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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Weekly Round-Up: 10/3/13

Topic One -  Is A Swift Death Less Painful?  The Lane Kiffin Story

Lane stared out the window of his cell, reliving the steps that had left him stranded on the metaphorical island he now resided on.  It had all happened so suddenly, the events transpired in such  a blur.  One moment he held this beautiful child in his arms, so ripe and full of potential.  "You can be President of the United States of America someday if you want to."  He didn't say it in the usual way that parents are obligated to inspire their children, he meant it, this child of his could be the best of the best.  Here he sat now, just a short 13 months later, on death row for the crime of the swift, brutal murder of the child he held so dear.  He awoke from the memory and placed the order for his last meal.  "Fried Gator" he stated.  "A cut from the thigh would be great. And some roasted red potatoes, the kind my mama used to make with just a hint of garlic.  A Keystone Light to wash it down please, so I can feel young one last time."  

Lane sat and ate his final dinner a few short hours later, pensively, slowly as he reflected on some of the other children in his life.  Would he have done the same to the kid he nearly adopted in Tennessee?  If an opportunity had not taken him to the other side of the country he surely would have nurtured the child in similar fashion.  What about the child in Oakland? Was he really destined to be a killer or had the circumstances and stress of Hollywood done this to him.  Lane cleaned his plate and then wiped his face clean with the napkin and neatly folded it and placed it on his plate.  His mother had taught him to do that and he thought she would appreciate seeing that the lesson had stuck if she was still here.  

Lane then made the long, dreaded walk to the Coliseum where the viewing party included Pat Haden and some respected donors.  Although no one was hurt by the damage done like the masses of Los Angeles, they were not invited to bear witness to the execution.  He had been sentenced to a cruel, some would say inhuman, death.  He was to be tortured by Cougars for three hours and then slayed by a Sun Devil.  Lane turned out to be more resilient than any give him credit for, lasting the three hours and even fighting off the Sun Devil with breath still in his body.  Lane sat bloody, bruised, barely able to sit up and wondered "what is waiting on the other side?  I hope I don't have to be an assistant in Cleveland..."  Finally, unable to watch any more, Haden stepped out of the viewing party and quickly and unceremoniously put two bullets in Lane.  One to the head, the other to the career. The Lane Kiffin incident had finally come to an end.  

No joke, when I read the report, I thought of the Green Mile.  The scene where John Coffee is found in a field holding the dead bodies while the townsmen come after him with pitchforks.  One has to wonder if Kiffin is the victim of his own success.  Kiffin arrived to brutal NCAA sanctions and the lowest expectations that have likely ever greeted a USC head coach, but then the 2011 season happened.  His squad over achieved, won 10 games, and finished in the top 10.  This was a feat well beyond what any expected from the Trojans.  The past two seasons he has spent with squads no where near complete due to scholarship restrictions and they have played like a team that lacked depth.  Kiffin was the wrong fit for the job and was never going to be "the guy" at USC but if Bill O'Brien goes 7-6 or starts 0-2 at Penn State in 2015, you can bet he'll make it out of the airport the next day with his job safe.  The hire was bad but the firing was worse and Haden may find that the handling of Kiffin's dismissal may alter the way candidates look at the job.  I'd like to think Lane got a nice last meal on the plane ride home

Topic Two - The Change In Conference Power Structures

For year now, everyone has talked about the seeming invulnerability of the SEC.  It also seemed that most had accepted that the Big 12 was next in line and then likely the Big 10.  If teams from these conferences managed to go unbeaten, it would not matter who else from any other conference managed the same feat, these conferences were destined to play for the national championship.  The power structure now has clearly changed.  I heard several question whether the PAC-12 is now superior to the SEC in terms of football and frankly, those people are vastly over-reacting.  Could the PAC-12 be better than the SEC this year?  Sure it's possible.  The PAC-12 may have the best out of conference wins this season but none of them were against SEC teams.  Additionally, it's kind of hard to ignore the five year reign of terror that the SEC has put on against all other conferences in bowl match-ups.  The boys down south are not infallible but it will take more than four good weeks of regular season play before we should start stating someone else is the best. Here is how I stack the conference power rankings out for the season.

