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Sunday Morning Quarterback

First, the business at hand:

Florida vs. Michigan

Not considered: arbitrary notions of the ?better? team, individual achievements/matchups, the desire to avoid/facilitate a rematch, conference ?strength,? history/tradition, conference standing, coaches, geography or who hypothetically has the better opportunity to beat Ohio State, or give the Buckeyes the tougher game. Only, as always, resume:

First, the numbers, disengaged from the specific teams they came against (excluding I-AA Western Carolina for Florida):

Avg. Margin of Victory * - Difference in points scored/allowed in all games (including losses)
Vs. Top 12 Opponents ** - Teams currently ranked in top 12 of either the AP, Coaches or Harris polls
Vs. Ranked Opponents *** - Teams currently ranked in any of above polls

The generics point, very, very narrowly, to Michigan. The inclusion of Western Carolina would have accomplished two changes: a conversion of Michigan?s advantage in overall margin of victory to ?Push? and of Florida?s advantage in opponents? winning percentage (Western Carolina is 2-9) to ?Push,? separted by a just a couple thousandths of a percentage point. So the tiny advantage is still to Michigan in that case, but Western Carolina is an extreme outlier and has no business being in the discussion.

As for the specifics, victory-by-victory:

SMQ "matched up" the wins, similar to what Gary Danielsen did on CBS during the SEC Championship, only with a semblance of knowledge about the teams on this chart (he had 7-5 Kentucky, 4-4 in the SEC, at the bottom of Florida's list, below squeakers over Vanderbilt and South Carolina and he C-USA blowouts. What?), and with an effort to "cancel out" each win with a victory of similar value on the other side. Florida has no equivalent of Michigan's total blowout of Notre Dame, for example, so the Wolverines get credit for the best victory between the two and all the points for the top "tier." At the next level, Wisconsin and LSU are roughly equal wins, but SMQ watched both games and felt LSU was slghtly more competitive with Florida than Wisconsin with Michigan, so the Wolverines get a one-point advantage for a narrowly "better" win. But Michigan has no equivalent to Florida's win against Arkansas Saturday or at Tennessee back in September, so Florida takes full advantage of those slots. And so on, on down. Ultimately, the addition of Arkansas gives Florida  the edge on the schedule. The very, very slim edge.

Now: the ranking of these games and their respective values is totally subjective. SMQ probably came up with a dozen different orders and totals, at least. And Florida came out ahead of every one - the above result, which SMQ decided was the most fair, is actually one of the most favorable for Michigan. By SMQ's judgment, Florida had the tougher schedule.

So, essentially, there is no reasonable, fair way to decisively distinguish between these teams. They're breathing down each other's huddles. One of the other goes to bed tonight - if it can - outraged at the injustice. And it will be injustice. Somebody's gettin' screwed. This is the nature of the beast.

SMQ has no reason to consider Florida is "better" than Michigan. This is probably not the case at all. But when judging resumes, all season he's looked at specific games rather than generic numbers diengaged from the games. This couldn't be closer or with more qualifications and hedges, but there has to be a number two. So, based on its better-by-a-sliver schedule, the gauntlet it faced through the middle of the season and through the championship weekend, SMQ's official, meaningless mythical championship endorsement goes to: the Florida Gators.


?Viva la BCS!

Onwards:

SMQ Watched:

Wake Forest 9, Georgia Tech 6
Bob Griese, comparing Riley Skinner and Reggie Ball in the first quarter, hit on an inadvertent truth: "Reggie Ball is not the kind of quarterback who's going to complete a high percentage of his passes." Which makes Ball, who's career completion percentage hovers right around Shaquille O'Neal's field goal percentage, whose 49th career start yielded a 47.99 passer rating, a week after his 48th start resulted in a 25.13 rating, what kind of quarterback, exactly?

