Nov 23, 2012

Luck of the Irish? Nope, It's Just College Football


On the eve of what could be an historic Saturday, the skeptics remain.  The team and CBK must have zoned these guys out weeks ago.  Otherwise, they should have no fewer than 39 losses this season.  Given very little credit for their wins, a constant refrain from the “experts” has been about the luck of the Irish (clich√©’ intended).  They got “lucky” when the officials decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to rule that Stepfan Taylor made it into the end zone in overtime versus Stanford.  They got “lucky” when Pitt’s kicker missed a 37-yard field.  They got “lucky” for a second time on that play when the refs failed to catch that the Irish had two players on the field wearing the same number.  If it wasn’t for “luck,” so the analysis goes, Notre Dame wouldn’t be relevant on the national stage right now. 

Regardless of luck, Notre Dame remains undefeated and in the driver’s seat headed into the final full slated Saturday of the college football season to reach the national championship.  Some are suggesting the Irish have already received another “lucky” break with Matt Barkley ruled out for USC.  What I find interesting is how the “luck” other teams still in the national title picture have received has apparently been ignored.  No team entirely controls its own destiny.  College football is an ever-changing and often fleeting landscape.  It’s what you do with the opportunities you’re given that define a season.  How have the other national title contenders “lucked” out?  Glad you asked….

#2 Alabama:  The darlings of the SEC have certainly had their share of lucky circumstances to be #2 right now.  This list includes, but is not limited to:

A.  September 15, 2012 - @ Arkansas:  Sure, the Crimson Tide rolled the Razorbacks beating them 52-0.  There was nothing lucky about the score.  However, how much did Alabama have to do with not one but two head coaches for Arkansas personally imploding.  Bobby Petrino had the Razorbacks in great shape by the end of the 2011 season, and with quarterback Tyler Wilson deciding to return, there was more than one pundit proclaiming that Arkansas might take the next step this year.  A motorcycle accident for Petrino unraveled into a scandal involving a young female that cost Petrino his job.  On short notice, Arkansas went with a nice guy who was available…John L. Smith.  That has not worked out very well.

As for Tyler Wilson, a trendy pre-season Heisman selection, well, he didn’t play at all having suffered a concussion the previous week.  Alabama did absolutely nothing to deserve any of these breaks.  How lucky….

B.  November 3, 2012 - @ LSU:  Another game the Tide could easily have been on the losing end of.  Inexplicable defensive play calling and clock management permitted Alabama to concot a go-ahead drive with under 2 minutes left in the game and then face 3 plays worthy of a high school football team to end the game.  Yes, A.J. McCarron deserves some credit, but how LSU let a the Tide complete 3 straight passes of 10+ yards to the same receiver and then let a screen play go for 28-yards and the game winning touchdown is more than just talent…..it was darn lucky.

C.  November 17, 2012:  While Alabama beat up on FCS foe (yes, FCS foe) Western Carolina, other things fell just how they needed to to get Alabama back into the discussion.  Having lost the week before, Alabama deserved to lose control of their destiny, and yet the decision to enjoy a cupcake on the week that several others had to battle and fight paid off in a substantial way. 

Alabama’s a very good team, and I have no issue with them enjoying a second shot at getting to the NTG, but you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t believe that a few “lucky” breaks fell the Crimson Tide’s way as well.

#3 Georgia:  Georgia has defeated exactly one ranked team this year.  That was the always chippy and very frequently poorly played Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party game versus Florida.  Georgia got blown out by South Carolina 35-7 in their only other game versus a ranked opponent.  Fortunately for the Bulldogs, that game happened early enough in the season to give the Dawgs time to recover. 

Just as fortunately for the Bulldogs, South Carolina would follow up that dominating performance with two straight losses giving UGA an opportunity to play in the SEC Championship game.  If Georgia didn’t have one more premiere game on their schedule, they wouldn’t be in a position to knock of Alabama and make it to Miami.  They had nothing to do with Carolina’s losses or their weak-ish schedule (Don’t the Irish get blamed for having a schedule that didn’t live up to hype??), but now they also control their own fate.

By the way, wasn’t Mark Richt supposed to be fired by now if the UGA fan base had their way?

#4 Florida: 

Before I even get into the nuances of what needs to happen tomorrow to get Florida to the game, didn’t I just say they lost a sloppy game to Georgia?  Why yes, yes I did.  Florida to their credit has faced a very difficult schedule this year, but it hasn’t been without it’s share of breaks.

I can’t help but go back to their September 8, 2012 game versus Texas A & M.  It was a game they won 20-17, but how fortunate was it that they faced Johnny Manziel, the now Heisman front-runner, in his very first collegiate start?  Florida had to go into a hostile environment in College Station, and the Aggies certainly had a lot to play for with College Gameday on campus and it being their first ever SEC game.  However, you get the sense based on the direction the Gators have gone (ummm…is stagnant a direction?), and the direction that Johnny Football has gone that the result in a rematch might have been markedly different.  Is that a guarantee?  Nope.  But, if we’re talking about “luck,” it was certainly more a scheduling quirk that Manziel had yet to hit his stride in first year coach Kevin Sumlin’s system.

Speaking of scheduling quirks, how about Florida’s win over South Carolina?  When I look at the box score, there is an important name missing from Carolina’s offense:  Marcus Lattimore.  A hip injury limited him to just 3 carries for the entire game.  Lattimore might mean more to the Gamecocks than Barkley means to USC, and yet, it seems almost forgotten that Florida’s win came on a day that South Carolina lacked their biggest difference-maker.

All of that leads into this Saturday.  Yes, the Gators to have any shot will have to beat a very good FSU team.  However, they also need to bank on Notre Dame losing.  Under those circumstances (Beat FSU, ND loss), Florida would almost be assured a spot in the title game regardless of the outcome of the SEC Championship.  And therein lies the problem.  Under those circumstances, Florida could become the second straight SEC team to make the NTG without even making its own conference championship.  They will, in effect, benefit from being idle.  I’m not here to rail on the SEC, but anytime a team making the NTG does not even play in their own conference title game (when one exists) a good deal of “luck” exists.

#5 Oregon:  Oregon has generally killed the opposition in its way.  In that respect, there’s no game to point to to call them “lucky.”  Their “luck” exists in that they are the team who lost most recently this season that still possesses a legitimate shot at reaching Miami.

It’s not often that you can lose as late as November 17 and still entertain any shot at reaching the ultimate game of the season.  Additionally, it’s not guaranteed that Oregon will reach its conference championship game either.  Stanford must lose this Saturday to UCLA.  Otherwise, Oregon will remain idle for the final regular season weekend, and Stanford and UCLA will play two consecutive weeks.

Oregon has 0 wins versus an opponent currently ranked in the top 20 in BCS standings (Notre Dame has 3:  Stanford, Oklahoma, Michigan), and their one chance to add to that total (this weekend versus Oregon State) could end up knocking the Beavers out of the top 20 as well.  More than any of the other competitors, the Ducks have beaten up on the weak while avoiding major encounters.  While it might be a formula for double-digit wins, a return to the BCS Championship game would be nothing short of “lucky.”

As I said at the outset, it’s a matter of taking advantage of the opportunities your team is given.  However, can we please stop with the Irish are lucky headline and realize that every team in the National Title hunt has had its share of luck this year.

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