still seems focused and determined to get better. Meanwhile, down in Coral Gables the Hurricanes are stomping on FIU's logo...not the one on the field, the one on the players' helmets! The focus on good character is a welcome change for FSU and one that will produce benefits far beyond wins and losses.

- If we win this weekend it will mean we faced a 5-1 squad with perhaps the best QB in the ACC and beat them with a defense that has been absolutely gutted by injuries, with freshmen starting at DE, OLB, CB, and SS. Needless to say, I'd feel pretty good about the future of the defense if that happens.

- Mickey Andrews is still the Defensive Coordinator and Odell Haggins and Kevin Steele are still on his staff, so I think the above scenario has a pretty good chance of playing out.

- After last weekend's events it appeared as though the universe had tilted in favor of the University of Evil down in Gainesville. Then Urban Meyer got outcoached, Chris Leak wet the bed (again), Rex Grossman got completely owned by the Arizona Cardinals, and suddenly the Gator hype-machine went eerily quiet. Hopefully it will stay like this until basketball season starts.

- Looking around at Georgia, Oklahoma, Miami, and Michigan State makes me realize that Florida State's problems aren't all that bad.

It's a great time to be a 'Nole, ya'll. See you in Tallahassee this weekend for the BC Beat Down!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Bush Declares this "National Hate FSU Week"

The loss to NC State last Thursday was tough to take. Coughing up a 10-point lead against a young Wolfpack offense that absolutely caught fire in the second half put me in an existential funk for a couple days, but that was nothing compared to the soul-scarring experience of perusing the college football media afterwards:

- Here Ivan Maisel delivers his eulogy of the Florida State program. I love Ivan and he's been a supporter of the 'Noles for a long time, so reading this was...unpleasant. Especially from a guy who wrote a column last year in which he promised to write "I will never doubt Bobby Bowden again" 100 times after the ACC Championship Game.

- Mark Schlabach leads off his Hot/Not list by absolutely trashing FSU, on the heels of his chat last week where he absolutely trashed FSU. If that wasn't painful enough, his body-slam is right next to a glowing report of UF's hot start. I don't love Mark and only recently started reading his stuff. He's not getting a Christmas card this year, I can tell you that.

- Pete Fiutak take not one, not two, but FOUR shots at FSU in his weekly column. I like Fiu and read his column weekly, so I don't begrudge him for his take on the loss. But still, four shots in one column? The horse is dead man, no need to keep beating it.

- Even the good guys over at Atlantic Coast Chronicles are calling for Bobby to step down.

- Shockingly, EDSBS is less than complimentary about the state of FSU's program. "Giddy" would be a more accurate description. After the Choke in Doak and all the times we used UF as our personal launching pad to the National Title game I guess you can't blame them.

- Here's a fun game: try and navigate ESPN's front page without finding sixteen stories drooling over UF. I've tried, and it's not possible.

Look, I've never been one of those guys who thinks the media has it out for FSU. If anything I think we've received an inordinate amount of support from guys like Maisel, Gene Wojchiekowski, Lee Corso, and Kirk Herbstriet over the years. We continually reaped the rewards of our high profile when we were winning, so I have no problem with the program taking a heap of criticism when we struggle. But DAMN it's hard ou here for a 'Nole! Surfing the web has become an exercise in landmine avoidance, as seemingly every columnist on the planet jostles for position to pound in the last nail in FSU's coffin. Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but did Penn State get this much grief when they went 3-8? Did Nebraska get this much grief when they jumped the shark? Did UF get this much grief after losing to Mississippi State? I don't know, I'm asking...

Keep your head held high 'Nole Nation. You're never as good as your last win or as bad as your last loss. We'll get this thing turned around - either under this regime or the next - and then our friends in the media will start calling us again, inviting us out to parties, and saying how they never doubted us for a second.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Top 24 - Week 6

The Top 24 is on hiatus for this week. There are a couple of reasons for this:

- My girlfriend's parents were visiting over the weekend so no writing got done then
- My boss is out of town leaving me with double duty, so no writing got done at work
- I just discovered I can watch "The Office" on YouTube, so no writing got done at home
- It's too damn depressing to write it without FSU in there this week

Look for a new Top 24 next week. I can already tell you it won't include Virginia Tech...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Real-Time Reaction to FSU/NC State

Obviously I'm disappointed with how things turned out on Thursday night. I still can't believe FSU lost that game after the way they played in the third quarter. That was the type of situation, and the tyoe of game, that FSU's rep was built on, but they let it get away. This is one of the most disappointing losses in the last six years, and I'm not sure where we go from here. Anyway, this is how I saw the game as it played out...

- 'Noles on defense first, NC State guy falls down on 3rd down - looked like he had the 1st if he could have stayed upright, but it's a 3-and-out. Sweet.

