Who Can Stem the Tide?

By Joe Beale on May 30, 2013 at 11:30a
25 Comments

Ohio State and Alabama. Alabama and Ohio State. Meyer vs. Saban. The legend vs. the devil. The script almost writes itself. Ohio State waltzes through a relatively easy schedule while the Tide emerges from the intense internecine warfare of the SEC battle-tested and ready to deflate the massive collective ego of Buckeye Nation. 

"We're so fast we can stay ahead of the NCAA investigators."Mark Helfrich takes over for Chip Kelly in 2013.

That is how the story is supposed to go. But things have not been that simple over the past few years, even in this era of dominance by those schools down south. Going over the list of schools that have made it to the biggest of all college football games lately will give you pause in making the easy prediction. 

Did anyone have Notre Dame in the championship game last year? That's an easy one, you say. A one-year aberration. The year before, the two final teams were LSU and Alabama. But the pre-season polls both had Oklahoma at #1. In 2010, the two teams that made the championship game (Auburn and Oregon) were not even ranked in the top 10 in the pre-season polls!

The fact is, even if the season goes largely as predicted, it is still likely that at least one of the participants in the mythical national championship game (thankfully, the last year I'll have to employ that phrase) will be a surprise. Just like Ohio State in 2002 (AP #13 pre-season), LSU in 2003 (AP #14 pre-season), Florida in 2006 (#8), Auburn in 2010 (#22), and the Irish last season (unranked).  

So if it's not 'Bama that Ohio State will be playing for the crystal football after this season (going for the best possible outcome here), what other team might be able to get there? There are many candidates, but based on last year and what I'm seeing in pre-season rankings, I think there are at least 3 solid candidates and a couple of might-be contenders.

It's not going to be easy for any of them though. Alabama has won three championships in the era of Satan, including the last two. It will probably take 2 losses and not getting to the SEC championship game in order to keep them out of the final 2 this season. If that happens, one of these teams will be ready to fill the void.

Oregon

The Ducks are an obvious choice. Last season they continued to set the standard for offensive efficiency, averaging over 530 yards of offense and almost 50 points per game. Their average scoring margin was an astounding 28 points. They dominated every team they played save one, and that one gave them their only loss

A quick look at the schedule shows that Oregon will not have much of a challenge until they go on the road to face Washington on 10/12. Then there is a road date at Stanford, the only team to beat them last year. Get past those, and the sky is the limit.

The one thing that complicates Oregon's post-season plans this time around is a pesky NCAA investigation into allegations of recruiting improprieties. The problems are well documented, and the NCAA might be getting close to a ruling. Already they have admitted that "major violations" have occurred. Will the Ducks be slapped with a post-season ban in 2013? That might be the only way to stop them.

Stanford

The Cardinal, as mentioned above, were the only team that had enough defense to slow down the Oregon attack, holding their own in a 17-14 overtime victory last season. That game was typical of their season, winning close games with tough defense and a strong running game. 

"A one and a two..."Murray threw for 36 TDs and averaged 10 yards
per attempt in 2012.

The loss of star RB Stepfan Taylor will hurt, but the entire offensive line returns to help senior Tyler Gaffney try to pick up where Taylor left off. Gaffney was not on the team last season but in his career he has averaged over 5 yards per carry. Also returning are QB Kevin Hogan and most of his receiving corps.

Stanford gets Oregon and Notre Dame at home, while playing Oregon State and USC on the road. That's just difficult enough to earn some strength-of-schedule points while still favorable to the idea of making a BCS run.

Texas A&M

Johnny Football's opening act was as good as it could get, but what will he do for an encore? Indeed, his team made their debut in the SEC a sparkling one, going 11-2 overall and pulling off the upset of the season, a 29-24 victory at Alabama.

The Tide is on A&M's schedule early this year, but it's at College Station and so if the SEC sophomores can hold serve at home then they will have overcome a major hurdle to making a run at the title. A late trip to Baton Rouge could be their Waterloo, but even with a loss in that game they might still make it to the SEC championship game. In that case, they could use the same script that Alabama used last season to get to the final game.

Georgia

The Bulldogs were one short TD pass away from defeating Alabama in the SEC championship game last season, a win that would have vaulted them into the BCS title game. QB Aaron Murray and most of the offense returns to try it again this season, but the defense must rebuild after losing 9 starters. A huge recruiting class of 33 players comes in to provide a fresh infusion of talent. Will it be enough to get them through their murderous schedule that includes a road trip to Clemson and home games against LSU, Florida, and South Carolina?

Clemson

The Tigers return star QB Tajh Boyd, who passed for over 3800 yards and 36 touchdowns last season while leading his team to an 11-2 record and a victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Boyd will be missing his top receiver DeAndre Hopkins, but there is plenty of talent on offense ready to step up. The defense was a problem for much of last season but should be much improved in 2013. Clemson gets Georgia at home to open the season and has revenge games at home against FSU and on the road at South Carolina. These games are spread out and as such they give the team time to work out some kinks against inferior opponents. 