Saturday, it was bombs away, almost an effort by Georgia Tech coaches to respond to SMQ and other critics who criticze the offense's occasional self-induced Calvin Johnson Amnesia by demonstrating, "See? See? We'd try, but this guy sucks." By SMQ's count, Ball chunked 13 full-fledged deep balls, most down the sideline, against the Deacons, and completed one, for 26 yards to Johnson. Another was intercepted. Three resulted in 15-yard pass interference calls. The other eight nosedived into the muddy turf. In the biggest game of his career, a chance to salvage a legacy as at least an any-means-necessary winner, the senior completed 9 of 29 passes with two interceptions and was beaten, for the second straight week, by a steadfastly within-the-offense freshman. What did work of that number was sporadic, underneath and mid-range pitch-and-catch, which was effective on the opening field goal drive but far too disparate afterwards to mount consistent scoring efforts.

And so Wake gimmicks its way to a big-money bid with an end around/Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draw-based running attack, with no touchdowns, with just a couple decent plays out of the passing game. Par for the course - we've seen Maryland, we've seen Pittsburgh, but this Wake teams staggering into the Orange Bowl is the most ragged the BCS has hosted yet: the Forest packs a passing offense and total offense falling outside the nation's top 100, a mediocre backup quarterback, a cadre of mediocre backup running backs, a turnover-fueled defense restricting points in great disproportion to the yardage it yields. Georgia Tech was the ninth team to hold Wake under 300 yards total offense - and the seventh to lose. The eighth team to outgain the Deacons (11-2 Wake gives up about ten yards per game to opponents) - and the sixth to lose. Congrats and all, good luck in Miami, but damn, this is hardly a champion to get excited about, in a league won by pure, grisly attrition.

? Watching Wake Forest, it made sense it couldn't put up a touchdown because it had no weapons nor consistency. Even given Ball's overwhelming sketchiness, though, it's harder to line up a target to blame Tech's failure to break the end zone seal. It can't be not getting the ball to Johnson - he had 8 of the 9 receptions, for 117 yards, and had at least another half dozen uncatchable heaves in his direction - or not mounting a running game - Tashard Choice ran for 100 on 21 carries. Even Ball's second interception, immediately following Wake's tying field goal in the fourth, was essentially a premature punt, in terms of field position. By and large, it has to come down to a lack of consistent execution, and to missed opportunities. Georgia Tech's talent advantage made a brief appearance in the third quarter, when the Jackets came out of the locker room on drives of 66 and 35 yards into scoring position. And were stuffed on downs each time. Wake's third quarter possessions, meanwhile, covered a total of 15 yards. Give Wake's defense credit for getting Tech off the field by turning away a Ball sneak and a throw to James Johnson. But Wake won this game, basically, on drives facilitated by two somewhat random, improbable pass plays: a 39-yard sideline tighwire act to one of the non-Roman numeraled Tereshinskis, accounting for the overwhelming chunk of the 52-yard drive that led to the tying field goal, and a 45-yard heave into double coverage for Willie Idlette that set up the winning kick. Calvin Johnson caught eight, and the tricky, low-octane Deacs beat `em with two.


Mmmm, that's good opportunism!

? The Tech punt with 2:13 remaining, two timeouts, was questionable. Not outright wrong, on fourth and forever, but very questionable. Pre-3-2-5-e, the boot makes more sense. With the extra play to drain it, though, there was no way the Jackets get the ball back with more than a minute remaining. The defense lost contain on the decisive third down reverse in the end, which makes it a moot discussion. But how did Tech think it was going to match half its entire scoring production from 80 yards out with no timeouts in about 40 seconds?

UCLA 13, Southern Cal 9
On its first drive, USC dug itself into a 2nd-and-29 hole on two straight penalties, then dug itself out for a first down without breaking a sweat, and SMQ started writing: Should UCLA have just packed it in right there? Before he can even finish the sentence, though, the Bruins step up by stuffing SC on third-and-one and then fourth-and-one, and the recognizable LA softness hardened into a surprising physical toughness. In passing, SMQ did mention Friday among an otherwise horribly wrong prediction the potential havoc-producing qualities of the UCLA pass rush:

It will probably benefit USC to get its running game together to slow down an outstandng UCLA pass rush...