- 2 rushed for 20 yards so far for FSU

- FUCK! friend Mel called me up and almost immediately Lorenzo Booker dropped the ball. I couldn't get off the phone fast enough...

- Okay, it appears that Booker was down but Kirk Herbstreit is giving the ACC refs WAYYYY too much credit if he thinks this is a gimme call.

- Wow, chalk one up for the guys in black & white! They got the call right. Hooray!

- By the way, reffing the game tonight is NOT Ron Cherry. Between the running game and the ref I'm giddy right now.

- Hmmmm, so pre-snap shifting by the offense - interesting. It's important to note that although the opponent last week was Rice that game was still important for the 'Noles because it was one of the few times we've seen some diversity in Jeff Bowden's play-calling. This game will be a big test of whether or not he can keep it going, and so far the results look promising.

- Bobby's glasses actually look pretty cool tonight. He's gong with the aviator shades instead of the beach-volleyball style Oakley’s. Hopefully this is another trend that sticks.

- Good lord this is the slowest ref of all time.

- Booker Baby! Big run for Lorenzo - the O looks great so far.

- You've got to put this in the end zone...

- 7 rushes, 1 pass so far

- Last year NC State won because they were able to keep FSU out of the end zone on several possessions inside the 10 yard line. Needless to say, I'm not thrilled with the FG after that drive, but I'll take the early lead.

- For the record, I'm not a fan of the all-white jerseys. I think we lost to Miami in the 2003 Orange Bowl in the all-whites.

- Weird play...Buster moves Fluellen over and Andre Brown promptly runs through the giant hole that was created for 10 yards.

- Fuck you Amato and your gay-ass trick plays.

- Seriously, it's like Cleveland from Family Guy is reffing this game.

- NC State's QB has gotten CRUSHED three plays in a row. He may not survive the night.

- Over/Under on penalties in this game: 37

- I take that's more like Chris the retarded son from Family Guy is reffing this game. They seem mystified by how to spot this 5-yard penalty. ACC Referees, everybody!

- The safety's up for NC State. I'm just saying...

- Holy crap, what's up with Corey Simon?!? The ticker says he's out for the year due to a non-football related illness. Wherever you are, get well soon #53.

- NOOOO! Good God, not another one - Derek Nicholson is down...looks like a non-contact knee injury. What the hell did FSU do to deserve this?

- Oh man, Fowler just called this a "field position game". That's like calling someone a "possession receiver". Ouch.

- Two great young LBs gone in two weeks. Add in the massive injuries at DT and Tony Carter and we officially have no depth on defense.

- By the way, I kind of dig these new Cadillac commercials.

- Okay what the hell, suddenly NC State looks like the '85 Dolphins.

- Are You Kidding Me!?! Geno Hayes is down...please god be okay.

- Good Lord - ridiculous play for a TD. 7-3 NC State. Trestman did away with the fancy stuff, went to 3- and 5-step drops and had Evans just throw it to a spot. And it worked. Plus two LBs are hurt. I hate this game right now.

- Wowwowwowwowwow, great play by Drew to spin away from trouble and find Booker for 73 yards on 3rd-and-10! And MY GOD what a cheap shot by NC State on Drew after the play!!! Say whatever you want about Drew Weatherford, but the kid is tough.

- Greg Carr here maybe? 2nd-and-goal at the 2...nope. Now 3rd-and-Goal...

- Dammit! Still having trouble in the red zone. Can't settle for FGs down here.

- Son of a bitch! Another game, another opposing QBs Dad is the center of attention. I swear this is bad mojo for FSU

- Geno on the sack!!! Thank God he's okay!

- Good lord, terrible penalty on the punt return. We could have had the ball on the 40-yard-line if not for that stupid holding. Sill, starting at midfield's not bad.

- Okay, this is big...3rd-and-1 calls have been bad for FSU...and fuckfuckfuck. Tank Tyler with a big stop. Opportunity squandered.

- Huh, this must be what it's like playing against FSU...NC State has no running game and they're throwing up jump balls every down.

- YEAH, CHRIS DAVIS BABY! That's how you play the jump-ball offense! 'Noles are back in front 13-7!!!

- Ummmm, that's not how you protect the lead guys...big kickoff return. Blackmon does it to us again.

- Wooooooo...HUGE hit! Lawrence Timmons, ya'll. 3rd-and-2...

- Whew, they get the FG but disaster was averted. 13-10, good guys. A score here before the half would be nice.

- Okay, this is either the worst two-minute ever, or the worst clock-killing drive ever. I really can't decide.

- Well, at least they took a shot for Greg Carr. Great job on Carr so far by AJ Davis, a former big-time recruit who was thought to be headed to FSU but switched to NC State late in the process. 0 catches for Big Greg in the 1st half.

