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Leading up to the seventh weekend of play in 2011, most media outlets ran stories this week analyzing the beginning of the season and looked ahead toward the remainder of regular-season play, conference championships and postseason bowl games. You can have the first half of the season hashed, rehashed, even "smothered and covered."
For example, ESPN.com has identified the "Midseason All-Americans," looked ahead to the "second act" and offered up "midseason overviews." CBS Sportsline joined in (and they were hardly alone) with projections for the Heisman and predictions for bowl game match-ups. And, not surprisingly, the annual "BCS Doomsday Scenario" articles appeared this week.
Our favorite bit of hyperbole on that score came from Chad Forde, who is hoping for "a total BCS meltdown that sparks coast-to-coast outrage."
Among the undefeateds, only Alabama or LSU will remain undefeated after November 5th; Boise may lose to TCU (or San Diego State); LSU could also lose to Arkansas or Auburn; Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (both 5-0) meet on December 3rd; and 6-0 Georgia Tech and Michigan will lose eventually, as will Illinois and Kansas State (5-0). For the latter, see below.
All well and good, we suppose - all this material deserves coverage. But we don't find this strain of mid-year stories compelling.
Another classic topic appeared this week as well: The 2011 "surprise teams." Any team unranked at the start of the season with a record of at least 4-1 seems to qualify for this category.
Many teams still undefeated or with only one loss going into the weekend started the season among The Other 25 and thus we don't consider them true surprises.
Examples include: Arizona State (#26), Houston (#37), Washington (#48) and Georgia Tech (#50).
We have trouble believing that a surprise team could begin the season receiving Top 25 votes and still flabbergast the pundits in mid-October.
Further, some of these so-called Cinderellas benefit from weak schedules and have beat up on cupcakes to start the season. Exhibit A: Georgia Tech, with a schedule strength ranked (as of Week Seven) at #92 in the country. Exhibit B: Houston (#96).
We consider two teams genuine surprises: Illinois (6-0, #16 in AP) and Kansas State (5-0, #17). The Wildcats boast a decent strength of schedule (#28); the Illini fall into the middle of the pack at a respectable #66. Both teams started outside The Other 25 and play in major conferences (Big Ten, Big 12) where the sledding can get rough by Week Five. While both are undefeated, K-State gets our kudos by also posting a near-perfect (5-1) mark against the spread.
Look for one or the other, if not both, to crap out in the next two weeks. Kansas State faces Texas Tech at Lubbock on Saturday and while Illinois may make it past Ohio State (3-3) and Purdue (3-2), we wouldn't want to bet on it given the Illini's tradition of collapse - especially given that Ron "I didn't know what the score was" Zook is involved.
Thus, rather than burden you with more midseason drivel, we are turning the concept upside down. (Aren't we clever?) We now present the inaugural Midseason Mishaps; alternately known (starting now) as the First-Half Follies and (to some) the Halfway Halfwits.
Spencer Keith, QB*: Kent State Golden Flashes (1-5, 0-2 Mid American Conference)
Tied with Akron for seventh (i.e., last) place in the East Division of the MAC, The Golden Flashes long to return to 1973. The Age of Aquarius saw Kent State seize its sole conference title, only to be followed by three decades of bumpy road. While Kent labors at the bottom of the standings today, the late 90s was a truly dark period. In 1998, KSU limped through a winless season.
The Flashes turned the ship around a few seasons later with the arrival of dual-threat quarterback Josh Cribbs, who boosted the Flashes' record to 6-5 in 2001.
Current QB Spencer Keith took the reins in the 2009-10 season, putting up good numbers in his first season (2,147 yards for a 126.7 rating) and continuing into his second (2,212, 111.3), but he has fallen on hard times this season.
Through six games, the junior has compiled just 505 yards, completing 44.7 percent of his attempts with more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (3).
Suffice to say, the struggling quarterback did nothing to endear himself to Coach Hazell by throwing a pick on just his second pass. After missing on his first throw, Keith lobbed a pass into the waiting arms of NIU lineman Nabal Jefferson, who rumbled in for a touchdown.
To date, Keith's quarterback rating is 45.4 . . . which is not good. For reference, the highest rating possible in the NCAA is 1,216.6 (completing every pass for a 99-yard TD) with a basement of -731.6 (completing every attempt for a loss of 99 yards per play).
