What does a lead of .0013 in the average score of the BCS standings mean?
That's the margin by which Ohio State has kept the No. 3 spot over Baylor in the latest BCS standings—defying our projections, but just barely. As the 2013 regular season in college football heads toward its final three weeks, the gaps between top teams will be closely scrutinized as they take on more meaning.
Ohio State's lead would've vanished had just three coaches (out of 62) switched their votes between OSU and Baylor, or six Harris voters (out of 105) had done the same. All told, had just four or five voters out of 167 changed their minds, then the Bears would be ahead of the Buckeyes.
Baylor would also be comfortably ahead at No. 3 if had the AP poll were part of the BCS instead of either the coaches poll or Harris poll. The Bears jumped Ohio State in the AP poll after a 63-34 comeback win over Texas Tech, while the Buckeyes needed late scores to pull away from Illinois, 60-35.
It's just about certain that Baylor will be the No. 3 team in the next BCS standings if it can defeat No. 10 Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Bears will gain enough in the computer rankings (a mere one-place improvement in one computer is all they need) to make up the .0013 deficit, but they'll also most likely pick up a few votes by defeating a Top 10 team.
Naturally, the next question is, can Baylor hold on to that No. 3 spot?
Barring a late-season loss by either Baylor or OSU, that will be the most intriguing question should either Alabama or Florida State slip up and open the door for one of those teams to get into the BCS title game.
Ohio State faces Michigan and then, in all likelihood, will play Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game to close out the season, so the Buckeyes should have an advantage in terms of schedule strength—even after falling to No. 4 in next week's BCS rankings with a game against Indiana. The Spartans can do Ohio State a big favor by winning their next two games and arriving at the B1G title game with an 11-1 record and a Top 10 ranking.
After playing Oklahoma State in a game that likely will decide the Big 12 title, Baylor closes out its regular season against TCU and Texas, as the Big 12 conference does not have a championship game. If the Longhorns can defeat Texas Tech before facing Baylor, it might help them somewhat in the polls, but not much in the computers. In a race this close, though, every little bit helps.
The race that now holds less suspense is the non-AQ competition between Fresno State and Northern Illinois. Fresno State is firmly in control of its own destiny, with the Fiesta Bowl as its likely reward if it can finish undefeated.
The fact that Northern Illinois has gained no ground on the Bulldogs in the polls (and even lost a bit in the coaches poll) after its most impressive victory to-date—Wednesday night's 48-27 win over Ball State—is a clear indication that voters continue to hold last year's Orange Bowl loss against the Huskies.
With the coaches especially holding down the Huskies' position in that poll, there is little chance for them to make up ground, as their schedule strength for the remainder of their games is at parity with that of Fresno State.
Even though they're only one spot apart in the current standings, Fresno State's lead of .0405 over Northern Illinois is as commanding of an advantage as Ohio State's .0013 over Baylor is tenuous.
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In college football, the transitive property works in mysterious ways. For Notre Dame, it lets you posit that the Irish can play with—and beat—the elite of college football. But it also shows you that when the Irish break bad, they belong in the dregs of college football.
You can draw your own conclusions about this Irish football team. At 7-3, they've done enough to have three very nice wins on their resume. But they've also laid three eggs, none more rancid than their performance at Heinz Field last Saturday night.
Playing connect the dots tells you all you need to know about Brian Kelly's team. The Irish shut down and embarrassed a USC team that less than a month later beat up Stanford, a team that just a few days ago looked like the big bad nerds that took Oregon down and could challenge the SEC.
Notre Dame beat a Michigan State team that has bullied the Big Ten and could end up in the Rose Bowl. The Irish could very well have beaten the Pac-12 South champ as well, with Arizona State two victories away from battling Oregon for the chance to play in Pasadena as well.
Then again, those dots lead to quite a few dead ends. The Irish's defensive ineptitude against Michigan gets uglier by the week, as Al Borges' offense has self-destructed in November. The loss to Oklahoma looks far less noble after Baylor boat-raced Bob Stoops' troops and even Mack Brown got over on the Sooners. And Pitt lost to Navy, who lost to Western Kentucky, who lost to South Alabama, who lost to Southern Utah. That gets ugly in a hurry.
