Our weekly recap of the buys and sells of the college football world rolls on into week 12. What are the trends at this point, inquisitive buyer?
--Bullish on the narrative teams. As always toward the end of the year, the bowls have started to drool over the prospective teams for their showcase. The established narratives of the season--Notre Dame's return to glory being the easiest and most prominent one, for example--will push a lot of the buys and sells this week. Wonder what those are? Well, they're whatever ESPN is pitching on Gameday mixed with a cursory understanding of whose fanbases travel and buy booze against whose fans don't. (Hello, BYU fans, and yes, we know you don't want a drink, and yes, we know, not even coffee! Thank God that South Park made the ridicule of Mormonism our last accepted national public predjudice. )
--The long-awaited rise of--gasp--trends! With college football, the establishment of trends is so hard to get a read on thanks to the relatively small sample size and the peppering of program schedules with ample cupcake filler games. By this point in the season, though, the Mcguffin teams of the early season have shed their skins and either tanked or settled into complacent medicocrity. Conversely, teams making a deadleg intro to the season have recovered, most notably Miami, where Kyle Wright is settling into the role of efficient resident tall white qb quite nicely.
--The unlikeliness of late season gaffes. If you're a playoffnik like ourselves, it's nice to think that Texas or USC will drop one in the remaining few weeks of the season. It won't happen, though, especially for Texas, whose defense is getting more and more satanic as the end of the season approaches. Oklahoma set a deceptive standard for late collapses in the past few years; most teams won't do that once they get rolling, barring catastrophic injury to multiple key players or having someone named "Jason White" as your qb.
So with the sound of nails being driven into many a team's coffin, we present our buys, sells, and holds.
Sound effects would indicate here to HOLD HOLD HOLD on teams like UGA and Ohio State!!!
Miami. The defense propped them up before Kyle Wright had his sealegs. Now Wright's working the totally bankable play-action 'Cane offense in tandem with the rabid 'D, who may not have a single star but, as Bruce Feldman pointed out in his column on Monday, are on track for what may be their most dominant season ever. We may be disappointed in their lack of Da 'U' flair--no recent Trick Daddy sightings, no weapons possession charges or reports of players smuggling kilos in Sebastian the Ibis's uniform--but playing the best football of any team on the East Coast almost makes up for the lack of shennanigans in Coral Gables. Should Texas fall, they'd make the best straight up match for USC in a title game.
Iowa State. It's the Big 12 North, so this is kind of like picking the least offensive, most identifiably edible piece of meat off the bar at the Golden Corral when, due to circumstances beyond your control, you find yourself dining at a feedin' trough-style restaurant. But we're here, aren't we? And we need some kind of excuse to work our way to the whoopass dessert bar complete with soft-serve ice cream machine, right? We'll take two slices of the slightly dry but acceptable carved roast that is Iowa State, who despite being the Cyclones knocked off Gary Barnett and the Colorado Buffaloes Saturday to put themselves firmly in the race for the Big 12 North title. They're all fighting for the chance to get annihilated by Texas, but in life, you take your Milk Bones where you can get 'em. Enjoy your week on the buy list.
West Virginia. Taking no shit from anyone in their neighborhood and burning couches to prove it. Rich Rodriguez finds another Major Harris clone and plugs him into WVU's simple but occasionally baffling offense with Pat White, and they're cruising toward earning the Big East's year-ending privilege of getting jacked up by a major conference team in a bowl game. We typed that just earn the honor of a WVU fan driving drunkenly into our porch, pulling a couch from the back of his conversion fan, and setting it ablaze while whooping maniacally on our front lawn. Some would call that trespassing and destruction of property; we would call it a compliment, friend.
USF: Sure, they will probably still lose to West Virginia in the final game of the season, but this is a value pick for the long haul. With Florida and FSU showing some cracks in their 1990's era dynasties, and USF being in a BCS conference that is winnable, they are a program on the rise. Add to it the fact that they might pull off the West Virginia upset at home leading them to a BCS game (which just seems wrong) and they become a gamble worth taking. As long as you don't have to have the same haircut as their head coach.