1. SEC - As mentioned above, it is way too early to start assuming that the SEC has fallen.  So far the two big out of conference losses are Georgia falling to Clemson and Florida's loss at Miami, those two teams are currently in the top fifteen of both polls.  If you are going to peg your argument on two losses, then they should be bad losses.  Are there a ton of quality wins?  No, but the SEC hasn't regularly challenged themselves out of conference in like 300 years why are we pretending it makes a difference now?

2. PAC-12 - While I think it is too soon to crown the PAC-12 as the best, a good bowl showing would make that argument.  Currently four unbeaten teams remaining (Oregon, Stanford, Washington, and UCLA) and all are getting respect in the polls.  The conference has great depth as well with other strong teams in Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona, Kiffin-less USC, and much improved Washington State team.  There are some bottom feeders but not as many as in the rest of the major conferences.  PAC-12 fans should really be excited about the long term prospects though.  The PAC-12 signed some astronomical TV rights contracts with the expansion two years and it seems virtually every program is flooding money into new facilities and stadium re-vamps.  This has already started to show in improved recruits.  They can't claim to be the best yet but by 2015, it's very possible.

3. ACC - The ACC has serious depth issues but if you look at the top of the conference, it is clear that it is heading in the right direction.  Clemson is in the process of restoring it's powerhouse status, Florida State is back to being Florida State, and Miami looks like the second most improved team in the country this year (behind Washington).  Throw the traditional powers of the two Techs and the conference is top-heavy but powerful.  The fanbases aren't as big as the Big 10 and the it may be a long ways off for having the media presence but right now they are clearly better on the field.

4. Big 10 - Three years ago it was becoming apparent that the Big 10 could not keep up with the SEC and the won/loss column in bowl season was getting embarrassing. Forget competing with the SEC though, this conference is struggling to consistently beat the MAC right now.   Ohio State is still Ohio State.  Michigan is trying very hard to be Michigan again but isn't quite there yet.  The rest of the conference stinks of mediocrity.  Iowa, Purdue, Indiana, and Penn State have embarrassing out of conference losses this season, Wisconsin beats down on overmatched small conference but has yet to beat anyone who isn't, and Illinois and Minnesota are still Illinois and Minnesota.  There is still a ton of work to do in restoring the national reputation and Michigan beating Notre Dame isn't going to cut it.

5. Big 12 - This conference has really fallen apart over the past two years.  Texas is in it's third straight season of "should be back to being Texas", they aren't.  Kansas State has come plunging back down to earth after two years of shockingly high levels of achievement, and West Virginia has completely lost the luster they held in the Big East.  Honestly, outside of the state of Oklahoma, the only team with any sort of national respect right now is Baylor.  You don't want to hinge hopes on Baylor.

