After a week off, Missouri returned to the gridiron for a critical contest at Indiana. After its fourth week, we are learning a great deal about the college football season as a whole. And finally, after positive reviews for the first three editions, I'm returning with my "ten thoughts", and as always, I look forward to your feedback! This week will not involve a basketball thought, but will offer a little more detail on the Mizzou points, as the excitement of yesterday's win has me dreaming big.
1. Not just a win, but a big win! I think Mizzou fans nationwide should be very happy with this win at Indiana. I know this is a game we were supposed to win, I know this is a game we SHOULD win if we're truly going to compete in the SEC. However, this was still a road game, at night, at the site of another BCS club, a club largely seen as making strides to improve and achieve respectability. I also know there was some doubt if we would emerge from Bloomington with a win, let alone a win with a nice margin to it of 17 points. To me, this doubt was with good reason -- we have a history of dropping a non-conference game. Last year it was Syracuse. Two years ago it was Arizona State. Before that, it was Bowling Green, New Mexico and Troy, squeaking by San Diego State and Middle Tennessee. And Indiana had put up some points, and no one knew exactly how we would respond with our first test on the road.
But, we did respond, and with a comfortable margin. I had predicted 45-31, which was just three points away from 45-28, but that final score was closer than the real outcome of the game, in my mind. Yes, at 14-14 and 21-14, things were in question and the early turnovers were frustrating. Turnovers, however, that Indiana didn't really capitalize on and that is a credit to our defense and the staff. And, Franklin and the offense didn't let those giveaways impact them either, responding by putting the game away late.
If there is one thing I've noticed about this team in it's first three games, it's that our late game performance has improved. Last year, whether it be Vandy, Arizona State, Georgia, or Syracuse, we were just awful in the 3rd and 4th, on both sides of the ball. This year, though we did give up a garbage touchdown yesterday, we have responded to close games the last two matchups with points -- 21 in the 2nd half vs. Toledo (holding the Rockets scoreless in the 4th) and yesterday, after expanding to a 28-14 lead just before halftime, the Tigers didn't let the Hoosiers get any closer, defeating them 17-14 in the second half, and honestly it was 17-7 until the last minute touchdown by Indiana, after the game was decided.
This gives me hope the Tigers have mentally toughened this year. Because, really, it was that mental toughness that, in my mind, cost us the games vs. Syracuse and Vanderbilt last year and thus, a winning and bowl season. Add to that the individual performances of Hansbrough, Franklin, DGB, Lucas, etc, etc, and there is much to be encouraged about. We have a long way to go, obviously, with much tougher opponents just over the horizon, but I like what I see and so should Tiger fans.
2. Hunting Down the Red Wolves. Next on our schedule appears the Arkansas State
Indians Red Wolves, a Sun Belt squad who appeared to be emerging last year, going 9-3 with a bowl win vs. Kent State, not to mention scoring 34 points in a loss at Oregon. Indeed, in the first edition of "TiK's Ten", I had indicated they were possibly a BCS buster. Well, not so much. After not really being competitive at Auburn in Week 2, the Red Wolves dropped a game at Memphis yesterday, who had lost to Middle Tennessee and Duke in previous weeks. Now, that doesn't mean that Arkansas State can't do some things -- but I'd say the danger of losing to the boys from Jonesboro is not high, and we're looking at doing exactly what we needed to do for a rebound season -- and that's going 4-0 in the non-conference.
I will note that the AD deserves great credit in its "heat" promotion, which is a coupon code you enter to get $17 general admission tickets to this weekend's game. One theme you will discover in my analysis of college football and sports as a whole is a growing concern with price and the overall cost to attend games, and that teams should not respond by being stubborn in regard to the value of said games and the price they set to attend them. In that light, Mizzou has responded with an outstanding offer.
That means fans, this game is on you. It's not really on a prominent TV channel and the long-ranger says the temperature is supposed to be in the 70's. If that holds, folks, you need to get to Faurot Field. $17 tickets is something almost anyone can afford and it's at a time of day that allows everyone to get their Saturday obligations out of the way. So, I really hope to see good attendance -- by good I mean high 50's. We'll see.
