March Madness Elite 8 picks (NCAAM)

Sweet 16 record: 5-3

Another bad round of picks. I look forward to the National Championship because I’ll have a 50/50 shot of getting it right! Woo!

Michigan's Trey Burke #3 shoots a 3-pointer  over Kansas's Kevin Young #40 that sends the game into overtime on March 29, 2013. (Photo by: Mike Stone/Reuters)

Michigan’s Trey Burke #3 shoots a 3-pointer over Kansas’s Kevin Young #40 that sends the game into overtime on March 29, 2013. (Photo by: Mike Stone/Reuters)

Midwest Region

(2) Duke over (1) Louisville

In this season, it would not be surprising if no 1-seeds made it to the Final Four. Duke beat Louisville earlier in the season but that almost feels like last year now (Technically, it was). Louisville and Duke are both much better now and few teams are playing on the level of these two. Duke is one of two teams in this year’s tournament that has won every game by double digits, but unlike Florida, has played a team that isn’t a double digit seed. Two, in fact. Louisville has the better offense and Duke has the better defense, but both teams are very close on paper. This will be a battle of coaching. I have to go with Duke in that department.

West Region

(2) Ohio St. over (9) Wichita State

On paper, Arizona was a tougher match-up for Ohio State than this game against Wichita State. That doesn’t mean Wichita State can’t win this game. There is a reason the words “Wichita State” and “Cinderella” haven’t been said in the same sentence. The Shockers are a quality team. Ohio State is still the top-scoring team in the tournament (82 ppg) and will need DeShaun Thomas to not miss a beat with his scoring. Aaron Craft’s leadership and ball control is a sure thing but the team could definitely use another good night behind the three-point line from LaQuinton Ross.

South Region

(4) Michigan over (3) Florida

Florida has been playing well, but against three consecutive double digit seeds. Michigan has already gone through the 1-seed and won in a close, dramatic victory. I’ve been saying this all year: Michigan is one of the best teams in the country at playing from behind as Trey Burke loves late game heroics. That being said, the overtime victory over Kansas may have worn the team down. Michigan is a fast team with surprising size, but that same description could be used for Florida. You don’t want to get tired against the Gators. Michigan hasn’t seen this part of the tournament since the “Fab Five” and I expect them to capitalize.

East Region

(4) Syracuse over (3) Marquette

Marquette is back in the Elite Eight for the first time since Dwyane Wade was on the team. Syracuse seems to be here every year. The Orange have more experience, better coaching and more talent spread across the entire court. Syracuse lost to Marquette in the regular season by three points, but after taking down 1-seed Indiana, it’s not crazy to think this team is playing on another level now. Syracuse takes a close game.

-Marty F. Nemec


Ranking the top-10 conferences so far in the NCAA tournament (NCAAM)

During the regular season, fans of every team try to compare conferences. Most of the arguments are hypothetical, comparing records or the amount of ranked teams the conferences have. These arguments don’t hold weight because teams from different conferences have few common opponents. It’s hard to make comparisons until the conferences get put in a setting where they have to play each other.

We call that setting the NCAA tournament.

Every team’s goal over the course of the regular season is to make the tournament. Some shoot to go in as a high seed. Some just pray to make it in at all. Being invited to the tournament is an extreme honor for the entire conference, but teams also have to prove they belong by winning games.

Now that the tournament is down to the Sweet Sixteen, proper assumptions can be made from the remaining field. I will use these assumptions, as well as statistics to rank the conferences. I did not count the qualifying round for the few teams that played in it, as that isn’t part of the tournament and skews the win-loss records I’m using for comparisons. I also did not count teams in the NIT when compiling these stats.

1. Big Ten

Remaining teams: 4/12 (.334)
Invited teams: 7/12 (.583)
Overall record: 10-3 (.769)

(1) Indiana, (2) Ohio State, (3) Michigan State, (4) Michigan, (5) Wisconsin, (7) Illinois, (11) Minnesota

Indiana's Cody Zeller #40  goes against Temple's Anthony Lee #3 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Indiana’s Cody Zeller #40 goes against Temple’s Anthony Lee #3 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

I hope you weren’t expecting anything different. Having one-fourth of the Sweet Sixteen teams is astonishing, especially when you consider that 7-seed Illinois lost by four points to 2-seed Miami. Also, 11-seed Minnesota played 3-seed Florida much better than anyone expected. Wisconsin was the only outright disappointment, as it lost to a lower seed and didn’t make it nearly as far as many thought.

The four remaining Big Ten teams are very good teams. Indiana is one of the trendy picks to get to the National Championship game and sports the third-highest scoring offense in the country (80 ppg). Ohio State stumbled against Iowa State’s strange combination of three-point shooting and offensive rebounding prowess, but stepped up when it mattered most (with the help of a controversial charge call). Regardless, Ohio State is on a 10-game winning streak and is now a member of a cushy bracket thanks to the early exits of Gonzaga, New Mexico, Kansas State and Wisconsin. Ohio State also has the highest scoring offense in the tournament so far (86.5 ppg) and leads the tournament in assists per game (18.5). Michigan has won both of its tournament games by an average score of 20 points. Defense eluded the Wolverines at times during the regular season, but they appear to have the hang of it now. Michigan also has the fifth-most efficient offense in the tournament, making 51.3 percent of its field goals. Michigan will play a very inconsistent Kansas team next. Michigan State is probably the most physical team in the country and provides a style mismatch for almost any team. So far in the tournament, Michigan State leads all teams in rebounding with an average of 49 per game. Michigan State will most likely have the toughest test of any Big Ten team when it plays 2-seed Duke.