NCAA Top 25

1. Alabama - Tough choice between the Tide and Ducks for the top spot.  Oregon looks better but favoring the Tide because of the competition thus far.
2. Oregon - Ducks have beaten teams from three different AQ conferences by 40+ points.  However all three look to be near the bottom of their conference this season.
3. Stanford - One week later and that spanking of ASU looks a lot stronger.  Stanford-Oregon will be bigger this year than LSU-Bama.
4. Clemson - Nice bounce performance against Wake Forest after a near choke against NC State a week ago.  Sure it was Wake but the nobodies are the ones you worry most about with Clemson.
5. Louisville - More likely to play in title game this year: 12-0 Cardinals or 2 loss SEC team.  This could be an actual debate in December.
6. Oklahoma - Sooners smothered Notre Dame on both sides of the football Saturday.  Texas should start preparing to accept another curb-stomping in the Red River game.
7. Ohio State - First win against a team with a pulse this season against Wisconsin.  A win over Northwestern this week would likely vault them another spot or two.
8. Washington - Double digit wins so far against two different ranked teams.  Washington is underrated right now in polls but I will respect their schedule here.
9. Florida State - Defense looked awfully shaky against BC, Seminoles need to tighten it up before showdown with Clemson.
10. Georgia - Bulldogs survived the nastiest September slate I've seen for a title contender in the past five years.  Now they need help from the nine teams in front of them.
11. Miami - Canes are 3-0 against other teams in Florida this season but it needs to be wary of looking ahead at FSU to become 4-0.  If they don't lose focus this Canes team could easily be in the BCS mix.
12. UCLA - Bruins have an comparatively impressive out of conference schedule, now they have to prove they can hold up in a deep PAC-12.
13. They haven't played anyone yet but against Big 12 defenses, this team may see the offense roll all season.  Bears have scored 70+ points in every game this year.
14. Northwestern - Wildcats ready to start a brutal October schedule - if they win the next four, we have a BCS team in Evanston.
15. Maryland - What a difference a week can make.  Maryland didn't play but the 37-0 rout over West Virginia a week ago looks like a huge win right now.
16. Texas Tech - Maybe the country's most surprising unbeaten. The Raiders should be able to compete in a weak Big 12 this year.
17. LSU - Tough loss but the schedule gives plenty of opportunities to prove they are an elite team the rest of the way.
18. Fresno State - This team needs to manage it's garbage time better.  For the second time this year they allowed over 30 second half points in a game they led by more than 35.
19. Northern Illinois - After their second win over the Big 10 this season, the Huskies may be in a dog fight with Fresno the rest of the season for a BCS spot.  The BCS buster era will go down swinging.
20. Missouri - If they can stay unbeaten after a few weeks in conference play, I'll give them a bit more respect but they haven't been that great against some really bad teams thus far.
21. Michigan - That UConn team they just barely survived got blown out by Buffalo this week.  No, not the Bills, the Bulls.  Notre Dame losing doesn't help their case either as it's the only decent win they have.
22. Arizona State - Where there's Sun Devils, there's fire(d).
23. Houston - Honestly, I haven't seen a single snap of Houston football this year but I respect the record.
24. South Carolina - Decent SOS thus far but this team has a lot to clean up if it wants to survive the SEC slate.
25. Virginia Tech - The offense still has some huge concerns but the defense appears capable of picking up the slack.
Also considered: UCF, Texas A&M, Penn State, Florida, Arizona.

NCAA Bottom 5

1. Western Michigan - Expectations are not that high in Kalamazoo but losing to Nichols State is still not reaching them.
2. Georgia State - Don't expect the Panthers, who are currently in a transition season to the FBS, to win a game this year.
3. Temple - So far they have been housed by a FCS school and Idaho.  No other team has two losses that bad.
4. UConn - Well, one might.
5. South Florida - The AAC has to be wondering how it fell this far.  Right now they have three teams worse than anyone in the Sun Belt.  The Bulls have not been competitive in a single game this year and suffered the biggest blowout loss I've ever seen anyone have against an FCS team to start the season.

