By Ben Johnson - Special to SBNation.com
This has been a colossal month of failure for "My Favorite 5." In a typical season, "My Favorite 5" are in the thick of the national championship discussion, such as last year, when USC, Arkansas, Boise State and Michigan were a combined 14-2 at this point in the season, and three of the four (Michigan, Arkansas and Boise State) remained in the thick of the national championship picture for much of the season.
My how things change in a year.
At present in 2012, USC has been stuffed by Stanford, Michigan has been stoned by both Alabama and Notre Dame, Boise State is as offensively challenged as Savannah State, and Arkansas has completely collapsed, having now lost three in a row in a season that will go down in Arkansas history as the most forgettable in a long time.
Some years you're drinking the wine, but this year, I am definitely crushing the grapes...of wrath.
With all four completely out of the national championship conversation for now, and given their combined record of 8-7 this year, it makes zero sense to continue the weekly "My Favorite 5" column since I strategically calculated at the start of the season all four would be within the national championship discussion well into the closing weeks of the season.
So much for my expert opinion.
However, I do believe I can cultivate some sensibilities as we struggle with what appears to be a lost season.
Lane Kiffin said after the Stanford loss "that the sun would rise tomorrow, all is not lost," but even I was questioning that after the Trojan stunner in Palo Alto.
Just when I was feeling about as low as a college football fanatic could get, a much more sobering text message I received on Friday morning jolted me back to reality and reminded me that college football is just a game.
A close friend and former coaching colleague of mine mysteriously drove his bicycle in front of an oncoming Amtrack train in Eugene on Thursday evening on his way home from work. With the train guards coming down and people screaming at him to stop, he continued in front of the crossing, obviously lost in the fog of the day, and lost his life.
As a fan base, we make too much out of victories and defeats and we should remind ourselves that in the grand scheme of life, it really is just a game and we should remind ourselves of this simple fact when we are discussing our failures and fortunes in the great college spectacle.
For USC, Michigan, Boise State and even Arkansas, tomorrow brings a new day upon us and it is up to us to seize the positive of the day.
For my good friend, the sun will never shine on his face again, at least not in this dimension, and his loss is both stunning, cold and unfathomable leaving many friends and family to ponder what happened and why.
Last Saturday's loss at Stanford was one of those hard to imagine and equally hard to explain losses that leaves you shaken for a day or two.
Friday's text message was one of those hard to explain or understand losses that leave a person utterly shaken to the core, and stays with you for a lifetime, reminding me constantly this weekend that college football is still just a game and its place in the natural order of life should remain superficial.
How my friend could have missed something so simple and obvious has left a growing number of friends and those who witnessed the accident completely numb and shocked, but in his memory, I dedicate today's Sunday Summation article.
Please join me in celebrating his memory.
He was a former quarterback at Linfield College, playing for Hall of Fame coach Ad Rutschman and was a very successful offensive coordinator at Willamette HS in Eugene. A successful professional in the Mortgage industry, he had many clients within the Casanova Center at the University of Oregon.
My friend left a loving wife and 5-year old twin daughters behind and if we can learn anything from this tragedy, please remember to take your ear buds out, put your cell phones away and look both ways when crossing the path of an oncoming train, whether riding your bike or traveling by car.
In a lighter note, let's get onward with some college football discussion shall we?
12 Teams To Ponder In the Race for the BCS:
1. Alabama is the championship standard for college football by which all teams will be measured. The defending national champions are still at the top until someone demonstrates how to play defense consistently for four quarters (even when matched up against inferior opponents) and how to manage a low risk offense that punishes you with a pounding running game that has quick strike potential. There is a very large degree of separation between Alabama and the rest of the field after four weeks of action.
Verdict: Buy The Tide!
