Wednesday, September 29, 2010
After a month of games, the Frogs will leave the Metroplex this weekend for the first time the whole season so far. Judging by the overall lack of nervous energy revolving around this game by the fanbase (or at least those in my immediate circle, but hey, isn't generalizing what the internet is for?), those of us wearing purple & white are not too afraid of Colorado State. And Vegas agrees, since the Frogs are favored by...hell, I don't know, a million points? Maybe one of you degenerates can fill me in on the specifics.
Sure, when you look at what CSU's done to end last season and start this one compared with TCU's track record over that timespan, it does little to instill fear in you. But just remember that the last three times the Frogs have tapped the Rockies in Colorado, it hasn't quite been as much fun as a frigid train coming out of nowhere, blasting the O'Jays.
Last year, you'll remember, the Frogs ventured up to the Centennial State (thank you, wikipedia) with a 4-0 record, as they are this year. What was waiting for them there was temperatures in the single-digits and and Air Force squad that wasn't about to back down to their heavily-favored guests in purple. The hard-fought game, which nearly derailed TCU's BCS hopes, wasn't over until the Frogs recovered an onside-kick attempt with just under a minute to play after a Falcon touchdown had closed it to within three...and all of Fort Worth breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.
The last trip to Fort Collins for the Frogs came in 2008, when a 5-1 TCU squad came into their game against Colorado State without Andy Dalton, who was sidelined with a knee injury. Then-junior Marcus Jackson filled in that day, and the Frog D held the Rams to just 11 yards rushing. TCU managed just 3.3 yards a carry and fumbled the ball FIVE TIMES, though, which let CSU hang around all afternoon. The game wasn't decided until Daryl Washington intercepted CSU quarterback Klay Kubiak with 20 tics left on the clock. Again, huge sigh of relief as TCU improved to 6-1 on the year.
In 2007, however, there was no sigh of relief punctuating TCU's trip to Colorado. That year, the Frogs followed up their ill-fated trip to Austin with a Thursday-night game in Colorado Springs against Air Force on national TV. They looked to be in control of the game when Walter Bryant's touchdown gave them a 17-3 lead at the beginning of the 4th quarter. But the Falcons rallied, and tailback Jim Ollis- who had 138 rush yards on the night- tied the game with a 71-yard, un-touched touchdown run on 4th down with just under six minutes left. The Frogs appeared to be driving for a game-winning score, but Andy Dalton's pass was intercepted in the end zone with :49 seconds left, leaving everyone wondering why then-Offensive Coordinator Mike Schultz would call a long pass when all they needed was a field goal. In overtime, Chris Manfredini missed on a 36-yard attempt before Air Force converted their own to win the game and send the cadets spilling out onto the field in celebration. Easily one of the biggest gut-punch losses the Frogs have suffered under Patterson.
I don't want to go as far as to say I'm putting the Frogs on "upset alert", but even the best teams don't play to their potential in every game of a season, and it's been the trips to Colorado the past few years in which TCU has under-achieved. Perhaps you can blame it on the weather- and it has been grizzly each of the past three trips up there- but that won't be an exuse this time around, as near-perfect weather is expected in Fort Collins on Saturday. Here's to hoping the Frogs can reverse this trend this weekend.
Over the past couple of years the Top 25 Preview has undergone some changes: it has been narrowed to ten, Hank Williams, Sr. has stopped by to help out, as has Tobias Funke from Arrested Development, a betting risk system was briefly introduced but, above all, the overall level of apathy has grown to numbers that Robert Griffin III didn’t even know existed… cause he’s dumb! In other words: no matter how you slice it, the Top 10 preview is kind of monotonous and altogether a time drain which most of you probably do not even read anyway.
So, what’s the best way to fight the already high level of change that has taken place? Why, more change of course! So, having already cut the preview by 15 teams once this season, I’m going to cut it again and mold it into simply “The Movement Preview.” Basically this will work as such – chances are TCU will not move upwards in the rankings unless someone moves down. Chances are even greater that, even if we keep winning as long as the teams directly behind us from major conferences keep winning, we’ll be in danger of moving down. This we know. But, not all matchups are created equal, so while Florida has a decent chance at defeating Alabama and shaking things up, as does Stanford at Oregon, New Mexico State and Louisiana-Monroe facing Boise and Auburn, respectively, do not and those games will not be looked at.
