I noted last week that the Miami defense would present a much tougher test for FSU than they had faced to date. I think that prediction was fairly accurate, as he was held to the 2nd lowest passer rating on the season, and for the first time in his career threw for more INTs than TDs. Miami was always outclassed, which is kind of what I expected, but this was a 21-14 game at the half only because Winston forced some interceptions trying to throw into something that resembled coverage. Make no mistake, Winston is a gunslinger, and that definitely is both a good and a bad thing.
The Miami-VT game is the ACC semi-final. So much for FSU's strength of schedule, and for an "improved" ACC. It's really just FSU, a good Clemson, and a hot mess.
While we're talking about FSU, I want to note that their #3 ranking in both the Coach's and Harris poll means they are going to get left out if UA and OU get left out.
Florida State will play Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho, Florida, and the Miami/VT winner in the ACCCG. (2 projected bowl teams, 0/1 currently ranked)
Compare this to:
Oregon will play Stanford, Utah, Arizona, Oregon State, and likely Arizona State in the P12CG. (All 5 projected bowl teams, 2 currently ranked)
Bama will play LSU, Mississippi State, UT-Chat, Auburn and Mizzou (3 projected bowl teams, but those 3 are all currently in the Top 15)
Baylor will play Oklahoma, Texas Tech, OSU, TCU, Texas, (4 projected bowl teams, 3 currently ranked, 2 Top 15)
FSU isn't going to be able to gain any ground with only 1 ranked win possible. With that said, conversely it means that Oregon and Bama are far more likely to lose. Oregon in particular will face far tougher competition than they have to date, so they still have hope even though their chance at impressing their way in is gone.
Baylor - the Darkbear Contender
The interesting thing is that Baylor has a chance to come on ridiculously strong to close out the season. If either Oregon or FSU look weak, Baylor has a chance to make a legitimate run at the #2 spot if they blow away their remaining competition, which are arguably the strongest of the lot. The problem with this, of course, is that most don't think they actually -will- go undefeated, and that's why they are only #6. There is no way an undefeated Baylor will stay behind #5 one-loss Stanford, and they would have a very, very good chance of at least passing Ohio State at #4.
It's officially David vs. Goliath week in the SEC. Lots of intra-conference games, but not many close ones. Here's a list of highest spread to Least:
Auburn at Tennessee (AU -7.5)
Vandy at Florida (UF -10)
LSU at Bama (Bama -12)
Mizzou at UK (MZ -14.5)
Arkansas at OM (OM -16.5)
MSU at TAM (TAM -19.5)
App. St. at UGA (Off)
UF is Crippled Beyond Any Ability to Fix It
Poor Florida... First they lose Green at RT and Moore starts in his place. Then they lose their LT and Moore switches to LT. Now Moore has been injured and they will move Garcia from OG to LT. The crappy thing about losing your premier guy in a platoon (LT on the offensive line) and having to shuffle people to compensate is that you end up essentially playing a backup at multiple positions. UF isn't just 3rd string at LT now, it's also 3rd string at guard, 3rd string at RT, etc. Their only original starter is the center. It's a pretty crippling situation, and one that would make a lot of offenses putrid.
The Dangers of a Gap Exploitation Offense, Auburn, and What it Means to You
There's something wierd going on with Auburn, that spread is really low to be facing such a mediocre team. My best guess is that the linemakers still feel (as I do) that Auburn could lose at any time to a decent team that chooses to play well.
Watching the Auburn-Arkansas game, I was struck by two things. First, the difference in talent was not all that striking. Allen (as mediocre as he is) is a better passer than Marshall. Arkansas had the best back on the field in Collins, though Auburn had better depth. The offensive lines were a wash, and I would probably give Auburn an edge at wide receiver. Defensively, neither team was terribly impressive, though Auburn does have a couple of impact freshman on the Defensive line.
Instead, the difference between the teams seemed to have much more to do with strategy and scheme. Arkansas opened the game with two impressive drives where they were being very effective at running the ball right down Auburn's throat. But when the starter went out with an injury, Arkansas inexplicably put the ball in the backup QB's hands, who repeatedly gave the ball to Auburn. Further, the onsides kick was unnecessary, and put them in an even deeper hole.
But the biggest thing is the style of offense that Auburn was running versus the "smashmouth" style employed by Bielema. When neither team has elite talent and a top-end passer, the whole idea of a consistent pro-style offense (and consistency is key) kind of goes out the window. Time after time, Arkansas took promising drives and stalled due to a missed block or an errant throw. In contrast, Malzahn's scheme excelled at getting the ball in players' hands and letting them make a play. In my opinion, it's both the beauty and the flaw in their scheme. On the one hand, few teams can guarantee such a consistent ability to ensure that their players will get the ball in space. On the other hand, their scheme means that they are almost totally reliant on being able to make plays in space (rather than "taking what a defense gives you"), so they can be completely shut down by an athletic and sound defense.
Thus, the Malzahn/Oregon offenses, that are designed to ensure that players are constantly isolated in space, are very good at beating the teams they are supposed to beat. However, they don't really exploit schemes, they are exploiting missed assignments and poor tackling. They expect their opponents to have a player assigned to make the tackle, it's just a matter if they actually show up. If you do show up and make the tackle, the offense stalls. This is very different than a pro-style offense like ours, which is trying to create schematic mis-matches by throwing to a gap in coverage, or running the ball where you have a numerical advantage. Malzahn's offense has consistently won games against bad teams, and with good reason, but it has always (and likely will always) struggle to beat any of the elite teams on their schedule.
Likewise, I don't really think it's Stanford's "physicality" that gives Oregon problems; it's that they play good, fundamental defense. Stanford can slow down Oregon's running game if they make their assignments. If that happens, it will come down to Stanford's entire offense versus solely Oregon's passing game. The unfortunate thing is that matchup still favors Oregon by a pretty good margin.