The conference season is about to heat up, and some teams are starting to peak at just the right time while others have come upon hard times. For those teams, conference play can be just the tonic they need to turn their season around.
In the week #6 edition of Underrated/Overrated, let’s take a look at what teams I see that have been slipping in their non-conference tune-ups and what teams have positioned themselves well for a conference run.
Michigan State (NR – AP / USA Today Polls)
Boy, how far the mighty have fallen!
In the preseason, Sparty was thought to be the class of the Big Ten. After defeats at the hands of rival Notre Dame and now Ohio State, the Spartans are on the outside of the top-25 and looking in. Head coach Mark Dantonio has to be really puzzled at the inability of his offense to generate any type of ball movement and scoring beyond his lone weapon, RB Le’Veon Bell.
The defense has remained solid, but it can’t hold every team down. The Spartans are allowing an average of 12.8 points per game which ranks them 12th nationally. They also have the 9th ranked defense in the country with their pass and rush defenses ranked no lower than 18th in any category. It is the play of the offense that has prevented Michigan State from claiming the title of the Big Ten’s best team.
The good news for Michigan State is they still have important Legend’s Division games remaining. They travel to Michigan and host Nebraska sandwiched around a game with Wisconsin. To date, the best win for Sparty is the opening night win against Boise State.
Michigan State is going to have to find its offense if they are going to challenge Nebraska for the Legend’s Division crown. The good news is the play perennial doormat Indiana and a suspect Iowa team in their next two games. Two teams to get healthy playing against.
Virginia Tech (NR – AP / USA Today Polls)
The Hokies are another team that has failed to live up to its lofty preseason billing. Coach Frank Beamer, normally one that stresses fundamentals, must be on edge with how his team has committed turnovers and penalties this year. There is no doubt that Virginia Tech is one of the more talented teams in the ACC, but their national reputation has definitely taken a hit.
The Hokies lost this past weekend to a very scrappy and upstart Cincinnati Bearcats team after they allowed them to nearly go the length of the field in 1:43 to score the game-winning TD. Quarterback Logan Thomas has thrown for over 100 yards, but he has nearly as many INTs (6) as he does TD passes (8). That ratio, combined with a 52.7% completion percentage will not get it done against some of the better teams in the ACC.
Luckily for Va Tech they play in the ACC’s Coastal Division, widely regarded as the weaker of the two divisions. They have already played and beaten Georgia Tech, so it looks as if the the showdown with Miami (FL) in Coral Gables Nov 1 will likely determine the winner of the Coastal division and the right to take on Florida State, the likely ACC-Atlantic Division winner.
Before getting to the ACC title game, Va Tech still has some intriguing games left on its schedule. The Hokies have a stretch of 3 games in less than four weeks that will likely determine their course for the remainder of the season. Starting on Oct. 20, they face Clemson, then Virginia Tech gets a bye week to prepare for the Hurricanes on Nov. 3. Finally, they have a short turn around as they face-off with Florida State on Thurs. Nov 8.
While the loss to Pitt was terrible, the loss to Cincinnati may not be as bad as originally thought. The Hokies can still right the ship and get into conference contention again by beating Clemson and Florida State, but most importantly, by defeating the Hurricanes.
Arizona Wildcats (NR – AP / USA Today Polls)
Oh my how much of a difference two weeks can make. Two weeks ago, we were talking about the possibility that head coach Rich Rodriguez had invented a new version of the Desert Swarm teams of the 1990s. Well…I guess not. That’s not to say that Arizona has been terrible, they just have run up against two teams that are better then they are right now, in Oregon and Oregon State. And, it doesn’t get any easier this week as the Wildcats travel to Stanford, licking their wounds after tasting defeat for the first time this year.
RichRod brought his read-option style of offense with him to the desert and the results have been remarkable. The Wildcats rank 9th in passing offense and 39th in rush offense. Overall, Arizona has a total offense that ranks 10th nationally. So, putting up points in most games is not the problem, but the defense has been.
Arizona has a total defense that ranks 96th nationally and their pass defense is one of the worst in the FBS at a national rank of 102 while the rush defense also languishes with a rank of 72nd.
Playing in the PAC-12, a decent defense is needed to contend for a conference title. As of the writing of this article, Arizona has to play 6 consecutive teams that are ranked in the top-25 of the polls. They lose the first two games (Oregon, Oregon State), they play Stanford this week. Then they get a bye week before they play host to Washington and USC before hitting the road to face UCLA. They end the year by facing their annual rival, Arizona State who is vastly improved from last year.
Arizona is going to have to improve its defensive play if it wants to knock USC from the PAC-12 South Division pedestal.