- 13-10, FSU at the half. It should be 21-7. Not good - too many missed opportunities. But it could be a lot worse.

- I wonder what Chuck Amato would sound like if he got kicked in the nuts? Would his voice be so high that only dogs could hear it?

- Whoa, Lou Holtz and Mark May. See you in 20 minutes, ESPN.

- By the way, the beverage of choice tonight is Flying Dog "DOGtoberfest". Actually it's pretty good, and they were giving away pint glasses with a six-pack of it at Whole Foods. So for $8 you get a free glass.

- I really don't like that 3-and-out for FSU right there. You want to make a statement with your first drive of the half

- Damn! stupid penalty to bail out NC State on 3rd-and-8

- DAMN! Missed tackle to bail out NC State on 3rd-and-10

- What a ridiculous Holding penalty on NC State!

- What a ridiculous facemask by FSU!!!

- In case you didn't hear, Buster Davis is the MAN! Great tackle on 3rd-and-goal...

- 4th-and-goal...NO!!! 'NOLES RULE!

- Great block by Lorenzo Booker on that pass out of the end zone. And a great call by JB.

- Oh sweet lord is Brandon Warren awesome. 3rd-and-12 and the true freshman converts. He's been FSU's most reliable receiver this year.

- And Greg Carr is in the books! Nice catch, now keep going to him.

- Gotta say, it's been a great game so far. It's 3rd-and-6, 5:20 left in the 3rd quarter, FSU is on the NC State 46 yard line and they take a time-out. This is where games are won or lost.

- Sweet play by Drew - Warren was doubled so he dumped it to Booker for 8

- Fowler mentions 'Noles that were quiet in college but blew up in the pros. Um, Marion Butts anyone? He was like 5th string at FSU and then led the NFL in rushing one year and is a total badass in Super Tecmo Bowl.

- 3-for-3 on 3rd downs on this drive...

- FSU WR Chris Davis on the run, FSU WR Richard Goodman on the tackle.

- Herbie gives props to Tommy Tuberville for calling for a play-off system. I agree.

- Damn! Drew had Carr in the end zone there.

- WHAT A DRIVE!!! 99.9999 yards, ending with a perfect throw to Brandon Warren for the TD!!! Best drive in six years! FUCK YEAH!!!

- As a football fan, could you ever ask for anything more than a goal-line stand, followed by a 99-yard TD drive, all in a hostile environment on the road? Wow! I!

- Let the record show that at 10:14 pm EST on October 5, 2006 Jeff Bowden finally figured out how to set up a defense. Only took six years. That kicked ass!

- God, another big 3rd down conversion for NC State. This isn't what the D used to do. You've got to crush their soul there.

- Evans has all day to throw...FSU isn't getting any pressure on him. Nice play by Michael Ray Garvin.

- Damn! The draw AGAIN! That play has killed us every time. Brown must be averaging 17 ypc on draws. They're just killing us with that play.

- Not what the doctor orders...TD answer from NC State. Garvin got smoked. We miss Tony Carter.

- They just said that Amato isn't on the hot seat, and that the program is moving in the right direction. How could he NOT be on the hot seat? Losing to Akron and Southern Miss is the "right direction"?!?

- The defense looks worn out. There’s no depth anymore and there are freshmen and sophomores that have been out there all game. They look gassed. We need a drive here.

- Oh man, how can you go 3-and-out right there? We're going to have to hang on here.

- 3rd-and-12, come on D...

- Oh no. That sucked, we had to have that stop.

- The defense is getting chewed up on this drive.

- Oh my god. Fucking Duncan made that catch on another jump ball against perfect coverage. State takes the lead back, 24-20

- We've got to answer right now.

- Remember the Louisiana Purchase? That involved less territory than Drew just gave up on that play.

- 3rd-and-26...what could go wrong?

- Why did I ask. Add in a shanked punt that gives State the ball at midfield.

- Unreal. All they've done in the second half is throw up jump balls and their receivers just keep catching everything over our DBs. They’re absolutely on fire right now.

- Freshman CB, freshman DE, freshman SS... are you sensing a pattern on FSU's defense yet?

- Why are people acting like Detroit beat the Yankees would be an upset? Didn't Detroit have the better record all year long?

- Oh for fuck's sake...NC State punt rolls out at the FSU 4. 96 yards to go? Shouldn't be a problem...

- Man, Weatherford has been rough this game. Fumble, but DeCody Fagg was in the right place at the right time and got the 1st down.

- ...ummm, that could be bad. Weatherford fired a poor pass into traffic and it was tipped to the safety. Uuugggghhh.

- Oh man, this is bad. We're done for 2006.