3. The "Dores" are our opening to a great season. As fans, unlike the players, we have every luxury of looking ahead to what awaits us in the next part of our schedule and that is namely the Vanderbilt Commodores on October 5th. Vanderbilt, in my mind, has always been the defining game of the season. Now, I know I used similar terminology to refer to Indiana, but the fact is that Indiana was more of a gateway to the Vanderbilt game - winning yesterday put us very close to definitely having an okay season and within grasp of having a good season, with a great season still possible. Assuming we take care of Arkansas State, at Vandy is the game that I think many of us have circled. Vandy is a team that we lost to last year, though narrowly; a team that college football analysts see as emerging; a team that despite that emergence, has not exactly knocked our socks off in the first four weeks -- with a rather lackluster margin yesterday against one of the worst teams in college football in Massachusetts. They also have the smallest stadium and their schedule is brutal and frankly, if they don't beat us, getting to 6-6 will be difficult for them. So, while their backs are against the wall, I sense there might be, due to all the scandals, some distractions in Nashville. This is all to say that 5-0 is staring us right in the "eye of the Tigers".
If we win, then things really get fun, because the pressure is off in terms of having some kind of a disaster season, but also, because the opportunity would still be there in terms of a great season. Simply looking at the top 25, where the Tigers are now getting a few votes, I think you will see, as I do (more on this later), how things get really shaky once you get beyond the Top 15. Michigan, who has looked dreadful against bottomfeeders like Akron and UCONN, is in the Top 20. Fresno, who beat Rutgers and Boise State by a grand total of 2 points, is ranked. Texas Tech is ranked. So, frankly, we could be ranked by the time the game at Georgia rolls around.
And, previously I thought the game at Georgia was impossible, but I'm not sure it is now. It's probably still unlikely. But, hello, NORTH TEXAS gave them everything they wanted for quite a while yesterday, and who knows where Georgia mentally is at that point -- they've already lost one (to Clemson) and have a huge game vs. LSU next weekend plus a road test at a dangerous Tennessee team the following week. I still put that game as a loss, but it has me curious now. Frankly, Georgia could have at least two if not three losses on the year at that point. One never knows -- that's why they play the games.
Looking even further, I think the Florida game screams opportunity. So does South Carolina. My goal is, between those two and Georgia, to get ONE win. Just one. It would put us on the map and even if we dropped the other two, you're looking at 6-2 entering what I'm calling the "must win series" -- that is, Tennessee and at Kentucky. Take care of that you're looking at two more opportunity games to close out the year.
There are dreams bigger than simply looking at 8-4/9-3, but I won't even jinx that by talking about it until we defeat Vanderbilt!
4. Get off my lawn! I have to admit, though in some ways they looked "kind of cool", I was really not a fan of yesterday's helmet choice. It did look kind of slick and I can see why the designers-that-be went with it, but I prefer sticking with black and gold and keeping away from gimmicks. The good news is they were at least nice looking, as opposed to the peppermint-candy style helmets Indiana has deployed this year.
Now, don't get me wrong, I am not against new helmets and appearance changes. I actually, unlike some, like the oval helmet as I think it looks classy yet traditional. I also wish we'd wear it every game. I like Illinois' new orange "I" helmet (and their blue one last year) versus their old "Illinois" script. I'm also not opposed to even a home and road helmet, like Utah State (who has one of my favorite looks in college football) and Washington State use. I've even partially embraced the "matte" look, as despite it's a bit of a fad, it really can look classy when used in the right way - see Utah State, Cal, even A&M.
What I don't like is gimmicks or the "alternate" helmet craze -- that is, helmets like Indiana used yesterday, like our "giant Tiger" helmets, or like what Maryland used yesterday. What I like the least is when perfectly gorgeous helmets (like Indiana's classic red helmet with the "IU" lettering on the side in white) are replaced by such gimmicks.
If Mizzou wanted to change it up a bit, I could go for a white helmet, with the oval, with traditional stripes down the middle. But stay away from the chrome, the goofy giant logos, and ugly looking stripes like Indiana used. Just, no. I hope this fad passes.
5. A thought on future schedules. I noticed this article which discussed the fact Mizzou has yet to finalize its future schedules, including for 2015 (Memphis is moving, apparently, too), largely due to the uncertainty of the SEC going with 8 or 9 games and how the schedule itself plays out date-wise. Contained within that article is the thought that perhaps we might play a neutral site game against Illinois (in StL) and others have mentioned a similar possibility vs. K-State (in KC). Also mentioned was our overall scheduling philosophy (one BCS, two FBS non-BCS, and one FCS) and the fact that if the SEC goes to 9 conference games, we would no longer schedule the BCS game UNLESS it was the neutral site game.
