Season’s First Quarter Reveals Hypocrisy, Lies and Hope
Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out
It’s incredible and yet it’s still surprising. Beating Georgia State, 61-28, using a generous helping of second, third and fourth stringers just wasn’t enough blood for too many fans.
What seems to be forgotten is that September 19 is still fairly early in the season. We’re still only half way to the selection committee’s first way-too-early declaration of the final four, which — based upon last year — is indeed still way too early. Of last year’s first four early anointed (Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Florida State), only Alabama and Florida State made the playoffs, and they both lost in the first round.
As the season progresses, preseason prejudices get exposed, some teams falter and some get stronger. Yet the early season does count for something, and the hypocrisy, lies and hopes that it has revealed are the subjects of this week’s Three-and-Out.
1. Myths die hard. Two myths that pollsters just can’t seem to get past are SEC superiority and the misguided belief that all wins are better than all losses.
This week’s AP Poll places Alabama one spot ahead of Oregon. This is, of course, because Alabama’s loss to No. 3 Ole Miss by six at home was a more impressive showing than Oregon’s loss to now No. 2 Michigan State by three on the road.
Wait a minute — that doesn’t make any sense. I guess what it really means is that once again — despite major bowl losses last year and cream puff out of conference scheduling — we are just going to assume SEC superiority.
Which brings us to the next myth — the one that says that all wins are better than all losses. It is true that any win will make the post-game beer go down better, but squeaking out wins over mediocre teams is a warning sign that all too often goes unheeded.
2012 Notre Dame and 2014 Florida State were both undefeated during the regular season. They both had way too many close calls against so-so teams, and yet both were selected for championship consideration.
Not surprisingly for anybody looking deeper than the win-loss record, they both fell flat on their faces when faced with real competition.
Related to this is the myth that the system encourages tough nonconference scheduling. It’s a nice thought, but it is simply not true. Oregon’s three-point loss on the road to Michigan State dropped the Ducks out of the top ten. The absurd conclusion here is that 10 teams should fall between the Spartans (three-point winner at home) and the Ducks (three-point loser on the road).
If anything, the game illustrated that the teams were closer together than the No. 5 and No. 7 rankings they had going into the game. Had the Ducks stayed at home and beaten Idaho that weekend — as did USC — their top ten ranking would have been preserved. No doubt.
The hypocrisy and prejudice is alive and as stinky as ever, and speaking of stinky …
2. The LA schools stink it up. USC’s stink bomb against Stanford is undeniable. The Trojans lost by 10 to a team that couldn’t score a touchdown against Northwestern. Obviously, Stanford has improved since week one, but the Cardinal certainly did the conference no favors by failing to show up for an out-of-conference game and then knocking off 2015 media darling USC.
USC — along with Alabama — is a team that I marked as overrated before the season began. A team has to be steadfast to put together a successful season. Stanford’s David Shaw has it; USC’s Steve Sarkisian doesn’t.
USC’s primary motivation is pre-season hype. Once that’s gone, all that’s left for the Trojans is to put in their three years and jump to the NFL — not the sort of team spirit that wins championships.
Realistically, UCLA did not fare much better. ESPN.com now has the Bruins atop the Pac-12 power rankings, based upon their undefeated status and their Saturday win over ranked BYU. But again, the myth that all wins are better than all losses rears its ugly head.
Sorry, but beating a lower-ranked team by a mere one point on your home field should be no cause for elevation in the rankings. The BYU Cougars are not that special. They struggled against both Nebraska (which lost to unranked Miami) and Boise State (which struggled against Washington). UCLA is going to lose some games.
3. Oregon has troubles? Critics are quick to point out deficiencies in the Ducks’ early season performances. Yes, there are some things to clean up, but the Ducks are hardly the Lone Rangers in that department.
Ohio State had five turnovers and only 298 yards of total offense in a one-touchdown win — over Northern Illinois.
Michigan State relied on a missed pass thrown by a quarterback with a broken finger to escape loss at home against a team ranked 11 places lower.
Alabama lost at home.
TCU – No. 3 in the AP Poll, No. 2 in the Coaches Poll — took down unranked Minnesota by all of six points and gave up 508 yards defensively to Southern Methodist.
While three games deliver a bit of a peek into what the season holds, teams will go many different directions from here.
The injury bug will bite here and there, as will locker room problems. Other teams will work out their issues and play their best football at the end of the season.
Despite the naysayers, Oregon remains positioned well. The scheduling has turned out to be opportunistic. The two “patsy” games — Eastern Washington and Georgia State — turned out to be against pass-happy teams, and this is just what the Ducks’ young secondary needed.
The best thing the Ducks have going for them, though, is leadership, starting with the coaches. There’s a highly successful steadiness there that too often goes unappreciated. And it becomes more and more valuable as the excitement of the new season wears off.
Top photo by Kevin Cline