If we are to believe The Natural, losing is a disease, as contagious as polio, syphilis or the bubonic plague. But if you were to listen to Brian Kelly last week, he's pinned the difficulties of the season on two things: Turnovers and giving up big plays.
"The facts are the facts. We turned the ball over eight times in our three losses and we took it away once," Kelly said. "In our seven wins, we turned it over five times and took it away seven times. In our three losses, we gave up runs or passes of 64, 63 and 54 yards. In our seven wins, we gave up one 48-yard pass to Purdue.
"Those are facts. We live in finding solution to those. We know what they are. We know how to win and what we need to do to win."
With two games to go on the season, the Irish have two very important opportunities to show a level of consistency they simply haven't exhibited this season. Show up and play like the team that beat ASU, USC and Michigan State, and there's every reason to believe Notre Dame can beat a better than average BYU and a Stanford team that's now shown twice that they aren't quite as invincible as some had believed.
But play like the Irish did when they gave up big plays to Michigan, the football early (and often) to Oklahoma, or late (and painfully) to Pitt, and Notre Dame could limp into bowl season with five losses.
That's part of living with this football team. A year after doing so many of the little things right, the basics are painfully difficult.
There are still three big opportunities for Notre Dame to salvage this season. But to have even a chance, they'll need to rid themselves of some very bad habits that already cost the Irish a chance at a very good season.*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained first hand. Follow @KeithArnold on Twitter.
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Johnny Manziel is so good at tackle football.
In fact, Johnny Football is so good at tackle football that he deserves to win the Heisman Trophy for the second straight season. The Aggies' losses this season have not reflected upon his play. It is not Manziel's fault that his defense is putrid.
Manziel has yet to be stifled this season by anybody. He has accumulated at least 300 yards of total offense in every entire game that he has played this fall. Only Ole Miss has held him to under three total touchdowns.
Last season, Manziel was only slowed down twice. The first came against Florida in his first career game. The second, and by far the most impressive, was by way of LSU.
The Tigers defeated the Aggies, 24-19, in College Station. Manziel played the worst game of his college career, throwing for 276 yards, three interceptions and no touchdowns. He rushed for only 27 yards on 17 carries.
In that game, Manziel looked as if he was going to have a masterful performance right out the gates.
Texas A&M began with two 12-play drives—one resulting in a touchdown and the other in a field goal. The LSU defense looked befuddled by Manziel's wizardry.
LSU ran its base 4-3 defense on 22 of the Aggies' 24 plays on their two opening drives, as Texas A&M moved swiftly, scoring nine points.
But then defensive coordinator John Chavis made a tactical switch that won the game for LSU.
Chavis' innovative 3-2-6 "Mustang" defensive package has been troubling for opposing offenses. Chavis gets as much speed on the field as possible for LSU by having three defensive linemen, two linebackers and six defensive backs on the field at one time.
Former LSU Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu had most of his success in the Mustang, as it allowed him and the Tigers' other defensive backs to play freely on the field. It has given spread offenses fits with its amount of speed on the field.
Manziel could not crack the "Mustang" package. Every time he ran to the outside, he would often be met by one of six LSU defensive backs who possess the same amount of speed as him. Sometimes, Manziel would run right into LSU's agile defensive ends.
Here, LSU is in its Mustang package on a manageable down and distance. The defensive ends are lined up wide with even more contain help to the outside. Chavis is daring Texas A&M to run up the middle with power runs, something the Aggies do not do well.
Manziel runs a zone read where he must make a decision on whether or not to hand the ball off to his running back or keep it. Manziel decides to keep it, hoping he can outrun LSU to the outside, but the Tigers are sitting down waiting for them.
Manziel sees he is going nowhere and simply falls into the arms of Anthony Johnson for a three-yard loss. Even if Manziel ran around the defensive line, a defensive back would have chased him down for a negative gain.
LSU did a great job of staying in its rush lanes when attacking Manziel on pass plays as well. The speed and discipline of Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery at defensive end frustrated Manziel.
Chavis' lack of depth and inconsistency at defensive back have been part of the reason why he has not run the Mustang as often this season. Micah Eugene and Dwayne Thomas have played the role of nickelback and dime back in the formation, both of whom have had some success. Eugene played a critical role in chasing down Manziel last season.
Johnny Football has become a better passer, but he still likes to extend plays and improvise instead of sit in the pocket and make throws. LSU may not have the speed it had from last season, but it still has enough to give Manziel fits.
