Mike Merrell’s Three-And-Out: Teams Ready to Take a Dive


Three-and-Out opens with a look at teams I predict will underachieve in 2014. Does my opinion mean anything? Well, here is a link to my hex on three teams for 2013. To sum it up for those of you in too much of a hurry to read the link, the teams I predicted would not meet preseason hype last year were Ohio State, Texas A&M and Notre Dame.

Boy, did I take some heat, especially from tOSU fans who believed that it was scientifically impossible for an Urban Meyer team to lose so much as a single game in his second year at a school. If you  read the comments section of the link, you will note that when pressed, I predicted the Buckeyes would lose two games in 2013. Surprise, surprise, surprise!!! tOSU, ranked second in the preseason AP Poll, lost two games and ended up at No. 12, a healthy drop of 10 spots.

Texas A&M was ranked at seventh in the preseason and ended up at No. 18, and Notre Dame dropped from 14th to 20th. I have to admit to honest surprise that the Irish didn’t drop lower. Still, that’s an average of nine places per team lower than the preseason pundits came up with, so I think I can pat myself on the back and feel sorry that I didn’t take it to Vegas.

So, with that prelude, here are my nominees for underachievement in 2014.

tOSU makes its second appearance -- even before the injury to Miller.

Google Images

tOSU makes its second appearance — even before the injury to Miller.

a)  #5 Ohio State. I had tOSU returning to my list of three even before it came out that QB Braxton Miller was done for the season. Honest, I did. If you don’t believe me, just ask Charles. Why? First, they were really fun to pick on. (See comments section in link above.) But beyond that, Carlos Hyde, their top running back from last year, is gone, along with four-of-five starting offensive linemen. Worse yet for the Buckeyes, last year’s backup quarterback, Kenny Guiton, who filled in ably for Miller when he was injured in 2013, is also gone. They have a strong defensive line, but there are questions at linebacker, and their secondary struggled against the pass last year.

So, the Buckeyes were already looking at a green offensive line, a new lead running back and a porous pass defense. With Miller out, it almost seems like cheating to pick them as not living up to the preseason hype, but they were on my list anyway, and I’m not going to change it.

Oklahoma unveils new football operation center.

Wikimedia Commons

Oklahoma unveils new football operation center.

b)  #4 Oklahoma. This is another one that I was going to pick even before recent developments. The Sooners Kool Aid mainly comes from last year’s big win in the Sugar Bowl when they torched theoretically untorchable Alabama. Trevor Knight established himself as “the” quarterback by throwing for something like 350 yards against the “Roll slowly, please” Crimson Tide.

Though it was a good effort by Knight, his stats just don’t back up the contention that he is among the elite. On the season last year he was 79-of-134 for a 59 % completion rate, with 12 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Inexperience at receiver further complicates the Sooners’ passing game.

Oklahoma may also have problems running the ball in 2014. With their top three running backs gone, they were counting on help from 5-star freshman Joe Mixon, but he was recently suspended for the season for slugging a woman in the face, causing her four broken bones.

On defense, the Sooners return all of their front seven. Well, all of them except for leading tackler Frank Shannon, who was also recently suspended for the year, because of alleged sexual assault. If it were possible to feel sorry for a Stoops brother or two, I would. Seriously, though, it is to Oklahoma’s credit that they didn’t look the other way on these issues. There are those programs that would have.

Though the Sooners were 11-2 last year, they had bad losses to Baylor and Texas, had unimpressive wins over West Virginia, TCU and Kansas State, and struggled to put away hapless Kansas. I had them graded down because of probable offensive struggles in 2014 even before Mixon and Shannon put forth their best efforts to prove me right.

c)  #2 Alabama. Blasphemy, you say! If anything Alabama should be No. 1! Sorry, no, not happening. The Crimson Tide finished last season at # 7. They have replaced Heisman runner up quarterback A.J. McCarron with a juicy controversy pitting team favorite three-year bench-warmer Blake Sims (23/39 for 244 yards for a 6.36/attempt average on his career) against Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, who went 21/41 for 295 yards and a 7.20/attempt average with one touchdown and one interception in two years as a backup.

To make matters worse, the Crimson Tide hired Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator, and you think they’re actually going to do better? For those of you who don’t know, here’s what happens when you have Lane Kiffin calling the plays.