2. Big East

Remaining teams: 3/15 (.200)
Invited teams: 8/15 (.533)
Overall record: 6-5 (.545)

(1) Louisville, (2) Georgetown, (3) Marquette, (4) Syracuse, (7) Notre Dame, (8) Pittsburgh, (9) Villanova, (10) Cincinnati

Louisville's Peyton Siva #3 tries to score against Colorado State's Wes Eikmeier #10 on March 23, 2012. (Photo by:John Bazemore/AP)

Louisville’s Peyton Siva #3 tries to score against Colorado State’s Wes Eikmeier #10 on March 23, 2012. (Photo by: John Bazemore/AP)

The Big East has nearly matched the Big Ten’s impressive tournament run, but the fact that the conference has three more teams hurts it in my rankings. Louisville is on a 12-game winning streak and has cruised through the first two tournament games, winning by 26 or more points in both. Louisville is probably written in the “National Champions” box on more brackets than any other team. The Cardinals lead the tournament in field goal percentage (5.69) and steals per game (15.5) and have scored a second-best 80.5 points per game. Syracuse has been a tale of two teams, one of the teams looking like one of the best in the country holding Montana to 34 points in the Round of 64. The other side of the team looks awful, losing seven of 12 games after starting the regular season 18-1. There were stretches of the game against California when it looked like the other Syracuse might be showing up, but the Orange fought it off. Syracuse at its best is certainly good enough to hang with Indiana, maybe even beat them. Marquette has been living on a prayer, winning its first two tournament by a combined three points. I’d like to say positive things, like how Marquette is the fifth-best free throw shooting team in the tournament, but I don’t think anything can save the Golden Eagles from Miami on Thursday. The other four Big East teams let the conference down by losing in the Round of 64, especially Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, who lost to lower seeds.

3. ACC

Remaining teams: 2/12 (.167)
Invited teams: 4/12 (.334)
Overall record: 5-2 (.714)

(2) Duke, (2) Miami, (8) North Carolina, (8) NC State

Dukes Seth Curry #30 fights for a loose ball against Creighton's Avery DIngman #22 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Michael Perez/AP)

Duke’s Seth Curry #30 fights for a loose ball against Creighton’s Avery Dingman #22 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Michael Perez/AP)

Duke has also had an easy tournament so far with the help of the sixth-highest scoring offense in the country (78.3 ppg). Duke even had to go through annual upset-artist Creighton in the Round of 32. Duke will play a very physical Michigan State team next. This game might be the best match-up of elite basketball coaches to date, as Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo are both famous and have at least one National Championship under their belts. Miami is also having a heck of a year and has looked good in the tournament despite Illinois getting within four points of the upset in the second game. Shane Larkin has scored in the double digits both games and Durand Scott scored 21 points in the game against Pacific. North Carolina had an 11-point lead on Kansas at one point of that game, but Kansas outscored the Tarheels 49-28 in the second half to win by 12 points. NC State saw itself out of the tournament by losing to Temple in the first game.

4. Pac-12

Remaining teams: 2/12 (.167)
Invited teams: 5/12 (.417)
Overall record: 5-3 (.625)

(6) Arizona, (6) UCLA, (10) Colorado, (12) Oregon, (12) California

Arizona's Nick Johnson #13 goes for a layup over Harvard's Christian Webster #15 on March 23, 2013. (Photo by: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Arizona’s Nick Johnson #13 goes for a layup over Harvard’s Christian Webster #15 on March 23, 2013. (Photo by: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The Pac-12 has had a chip on its shoulder in this year’s tournament, especially Oregon, the champion of the conference, who was given a slap in the face in the form of a 12-seed. Oregon has been playing well, posting back-to-back upsets of 13 and 17 points against Oklahoma State and Saint Louis. Oregon feels disrespected and will provide a much tougher match-up than any statistic can show. Its next opponent will be Louisville, the overall 1-seed, so the world might see the Duck magic finally sputter out. Arizona has gotten a lucky draw because of upsets and has played Belmont and Harvard in their first two games. Regardless, Arizona has crushed its first two opponents and will play 2-seed Ohio State next with all of the confidence in the world. Arizona is a solid, high-scoring team that is good enough to upset almost anyone on any day. In this tournament, Arizona is the fifth-highest scoring team (77.5 ppg), the fifth-best rebounding team (41.5 rpg), and it has the second-highest field goal percentage (.560). Yes, this team has played inferior competition, but those are impressive numbers. California upset 5-seed UNLV and then gave Syracuse a good fight before succumbing 66-60 in the Round of 32. UCLA was a letdown in the first round, being taken down by Big Ten punching bag Minnesota.

