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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Ten Themes for Saturday: Week 7

Ten teams, themes, games and players to watch on Saturday. Pretty straightforward. Here we go:

No James, no problem There’s a great scene in the movie “Moneyball,” which I think most of us have seen, where Brad Pitt, playing A’s general manager Billy Beane, explains how no, his team can’t replace Jason Giambi. But the A’s can replace his numbers, Pitt-as-Beane explains — not with one player, but with an amalgam of three of four different players. Oregon’s taking the same approach with LaMichael James, the nation’s leading rusher, who will likely not play in tonight’s possible preview of the Pac-12 title game against Arizona State. It won’t be Kenjon Barner taking the reins with 30 carries; it won’t be De’Anthony Thomas; it won’t be Tra Carson. It’ll be all three, with Barner perhaps getting more touches than his true freshmen teammates but Thomas and Hopkins certainly in line for significant carries. Thomas has been everything he was hyped up to be, both as a runner and a receiver. Look for Oregon to again try to get him in space against the Sun Devils.

Welcome home At last year’s homecoming, Missouri was 5-0, taking on 5-0 Oklahoma, and the nation was paying attention. At the 2011 homecoming — the school’s 100th edition, I believe? Much has changed on the field and off for the Tigers, who enter today’s game against Iowa State hurting between the white lines and extremely unsure of its future conference affiliation. There’s a similar lack of consistency for this specific team, which has been able to score points and play good defense but rarely at the same time. Against Oklahoma, Missouri gained 532 yards of offense but allowed 592. Against Kansas State last Saturday, the Tigers held the Wildcats to 286 yards but gained only 326. It’s time for Missouri to get on the same page, both in terms of the on-field play and the program’s ongoing conference melodrama. Perhaps the Cyclones are just what the doctor ordered. For the first problem, at least.

Five in four years First-year Middle Tennessee State offensive coordinator Willie Simmons, who doubled as the team’s running backs coach, resigned on Friday night after being arrested for aggravated assault. His resignation leaves Middle Tennessee with the task of finding its fifth offensive coordinator in four years; by next fall, it’ll be the sixth in five years. The list: G.A. Mangus in 2008, Tony Franklin in 2009, Mike Schultz in 2010, Simmons in 2011 and the new guy, who will be promoted from within the staff but has yet to be named. The offense hadn’t been the issue thus far for the Blue Raiders, who fell to 1-4 after last Thursday’s abysmal loss to Western Kentucky. The good news? The team doesn’t play until next Saturday, so there’s time to get used to the new voice. But this year is over for Middle Tennessee.

The agreed upon 12-team model preferred by Big East is now: Boise, Air Force, Houston, SMU, Navy and UCF.Sat Oct 15 00:30:30 via TweetDeck


Big East gets together The gap between the two sides of the Big East — basketball and football — seems to have been crossed through a three-step process: maintain a separation between the football-only and basketball-only schools; add a few schools with strong academic credentials; and add teams who can keep the B.C.S. coffers full. While there has been no official announcement as of yet, it seems as if four of the six teams listed above by The New York Times’ Pete Thamel will join the league as football-only members; Houston and S.M.U. will play all sports. That will prevent the basketball side from being diluted, I suppose. Navy, Air Force and S.M.U. bring very strong academic credentials to the table. And in Boise State — and maybe a Houston, U.C.F. or S.M.U. in the future — the Big East adds teams who can compete on a national level. Great additions all around for this beleaguered, much-maligned B.C.S. conference. More on this in longer form shortly.

Let’s put our heads together So the Mountain West and Conference USA have formed an alliance, as written about a week or two ago. There’s an important word in there: the pair are calling it an “alliance,” not a merger, and that means something. It means that there won’t be a mammoth financial tie-in, I’d think. And it means that each will remain separate entities — separate but combined, sharing a relationship but remaining apart for most things that don’t occur off the field. And what is the league going to call itself? Give it your best shot. Here are a few ideas:

Best Western Conference
Mountain USA Conference
Western Hemisphere Conference (via CBS’ Brett McMurphy)
All-American Conference
Where Hawaii Plays Memphis Conference

Ten years ago… Do you remember what happened in East Lansing 10 years ago? What if I gave you some names: Jeff Smoker, T.J. Duckett. B.J. Askew, Bob Stehlin. Any bells? It was a game that still provokes anger for one side of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry. A brief picture: Michigan leads, 24-20, with seconds left; Smoker, Michigan State’s quarterback, spikes the ball to stop the clock at the Michigan two-yard line after his scramble for the end zone fell short; Michigan thinks the game is over; the clock operator, Stehlin — who went by the nickname “Spartan Bob” — thinks otherwise, leaving a second on the clock; Smoker finds Duckett for a two-yard score for the win. That’s Michigan’s side of the story. Michigan State tells a different tale, of course. The Spartans also tell a tale of three straight wins over the Wolverines for the first time since 1965-67, and that matters more to both teams than what happened a decade ago.

How about 90? Ralph Russo of The Associated Press predicts that Wisconsin will score 90 points on Indiana this afternoon. What’s scary about that? It’s not the total, but rather the fact that it’s not only entirely doable but entirely possible that the Badgers reach such a crooked number. Wisconsin dropped 83 points on the Hoosiers last fall, and while the Badgers are better the Hoosiers may very well be worse — hard to believe, I know. So 90 points, while ridiculous, is possible. But what if Wisconsin tried to score every time it had the ball: what if Wisconsin ran its first-team offense and full arsenal of plays for 60 minutes? Could the Badgers score 100 points? What if Oklahoma did the same against Kansas? Could the Sooners score 100 points on the hapless Jayhawks?

Who wins and loses first? There are three winless teams in the F.B.S.: Florida Atlantic, U.A.B. and New Mexico. Which team will be the first to draw a notch in the win column? You’d have to think it’ll be the Owls, who host Western Kentucky today while U.A.B. plays Tulsa and the Lobos head to Nevada. What about of the 13 undefeated teams: which will lose first? Kansas State comes to mind, seeing that the Wildcats head to offensively-potent Texas Tech later today. But Michigan is an option. And Houston is always, always a threat to lose.

Five picks to use as you will Some teams are being overlooked after a slow start. Other teams are underdogs, for some reason or another. Here are five lines I’d consider if I was into this sort of thing:

Oklahoma (-34) at Kansas
Miami (Ohio) (-3.5) at Kent State
Florida State (-14) at Duke
Georgia (-11) at Vanderbilt
East Carolina (-14) at Memphis

P.S.R. top five, before and after The top five entering the weekend and the top five on Monday, to my best guess:

1. Alabama.
2. L.S.U.
3. Oklahoma.
4. Boise State.
5. Wisconsin.

1. Alabama.
2. L.S.U.
3. Oklahoma.
4. Boise State.
5. Wisconsin.

Days until L.S.U.-Alabama: 21. Until then, I’m not sure how much of a shake-up we’ll see among the top five teams in the country.

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  1. Michael says:

    *tra carson

  2. Michael says:

    … and *kenjon

  3. Eksynyt says:

    It’s Tra Carson, Paul. Not Tra Hopkins. Not sure where the Hopkins came from.

  4. BobJ says:

    That’s Anthony Hopkins, the right side linebacker. He eats ball carriers alive.

  5. Hokieshibe says:

    I think you should do a post about how GT is now 5-9 against FBS opponents with longer than a week to prepare for them… The stat says a lot about the offence, and it’s potential cieling

  6. John says:

    I think you should do a post about how GT is now 5-9 against FBS opponents with longer than a week to prepare for them… The stat says a lot about the offence, and it’s potential cieling

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