The Bruins only collected two sacks, but hurried, hounded and hit John David Booty with some regularity, in the process of holding SC to 55 yards rushing (66 without the sacks) at slightly more than two yards per carry, the Trojans' worst output of the season. Last year, UCLA allowed 430 yards rushing to USC and ended in disgrace as the nation's 117th-ranked rush defense; Saturday, the Trojans finished by handing off twice in the fourth quarter, for one yard. Only one team this season, Oregon, cracked 200 yards against the Bruins, or even came very close, and Saturday was the culmination of what must be a very, very satisfying turnaround against opposing rushers, one that could vault LA into the nation's top ten statistical rushing defenses. This was a serious, physical victory. There's nothing flukey about tough, responsibility-based zero tolerance of the run.

On the other hand, this was a wall the Trojans had perhaps been dodging for too long. From last week's review:

Mythical championship level optimism about John David Booty and the running game, on the other hand, proceeds with more caution because of their inconsistency.
[...]
C.J. Gable and Chauncey Washington, in the same vein, are perfectly adequate for a championship run, but neither seems capable of taking over a game. A possession, perhaps, but if a defense can manage to corral Jarrett and/or Smith, or put Booty on his back, SMQ isn't sure this running game at this point can be the focal point of consistent scoring drives.

Here, it worked the other way around. Washington and Gable: corralled. Booty: on his back, his linemen jumpy and hopping out of stances too soon. Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett did some good (combined 10 catches, 134 yards), but - like Calvin Johnson against Wake Forest - the big plays were limited and spread out enough to deflect the brunt of potential damage with no body blows from the power game in between.

? What is SC's problem with containing quarterbacks? Not even all that mobile quarterbacks: a week after watching Brady Quinn awkwardly gallop 60 yards and finish with 74, the Trojans lost track of Joe Cowan on runs of 29, 17 and 9 yards, then a one-yard touchdown scramble, on the Bruins' first scoring drive, and he finished with 55 yards on the run, including yards lost on three SC sacks. Was this a killer trend finally catching up with the defense? Rudy Carpenter (61 positive yards, long of 38), Isaiah Stanback (39 yards) and Dennis Dixon (44 yards) also took off with some degree of success earlier in the season. Cowan's scrambling - on the early runs and the on-the-fly conversions that extended a late scoring drive - was a tangible difference, which makes SMQ wonder if the decision to start him over statuesque Ben Olson was a deliberate effort in anticipation of exploiting that occasional loophole. Dorrell, already dumping a Gatorade ice bath all over his proverbial hot seat, should consider telling everyone it was. Of course it was.

Florida 38, Arkansas 28
Wow, the stodgy, conservative no-octane SEC staged one that will have purists screeching in the middle of cold nights through the winter. In one game:

    * Arkansas scored on a direct snap to a running back, who pulled up to throw the touchdown to one of his backfield mates
    * Arkansas scored by intercepting a shovel pass at the line and running it back
    * Florida, down three in the third quarter, faked a punt - from a funky, gap-filled formation on a "rugby kick" action, no less - by a reverse on fourth-and-eleven from inside its own 15-yard-line. And made it.
    * Florida scored on a counter play from the shotgun to a wide receiver (at least not on a direct snap this time)
    * Arkansas scored on a lateral diamond screen throwback by a wide receiver to a running back downfield
    * Florida scored on a fake draw action by its situational backup quarterback turned reverse pass by a wide receiver to a tight end, the third scoring hook-up of the game from the arm of a non-quarterback.

Doesn't anybody just block and tackle anymore? At least Wake's gimmicky stuff mostly wasn't working, and was facilitated by its utter lack of talent, an excuse neither of these teams can ever employ. And at least one of the Hogs' last efforts at trickery, McFadden's third pass attempt of the game, was picked off by Reggie Nelson. Maybe that will teach these high-fallutin' backyard schemers a lesson about real football. Or however that spiel's supposed to go.