5. Atlantic-10

Remaining teams: 1/16 (.063)
Invited teams: 5/16 (.313)
Overall record: 6-4 (.600)

(5) VCU, (4) St. Louis, (6) Butler, (9) Temple, (13) La Salle

La Salle's Rohan Brown #35 contests a shot by Ole Miss's Murphy Holloway #31 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Charlie Riedel/AP)

La Salle’s Rohan Brown #35 contests a shot by Ole Miss’s Murphy Holloway #31 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Charlie Riedel/AP)

La Salle has been the “Little Engine that Could” in this tournament, having to play in the qualifying round just to make it into the tournament, then taking down Kansas State and Ole Miss in back-to-back upsets. A person has to step back and appreciate the courage and determination for a team like La Salle to make a run like this. The team plays shoddy defense, but it has done enough to win. Its next opponent, Wichita State, will be tough but it is somewhat of a reward, as Wichita State is probably the easiest opponent of the remaining teams. Butler and Temple both won their first game and then took Indiana and Marquette to the brink, losing in very close games. VCU and St. Louis both impressively won in the Round of 64, just to be destroyed by the superior Michigan and Oregon.

6. Big-12

Remaining teams: 1/10 (.100)
Invited teams: 5/10 (.500)
Overall record: 3-4 (.429)

(1) Kansas, (4) Kansas State, (5) Oklahoma State, (10) Iowa State, (10) Oklahoma

Kansas's Travis Releford #24 celebrates a made three-pointer as North Carolina's Reggie Bullock #35 walks away on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Kansas’s Travis Releford #24 celebrates a made three-pointer as North Carolina’s Reggie Bullock #35 walks away on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

The Big-12, a conference that looked very talented during the regular season, fell apart quickly in the tournament. Kansas State losing to 13-seed La Salle was almost unbelievable. Oklahoma State was unfortunate in getting the angry Pac-12 champion. 12-seed Oregon, who was seeded way below what it should have been. Oklahoma was beat down by San Diego State and looked awful. The only two teams to advance past the Round of 64 were Kansas and Iowa State. Kansas has struggled mightily so far in the tournament. It was hard to picture them as a true threat to the tournament until the second half of the North Carolina when they scored 49 points in just that half. Kansas is having trouble with the three-ball, only making 25 percent of its three-point attempts. To put it in perspective, no team that makes less of its three-pointers is still in the tournament and neither are the next 12 ranked above it until you get to Michigan State (32 percent). Kansas does bring things to the table, however. The Jayhawks are the second-best rebounding team in the tournament, grabbing 42.5 rebounds per game. Kansas also has the second-most blocks in the tournament (7 bpg). Michigan is next on the schedule an Kansas will have to step up their level of play severely.

7. SEC

Remaining teams: 1/14 (.071)
Invited teams: 3/14 (.214)
Overall record: 3-2 (.600)

(3) Florida, (9) Missouri, (12) Ole Miss

Florida's Mike Rosario #3 is fouled by Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe #32 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Eric Gay/AP)

Florida’s Mike Rosario #3 is fouled by Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe #32 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Eric Gay/AP)

The SEC’s nickname during the regular season could have been “Florida and Friends” and that hasn’t changed much during the tournament. Florida has been dominant in the tournament, scoring a fourth-best 78.5 points per game. Florida’s defense lost track of Minnesota in the second half, but has played well over the two games. Florida looks like it could make the Final Four, but it will have to get through America’s favorite team, Florida Gulf Coast, and the winner of Kansas vs. Michigan. This won’t be an easy task. Ole Miss upset Wisconsin in a very impressive 57-46 victory right after winning the SEC title game and taking the crown from Florida. They used all of that momentum to lose to La Salle in the next game to effectively confirm that any noise the SEC makes in this tournament will be by the Gators. Missouri played awful in its loss to Colorado State. It’s hard not to expect more than this from a conference that has 14 teams.

8. MVC

Remaining teams: 1/10 (.100)
Invited teams: 2/10 (.200)
Overall record: 3-1 (.750)

(7) Creighton, 9) Wichita State

Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk #13 attempts a shot with heavy resistance by Wichita State's Carl Hall #22 and Demetric Williams #5 on Saturday, March 23, 2013. (Photo by: George Frey/AP)

Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk #13 attempts a shot with heavy resistance by Wichita State’s Carl Hall #22 and Demetric Williams #5 on Saturday, March 23, 2013. (Photo by: George Frey/AP)

Many people thought Gonzaga was overrated as a 1-seed. Many people questioned just how far Kelly Olynyk could carry this team. The world watched and waited to see who would take down the Bulldogs. Would it be Wisconsin or Pittsburgh? Maybe Ohio State in the Elite Eight? Question answered. It was Wichita State. Wichita State is simply playing good basketball right now. After an 18-point win over Pittsburgh and the six-point upset of Gonzaga, things are looking good for the Shockers. Because of upsets, Wichita State will play 13-seed La Salle next. Their tournament run could come to an end in the Elite Eight, however, when the winner of Ohio State vs. Arizona takes the court. Creighton also had a good run for a mid-major, winning a close game against Cincinnati and doing all it could against monstrously talented Duke.