My reaction to this is to pound my head on the table and go "no, no, no and no!" First of all, as I have written about before, I really dislike the idea of a 9-game conference schedule for the very reason stated in this article -- it limits flexibility in scheduling, causes schools like us to drop their BCS-quality non-con game thus limiting the ability to compare leagues when it comes to choosing teams for a playoff (now 4, hopefully 8), and then the variety of squads fans can see play the Tigers. I know Mizzou doesn't control that directly but I hope we fight against it. Second, why are we spending tons of money on upgrading our stadium and then talking about scheduling games at pro stadiums? This is fine in hoops when you have 31 games, but when you have only 12 it seems silly to me. Plus, I'd much rather see Illinois at our upgraded stadium and at Illinois' upgraded stadium than in St. Louis, which has zero atmosphere. Arrowhead was great for one or two KU games, but was overrated after that. Third, I'm not sure I agree with the overall philosophy too, especially if we go to just three non-con games. Really, no more BCS games at home outside of conference? I'm not sure that's even wise given the emphasis on schedule strength in the new era of the "College Football Playoff", which will be determined by a selection committee carefully looking at such things -- and not just for the 4-team playoff itself but for the four other "BCS" games. We'll see -- to me the answer is sticking with 8 conference games as I think the system now works pretty well. And NO to games in St. Louis and Kansas City. For the life of me, I do not understand that idea given our new upgrades.
On to college football as a whole...
6. Hey, look at Wyoming! The fighting Dave Christensens are 3-1 with their only loss being a 3 point defeat at Nebraska. They've destroyed their other opponents (granted, Idaho and Northern Colorado were two) including a 56-23 thrashing of Air Force in Colorado Springs yesterday. Had they won that game against the Huskers, they would be the BCS busting team we would be watching, along with Fresno State. If you look at their schedule, they are staring at 6-1 with games at Texas State, vs. Colorado State and vs. UNLV. The test will come then -- with roads games against a decent San Jose State team, Boise State and Utah State, plus home tilts against Fresno State and Hawaii. Keep your eye on them, as it looks like a three way battle between them, Utah State and Boise for the Mountain Division title (Fresno has a relatively clean slate for the West).
7. Ranking the conferences. With many teams' non-conference schedules coming to a close in the next week, I think it's a good time to rank conferences. An easy first is the SEC, due to the power at the top and the fact it seems almost every team has a chance of going to a bowl, save Kentucky. Second is the Pac 12, with Oregon, Stanford and UCLA having dominating games and even the bottom of the league (Utah, Colorado, Oregon State) hanging in there and having six teams undefeated. I think the ACC is clearly third, with Clemson, Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech and surprising Maryland doing well comparatively with others. The Big Ten is fourth, with only one real power in Ohio State (sorry, Michigan is a fraud) and where Northwestern is the 2nd best team and they only beat Maine 35-21. The Big Ten is bad enough at the top that the The Big 12-2-1-1+1+1, whereas fifth now, may even pass them, if Baylor/Ok State/Oklahoma can emerge as stronger than the top of the BIG. The problem the Big 12 has is that the bottom of the league -- Kansas, Iowa State, West Virginia -- is truly God awful, and even the "middle tier" (Texas, Kansas State) is quite poor. After the Big 12, the closest battle is for sixth, where I will give the slight nod to the American as a result of Louisville, though that conference as a whole is not really any better than the Mountain West, who at least seems to have a few competitive squads. Bringing up the rear is the train wreck that is, in order, Conference USA, the MAC and Sun Belt, who among their 35 teams have yet to produce a squad that scares you -- even Northern Illinois nearly lost to Eastern Illinois.
8. There are only like 15 "haves" -- after that, it's mediocrity city. Just look at the Top 25 for proof of this, where teams like Fresno, Texas Tech, and Michigan are in the rankings. But, that's not a criticism -- who would you replace them with, today? I think once you get past the Top 15 or so, it drops off pretty fast. Then you get about 50 squads which are all mediocre, maybe 15 of which are slightly better than the others. Then you get 55 teams that are truly bad, 15 or 20 of which are less awful than the others and 15 of which are absolute jokes. Texas, as bad as they are, is still better than half of college football. The overall point I might make in this is that it's going to be hard to draw a line between "haves" and "have nots" if a Division 4 is ever created, and this might also help illustrate a picture as to why attendance might be an issue across football. Beyond those Top 10-15 squads, is there a team worth shelling out $40 for, not to mention the other costs associated with attending a game? And often those Top 15 play the others, obviously, so that also can be a snooze fest in many cases, which depresses attendance and viewership. I'd rather see a college football landscape where there was an overall rising tide that raised more boats -- and then there were just a few that were better than others. This "a few great teams and the rest are varying versions of crap" pattern is not one I find all that enjoyable.