? If the Gators wind up in Glendale, daily postcards should be addressed to the dorm room of Reggie Fish, who took great pains to bail out a flailing, confused, frustrated team moments after its quarterback threw his second interception of the young half, each leading to touchdowns that now had UF trailing, and had used all three timeouts in the process of going nowhere with its latest possession. A lot of crazy/stupid sublimity in this game - Meyer's fake punt call was insanity mocking every by-the-book orthodoxy tutting from the porch - but Reggie Fish's momentary loss of consciousness, while maintaining zombie-like motor skills,  as Eric Wilbur's punt sailed towards the goalline set a standard in the field of coach-killing dementia to be studied closely in Michigan State film sessions for decades.


Fish guts Nutt. Film at 11.

Michigan Florida Advantage
Avg. Margin of Victory * 15.59 11.5 Michigan
Opponents' Win % 0.579 (84-61) 0.6096 (89-57) Florida
Vs. Top 12 Opponents ** 2-1 2-1 Push
Avg. MOV vs. Top 12 11.667 4 Michigan
Vs. Ranked Opponents *** 2-1 3-1 Florida
Avg. MOV vs. Ranked 11.667 3.66 Michigan
Vs. Bowl-Eligible Opponents 6-1 9-1 Florida
Avg. MOV vs. Bowl-Eligible 13.7 10 Michigan
BCS Conference Opponents 10 10 Push
Total Michigan
Tier Michigan Florida Advantage
14 at Notre Dame (47-21) +14 Michigan
13 Wisconsin (27-13) LSU (23-10) +1 Michigan
12 vs. Arkansas (38-28) +12 Florida
11 at Tennessee (21-20) +11 Florida
10 at Penn State (17-10) vs. Georgia (21-14) Push
9 at Minnesota (28-14) Alabama (28-13) Push
8 Iowa (20-6) at Florida State (21-14) +1 Michigan
7 Kentucky (26-7) +7 Florida
6 Indiana (34-3) South Carolina (17-16) +1 Florida
5 Michigan State (31-13) +5 Michigan
4 Central Mich. (41-17) Southern Miss (34-7) Push
3 Vanderbilt (27-7) Central Florida (42-0) Push
2 Northwestern (17-3) +2 Michigan
1 Ball State (34-26) at Vanderbilt (25-19) +1 Florida
LOSS at Ohio State (39-42) at Auburn (17-27) +5 Michigan
TOTAL +4 Florida
  • Arkansas opened the game trying all sorts of new "Wildcat"-related trickery, predictably to little avail. On their first third down attempt, the Hogs lined up in a standard shotgun set, then motioned Casey Dick wide and snapped directly to Felix Jones, who an Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draw into an unsurprised wall of a front seven. Doesn't that action just draw more attention to the already obvious journey into the line certain to follow?
  • On Arkansas' first touchdown to cut the score to 17-7 before the half, Michigan favorite son Gary Danielsen thought Reggie Nelson lined up on the wrong side of the Razorbacks' formation, away from a position to help against a manned-up Marcus Monk, the only receiver in the tight-I set on third-and-short. But this really shows the effects of an actually successful formation and motion by Arkansas, because Nelson was following McFadden moving from the backfield to the top of the set, away from Monk. McFadden may not have been 100 percent, but he still commanded enough respect, with the rest of the defense tight against the power look, to leave the Hogs' best downfield playmaker alone for the relatively easy bomb. Like most of Arkansas' opponents, the Gators couldn't account for every weapon here. Monk was quiet otherwise, though (two other catches for 21 yards).

? Danielsen, after the Antwain Robinson's shovel pass pick and return put Arkansas ahead: "Chris Leak is not an option quarterback, and here he shows his inexperience." Saturday was Leak's 49th consecutive start for Florida, and 25th in Urban Meyer's offense. And still it seemed Danielsen was more or less on target.