- Well, this one's on the defense. There was no pressure form the DL, the CBs got beat too often, and they’re beat up right now. This one hurts.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Behind Enemy Lines: Discussing FSU/NC State

In anticipation of Thursday night's throw-down between Florida State and North Carolina State we here at The Chop Shop sent a few questions to the guys at NC State blog Section Six and they sent some back to us. Wolpack guru Steven was kind enough to share his thoughts on the game, the two programs, and the ACC in general...

The Chop Shop: When you hear Oklahoma fans bitch about the Oregon game, how bad do you want to send them photographic evidence that Akron's RB was down before he reached the endzone? Do you think the ACC should do something about its refs (who royally screwed up several calls during the GTech/VTech game), and what do you think of the new rules this year - replay, new clock rules, etc?
I'm not at the point where I think the ACC needs to do anything beyond what it already does (reprimands, suspensions). The officiating in general is not that serious a problem; plus, I doubt the efficacy of whatever the conference might do. You can say you're going to go out and get better officials, or part ways with those who have poor track records, but I wouldn't expect those things to result in much improvement. I agree with most people about the clock rules -- I hate that we're losing 10-15 plays per game. I never had a problem with the length of games. Starting the clock when the kicker makes contact with the ball on kickoffs is no big deal; starting the clock after a change of possession adds an unwanted wrinkle.

Section Six: I heard that FSU played in front of a lot of empty seats against Rice. Was that a sign of growing frustration with the program, or was it just because Rice was the opponent?
To quote Grandpa Simpson, "a little from Column A, a little from Column B". The Rice game was the third straight home game, and for a lot of FSU fans who live out of town (like me) it's expensive and draining to travel three weeks in a row. Plus, FSU fans are accustomed to a slightly higher level of competition. At the same time, a lot of fans are fed up with the offensive staff. There was a thread on Warchant a few weeks ago asking fans to boycott the games to protest the Jeff Bowden era, which may the dumbest idea since Fox hired Tim McCarver to announce post-season baseball. But maybe some fans are going through with it. FSU has great fans, but now everyone realizes that JB isn't getting it done - and possibly never will - yet we're stuck with him as long as Bobby's the coach. It's a frustrating situation for the fans - and for the players, if you heard any of Antonio Cromartie's recent comments. Everybody loves Bobby, but six straight years of declining offense are tough to take for fans that are used to offensive fireworks and National Championship races.

TCS: Is Daniel Evans the real deal? Obviously the throw to beat Boston College was a tremendous play, and now he gets the chance to go against a very young FSU secondary. With QB play being such a huge issue for State since Rivers left, do you see Evans having success in this game and down the road?
It's still too early to say. All we can do is hope, hope, hope that we have finally found our guy. The big question about Evans is: how much better will he get? Jay Davis and Marcus Stone didn't improve much with experience. During ESPN's telecast of the BC game, Ed Cunningham said he could picture Evans going on to have Rivers-type success, which I thought was a ridiculous thing to say at that point. I think FSU will get alot of pressure on Evans, making it hard for him to be effective. As for his long term prospects, I couldn't even begin to guess where his ceiling is. If I had to make a prediction, I'd say someone other than Evans will be starting next season.

SS: What's the deal at quarterback? Should we expect to see any of Xavier Lee on Thursday?
Personally I would like to see more of X. The knock on Xavier has always been his grasp of the offense, but he's in his third year so that had better not be a problem anymore. He has physical gifts that Drew Weatherford can't match, but he doesn't seem to have Drew's poise. X is more of a high-risk/high-reward player at this point, but something is obviously wrong with the offense and if it's not working why not try something else? After his performance against Rice I think he earned more playing time, but this offensive staff is extremely cautious so if the game is close - which I think it will be - we probably won't see much more of Xavier until the Duke game.

TCS: The Wolfpack hasn't been televised much so far. Are there any new stars 'Nole fans should fear - John Dunlap perhaps, who at one point was an FSU recruit - or is it still the Andre Brown show?
Keep an eye on tight end Anthony Hill (#83), who leads the team in receptions and usually does a good job run-blocking as well. On the defensive side, defensive tackles Tank Tyler (#72) and DeMario Pressley (#92) are guys to watch. Linebacker Pat Lowery (#42) leads the team in tackles by a wide margin.

SS: I really thought FSU's offense would be better this season. What are some of the reasons for the ineffectiveness -- aside from playcalling?
Jeff Bowden deserves all of the criticism he's received so far... his business card says "Offensive Coordinator" so if the offense stinks it's his fault. Having said that, no one on FSU's offensive staff has earned his paycheck this season. QB Coach Darryl Dickey hasn't received nearly enough blame for the job he'd done - or hasn't done - developing QB's at FSU, which was a QB factory once upon a time. Billy Sexton's RBs have been a major disappointment so far - especially Lorenzo Booker - with all the dancing behind the line. And OL coach Mark McHale has been the biggest disaster of all. The OL is better than last year, but they spent all summer working on the running game and FSU still hasn't found any consistency on the ground. Obviously the players have to raise their games, but this is a very young offense that seems to lack leadership - the loss of Leon Washington was bigger than people realize - and I think the burden is on the coaches to get them straightenend out.

