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Just One More Game To Talk About...

The 2006 college football season officially has come and gone. All that remains is to rank 'em all one more time and start preparing for the offseason. Before we do, though, a few thoughts on last night's game, and a big question for SMQ.

Thoughts first.

That swooshing sound you hear? That's Troy Smith's draft stock plummeting. The problem isn't that he had a bad game - all the good ones do - it's how he was so robustly contained. One particularly relevant misfire came when Smith - who stands 5-11 on a good day - skipped a pass off the top of a Gator defender's helmet. Equally troubling, Smith's "elusiveness" factor against the quickest and fastest defense he'd faced to date was negligent. He was caught from behind in one instance, and generally failed to show much ability to excel with swarming speedsters swarming him. Now, I'm pretty wary of putting too much evaluative capital in one game, and happen to think Smith's got a decent shot at making a nice professional, but this game just had to hurt his draft stock. There will be more doubters than existed before. Count on it.

Of course, Smith's struggles were only a symptom of the real illness: Ohio State's offensive line was abused badly last night. This was the most confusing element of last night's game, as Michigan's defensive line is monstrous, too. Why the Buckeye linemen were so thoroughly on their heels last night is a bit of a mystery. Whatever the cause - I haven't rewatched tape of the game or anything - it was crippling.

I feel strongly about needing to spend some time talking about the coaches. Not so much their performance (Urban Meyer licked Jim Tressel last night), but how they're perceived. There's an annoying tendency to annoint the most recent victor a "genius" of some sort, or, my real pet peeve, to start carving out the "Give Coach _ 30+ days to prepare and...."  These make for convenient copy, but wind up grossly simplifying what actually transpires on the field and completely ignoring the concept of variability in football. Some coaches are better than others - certainly - but more often than not these games and, yes, seasons, are a matter of timing and opportunity. It's not genius, and it's not quite luck. It's something in between - where preparation meets opportunity. Some nights, and in all likelihood season, Urban Meyer will look like a goat. That's how it works. Just keep that in mind.  

James Laurinaitis is the most overrated player in college football. Aaron Ross didn't quite deserve to win the Thorpe, but he at least belonged in the conversation. Laurinaitis is just plain mediocre. Watching him last night, I was reminded of something that Texas' hoops coach Rick Barnes likes to talk about: "false hustle." In hoops, it relates to the guy that dives into the stands for a ball he has no chance of saving, and so on. Well, Laurinaitis isn't exactly guilty of false hustle, but I think he benefits from being around the ball in the same way that false hustle hoops players benefit from appearing to be going all out. As the middle linebacker, of course, Laurinaitis is supposed to be around every play. But he's also supposed to be making plays - not just be near them. He's in on plenty of tackles, by default, but he misses far too many, he's late cutting off angles, he's atrocious at shedding blocks, his pass coverage is below average, and he's not very fast. The man looks the part of the ideal middle linebacker but he most certainly does not play like it. Florida took advantage of him all night long. Smart.

You have to feel good for Chris Leak, a good kid who - even in the midst of a damn successful season - never could seem to shirk the critics. I don't like to say this often, but he "deserved" that one. I was happy for him. Good kid, good player.

Watching the game last night, I was even more grateful than I already was that Texas won its championship in the Rose Bowl. Just an entirely different atmosphere.

One final note before posing my question to SMQ. There was one good thing about last night's game being a blowout: the lack of drama made it all that much easier to tune out Charles Davis. Given his commentary during the Boise State-Oklahoma classic, I'm not sure I could have handled him stumbling through a thriller in the title game. He's just insanely awful.

And now the question. Not long ago, SMQ and I exchanged a series of "Dispatches" in which we dipped into a bag of philosophical questions. One of SMQ's ideas kept popping in my head last night as Florida pulled kept extending its lead and the outcome became settled. So, let's revisit the question: SMQ, based on last night's performance, everyone will say that the Gators are "clearly" better than Ohio State. They beat them by a huge margin, statistically and on the scoreboard. There are no arguments about whether a one-loss Ohio State team deserves some sort of rematch, and there exist no sane fans wondering whether the voters who placed Florida in the title game over Michigan made a mistake. Yet, on December 4th, this was not the case. On that date, of course, there was great debate about which two teams were the 'best' in the country. Looking further back, Florida was damned fortunate to beat South Carolina in Gainesville this season. Watching last night's game, though, you'd have thought the 2006 Gators probably just came off one whale of a regular season in which they waxed everyone and everything in their path. What gives?

Doesn't last night's result give us reason to embrace even more strongly a holistic, resume-based approach to team evaluation? I mean, we can't honestly say that Florida's four touchdowns better than Ohio State. I don't even think you could say Florida would win that game eight times out of ten. So as everyone races to rubber stamp this season and the teams within, maybe it's time to revisit those ideas about how we conceptualize 'better' and 'best.' No?

Update [2007-1-9 11:8:21 by HornsFan]: Not surprisingly, 54b's leading a related discussion amongst the readers on this very topic.