If you've checked out this week's One Sentence Predictionsyou'll notice somethingodd. That's right Michael Felder, the resident football brain here at In The Bleachers has selected allof the underdogs to win their league title games. Sounds crazy? Did I blow your mind?
Well the picks aren't changing and as it stands currently according to several gambling sites the lines are as follows:
So how did I arrive at this tremendous level of faith in the underdog? Well for starters picking Alabama, Clemson or Nebraska to win their respective game was no stretch, only in concert does this three way +20.5 point swing become a leap of faith. However, I am not shy, I picked these games with some odd combination of my long cultivated football acumen, gut and, since lying isn't cool, my own personal dreams and selfish desires.
In the Clemson and Nebraska case we can go back to the start of the season where I selected Dabo Swinney's squad as my Dark Horse ACC Champion and did the same with Bo Pelini's Cornhuskers. So I'm trying to stay on my horse, no matter how dark and ride it home. In the case of Alabama, you can hear on this week's podcast that I'm absolutely enamored with Saban's coaching style and the hard nosed fashion in which they play big boy football.
So how does this happen, well, we'll break down one underdog at a time?
Read more for Nebraska's Anatomy of the Upset...
Let's go case by case starting with the game that is most widely considered just a "formality" before they claim their spot in the national title game; Texas vs Nebraska.
The game's being played in Arlington, Texas at the newest football monstrosity, Jerry Jones' billion dollar playground the new Cowboys Stadium. That means a heavily pro-Texas audience all waiting to see their Longhorns get what they've been owed since last year's leaping by the Sooners. Texas enters the game 11th in total offense with a quarterback who is among the nation's top Heisman candidates; how do the Huskers pull this one out?
First they'll need heavy doses of Roy Helu Jr through out the game. The Huskers back has ran for over 1,100 yards this season and Pelini will need to lean on his horse for two reasons. First and foremost the Huskers; with the exception of the Virginia Tech game, are unstoppable when Helu goes for over 80 yards in the game. When he reaches the 100 plateau the Huskers have outscored opponents 105-39, that includes the 16-15 loss to VaTech.
The second reason is to keep the ball out of the Longhorns hands. The longer Helu Jr and Red Machine is on the field the less time Colt McCoy has to probe the Huskers defense for holes. If Helu Jr can reach the 120+ yard mark and the Huskers have the ball for 34+ minutes the wheels of the upset will be thoroughly greased.
Second step in this process will be the Black Shirts ability to do two things; harass Colt McCoy and stop explosion plays. Colt McCoy's been sacked 21 times this season. The Huskers need to add to that total significantly and truly need to make his day hell. Oklahoma laid the blue print by knocking the slight of build quarterback around all game and Nebraska must follow suit. Hit the QB, get his jersey dirty (or in this case rubbery from the field turf) and make the game long and hard for him.
Ndamukong Suh will be the biggest player in this as he and Jesse Crick will need to be in McCoy's nightmares by the end of Saturday night. The pressure will disrupt the timing of McCoy's throws and force Texas into three and outs. However, when Texas does complete passes the Black Shirts need to tackle. Carl Pelini's crew has to eliminate the explosion plays that Mack Brown's crew has lived on all season.
Tackling guys in a phone booth, wrapping up and waiting on the calvary are the best ways for the Huskers to stop Texas from scoring on long passes and gashing runs. The bulk of McCoy's passes are slants, screens and hitches, all short balls that turn into big plays when a defensive back gets careless. If they can limit to 1 or 2 plays over 20 yards and get 4+ sacks and a half dozen other knockdowns then Nebraska will be another step closer to the victory.
The final step in Nebraska's move for their first Big XII title since 1999 can be seen in multiple facets of the game; manufacturing points. This encompasses the sum of the ways the Huskers can score. First and foremost if Helu Jr and lead them down the field for touchdowns that is great, but, with Texas stout, athletic defense odds are the Huskers won't be able sustain long drives.
So how can they manufacture points?
Turnovers are the first and most obvious answers. That means stripping McCoy during a sack, taking advantage of tipped balls and covering up all fumbles. Should they get the chance to turn defense into offense the Huskers must take it. Ndamukong Suh has got a knack for the strip sack and if he can be unleashed on McCoy there Black Shirts need to reap the benefits of the classic scoop and score.
Another answer is special teams. The Huskers have two punt return TDs and if a third came in this title game that would go a long way to furthering their cause. However, the teams can help out Zac Lee and Red Nation in other ways, long returns on both kickoffs and punts will give them great field position as will a chance block on a punt or a field goal.
On the flipside Nebraska cannot let Jordan Shipley hurt them returning kicks. They must cover kicks well, get hang time on punts and make sure to tackle the speedy return man. If they can pin Texas deep they'll help their defense and in turn flip the field to give the offense a short field to drive.
Nebraska isn't going to win the battle of the offenses. Texas is two high powered of an attack to expect the Huskers to score with them. However there are three facets to a football game; offense, defense and special teams. If Nebraska can win defense and special teams they'll be able to win the game in Cowboys Stadium.
I expect the Huskers defense to give Texas' offensive line problems as they boast one of the most physically imposing forces in recent college football history; Ndamukong Suh. Big Suh is definitely going to have to have his own "Heisman Moment" if the Huskers want to reach the Fiesta Bowl.