NFL Power Rankings

1. Denver Broncos - A new number one after yet another dominating win over Philadelphia.
2. Seattle Seahawks - A lot of folks in Seattle have to be wondering if Matt Schaub had money riding on them on Sunday.
3. New Orleans Saints - Spent the first half of Monday's game toying with Miami like a cat does with a mouse.  Spent the second half devouring the mouse.
4. Kansas City Chiefs - Chiefs fans have to love the way this team always seems to pull away in the fourth and turn close games into blowouts. Team gets better as the game goes along.
5. New England Patriots - This team would be higher if Vince Wilfork was not lost for the season in the win over Atlanta.  A mind blowing stat I picked up this week, over the past five seasons, New England is eighth in the league against the run when he plays and dead last when he doesn't.  Dead last against the run could be a problem in this division.
6. Chicago Bears - I don't take this past week as a sign that the Bears are still turnover prone as much as they are good enough to keep a game close even when everything goes wrong.
7. Indianapolis Colts - Luck appears to be avoiding the sophomore slump, the question here is when Trent Richardson going to get going?
8. Detroit Lions - Win against Bears is huge for a team that looks on paper to only be third best in division.
9. Miami Dolphins - Saints undressed them a bit but the Saints do that to a lot of teams at home.  TE Charles Clay looks like a nice secret weapon moving forward.
10. Tennessee Titans - I would have had them much higher, the defense looks great, but hard to have much faith if Jake Locker misses extended time.
11. Houston Texans - Take away the Schaub pick sixes and this team is unbeaten.  That being said this is a QB driven league so........
12. San Francisco 49ers - Kaepernick this season has been great against bad defenses and awful against good defenses.  Houston is next, niner fans better hope that trend reverses.
13. Atlanta Falcons - The season looks like it's off to a really bad start until you realize that the 3 teams to beat them are a combined 11-1 with the one loss being New Orleans beating Miami (both teams have beaten Atlanta).  This team is probably not ready to make the step up to the Super Bowl but the playoffs are still likely as the schedule lightens up a bit.
14. San Diego Chargers - Phillip Rivers has to be considered the comeback player of the year right now.  The absence of Norv Turner is speaking volumes.
15. Green Bay Packers - The bye week was much needed, if Aaron Rodgers starts turning the ball over, then the Packers are in huge trouble.  Still, way to much offensive talent to not assume a bounce back is coming.
16. Dallas Cowboys - This team looks schizophrenic right now.  Both the defense and offense have looked great and awful at times.  How good is this team?  I have no idea, so right in the middle seems right.
17. Carolina Panthers - The defense looks incredibly improved this year.  Panthers can make some noise in this division if Cam Newton doesn't have to try carrying the whole team on his back.
18-20. Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, and Baltimore Ravens - Pick the order because I can't figure out this division.  They look to all be dueling it out for the right to lose to Kansas City or Denver in a wild card game.
21. Buffalo Bills - This team does nothing spectacularly but seems to do everything well enough to be competitive.  The two losses come by a combined 10 points.  Buffalo looks much better than anyone expected.
22. Arizona Cardinals - Carson Palmer is reminding fans why Oakland gave up on him after 18 months, the defense is trying to keep him invisible, which tends to work when the stands are empty for your games.
23. Minnesota Vikings - I know it was only one week but the Chiefs have to be wondering how Matt Cassell could fail to have a single game this good in 4 years sinking the ship in Kansas City.
24. Philadelphia Eagles - The defense is bad, really, really bad, however in the NFC East, it's average.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - This team has to catch a break at some point.  Maybe they should trade for Carson Palmer.
26. St. Louis Rams - A lot of folks thought Jeff Fisher and an underrated defense could lead this team to being a playoff sleeper this year.  Instead it's been what we in the know would call a "Rams-like" season.
27. Washington Redskins - Mike Shanahan seems to have abandoned the run.  I guess dropping back 50 times a game is supposed to help "protect" RGIII?
28. New York Jets - Butt Fumble II?  Really? I hope Rex Ryan coaches here forever.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers - The return of rookie LeVeon Bell should provide a decent spark to a faltering run game.
30. Oakland Raiders - Matt Flynn does no that the NFL doesn't use a "one alligator, two alligator" rule right?  Guy sits in that pocket like it's a damn Lazy Boy.
31. New York Giants - Two years ago they were Super Bowl champions.  This year no one was even surprised when Kansas City beat them down.  How does one even fall apart this fast?
32. Jacksonville Jaguars - I hate to beat a dead horse but if you have to rotate starting QB's every two games why not make the fans happy and go get Tebow?  How much worse than Blaine Gabbert can he really be?

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