Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out
The wonderful thing about August is that every D-1 football program is undefeated, so dreams of what could happen have yet to be tainted with reality. The door for pundits to put together their Top-25’s and final fours is wide open.
With not a whole lot of objectivity to go on, a certain amount of subjectivity is bound to creep in. Athlon Sports, for example — which is based in SEC territory — predicts Alabama and Auburn to both be in the top four, even if the SEC did stink it up last bowl season.
So, though I am just bending over backwards to be objective, there is perhaps a smidgen of subjectivity that tints my prediction of the final four — that Oregon is one of the four goes without saying. FishDuck.com is notoriously and pridefully the home of Duck homerism.
Therefore, the remaining three teams are the subjects of this week’s Three-and-Out. Objective reasons for the selections are spelled out, but, yes, the factor of how sweet revenge could be has added a little spice to the menu.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes. Nothing controversial here. The Buckeyes won last year with a young team, and pretty much everybody is back. There is little that appears to be standing in their way. Probably the biggest threat is that the NCAA will choose Ohio State instead of Oregon for random marijuana tests prior to the big game.
That could be bad news for Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and his buds. It remains mind-boggling that one team playing for the championship gets tested and the other doesn’t, and that school-administered positives draw a one game suspension and NCAA-administered positives draw half a season.
It is easy to hate the Buckeyes, and not just because they win. When Urban Meyer learned Chip Kelly was bolting for the NFL, the first thing he did was to target Oregon’s recruiting class. He picked up running back Dontre Wilson in the process, but missed out on receiver Darren Carrington and safety Tyree Robinson, who remained loyal to their Oregon commitments.
Meyer was also just a little too happy when the Buckeyes scored a “piling it on” touchdown at the end of last season’s championship game when they could have taken a knee.
Karma will be complete if a championship rematch between Oregon and Ohio State comes down to a Dontre Wilson fumble recovered by Tyree Robinson, followed by a winning touchdown pass to Darren Carrington.
Then the cameras will pan to Joey Bosa lighting up a joint while Urban Meyer has another nervous breakdown, babbling incoherently about returning to Florida. The next day, the Buckeyes will announce the hiring of Lane Kiffin as their new head coach. Curse you, Ohio State.
2. Auburn Tigers. The Tigers were only 8-5 last year and return only five starters on offense, but most everybody seems to think they’re a threat to go the distance this year. So let’s just go ahead and pencil them in. Revenge would be sweet in either a New Year’s first round game or the National Championship Game.
The big thing that Auburn seems to have going for it is a 6’5″, 240 lb. quarterback in Jeremy Johnson. Last year, he was 28-of-37 for 436 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions in a backup role.
Even though a small sampling, those are good numbers, especially in a conference that doesn’t have much in the way of quarterbacks — excuse me, I mean has lockdown defenses.
Besides that, the last time the Tigers had a QB that size, they won the national championship, so at least making the final four seems inevitable. And they’re also from the SEC, which we all know is the toughest conference in the land.
Oh — Auburn also has a new defensive coordinator in Will Muschamp, who used to be at Alabama, so its defense will be pretty much impenetrable, even if it only was ranked 63rd against scoring last year. But of course this was in the SEC, which is known for … never mind.
3. Boise State Broncos. Impossible? Not really. For the Broncos to make the final four, a few things would have to happen. First, they would of course have to go undefeated. That’s not a particularly tall order in the Mountain West — especially with Washington as a marquee nonconference game.
Second, at least two of the Power-5 conferences would have to produce a champion with “issues.” This, also, is not hard to imagine.
The ACC: We saw what Oregon did last year to the ACC’s undefeated, defending national champion Florida State. Let’s face it — the entire conference has to be on double secret probation with the selection committee after that one.
The SEC: The SEC West — touted to be the toughest division in college football — saw its five top teams lose their bowl games last year. Also double secret probation. And nobody in the conference is safe from everything except kryptonite this year. A two-loss SEC champion could easily be left out.
The Big 12: If TCU goes undefeated, the Horned Frogs are in. Baylor? Would the selection committee reward a team that scheduled SMU, Rice and Lamar for its nonconference games, even if it went undefeated? Hard to know, but you would hope not.
By comparison, Boise State doesn’t have as tough a conference schedule, but the Broncos did schedule the aforementioned Huskies and Virginia — not to mention Ole Miss last year. At least they’re trying — something Baylor is not. And last year, the Broncos finished with a win over Pac-12 South champion Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl.
Adding to the Baylor/TCU quandary is the possibility that if Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Kansas State actually develop pulses this year, the Big 12 winner could have a loss or two.
B1G: We can always hope for tOSU to stub a toe, but this is nothing Boise State should count on or expect. For the Ducks, if there’s a rematch, revenge would be sweet.
At some point, the Committee may feel it needs to acknowledge the Group of Five. With the ACC, SEC and Big-12 all coming into the season nursing hangovers from last year, this could be the year.
So, how sweet would it be for the Ducks to emerge triumphant over this group of three?
You would feel like a kid in a candy store: First, I want to beat Boise and then Ohio State … no, I think I want to beat Auburn and then Ohio State … no, I want to beat Ohio State and then break Boise’s heart in the championship … beat Auburn while Ohio State loses to Boise, then it’s an all Northwest final? So many possibilities.
If only it were ours to decide.
Top photo by Craig Strobeck