9. Atlantic Sun

Remaining teams: 1/10 (.100)
Invited teams: 1/10 (.100)
Overall record: 2-0 (1.000)

(15) Florida Gulf Coast

Florida Gulf Coast's Sherwood Brown #25 takes flight in front of San Diego State's JJ O'Brien #20 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Florida Gulf Coast’s Sherwood Brown #25 takes flight in front of San Diego State’s JJ O’Brien #20 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Most small conferences like the Atlantic Sun are “One-and-done.” The winner of the conference gets a berth in the tournament, then that team loses in its first game. There is nothing wrong with that and it is a huge accomplishment to even make the tournament as a small school. That doesn’t seem to be the feeling in “Dunk City,” though. Florida Gulf Coast has taken over the country’s hearts and every second of Sportcenter it can with it’s vicious tempo, Denver Nugget-esque alley-oops, and nasty dunks. No 15-seed had ever made the Sweet Sixteen. Florida Gulf Coast did it with a double digit victory. The Eagles are the third-highest scoring team in the tournament (79.5 ppg) and the seventh most efficient team, making exactly half of its field goals. I would find it shocking if there was any other team Florida Gulf Coast would want to upset than Florida (except possibly Miami due to location) because of the Gators’ success in football and basketball over the last decade. Florida is tough, fast, talented, and physical under the basket. Florida is the favored team, and deservedly so, but I guarantee the Gators haven’t played a team with this much heart and energy. I expect a good game and Florida Gulf Coast could really become something special in sports if it can keep this run going for one more game.

10. West Coast

Remaining teams: 0/9 (.000)
Invited teams: 2/9 (.223)
Overall record: 1-2 (.333)

(1) Gonzaga, (11) Saint Mary’s

Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk #13 Leaves the court after a 76-70 loss to Wichita State on March 23, 2013. (Photo by: Harry How/Getty Images)

Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk #13 Leaves the court after a 76-70 loss to Wichita State on March 23, 2013. (Photo by: Harry How/Getty Images)

Gonzaga really outdid itself this year by only losing two games during the regular season. Regardless of who the competition was, that is an impressive feat and the Bulldogs deserve a huge amount of respect for it. In terms of ability, Gonzaga probably wasn’t a 1-seed over Duke and Miami, but the seed was good for it because it would allow Gonzaga a relatively easy path to the Elite Eight. Unfortunately for Gonzaga, after a closer than expected six-point victory over 16-seed Southern, it met its end against 9-seed Wichita State. It is definitely a disappointing and early exit for a team that was in position to do something magical. Kelly Olynyk should still be in the “Player of the Year” argument and people should show the team respect. Saint Mary’s had to earn its ticket in the qualifying round and then played a very close game with 6-seed Memphis, losing in a heartbreaking 54-52 slugfest.

How good are the Florida Gators? (NCAAM)

Florida logo
#8 Florida Gators
22-5, 12-3 (SEC)

The Gators are the class of the SEC. With a stout defense that has only allowed opponents to reach 60 points eight times this season (out of 27 games), it is easy to see why this team has been successful. Florida is well-coached, balanced, and can score from anywhere. Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Erik Murphy, and Patric Young are all averaging over 10 ppg and point guard Scottie Wilbekin adds 9.0 ppg along with 5.4 assists per game. Florida plays great with a lead and are nearly unstoppable at home.

Florida’s problems become much more obvious on the road, having all five losses come away from Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Florida has a problem winning close games. As much talent as there is spread across the Gators, there isn’t a single player that can consistently put the team on his back in late-game situations. Florida needs a decent lead to win against elite teams and sometimes it can’t get one in front of other teams’ fans. There have been many great teams that have had this same problem. The solution is simple: Start fast, gain a big lead, and maintain it into the closing minutes of games.

How will the Gators stack up against other elite teams? It is hard to say. Florida was 2-2 in non-conference games against teams currently ranked in the top-25. Both of the wins were at home (#17 Wisconsin and #22 Marquette), with both losses being on the road (#13 Kansas State and #11 Arizona). In conference play, Florida has shown up for every ranked team, but has fallen three teams to unranked teams. Florida is talented, but inconsistent. It seems to have trouble staying motivated and it’s easy to see as they settle for jump shots. Another telling tale is the fact that Florida’s opponents outrebounded Florida by nine or more in three of their five losses.

Florida can certainly end the season on a high note and win the SEC tournament. The low level of play in road games, as well as the lack of respect for unranked teams, needs to be addressed first. No team in the nation is without fault, though. I’m curious to see how Florida will do in the tournament.

-Marty F. Nemec

“What We Learned in Week 9 of College Football” Podcast (CFB)(POLL)

I talk about the Florida Gators, Alabama Crimson Tide, Georgia Bulldogs, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Kansas State Wildcats, Oregon Ducks, USC Trojans, and more. Click below to hear it.

Listen to this episode

Agree? Disagree? Do you have another “Thing We Learned?” Let me know in the comments!

-Marty F. Nemec

A Walk Around RV City at the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”

Every year, the rivalry game between the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs takes place in Jacksonville, Florida. This year, I decided to go down to RV City, one of the main points of the festivities, and take pictures to capture what it is like.

Anything you want to say? Were you there? Let me know in a comment!

