Who is Crashing the Party in Pasadena?

Nathan Roholt FishWrap, FishWrap Archive

It used to be the Top Ten. A team had to start the season ranked tenth or higher if they wanted to win the national championship, as every team since 1990 had done.  Then along came Auburn in 2010 who cheated lowered the bar, (as they did in so many other areas[1]) of what a team’s preseason ranking needed to be to win a title after starting that season ranked 22nd.  Instead of figuring out which Top Ten team could win the title, prognosticators now have to chart all the way down to the top-22 teams to consider all title contenders.

Ranked 22nd this year is Northwestern, and though Pat Fitzgerald is a fine coach who will one day sadly leave to coach the Chicago Bears, the BCS will never, ever, EVER let the Wildcats win a title.  So let’s start at #21 instead.

These three will battle for the Pac-12 South

These three will battle for the Pac-12 South

30) Arizona State
24) USC
21) UCLA

Remember in 2011 when USC got blown out by Arizona State, then barely beat a terrible Arizona team at home, and everyone was convinced that Lane Kiffin was going to get fired?  Fast forward to two months later, when Kiffin had racked up a rivalry win at Notre Dame, took Stanford to triple overtime, defeated Oregon at Autzen Stadium, and punctuated the season by shutting out rival UCLA while scoring 50.  All that led to their ridiculous #1 ranking to start last season, one in which they finished 7-6.

This has been the tale of Lane Kiffin’s college coaching career: He’s underrated when you expect him to fail (coming off the Raiders debacle to coach Tennessee in 2009; the last half of 2011) and overrated when expected to build on success (getting the USC job in 2010 after going 7-6 at Tennessee; the entire 2012 season).  Right now, everyone is off USC’s bandwagon.

All those bandwagoners seemed to make a break for UCLA right around the time Anthony Barr was breaking Matt Barkley’s shoulder[2].  And while UCLA was a great story last season, they have two things going against them replicating that success: they’re not sneaking up on anyone, and they’re the only one of the three teams listed above that has to play Oregon (on the road, no less).  Meanwhile, USC is the only one of the three that gets Stanford at home.

As for Arizona State, they are going to finish second in the South because Todd Graham is a good coach when he stays in one place, and finishing second in the division would be the most Arizona State thing ever.

The Pac-12 South will shake out like this:

USC: 10-4 overall, 7-2 in conference, losses to Notre Dame, Oregon State, Stanford, Oregon in Pac-12 Championship
ASU: 8-4, 6-3, losses to Wisconsin, Stanford, USC, Arizona[3]
UCLA: 7-5, 5-4, losses to Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon, Arizona State, USC

And Lane Kiffin keeps his job.

20-11) TBD

Teams that will be ranked somewhere in this range without ever really threatening the top two spots: Oklahoma State, Florida State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Boise State, and a wild card outside the current Top 25, let’s say . . . Michigan State.

No one had a better end to 2012 than Louisville

No one had a better end to 2012 than Louisville

10) Louisville

This year’s Boise State Award winner for “the program 60% of the country will root against going undefeated, because they know they aren’t one of the two best teams in college football and don’t want to see them in the title game.”  That panic will be real, too; the Cardinals likely will be 11-0 going into the final week against Cincinnati, a Thursday night road game that has all the makings of fantastic late-season upset.

Or they go 12-0 like Cincinnati did in 2009 and no one cares.

9) Clemson
8) Georgia

The Good: These two teams are meeting in Week 1.

The Bad: The fact that the loser of this game will likely drop in the polls to somewhere around 20.

Hey poll voters, don’t do it.  Don’t pull the same crap you do every year, where we have an exciting opener/showdown, then you take the team that lost and plunge them all the way down the polls simply because they lost to a good team.

You did that to Oregon in 2011, ranking them 13th in the AP and 14th in the Coaches’ poll after they lost to LSU, putting them below teams such as Texas A&M (who would finished unranked), Nebraska (24th), and Florida State (23rd); even though LSU was the best regular season team that year in nearly a decade.  You work in the realm of college football, act like you actually watch these games.  Stop discouraging awesome Week 1 matchups; the BCS already does a good enough job of discouraging that as it is.

7) South Carolina

The question is, how many plays that are 80% as good as the one below, does Jadeveon Clowney have to make to win the Heisman Trophy?  Leave your answers below.

Also, South Carolina is winning the SEC East.

6) Texas A&M

Nope.  Not going to do it.  Not going to write about Johnny Manziel.  Not writing about his autographs, his jet-setting, his partying, or his family[4].  Not happening.  Every angle regarding the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has been dissected to death and the hyperbole in response is so thick that we choke on the coverage of it.

Yet somehow, there are two angles that haven’t been covered amidst all this noise.

Johnny Manziel looking forward to 2013

Johnny Manziel looking forward to 2013

1) How colossally idiotic the overreaction to players signing autographs has been

There are two reasons a school such as Oregon has CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman saying “Pound for pound, no athletic department is better these days . . ..”  One reason is those inside the Casanova Center make the right decisions, but the success of these decisions is further magnified by how dumb the decisions truly are of the other schools they are competing against.

Take Louisville, Texas A&M, and Miami, all schools with successful programs, the first two of whom are ranked in the preseason Top Ten; the third has won five national championships in the past three decades.  Yet when a potential threat to the program like Johnny Manziel’s autograph scandal emerges, they respond by doing the dumbest thing possible, stipulating that players won’t sign any merchandise other than team-approved posters.