2. Oregon looked a little shaky at times defensively in their first three ball games, but last nights 49-0 beat down over an Arizona club that failed to Beardown inside the red zone was an eye-opener. Nick Aliotti has played a ton of players during the first month of the season, which is truly a bright recruiting tactic as many young Oregon players do not have to spend two or three years on the sideline before getting their opportunity. Given Oregon's quick strike offense that scores the majority of their touchdowns in two minutes or less, the defense must be on the field for extended periods of time. They platoon 20-25 players as successful as any coaching staff in the country given their extraordinary player development over the last four years, and they are on par with SEC speed.
Verdict: Buy The Ducks!
3. Stanford had the week off, but play a dangerous Washington program on the road on Thursday night. I say dangerous because the game is inside Husky Stadium, where QB Keith Price shines with consistency. Stanford may have the best front seven in the country, rivaling the Crimson Tide, and its offense is very Bama like with a punishing running game. The question down the stretch will be on the offensive side, especially in the match-up with Oregon, but the victory over USC still stands as big as any in the country among the giants at present.
Verdict: Buy The Cardinal!
4. Kansas State is not the sexiest pick of the litter, but like I mentioned last week, there isn't a better coach in the country than Bill Snyder. You have to beat this team as they rarely beat themselves. Oklahoma dominated the game last night statistically, including the stat line that sealed their fate...turnovers. They hang around and hang around and wait for you to self destruct with a menacing defense and a grinding clock killing offense that shortens the game, especially late. You must get off to a fast start and take the Cats out of their game plan to beat this team. OU did it last year, but self destructed this year.
Verdict: Definitely a Risky Pick But You Must Respect A Bill Snyder Program!
5. South Carolina has risen. De'Anthony Thomas of Oregon - Sports Illustrated's poster child of the week - has nothing on Carolina's Ace Sanders. Similar in size and stature, his electrifying punt return for a touchdown yesterday versus Missouri lit the fuse as South Carolina blew up the Tigers, 31-10. The offense is coming on with a nice balance between Conner Shaw (who missed his first pass attempt of the day, but then rattled off 20 consecutive completions in a 20-for-21 performance for 252 yards and two touchdowns) and Marcus Lattimore (who had 85 yards on the day and tied the Gamecoack career rushing TD mark with 33). Shaw has had injury issues, but back-up quarterback Dylan Thompson is more than adequate, throwing for 500 plus in victories over ECU and UAB. But defense is where the Cocks shine with Clowny and Company a definite force to be reckoned with, even among the SEC, which is noted for strong front-fours!
Verdict: Buy The Cocks!
6. Notre Dame is back in the picture, but of the list of the Top-5 contenders above, the Irish are the only team with an unproven commodity at Quarterback. The Defense is legit, giving up a meager 36 points in four games. Florida State, everyone's consensus to play the Tide in the BCS championship game, gave up 37 in last nights victory over Clemson by comparison. This is a smart, heady, team that has learned from their turnover prone tendencies from a year ago. The Irish forced 6 turnovers last night in limiting Denard Robinson to one of the worst performances of his career. However, many offensive challenges still remain for a team playing the toughest schedule in all of college football. Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma, PITT, BC, Wake Forest and USC still remain along the road to the BCS, so the Irish may get to a BCS bowl, but I think they will fade down the stretch as a result. If they do run the table, it's a shoe in to the national championship game given their strength of schedule.
Verdict: Buy For BCS Bowl, Sell For National Championship Contender!
7. TCU is awfully young, perhaps too young to realize the difficulty in the task at hand, but if you haven't noticed of late, the Frogs can get a little nasty on defense. Yesterday's 27-7 victory over a gutty Virginia program should leave little doubt that Garry Patterson is one of the elite coaches in the country for defense, and with veteran quarterback Casey Pachall leading the country in Passing Effeciency at 209.9, and with a completion percentage of 76.1, KState, Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia had better take notice.
Verdict: A Risky Pick Here Due To Youth Of Organization And Difficulty Of Schedule!