You must believe in St. Nick if you think Alabama is on course for a better year. And speaking of Nick, another thing working against the Tide is that their coach, Nick Saban, just plain looked silly in his bid to have a delay of game penalty imposed on teams that play too fast. Yes, delay of game for going too fast. Why did he even try? Here’s a clue. His starting defensive front seven — including the four linebackers — average 276.57 pounds per player and they return only two starters. As long as Saban already has Kiffin, perhaps he should hire Tosh Lupoi to teach his big boys how to buy a little breathing time.

Butkus Award winning linebacker C.J. Mosley is gone. There are a lot of questions in the secondary, and the team has struggled against the spread offense. Alabama does return a strong tandem of running backs, for all the good it will do them with Kiffin calling the shots. The Crimson Tide is highly ranked out of habit. Even with a cream puff schedule, this isn’t their year.

Main photo by Wikimedia Commons

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Mike Merrell

Mike Merrell

Mike (Editor-in-Chief) is a 1970 graduate of the University of Oregon where he attended the Honors College and received all-conference honors as a swimmer. After college, Mike ran for the Oregon Track Club and narrowly missed qualifying for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. He continues his involvement in sports with near-daily swimming or running workouts, occasional masters swim competition (where he has received two Top-10 World rankings), providing volunteer coaching to local triathletes and helping out with FishDuck.com. Mike lives on 28 acres in the forest near Sandpoint, Idaho, where he has served as a certified public accountant for most of his working career. His current night job is writing novels about Abby Westminster, the only known illegitimate daughter of Britain's finest secret agent who has to bring down arch-villains plotting dastardly deeds. And, yes, Abby is also a DUCK!

  • 1pac12fan

    I really like this read, Mike. Great logic in your assessments of these teams.

  • Brian

    Sounds about right! Well done.

  • J. Dean

    I would add Michigan State to that list. Their defense took a step back in experience, as key players went to the NFL last draft.

    • Godux

      I’d agree but they didn’t really convince many they were real powers, just an interesting option to TOSU for the conference crown in an overrated conference that loses the really big bowl games nowadays.
      Before the piling on starts, last years Rose Bowl was just another bowl game.

  • Bailey in Bend

    Hope you’re right about Bama. Lane Kiffin? What were they thinking (or is it what were they drinking)? And it will be nice to skip all the drama about pretty boy AJ and his hot gf this year

    • hokieduck

      I disagree about Kiffen. He is a terrible head coach, but he has a very sharp offensive mind and has always done well as a coordinator. In a way, he was a victim of his own success, too much too soon. OK, that is all of the Lane Kiffen bolstering I can stand… I taste a little throw-up in my mouth already…

      • Mike Merrell

        While I agree that Kiffin is offensive, I’m not so sure about the rest of it. He was calling the plays at USC, and they did manage to hang 7 on a Washington State team that ended up ranked 97th in scoring defense with a 32.5 ppg average.

        Beyond that, I have confidence in Kiffin’s ability to be a divisive factor. Reports are that Alabama had some locker room issues last year, and that with an established leader at QB. They have certainly set the stage for more issues this year by bringing in a Florida State transfer to compete with (and probably barely surpass) a Tide faithful who has sat on the bench until his senior year to start at QB.

        Admittedly, Alabama has enough skill and depth to win a lot of games without much of a QB. Kirk Herbstreit picks them to win because of Kiffin. I pick them to lose for the same reason.

        • hokieduck

          Can’t argue with your reasoning, Mike. That is why they play the games. :)

          I do think, however, that Kiffen could not have landed in a better spot for him. I also think that Saban wants him partly because he has played against so many up-tempo teams, Saban’s kryptonite (at least if you look at all his whiny protestations and attempts to change the rules as indicative of his weakness… and I do.)

          • Mike Merrell

            Gotta agree that it’s a great land for Kiffin. I also think that it’s great for everybody except for Alabama, which works for me! And, yes, Saban has struggled against up-tempo. I will just be very surprised if Kiffin turns out to be the answer he’s looking, for.

            What happens with Alabama over the next few years is going to be very interesting. There’s a new game in town and Saban seems to be resisting it. I hope you’ve had a chance to read Nathan’s article on embracing the uncertainty. The play where Alabama got burned on the game-ending field goal attempt will be one of the subjects of a Three-and-Out in the near future.