Other teams that might challenge for the title game are South Carolina, Louisville, Michigan (haha...Ok maybe), and Florida. Do you think it might be one of these? Or is there another surprise team that I'm missing?

25 Comments

Comments

Dayton Buckeye's picture

I could see a Florida/ Clemson or a Stanford GA matchup.

d1145fresh's picture

Shocking Prediction: An SEC team will NOT be in the BCS Championship this year. I could easily see Oregon/Stanford, Ohio State and maybe one other team (Clemson, Louisville) end up undefeated this year. I could also see every team in the SEC end up with at least one loss this year. Would a 1 loss SEC team get in over one of the aforementioned undefeated teams? I think ESPN would implode if this happened. 

Catch 5's picture

Would a 1 loss SEC team get in over one of the aforementioned undefeated teams?

Probably not, and I disagree with the author's prediction that it will take 2 losses to keep Bama out this year.  Bama's schedule is weak (as is OSU's) this year, and I think it will take an undefeated slate for the Tide to make it - unless a couple of surprises emerge such as a top-25 Arkansas, Auburn, and/or Tennessee. 
A&M may have the best shot with one loss, as they have a very tough schedule, but not over an undefeated national power like Oregon/Stanford or OSU.  Probably over a weaker program like Louisville, or even an ACC team though.

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

Joe Beale's picture

It won't take an undefeated slate to get them into the SEC Championship game, and if they win that as a one-loss team, I predict they will still go to the BCS, unless there is another undefeated Big Conference team other than OSU (read Clemson, Oregon, or Stanford). So I guess in a way I agree with you, I just don't think we will see a host of undefeated teams. In the kingdom of the one-loss teams, a one-loss SEC champion is king.

d1145fresh's picture

I would agree a 1 loss SEC team gets in over any other one loss team however I would be interested to see what would happen if that one loss occurs in the SEC championship game. I think if Bama can get past A&M and LSU they could be undefeated going up against a one loss team (Florida or Georgia). Should Bama lose that game would the BCS skip over another team that is undefeated? I don't think they could. 

Joe Beale's picture

No matter what kind of season they have, if they lose in the SEC championship game they are not going to the BCS title game unless the team that beat them also goes. And that would really bite.

Firmthyfriendship's picture

Ohio State Vs. Florida in the NC, just to bring it full circle and end the dominance where it began.

Poison nuts's picture

This would answer my prayers...it would also probably be a wet dream for the TV ratings people. I would imagine the hype & story lines alone surrounding a UF vs OSU (coached by Urban Meyer) championship game would make it one of the most watched NCs ever. I will continue doing rain dances & voodoo chants to try to make this a reality.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

OSUs12-OH's picture

Edit:  This^^^That was where I was going to go with it but don't want to jinx anything.  Sometimes you get what you wish for but it doesn't turn out exactly the way you want.
Agree with all above except one, Georgia.  They're not going to be as good as many think.  I'd throw FL or Louisville in that spot.  I'd go with Louisville but if FL can navigate their schedule with only one loss...then they'll be in SEC Championship game.

"I want a hungry team. I want a team that can't wait to get out there. I want an angry team! You're the Ohio State Buckeyes. You're an angry football team. You're a hungry football team and I'm proud to be your coach." UFM

Joe Beale's picture

Regarding GA, I do think the losses on defense are a concern, but I just can't get that image of them taking 'Bama down to the wire out of my head.

Firmthyfriendship's picture

In 2006 we were at the top of our game, we truly deserved to be there. The fact that Florida was in there and not a UM rematch was a joke. Right? We were "fat" we were cocky. I remember it like it was yesterday. I love Troy Smith, but I remember thinking his head wasn't where it needed to be as all the sound bytes I heard were of him talking about how nice Arizona is and a great burger joint called In n' Out. Then we hear about how Urban (nowadays) has said that Florida team was one of the angriest teams he has ever coached. Now, we're angry. We've had something taken from us. We're a pissed off team. And we showed it last year, and we'll show it again this year. Two totally different animals right now. I'd be afraid. Very afraid of us.
 
LOL, damn I just pumped myself up for some FOOOTBAAAAAWL!!!

Buckeye06's picture

I didn't see a mention of Florida State.  They always have the athletes, and have a Braxton/Manziel type player as a RS frosh at QB  Not saying they do it, but they have Clemson and UF  on their schedule

Joe Beale's picture

I think FSU might be kind of raw this year; maybe one season away. Right now, Clemson looks like a more polished team.

chicagobuckeye's picture

Agreed, they are very similar teams, and FSU still has another year to go IMO.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Unfortunately, Boise State will probably be back to doing their usual song-and-dance, while the media cheer them on: winning their opener at Washington and then going undefeated deep into the season. Hopefully, they'll lose somewhere along the way . . .

