Welcome to a new NCB feature, The Huddle, wherein NCB’s football writers get together on Google Docs and shoot the breeze about all things college football. We remember that time you got in trouble for listening to podcasts in your cubicle, so we decided to put it in written form. You’re welcome!
BRIAN (@_bhall), NCB COLLEGE FOOTBALL CONTRIBUTOR: Hi Taylor.
TAYLOR (@taylorvenema), LEAD COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER: Hello Brian. What should we talk about?
BRIAN: I guess college football, but stop me if you have other ideas.
TAYLOR: Let’s start out west and work our way east. What in the world is going on at USC?
BRIAN: It sounds like Sark has a serious issue. So much so that the brass at the university are so worried that he has to take a forced leave of absence. That’s scary for a number of reasons. Also, their team isn’t very good either.
TAYLOR: About twenty minutes ago I thought they might have been headed to Bo Pelini territory, where it was plain the team wasn’t very good but still might not lose enough games to actually justify firing him . . . now they’re in an even more awkward position.
BRIAN: Assuming that Sark can’t get his issues fixed (both on the field and off), who is the most likely replacement at a place like USC? Are any big names really on the market at this point in the season?
TAYLOR: #ChipKelly4Trojans . . . I was joking but actually I would love that. (Side note: is it just me or has 2015 been ridiculous for mid- (or pre-)season firings/leaves of absence/etc.? I can’t remember another season where so many coaches have gotten in trouble.)
BRIAN: Yeah, the first indicator that this year was going to get weird was the whole Tim Beckman dilemma over at Illinois. And then just recently North Texas fired their head coach on the spot after losing to an FCS team, in which they allowed 66 points. Couple that with Muschamp’s defense under performing and the Lane Kiffin rumors we got amidst some animosity towards his offense a few weeks ago, and this year has been crazy to say the least.
TAYLOR: Plus Randy Edsall’s firing and Kyle Flood’s suspension (#B1G #B1G #B1G) there’s been carnage aplenty.
BRIAN: SPEAKING OF THE B1G, don’t look now, but I think Michigan might be the most impressive team in the conference, and one of the most impressive in the country. An early loss to a very good* Utah team hasn’t hurt them at all moving forward, and they’re starting to bring everything together at just the right time.
*I think they’re good, but the Pac-12 is weird this year
TAYLOR: Sheesh, they’re scary. I can only think of a handful of teams throughout recent years whom I’m genuinely relieved my team doesn’t have to play. And to think, the pollsters still have them at fourteenth . . . but who WOULDN’T they be favored over of the teams ranked above them?
BRIAN: Honestly, even Baylor and TCU, two teams with top-flight offenses, might have trouble getting anything going against the defense the Wolverine’s are fielding right now, and they’re the only ones I can really think of who might be able to do any damage to that squad. But just looking at their schedule, I see no reason why a Michigan team that plays like it did last weekend can’t win out and shock both Michigan State and Ohio State throughout the year, especially with how mediocre both have looked thus far.
TAYLOR: Give me your playoff ballot as of right now.
BRIAN: Based purely on how teams have performed up to this point, I’d have to say Alabama, Utah, Baylor, and Michigan. Alabama has one weird loss on the back of five turnovers and some crazy offense plays on the part of Ole Miss, however the Tide has looked so good even with that loss that it’s hard to put somebody like Florida in over them. Utah has to go because they’ve beaten better teams so far than Clemson, another team that I’m not quite comfortable putting in yet. Baylor gets the nod over TCU, a team that’s starting to show cracks against teams that shouldn’t be hanging with them, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Eventually the Horned Frogs will get tripped up by a defense that can actually stall them and they’ll run into trouble at this rate, whereas Baylor has shown no causes for concern yet. And finally, I can’t think of another team in the country that has improved as much/has a chance to finish on as high a note as Michigan except for maybe Florida, so I’m totally ok with giving the Wolverines the nod at this point.
TAYLOR: Me too. If I had a ballot Utah would be up top (with the nation’s most impressive win, over the team I’d put at number two, Michigan). I’d put Baylor third (watching Baylor bomb hopeless teams into oblivion is one of the many things that makes college football great). And for the fourth slot . . . right now it would be LSU, but that November 7th visit to Tuscaloosa might as well be a playoff game unto itself. Although the Tide have to visit A&M this weekend and that game will be pretty illuminating, too.
BRIAN: Yeah, the margin for error is certainly much smaller for Alabama than LSU or Florida, two teams in the SEC that still have legitimate shots. However, I don’t like how closely LSU is playing mediocre teams like Syracuse. I know that it’s possible to read too much into those, but with the way Alabama is playing, I don’t see them losing another game on their schedule, including when the Tigers come to town. But I think we’re both implying that the SEC’s “playoff spot” is the most up-for-grabs, currently, no?
TAYLOR: I’d say so. Over the summer we all kinda thought the Pac-12 would play itself out but so far Utah’s hanging in there . . . can’t say I’m surprised the ACC is the one that hasn’t separated itself from the pack. Clemson has been good but in a completely unspectacular fashion. Same goes for Florida State. Let’s flip our attention to this week: first, the return of Tuesday #MACtion ([insert praise hands emoji here]). Thursday: UCLA visits Stanford. Who do you like?
BRIAN: This is an interesting game for both teams, but I think I like Stanford in this one. The defense has been solid all season, and with the way most other defense play in the Pac-12, their offense is going to start producing. . .probably. But pencil me in as thinking Stanford wins this one.