Why is it the dumbest thing possible?  Because it shows a total lack of understanding for even the most basic concepts of economics, even though each of those schools has an economics department on campus.

Presently, these schools are concerned about the possibility that players on their roster are signing autographs for money.  Now, we know the signatures have value, because if they were worthless, there would be no demand.

In a classic supply-and-demand scenario, if supply decreases, while demand stays constant (these are college football fans, after all), price increases.  When price increases, each product – in this case, each autograph – becomes more valuable because of its limited supply.

So the administration at Louisville, Texas A&M and Miami have decided that the best way to save themselves from the risk, is to limit supply and make each potential signature more valuable.


That doesn’t even consider that they have now made it easier for the NCAA to prosecute potential offenses, since they know precisely what merchandise is approved and which isn’t, to more effectively discipline players.  Part of the reason they will never be able to declare Johnny Manziel ineligible when his entire investigation concludes is that there will be too much smoke and too little evidence to prove anything.  He’s playing this season, which brings us to the second issue no one’s talking about…

2) No one is saying anything about how Johnny Manziel will actually play this season

Texas A&M against Alabama in 2012

Texas A&M against Alabama in 2012

Lost in all the “did he take money for autographs or not?” talk, is that no one has said anything about what kind of season Manziel will have – and there’s a reason for that: because, relatively speaking, he can’t have a better season.

He set the SEC record for total yardage last season[5], just like head coach Kevin Sumlin’s last quarterback, Case Keenum, did with his conference’s total yardage record in 2009.  Keenum, however, failed to best those numbers in either of his remaining seasons[6].

Manziel’s statistical output in 2012 was outstanding; his 5,116 yards were the best ever by a player from a major conference who wasn’t coached by Mike Leach[7], yet anything short of replicating those numbers will be considered insufficient or a lack of progress by many fans, even if his team sees greater on-field success.

Pair that with the likelihood that he won’t win the Heisman again (he would have to exceed his statistical output from 2012 and be undefeated to even be considered a front-runner), and the likely narrative fans will tire of by midseason is “did his ‘offseason activities’ impact his 2013 season?” – even if a regression to the mean from an entire offseason of game planning from SEC coaches might serve as a better explanation.  He might play better than in 2012, but potentially, so will the defenses he faces.

Manziel’s best comparison will likely be Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick in 2000.  Vick, whose third-place Heisman Trophy finish in 1999 was the highest by a freshman quarterback until Manziel[8], was a similar dual-threat wunderkind who looked as if he was changing the way college football was played.  Vick led the Hokies to the National Championship Game seemingly by himself, before losing to Florida State, and the Seminoles were one of only two teams[9] to ever go wire-to-wire as the #1-ranked team.

MIchael Vick scores against Florida State in 2000 Sugar Bowl

MIchael Vick scores against Florida State in 2000 Sugar Bowl

While expectations were sky-high for what Vick would do his sophomore year, Vick found himself unable to replicate his freshman magic.  His stats were good, but not as good.  He ran into bad luck, forcing him to play on an injured ankle in the season’s biggest game against Miami.  It would be Virginia Tech’s only loss, and it decided the Big East that season.  The 11-1 Hokies would finish ranked sixth, also where Vick finished in Heisman voting.  Again, good, but not great.  If Manziel does the same, fans will undoubtedly say his season was a disappointment, which is hardly fair. Were almost any other quarterback able to lead his team to an 11-1 record, a top-six ranking and finish sixth overall in the Heisman Trophy voting, his season would be considered highly successful.  Manziel is likely the only player in college football for whom such an outcome would be insufficient.

However, if Texas A&M crashes the BCS party, it won’t be Manziel as the driving factor, it will be his head coach, Kevin Sumlin.  With Chip Kelly now in the NFL, Sumlin is the hottest name in college football.  He turned A&M from mid-level irrelevancy in Texas to the state’s premier program in a single season.  Were Sumlin to repeat that success and have a dynamic season like Kelly did in 2010, all bets would be off on what to expect from Texas A&M as long as he is there; Manziel or not.  That’s why he, not Manziel, is the main reason the Aggies are the best bet outside the current top five to crash the National Championship Game.

Coming Thursday: The conclusion, and which of the top five teams have the best chance of making the National Championship Game.

[1]  Of rule-breaking, sportsmanship, and head-coaching competency necessary to win a title, just to name a few.

[2] It was actually only a sprained shoulder.

[3] The Territorial Cup is seemingly always won by the worse of the two teams.

[4] Though I found this article absolutely fascinating.

[5] If you want to know my opinion of Manziel, anyone who strikes Cam Newton from the history ledgers is a-ok in my book.

[6] Keenum missed most of the 2010 season with an injury, for which he was granted a medical redshirt allowing him to play as a sixth-year senior in 2011.

[7] That would be Graham Harrell and B.J. Symons.  Symons’ 5,976 yards in 2003 is the record.

[8] Vick finished third behind winner Ron Dayne and Joe Hamilton.  Seriously, Joe Hamilton, the quarterback of an 8-4 Georgia Tech team finished second in the Heisman voting ahead of the most revolutionary quarterback of his generation (people assumed Vick would change football based on his ceiling in January, 2000) who led his team to the National Championship Game.  It’s amazing we had dumb, senior-favoring thinking like that less than 15 years ago in college football.

[9] USC in 2004 was the other, although if you ask the BCS, technically . . . they didn’t.

Featured Image at top of article: from video



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