Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out
More so than most years, this college football season has produced much which, on the surface, just doesn’t make a lot of sense: home teams frequently losing, hardly anybody staying undefeated, a log jam of one-loss teams that threatens to be impossible to sort out, and yes, even players’ names. Making sense of players names, home team losses and inter-conference play are the subjects of this week’s Three-and-Out.
1. Players’ Names. Stanford and Washington made huge contributions to the Ducks’ beat down of the Huskies Saturday. Not Stanford and Washington, the schools, but rather Duck receiver Dwayne Stanford and linebacker Tony Washington.
Stanford and Washington aren’t the only Pac-12 players who have chosen schools that go against their names. It’s the Stanford Cardinal, not USC, who has wide receiver Jeff Trojan. And while the Washington Huskies do have running back Dwayne Washington and defensive back Lavon Washington, they also have a defensive back named Brandon Beaver.
The next time you feel the world is giving you a nasty turn, just think about that double whammy — being named Beaver and playing for the Huskies. At least Brandon can take comfort in knowing his parents really love him. They could have named him “Bucky,” “Eager,” “Busy” or even “Seymour.” And there have to be a lot of announcers who are thankful that he is not a wide receiver.
2. Home Team Losses. Pac-12 analysts everywhere are commenting on the lack of home field advantage in the conference this year. It’s true that so far home teams are 8-16 against the visitors, and no one seems to be able to find an explanation. Some have suggested that maybe it’s the power of “us against them” and “circling the wagons.” Here’s a different possibility that nobody seems to have thought of: Maybe, in most cases, the better team simply won. Let’s take a look at those sixteen home losses and see just how much mystery there really is.
Colorado losing at home to OSU and USC certainly is no mystery. Neither is Cal losing at home to Washington and UCLA. UCLA and WSU losing at home to Oregon? Washington losing to Stanford? OSU losing to Utah? No surprises there.
ASU was breaking in a replacement quarterback when they lost at home to UCLA, and Oregon’s offensive line was in the hospital when a good Arizona team came calling. The visitors did win a handful of “toss-up” games: USC over Arizona and Stanford, and ASU over USC. But these are hardly what could be called major upsets.
That leaves only three of sixteen games that could begin to be classified as a “home team” curse, and Utah beating UCLA may or may not look like an upset by the time the year is over. That leaves the only one truly perplexing result: How can the Cougars beat Utah on the road, then turn around and lose to Cal at home? But then, that’s Wazzu for you!
All in all, the home team losses aren’t that much of a mystery. In virtually all of the cases, the home team was either physically down, or was simply the underdog to start with.
3. Interconference Play. In the midst of all the uncertainty, the pundits would have us believe in one constant: With a 19-0 record against nonconference foes, the SEC West has four of the five highest ranked teams in the AP Poll. But let’s take a look at just who has been on the losing side of that 19-0 effort. The SEC West is 15-0 against mid-majors and has put its reputation on the line against Power-5 conference teams only four times, with less than impressive results.
Arkansas beat up on Big 12 bottom dweller Texas Tech 49-28 and LSU squeezed by down-year Wisconsin 28-24. Alabama beat West Virginia by 10 and Auburn “handled” Kansas State 20-14. Of course, the verdict is still out on the SEC West nonconference results. They still have games remaining with West Carolina, Samford, Presbyterian, Tennessee-Martin, Louisiana-Monroe and Alabama-Birmingham. Somehow I think the SEC West will survive.
The SEC West has been successful with the Big 12, but how good is the Big 12? The Big 12 is 4-7 in Power 5 nonconference games, so it’s not just the SEC West that has been beating them up. The Big 12’s most impressive wins have been Iowa State over Iowa and TCU over Minnesota, possibly the worst 6-1 team in the country.
The Pac-12, by comparison, is 6-2 in nonconference Power-5 play, including Oregon’s impressive win over Michigan State. The only real blemish is USC’s loss to Boston College. Yet through it all, the myth of SEC West superiority remains, and the Big 12 has supposedly passed the Pac-12 as the nation’s second toughest conference.
The SEC West goes out of its way to avoid comparison with real non-inbred competition and the Big 12 has not fared well outside its own ranks. Let’s hope the final four selection committee sees through the fog.
Feature photo by David Pyles