TAYLOR: Fun fact: since Northwestern held Stanford to 3.87 yards per play in week one, the Cardinal have exploded for 7.35 in their four subsequent games.
BRIAN: Still looking at Thursday though, how hot will Gus Malzahn’s seat become if Auburn drops their game against Kentucky?
TAYLOR: I’m the biggest Gus fan there is, so his team’s collapse this season has me despondent.
Good thing Auburn is always nice and cautious before making a coaching change, right?
BRIAN: It’s really crazy how similar Gus’s career arc is following Gene Chizik’s, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve seen something like this happen at any other school in the country, and yet it’s happening for the second time in like five seasons at Auburn.
TAYLOR: At any other school he’d be safe. But Auburn, y’all’re crazy. Do we acknowledge Iowa?
BRIAN: I will acknowledge Iowa to the point that I look forward to seeing their season collapse at the end of the year, because if we’re being honest, that’s absolutely what’s going to happen.
TAYLOR: One quick thing: IOWA FANS READING THIS, YOUR TEAM IS THE GREATEST IN THE WORLD, YOUR WOMEN/CAMPUS/STATE ARE THE PRETTIEST, AND C.J. BEATHARD IS TOTALLY A DARK HORSE HEISMAN CANDIDATE AND IT’S A BLASTED SHAME THE BIASED NATIONAL MEDIA ISN’T RECOGNIZING HIM. Everyone else: yeah, I just can’t see them sustaining what they’ve done so far. Although every few years Ferentz accomplishes magic. And then gets his contract extended.
BRIAN: I’d agree, but looking at that Iowa team from the perspective of a Nebraska fan, and they don’t scare me in the slightest. I’m worried about Rutgers and Purdue at this point, and yet Iowa’s style of play just doesn’t really worry me at all. Maybe that’s me being delusional, but I can’t help but think that Iowa is going to stumble down the stretch, especially if they’re matched up with a solid bowl opponent, like Cal or somebody of the sort.
TAYLOR: Color me a believer if they look the part Saturday at Northwestern. The Cats can ugly up a game. We’ll see how the Hawkeyes respond. Elsewhere Kansas State hosts Oklahoma in a game I would not have thought winnable for the Wildcats, who have managed to post two very impressive-looking losses. Does Oklahoma stumble again?
BRIAN: You know, I was chastised pretty harshly by some Wildcat supporting family members of mine after my harsh preview of them when they played Oklahoma State, so I’d be a fool not to at least acknowledge how close they’ve come to beating some pretty good teams in the Cowboys and TCU. However, I still think Oklahoma is a strong team (heh, “strong”) . . .
BRIAN: . . . and them losing the Red River Rivalry didn’t really surprise me at all. I mean, it seems like every few years the team in that game that’s absolute garbage ends up winning anyway. I think Oklahoma recovers and wins handily against K-State, who will likely be hungover from the near-miss against TCU. Speaking of Texas teams, you’re excited for the Tide’s bout with Texas A&M this weekend. How do you think that plays out?
TAYLOR: That defensive line of A&M’s is the goshdang truth. Johnny Manziel antics aside, what made 2012 A&M special was a sneaky-good defense and while the 2015 Ags have some question marks on offense, I think this defense is good enough to shut down the Tide, even with Derrick Henry doing Derrick Henry things. Plus we all know how up-tempo spread-’em-out offenses give the Nick Saban headaches.
BRIAN: That’s a good point, although if I’m on Alabama’s schedule this year, after they’ve already been handed one loss and Saban is passing out rants to the media like they’re candy, I’m absolutely terrified of that team. I think A&M and LSU both have legitimate shots of beating the Tide, but I don’t think it happens. Call me a slave to the mystique of Nick Saban.
TAYLOR: Can you imagine the #takes if Saban loses another one, especially one to the team that cracked the Tide’s veneer in 2012? There’ll be blood in the water.
BRIAN: Well a week ago I’d have told you the #Saban2Texas rumors would start flying across the internet, but now I think it’s safe to say nobody’s going to be cultivating that rumor-mill. Staying in the SEC, how do you like LSU and Florida going at it this weekend?
TAYLOR: Florida seems to be on a similar arc as Michigan right now, starting ugly and finding their footing. That blowout win over Ole Miss really surprised me, I was set to pencil Ole Miss into the playoff after they beat Bama. Although LSU was a team I had pegged for about 6-6 before the season started, and they’ve gone all Leonard Fournette all over everybody. You mentioned before that LSU had let teams like Syracuse hang around when all they needed to do was pound the rock one thousand times. I have the strangest feeling this is the game where Les tries a fake field goal from his own forty or something.
BRIAN: Well it is a night game in Baton Rouge, so that’s a really solid guess at this point. And you mentioned that LSU really just needs to run the dang ball with Fournette to win games, however Florida’s defensive front is nasty and mean, and I’m not sure that even he can find much headway against them. I think this one is a tossup, but if Florida wins it, I might be replacing the Tide with the Gators on my ballot, SEC title game notwithstanding, of course.
TAYLOR: Let’s see, we’ve got Sark, Michigan, Iowa, playoffs, and the two big SEC games of the week. Anything else we need to cover?
BRIAN: Well, we could joke about in what way Nebraska will break its fans hearts this week?
TAYLOR: Minnesota tries to go for two to take the lead with less than a minute on the clock, but falls short and trails by one. The Gophers then inexplicably kick it deep and Jordan Stevenson accidentally takes a knee back into the end zone, getting a safety and giving Minnesota the win. PEACE OUT.