TCS: Do you think this game will decide Chuck Amato's fate? Everyone assumed he was history before the BC upset, but if NC State beats FSU that would be back-to-back wins against ranked teams. Would a win save Amato's job, and if so, is that best for NC State?
In that the outcome of this game puts us one step closer to or further from a winning season, I suppose it could. Amato's job security isn't so tenuous that it hangs on any one game. If he wants to ease the pressure, there is a lot he needs to do beyond winning Thursday, like getting to a bowl and beating UNC along the way. Is retaining Amato the best thing for NC State? Good question! It's so good, I have to stall by repeating the question. I have no idea how to answer this right now; ask me again in December (sorry for the cop-out).

SS: Where do you think NC State can exploit the Seminoles (if anywhere)?
The most obvious problem for FSU is the loss of Tony Carter, who has been our best cover guy since his first game. Sophomore Michael Ray Garvin will take his place, with a freshman backing him up. Our most experienced CB is junior JR Bryant, and he just got benched for redshirt freshman Jaime Robinson. True freshman Myron Rolle will start at rover. Junior Free Safety Roger Williams should be the leader of the secondary, but so far he's been the weakest link on the whole defense. The entire secondary is a question mark right now so that would be my first guess. Unfortunately most of FSU's injuries have been at the Defensive Tackle position, to the point that Mickey Andrews moved our best DE inside to shore up the depth. So we might struggle against the pass, but at least our run-stoppers are all hurt. Yikes!

TCS: What is your prediction for the game? How will the game go, and what will the final score be?
I could see this game playing out like the 2004 game,which you may remember if you managed not to fall asleep during it. Slow and low-scoring. With the issues we have with stopping the run, however, I think FSU's offense could end up pleasantly surprising 'Noles fans. I'll go with NC State 24, FSU 21. Just because.

SS: What's the final score going to be?
I know I've sounded pretty negative in all my answers, but I actually have a lot of hope for the 'Noles this season. The offense looked night-and-day better against Rice - and yes, I realize it was Rice - with much better play-calling and a physical running attack that had been missing all season. Fortunately FSU has recruited well on defense and our coaches on that side of the ball are among the nation's best, so I don't think the defense will drop off too badly. I don't know if Daniel Evans is experienced enough to exploit FSU's young secondary, and the 'Noles still have a bunch of heat-seeking missiles at LB and they'll all be aimed at Andre Brown. While I fear that Jeff Bowden may revert to being...well, Jeff Bowden, I think the 'Noles pull it out 20-14.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Top 24 - Week 5

Well here we are at week 5 - the appetizers are out of the way and we're getting into the entree portion of the season. A big 'ol heaping helping of conference showdowns awaits with LSU-Florida and Georgia-Tennessee in the SEC, Texas-Oklahoma in the Big XII, and Oregon-Cal in the first ginormous Pac-10 showdown in recent memory that doesn't involve Southern Cal. In the ACC, FSU-NC State on Thursday night is a key game for the 'Noles ACCCG hopes. FSU is hungry for a win, but the Wolfpack's not satiated by beating Boston College, they want the 'Noles for dessert. Am I pushing the food metaphor too far? Have you had your fill? Enjoy the football feast this weekend, ya'll! (okay, I'm done now...)

!!!Warning: I've been digging into so expect lots of numbers!!!

Without further ado, the Top 24...

1. Ohio State (5-0)
W vs. #21 Iowa, 38-17
Last week: 3

After a one-week demotion the Buckeyes return to the head of the class. As predicted here they mopped the floor with Iowa, but it was the efficient brilliance with which they did it that really impressed me. Ohio State boasts weapons at every offensive position and can beat teams in a number of ways. Anthony Gonzalez's catch-and-run TD was a thing of beauty, and the underappreciated Antonio Pittman continued to shine against the Hawkeyes. The defense isn't as good as last year, coming in at only 42nd against the run, but with the Troy Smith-led offense clicking on all cylinders they don't have to be.

2. Michigan (5-0)
W vs. Minnesota, 28-14
Last week: 1

They would've had to put a mighty ass-whupping on Minnesota to hold off Ohio State for the top spot, and a 14-point margin over an average Gopher squad doesn't quite cut it. The defense is absolutely unholy, currently ranking #1 against the run and #8 overall, but the offense has been inconsistent from week to week. Still, considering the struggles Auburn and USC had with supposed conference lightweights I can't justify moving the Wolverines any further down than this.

