The first College Football Playoff rankings come out tomorrow, and of all of the meaningless college football rankings, the November CFB Playoff rankings rank right up there. Sure, this is the deliberative body that decides which 4 teams play for the national championship, so their opinion matters. But this is a group that prides itself on NOT following entrenched college football polling norms: lose and drop, win and move up, last year's results matter, 1960s results matter, etc. So while it would be cool to be in the top 4, it doesn't mean that we are in the Top 4 and win out and are in the playoff.
But stepping back, assuming we are in the top 5 tomorrow, I mean, isn't that amazing? Last year's team started 0-3, this year's team was "best case" 9-3 with losses to the 3 best teams on the schedule. Everyone watches the Cards and enjoys college football for different reasons, so far be it from me to tell you what to care about or not care about. But the fact that we have the prohibitive Heisman favorite, our SECOND once-in-a-generation QB in the last 3 seasons, and beat the ever loving crap out of FSU at home while Gameday was in town...I mean, this is an awesome season. We are 7-1! We kicked the crap out of FSU! We have the Heisman! This is good!
Ya, we should have beat UVA by a couple TDs, but this is back to 2013-level angst: we are not destroying teams! Teddy is not going 20-25 passing with 3 TDs and no INTs!!!?!? What is wrong? And that INT was on the WR, who ran the wrong route anyway so it shouldn't count against Teddy.
But, I mean, last year we started off 0-3, and now we are 7-1 and the top-ranked 1-loss team. Lamar is a true sophomore and is having one of the best college football seasons in recorded history!! We are Top-5! The only team that has actually beat us is undefeated and has lost 1 game since Sept. 21, 2014. Bobby is back, we have the #1 offense in the nation and our first Heisman ever!! If you had told 2009-CardsFan922 this, he would have taken it in a heartbeat. I was at some of those awful Krag games. This is heaven compared to that.
But, again, everyone experiences the ridiculousness that is college football in their own way. And it is ridiculous. There have only been 2 seasons with major conference teams going undefeated since 2000 - and one of those was a borderline Big East in 2009. The odds that 4 major college conferences have undefeated champions is insanely small, but if it was going to happen, of course it would happen the year that we are 11-1. But, it's not like this is our best possible chance and the end of an era (like 2013 was). Next year, we return Bobby, Lamar, a ton of talent, and have Clemson at home and we have the confidence to beat FSU. 11-1, Orange Bowl win over like Florida or Wisconsin or something, Heisman winning Lamar back...that's literally our best season in history. This is supposed to be fun.
But, again, it's okay to be mad. We should have won at Clemson. I loathe Dabo. Here are some random thoughts.
1. Jaire Alexander Needs a Nickname
I said this before, but nothing has changed so I'm bringing it up again: Jaire Alexander is having an awesome year, and very few people outside Louisville and opposing offensive coordinators know who he is. He needs a nickname. Back in 2010, the Honey Badger was a cultural zeitgeist YouTube clip, with many people loving it and others backlashing against it. Tyrann Mathieu got some publicity, got a nickname, and all of a sudden he was getting all sorts of college football publicity.
In 2016, the musical Hamilton is a cultural phenomenon with many people loving it and many people backlashing against it. Enter Jaire Alexander. His two interceptions at Virginia on Saturday (and pass breakups when they actually threw at him) added to his season total, which includes a return for a TD, another huge return against FSU, a return for a TD that should have counted against Duke, and multiple forced fumbles. Why hasn't he gotten more attention? Obviously Lamar is the biggest thing in college football, but I think if Jaire had a catchy nickname it might make more of a difference. And the fact that his name is "Alexander" and that Hamilton is still technically famous enough people know about it.....just seems like there should be something there. J DOT HAM? (i.e., things go HAM when he is involved in the play?). The BOOM when it happens? The $10 Founding Corner? I mean, he wears number 10 and name is Alexander, and Alexander Hamilton is on the $10 bill. There's gotta be something there.
Please, someone come up with something. Jaire should go with Lamar to NYC for the Heisman presentation. It would be good for Lamar to have a friend with him.
