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.

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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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