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Draft King Analysis

September 3, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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Wow, what a Saturday this has been. Overview off the top: college football excitement galore, NFL cuts with some big names (including three 2010 Pro Bowlers) hitting waivers, talk of Oklahoma looking into joining the Pac-12, and an evening double-feature of SEC teams facing teams from the northwest United States in supposedly neutral sites that were, to be sure, anything but neutral.

The opening weekend of college football has been thrilling thus far, and there are more games still to come tomorrow and on Labor Day evening. The crazy thing is that, before today's games even started, we had early candidates in for Worst Game of the Year and Best Game of the Year.

Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky at LP Field in Nashville was a disaster. LP Field is an exciting place to be when it's packed, but ticket sales were dismal for Kentucky/WKU and the heat wave that has had Nashville setting or nearing record-high temperatures has made outdoor conditions in Middle Tennessee very uncomfortable. Rain late tonight finally cooled things down, but it was anything but cool outside on Thursday night, which likely hurt potential walk-up sales for people on the fence about going.

The sparse attendance didn't do much to build an exciting atmosphere, and the game itself was low-scoring and painful to watch -- even on a large television in HD in an air-conditioned house on ESPNU. There were turnovers aplenty, lots of punting, and overall poor execution by both team's offenses. Kentucky won the game, but particularly with the late part of the game being the sole offering for many (Arizona State was throttling UC Davis on Fox Sports, but not every cable system offered that squash match) it was less than encouraging for Wildcat fans.

Last night was the polar opposite of that, with TCU and Baylor combining for 98 points in an instant classic of a game. I missed the first half of it because I was broadcasting the high school football game between Baylor School (out of Chattanooga) and Father Ryan High School in Nashville. But when that game ended, I quickly made it to my car and punched up 102.5 WPRT-FM, which flipped from Hot AC to sports/talk as "102.5 the Game" this past Monday. Luckily for me the station was airing the TCU/Baylor game, and I listened as the Westwood One broadcasters described the action for me as I headed to my home in the suburbs.

During the high school game, my phone was blowing up with texts, though I had it on silent so I could concentrate on providing color commentary. The Baylor School vs. Baylor University potential for confusion was high, causing a few "Who's On First?" type of exchanges. But the overriding theme was that I needed to get up to speed about the amazing performance that Baylor University redshirt junior QB Robert Griffin, III was putting on in front of a national television audience.

Robert Griffin, III
Robert Griffin threw five TDs and zero interceptions last night versus TCU. (Icon SMI)
Griffin barely missed the cut in the column I wrote in July for the list of quarterbacks to watch for the 2011 season. In reality, I did him an injustice by leaving him off the list. He's 6'2", which is just an inch below the lower end of the range where NFL scouts like a QB to be height-wise and only the slighest of negatives to hold against a prospect. Much more importantly, Griffin threw for an impressive 67% in 2010, plus he showed an ability to read through his receiver progressions quickly and demonstrated a strong field presence to realize when he's should thrown and when put his great speed to use rushing the ball.

By the time the third quarter was over in the TCU/Baylor game, friends of mine were pumping up Griffin via text, some pushing him as a strong Heisman candidate. And there wasn't much I could find to refute that, not with the huge stats he put up against the Horned Frogs and with me being away from home.

As I traveled down Interstate 24 and listened to the radio call of the game, TCU began their comeback. Down 24 in the fourth quarter, they faced what I like to call "24 the hard way" -- three touchdowns and three two-point conversions. It's been done before, but it's next to impossible to pull off. But TCU gave it their best try, scoring a TD and converting a two-point conversion. One down, two to go.

Just as I made it home, TCU scored another TD and then converted a second two-point conversion. The 24-point Baylor lead was down to 8, and the packed house in Waco had gone from raucous to nervous.

TCU managed to get the ball back and score another touchdown, cutting the lead to 47-45. They were on the cusp of completing the aforementioned ultra-rare "24 the hard way", but their potential game-typing two-point conversion attempt pass ended up incomplete.

It wasn't over yet, with Baylor giving up the ball, TCU moving down the field and kicking a field goal, putting the Horned Frogs up 48-47. Baylor Bears fans in attendance fell into a stunned silence.

But there was still time remaining on the clock, and Griffin promptly lead the Bears down the field and into range for a field goal, giving Baylor a 50-48 lead that ultimately held as the final score. What a game. The excitement, the drama, the back-and-forth thrills, all of that was a huge payoff for college football fans watching from coast to coast, on a Friday night, no less, usually a slot reserved for jobber teams.

The action today might not have reached the TCU/Baylor level of intensity, but the games that mostly appeared to be mismatches on paper, in a few cases, turned out to be anything but uneven:

-Auburn made an improbable comeback late at home against Utah State to win a 42-38 heart-stopper. Utah State lead 38-28 with just over two minutes to go, but Auburn scored a touchdown then, improbably, recovered an onside kick. The Tigers had only one timeout left, and in the modern era of the 40 second game clock, Utah State could have run the clock down well within a minute had they recovered the kick. But the Aggies didn't, as Auburn recovered the kick, drove down the field, and promptly punched in the go-ahead TD.

