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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Knee Jerk Reactions: NCAA Week 5

Wild on Sports
Zach Mettenberger (left) and Aaron Murray both boosted their stock during the LSU-Georgia game.
Knee Jerk Reactions: NCAA Week 5
By Wild on Sports Analyst Bryan Ridall

What I Learned from Week 5...

After a lackluster Week 4 of the college football season, which pitted many of the top teams in the nation against some of the worst, Week 5 was defined by an SEC showdown, an upset of the #11 team in the country, and the firing of two coaches, one extremely high-profile after disappointing starts. Most of the Top 10 started conference play this week, but many of the teams that they faced were much inferior, and there was never much question to the outcome, limiting the excitement again this week. However, several players had extremely impressive games, making the battle for the Heisman, as well as a BCS Bowl very intriguing.

Zach Mettenberger Found Redemption In Athens:

In 2010, two freshman recruits were battling for the starting job at Georgia after Matthew Stafford left for the NFL to become the #1 pick that year. Those two quarterbacks faced off on Saturday when Zach Mettenberger led the #6 LSU Tigers into Athens to face #9 Georgia. Mettenberger grew up just outside of Athens and his mom has worked in the football department for almost 20 years, but he was kicked off the team due to a violation of team rules, and later pled guilty to two sexual battery charges. Mettenberger played in the Junior College ranks before transferring to LSU and becoming the starting quarterback. While LSU was 10-3 last year, Mettenberger has looked like a much more polished passer this year, thriving under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s offense. Against Georgia, Mettenberger was unbelievable, throwing for 372 yards and 3 touchdowns, carrying an offense that couldn’t get anything going in the running game and were getting dominated at the point of attack. Even though LSU lost, the loss should not be blamed on Mettenberger because he played the game of his life and led an eight play, 75-yard scoring drive to leave 4:14 on the clock in the 4th quarter. After Georgia scored with 1:47 left, there just wasn’t enough offense left to answer Georgia’s last score. Mettenberger will have two more big games to get this win back (Alabama, Texas A&M), but by returning to a place where he was facing a ton of adversity and playing the game that he did, Mettenberger should have walked out of Athens with his head held high.

Aaron Murray Should Have Silenced All the Critics

As much as I love sports talk radio, every time that there is a marquee Georgia game on against a tough team I have the impulse to turn it off because someone always wants to bring up the point that “Aaron Murray can’t win the big one.” It’s true that Murray has a 6-11 record against teams in the Top 25, but 8 of those losses occurred during his first two years as a starter. Murray has matured since then and in his last two years, he is playing, and more importantly competing at a higher level than ever before; he came within a tipped pass from beating Alabama last year and going to the National Championship game. All Murray has done in his career is throw for the second most yards and touchdowns in SEC history, both of which he will break this year. While Murray did lose to an extremely talented Clemson team this year, he shed his demons by destroying South Carolina, giving him his first career victory over the Gamecocks. Against LSU, Murray was efficient with his arm and his legs and other than one interception, played mistake-free football against the talented LSU defense. Murray threw for 298 yards and four touchdowns, and added another on the ground, helping Georgia to overcome the loss of Heisman candidate Todd Gurley, who hurt his ankle in the first half. Murray did a great job spreading the ball around, completing passes to nine different receivers, but was well protected by his line, which didn’t allow a sack on the day. The only “tough” game left on the schedule is Florida, but they are without their starting quarterback and best defensive player for the year, so it shouldn’t be too difficult. Murray, and Georgia, has to make sure that they don’t overlook any of the teams left on their schedule because they control their own destiny at this point. If they win the rest of their SEC games, Georgia will go to the SEC Championship Game with a chance for redemption.

Who Will Be the Last BCS Buster?

