College Football: Five Big Games, Winners Will Manage Intangibles Better
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College football fans are in store for a great weekend in this the week 4 of the 2010 season. Three games involving six teams from the Top 25 of the USA Today Coaches' Poll are scheduled. If you do what I like to do and stretch the coaches' poll out to the Top 30 two more big games surface.
I belong to a fraternity of college football writers. We've hashed out and rehashed the X's and O's. So, I wrote this article to present another side of these games, the motivations, inspirations, and drive these teams carry to the big games, beyond what is said in the headsets.
The 10 teams in the five big games all rank in the top quartile, the top 30 teams, of the Football Bowl Subdivision. Think about it. The season is still young, this weekend entering the second quarter. It's just turned to autumn. It's still close right now. Anything can happen with any of the top 30 teams, especially as they go after each other.
In fact, the races are so tight so early that the whoooshing sound you hear is statistics going out the window. The outcomes Thursday night and Saturday and into early Sunday morning are going to go down to the team that better manages these intangibles, the motivations, the inspirations, and the drive.
I avoid picking outcomes. I work with advantages that bring in the intangibles, the inferences.
A team with an inferential advantage can use that advantage to overcome difficulties on the field, the bad bounces of the ball.
An advantage works both ways. If it is overcome by the team's opponent, the advantage is challenging to get back. An example is home field. A couple of big scores by the road team can render the crowd quiet.
The games this weekend are:
No. 19 Miami visits No. 29 Pittsburgh Thursday night September 23rd on ESPN
The Pittsburgh Panthers can still feel the sting after losing at Utah in overtime, then plummeting in the polls. Beating FCS New Hampshire in Week 2 was meaningless. The win did not earn any new friends in the polls.
Aside from defeating essentially no one, there have been plenty more issues there to mess with Pittsburgh's minds. Key injuries and legal problems always create unwanted distractions. That's a lot for one team to work through.
It's been two weeks since the Miami Hurricanes were defeated convincingly in Columbus by No. 2 Ohio State. The question is: have the 'Canes also had time to gather their thoughts? Frustrating miscues such as untimely penalties and turnovers limited Miami's chances to pull off a major victory. Exasperating mistakes tend to linger.
It comes down to this: Miami has to clear its head of Buckeyes almost had and play nearly perfect football. Pittsburgh also has to focus, forget the polls, forget Utah, and play nearly perfect football.
There is no home sod Heinz Field advantage in this game. Pittsburgh is bruised and Miami traditionally plays well on the road.
It's an ever-so-close battle for conference respectability. Interestingly, it could be described as Utah and Ohio State.
The Big East may be hurting again.
No. 28 Oregon State goes to No. 3 Boise State Saturday September 25th, for ABC/ESPN Game Day. Kickoff is at 8:00 pm EDT on ABC.
Oregon State hosted Big East bottom-fisher Louisville September 18th. It was too close for comfort.
Boise State administered a shellacking of the Cowboys at Wyoming.
Interesting, these are. But, they don't change the fact that this is a really close mid-major WAC vs BCS Pac-10 contest that both teams desperately need to win.
Three weeks into the season and Oregon State has essentially not beaten anyone. Combine that with the fact that the Beavers have recently lost to the Broncos twice, and you get paybacks. Paybacks are a...well, we all know what paybacks are.
Boise State has been travelling in the 2010 season. Finally, they are playing on their home turf. The fans in the stands will be unhinged, thinking this is the national championship season. Boosters, especially the influential type, say it will be the national championship season.
Can Oregon State get cranked up enough to quiet the Boise crowd?
Does Boise State still play football as the hunter, or, as the ESPN sidelines reporter said before the Virginia Tech game, are the Broncos so adept at proving them wrong that it's tough to prove them right?
Advantage: Oregon State
No. 15 South Carolina at No. 14 Auburn in an inter-divisional matchup in the Southeastern Conference.
South Carolina has a big win over Georgia in Columbia and its obligatory FCS game, this time against the private in-state Furman.
