Will Moon's Deep Football Thoughts from Outer Space: Week Six Preview
Butch Dill/Associated Press
The finest of all months has arrived, and yours truly is a happy man. The tenth month brings with it cooler air, scary movies, plans for Halloween, all four major North American team sports being in season at the same time, and for college football at least, a separation of the men from the boys, at least traditionally. About 90% of the non-conference rent-a-win BS is done with, and here is where the different league races start to make some kind of sense, again, at least traditionally. Let's preview the month's opening weekend.
The Deep Dive
As the calendar turns to October, it's common to start looking for the trap games on the schedules of the various big dogs across the country. I mean, that's always how it's supposed to work. Work out the kinks and maybe get a big tone-setting win in September, then try to survive the conference meat-grinder over the final two months before the big rivalries hit around Thanksgiving. That's the normal rhythm of a college football season. But gazing into the crystal ball, the trap games don't seem so dangerous. We've heard a great deal in recent seasons about Alabama's dominance, and the last couple of seasons have seen the narrative growing about an overall lack of parity in the SEC. While Auburn and Georgia look to challenge that this year, let's extend that argument over the country as a whole.
As the former BCS conferences whittled from six down to five a few years ago, the ranks of the surviving leagues swelled as a result (except for the Big 12, which shrank from 12 to 10). The SEC jumped from 12 to 14 in 2012, the ACC jumped from 9 to 11 to 12 to 14 over a period of about a decade, the Big Ten jumped from 11 to 12 to 14 over a few seasons, and the Pac-10 became the Pac-12, also in 2012. A lot of the salesmanship surrounding these moves had to do with the idea of greater strength in conference, a larger recruiting pool, and more exciting matchups over the course of each season, with new rivalries created in the process. Frankly, that's mostly been a lot of expletive deleted.
The conferences seem to have watered themselves down, and the shuffling around of mostly mediocre programs has only served to spread out the truly interesting games even more. The logic that joining a different league was going to make programs like Missouri or Maryland or Boston College any better seems to have been faulty at best. All of this started when Texas grew restless way back in the middle of the 2000s, and a lot of the fever dream that was and is conference realignment was based around the idea that we'd see big programs on the move, creating true super-conferences in the process. Now, while the Big 12 continues to refuse to die, the super-conferences just seem to be slightly larger, soggier around the midsection versions of the conferences we already had. People wonder how Alabama never plays anybody good from the SEC East. It's no secret. Tennessee has sucked lately, and rotating through the rest of the teams over there apparently takes about 17 years. Georgia'll roll onto the schedule sometime soon...maybe, possibly. (And UGa does play Bammer, they tend to make fools of themselves.)
I mean, dear Zod, look at the continuing sham that is Rutgers' presence in the Big Ten. Rutgers is terrible, which is pretty much their natural resting state. I know there was a fun little stretch during the Bush administration (the second one) when they came up and had some good teams, but they've reverted to full Rutgers-dom in the last few seasons and it's basically meant a free W for every Big Ten team on their schedule. Look at Wisconsin over in the West, the SEC East of the Big Ten, and know that they'll play maybe one good team all year (Michigan). If the league didn't have two seven-team divisions, featuring those classic Big Ten powerhouses Rutgers and Maryland (plus Nebraska's corpse), maybe Wisky could squeeze in a game with Ohio State or Penn State or Michigan State or the Deep State or anybody who isn't Illinois or Purdue.
We've always had to live with yearly matchups like those old Nebraska/Kansas games when the Huskers were humming under Tom Osborne, but now it seems like your power teams like Alabama and Ohio State and Oklahoma play only about three halfway decent teams all year. Certainly, the current state of programs like Texas, LSU, UCLA, and everybody in the SEC East not named Georgia has something to do with that, but maybe this whole realignment in pursuit of TV footprints deal wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
Tigers This Week
Butch Dill/Getty Images
Another week, another visit from one of our neighbors to the west. After the Tigers impressively ran Mississippi State out of town on a rail last week, an Ole Miss team that just got housed 66-3 by Bammer stumbles into Jordan-Hare (11 CT on SEC Network). This Rebel team just flat out isn't any good at all, and they looked like they wanted to be anywhere but Bryant-Denny Stadium last Saturday night. They say a wounded animal is dangerous, but nothing about the Rebs looks particularly dangerous right now. QB Shea Patterson certainly has the skills to hurt you, but his poor offensive line and lackadaisical skill position players are very likely to leave him hung out to dry for a second straight weekend. The Auburn defense has been impressive this season pretty much front to back, and an Ole Miss team that still features the erratic, not-very-physical running game of the Hugh Freeze era minus Freeze's ability to produce dynamic, big play passing attacks should be no much for Kevin Steele's group. The Tiger pass rush, in particular, should eat all afternoon, with the unblockable-at-times Jeff Holland likely to be introducing himself to Mr. Patterson early and often.
Offensively, the Tigers just need to continue to improve. The biggest key for me right now is seeing if we can get any of our RBs healthy. I know that's tough when seemingly everybody's banged up and you've got games to play, but having as close to full-strength Kam Pettway, Kerryon Johnson, and Kam Martin as possible would be very nice when the Tigers head out on the road three consecutive times after this game. QB Jarrett Stidham has been incredibly efficient over the last three weeks, and with the way the passing game is developing, there's no reason to expect any different against a poor Ole Miss defense this time out. Put bluntly, the Rebels stink and Auburn should be able to name the final score.
Auburn 52, Ole Miss 10
College Football Game of the Millennium of the Week
Ray Thompson/Associated Press
With another ho-hum weekend on the docket (our third straight), #23 West Virginia's trip to Fort Worth to take on #8 TCU (2:30 CT on FS1) is sort of top dog by default. (It's where College GameDay will be.) I'll get to a handful of matchups that sound better than they actually are in the next section, but credit to these squads. The Horned Frogs, in particular, have a pretty sweet road win at Flow-klahoma State already under their belts and look like Oklahoma's biggest challenger in the Big 12. The Mountaineers have quietly gone about their business since losing to Virginia Tech in a fun season opener at the Redskins' stadium in Maryland. Big 12 games can be particularly hard to read since it's never clear if either defense will show up, but I see little reason not to back the Frogs in this one. If it was in Morgantown maybe I'd think different, but with TCU at home, give me the team with the better coach (Gary Patterson) and the better defense.
Texas Christian 37, West Virginia 23
Rest of the Menu
I'm not going to dignify last night's Arkansas State-Georgia Southern game with comment, so instead we'll jump straight to an actually interesting Thursday night college game, Louisville at North Carolina State (7 CT on ESPN). They're both playing for most likely second at best in the ACC Atlantic behind mighty Clemson, but this should be a pretty fair fight between solid, but flawed squads. And hark! The Thursday night NFL game also isn't terrible, with New England's shockingly rank defense traveling south to take on Famous Jameis and the Buccaneers in Tampa (7:25 CT on CBS and NFL Network). Crack open a few crab legs and watch it with some buddies. (Had to go for the cheap joke there.)
If you're in the mood to stay in on Friday and enjoy some mediocrity, the Worldwide Leader's got you covered, with Memphis visiting UConn (6 CT on ESPN) and Boise State visiting BYU (9:15 CT on ESPN) providing all the forgettable football you could ever want.
A crew of likely in-conference smackdowns highlights the early window on Saturday. #2 Clemson hosts Wake Forest (11 CT on ESPN2), #3 Oklahoma hosts Iowa State (11 CT on FOX), #4 Penn State travels to Northwestern (11 CT on ABC), #5 Georgia visits Vanderbilt (11 CT on ESPN), and #12 Auburn hosts Ole Miss (11 CT on SEC Network) all at the same time. Go Ozymandias-style and watch all the slaughters at once to truly satiate your bloodlust.
The aforementioned West Virginia/TCU game headlines the afternoon slate (2:30 CT on FS1), stealing the thunder of some matchups featuring name brand schools. LSU's trip to Florida (2:30 CT on CBS) would certainly qualify as one of them, but the residual bitterness over last year's political staring contest between the two ADs could at least make for some enjoyably petty antics from the two teams (especially if Florida gets out to any kind of big lead). A Notre Dame team that's been about as quiet as Notre Dame can ever be also visits piss-poor North Carolina in this timeslot (2:30 CT on ABC).
The other big afternoon matchup, however, is more intriguing to me than even the better-on-paper WVU/TCU game. Miami and Florida State were set to play two weeks ago, but the game was moved to later in the season due to the fallout from Hurricane Irma. While FSU's two losses and the injury to 'Nole QB Deondre Francois have taken some of the luster of the game, this is still Florida State/Miami, and the U hasn't beaten Free Shoes since 2009 (FSU has won 10 of the last 12 overall). The 'Canes had everything in their corner at home last year and still couldn't get over the Seminole hump, so I'm curious to see if Mark Richt's squad can do it this year. FSU is still reeling a little from their 0-2 start, and freshman QB James Blackman is very much a work in progress, but nothing can taken for granted between these two, especially not in Tallahassee. The teams in this game and the LSU/Florida game may not be as strong as the teams in the WVU/TCU game, but there's plenty of juice in both matchups to keep you entertained.
3 CT brings us more big fish eating little ones as #10 Ohio State hosts Maryland on FOX and #14 USC hosts Oregon State on the Pac-12 Network. There's also an intriguing tilt on the SEC Network between Arkansas and South Carolina in Columbia at that time. The postseason fortunes of both teams (and possibly Bret Bielema's job) could be heavily impacted by the result of this game.
The primetime slot sees Alabama travel to Texas A&M (6:15 CT on ESPN). This is a step up in competition for Bammer from the last four weeks, but I'm not expecting much. Virginia Tech also visits Boston College (6:15 CT on ESPN2), which seems like an exceedingly boring matchup. The ABC Game of the Galaxy rolls around at 6:30 CT, with Michigan State traveling to Michigan. Sparty's 3-1, but they don't seem like the same program they were just two years ago when they won at Michigan and Ohio State in the same season. And don't forget, that Michigan win was one of the all-time great FUs to the home team's fans. (RIP Sean McDonough's voice. They must have a robot or something pretending to be him on Monday Night Football now.) So at least we'll see replays of that a bunch. I don't know if much else interesting will be going on, especially since Michigan isn't exactly a pretty team to watch themselves.
Mizzou visits Kentucky at 6:30 CT on the SEC Network, which seems like clearly the worst of the three games the network has Saturday but was still put in the primetime slot. (They have weird rules about how many early and late games you can play, so maybe that's why they scheduled it this way, I don't know.) #9 Wisconsin visits the Zombie Nebraska at 7 CT on the Big Ten Network, while freshly-ranked and relevant-I-guess UCF visits Cincinnati at that time on ESPNU. The best night game, though, is out west, where Mike Leach and Washington State, fresh off maybe the biggest win in school history, head to Eugene to take on Oregon (7 CT on FOX). That's another one that may end up being more interesting than the big game of the day.
Late night brings us #20 Utah hosting a surprisingly crappy Stanford team (9:15 CT on FS1), with the Utes being one of the least-heralded unbeaten teams remaining in the country. #6 Washington gets to bleed another middling conference opponent dry, this time at home against Cal (9:45 CT on ESPN). #19 (yes, they're ranked) San Diego State travels to UNLV (who lost to Howard earlier this year) for a game that's at 9:45 CT on ESPN2. It's really that kind of weekend schedule for the most part.
Massacre Island Forecast
Where won't there be massacres? Even considering those early weeks when half the country was playing Northern Romania Tech or whatever, this may be one of the most splatter-happy weekends of the season. Literally every game listed above in the early TV window on Saturday has better than 50/50 odds of becoming a spanking. It'll just be a matter of which team spanks the hardest (phrasing).
There are no non-conference matchups in the SEC this week, but four of the six league games that are scheduled are comfortably on the Massacre Island radar. Auburn/Ole Miss, Georgia/Vandy, Bama/A&M, and Kentucky/Mizzou just seem like nearly automatic whompings (even given UK's tendency to play down to their competition this year). And strictly for entertainment purposes only, those spreads all look pretty easily coverable, too. What I'm looking at now has Auburn -22, UGa -17.5, Bammer -26.5, and Kentucky only -9.5. If I were a betting man (and I am, but don't tell God), I'd bet every dollar you have on all four favorites covering.
Outside the conference, expect more of the same. There's usually at least one weekend full of upsets out there somewhere, but I definitely don't think this is it. The Massacre Island staff will have their hands full this week.
Mike Leach Quote Bingo
Again, I don't own the rights to this picture (possibly the greatest photo ever taken by man), but I'd be a lot cooler if I did, all right, all right, all right...