2. How Do You Solve A Problem Like Lamar?
I mean, Lamar Jackson is unbelievably good at football, and the easiest thing would be to have him run the spread offense with a heavy emphasis on read options the entire game. But, obviously the emphasis the last few games has been on making him a pocket QB, and I can completely understand that. First, teams are going to try to scheme to keep him away from just running all over you, and make him pass. Showing he can do that will make a huge difference. Second, over the course of a season, the odds of not just catastrophic injury but nicks and bruises goes up the more he runs, so the more you can prevent him from getting hit, the better. Third, turning him into an NFL QB is part of the deal, and that's what Bobby is trying to do for sure. Finally, you know he can run, and he's still just a sophomore, so getting him better at the passing game against live fire defenses only helps in the long-run (i.e., next season which is The Year that we really should be worried about actually making the CFB, this season is a bonus).
So I can understand the gameplan the last couple games, even if it led to a closer-than-it-should-be game at UVA.
ALLL THATTTT SAID.....any time you have it 3rd down and 3 or less and you are going for it on 4th down, you HAVE TO HAVE TO HAVE TO HAVE TO run the read option at least once with him. Lamar is so good. If we need 3 yards, and he has 2 chances to get it, I think we'll get it. Doesn't matter what the situation is. So yesterday, when we are driving in the first half and we run Jeremy Smith for a loss and then the play action fake on 4th down - I get it, if it works its genius, but come on, don't overthink it, just get the first down with Lamar on the read option.
And, of course, that 4th down pass to Cole was fucking magic and I still have no idea how they converted it. But, 3rd and short on the game-winning, season-in-the-balance drive....run the read option! Don't overthink it! You have Lamar! What are you doing?????? It worked, but man it almost didn't.
3. Early Season Plays - Why Saving?
For some reason we don't run trick plays, or plays with a lot of misdirection. There are three plays that come to mind that we ran against Charlotte and Syracuse that for some reason we have not run since, even though it seems like they would work. First, the fake RB swing pass that is actually a tunnel screen to Traveon Samuel - that seems like a great play! Run that again! Second, Reggie has not thrown a pass out of the backfield all season - they ran one against Syracuse that would have worked if Reggie would have just caught the pitch. Why not try that again? Third, the wheel route to Radcliffe that he dropped at Cuse - again, wide open.
I guess we haven't needed to, but still, seems like we have some of those plays available and have not run them at all.
4. College Football Playoff Realpolitik
Look, Washington is the only team we care about, besides our own, at this point. They need to lose, preferably twice, and we need to win out. There are a couple considerations here. First, the CFP is only 2 years old, so we don't have a TON of data about what they will or won't do. But in those 2 seasons, there have not been 2 teams from the same conference, much less division. Also, in those two seasons, as discussed above, the CFB intentionally did things in a way that was contrary to traditional polls. First, FSU was defending BCS champions and undefeated, and the CFB kept them a low seed all season in 2014. Second, the TCU/Baylor thing in 2014 - somehow OSU jumped them both the last week despite TCU/Baylor both kicking the shit out of their opponents the last week of the season. And, TCU/Baylor was also classic in the reasoning for having one over the other- I can't remember exactly who lost to whom, and it doesn't matter, but essentially the CFB had the team that lost to other team ranked higher, because the team that beat the other team lost to a bad team, so it was like, well, their loss was to a worse team, therefore they are below the team they beat, which lost to a better team, which is still below them even though they are "better" - it didn't make sense then and makes even less sense now.
Ultimately, we are actually the team this year that benefits the most from "ratings and money drive the system" - Lamar 11-1 #4 seed Cards v. #1 Bama would be the DREAM for the CFB ratings/money crowd. And all that we need is Washington to lose once - and preferably twice - and the CFB can do that, and use whatever tortured logic they want to. Just remember, whatever crazy ass things they say Tuesday night, nothing matters until the last rankings - the CFB committee will completely change their rankings the last week no matter what, because they can.