Hovenaut's picture

Out of the teams listed, I'd take Clemson.

While they always seem to drop a couple games they shouldn't, they have the talent, and just have a feeling they're due to break through.

I'm down on Texas A&M, they're not sneaking up on anyone this year. The fact that I don't care for Manziel has nothing to do with it.

The team not on this list I'm keeping an eye on is UCLA. The Bruins return 13 starters from their 9-5 squad.

If they can navigate a tough road slate - away games at Nebraska, Oregon and Stanford (Ducks and Cardinal in consecutive weeks), Jim Mora Jr could have his team in the mix.

I am not very smart, but I recognize that I am not very smart.

Ethos's picture

Two things, First, Oregon is only considered so "awesome" at offense because the majority of teams they play are also "awesome" at offense, and have AWFUL defenses.  Every time they play a team that has a great defense, be it Stanford, or dare I say the Buckeyes? Their amazing offense suddenly disappears.
Not that I don't think they have a fast offense, and are impressive, but there seems to always be a trend to me whenever they face a defense that can actually pound them.  You smack those nancies in the face, they crumble pretty fast.  Maybe that's part of the speed?
Second, the "new" championship is also a farce, just slightly better.  I'd say the top 8 or 12 teams need to face off in order to really consider it to be a championship that got settled on the field.  I don't think you can get the top 8 teams wrong, it's usually an argument about who is top 3 or 4.  At least, you can't say the #9 team has ever deserved to be #8 over hte #8 team so much that it causes a huge concern.  They are usually pretty close.
 
Just my .02 end rant.
 
 

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

Joe Beale's picture

Personally, I prefer a 16-team playoff, but at this point I'll take what I can get.

chicagobuckeye's picture

Agreed with Oregon. Take LSU, Auburn, OSU, Stanford all in recent years when Oregon drops 50 in the first half against the first team they play, they always seem to only be able to score 15 to 20 against teams with a defense with a pulse. IMO the quick offense is great, but there are times when running it up the middle for a 3 yard gain, see OSU against MSU, is just as important.
Also, I think while people don't complain about the #8 team vs. the #9 team now, if it were an 8 team bracket you will still get the same complaints. These might even be worse because instead of comparing whose 1 loss is worse, it will be 2 loss teams and whether one "bad" loss and one "good" loss are better than 2 expected losses.

Maffro's picture

Three of those games you listed were either bowl games or the first game of the season. There's nothing wrong with what Oregon does in particular, it's just an issue with up-tempo offenses in general because they have such a long time off between the last game of the season and the January bowl games (particularly the championship).
Everyone brings up that game against Auburn as evidence of Oregon not being able to get it done, or that the SEC would shut down "gimmick" offenses, or whatever particular narrative it is that people want to create. The truth, which hardly anyone ever mentions, is that Auburn wasn't lighting up the scoreboard on Oregon either, and that they basically won the game on a freak Michael Dyer run at the end where everyone thought he was down.
To be fair, Stanford is phenomenal defensively, and it certainly didn't hurt that Auburn had Nick Fairley or that LSU had their rotating door of NFL defensive lineman (which is really the key to stopping Oregon -- blowing plays before they even get started). I'm willing to bet that Arizona State would've given Oregon much more of a game this past year had Will Sutton not gotten injured on the first drive.

Shazier Missile's picture

I hope OSU wins the Trophy over an SEC team. Otherwise, it'll be annoying to hear the Mark Mays of the world say that OSU only won b/c they didn't have to play an SEC team.

IBleedSandG's picture

The sad thing is, that is probably exactly what he would say if that scenario played out.

"You pick up the rifle and go as hard as you can possibly go."
-UFM

Buckeyeneer's picture

Yup. We "backdoored" our way in by playing in a weak B1G and the rightful heir to the MNC was beaten by the SEC gauntlet.

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University

ECSAGESTER's picture

Although I don't think anyone will be touching Alabama this year, IF a team were to find its way into the NC game besides Ohio State and Bama, it will absolutely not be Clemson. For years, Clemson has brought in recruiting classes that people have marvelled at, only to lead to another Peach Bowl appearance. Can only hope for a break-through for so long before you have to lower expectations and they need to be lowered for Clemson. 
Ease of schedule for Oregon gives them the chance to run the table relatively easily, in a similar situation to Ohio State. Only team that I can legitimately see making a run at an undefeated year besides the Buckeyes and Alabama. 

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

I see Bama losing a game.  Ohio State goes undefeated to make it to the NC game.  It would take another undefeated team to meet OSU there.  I think we get a rematch of the Rose Bowl a few years back.  We face Oregon for the crystal ball.  Fourth quarter, we are down by 4 points with minutes left to play.  On 3rd and long Braxton heaves a ball up and out of the stands comes Jake Ballard to save the day!  The Buckeye drive stays alive and Hyde punches it in for the game winning TD!  Buckeyes celebrate winning the National Championship!!
Go Bucks!