          • Godux

            pretty much in line with my thoughts but, why would you hire a pro-set OC with the rationale that he had played against a lot of up-tempo teams. He evidently has not learned what devastation such looks wreak, or he is as stubborn as Saban about where football is headed in college.

          • hokieduck

            By knowing a lot about an offense he can help identify its weaknesses. I realize that he is not the DC but that does not mean, as a former HC, that he is not quite familiar with what has been successful in the past against the blur. Also, that he would be invaluable in setting up a scout team, etc to familiarize the defense with the concepts. Kind of cross-training the coaching staff.

    • Mike Merrell

      So maybe ESPN moves on to Kiffin’s hot wife?

  • Godux

    Saban had almost removed my memories of his teams, especially in the big 10ish underachieving. Looks like he might be back in the saddle again, starting with last season’s blazing finish (not in a good way)

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    It seems to me Lame Kitten grew up with a silver clipboard in his mouth, his dad b’ing legendary ‘n all… no doubt he’s learned, ‘n has his own talents ‘n gadgets, but perhaps he’s melted in the holywood glare of the big stage..
    Can you say, Limp on ! trojan man… ur uh… bummerbamaman ?
    Woodn’t it be cooler than flies on rice, or is it fire on lice, oh whatever… i’d love to see the ducks in the trees for a classic rematch finale to the ’14 ssn, 1st playoff natty ‘ship..
    Maddog’s Predictions :
    Nov 1, ’14, Stanford 33 Oregon 20, maintaining the smothering D of the last 3 yrs, the Tree also unveils a potent O..
    The Tree, 12-1, climbs Pac’s Peak again, beating $C in an avalanch-beat-down rematch, 37-10, while sailing to a win of the Pac ‘ship.
    At 12-1, with the toughest SoS of all contenders and the Pac ‘ship well anchored, the Tree is ranked 3rd, nationally, and the Donald is ranked 4th at 11-1. The Robber Barons, in one semi, mercilessly evict the Bulldogs, or maybe one of the inbred Tigers from the SUC, i mean SEC, while as dogs to the ‘Noles, you rise up and smite them mightily… 40-36, in the other semi..
    Natty ‘ship Final, Jan ’15, Royce rolls ‘n shines, but in the shadows of their own end zone, it’s the Tarpley n crew coveralls, inna nail-biter… Stanford 23 Oregone 21 ..in the end, another hum-dinger of a D doozie !

    • hokieduck

      Welcome to Fishduck, maddog. Given the above, well, blather, I clicked on your archive for a second. Despite this comment, you generally seem to be a well-written, intelligent poster. You are also, obviously, a Tree fan.

      Thanks for respecting the Ducks enough to let us twice be your lap dogs this year (that would be 4 times in a row, wow, Stanford is the best football program in history and yet you still can’t seem to fill your stands. What’s with that?) And giving the Pac two spots in the inaugural playoff? Nice! Really hope to see you on this site in early November.

      Here is wishing both our teams good health through the season. It will mean so much more to you, I am sure, if you beat a team other than the mortally wounded Ducks of last year. And if both squads really did fill half the bracket come January, that would indeed be awesome.

      Go Ducks! WTD! (Oh and it is “white”; the idiom is “white on rice” and it refers, not to “cool” things, rather to things that naturally belong together … like Ducks football and winning. And Stanford and pocket protectors. :)

      • maddogsfavsnpiks

        Hokieduck — isn’t a Virginia Tech HokieDuck a strange amalgamation that they only let out on Halloween… a kind of freak of nature…? Anyway you speak of “Ducks football and winning” as if they go together like trick-or-treat… Well, yes, perhaps.. er ‘cept against the Tree..
        (Speaking of what’s in your “nature”, i see that Stanford is the only team you’ve played 5 yrs in a row and *failed* to win a majority ..and isn’t the Tree ridiculously far ahead in the overall series… something like 46-30-1, as i pleasantly recall..) ?
        Sorry, no treats forya again this year either…
        But, try not to obsess
        Nerd Nation is the best
        No reason to recess
        We ’bout to ace the test
        n – e – r – d – S

        • hokieduck

          Right you are, maddog. I am, in fact, a freak of nature. An amalgam (you should know the distinction between the related nouns amalgam and amalgamation, being from Stanford and all … and here I am, just a pathetic Hokie grad, schooling you on proper word usage?) of two incredibly intimidating birds of prey. Each almost as fear inducing as a Christmas tree in fall. Of course, if Ben Franklin had his way, the grand old turkey would have been our national bird. Cunning, the Gobbler.