LSU: Is this the same team that collapsed against the struggling Vols? I guess we can make some hurricane related allowances for them. But for that hiccup, the Tigers would be making some serious noise this year. It appears that they are the most talented SEC squad and they are starting to find a bit more consistency. They've got a real good chance of finishing the year #2 when it is all said and done.
Fresno State: They are a buy, but wait until after they take their licks this Saturday when you can get them cheaper. They finally got that Boise State monkey off their back and they look legit. At the end of the season it may be that their only 2 losses are to Oregon (in a close one) and National Champion USC. Not bad for a mid-major.
Florida/Florida State. A previously incomprehensible twofer for the embittered state of Florida football fan, but there it is. Both could be seen at opposite ends of the spectrum: Florida, struggling for identity on all sides of the ball with a coach clearly still learning the ropes, and Florida State, a behemoth going ever-so-slightly adrift under the less-than-watchful eye of Bobby Bowden. To make things worse, neither team seems to be able to groom a quarterback anymore. The upcoming rivalry game between the two just became the "Total Douchebag/Turd Sandwich" matchup of the 2005 season, with the loser going to a previously undiscovered circle of fan hell.
Would you trust him to not burn toast now? Really? We wouldn't.
Texas A&M. Will leave their annual game of the year--the rivalry game with Texas, the team they mention hating IN THEIR FIGHT SONG--with flames smoldering on their shoulder pads. Reggie McNeal may just backhand Franchione on the sideline and start sketching plays on his palm by the end. "You run a button hook, you go deep, and just look for the ball, okay?" The greatest disappointment of all in the Big 12 will have a fitting end to their season, and Alabama fans the world wide will press the tips of their fingers together and think that the $25 they gave to a voodoo woman named Phyllis in New Orleans was curse money well-spent.
Florida/FSU: See above. Nothing more needs be said.
Texas Tech: You lost to Oklahoma State! Shame on you. The Red Raiders left no room for error thanks to their world's worst scheduling this season. The only loss they could justify this year is Texas if they wanted any respect.
Northwestern: What happened to that vaunted offense? We've always known that their defense wasn't worth a lick, but they were at least always fun to watch. Not last week, however, as Ohio State held them to 7.
GEORGIA. Richt Chicken-littled his way out of a victory against Auburn, a beatable team that landed one of those 4th and plenty lightning-strike freak plays that seem to happen in this game to win. (Greene to Johnson, anyone?) The defense can be run through at will--Florida and Auburn both wore down a lot of green against them--and the receivers have continued another unfortunate institutional pattern: dropping crucial passes. They are the class of the SEC East now, but along with the Big 12 North, the division may be one of the most disappointing in the nation. Giving Georgia anything past neighborhood bully status is going too far, even with the phenomenal D.J. Shockley at qb.
OHIO STATE. Tressel's teams are always mercurial, so this year's apparent second-half surge by the Buckeyes will only be complete with a Michigan victory. Troy Smith's passing efficiency rating is through the roof, the linebackers are still making the middle of the field a no-man's land for opposing OCs, but as usual, Michigan will be the bellwether of the season. Considering the totally random results of most UM/OSU matchups, bet gently, and for god's sake, don't take any cripples to the game--they're easy targets, and in a fight you cannot use them as weapons, contrary to what you may think.
South Carolina: They have a tough rivalry matchup against Clemson next which, if won, makes Spurrier a coach of the year candidate given what he has done with that program that was in complete choas when he took it over. Compare what he's done with the prison break team to what Fulmer has done with his prison break team.
Oregon: The record is great and they are one of the more surprising teams of the year, but I'm not convinced it is not the result of a soft schedule given the trouble they had with Cal and Washington State. That said, hats off to Bellotti for turning things around in the post-Tedford era.