-Marty F. Nemec

Some Things We Learned- Week 8(CFB)(POLL)

1. Florida and Kansas State are the top two teams in the country.

College football has always been run on a “What have you done for me lately?” format. For some reason, the human voters in the BCS have been clinging to Alabama being the best team. In the rankings, you have to earn your spot and the truth of the matter is that Florida and Kansas State have. Alabama is ranked first because it won the National Championship last year and it has an amazing coach that always finds a way to make them a good team. They are ranked for what they haven’t proven yet.

Alabama’s only ranked win is over Michigan, a two-loss team that is gaining momentum but is still only ranked 22nd in the BCS. True, it has a top-20 defense and its two losses were to top-five teams, but its sloppy games and lack of tough competition have been hurting it in the polls. The truth is that Alabama’s strength of schedule looks awful at this point in the season. Their schedule does get tougher starting this week, but there is no argument for Alabama having earned the number one ranking so far.

Florida easily should be the top-ranked team in the country. Florida did get the luxury of basically playing every hard game at home this season, but it did go on the road and beat a Texas A&M that is ranked 20th now and gave sixth-ranked LSU all it could handle last weekend in a 24-19 loss. The Gators have also defeated two teams that were ranked in the top-ten at the time (LSU: 4th, South Carolina: 9th), and an upcoming game against Georgia will give them another top-ten win if they win. Their win against 23rd-ranked Tennessee has lost its value, though. Regardless, Florida has double the claim Alabama has at the top spot.

Kansas State hasn’t been a slouch either, winning against tough teams on the road. The Wildcats traveled to Norman and took down a sixth-ranked Oklahoma team that has regained its position as a top-ten team and Big 12 contender. Kansas State’s 55-14 beatdown of 13th-ranked West Virginia showed the country it wasn’t a one-game wonder too. Kansas State is a surprise team that doesn’t have the past accolades of Alabama, but I think it has earned the second spot over Alabama as well. The past shouldn’t affect this season’s rankings. Either way, Alabama will be able to prove they’re the best by the end of the year. It’s just too early to crown them now.

2. Oregon’s schedule is a liability.

While people join hands across America and worship Alabama despite it having a dreadfully easy schedule, Oregon is in a free fall because of their’s. For the second consecutive week, Oregon has been skipped in the rankings despite posting a blowout win in the only game played in that period. Oregon has only played two ranked teams and both were barely in the top-25. Voters aren’t satisfied with their season despite the Ducks’ dominance on offense. Another blow to the Ducks have been their lack of style points. The Ducks have jumped to giant leads early in games, while keeping the other teams to little points. The problem is that Oregon’s backup defensive players have given up multiple touchdowns late in the games, which makes the final score look like the games were somewhat competitive. Oregon needs Oregon State, USC and Stanford to win out if it wants to have any chance of beating an undefeated Kansas State or Notre Dame in the BCS rankings.

3. Colin Klein is the new front-runner for the Heisman trophy.

Optimus Klein was unstoppable against 13th-ranked West Virginia and ex-Heisman front-runner, Geno Smith. Klein completed 19 of 21 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 41 yards and four touchdowns. Few players in the country can be the star quarterback and power running back of his team at the same time (Tebow, anyone?) With 1,397 passing yards and 10 passing touchdowns, while only throwing two interceptions, he is a legitimate threat through the air. His 551 rushing yards aren’t exactly sacred ground, but his 14 touchdowns are unbelievable. When you combine the stats together, you have a do-it-all leader that is almost impossible to stop. Klein isn’t so head-and-shoulders above the rest that the Heisman trophy is locked down, but he is the favorite right now.

Agree? Disagree? Do you have another “Thing We Learned?” Let me know in the comments!

-Marty F. Nemec

Game of the Week- Week 8(CFB)(Poll)

#2 Florida (6-0) vs. #7 South Carolina (6-1)

I got back to my winning ways last week by picking Oklahoma to expose that horrible Texas defense. I won’t even try to pretend I thought it would be that bad of a blowout, though.

This game between South Carolina and Florida will probably decide the SEC East winner and will undoubtedly decide if South Carolina is still in the race. After being crushed 35-7 by South Carolina, eleventh-ranked Georgia has been an afterthought and many question if it actually has a shot at beating Florida. South Carolina has already lost to LSU, but a win will give it the tie-breaker over Florida if they both win out through their conference schedules. To word things simply, the winner of this game is probably going to the SEC Championship.

On paper, these teams are very similar. Both teams have strong defenses and rely on their running game, while having suspect passing games.

Saying Florida has been a mostly run-first team would be a giant understatement. Quarterback Jeff Driskel’s four passing touchdowns put him in a 17-way tie for 117th in the league. Nine of those seventeen quarterbacks have attempted less than 80 passes, while Driskel has attempted 111. Another problem with Driskel is that he has also taken more sacks that any of those other tied quarterbacks. His 18 sacks put him in a tie for 11th in the country. What is inexcusable is that Florida actually has a good offensive line and a simple look at running back Mike Gillislee’s stats will show that. Driskell tries to extend plays, which isn’t a bad thing, but then won’t throw the ball away. His 66.7 completion percentage would be much lower if he would throw the ball away when he should. In his defense, Driskell has added 836 yards and only one interception. As the season has gone on, Driskel’s rushing ability is getting more effective as well.