? Percy Harvin=wow. SMQ is not a fan of the shotgun counter Florida and some other schools ran until Harvin left two overrunning defenders in his "slightly injured" dust  on the fourth quarter touchdown that put UF up ten. Traditional counters ask backs to take a single, hard juke step to the fake side before coming back to the playside, and Texas runs a shotgun counter that requires a sort of "bend" from the backs, but in both cases shoulders remain square to the line of scrimmage and the change of direction isn't extreme. Harvin, though, gets the ball going left, full bore to the left, and is required to stop on a dime, get all his momentum under control, turn his entire body around and cut back to the right. And he's quick enough to do this without getting hit for a loss or a knee blown out, and to score on it. None of Florida's actual running backs possess that kind of body control or acceleration. Between he and Tebow, who needs running backs? Actual tailbacks Kestahn Moore and DeShawn Wynn had four carries Saturday between them; Harvin, Tebow and Leak had 25 and two touchdowns.

Other Glimpses
Just a space to note the joy it must have been in 28-below weather in West Virginia after the Mountaineers' tense, dramatic triple overtime win over Rutgers to belt out "Country Roads" with 60,000 frozen friends.


Beats the hell outta Gary Glitter

SMQ HOMERISM, WITH A BULLET
Houston 34, Southern Miss 20

SMQ has vented some in a diary to the right begun by Will from Royals Review, who watched the aesthetic horrors of the Eagle offense Friday and wonders: where's the outrage? Southern Miss' offense is perpetually horrible, is expected to be horrible, and typically delivers against any defense even slightly worth its salt, through four indsitinguishable coordinators in eight years, so much so that the 349 yards and 20 points USM put up in the C-USA Championship look just fine to SMQ. That's about normal (the average is 334 and 25) and often good enough to win in league games.

In fact, he's tempted to say that the Eagles could have held on with a healthy Damion Fletcher in the second half, who was averaging six yards a pop for a team with the lead when he left the game with a shoulder injury. But Conrad Chanove - crippling fumble aside - averaged almost as much on only a few fewer carries. Really, the problem in SMQ's mind was the placid, limp, uncreative, vanilla Southern defense, which abandoned its old "organized chaos" theory of unorthodox blitzing and disguised coverages for a safe, fraidy-cat zone that didn't appear to yield to anything like a pressure look all night. The Eagles didn't get close to Kevin Kolb. They were confused. Most of the time, they rolled out the red carpet in the flat for eight-ten yards, minimum, any old time Houston wanted it on its dinky horizontal passing game. The repeatedly conceded space paid far too much respect to the Cougars' downfield ability (Kolb was erratic on early deep balls and never got into any rhythm downfield) and not enough to their endless quick-hit screens and run-after-catch abilities. USM ran one of these bubble screens in the fourth quarter, and a very decisive Houston defender came flying up to smack the receiver down for no gain, or a short loss. Why didn't we do that? Even once? Vast swatches of territory were often relinquished before the snap, and much more when USM defenders were so easily blocked in the open field after the catch. The defensive reaction during Kolb's 46-yard touchdown run on an option in the third quarter - a standard, no-frills high school triple option - will go down as a disgrace to the university and the region, and the wide employment of black and gold/yellow in general. SMQ his own self is driven to the brink of self-flagellation on the sole basis of his mere one-time affiliation to the institution that sponsored such a sinful display of irresponsibility.

USM's upcoming opponent, far, far away in January's GMAC Bowl, is Ohio University of Ohio, which allowed a 96-yard touchdown run Thursday night in its double-digit loss to Central Michigan for the MAC Championship. So we deserve each other, it seems.

Conceit...
SMQ Was Right About: Commanding Florida to score touchdowns, which it did on five occasion Saturday, SMQ's Friday review also thought:

It may have to actually make a kick to do it, but Florida's speed, proclivity for forcing turnovers and general badassitude defensively is good enough to contain McFadden - if not exactly shut him down - in the absence of a credible passing threat."