          And in homage to your poetic acumen, I close with a brief ditty of my own.

          Will not obsess,
          My bark-y pal.
          Your nerdness rests,

          This time to Autzen comes the Tree,
          To be felled, most certainly.
          So keep your geek chic whilst you may,
          November 1, Ducks Win The Day!

          Good luck, md. May both teams remain injury free and spitting fire. See you on November 1.

          Go Ducks!

    • Mike Merrell

      There is a reason they play the games instead of just letting people vote on outcomes, however given that Stanford’s strength of schedule is being pumped up as so strong this year, it makes more sense that they would make it in with only one loss to undefeated Oregon, rather than the other way around.

      We are all entitled to our preseason opinions, and of course all of our teams are undefeated at this point. That being said, the only way Stanford holds Oregon to 20 is to have Mariota less healthy than he was a year ago against the Tree. Expect the Ducks to be stronger on offense this year with two new weapons in a deep threat (Devon Allen) and a fast, bruising back (Royce Freeman) that they did not have last year. This, along with key defensive losses on the Farm, will cut into the Tree’s ability to make the same strategy work the way it has in the past.

      On the other side of the ball, Oregon’s defense has beefed up and has also adjusted alignments to close down the middle. (See Charles’ article on the disguised bear.) Couple that in with four new starters on Stanford’s O-line, and all in all I like Oregon’s chances.

      Thanks for joining us, maddog. By the way, are you legal in Washington or Colorado, or did someone just slip some magic into your brownies?

      • maddogsfavsnpiks

        “magic is alive, alive is afoot, magic never died…”
        — Buffy St Marie
        ..meanwhile, i keep reading on these here duck blogs ’bout Marcus’ injury was why ducks got shot down 2 yrs in a row, well, maybe jus’ last yr, but still… well, yes, these here whattheduck blogs’re are all sayin’ half whinin’ : …see, we was gettin’ beat 23-0 in the 4th qtr but we had avg’d 300 yards rushing and 55 points per game before, therefore !.. (what ? ..against a collection of creampuffs, cupcakes and barbequed weenies ?) ..ear elephant ! ..we were, we must be unstoppable, except for we weren’t because MMs, melting on Tree limbs, and we only gained 60yds on the ground ALL game, so it musta bin MarioTA’a knee, not the Tree D, even tho they were without Big Ben the Gardner, and Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Anderson was no where near 100%… and David Parry’s abdominal injury was flaring up.. and so on and so forth…
        Anywaze.. i’m a’wond’rin what kinda ‘cuses y’all ‘ll dream up when delicate duck wing bones shatter like a nightmare on sturdy nerdy tree limbs again…?
        (note – itz a violent “game”, mimicking war. Injuries, like death in the real, play a major part, but there’s no askerick * next to the win saying, “so-n-so wuz injured, so that game don’t count”…)
        26-20 period. Shoulda coulda woulda din’t
        ..and thanx y’all for keepin’ it real ‘n makin’ me feel welcome on fishduck.. talk to y’all again reel soon, i’m sure…

        • Mike Merrell

          Most people who follow the game understand that the QB position is the most critical. Nothing will throw an entire offense off anywhere near as severely as a sudden handicap at that position. That’s not an excuse; it’s simply a fact.

          That being said, that obviously wasn’t the only thing going on in the Oregon-Stanford game last year. The inability of Oregon’s defense to stop Stanford’s pounding before they were in field goal range was as big or bigger issue. Will it happen again in 2014? We’ll see — as I say, that’s why they play the game. You are entitled to your belief, as am I, and my belief is that it won’t happen again in 2014, for these reasons:

          Two reasons relating to personnel — the Ducks have beefed up. The front line is huge. Second, last year was undeniably a building year at linebacker, a position that, unlike last year, looks to be a strength this year.

          A third reason relates to scheme. Again, take a look at Charles’ article right here on FishDuck to read about the “Disguised Bear” and the impact the change had in the Texas game.

          I doubt it’s the case, but I really, really hope that Shaw shares your confidence in the Tree’s ability to shut down the Duck offense this year, because what worked last year will not work this year.

