Mathieu, or Matthew
Tyrann blows up plays, scores points
No brainer, Heisman
If the season ended today, Tyrann Mathieu should win the Heisman Trophy for most outstanding college football player. Mathieu, pronounced “Matthew” if you believe the cultured commentators on ESPN and ABC, plays cornerback and special teams for LSU. At a pint sized 5-9, 185 pounds, he has a propensity for making game changing plays. Against West Virginia this week, he forced two turnovers in the first half, including a play in which he tipped a pass, caught it and ran back to the West Virginia one yard line. Two plays later, LSU punched the ball in for a touchdown to take a 27-7 lead into halftime, effectively killing any hopes of a close game. LSU won 47-20 on the road in Morgantown. During the first week of the season against Oregon, Mathieu stormed down the field on a LSU punt, striped the Oregon returner of the ball, scooped up the ball after a single bounce on the turf, and ran in for a touchdown. The play gave LSU a 9-6 lead and started the Oregon turnover fest that led to a 40-27 LSU win. His knack for creating turnovers doesn’t seem to be an aberration, as Mathieu was a part of 10 turnovers last year as a freshman. Moreover, he starts at cornerback on an LSU defense that many consider one of the nation’s best.
Mathieu’s play resembles that of Lakers guard Derek Fisher, a player whose strips and turnovers changes games. Of course, these hard nosed plays don’t get much attention next to Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. At LSU, Mathieu gets overshadowed by mammoth defensive linemen and the even bigger personality of LSU coach Les Miles. But make no mistake, Mathieu has been the most outstanding college football player this year. Want to vote for Landry Jones of Oklahoma for the Heisman? He has a 5-4 touchdown to interception ratio. How about Stanford’s Andrew Luck? Against San Jose State (108), Duke (86) and Arizona (62), he’s completing 67% of his passes, less than the 70.7% from last year. Well, Luck is still a strong candidate, but Mathieu is making plays against Oregon (3), Mississippi State (25) and West Virginia (35). Kellen Moore? No one one in the east or south is voting for a quarterback from Boise State. Voters tend to cling to the numbers that quarterbacks and running backs produce, statistics that are largely dependent on strength of schedule. We’ll have a lot to say later this season about how statistics depend on schedule. But it also helps to watch the games. Tyrann Mathieu has been the most outstanding player in college football this September, but he will have to score 3 touchdowns in a 21-19 win at Alabama later this season to even enter the Heisman discussion.
With their win over West Virginia, LSU remains at 4th in The Power Rank. The algorithm tends to penalize teams that do not score a lot of points, as margin of victory matters. However, LSU has plenty of opportunities to beat highly ranked teams like Alabama and move up. The Tigers look particularly scary with a competent quarterback in Jarrett Lee. Late in the second quarter against West Virginia, LSU faked a run on 3rd and short, and Lee threw a pass towards Odell Beckham. While Beckham had to jump to make the catch, Lee’s pass was accurate enough that Beckham never broke stride and beat the West Virginia defense to endzone. Lee’s zero interceptions in this game must seem remarkable to a fan base that saw him throw 16 interceptions in 2008. In general this season, LSU has enjoyed large turnover margins against Oregon (4-1) and West Virginia (4-0). Perhaps we should revise our thoughts about Les Miles and his lucky ways?
1. Boise State. Boise State led Tulsa 34-0 in the middle of the third quarter when they pulled quarterback Kellen Moore. The won 41-21 but left room to wonder whether the margin of victory could have been larger. In the end, it doesn’t matter this week, as our rolling one year window of games dropped a win against Oregon State last year. While this win was solid against last year’s Oregon State team, the Beavers are having a terrible season, losing to Sacramento State at home, going 0-3 and dropping to 67th in The Power Rank. Boise State remains on top.
2. Alabama. With the help of both a special teams and a defensive touchdown, Alabama rolled over Arkansas 38-14. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron threw for 10.0 yards per pass attempt with 20 attempts, and the Tide had zero turnovers. This ability to take care of the ball seems characteristic of Nick Saban’s teams, as Alabama has always ended the year with a positive turnover margin since Saban took over in 2007 according to College Football Stats.
3. Oregon. The Duck’s road game against Arizona provided a chance to compare Oregon with Stanford, who beat Arizona 37-10 last week in Tuscon. Oregon won 56-31, and the 25 point margin of victory is very similar to the 27 point margin of Stanford. However, Oregon’s offense scored more points while Stanford’s defense held Arizona to fewer points. Oregon accumulated 8.8 yards per rush attempt for 415 total rushing yards against Arizona.
4. LSU. Urban Meyer joined the ABC crew late in the game against West Virginia. They reminded him about the miracle fake field goal attempt that Les Miles called against Meyer’s Florida team last year. Watch how the ball just bounces right into the kickers hands, one of the huge reasons we asked last year whether Les Miles has sold his soul.
5. Oklahoma. The Sooners avenged last year’s loss to Missouri with a 38-28 win in Norman. However, Oklahoma didn’t come close to covering the 20 point spread. The defense allowed Missouri quarterback James Franklin to throw for 8.8 yards per attempt while running back Henry Josey racked up 9.5 yards per carry, including a 48 yard touchdown run. This wasn’t the performance of a national championship team, and The Power Rank rightly places Oklahoma at 5th.
6. Stanford. Take a week off and drop 3 places? For these early season rankings, we’re using a one year window of games and counting this year’s games twice. This system dropped a definitive 37-14 Stanford win over 21st ranked Notre Dame from the games used in the rankings. However, in rankings that only consider this year’s games, Stanford is 2nd behind Alabama. The Cardinal must wait awhile before getting any top ranked competition, as they face UCLA (90), Colorado (73) and Washington State (74) over the next 3 weeks.
7. Wisconsin. Despite the weak competition against UNLV (110), Oregon State (67) and Northern Illinois (52), Wisconsin has moved from a 15.4 rating at the start of the season to 18.4. This rating is inflated a bit since the ranking considers Oregon State and Northern Illinois games from last year when these two teams were much better. However, we’ll find out more about Wisconsin when Nebraska visits Madison this weekend. Bet against quarterback Russell Wilson throwing for 12.5 yards per pass attempt against Nebraska.
8. Oklahoma State. In one of the strangest plays ever, stellar Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon just dropped the ball a yard from the endzone. Oklahoma State led 24-20 at this point in the 3rd quarter and luckily didn’t need this score to prevail 30-29 against Texas A&M. In our preview, we noted that Texas A&M held Oklahoma State to only 6.8 yards per pass attempt last year in Stillwater. This year, Brandon Weeden threw for 438 yards but still only managed to get 7.3 yards per attempt. However, it wasn’t enough in this close game.
9. Auburn. Are the Tigers still in the top ten? Rankings are never perfect, and Auburn remains in the top ten based on last year’s games in the moving one year window of games. For rankings with only this year’s games, Auburn is 44th with a 3.78 rating.
10. TCU. The jury is still out on this TCU team. In the last two weeks, they have beat up on Louisiana Monroe and Portland State. Louisiana Monroe did take a 17-14 lead in the 1st quarter before the Horned Frogs steam rolled them 38-14. In rankings with only this year’s games, TCU is 26th, which is not an unreasonable guess at where this team will end the season.