McFadden was the credible passing threat, largely, but was a bit gimpy, contained to 3.5 yards per carry and accounted for one of three interceptions tossed by the Hogs. And technically, Chris Hetland didn't have to make the first quarter field goal, the Gators' first in weeks, but every little bit helps.

Other minor predictions made more or less good: Nebraska didn't find a whole lot of running room against Oklahoma, though, down 14-0 in a matter of minutes, it didn't have much of a chance...Florida, Oklahoma, Louisville, West Virginia, Navy and California were all winners, though none in the close vicinity of SMQ's projected scores.

...and Contrition
SMQ Was Wrong About: SMQ predicted a humbling, record-breaking display of futility from Stanford at Cal:

Without actually deigning to look up the series history, SMQ declares Stanford's 2006 team - outscored by a little more than three touchdowns per game, ranked 100th or worse in 12 of the 17 team statistical catgories tracked by the NCAA - among the very, very worst ever to stagger into the Big Game. Holiday Bowl-bound Cal has dropped two straight, but its the Cardinal who meets its grisly end  Saturday with a whimper.

CALIFORNIA 48, STANFORD 6

Actual score: Cal 26, Stanford 17, a game the Cardinal were within a touchdown of winning entering the fourth quarter. Stanford is still a terrible bottom-dweller, but at least one that didn't roll over against a potentially dominant rival.

Also: Georgia Tech, Hawaii and, obviously, Southern Cal spite SMQ by biting the dust.

Players of the Week
Percy Harvin (6 carries, 105 yards, 1 TD, 5 catches, 62 yards, 1 TD) was supposed to be hurt or something, and instead was the brightest flash of light on a field full of blazing - some Heisman-bound - after-burner type guys. As a third or fourth receiver who can move all over the field at any point, he probably moved Saturday into the top five list of  "Guys Who Rot My Stomach Lining" among defensive coordinators across the land. His teammate Brandon Siler (10.5 tackles), as usual, was everywhere a linebacker should be.


If it's Harvin, it's gone

In a tough losing road effort that nevertheless exceeded SMQ's expectations, Mike Teel (19-26, 278 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) and Ray Rice (25 carries, 129 yards, 2 TDs) may have actually helped raise respect for Rutgers by taking West Virginia to a two-point conversion game in overtime. If James Townsend hangs on to Teel's money touchdown throw in a tie game with a couple minutes to play, the Knights are probably booking reservations for Miami and Wake Forest in the Don't Pinch Me Bowl. `Twas not to be, largely due to the efforts of Jarrett Brown 14-29, 244 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 17 carries, 73 yards, 1 TD), who didn't offer any harmful dropoff from Pat White in last-second spot duty.

In the ACC, John Abbate (13 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack) was easily Wake's most impressive player in holding Georgia Tech without a touchdown on the national stage. Probably earned mention on an all-America team or two next August.

Das Goat
Townsend will have a hard time living down his ill-timed drop, but he escapes easy realtive to Fish, who will go down in Arkansas, Florida and SEC lore as the guy who let the reeling Gators back into a game slipping fast from their jaws by trying to field a punt inside the five-yard-line over his shoulder. Redeemed only by introducing the nation to the name Wondy Pierre-Louis, but only partially. And that's a serious redemption card to only buy partial forgiveness.

WHAT? WHAT?!
Upsetting
UCLA. Michigan thanks you. Florida thanks you. Chaos-rooting, playoff-loving BCS haters thank you. Some radio pontification declared the Bruins' win the "upset of the year," which may be true - Arizona over Cal, Kansas State over Texas, Oregon State over USC, Montana State over Colorado. Shockers all. But none with the immediate national impact of LA's harpooning, finally, of its white whale.

A FINE WHINE
SMQ Complaint of the Week
Well, given the blessed systemic chaos, none yet. But the real fun begins tonight at 7 Central.