It also is why this is a great year for Mizzou to take a step forward as there is no reason we can't be in the Top 25. I think we've looked better than Michigan, Texas Tech, Wisconsin and others, for instance.
9. Criticism of some SEC non-cons is legit - particularly about SEC West teams. if you're trying to compare the Top 2 teams, I think you're going to have a lot more to judge Oregon by than Alabama. Alabama will have three -- Ole Miss, LSU and the SEC title game. On the other hand, Oregon will have some tests. Oregon has at Washington, at Stanford, home vs. UCLA, and at Arizona -- as well as the Pac 12 title game. They might not survive that unscathed, though if they do, I would put them as the clear #1 over Alabama. I would certainly rank Oregon's games vs. Oregon State, Utah, Cal, and Colorado over Alabama's other games -- which include Georgia State, Chattanooga, and Kentucky. This is why I think Alabama needs step up their non-con in the future, which included Colorado State and VA Tech as their other two opponents. I know Oregon's non con tests against Tennessee and Virginia were not world beaters, but Alabama could step it up a bit in comparison, i think. Sadly, they're not - next year's schedule has West Virginia, Florida Atlantic, and Western Carolina with one to schedule.
The same pattern is with the rest of the top half of the SEC West: LSU has TCU, Kent State, UAB and Furman. A&M has Sam Houston, Rice, SMU and UTEP. However, on the flip side, among the tops of the SEC East, Georgia's has Clemson, GA Tech, North Texas and Applachican State; South Carolina's non-con has Clemson, Central Florida, North Carolina and Coastal Carolina and Florida's has Miami, Florida State, Toledo and Georgia Southern, none of which I could criticize.
Alabama is certainly great, as is LSU. But an asterik, particularly with Alabama, is the fact their overall schedule is pretty terrible, with only four tough games among their 12 (maybe 13).
This is actually one reason I'd like the SEC to explore getting rid of divisions and set schedules and instead having a system where you have one or two permanent rivals, but the rest of your conference schedule is determined by where you finished the previous season instead of geography. More on this idea in the future.
10. I like the targeting rule. Some folks have complained about the new targeting rule, in which a player is automatically ejected and a 15 yard penalty is assessed if a player is deemed to have hit an opposing player with what I would call "improper form". While I do feel that the review should include a possible reversal of the penalty itself, instead of just the ejection, I do think that the rule itself is justified. The reason I say this is because while I think articles such as this are perhaps a bit alarmist, I do think they are on to something. If moms and dads don't feel like their kids are safe playing football, less kids will play football. If less kids play football, less schools will field football. If schools do play football, they may be at risk for a crippling lawsuit, which might make administrators at even mid-level FBS/FCS schools think twice about fielding a team, and certainly programs in D2, D3, NAIA and high school. The long term result could be, if not the destruction of football as a whole, a true damaging of it that would be hard to recover from. This is, in my view, a modern day equivalent of the crisis the sport had 100 years ago, when Teddy Roosevelt, despite being a fan of the game, threatened to ban it.
Reforms were made then, and reforms need to be made now. And the targeting rule is part of that. If the end result is a sport where parents and institutions feel that the sport is trying to make it as safe as reasonably possible, where people "tackle" instead of "hit", where the thunderous hit of a DB against a defenseless receiver trying to catch a pass across the middle is met with scorn rather than cheers, then all the better. I am not saying the sport needs "saving", but to me it's worth addressing and I applaud the NCAA for addressing it, as long as it is open (and I suspect it will be) to tweaks to make it fair.
My Top 10:
1. Oregon; 2. Alabama; 3. Clemson; 4. LSU; 5. Stanford; 6. Texas A&M; 7. Florida State; 8. Georgia; 9. UCLA; 10. Ohio State
Bottom 5: 125. FIU; 124. Georgia State 123. UMASS 122. New Mexico State; 121. Idaho
That's it for this week!