3. Auburn (5-0)
W vs. South Carolina, 24-17
Last week: 4

That highly-touted Tiger defense sure showed some holes against South Carolina. Give credit to Tommy Tuberville for making the gutsy onside kick call, and to Auburn for keeping the ball away from Steve Spurrier's offense for the entire third quarter. Pulling out a win against a fired up opponent in a hostile atmosphere isn't something I take lightly. But this team and their fanbase are seeking respect after the 2004...unpleasantness. Getting taken to the wire by a banged up Gamecocks squad and their third-string QB ain't the way to get it.

4. Southern Cal (4-0)
W vs. Washington State, 28-22
Last week: 2

Maybe the Trojans can't just reload after all. Washington State took possible serial killer John David Booty and Co. to the brink, and if not for Steve Smith's heroics the Trojans could sitting in the middle of the pack in the Pac-10. A better offense would have beaten USC on Saturday, raising the question of whether the winner of Cal/Oregon should be considered the front-runner in the conference. Hey, it's just nice to have a race in a league that's had "Property of USC" stamped on it for the last five years.

5. Louisville (4-0)
Last week: 5

They had a bye, what do you want me to say? How about this: Louisville gets a lot of hype for their explosive passing game, but did you know they're #5 in the nation in rushing offense? That puts them ahead Texas, Michigan, and Oklahoma. You've got to be impressed with the way the Cardinals have kept on rolling despite the loss of their two stars on offense. And the defense ain't exactlly shabby, either (more on that later). Seriously Coach Petrino, you can get a lot of great deals on Tallahassee real estate these days...

6. LSU (4-1)
W vs. Mississippi State, 48-17
Last week: 7

I watched a lot of LSU/MSU on Saturday, mostly because it came on first and my hangover made operating the remote surprisingly difficult. I realize that Mississippi State is absolutely terrible this year but Jamarcus Russell was incredible in that game, putting on a performance as impressive as any I've seen this year. I have no idea how Auburn kept LSU out of the endzone but I have a feeling that if they played later in the year the results would be very different. Of course they're inconsistent enough to lay another egg against Florida, so who knows?

7. West Virginia (4-0)
Last week: 6

They had a bye, what do you want me to say? How about this: West Virginia is 93rd in Passing Offense (Louisville is 16th), 30th in Rushing Defense (Louisville is 5th), and 34th in Total Defense (Louisville is 23rd) despite playing a weaker schedule than the Cardinals. So why do so many fans and pollsters assume West Virginia is better? I'm not buying it. Even if Brian Brohm can't go I'm taking Louisville against the Mountaineers - they seem to be the more complete team. No disrespect to Rich Rodriguez, who's done a fantastic job at West Virginia, but in my mind West Virginia is a step behind Louisville in the Big East.

8. Texas (4-1)
W vs. Sam Houston State, 56-3
Last week: 8

Shockingly, the Longhorns eked past Sam Houston State in the prelude to their big showdown with Oklahoma. Lately I started to think that the Longhorns might have a tougher time than people expected against the Sooners, but then I realized Texas is 2nd against the run and Oklahoma's entire offense is based on Adrian Peterson. And it doesn't help that the Sooner defense has been unimpressive so far. With Selvin Young and Jamaal Charles the Longhorns can match Oklahoma on the ground, and they should be better at pretty much every other position. I think the Longhorns will roll through their first Big XII test with ease.

9. Florida (5-0)
W vs. Alabama, 28-13
Last week: 9

Another game I watched closely, and I have to say that Alabama had a lot of chances to take control of this game. The Gator defense is stout - especially up the middle - but there are holes in the secondary that a good QB could exploit. John Parker Wilson missed his chances, but will Jamarcus Russell be so accomodating? The offense is flat-out ugly at times, and they haven't seen a death squad unit like LSU's so far. I'll give the Gators all the credit they deserve if they knock off the Tigers this Saturday, but after watching both teams play this past weekend I'll be surprised if that happens.

10. Clemson (4-1)
W vs. Louisiana Tech, 51-0
Last week: 12

Here are the numbers: 11th in Total Offense (7th in rushing), 9th in Total Defense (11th against the run). That right there is a solid team folks. Clemson is underrated right now, but after once-beatens with bigger reps like Oklahoma and Tennessee get beat again and frauds like Georgia are bumped off the Tigers will be in the top 10 where they belong. Hopefully they won't take Wake too lightly, and those back-to-back games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech look pretty daunting, but Clemson looks like the most complete team in the ACC so far.

11. Oregon (4-0)
W vs. Arizona State, 48-13
Last week: 11

The Ducks are a solid team, and undeserving of all the criticism after the Oklahoma incident(s). I still can't believe I'm legitimately excited about a Pac-10 showdown, but Oregon/Cal should be a great game.