The problem for LSU has been the lack of consistency in its secondary. Manziel could be as slow as a snail if Mike Evans and the rest of the talented Texas A&M receiving corps gets open with ease.
The biggest factor in LSU's favor will be Tiger Stadium. The Mustang becomes even more effective as blitzes are tougher to read pre-snap and communication is dampened by crowd noise. The questions remains if Chavis is willing to take chances against a shifty quarterback like Manziel.
Legendary players look to conquer those who have conquered them. Manziel will be looking for revenge against an LSU defense that was depleted from the year before.
Manziel will play better against LSU this season, especially as Manziel looks to make history in becoming only the second two-time Heisman Trophy winner besides Ohio State's Archie Griffin. But can the Tigers contain him enough for LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger to outduel him?
No matter the result, expect a fireworks show in Death Valley on Saturday.
Follow me on twitter @CarterthePower.
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Yes, it is way too early to start talking about a Mountain West Conference title game featuring a rematch between the Boise State Broncos and Fresno State Bulldogs.
No, it won't stop the provocative speculation by those who like saying things out loud that make most people shake their heads while saying, "way too early, too many games left."
Still, with just two regular season games remaining for both of these teams, it might be fun to dive into a day dream produced by imagination and with a working title that reads; "What If."
What if Boise State gets another shot at Fresno State in the MWC title game, and a BCS bowl berth is on the line for the Bulldogs?
How big would that game be for each team and the conference?
A few things still need to happen of course, for this dream to become reality. But, when looking at the pieces of the puzzle that need to fall into place, it seems like level one Tetris.
Taking Care of Business
For both of these teams the bottom line is simply taking care of business on the field. The Broncos face San Diego State and New Mexico in the last two weeks of the season, while Fresno State has New Mexico and San Jose State respectively.
For a potential title game to be truly provocative it must have high stakes.
Those stakes would certainly be high if the Bulldogs beat their last two opponents going into the MWC title game. If that were to happen, the championship game in Bulldog Stadium wouldn't just be for the first ever MWC title game victory for either team, it would also be for the very first BCS bowl game berth for Fresno State.
That should add some tension.
Of course, Boise State would love to play spoiler, but they have a daunting task ahead of them next Saturday. The Broncos travel to San Diego State to take on the Aztecs. This is by far the biggest challenge left on their regular season schedule.
This is the same Aztecs team that lost to Fresno State in overtime back in late October, but would have won the game if their last-second field goal in regulation wasn't blocked.
This is the same team that played spoiler themselves last season when they upset the Broncos in Bronco Stadium to crush the BCS dreams of last year's Boise State squad.
To even have a shot at busting the BCS dreams of the Bulldogs, the Broncos must find a way over the San Diego hurdle.
Finish Strong and Avoid Distraction
If Boise State does get past the Aztecs, it will face the Lobos of New Mexico on senior day in Bronco Stadium.
Here is where some things start to get dicey.
Senior Joe Southwick, who has been out with a broken ankle, will most likely return for that game. As a senior, Southwick will probably get the start. However, there are many out there in Bronco Land who are dreading the quarterback controversy that might be coming.
If Grant Hedrick continues to play well, and he leads the Broncos past San Diego, there will probably be an outcry of fans who will want him to remain the quarterback finishing the season and potentially heading into the MWC title game.
Brian Murphy of the Idaho Statesman has already began to discuss this topic in a recent article, and nearly every fan who responded online about that article wants Hedrick to stay.
This could be a huge distraction for the coaching staff and the players. Although highly unlikely that head coach Chris Petersen lets it become a huge issue, it could still cause some waves on "The Blue."
However, if there is a quarterback controversy going into the championship, it could be the kind of distraction that keeps the team from focusing on the Bulldogs.
Another way to look at it however, is that Petersen may have the best of both worlds. If both quarterbacks can be utilized, it might actually throw a dynamic into the mix that the Bulldogs would have a hard time preparing for.
If Boise State, in this scenario, goes into the title game unified, prepared, playing at a high level and with the extra dynamic of two quarterbacks ready to go, it could cause some problems for the Bulldogs as they prepare for the game.
For those still shaking their heads, simply stop so you can focus on the last part of this article.