Of course, I did happen to choose the week where the a good majority of the top ten matchups DO have upset implications, so the above paragraph is practically moot this week and, by the time I get to TX/OU the apathy will have returned and I’ll have to think of a new approach next week.
#1 Alabama -9.5 vs #7 Florida. The game that ESPN has been thinking about late at night in the wee hours between sleep and consciousness while eyeing that bottle of Jergen’s on the nightstand has finally arrived -Florida/Alabama under the lights in Tuscaloosa in what will likely end up being a precursor to the SEC Championship in December. And, wouldn’t you know it, in the weekend heading into the game Alabama looked beatable and Florida massacred their opponent, a serious reversal of fortunes given how both teams started their seasons before last weekend. But here’s my problem with this one: It doesn’t really matter. Really, it doesn’t. Think about it – if Florida is to lose this one, they maybe drop to 11 or 12 at worst; if Alabama loses, no way they fall out of the Top 10. With seven more weeks of football following this game, neither team is out of the running whatsoever and can EASILY sneak back into the national title discussion if they run the rest of their season and beat the other in Atlanta. The BCS powers that be want you to believe that “the regular season is a playoff” but really, it’s only a playoff if you don’t go by the name of Texas, Oklahoma, USC, Florida, Alabama or Ohio State, although this year it may come with the asterisk of “As long as you didn’t lose to UCLA.” Any of those teams can suffer a loss and work their way back up as long as it's early enough, say week 5; everyone else in the country is screwed if they do the same. So, while I will more than likely sit back and watch the majority of this game which should be entertaining as all get out, it just loses some of its meaning this early in the season and with nothing on the line. Arkansas/Alabama was a much bigger game from the meaning standpoint because whoever won pretty much ended the SEC West division race. This game is basically what Michigan/Ohio State is going to become but with tons more sex appeal.
But anyway – the game itself is pretty hard to judge, mostly because Florida found a new toy to play with last weekend that could be the difference in the match – Freshman QB/RB/WR/football robot Trey Burton who accounted for ALL SIX touchdowns Florida scored against Kentucky and has the Gator faithful sack riding and anointing him the next Tebow; He’s good, but slow down there, guys. But while last week’s win was impressive, it still came against Kentucky, and it does nothing to erase the stank of weeks 1-3 where Florida was forced to win in spite of their terrible, terrible offense. Florida is sort of like the Texas of the SEC this year – rumoredly stout defense; inept offense that features no offensive line of note, fewer playmakers, and a shocking inability to run the ball. Admittedly, Florida has more firepower on that side of the ball than Texas does and basically just creeps around until unleashing the fury on their always suspecting opponent; a tactic which the Longhorns definitely demonstrated can go tragically wrong when the offense does them negative favors.
Meanwhile, Alabama was outplayed for three quarters last week by the most talented Hogs team in decades, yet bided their time until Ryan Mallett decided that beating the #1 team in the country and becoming the Heisman front runner and top overall draft pick, while a lot of fun, just isn’t as much fun as throwing three of the most gut wrenching INTs I’ve ever witnessed, losing the game , fading out of the spotlight and burning a few J’s while checking out the latest Aqua Teen Hunger Force ‘sodes. But, this shouldn’t necessarily be a knock on Alabama because, although Ryan Mallett gift wrapped the win for them, they still played through an off day by QB Greg McElroy and kept just enough momentum on their side for the 4 point win. This is why they have won 18 straight. And the win was probably for the better; sort of like the great Chicago fire caused by Old Lady Leary’s cow kicking over a lantern, had the Hogs won, northwestern Arkansas would’ve been ambushed by about 100,000 pyromaniacal cows otherwise known as “back woods rednecks ready to burn some shit in celebration” and there’s no way Fayetteville would’ve survived the evening.
