Three weeks in the books. Are things going as you anticipated?
Joe Bruin in Westwood writes: Hey Kev...Joe Bruin here. After our stellar win over Nebraska, do you have a different perception of us than what you had of us in the preseason?
Kevin Gemmell: Two weeks in a row for you. You are now officially prohibited from saying we never answer your questions for at least a year.
My perception remains the same. Great quarterback, great coaching, still some question marks in the secondary. Jordon James has impressed, but stiffer defensive competition is needed before declaring the Bruins in “great shape” at running back. The offense has also done a good job with its diversity. So far, 15 different Bruins have caught a pass -- which is tied for the most with Cal. And that’s only through two games.
I still believe it will come down to ASU and UCLA for the South Division, which is why I had them first and second, respectively, in my preseason poll. Much like the North, that was written with the stipulation that it’s basically a coin flip.
Ryan in New York writes: Kevin, Kevin, Kevin, as I told your partner in the "way too many crimes committed against rabid college football fans", when are you guys going to wake up and admit that Nebraska hasn't been relevant in ten years? In fact, Bo Pellini has as many conference titles as a Head Coach as Honey Boo Boo. Sure, the Bruins are pretty good, but call me when they play against a quality defense? Nebraska is ranked 105th in total defense. Nevada is 116th. Oh, and I'm sure you're excited about New Mexico State, coming in at 122. Come on guys, you can do better. Give praise where it's due, but keep some perspective too. You're killing us. RC
Gemmell: Uh-uh. Not going to fall into your trap this week, Ryan. While I give you snaps for working in a Honey Boo Boo reference, nothing you say is going to convince me that UCLA’s win in Lincoln was anything short of spectacular.
Even without the emotional factors the Bruins were carrying on their shoulders (and will continue to carry far beyond this football season), it was an impressive win. UCLA’s 18-point deficit was the largest comeback in Lincoln since 1996 (records for comeback wins weren’t available prior to that) so it might have actually been the biggest comeback Nebraska has ever allowed.
UCLA snapped Nebraska’s 14-game winning streak at home against nonconference opponents and the 28 third-quarter points were the most by any team against Nebraska in the history of the program.
Then, you add in the emotional factors, and it’s even more incredible. Nothing but kudos to Jim Mora and his staff for keeping that team together after a terrible tragedy that could have ripped the team apart. He’s handled this team masterfully so far.
Ken in Berkeley, Calif. writes: Kevin, Is it really fair to blame the Cal loss to Ohio St on the Cal defense? The Cal offense didn't score to answer either of Ohio State's first two touchdowns and the Cal offense had a lot of short possessions that didn't give the Cal defense a break. After it was 21-0, the Cal team, offense and defense, played Ohio St pretty even. Isn't the real problem neither offense nor defense being in the game until halftime through the first quarter? Cal now arrives for games two hours before kickoff instead of 2.5. What is standard arrival time across the country?
Gemmell: Every coach is different, and to be honest, I have no clue what the rest of the country does. But I’m guessing that 30 minutes doesn’t make a difference either way.
To your original question -- when your defense gives up 608 yards of offense at home, it’s fair to blame the defense. When your defense goes 0-for-4 on fourth down efficiency, it’s fair to blame the defense. When a backup quarterback completes 65 percent of his throws with four touchdowns and zero interceptions and a QBR rating of 85.5, it’s fair to blame the defense. By the way, the 90-yard pass from Kenny Guiton to Devin Smith was the longest play from scrimmage in Ohio State history. So, congrats.
Now, are there other factors at work? Absolutely. The Bears have been mauled by injuries (wasn’t planning on a pun there, but it works) and a little response from the offense early in the game would be nice. And we’ll tip the cap to Ohio State as well. That’s a pretty good football team.
But right now, all of the pressure is on the offense to win the ball game. And that’s a lot to put on a first-year starter with a bunch of young receivers. It only gets worse in the next three games with trips to Oregon and UCLA with a home game against Washington State sandwiched in between. Oregon is averaging 61.3 points per game and UCLA is averaging 49.5.
At some point, the defense is going to have to step up and make a play and bail the offense out. Right now the Bears are last in the league, yielding 42 points per game, and last in total defense, allowing 556.3 points per game. They are last in rushing defense allowing 262 yards per game, which is almost 100 yards more than the 11th place Cougars (169 ypg). There is a lot of blame to go around -- but your offense, on average, is getting you almost 34 points per game. The defense is going to have to help pick up the slack.
David in Calgary, Alberta writes: Hey Kevin. In this week's Power Rankings, you have UCLA listed above Washington (rightly so I might add), but in the Bowl Predictions, you have the Huskies headed to Texas for the Alamo Bowl while the Bruins stay in Cali for the Holiday Bowl. Shouldn't those be switched?
Gemmell: The power rankings reflect where we believe the teams are at this week -- not necessarily where we think they’ll end up. Ted and I usually have a conversation on Sunday to make sure we’re on the same page (sometimes we’re not, but usually we are). For example, we were both in favor of moving Oregon up to the top spot based on their performance over Tennessee.
Bowl projections -- especially in Week 3 -- are more fodder for conversation than cemented fact. Actually, Ted was dying to take the bowl projections off my hands after I did them last year. He actually promised to cut me in on 25 percent of his salary if he could do them because there’s nothing more exhilarating than doing those at 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning (come to think of it, I haven’t gotten a check yet from him).
So don’t put as much emphasis on linking the two posts. They are independent of each other.
David in Phoenix writes: Kevin, I wanted to check and see if you had one too many glasses of scotch when you decided to rank the team from Tucson 25th? Everyone has known since spring that they would start the season 3-0, because they had 3 horrible teams on their schedule to start the season. Either way, can you send me a bottle of whatever it is you're drinking, it must be good stuff. Other than that, I enjoy reading your work and look forward to the rest of the season.
Gemmell: That has to be the nicest complaint I’ve ever received. And for your kindness, a fictitious bottle of magical scotch will be in your imaginary inbox by the time you get to work.
When I put my top 25 together Sunday mornings, the first thing I look at is wins/losses -- which I think we can all agree is a good starting barometer. Then I look at how the team won … and how the teams around them won. For example, I had Michigan at No. 6 last week, but moved them down to No. 7 and LSU up to six. LSU has a top 25 win and hasn’t struggled with weaker opponents. Michigan has a top 25 win, but struggled last week. They lose a spot.
I don’t buy into the mantra that if you win, you can’t lose ground.
As for Arizona at No. 25, I dropped out Wisconsin and Nebraska, meaning I had to bring in two fresh teams. Texas Tech made sense. They are 3-0 and beat a top 25 team (even if it is a slumping TCU team, it’s still a top 25 win). After that, it was a bunch of 3-0 teams who have beaten up on weak competition. Ted opted for Ole Miss, which struggled against Vanderbilt, didn’t blow out Southeast Missouri State and crushed a terrible Texas team.
I went with Arizona, because all things being equal, why not give the nod to the Pac-12 school? And I’m not completely nuts … the Wildcats are, after all, receiving AP votes. We’ll know more when they play Washington. But for now might as well give a little love to a Pac-12 school when they are basically even with a bunch of other teams.