There is, in short, room for improvement.
On the other hand, things could be much, much worse. We may never know the final rating, as Hazell seems set on continuing with Keith's backup.
Note: This July, Keith joined three other Kent players on a trip to Tuscaloosa to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. The players helped residents of the area recover from damage wreaked by storms in April. Keith pitched in with his teammates to help rebuild and restore houses in the community, drawing the appreciation of Alabama head coach (and KSU grad) Nick Saban. Which leaves us in the awkward position of jeering a good-hearted guy who is suffering through a tough season. Our bad, Spence. We hope you pull it together.
Bonus: Only one quarterback could conceivably approach the upper limit of the QBR. That would be the Tecmo Bowl version of Joe Montana. To max out his rating, Montana could simply heave the ball to 8-bit teammate Jerry Rice and score on every play. Ready, DOWN!
Yes, we realize Nintendo Montana played for the NFL's 49ers (or "San Francisco" in Tecmo Bowl) and thus would be technically ineligible for the hypothetical top NCAA QB rating. We don't care. We just wanted to hear the Tecmo Bowl music for the sake of old times, when the world was wide, our future ran to a distant horizon, and the code to happiness was Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.
* Somewhat arbitrarily selected from all NCAA FBS QBs (that's an acronym trifecta, for those of you keeping score) with a minimum of 100 pass attempts.
Runner Up: Tron Martinez, RB**: Marshall Thundering Herd (2-4, 0-1 Conference USA)
Tron Martinez measures only 5'-9" (less than The College Football Reporter) and weighs in at 186 lbs, so you might say he gets some leeway due to his small stature. But he has gotten the ball from the Thundering Herd 73 times to date, so you can't say he hasn't gotten an opportunity.
Also under consideration were Jawan Jamison of Rutgers (91 att., 243 yds, 0 TDs) and Brynn Harvey of UCF (61 att., 326 yds, 0 TDs).
While Martinez lags far behind most backs in total yardage, we can't help but wonder how he might look on a better team.
For example, he picked up 72 yards in nine plays versus Ohio but Marshall was playing from behind nearly the entire game and lost 44-7 to the Bobcats.
Major college programs, including Virginia Tech and North Carolina, heavily recruited Martinez after he won the Peninsula (Virginia) District's offensive player of the year award by rushing for 1,706 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2008.
But shortly after landing a scholarship at Old Dominion, Tron's life hit the skids. In April 2009, the Hampton police swept him up (along with 13 other suspects) in a raid targeting the so-called "36th Street Bang Squad."
Martinez faced a felony charge of gang participation along with robbery, maiming by mob, malicious wounding and others. Looking at 11 felonies and two misdemeanors in total, Martinez spent 75 days in jail in '09 before all but one charge - a misdemeanor - was dropped, resulting in a sentence of 100 hours of community service.
Martinez continues to struggle. After making his way to Marshall in 2010, his prospects improved. Yet despite being projected as the starting back for '11, he ran into trouble again in June when he was arrested for disorderly conduct and obstructing an officer.
With the charges dropped pending his completion of (additional) community service, Martinez may have one (and only one, despite the tolerant attitude at Marshall) more chance. Failing that, we doubt any program will have anything to do with him, and his college career will be over. We join with Mike Smith, Tron's former high school coach, in wishing Martinez all the best - statistics be damned.
** Also selected via a qualitative judgment of all running backs with about 60 carries and approximately 300 yards in rushing. And an interesting backstory.
The Sports Seal's Picks, Week Seven
Year-to date-record: 10-5-1
Saturday, October 15
Purdue @ Penn State (-12), 11:00AM Central
Iowa State @ Missouri (-15.5), 1:00PM Central
Kansas State @ Texas Tech (-3.5), 6:00PM Central*
* Buy the hook!
The Free Range Chicken's Picks, Week Five
Year-to-date record: 6-6
Saturday, October 15
Toledo (-8) @ Bowling Green, 11:00AM Central; Toledo by 24
Baylor @ Texas A&M (-8.5), 11:00AM Central; Baylor by 12.5
Alabama (-27.5) @ Ole Miss, 5:00PM Central; Alabama by 50.5
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