12. Georgia Tech (4-1)
W vs. #10 Virginia Tech, 38-27
Last week: 14

Any rational person who saw the Jackets dismantle Virginia Tech must realize Georgia Tech is underrated...unless that person is a Division I-A coach. The Coaches' Poll and the Harris Poll both have GT ranked lower the team they just crushed in Blacksburg. Gee, I wonder why the BCS has no credibility?

13. Notre Dame (4-1)
W vs. Purdue, 35-21
Last week: 13

Here we go... Notre Dame gets to fatten up their record on cupcakes over the next few weeks while Lou Holtz goes all Mark Foley over Brady Quinn. The Irish are 79th is rushing defense - behind Illinois and Syracuse and roughly equal to Vanderbilt and Tulane. But UCLA has the only realistic shot at knocking off the Irish until Quinn and Co. get a shot at revenge aginst Southern Cal.

14. Oklahoma (3-1)
Last week: 15

Adrian Peterson for President! AD is the best player in the country, but the rest of the Sooners haven't lived up to expectations. What if Rhett Bomar hadn't been declared ineligible? Would the Sooners have started the year #1? And if they'd knocked off Oregon would they still be #1 despite the disappointing defense and Ohio State's performance thus far?

15. Tennessee (4-1)
W vs. Memphis, 41-7
Last week: 17

Would the real Tennessee please stand up? If the team that rolled over Cal and Memphis shows up in Athens, Georgia's days in the top 10 are done. If the team that coughed up the lead aginst Florida shows up we may have a race in the SEC East. The Vols are talented enough on offense to run the table, but one can only wonder how good they may have been on defense if the impressive Justin Harrell had stayed healthy.

16. California (4-1)
W vs. Oregon State, 41-13
Last week: 18

Cal has played so well since their Week One blowout in Knoxville that it's hard to keep them behind Tennessee. If they put on another impressive performance in a victory over Oregon they're jumping the Vols, and that's that.

17. Virginia Tech (4-1)
L vs. #14 Georgia Tech, 27-38
Last week: 10

Never forget, when choosing between two teams that are roughly equal in talent go with the team with the better QB. Sean Glennon couldn't match Reggie Ball - Reggie Ball! - and that made all the difference in the ACC Coastal showdown. The Hokies' are solid on defense, and Brandon Ore is a good running back, but until they get better QB play (a common theme among ACC schools this year) Virginia Tech won't be a contender.

18. Georgia (5-0)
W vs. Ole Miss 14-9
Last week: 16

Poll Madness #1: Virginia Tech over Georgia Tech. Poll Madness #2: Georgia STILL in the top 10 despite back-to-back clunkers against 0-4 Colorado and 1-4 Ole Miss. Georgia fans, take it from someone who lived through the Wyatt Sexton era: when your hanging your hopes on a mediocre QB like Joe Tereshinski, you have no hope at all.

19. Nebraska (4-1)
W vs. Kansas, 39-32
Last week: 19

Personally I think Mark Mangino has done a solid job at Kansas so I'm more impressed than most by Nebraska's close win over the Jayhawks. Bill Callahan has pulled the 'Huskers back from the brink and into the realm of solid respectability. But will he ever lead them back to the elite? That's the question that haunts 'Huskers Nation.

20. Florida State (3-1)
Last week: 22

I hate to say it, but Thursday night's game against unranked NC State is big for the 'Noles. If they can build off of the explosive offensive showing against Rice there will be hope for the rest of the season. If they revert to the timid, predictable attack from the Miami and Clemson games...well, things will get broken around Chop Shop Headquarters. A secondary that keeps getting younger and a beat-up defensive line won't help matters.

Greg Carr needs to see the ball a lot more for FSU to be successful

21. Missouri (5-0)
W vs. Colorado, 28-13
Last week: NR

Mizzou has played absolutely no one, but when you're in the top 10 overall in offense AND defense a quarter of the way through the season you deserve to be ranked. The quest for legitimacy begins this Saturday at Texas Tech.

22. Boise State (5-0)
W vs. Utah, 36-3
Last week: 23

Still haven't seen a second of Boise State football. Love that blue turf, though!

23. Iowa (4-1)
L vs. #3 Ohio State 17-38
Last week: 21

I kind of pre-emptively punished the Hawkeyes for the Ohio State blow-out in last week's poll. Iowa isn't really great at anything, but they're solid throughout and they play hard until the final whistle. That's enough to keep them in the rankings for now.

24. Rutgers (5-0)
W vs. South Florida, 22-20
Last week: NR

I don't expect them to stay in the polls for long, but Greg Schiano has done a great job returning Rutgers to respectability. Ray Rice has rushed for more yards than two-thirds of the teams in Division I-A.