To describe the annual battle the Gamecocks have with themselves, I refer to Darren Everson, a reporter with The Wall Street Journal. Everson wrote of the university's perennial gridiron woes, a school where football success is met with surprise.
According to the Journal, only two of the current 120 FBS schools have never played in a major bowl game, those being defined as the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, and Cotton. South Carolina is one.
Even with head coach Steve Spurrier, a man whom success follows, it could still get tough. And, there's no better place for it to get it tough than against Auburn on The Plains.
Last season, West Virginia completed a home-and-home by hitting the highway to play against a multitude of Tigers fans. As a WVU Featured Columnist I filed my pregame article early, comparing Auburn to the Mountaineers previous opponent, East Carolina.
Close to 5,000 southern gentlemen read the piece, most of whom politely told me the way it is going to be. Later that week, I wrote another article extolling the virtues of the game. Some of the 5,000 and their friends let me have it again.
They won, the game and in Bleacher Report. And, that's Auburn, where success is expected.
After South Carolina star record-setting ex-wideout Kenny McKinley took his own life in his Denver home Monday, the Gamecock family will be in mourning. No one completely understands suicide. Consequently, those close to the victim are most confused, and extremely angry.
No. 1 Alabama goes to razorback country to take on No. 11 Arkansas in Fayetteville
Alabama has been blessed with the institution of college football over so many decades that the school has a unique reaction to its success in winning a national championship.
The head coaches, Bryant, Stallings, and Saban, instilled that attitude in players like Namath, Stabler, Musso, Todd, Parker, Teague, now McElroy and Ingram. Those players pass it on.
It is reload time for the Crimson Tide offense. For the defense? Not so much. The word is:
However, for Saban it may be as simple as reaching into his two and three-deep and just coming up with a good one.
For games on the 2010 Crimson Tide's schedule, the defense could get by by digging in and playing on inspiration alone. That may have worked against Penn State. Maybe Auburn. Perhaps Florida.
Enter Arkansas. Against the Hogs, a rebuilding defense could be Alabama's Achilles' heel.
The offensive mind of coaching genius Bobby Petrino turns in ways no one knows. Maybe the late Don Coryell calling plays from Up There, but he's about it.
Incredibly, coach Petrino has the quarterback he wants, along with four wideouts, a tight end, and four top running backs from last year. It's Louisville 2006 all over again for Bobby Petrino, except this is 2010 and Petrino has the all-the-way attitude.
This time, it's not West Virginia and Rutgers, then Wake Forest. It's Alabama and LSU, then Florida, then Ohio State or Boise State?
Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino have become the coaches they are because they think there are no limits. He who better sells those ideals to his players will lead them to victory.
No. 21 West Virginia invading bayou country to play No. 12 Louisiana State in "Death Valley" Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge—ESPN2 at 9:00 PM eastern.
The Mountaineers and Tigers are similar in two basic aspects: a) each team has more athletic talent than their respective rankings might indicate, and b) each team has what I call "megaboosters" who have placed their respective head coaches on the dreaded "hot seat."
It's mind-boggling that LSU's Les Miles, at 54-15 with a national championship in 2007, and West Virginia's Bill Stewart, at 22-9 including one of the classic bowl upsets wins over Oklahoma 48-28 in the 2007 season's Fiesta Bowl, could possibly fear for their jobs.
However, these men have been around long enough to know that their best chances to get off the charcoal chair involves winning.
I can't speak for LSU players on the subject of how much they like Les Miles. It's my guess that they do because of the recent successes and the 2007 national championship, the team for which 2010 seniors were freshmen. There's got to be some muscle memory there, and a lot of mutual respect.
I can speak more knowledgeably about the relationships between Bill Stewart and WVU's players. I have heard directly from a couple of those who would know that Stewart's players like him.
The Mountaineer seniors played in the Fiesta Bowl of the 2007 season at a time when West Virginia football was in complete turmoil. Bill Stewart was the man who found a way pull everyone together. The final score indicates he did a fine job.
This game is going to be a prize fight. It's the old-fashioned "who wants it more."
Or, perhaps, "who wants it more for the coach."
Advantage: West Virginia
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