I'll admit it. Given the choice, I much prefer to watch a back-and-forth shootout (think Texas-Oklahoma last year) than a defensive stalemate (think Texas-Oklahoma this year). So it's been somewhat unsatisfying that the four games I've covered in person this season have been decided by scores of 19-8 (Boise State-Oregon), 18-15 (USC-Ohio State), 13-3 (Florida-LSU) and 16-13 (Texas-Oklahoma).
By point of comparison, last year I covered nine regular-season games, and in eight the winner scored at least 31 points.
But 2008 was the year of Big 12 shootouts and 4,000-yard passers. For the most part, 2009 has seen far more defensive dominance, at least in big games.
The question is, why?
While it's certainly possible defenses are catching up to the spread, it's far too soon to say. We'll have to wait and see whether the trend continues over a multi-year period. As of now, I'd say it's unlikely. More teams are running the spread than ever before, including the current top five in scoring offense (Texas, Texas Tech, Houston, Cincinnati and Kansas).
What you're seeing is more the byproduct of college football's cyclical nature -- some players graduate, others return and teams' identities change accordingly. Looking at the teams currently at or near the top of the rankings, it's no coincidence that most returned more veterans on defense than offense.
Case in point: Texas and Oklahoma. A year ago, the two rivals were known primarily for their breakneck passing attacks. While
The same goes for Florida, which returned its entire defensive two-deep but lost a bunch of productive receivers. Last year's high-flying Gators have reinvented themselves as a ball-control team. Alabama also returned more defensive than offensive stars, though its identity hasn't changed that much.
Meanwhile, upstart teams like Iowa, Miami and Oregon all possess top 25 defenses. Contrast that to previous years, when non-traditional teams like West Virginia, Texas Tech and Missouri ascended the polls thanks to prolific offenses.
Two notable exceptions to this trend: USC and Cincinnati, which between them returned all of three defensive starters yet still both sit in the top five. The Trojans have simply reloaded like they often do. The Bearcats, while decent defensively, fit more into the aforementioned mold of recent, non-traditional programs. Defenses certainly haven't caught up to
The past few seasons may have been a golden era for offenses, but it's worth noting that for all the Chase Daniels and
I know it's cliché, but while offense is entertaining, defense wins championships. With so many high-level defenses this year, we should probably expect a whole lot more 16-13 slugfests on the road to Pasadena.
Believe me, the conspiracy theories are hardly limited to Arkansas. My inbox has been flooded since Saturday night with indignant e-mails about the officiating in that game. (Apparently nobody read the Mailbag two weeks ago when
You would think it was the only thing that happened in college football all weekend.
The only reason the Florida-Arkansas calls have drawn such magnified attention is because the No. 1 team in the country appeared in danger of losing -- and I can only assume nearly every fan outside of Florida was rooting for it to happen. Egregious as they were, those calls did
You can buy into some kooky SEC conspiracy theory if you'd like, but you'll have to explain to me how exactly it works. Does
But there's no question the SEC has a credibility issue right now with its officiating, and it's largely self-inflicted. Because of its teams' national success and exposure, the games are more heavily viewed and scrutinized than other conferences'. And as Dr. Saturday blogger
I hate to break it to you, people, but bad calls are like airline delays -- they're going to happen.
Well I assume they're not doing it on purpose, unless they have some aversion to visiting New York around the holidays. I realize it's very cold here that time of year, but you've still got the the Tree at Rockefeller Center, the toys at FAO Schwartz, ringing the bell on Wall Street ... it's really a very pleasant time to visit.
I would agree, however, that it's been a very strange race so far considering we started the season with three seemingly impregnable candidates --
The latest guy to wear that crown is Alabama's
How could you possibly have heard about that? Oh, right --
First of all, there was no tournament. The Orange Bowl folks had a Wii set up in the media hospitality room, and I'd been dominating everyone I'd played that week. I really am a very good Wii tennis player. My serve is virtually un-returnable, as is my crosscourt forehand. But then along came Edward, whom I'd never met before. The guy is an electronic freak of nature. His reflexes are otherworldly. He can play an entire match without moving his wrist more than an inch in either direction. There's no possible way to get anything by him.
I remain in awe to this day.
If that's the case, they didn't do a very good job of that, either. Florida was a 25-point favorite. If the refs had money on the Gators, they waited way too long to try and start helping them cover. And if they bet on Arkansas they were throwing flags on the wrong team.
I do. Iowa already has two quality road wins over 6-1 Penn State and 5-2 Wisconsin, which is more than anyone but USC and Cincinnati can say right now. The Hawkeyes could add another this weekend at 4-3 Michigan State. They even had a nice nonconference win over 4-2 Arizona. But Iowa has multiple factors working against it right now, starting first and foremost with the Big Ten's poor reputation. It's also a blue-collar team lacking in star power. Plus, those puzzling scares from Northern Iowa and Arkansas State didn't help boost public confidence.
It's true the Hawkeyes don't have the same built-in benefit of the doubt as those three aforementioned glamour programs. Just look at Penn State, sitting there in the top 15 despite one win of substance (Minnesota). But let's not forget, we took Iowa plenty seriously earlier this decade, most notably the 2002 season when
First of all, the only recent precedent for a conference expelling a member was the Big East booting Temple, but that had as much to do with the program's disarray and poor attendance as wins and losses. Texas A&M is not Temple. The Aggies play in an 83,000-seat stadium. They have some of the most recognizable traditions in the sport (the 12th Man, the Midnight Yell, etc.). And lest we forget, they're three years removed from a Holiday Bowl appearance and two years removed from a second straight win over Texas. A&M may be down right now -- way, way down -- but it's still one of those programs that will always be one good coaching hire away (read: not
That's not the case with TCU. There's no question the Horned Frogs are a highly competitive program. But generally speaking, TCU would not bring value to a conference like the Big 12. It has small fan support (average attendance: 34,512) and it's not going to bring in new television eyeballs (Texas takes care of that). It's unfortunate that the school of
When the refs start missing field goals, I'm sure teams will be penalized accordingly.
If the Irish win out, they're going to a BCS bowl. They're right on the cusp of the Top 25 as it is, so it's not hard to envision them moving into the top 14, and I doubt there will be an army of other 10-win teams come December.
Just one loss, however, and it's probably Gator Bowl here we come. But that would be true of just about anybody. Illinois in 2007 remains the only three-loss team to receive an at-large berth.
I don't think they're related. Brian Kelly (and
But recruiting rankings are hardly gospel, and it seems Kelly and his staff have done a better job evaluating and developing talent lately than
But would anyone in their right mind take these guys over Cincy receiver
Just to be clear, Ohio State's roster is still plenty talented top to bottom, and the Buckeyes probably have three times as many NFL prospects as Cincinnati. But right now the Bearcats have a better quarterback (
I sprained my ankle last week playing softball. It hurts like holy hell. If the refs would like to give my pain to Florida, I would happily oblige.