With Florida’s offense, coach Will Muschamp has implemented the “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” technique. Well, I can assure you that Gillislee is not “broke.” Gillislee has rushed for 615 yards and seven touchdowns, while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Even more impressive is that he has already faced an LSU defense that ranks 7th in rushing yards per game. Gillislee also leads the SEC in rushing yards despite Florida already having a bye week (showing his importance to Florida’s offense even more). The Gators will run him often.

The Gator defense is easily the strongest part of the team. It is ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense, giving up only 12.3 points per game. It also ranked 12th in total defense, 20th in rushing defense, and 22nd in passing defense. This defense is a solid unit that doesn’t have any expolitable weaknesses.

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw is a more accomplished passer than Driskel, passing for 910 yards, 9 touchdowns and four interceptions. He missed half of SC’s first game, and all of the second game due to injury. His rushing has also been a threat and it extends plays. Unfortunately, he threw two of his four interceptions against LSU and his running ability was nowhere to be seen.

The running game has been effective behind Marcus Lattimore, who is nursing a hip injury. Lattimore leads all SEC running backs in rushing touchdowns (10), although it is notable that he is tied with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Lattimore has also rushed for 584 yards and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. He is a bruiser that is most comfortable grinding out short yardage situations. Despite this, Lattimore was nowhere to be seen in the LSU game, so the similar Florida defense may be able to replicate the Bayou Bengals’ feat.

South Carolina’s defense is identical to Florida’s defense statistically. South Carolina’s defense has faced Georgia already but didn’t have to play against Texas A&M like Florida has so those cancel out. SC’s defense ranks 11th in total defense, 21st in rushing defense, and 19th in passing defense. Both teams have lived on their defenses and that trend should continue into this game.

Marty’s pick

If Lattimore and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney play in this game, I think it will be close. Vegas has Florida winning by 3.5 points.

South Carolina only lost to LSU by two points, which isn’t much at all, but the game brought a weakness of South Carolina to light. LSU running back Jeremy Hill racked up 124 rushing yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry. South Carolina’s defense could do nothing to contain him. Also, LSU shut down Lattimore but had no answer for Gillislee when it played Florida. I know “football math” doesn’t always work and anyone who has ever predicted games knows the transitive property will screw you if you rely too much on it, but I can’t ignore it. South Carolina should have trouble stopping Gillislee.

Florida has relied on its defense through most of the season. The Gator offense is only ranked 91st in total offense. Fortunately for them, I don’t see any warning signs that the Florida defense will magically shut down in this game. Also, this game is played in The Swamp, so the entire Florida team should be fired up.

South Carolina will be looking for its third consecutive victory over the Gators in this game. They will have to shut Gillislee down early and force Driskel to throw. Driskel has not had to lead the Gators with his passing and it could put him in position to throw interceptions or stupidly take sacks. If South Carolina can accomplish this, Clowney and the rest of the Gamecock defensive line will get to Driskel and cause havoc. The Florida offensive line is a solid unit but Driskel will continue his tendency of holding the ball too long and trying to wait for something to develop down-field. Unfortunately for South Carolina, I don’t think it can stop Gillislee so this scenario is moot.

This will be a slow, grinding game with a lot of rushing plays and clock control. I’m not sold on South Carolina’s offense can outscore Florida’s and I think Gillislee will replicate Hill’s rushing success. South Carolina will also have moderate success running the ball and Florida will have some trouble keeping SC’s defensive line off of Driskel. Don’t be surprised if this game has the look of Florida-LSU or LSU-South Carolina. I don’t see either team hitting 24 points in this one… unless Clowney and Lattimore sit out.


Agree? Disagree? Have your own prediction? Let me know in the comments.

GOTW record: 5-2

-Marty F. Nemec

Some Things We Learned- Week 5(CFB)(POLL)

1. The SEC’s giant group of undefeated teams in the top-ten may not be as good as advertised.

On the first glance, it appears the SEC has already dominated the college football world again because they have five teams in the AP poll’s top-ten. However, this simple glance doesn’t show the struggles these teams have gone through. The SEC is the best conference so far(big surprise, right?), but the conference is not as head and shoulders above everyone else as the rankings make it appear to be.

Alabama has earned their place at the top of the country and the conference. Although Ole Miss gave them a better run than most people expected, it can be excused. However, the top-ten ranked win against Michigan has lost almost all of it’s value, as Big Blue has spiraled downward. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has already thrown eight interceptions and has looked as bad at passing as he ever has. With Arkansas plummeting into oblivion, Bama’s schedule really doesn’t feature many tough games. It’s weird to say, but Alabama’s schedule appears to be one of the easiest schedules of any top-ten team, including the other SEC teams. Despite all of this, Alabama deserves their spot as the top team. I won’t argue against them.