What Did I Ever See In You??? … TCU (#20), Michigan State(#24)

And while we're here, I'd like to take this opportunity to extend my condolences to Michigan State fans. Last week when I put State at #24 I included a paragraph stating that, despite ranking their team in the Top 24, I knew with 100% certainty that the Spartans were going to self-destruct in the wake of the Notre Dame game - again - and miss out on a bowl - AGAIN! I took out that paragraph because their upcoming opponent was Illinois, and surely they couldn't drop their HOMECOMING game to Illinois and the Zooker!!! Sadly, I underestimated the evil curse that hangs over that beat-down shell of a program. How those fans are able to pick up the pieces every off-season I'll never know, but my heart goes out to them.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Is There Hope for the ACC in '06?

After the first four weeks of the season it appeared that the ACC was dead in the water. The two showcase programs - Miami and FSU - both got off to terrible starts, with the Hurricanes absorbing a humiliating defeat at the hands of Louisville and the Seminoles almost doing the same against Troy. NC State was beaten twice by non-BCS schools, then further weakened the conference by upsetting Atlantic Division-leader Boston College. Maryland was blown off the field by West Virginia. Virginia was blown off the field by everyone. After one month the conference only had two two unbeatens left: untested Virginia Tech and surprising Wake Forest. The conference that had appeared ready to challenge for college football supremacy in 2005 suddenly looked more like the SWAC than the SEC. But then a funny thing happened...a couple teams started to play some serious ball.
Everyone who's overachieved so far raise
your hand. Whoa, not so fast Miami...

Ever since their last-second win in Tallahassee the Clemson Tigers have been playing with confidence, and their offense is running like a well-oiled machine. Actually well-oiled machines should run like Clemson, which is currently 7th in the nation in rushing and 2nd in scoring. The Tigers boast one of the deepest backfields in the nation and have outrushed their opponents by a huge margin of 171.4 yards/game. In addition senior QB Will Proctor has been an improvement over the departed Charlie Whitehurst. While Proctor doesn't possess Whitehurst's physical gifts he also forces fewer bad throws, reducing turnovers and allowing Clemson's dominant ground game to wear down their opponents. On the other side of the ball the Tigers haven't fared nearly as well. They're only 9th in total defense and a lowly 11th in rushing defense. Pathetic! Actually, it's amazing they've performed so well after losing Tye Hill and Jamaal Fudge to the NFL and star LB Anthony Waters to injury. Even with star DE Gaines Adams banged up the defense has continued to shine.

The Tigers D has been flat-out nasty so far

Though technically trailing Boston College, the FSUwin put the Tigers firmly in the driver's seat for the Atlantic Division's ACCCG bid. All they need is another BC loss and the Eagles still have to play Virginia Tech, FSU, and Miami. There are some road blocks for Clemson as well. The Tigers travel to undefeated Wake Forest this weekend, followed by a scrimmage against Temple before back-to-back showdowns against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. If they can win out Clemson is all but assured of a trip to Jacksonville to play for the ACC Championship and their first BCS bid.
James Davis should help Clemson
win some more hardware this year

In the other half of the league, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets may have just wrapped up the Coastal Division with their dominant 38-27 win at Virginia Tech - which wasn't as close as the final score would indicate. Calvin Johnson may be the best receiver in college football this year, and although Reggie Ball still seems confused about which team he's supposed to throw to, he's avoided the killer turnovers that doomed Tech in the past. The running game has been solid as well, with Tashard Choice doing a solid PJ Daniels impersonation. The offense hasn't been as explosive as Clemson's, but it hasn't had to be thanks to an outstanding defense that ranks 10th against the run and 26th overall despite playing two top-10 teams already. The October 28th game against Miami will determine the Jackets' fate, and with the way the Hurricanes have struggled this year you have to like the Jackets' chances at home. If Tech wins that game they'll be heading South to Alltel Stadium in December.

The Yellow Jackets dominated
Virginia Tech in Blacksburg

Right now both of these teams are severely underrated nationally. In Georgia Tech's case there's indisputable evidence of this, since both the USA Today and Harris polls have them ranked behind a Virginia Tech team they just demolished. Clemson is sitting at #15 despite their gaudy numbers, but their potent offense has started to attract some national attention and if they can maintain their level of play look for them to rise up the rankings in a big way in the coming weeks. Georgia Tech @ Clemson on October 21st is looking like the Game of the Year in the ACC, and by that time it should be a match-up of top 15 teams.

Will Calvin Johnson
terrorize the Tigers this year?

The ACC isn't a two-team conference, either. Should Clemson falter a young FSU squad could wind up defending its title in Jacksonville. Virginia Tech - though limited by their young QB - is still a terror on defense and has a good shat at winning out, meaning Georgia Tech doesn't have much room for error. And while the conference as a whole is down, we're far from out. With the SEC/ACC showdowns at the end of the year, plus the bowl games, the Atlantic Coast Conference has an excellent chance to find itself with four top 15 teams by the end of the season and momentum heading into 2007. We may be on life-support right now, but the reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated.