Sunday, September 13, 2009

Any Given Saturday: The Big 12 Falls Flat

In this sporadic (though hopefully weekly) column, I'll give you some insights into a few of the weekend's upsets, including how they happened and what they mean going forward.

SMU 35 UAB 33

How'd it Happen? The Mustangs, who came in as nearly two-touchdown underdogs, stopped a 2-point conversion attempt by the Blazers with under 30 seconds to play (after previously blocking an extra point attempt earlier in the game) to hold on for the road win. SMU forced 5 UAB turnovers (though they gave the ball away 4 times themselves) and quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 3 touchdowns and 353 yards.

What Does it Mean? For SMU, they've already matched their win total from the previous two seasons (2) and ended a 17-game conference losing streak. With 5 home games and seemingly winnable road games at Washington State and Marshall on the schedule, the Mustangs have a decent shot at attaining bowl eligibility. For UAB, they may have blown their chance at a bowl bid, as they have only 3 remaining home games and must travel to both Texas A&M and Ole Miss outside the conference.

Central Michigan 29 Michigan State 27

How'd it Happen? The Spartans, more than a two-touchdown favorite, fell thanks to an exciting late-game sequence. A late controversial touchdown, a gutsy decision by Central Michigan coach Butch Jones to go for 2 and the win, a subsequent missed conversion, a recovered onside kick, a missed game-winning field goal nullified by penalty, and a subsequent make on the re-kick. This game had it all, and is what makes college football great.

What Does it Mean? For Central Michigan, it somewhat legitimizes what they've accomplished over the past 3+ seasons. Though they've won 27 games since the start of the 2006 season, their only previous victory over a team from a BCS conference had been a 37-34 win at Indiana last season. That Indiana team was awful, finishing 3-9 with 2 of the wins coming against a IAA (Muray State) and a provisional IA (Western Kentucky) team. It remains to be seen how good Michigan State will be in 2008, but I think its safe to assume their floor is mediocrity (say 5 wins). For the Spartans, this game dims the expectations for the season somewhat, and could end up costing them a bowl bid.

Michigan 38 Notre Dame 34

How'd it Happen? The Wolverines, 3-point home dogs, won a back-and-forth game in the final seconds when freshman quarterback Tate Forcier found Greg Matthews for touchdown with 11 seconds left.

What Does it Mean? For Michigan, it means a likely 4-0 start (Eastern Michigan and Indiana) before their road opener against rival Michigan State. It also means a likely spot in this week's top-25 as well as renewed enthusiasm for the program. For Notre Dame, it puts them behind the 8-ball for a potential BCS bid. The Irish will likely lose to Southern Cal, and its hard to imagine them navigating the other 9 games without a loss. Still, the Irish proved they are more than capable offensively to match up with any team with the Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, and Michael Floyd trio.

UCLA 19 Tennessee 15

How'd it Happen? The Bruins, more than a touchdown underdog, capitalized on 4 Tennessee turnovers and beat the Vols for the second straight year. For all the good the Bruins did though, random chance played an extremely important role in this game. There were 7 total fumbles (6 by UCLA and 1 by Tennessee) in this game. UCLA recovered 6. If they had only recovered 4 or 5, the outcome could have been different.

What Does it Mean? The offenses for both teams are still very much a work in progress. After finishing 112th (UCLA) and 116th (Tennessee) in total offense last season, the Bruins put up 359 yards against San Diego State and the Vols rolled up 657 yards against Western Kentucky in their respective openers and all was right with the world. UCLA had 186 yards in this game and Tennessee had 208. Of course, both these defenses appear to be pretty strong, but its clear the offenses have not turned the corner yet.

Louisiana-Lafayette 17 Kansas State 15

How'd it Happen? The Ragin' Cajuns, a touchdown underdog at home, won when Tyler Albrecht kicked a 48-yard field goal with 32 seconds left. The Wildcats outgained the Cajuns by nearly 100 yards, but their kicker, Josh Cherry, missed two field goals and an extra point.

What Does it Mean? For Louisiana-Lafayette, they are the last remaining unbeaten Sun Belt team at 2-0. That will likely change next week when they visit LSU in Baton Rouge. However, with 2 non-conference wins, they only need 4 victories in the Sun Belt to be bowl eligible for the 4th time in 5 seasons. For Kansas State, hopes of a bowl bid in Snyder's first season back are tenuous at best now. The Wildcats have remaining non-conference games at UCLA and against Tennessee Tech. While Tennessee Tech is a likely win, they represent the second IAA school Kansas State plays. That means they need 7 victories to be bowl eligible. If the Wildcats lose to UCLA next week, that means they need 5 conference wins to get to 7 overall.

Houston 45 Oklahoma State 35

How'd it Happen? Deflections. Two key deflections aided the Cougars in their upset bid as a more than two-touchdown underdog. The first came on 4th down and resulted in a touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Bryce Beall that allowed the Cougars to regain the lead 38-35 with a little under 7 minutes left. The second resulted in a pick 6 by Jamal Robinson that provided the final margin in a 45-35 win. Aside from the deflections, the Cougars rolled up over 500 yards against the Cowboys and forced 4 turnovers.

What Does it Mean? For Houston, it means their first poll appearance since the run-n-shoot days of the early 1990s. It also sets up the biggest home game in recent Cougar history in 2 weeks when they host another Big 12 South team in Texas Tech. Win that one and the BCS whispers will start. For Oklahoma State, their Big 12 and BCS bowl hopes are not dashed, but their rep on a national level certainly is. After holding Georgia in check last week, the defense returned to its old ways against a fellow high-powered offense.

Toledo 54 Colorado 38

How'd it Happen? Colorado fell behind early and got eviscerated by the Rockets. Toledo rolled up 624 total yards and scored seemingly at will against the Buffaloes. With 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter, the score was 54-24 Toledo. To put it in other terms, Colorado looked like the team full of MAC athletes and Toledo looked like the Big 12 offense.

What Does it Mean? For Toledo it means they may be a contender in the MAC West. In addition, the Rockets, under a new head coach, could now be poised to end a run of 3 consecutive losing seasons and return to the contending status they enjoyed at the beginning of the decade. For Colorado, it puts them squarely behind the 8-ball in their hopes of reaching a bowl game in Dan Hawkins 4th season. After the way they have played the first 2 weeks, a win next week at home against Wyoming is not a gimme. Following that game, the Buffs have a bye before travelling to West Virginia on October 1st. Realistically, the Buffs should expect to be 1-3 before starting Big 12 play. This could be a long season for Colorado, and if it could also be Dan Hawkins last as coach.


Venice Beach John said...

Being from Big 12 country I certainly took notice that Oklahoma State, Colorado, and K-State all fell short in games they were expected to win.

Missouri almost suffered a similar fate and barely escaped a mediocre Bowling Green team with a win.

matt said...

You're exactly right. At one point Saturday evening I was prepared to add Missouri's game to this list.

I think the biggest surprise was how bad Colorado looked. If those teams had been playing with unadorned unis, you'd have to have figured the Rockets were the Big 12 team