Don't Forget The 'D' In Death Valley
By Steve Barnes
Finally, the game of the season, again.
By my count, Florida State's visit to Clemson on Saturday is the second "game of the season." In the first 'GOTS,' Alabama beat Texas A&M.
This one has been built as a battle of the offenses. The Tigers, led by senior Heisman candidate Tajh Boyd; FSU, paced by freshman Heisman candidate Jameis Winston. The airwaves also have been inundated with talk about the other offensive weapons. There is Sammy Watkins, the all-everything Clemson receiver and kick returner. There is the Seminoles' three-headed monster at tailback, along with tight end Nick O'Leary.
But there is an aspect many seem to have missed in this one: These teams play a little defense too. Florida State leads the ACC in defense; Clemson is fourth.
Clemson's Vic Beasley leads the league in sacks, racking up 1.5 per game, and teammate Stephone Anthony has eight tackles for loss.
The 'Noles take more of a team approach when it comes to stopping the opposition. A couple of April's top draft picks, should both declare, linebacker Christian Jones and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, lead a strong front. Defensive back Lamarcus Joyner is the best in the ACC and sophomore Ronald Darby has been a pleasant surprise.
By the way, if the defenses aren't impressive, take a look at the special teams. Chandler Catanzaro is as clutch as can be for the Tigers and FSU freshman Roberto Aguayo has exceeded all expectations.
ONE SNEAKY DUDE: A quick polling of the best coach in the SEC would provide a list of the usual suspects. Saban, Miles, Spurrier would all pop up, but another coach quietly is making a name for himself at his school.
Missouri's win over Georgia last week was the 96th in coach Gary Pinkel's career at Mizzou. He is just five wins from tying the school record of 101 held by Don Faurot from 1935-42. That Faurot guy wasn't bad: Mizzou's stadium is named for him.
This is the third time the Tigers have started 6-0 since Pinkel took over 13 years ago.
With all due respect to Saban and even Gus Malzahn, the SEC coach of the year at the midway point resides in Columbia, Mo.
SPARTY TOUGH ON D: Michigan State is tied with Nebraska for the lead in the Big Ten's Legends Division and it is easy to tell why. MSU not only leads the nation in total defense, but it leads the conference in five defensive categories.
The Spartans host Purdue this week, so look for the defense to put up more stifling numbers.
The rest of the schedule is favorable for Michigan State. Division games against Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern look winnable and, of course, Ohio State does not appear on the Spartans' schedule.
ONE LAST SHOT, REBELS: In my preseason "bold predictions" story, I prognosticated Ole Miss would beat either Alabama, Texas A&M or LSU this season.
The first pick went down the tubes when Ole Miss forgot its offensive game plan in Oxford and Bama took advantage, 25-0. The Rebels let one get away against Johnny Football last week, 41-38. This week is my last chance to seem smart. LSU comes to Vaught-Hemingway. Even after beating Florida a week ago, this is not a trap game for the Tigers as Furman waits next.
If I miss this one, no one can be surprised. In the preseason I also picked the Rebels to beat Auburn and lose to Texas. Oh well, live and learn.
THE WKU HOUDINIS: What is with the disappearing act at Western Kentucky this year? WKU opened the year with a win over intrastate rival Kentucky, then promptly dropped games at Tennessee and South Alabama. Tennessee is somewhat understandable, but South Alabama is in its first full year of FBS eligibility.
The Toppers' Sybil-like season continued as they beat preseason Sun Belt favorite Louisiana-Monroe, Morgan State and Navy and then lost to Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday.
WKU next faces Troy on Oct. 26. Western and Troy are two of the teams in the league with a 4-3 record and the four wins is the most for any Sun Belt team. The Hilltoppers still must face Army and Arkansas State after hosting the Trojans and could be looking at a 6-6 record. Troy still plays ULM, Louisiana and Ole Miss, so 6-6 could be in the cards for the Trojans.
The Sun Belt champion might be the lone team standing during bowl season.
THE BEST GAME ON THE OTHER COAST: While FSU-Clemson garners the most attention in the college football world, a game on the left coast looks pretty good. Stanford will try to bounce back from its first loss of the year when it hosts UCLA in a Top-15 battle. UCLA is 5-0 on the year atop the Pac-12 South.
Stanford is tied with Oregon State for second in the North behind Oregon. The Cardinal takes on Oregon next week, but will look for any advantage to stay in the conference hunt with a win against the Bruins.
The Cardinal made a move Monday to try and shore up its defense. Luke Kaumatule, sophomore from Honolulu, has moved from tight end to defensive end this week. Although Kaumatule has started this year, Stanford has three healthy tight ends and felt it could afford to make the move. On the year, Kaumatule has caught three passes for 16 yards.
HEISMAN POSES AND POSERS: Yes, welcome to the first round of the college football playoffs. Not for a team, for a Heisman candidate. It will be tough for Jameis Winston and Tajh Boyd to both stay in the race once the two face off in Death Valley. Unless they post video-game stats, the loser of the game could well be out of the running for the hardware.
Whomever wins, they still are chasing Marcus Mariota of Oregon. The magician takes on Washington State at home this week and should continue to impress voters.
A name I honestly thought was not in the running is back: Johnny Manziel. He brought Texas A&M back to beat Ole Miss on a field goal as time expired last week and this week gets Auburn. With Vandy, UTEP, Mississippi State, LSU and Missouri left, he has plenty of time to produce highlights.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR OR TWO CAN BRING: In case anyone has forgotten, Saturday is the annual game between Southern California and Notre Dame.
Each team is 4-2 on the year, a far cry from where each was in 2012. Last year, Notre Dame played for the national title and USC was the preseason top-ranked team.
This year, there is not a lot of excitement in South Bend, although Notre Dame should beat the Trojans, Air Force and Navy. The Pitt game is a toss-up and the Irish will have its hands full with BYU and Stanford. An 8-3 record is about all Notre Dame can ask Touchdown Jesus for this year.
In Los Angeles, Lane Kiffin was relieved of his duties heading a lost program. Ed Orgeron took over in an interim capacity, but he has about as much chance of getting the gig permanently as Jessica Simpson has of earning a Rhodes Scholarship.
With remaining games against Utah, Oregon State, Cal, Stanford, Colorado and UCLA, two more wins could be all the Trojans can get. A big loss to the Irish, Cardinal and the cross-town Bruins also will hurt recruiting no matter how good Orgeron is at doing it.
Kiffin may have crippled the USC program for five years. Looking at his history with the Oakland Raiders (and who knew anyone could make Al Davis not look like a control freak) and the way he left Tennessee in a lurch, Kiffin might be out of coaching for a while. With his personality, getting a TV gig is no lock either.
What fans are left with this week is a game between an overrated team and one that seems to have quit already, despite a seven-point win over Arizona after the Kiffin dismissal. If the Trojans want to search for the bright side, they have not lost in South Bend since 2001.
If this game was not on NBC — the Notre Dame Broadcast Company — it would have a hard time cracking any other network's schedule.