Let's say the Bulldogs beat New Mexico, and they beat San Jose State, which is their toughest test left in the regular season. If that happens, they will be playing for the MWC title and a BCS bowl berth on December 7.
Let's say the Broncos beat San Diego State and New Mexico to advance to play the Bulldogs once again in Bulldog Stadium, but this time for the title.
How would Boise State be able to do any better against Fresno State than they did the first time when they took it to the wire only to lose 41-40 in a heart breaker?
Simple answer really.
The Broncos just need to play like they have been lately on offense, and like they did against Wyoming on defense.
Yes, it was Wyoming and not Fresno State. However, the way the Boise State defense tackled, played aggressive coverage, did some unpredictable and creative blitzing and pressured the quarterback all game long was impressive.
Against the Bulldogs the first game, the Boise State defense was lit up for 522 yards, but 460 of them were in the air.
Derek Carr went 39-of-60 for 460 yards and four touchdowns against the Broncos. He took advantage of a young defensive secondary that was playing way too soft of coverage, and a defensive line that was only able to force one sack on the night.
Fast forward to late in the season, and it looks like the Boise State defense is beginning to look more like last season's defense rather than the one that started this year.
It did help that the Wyoming game came after a bye week, as the Broncos needed to get some guys healthy. Still, even with a couple of guys out, the young players on the defense are stepping up in a big way.
If they play this kind of defense in the last two games and in the MWC title game, should they make it, the rematch will look nothing like the original.
Offense Without Turnovers
Against Fresno State the first time, Boise rolled up 561 yards of offense and 40 points. However, that effort still fell short.
One of the big reasons was because of the turnovers in that game by the Broncos. Usually, a team can overcome two turnovers. However, not when they are as crucial as the two Boise State had in Fresno.
In the middle of the second quarter the Broncos were driving. The score was 17-16 Fresno. However, it looked like Boise was going to take the lead. Joe Southwick was leading the offense on a six-play, 34-yard drive when it happened.
From 1st-and-10 at the Fresno State 29, Southwick threw a costly pick. The Bulldogs then took over, and proceeded to roll 71 yards on 10 plays to make it a 24-16 game.
The second ill-timed turnover came in the third quarter as Boise State was getting back into the game.
Boise State had a 4th-and-1 at the Fresno 15. Jay Ajayi took the hand off and gained the first down, but then lost the ball.
The Bulldogs picked it up and ran it back to the 21. Derek Carr then took his offense on a 68-yard drive in 10 plays and finished it with a Colin McGuire 28-yard field goal to go up 34-19.
Without these two very costly turnovers, this game would have looked much different.
To have a shot to bust the Bulldogs BCS dreams, Boise State must hang on to the ball and continue to play smart, efficient offense.
If all of the dominoes fall into place, and Fresno State and Boise State meet in the inaugural Mountain West Conference championship game, it will be electric.
If a BCS berth is on the line for the Bulldogs, the game should get some national attention, and the atmosphere will be bowl-like in Fresno.
Boise State will certainly have a load of fans there, as the MWC title game most likely allows for more tickets for visiting fans than a regular Fresno State home game would.
If the Broncos remain consistent on offense, don't turn the ball over, and play defense like they did against Wyoming, the BCS bubble in the Central Valley might be burst in early December.
Boise State has gotten better in many areas over the season, and a rematch might even favor them. It is difficult to beat the same team twice in the same season, and especially if that team has had several games to mature its young lineup.
Still, the Bulldogs are a great team with a potent offense. So, it could be another high-scoring offensive slug fest that comes down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes.
If this scenario does play out, and if Boise State upsets Fresno State and knocks them out of a BCS game on the way to a MWC title, even some of the most loyal fans of the Broncos will no doubt feel for the Bulldogs.
Broncos fans have experienced that pain, and they know it isn't fun.
It would be exciting for those same Boise State fans to see their team rebound from a tough early season to win a title and go into the bowl game and next season with serious momentum.
Of course, none of this happens unless both of these two teams win out. If Fresno loses a game, they will still play for the title, but it won't have the same luster.
And, if Boise State loses one game, they may not play in the title game at all. Instead it might be Utah State.
So, while it's fun to dream, as the pessimists were screaming when they began to read this breakdown, "there is a lot of football still left to play."
Still, the "What If" game would be something to see, and it would be just what the Mountain West Conference needs in its first ever title game.
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He may not have the stats, the name recognition or play a premium position, but Virginia Tech defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins is the team's MVP for 2013.
The senior from Highland Springs, Va., entered this season with 27 career starts, many of them beside his older brother, Antoine. This season, Hopkins has started all 11 games, tallying 45 tackles, including 19 solo stops, seven tackles for loss and four sacks.
So yes, his numbers are actually very good for an interior defensive lineman.
Oftentimes the job of a defensive lineman is to occupy double-teams so the outside rushers or linebackers are free to make plays in the backfield. Hopkins has done that for his fellow defensive linemen.
However, Hopkins does more than just the dirty work for Bud Foster's defense. This play against Miami in Week 11 illustrates the impact Hopkins has in the run game for Tech.
Hopkins' presence in the middle is a big reason for the Hokies' defensive success. Through 12 weeks, Virginia Tech is No. 3 in total defense, No. 9 in run defense and No. 4 in team pass efficiency defense.
The Hokies are tied for third in the country with 34 sacks on the season and are second in interceptions with 18.
Hopkins, unlike the Virginia Tech defensive ends, doesn't rotate regularly. The Hokies are extremely deep at defensive end but not so much at defensive tackle. It requires Hopkins to be on the field more than most starting defensive tackles, and he plays in both the regular and nickel defense.
One of the more impressive traits that Hopkins possesses is his ability to play at a high level on every snap. Many defensive linemen will only go hard on pass plays when there is an opportunity to sack the quarterback.
Not Hopkins. He sets the tone for Virginia Tech on defense. Look no further than Hopkins' performance in the Georgia Tech game. He led the Hokies in tackles with seven and physically dominated the interior of Georgia Tech's offensive line for the entire game. Hopkins' performance in that game was crucial in stopping the Yellow Jackets' vaunted option attack.
Hopkins has even moonlighted as a fullback for the Hokies. In the win over Miami, Hopkins was the lead blocker on two of Trey Edmunds' touchdown runs.
Hopkins should be an automatic first-team All-ACC selection. It wouldn't be a stretch if he made the All-America team. Unfortunately, due to no fault of his own, Virginia Tech's overall struggles will likely keep him from reaching that milestone.
Hopkins isn't necessarily the Hokies' best player on defense. Defensive end James Gayle or cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum come to mind first when we think of the VT's top defensive players. He is, though, Virginia Tech's most indispensable player on defense.
The Hokies have survived without Fuller and Exum at times because of the emergence of Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson.
Where would Virginia Tech be if Hopkins went down for any period of time?
That's a question Foster and head coach Frank Beamer are glad they haven't had to answer in 2013. The run defense would not nearly be as good, and the Hokies' front four wouldn't collapse the pocket quite the way they do with Hopkins in the lineup.
MVP stands for most valuable player. No player on Virginia Tech's roster is more valuable to the team's success than Derrick Hopkins this season. And that's why he is the team's 2013 MVP.
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One day, without warning, Ed Orgeron was told he no longer had to drive his 2007 Toyota Corolla with the power steering. He was tossed the keys to a Ferrari—one that admittedly has some wear and tear, but goodness, it’s a Ferrari—and he was given permission to drive until it was time to give it up.
He has no business driving this car. In fact, you often wonder if he really knows how to handle it accordingly. And that’s what makes this unexpected surge so much fun to watch.
USC’s win over Stanford reminds you that the weekends you sleep on can often sneak up on you. For further evidence of this, take a look at Auburn and Georgia.
Week 12 didn’t look like it would provide much on paper, but then college football happened. There were amazing, BCS-altering catches, dogs giving high-fives, incredible state troopers delivering bone-crunching tackles and so much more.
Here’s what I loved and hated in Week 12.
With the bowl season drawing near, there's no question which is college football's most-wanted team. Everyone wants a piece of the No. 1 team in the Week 13 BCS rankings: the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Tide appear to be destined to take on Jameis Winston and Florida State for the national title, but that isn't the only enticing BCS matchup that could be coming after the New Year.
With several national-title caliber teams vying for BCS spots, those who don't make the national title game will be pitted together in what should be an incredible bowl season.
Where will each of those national title hopefuls land if they aren't playing for the crystal football? And where will BCS buster Fresno State be headed in January?
Find out up ahead.