Since it is the BCS format’s last year in effect, it almost seems poetic for it to go out in chaos, as many frustrated fans and teams will remember it. Never mind the discussion of where certain undefeated teams should be ranked (Louisville, Clemson, Ohio State), the BCS could be looking at two non-automatic qualifying teams that will finish the year undefeated and will be looking for a BCS bid; Fresno State and Northern Illinois. Fresno State has had the tougher schedule so far, and the team has had to pull out some tight games, winning 52-51 Week 1 in overtime over Rutgers, and then beating Boise State 41-40. Their 4-0 start has the Bulldogs ranked #23 in the newest AP Poll, and they have a much tougher remaining schedule, with the Mountain West conference being tougher than the MAC. That being said, it is more likely that the Bulldogs will lose a game between now and the Mountain West Championship Game, so they need to play consistently at the high level that they have established. Derek Carr has inserted himself into the Heisman conversation with his play, and if he can keep the Bulldogs undefeated, he should earn himself both a trip to the Heisman ceremony and to a BCS Bowl. The biggest hurdle, Boise State, was overcome, but teams like Nevada, UNLV, and Wyoming could give Fresno State problems if they aren’t properly prepared or focused.

The biggest thing standing in the way of the Bulldogs are the Northern Illinois Huskies, who made it to the Orange Bowl last year after an undefeated regular season. The Huskies have picked up right where they left off last year, starting the season 4-0, including two wins over B1G 10 teams Iowa and Purdue. Northern Illinois is averaging 43.5 points per game, and quarterback Jordan Lynch, like Carr, has played his way into Heisman consideration. The Huskies only have one game left against a team with a winning record, and should be 9-0 heading into their game against Ball State, which will be for the MAC West crown, and could also be the only game in the way between Northern Illinois and another BCS Bowl. However, Northern Illinois needs to start getting noticed by the AP voters if they have any hopes for making moves into the BCS because they are currently unranked, and their difficulty of schedule won’t help them with the voters or the BCS calculations. With 19 other teams still currently undefeated, Northern Illinois needs at least 15 of those teams to lose at least one game in order for Northern Illinois get noticed and ranked, but out of all of the undefeated teams, they have the best shot at staying undefeated because of the strength of their schedule.

The Coaching Carousel Has Started Turning

In a move that everyone saw coming, Lane Kiffin was pulled off the team bus and fired at LAX after USC’s blowout loss to Arizona State. Kiffin had finally worn out his welcome at USC and as his play calling became more and more conservative, his deficiencies as a coach become more and more apparent. After dropping to 2-2, AD Pat Haden decided it was the right time to let go of Kiffin and get ahead of Texas to find a marquee replacement, to help boost recruiting. Haden will have an interesting decision to make, whether he chases an NFL coordinator, or tries to convince a college coach to upgrade to USC and leave their current success. In the NFL ranks, the first name to come up is Jack Del Rio, who was an All-American linebacker and baseball catcher for the Trojans. Del Rio is currently the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos and would have the name recognition that USC is looking for in its next coach, as well as have the instant respect of the recruits and players that he has because of his NFL background. Two other NFL coordinators that will probably be considered are Indianapolis Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton, and 49ers O.C. Greg Roman, both of whom held the same position at Stanford. Both have implemented offenses that have dominated the Trojans the past five years, and have also had success in the NFL working with and developing young quarterbacks, making them a perfect fit for the college game.

If Haden is looking to convince a coach to “upgrade” the list of obvious suspects include Kevim Sumlin, Chris Peterson, and Pat Fitzgerald. It is unlikely that Sumlin would leave Texas A&M, especially after just arriving and having a ton of success. Sumlin is in the best division in the best conference in all of college football, and while he will always have the pressure of competing in the SEC on him, it is unlikely he would give up the highway of recruiting that comes with both being in the SEC and in Texas. Peterson has been the belle of the ball since his Boise State team beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, but hasn’t found a job worth him leaving Boise. However, Peterson isn’t seeing the same success as he was in the past, and may jump for the opportunity to get a more nationally recognized job. Fitzgerald is coaching at Northwestern, which is his alma mater, so it is unlikely that he will be leaving anytime soon. However, Fitzgerald has taken the Wildcats to a whole new level, and may be able to lead USC back to a National Championship-caliber team. However, by starting their look for a replacement now, USC has the edge on Texas and the rest of the colleges looking for a new, qualified coach to lead their programs.


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