8. LSU is still LSU but the Tigers lost a step yesterday with their 12-10 victory over a struggling Auburn program. The loss of Tyrann Mathieu (The Honey Badger) leaves them without a true big play threat on both sides of the ball or in the special teams department, and sooner or later, that offense is going to grind to a halt and put too much pressure on a sterling defense, especially when they hit the gut of the SEC schedule.
Verdict: Sell The Tigers, Not A Fan of Les Miles!
9. Florida State has now shown their first signs of cardiac arrest, especially on defense, giving up 37 in one game to a Clemson program that despite all the hubbub...is still Clemson. What I liked was the ability to get up off the canvas after trailing 28-14 late in the second quarter, which shows me a little moxy. You can find some big plays on offense against this team, but the question is (like Oregon), can you match their athleticism for 60 minutes. I'm still not sold on FSU as a national title contender, especially given the schedule ranking of 72nd in the country to start the season, but in this mesmerizing BCS beauty pageant contest, style is rewarded over substance.
Verdict: I Need More Info And May Be Overly Cautious, but Where Will The Marquee Wins Come From After Clemson?
10. Georgia - Ditto Florida State. This team does not face the heart of the SEC schedule and will likely be a one loss or undefeated by the time we reach the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, but if you're measuring and comparing, South Carolina never trailed and dominated versus Missouri.
Verdict: Sell The Farm On Georgia!
11. Texas - Like LSU, Texas is back to being Texas. The QB position has been solidified but the bottom line is Texas hasn't played anyone of substance yet, unless you consider Ole Miss to be a Top-25 caliber opponent, which I do not. The Horns get the Pokies next weekend, a team that was throttled by Arizona, who was throttled themselves by Oregon and even the Red River Shootout has lost its luster given the Sooners loss yesterday versus KState. However, if Texas can run the table versus OU, West Virginia, TCU, KState and Baylor (who have a combined record of 16-1 at present), that resume will get them a date in Miami.
Verdict: If You Love Betting On A High Risk Commodity...Texas Is Your Pick Baby!
12. Florida - The Gators continue to shine and improve, although hiding among the shadows cast by LSU, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, but has anyone beaten two more quality programs in Texas A&M and Tennessee in Back-to-Back weekends thus far? The Defense is for real. If they can stay healthy and avoid any big time turnover prone performances on offense, the SEC is going to get downright interesting in November!
Verdict: If You Are Looking For a Sleeping Giant Laying In The Reeds, Don't Sleep On Florida! Hot Buy Of The Month!
Five Teams On The Outside Looking In:
1. West Virginia is fun to watch and their dismantling of Clemson in last years Orange Bowl still looms large in the minds of many, but championship defense in nowhere to be found at present, or on the horizon. It is a good thing they play in the Big-12 versus the Big East with Louisville and Rutgers presence on defense. West Virginia fits right into the wide open Big-12, but sooner or later, their inability to run the football with consistency will come back to haunt them along with the percentage index for turnovers since they throw the ball 50 plus times a game. Verdict: A BCS Bowl Maybe, but get real if you think this team is a national title contender!
2. As an Oregon State alum, I'm proud as punch with their success so far. Defensively they fit the mold on defense, but they have too many inconsistencies on offense for me to buy into their success on a long term basis. Riley remains old school in his approach, never more evident in the fact that they have two or 3 delay of game penalties per game. In an era where teams line up quickly and get three plays off in one minute, the Beavers at times can't decide on what play to call early enough to get a single play off in the same time frame. The Beavs still have Oregon, Stanford, BYU, Utah and both Arizona schools left on the schedule and if any injuries crop up, a winning season is still at risk, even though they are off to a strong start. Verdict: 9-3 season at best!
3. Rutgers & 4. Louisville: Rutgers may be the most under-appreciated program in college football this season given all the hype fellow conference rival Louisville is receiving, but make no mistake, this is a tough, hard nosed, program that prides itself on old fashioned values - defense and running the football. The problem is the lack of a true marquee name brand on that schedule to build any kind of value around. Arkansas at the start of the season looked to offer a branding identity for Rutgers, but is there another team in the country that has been as bad as the Hogs in the opening month?They may have dominated the Hogs but so has just about everyone else, including Jacksonville State, who the Hogs beat.