The fourth-ranked LSU Tigers have been a hot mess, as I’ve pointed out before on this column. The lucky winner of the “What terrible team will challenge LSU this weekend?” for week five was Towson, an FCS school that lost to Kent State 41-21 earlier in the season. If Kent State sounds familiar to any SEC fans, that’s because lowly Kentucky steamrolled them 47-14. Kentucky followed that big win with an overtime loss to the Sun Belt conference’s Western Kentucky, then a 38-0 shutout loss to the Florida Gators. Towson was beating LSU with five minutes left in the second quarter before LSU remembered it was supposedly the third-best team in the nation. The LSU offense has been very inconsistent and it can’t seem to find a sustainable way to produce yards and points. Les Miles is a great coach and there is a good chance LSU will fix its problems by the end of the year. The only problem is that LSU plays 10th-ranked Florida this weekend and an upset loss is very possible.

Georgia, the fifth-ranked team in the country, has showed an alarming lack of defense up to this point in the season. Tennessee, a team Florida beat 37-20, gave Georgia all it could chew in a 51-44 shootout. Also, the 1-4 Florida Atlantic Owls scored 20 points against Georgia. FAU had only mustered 17 points against their four other opponents which include Middle Tennessee, North Texas, and FCS team Wagner. The defense started the season injured and doesn’t appear to be getting better. However, the Georgia offense looks phenomenal, especially the rushing attack. Running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, both freshman, are averaging 7.9 yards per carry or better. They have a combined 14 rushing touchdowns. In the Tennessee game, Marshall ran for two 70-plus yard touchdowns and Gurley added a 51-yard touchdown of his own. With the success of the running game, don’t sleep on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. He has passed for 1,370 yards, 12 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. Factor in the 68.2 completion percentage and this an offense that can score. With this kind of team, being upset any week is a real possibility, and Georgia will have to grow up quickly on defense in time for this weekend’s showdown with sixth-ranked South Carolina.

Sixth-ranked South Carolina has been troubled at the quarterback position, which is a familiar sight, but has been instilling its authority with a strong rushing attack led by Marcus Lattimore and a smothering defense. Lattimore’s numbers are a bit lower than expected(nowhere near Heisman consideration) but he still has the ability to muscle his way through short yardage situations. He is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and has rushed for 440 yards and eight touchdowns. The defense is the gem of the team and is ranked sixth in the country, allowing only 11.2 points per game. Injuries have forced South Carolina to play both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson at the quarterback position. The result is both having five touchdowns and 500-plus yards each. Shaw, the starter, has worse stats with five touchdowns and two interceptions, but in his defense, Thompson racked 507 of his 510 yards and all five touchdowns(no interceptions) against cupcakes East Carolina and UAB. I question the offense’s ability to outscore elite teams and South Carolina will get its chance to prove me wrong when it plays fifth-ranked Georgia this weekend.

Last on the list is 10th-ranked Florida. I have nothing bad to say about the Gators. Not only have they completely earned their ranking, but no one in the country expected them to reach the top-ten after last season. Florida coach Will Muschamp has made an amazing turnaround and has seemingly fixed the quarterback situation that plagued the blue and orange residents of the Swamp for all of last season. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel has done enough on offense, passing for 698 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Running back Mike Gillislee has averaged 5.5 yards per carry and has rushed his way to 402 yards and five touchdowns. It is very possible that Gillislee would still lead the SEC in rushing yards had Florida not already taken a bye-week.

Although, it isn’t in the top-ten, I’d like to congratulate Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen for having his squad undefeated and ranked 20th after five weeks of football. With favorable games against Kentucky, Tennessee and Middle Tennessee, Mississippi State could potentially be 7-0 when they face Alabama on Oct. 27. No one expected a good season out of the Bulldogs at the beginning of this season.

2. Ohio State might be the front-runner of the Big Ten.

Ohio State held a 4-0 record at the start of the weekend and was the highest-ranked team in the Big Ten conference, yet there was plenty of reasons for doubt. The Buckeyes hadn’t played a great defense or a ranked team. Their defense looked lacking and had been burned by almost every running back it had faced. People questioned its ability to stop an elite running back. The offense had been inconsistent and struggled to move the ball for portions of games, even against California and UCF. Everyone recognized that Ohio State was getting better each week, but many didn’t think they’d get good enough to compete with the “big boys” of the Big Ten conference. Ohio State is far from the Buckeyes team during the 2000’s that dominated the conference and played in a BCS bowl almost every year.

Then came a 17-16 win over the 20th-ranked Michigan State Spartans. Michigan State had allowed 11 points per game and had a running back who ranked second in the country in total rushing yards. It was the ultimate test for this erratic team and it was a test the bettors in Vegas didn’t think they would pass. Ohio State traded their high scoring, little defending style for a physical, defense-oriented style and ground out a close win. Now, they are ranked 12th in the nation.

With 21st ranked Nebraska and Wisconsin already losing against unranked teams, Ohio State appears to be in the driver’s seat. Nebraska defeated Wisconsin by coming back from 17 points down in a thriller of a game. Nebraska faces Ohio State next and the winner of that game will most likely be the best team in the Big Ten. Ohio State is ineligible to play for the Big Ten Championship, but the rest of the conference will know, despite who holds the trophy, that Ohio State is the real champion if they beat Nebraska and continue that success to the end of the season. The 24th ranked Northwestern(5-0) and Purdue(4-1) are surprise teams that could potentially get their hands in the Big Ten title race, so keep an eye on them.