So what does all that rambling mean? Florida has a great defense and poor offense; Alabama has an underwhemling defense and great offense. Both teams have concerns in the secondary, but Florida QB John Brantley is really, really underwhelming and Greg McElroy still has not lost a game since the 8th grade. Toss in a dash of Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram against Florida’s (insert viable running back candidate here. Keep looking. He doesn't exist.) offense, whisk in a record crowd in Tuscaloosa and you’ve got a pretty solid recipe for Florida not winning Saturday night.
#4 Oregon -7.5 vs. #9 Stanford. I know nothing particularly factual about the fan bases for either team, but just by my stereotypes this seems like one of the more interesting clashes of culture you can put together that doesn’t involve Cal and aggy. Sure, they’re both massively liberal, but the Ducks crowd strikes me as more of a Hurley wearing, tribal tattoo havin’, board short sagging, crunchy gnar gnar crew while Stanford is basically a school of band kids – sorry band kids, lumping you guys altogether into an analogous form is kind of one of the things we do over here at spitblood. I could be wrong, but for the sake of this preview, that’s how I’m rolling.
But I think the most shocking thing of all about this matchup is how solid both teams appear to be entering the second weekend of Pac 10 play. Oregon, after losing Jeremiah Masoli – can we just reflect once more on how much stealing a few laptops fucked this kid’s world up? – was supposed to have a bit of an off year, and Stanford sans Toby Gerheart was supposed to be even worse despite the presence of Andrew Luck. Then, Pete Carroll bailed on USC, they got thunder banged by the NCAA, Darron Thomas and LaMichael James became two of the most effective offensive playmakers in college football, and Stanford’s answer to their backfield hole involves a two way player who last week scored touchdowns on consecutive plays on each side of the ball. In other words, as much as I don’t care for the Pac 10, I’m probably more inclined to watch this one than I am Florida/Alabama.
Much like their fan base, I also do not know a lot about either team other than they both have high scoring offenses and coaches who do not mind creating excessive gaps where margin of victory is concerned (Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh iced the Wake Forest kicker before halftime of their game a couple of weeks ago, something that you might think is kosher and common… except Stanford was winning by 34 points at the time!) What I didn’t know is that both teams play defense comparable to their offenses with neither team giving up more than 14 points per game and Stanford actually giving up fewer yards per contest – 258.5 to 294.3. Oregon’s number is greatly inflated after they gave up 597 yards last week to Arizona State in their 11 point win.
This is probably the most evenly matched game of the weekend, although their record setting offenses prefer to come about their points in different ways as the Ducks like to run it and the Cardinal enjoy passing. But, as evidenced last week, when the Ducks running game gets bottled up, Darron Thomas simply puts up 260 yards and 2 scores. And, despite Luck’s more hyped pedigree, Oregon actually averages more passing yards per game than Stanford, and for their part the Cardinal rely a lot on the ground game and are 19th in the country in that category.
Seriously, very difficult to pick – Stanford took down the Ducks last year in Palo Alto, so that vengeance factor plus the Autzen crowd would cause me to lean towards the Ducks, but I really do not have any idea. So rather than do that, I think we need to look at this from a “What is better for the Frogs?” perspective. On the one hand, if Stanford wins, they are somewhat likely to switch places with the Ducks, thus keeping the Frogs holding steady at 5th. But, if Oregon wins, Stanford probably drops into the mid to low teens and has a tough road ahead of them as far as earning credibility. It’s not fair, but the Cardinal aren’t one of those teams the voters love keeping up in the polls if they can’t help it, no matter their success. Oregon, on the other hand, is a team that the media LOVES to overinflate and overestimate whenever feasible – probably a Phil Knight thing – so, even if they lose, they’ll hover around TCU and will just be a narrow win against Wyoming or UNLV away from moving ahead of us later in the season. So really, I’m not sure where to go with this one – I guess Oregon losing directly helps us as they will drop below us and Stanford isn’t assured of moving ahead of us yet and still has to play USC and Arizona so that could even out later, but on the other hand, if this is the only game Oregon loses all year, they still have plenty of time to creep back up the rankings. Still, I suppose Oregon definitely has to lose sometime because we aren’t jumping them on our own merit, so may as well take the Cardinal here.