If I seem obsessed with Washington State coach Mike Leach, it's mostly because he represents several things I like about head coaches speaking into microphones that I think are in increasingly short supply.
1. He's wonderfully and unashamedly weird, like with his whole pirate thing, which makes him the kind of oddball character that's been sadly phased out of the sport over the last few years.
2. Whenever he's asked a question, any question, he actually attempts to answer it to the best of his understanding, as opposed to just spouting off some bland coachspeak and moving on to something else.
3. And following on from #2, he can be refreshingly honest when he's not being refreshingly bizarre, such as when he inadvertently crapped on the home game atmospheres in the entire Pac-12 (the league he coaches in) when listing the multiple stadiums he thinks are louder than Oregon's famed Autzen Stadium. Both the specificity of his answer and the fact that he didn't even pretend to believe that the stadiums in his own conference are as imposing as the ones in the two previous conferences he's coached in (he was an assistant at Kentucky before he got the Texas Tech job) make this a truly underrated Mike Leach presser moment. Now if only he could've worked in some talk about aliens in the process.
Ed Orgeron Quote Bingo
Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports (side note - choosing a favorite funny-looking Ed Orgeron photo is like choosing a favorite pet)
I'm doubling down on the Quote Bingo solely to make sure you see this story about Coach O's weekly radio show. (I know just about every college head coach has a radio show, but somehow the pure comedy of Ed Orgeron having one never hit me until now.) Mixed in here we had a straight-up prank caller who somehow got through the screeners, we had a guy who literally said Orgeron has "overseen the fall of a great program", we had a different guy who told Orgeron he didn't earn the job (which Coach O didn't take so well), we had another guy who insulted Florida in an extremely creative (and kind of oblique) way, and we had a guy who said Coach O was an alpha and AD Joe Alleva (also an unpopular fellow down Louisiana way) was "more feminine, a beta". Yeah, things are just peachy in Red Stick right now.
I remember some derision being directed at Gene Chizik when he started having Tiger Talk from inside a studio with questions that were e-mailed in, but this is the kind of radio show that makes coaches want to do something like that. And while I'll give O no credit for his coaching since the Bayou Bengals are playing so terribly, I'll give him points for taking on the lunatic fringe of the LSU fanbase head on. (And let us all take a moment to consider the abyss of humanity that is the lunatic fringe of the LSU fanbase, but just a moment. Any longer and you may never be able to come back.)
Also, to twist the knife in a little deeper, the same goober who came up with "Colonel Reb is Cryin'" back when O was running Ole Miss into the ground returned this week with "Mike the Tiger's Cryin'". Points for calling out Les Miles' baffling toss dive running plays, but unfortunately he wasn't able to work the immortal Brent Schaeffer into the song somehow. He was the real star of the original. Maybe he'll remember that when part 3 comes out in 2027 and O's somehow coaching the Saints.
The Shield (Like Fantasy Football but for Real)
From Smokin' Jay Cutler (a wonderful, strangely fitting meme site)
With the NFL awash lately in LOUD CONTROVERSIES, it's been easy to miss the low-key, amusing awfulness of unretired Jay Cutler in Miami. The Dolphins won their first game at the Chargers (in a stadium that had very few Chargers fans in it), but have faceplanted since, losing to a horrid Jets team and then getting shutout in London by a Saints defense that could most favorably be described as "exists". The low/high point of this came during a wildcat run by Jay Ajayi, which saw Cutler split out wide as a decoy. And what a decoy he was. Smokin' Jay and his head coach have since defended his malaise, but yeah, with the Phins at 1-2 already, I'm looking forward to a whole season of Teamster-level surly laziness from Cut. I mean, Miami could have thrown that $10 million they're giving Cutler into a hole, but that wouldn't be nearly as fun. It's even money that he literally smokes a cig on the field at some point this season.
There, you may now return to your regularly scheduled yelling.
For Auburn this week (and the next four games, really), get better, don't get anyone hurt, get some young guys some reps, and stay focused. The Tigers' biggest enemy until Georgia rolls into town in November is themselves. (Now change out the names and that could describe about 10 other teams in the playoff chase, especially Georgia and Alabama.) Enjoy the games, everyone, and smoke 'em if you got 'em, Jay. Check back for the weekly recap on Monday.