3. Offense owns college football at this point of the season.

Last year, it appeared the offensive teams were in short supply. Outside of Oklahoma State, Oregon, Arkansas, and Michigan, there weren’t many all-offense teams ranked highly. This year, only six of the top-15 teams in the AP poll are ranked in the top-20 in scoring defense. Six of those remaining nine teams aren’t even in the top-30! To put it in perspective, the average scoring defense ranking of the top-15 teams is 29th. If you’re wondering how it got so bad, you can thank West Virginia(96th) and Clemson(67th) for dropping the ball(duh-duh-ksss!) defensively. This year definitely looks primed to give the viewers some amazing shootouts and probably produce more NFL quarterback prospects than last year. The Heisman race will be very fun to watch. Geno Smith is running at a full sprint towards it right now, but there are some great quarterbacks and offensive schemes that could put them in a position to catch him.

Agree? Disagree? Do you have another “Thing We Learned?” Let me know in the comments!

-Marty F. Nemec

Some Things We Learned- Week 4(CFB)(POLL)

1. Oklahoma wasn’t a National Championship contending team with QB Landry Jones.

Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones looked like he would pick up right where former quarterback Sam Bradford left off. As a sophomore in 2010, Jones threw for 4,718 yards, 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also completed 65.6 percent of his passes that year. Oklahoma fans thought of the success he would have in his junior and senior years. Surely, he’ll keep getting better and maybe win a Heisman trophy or National Championship!

His junior year came and his numbers dropped sharply. He only had 29 touchdowns and his interceptions rose to 15. His yardage dropped to 4,463. The most important thing that happened during that season, however, was that his biggest weakness was exposed. He disappears against competition. Against Florida State, Baylor and Oklahoma State(three of the five ranked teams OU played in 2011), Jones had a combined one touchdown and five interceptions. He became a quarterback that dished out yards, but not points. He became a quarterback that made his team settle for field goals when the competition was scoring touchdowns.

One year later, his production has dropped even more. After three games, Jones has 772 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. That puts him on a pace to finish the season with 3,088 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. That’s a far cry from the expected National Championship run. His team has already lost to Kansas State, a team Oklahoma beat by 41 points last year, and is already seemingly eliminated from the national title race. There is certainly time to fix this season, but the fact that his stats are this average after playing UTEP and Florida A&M as two of his first three games is disconcerting.

2. Florida State’s path to the National Championship will be paved by its offense, not its defense.

Florida State allowed just a field goal in its first three games, which included ACC foe(and annual nuisance to FSU) Wake Forest. The FSU defense had the luxury of playing Savannah State, but holding Wake Forest to 126 yards was very impressive. This team appeared to live by its defense, just like it has for years, due to a lacking offense(although in former quarterback Christian Ponder’s case, it was due to injuries). FSU quarterback EJ Manuel has been a capable quarterback for his career at FSU, but his passing has always been suspect. Anytime Florida State faced a good team, Manuel’s passing seemed to disappear and he’d develop a tendency to hold the ball too long. Last year, Manuel was sacked 33 times, which averages out to roughly three sacks a game. That’s ridiculous.

At this point in the season, it is obvious that every prediction that could be made from the last paragraph is wrong. The vaunted FSU defense was shredded for 37 points by a team that mustered only 26 points against Auburn(1-3) and 41 points, roughly the same amount FSU allowed, against Furman(an FCS school). On the other hand, Manuel is passing on a Heisman level with 905 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. Manuel is also completing over 73 percent of his passes and his passer rating of 180.2 has him ranked eleventh in the country. FSU running back Chris Thompson is also averaging more yards(10.8) per carry than other running back ranked in the top-40. This is a potent offense that ranks second in the nation in points per game and would be scary for any defense to go against. Funny sidenote: Both Florida State and Oklahoma State(the first-ranked team in points per game) played against Savannah State, who is thought by many to be the worst team in the FCS and has won only four games in the last three years.

With a schedule that features one ranked team in its remaining eight games, Florida State is expected to finish the year undefeated. Its postseason hopes will be at the mercy of the other undefeated teams because FSU’s schedule will lose in almost any comparison to an undefeated SEC or Pac-12 team. With EJ Manuel’s newfound passing ability and an easy schedule, FSU could potentially make a run at both a National Championship and a Heisman trophy this year. Florida State’s defense may not be the smothering entity the country has been accustomed to, but the offense is fine with that.

3. LSU is not a top-five team.

The LSU Tigers squeaked by with a 12-10 win over Auburn, who was 1-2 and lost to Mississippi State by 18 points. Even worse, Auburn gave up 28 points to Louisiana Monroe, a team from the Sun Belt conference, and had to go to overtime to win. LSU is not even the third best team in the SEC, much less the entire conference. In all honesty, Mississippi State has a strong claim to be ranked higher than LSU, and that’s not even counting Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. The fact that LSU received a first place vote in both the AP and Coaches Poll shows what kind of imbeciles decide who the best teams in the country are. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself here and here. LSU is lucky to be in the top-10 and they certainly are not of the five best teams in the country as the season stands now. LSU will have plenty of chances to prove it deserves its ranking starting two weeks from now when it plays the eleventh-ranked Florida Gators.

Agree? Disagree? Do you have another “Thing We Learned?” Let me know in the comments!

-Marty F. Nemec