#8 Oklahoma -4.5 vs. #21 Texas. A quick anecdote about UT fans – I work with a guy who attended UT and always goes through the same ticket broker to get tickets for the shootout/rivalry/hatefest/whoever sponsors it these days, and always gets around the same price. Last week he called the guy, tried to haggle him down on his price and failed because of the market demand. Sunday afternoon? Guy had already cut prices by a third because the market demanded that if he wanted to remain competitive. Seriously, UT fans? That’s some cold blooded fair weather stuff right there.
So you’re all fully aware of what happened last weekend – Oklahoma snuck by a 1-3 Cincinnati team who was beaten earlier in the season by Fresno State who was just destroyed by Ole Miss who was previously beaten by Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt, while Texas was castrated by UCLA who I didn’t realize still fielded a football program. To be blunt – neither of these teams are very good and it’s a shame that one of them has to win a downtrodden Big 12 South Saturday afternoon. Oh sure, this is the year aggy and Oklahoma State are supposed to riiiiiiiise up and take the trophy away, but let’s get serious; aggy will win the Big 12 South the same day that Colt McCoy consummates his marriage. It just isn’t happening.
If we want to go over specifics, these are them: Garrett Gilbert is a first year starter, UT has no running backs, UT has no offensive line, and UT likes to fumble the ball in back breaking situations. And they had a good defense, but apparently last week they decided that, rather than win games on that alone, they wanted to have a more team oriented effort, the results of which speak for themselves. On the other side of the ball, Landry Jones is pretty good, but the run game is even worse than UT’s and the OU defensive secondary would get pantsed by the Venus de Milo. Bitch doesn’t even have arms!!!
By the numbers, it looks like this – OU can’t run and apparently UT can’t stop the run anymore, so that’s a wash. On the flip side, OU REALLY can’t stop the ball – see Force, Air – but Texas can’t run either. So watching those struggles could make for some fun viewing in a family friendly Harlem Globetrotters way except both teams are playing the part of the Washington Generals and the Globetrotters will be played by fumbles and gravity. So, really, this game is probably going to have to be decided through the air, and this is where Oklahoma has a decisive advantage… or sort of. Landry Jones to this point has been vastly more effective than Garrett Gilbert… but he also hasn’t faced any teams that are remotely talented against the pass outside of Air Force and he had one of his lower outputs of the season. Then again, his worst game came against Utah State in the opener, and they have a worse pass D than Baylor – BAYLOR!! – so I’m not sure what to expect.
But while the head to head matchup would typically seal it for me, Garrett Gilbert has also not faced a passing defense as POOR as Oklahoma’s, who is also worse than Baylor – BAYLOR!! So, if there’s a chance for him to get out of his funk, it’s this week against the Sooners.
Honestly, this is the one game every year where I wish games could still end in ties because they would basically both be losers and that makes me happy. But from a TCU standpoint, we probably need to put on our big kid maturity pants and pull for the Horns in this one. I understand how tough this is from a moral standpoint – it’s like watching United 93 and pulling for the terrorists even though you already know they’re going to win. OU still has to play the bulk of their Big 12 South schedule, but other than MAYBE Okie Lite there’s no one of interest to knock them off, plus they get the scourge of the Big 12 North in Mizzou, Iowa State and Colorado. On the other hand, UT is going to lose another game this year – if you think Garrett Gilbert is going to rally this team to 11-1 then you are so dumb, you are really dumb, for real. So, even if they gain some in the rankings, it’s more than likely they’re dropping another one along the way to compensate. Besides, their fans have already given up on the team so they probably won’t even notice this victory and thus won’t be any more obnoxious than normal.
So, if things go well, best case is TCU moves up a spot to 4th with an Oregon loss. Florida/Bama is a wash because the winner will move ahead and the loser will drop below, and while I don’t know that Oklahoma jumps us with a win, they are out of the picture a while with a loss. Regardless, on that last one I’m pretty glad it conflicts with our game because the less of it I have to watch knowing I need UT to win, the better. Enjoy your first non-in person spectating weekend of the year while it’s here, because there are 3 straight exactly the opposite after it.