5. James Quick
Ugh. We have to talk about Quick again. Whether he's the Wayne Blackshear of college football - as many said on Twitter during the UVa game and which I'd be okay with if he has a monster game in the Playoff against Alabama - or whether he's the Josh Harvey-Clemons of the offense....I dunno. He has 5 more games and will score more TDs and will have a couple more crazy plays, but his numbers are good and he's a hometown kid and he has had a good career and it's not his fault how things have gone. He's been injured, he had his freshman year mostly wasted, he became the #1 receiver on a team without a reliable QB his sophomore year when he should have been a complement to a superstar, he got hurt for the first part of his junior year and his senior season has seen a ton of TDs and good plays and a couple dumb drops in a game we won and he fell 2 yards short against the best defense in the country in the most watched moment of the college football season. I mean, he's still a college kid, he's still a primary weapon, we still have 5 more games to watch him score TDs. It's not his fault.
6. Everyone's Super Bowl
The Virginia and Duke games - and the BC, Wake, UK and Houston games - will be EVERRYONE'S SUPERBOWLS and we will get their best shots, and we should enjoy that. Sure, these teams we barely beat are bad, but they played different against us than they have against others on their schedule. That's how it is when you are where we are in the college football universe. We are there! We did it everyone! We are Top 5 in every poll and have a real shot at the Playoff! We have the Heisman! Literally, in all of human history, spanning tens of thousands of years, only YOU and your friends and family will have seen a Louisville player be at the Heisman ceremony, much less win the Heisman. That's insane. People have existed for thousands and thousands of years, college football has existed for like 120 years, and only NOW, this season, you get to see Louisville produce a Heisman.
And you get him next year! Two years of Lamar Jackson doing things no one in college football has ever done. If you sat through games at old Cardinal Stadium or even the 10-9 Syracuse game under KRAGS....I mean, come on. Lamar is so good.
7. Defensive Depth
We are at the point in the season where injuries and depth catch up to teams, and we are still winning, so that's good. The defense did their job Saturday, but got burned on two 4th downs and gave up TDs in the red zone. But they are not at full strength, and hopefully between now and the Houston/UK games, we get back to full strength and don't lose any games in the meantime. IIFFFFFF we make the CFB and get a month off, I imagine getting guys healthy and getting a month of practice will make a big difference. But, looking ahead to next year, there are guys red shirting or not seeing a lot of time this year that will be asked to play a big part next season (PJ Blue, Jonathon Greenard, Dee Smith, GG Robinson, Gary McCrae, Travon Young) and having a month of practice will help them a bunch too.
We are obviously up there in the college football world with the big boys, but a huge part of that is Lamar being so good. Staying there post-Lamar means quality depth and superstars at non-QB positions that will come with the recruiting and coaching bump from being in the ACC. The future is bright, and we are at the point where we can compete year in year out with the best teams in our conference, which are usually the best teams in the country. But college football is ridiculous, so to expect perfect seasons and CFB every year is setting yourself up for disappointment and bad decisions. Look at Georgia....and Miami....and Notre Dame....Tennessee.....
8. Non-Lamar Players
We have a lot of good players besides Lamar and Jaire Alexander. Cole is an awesome TE and his catch on 4th down was huge. BRad is getting hurt by opposing defenses really focusing on the run defense, but he has had an outstanding senior season. Jaylen Smith and Reggie had great games Saturday, and Seth Dawkins can be a star. All of them are good and fun to watch. The 2013 team had a ton of NFL draft picks, but this team may end up surpassing that when it is all said and done. Lamar deserves the attention, but there are a ton of guys on this team who are really good. It's fun to watch them, and it's a good year.
9. Moving Forward
Another noon game against BC at BC means that we have another chance to either kick the shit out of an overmatched opponent, or have a closer-than-it-should-be game against a lesser team. I went to the game 2 years ago, it was a night game and they had a good turnout, but ultimately it was a high school-like stadium and experience, and was freeeeeezing cold. It's weird how the opening series sets the tone - if Quick scores a 87-yard TD on that first series Saturday, maybe we blow UVA out. Who knows. But, still, getting up 14-0 seems to be a huge factor in whether we blow a team out or not.
And BC/Wake/Houston/UK does not seem like a rough stretch, but those are 4 teams we are better than and we are getting their best game. Whatever it takes for these guys to get up for each of those games, I hope the coaches figure it out. We might be one of the best 4 teams in the nation, and getting our shot at Bama would be pretty amazing this season.
But not getting that chance until next year is okay too.