-Middle Tennessee State (MTSU) lead late at Purdue, only to lose the lead and then have a potential game-typing field goal blocked. The Boilermakers paid MTSU $850,000 to play them in a one-off game in West Lafayette, but the Blue Raiders gave the Big Ten representative everything they could handle and then some. MTSU had a legit chance to force overtime with a field goal attempt, but credit Purdue's special teams for busting through the line and blocking the kick, ending the game.

-Two matchups I listed as games to watch today lived up to their billing, with Northwestern winning by seven over a favored Boston College team in Boston and Ball State beating Indiana (also favored) for the second time in a row. Also, I hope some of you followed my advice and tuned into the Wake Forest/Syracuse game on Thursday night. It was online-only, but it featured a furious rally by the Orange to force overtime, where Syracuse ultimately won 36-29. For anyone who had Wake Forest +6 or +6, Syracuse winning by seven had to be a vicious kick to the pills, especially after Wake had a 15 point fourth quarter lead.

-South Florida's win at Notre Dame seemed to shock a large number of people, but it didn't surprise me at all. The Irish were a 10 to 10 point favorite (depending on the book), and I realize that Notre Dame has a great wide receiver in Michael Floyd, but USF going into South Bend and winning didn't strike me as a big deal. It's not 1988 anymore.

-There were some shockers, such as 24-point favorite Oregon State falling at home in overtime to I-AA/FCS Sacramento State. Jacquizz Rodgers is in the NFL, and his brother James Rodgers didn't play as he recovers from knee surgery, but still that one was a stunner. I-AA/FCS Richmond over Duke was surprising as well, and Duke was a double-digit favorite, though that upset wasn't nearly as unexpected as Sacramento State's overtime victory.

Mohamed Sanu
Michael Ford rushed for two TDs in LSU's win over Oregon. (Icon SMI)
-The double main event tonight was Oregon vs. LSU in Dallas and Boise State vs. Georgia in Atlanta. I had no idea which way Oregon/LSU would go, and to LSU's credit they took advantage of some uncharacteristic Oregon mistakes. The Ducks really, really missed having suspended CB Cliff Harris, not only for pass coverage but also for his kick returning. The muffed punt that LSU recovered deep in Oregon territory was a big momentum changer.

LSU's offensive output isn't as great as the final score might lead you to believe, but the Tigers showed that their defense is for real with how they held the Ducks in check. To point, the longest completion made by Oregon QB Darron Thomas was for 18 yards, and even more impressively is that LSU held RB LaMichael James, a likely future NFL first-round pick, to just 57 yards rushing on 18 carries, which averaged out to a paltry 3.17 yards per rush.

As for Georgia and Boise State, the Broncos did what I expected as far as outplaying the Bulldogs. There's a reason that Boise State was a 3 to 3 point favorite despite the game being played in Atlanta. Boise State doesn't have the WR depth they did in 2010, but Kellen Moore is still there. Multiple people commented to me today their surprise that he hadn't graduated yet, but that's because Moore played as a redshirt freshman beginning in 2008. Jared Zabransky was the QB when Boise State beat Oklahoma in one of the best college football games of the 2000s, the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, but Moore has become the face of Boise State football with his solid play since debuting in 2008.

Georgia is hurting big-time at the running back position, with the loss of RB Caleb King to academic ineligibility hurting the worst since King, as he has shown in his brief time with the Minnesota Vikings, has NFL quality talent. Boise State RB Doug Martin had a strong showing tonight, picking up where he left off from last season's 1,260 yard campaign. He rushed for 27 touchdowns combined in 2009 and 2010 -- it's because he's very talented. Not many 5'9" guys who weigh 210 pounds can move as quickly as he can. And, for those who doubt Nate Potter's ability, he had a great game from what I saw at the left offensive tackle position.

One thing I was wrong about in Thursday's column was in saying that Colorado at Hawaii was the most interesting late game for tonight. That honor fell to Louisiana Tech at Southern Miss. Despite a curious 9 p.m. local (CDT) kickoff time, and despite rain that fell very heavy at times, the game ended up being a down-to-the-wire thriller that Southern Miss won on a late field goal. The game didn't end until well past midnight local time, testing the willpower of the fans of both teams to endure both the rain and the exhaustion of a game that went late into the night.

The great thing for college football fans is that it's not over yet. Two games are on the docket tomorrow with Marshall/West Virginia at 3:30 p.m. EDT and SMU/Texas A&M at 7:30 p.m. EDT. As for Monday night, a suspension-riddled Miami Hurricanes team faces off with Maryland at 8 p.m. EDT.

Finally, NFL fans, don't think I've forgotten about you. The pro season begins on Thursday night as the New Orleans Saints travel to Green Bay to face off with the defending Super Bowl champion Packers at 8:30 p.m. EDT, leading into a full docket of NFL games for the weekend. The college football slate is strong as well, highlighted by a pair of SEC games involving ranked teams (presuming Auburn is still ranked after their desperation win over Utah State), though lacking any huge matchups like what we saw tonight with Oregon taking on LSU.


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