          • maddogsfavsnpiks

            Most people who have played and/or coached football know that on offense, the #1 priority in building a solid *championship* winning program, is recruiting and/or developing a strong, dominant line..
            Without the ability to control the line of scrimmage (LoS), game in and game out, any QB (especially the best) and any RB who doesn’t have an ego problem, will tell you…” i’m nothing, nada, nadie, without my linemen..” — ..they’re NOT kidding.
            And it is a similar scenarioo on defense.. if you can’t stop the run with your front 7, you’re in deep duck doo.
            (ps – prediction: putting on 10lbs a man will not help yoo, it’ll just increase the depth of the duck doo.. On the bright side, it’s great fertilizer, noo ?)

          • Mike Merrell

            On the other hand if you can’t stop the run with your front 7, you’re in deep tree doo. It’s all hypothetical until 11/1. I would love to stay and play, but I really have to move on to other things now. I live in North Idaho where it snows a lot, so I need to go cut down some trees for firewood.

          • maddogsfavsnpiks

            Yuckittyyuckyuckyuck… you ducks are a quack up.. Tree doo !… silly duck… You know trees don’t doo that.
            Aren’t Trees amazingly selfless organisms tho ? They sacrifice themselves so that you can keep warm n toasty in front of the fire in that fluffy donald duck vest you like to wear.. and they let you cut them up to make yourselves elaborate shelters from the inclement elements… and so many give of their fruit… apples, cherries, nectarines… that you may flourish…
            And then what do you do ? Clearcut the forests that cover the hills along the coast east and south of Eugene… Why ?

          • maddogsfavsnpiks

            Ooops… I mean *west* and south of Eugene.

          • Mike Merrell

            Actually, anyone who lives in the forest can tell you that trees are incredibly messy organisms.

            Not that this has anything to do with Alabama, Oklahoma or Ohio State, but I practice sound forest management in North Idaho. We have 28 acres, mostly conifers. Trees die, get uprooted by windstorms, need to be thinned. Selective harvesting promotes the overall health of the forest by reducing the threat of pest infestation and removing fuel for forest fires. Yesterday I cut down two dead cedars that were a potential fire hazard.

            You ask why we harvest trees? Among other reasons, to provide lumber for the construction of homes for, among others, self-righteous hypocrites.

          • maddogsfavsnpiks

            Hmmm… check your reading skills… that’s not what i asked.

        • Godux

          I kind of think the tree is more bark than wood this year and USC will girdle the tree this week. By the time they get to Eugene it’ll be ‘another game against a good team’ rather than a colossal matchup. The main story will be the history of the last two years and ‘can they do it again?’ a question answered with ‘probably not’, then ‘no’.

  • Godux

    Not sure St Nick can keep the A-train on track. He never has anyplace else. so I agree there. I wish TOSU was healthy because they still would have underachieved and OK plays in an inferior conference. Looks like you did a good job. I might have included Florida state, now that everyone knows who they have at QB and can prepare better for them. They’ll do well but may not be in the natty.
    Within the PAC 12 I see Washington as the big disappointment with UCLA making a challenge, if week 1 is to be believed. I didn’t have the Bruins in that picture until the defense outscored the Heisman hopeful. Peterson may turn Udumb around but not without a little more depth. It’ll take him a couple of years. Sarkisian down in LA may have loved his hometown and left for that, but he was wiping his brow, feeling lucky to leave behind what he was leaving. The hype for him was dissipating and has been replaced by the hype for Peterson. He can’t promise his recruits a conference championship and a bowl game anymore so his recruiting advantage is gone..

    • Mike Merrell

      I felt that Alabama and Ohio State did reasonable jobs living down to my expectations. Even though tOSU won by 17, Navy was still in the game in the fourth quarter and Alabama never did get separation from an unranked team — wish they played aTm this weekend. They would totally tank. Oklahoma performed well, but against a bottom dweller whose rankings in both points for and points against were in triple digits last year.

      The preseason hype for the Northern Dogs was a little hard to understand, especially considering their losses on offense and their relatively low rankings for recruiting classes over the past few years. I guess there are those who think Petersen will make an instant difference. This seems unlikely considering that they are running new schemes. He may end up doing great at UW, but we have seen what happened to Hawkins, who did great at BSU and then bombed at Colorado. I’m sure Miles will help their offense, but outside of the one 91 yard bomb, it was practically flat-lined, and Hawaii is not a powerhouse.