Verdict: Could be interesting with both Louisville and Rutgers undefeated at seasons end, but where is the marquee opponent on either schedule? Sell The Farm On Both!
5. Ohio & Louisiana Tech: Penn State is the marquee name on Ohio's schedule, but don't sleep on LA-Tech as this years BCSBuster! Having already beaten Illinois this past weekend, if LA-Tech can get by Texas A&M, Virginia and a solid Utah State program by seasons end, the Bulldogs may not be the only team from Louisiana amid the BCS discussions. If Ohio gets to the BCS, I may vomit given the schedule, but that wouldn't be such a bad thing as it would be emblematic of the BCS era.
Who Won The Day in College Football:
1. Oregon: 49-0 beat down of high powered Arizona offense led by Rich Rodriguez was the performance of the day, especially for a team that was questioned on that side of the ball coming in. The Ducks should be ranked number two behind Alabama by the end of the weekend in the national polls.
2. Kansas State: Capitalizing on three Sooner turnovers inside the Red zone gives KState a big leg up along the daunting offensive schedule in the Big-12.
3. South Carolina: For a team struggling with an offensive identity, the Cocks found their stride in Week #4. The defense is still as stout as ever. The "Old Ball Coach" may be smiling by seasons end.
Who Lost The Day in College Football:
1. Oklahoma - Is this the beginning of the end for the Stoops brothers in Norman? Brother Bob has not met the surrealistic national title expectations for quite some time now. Winds of change may be blowing across the heartland sooner than expected, no pun intended.
2. Denard Robinson - Contributed to 5 of the six turnovers in the loss to the Irish. Given the two performances against legit defenses this year, Brady Hoke and Al Borges need to get it in gear.
3. Clemson - with a two touchdown lead over Florida State and the fact that they scored 37 points in the loss to FSU, it is clear that Brent Venables is having the same impact for Clemson as he did at Oklahoma as the two defenses continue to get bludgeoned by the big play.
Game of the Day And Save Of The Season:
Miami may have saved their season with a comeback victory over Georgia Tech. When I first penned this article, I gave Georgia Tech the nod for comeback win of the day given they trailed 19-0 early, only to come back and lead 22-19 by halftime, and 36-22 after three, but then the Jackets imploded, giving up the final 20 points of the ball game, losing in overtime 42-36. Thus, Miami gets the Game of the Day nod, and also the Team That Saved Their Season award as well.
Who would have thunk it...Northwestern, Minnesota, Iowa State, Duke and Oregon State are a combined 16-1 on the season with victories over Iowa, Wisconsin, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, UCLA and Boston College.
Michigan, Arkansas, California and Southern Miss are a combined 4-11 by comparison.
Central Michigan 32 - Iowa 31
Colorado 35 - Washington State 34
Tulsa 27 - Fresno State 26
Louisiana Tech 52 - Illinois 24
Three Coaches On The Hot Seat:
1. Jeff Tedford - Cal
2. Kirk Ferentz - Iowa
3. Randy Edsall - Maryland
*** John L. Smith - Arkansas, is a given.
Three Coaches Off The Hot Seat:
1. Mike Riley - Oregon State
2. Derek Dooley - Tennessee
3. Jerry Kill - Minnesota
Five Games To Get Excited About In Week #5...it's a stinker week for football!
1. Baylor (3-0) vs West Virginia (3-0)
2. Tennessee (3-1) vs Georgia (4-0)
3. Texas (3-0) vs Oklahoma State (3-1)
4. Florida State (4-0) vs South Florida (2-2)
5. Nebraska (3-1) vs Wisconsin (3-1)
3. South Carolina
6. Florida & Georgia
7. Florida State
8. Kansas State
12. Notre Dame
13. West Virginia
14. Mississippi State
15. Oregon State
23. Michigan State