Forde-Yard Dash: Assessing Lone Star letdowns and offering four playoff picks

Forde-Yard Dash

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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (noise-canceling headphones for coaches and players sold separately in College Station, Texas):

We’re one full week into the season, and the overreactions are proliferating from coast to coast. Nowhere has the outrage and angst spiked like in Texas, a state that loves its football but hates what it has witnessed so far.

DASH FIRST QUARTER: LONE STAR SUCKAGE

Three high-profile teams from the state utterly bombed in their season openers. Two of them have brand-new coaches who did not come cheap. The third has a coach who began the season on the hot seat. Examining the carnage:

Texas (1). Lost to Maryland, 51-41, in Tom Herman’s debut – the most points ever scored on the Longhorns in a new coach’s first game. It was the most points the Terrapins have scored against an FBS opponent since 2010. Keep in mind this is a Maryland team with a new starting quarterback – and he got hurt in the third quarter. He was replaced by a true freshman, and yet the Terps kept driving and kept scoring. On the day, the Longhorns gave up a ghastly 8.31 yards per play. The only teams worse in that category nationally thus far are Kent State, Akron, Rice, UTEP, East Carolina and Tulsa – not exactly the company Texas aspires to keep.

Baylor (2). Lost to Liberty, 48-45, in Matt Rhule’s debut. It was the Flames’ first win against a team from an FBS Power Five conference. Last year Liberty averaged 27.5 points and 348.5 yards per game – rather pedestrian offensive numbers against primarily FCS competition. Yet the Flames were a juggernaut in Waco on Saturday, throwing for a school-record 447 yards, breaking the previous record set in 1984 against Carson-Newman. Liberty ran 103 plays, the most by any FBS opponent in a single game this year.

Texas A&M (3). Lost to UCLA, 45-44, in what might be the last season opener under sixth-year coach Kevin Sumlin. A one-point road loss to a Pac-12 opponent isn’t so bad – until you factor in the 44-10 lead late in the third quarter. The Aggies allowed five straight touchdown drives – none of them aided or abetted by turnovers or blocked kicks. It was just a complete defensive collapse and an offensive strategy debacle.

A Texas A&M regent called for Kevin Sumlin’s job after the Aggies’ stunning loss to UCLA. (Getty)

Firing Sumlin now would be a wild overreaction, but firing him later remains a highly viable option. With his starting quarterback hurt, Sumlin inserted a freshman backup into his first college game and allowed him to throw it 17 times. He completed three. If more than half of those 17 passes are runs, utilizing all of the play clock, UCLA might not have had enough time to pull off the comeback. Texas A&M looked like a team so accustomed to playing fast and throwing that it literally was incapable of executing in a manner more conducive to protecting a big lead.

Josh Rosen and his receivers were incredible. But the Aggies also hurried themselves into defeat.

And they made the epic fold worse by actually introducing sideline props in the midst of taking that 44-10 lead, a premature celebration that will be the stuff of meme legend. The video of Trayveon Williams being handed a drum major’s baton (4) – or a pimp cane, as some have posited – was funny at the time. It’s less funny to A&M fans now. On-field strutting, with coaches egging a player on, might be better done when the game is over.

The clear common thread: All three Texas teams were absolutely pitiful defensively, unable to get stops when they needed stops. Which leads The Dash back to the suspicion that the hurry-up-no-huddling of Texas high school football is having a lasting, damaging effect on the quality of the defense in the state at the college level.

Are there fewer great athletes who want to play defense? Are they being coached as well defensively? Are the best defensive players fleeing the state (and the Big 12) for better programs on their side of the ball?

Even using yards per play allowed, the preferred metric of defenders of the hurry-up style, there has been a pronounced defensive lapse (5) in Texas.

The 2009 season was the last time a team from the state had a shot at a national title. That Texas team led the nation in fewest yards allowed per play, at 3.84. TCU was second. The state’s five most prominent programs (Texas, TCU, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor) had an average national ranking in that category of 35th. That stayed constant in 2010, with an average ranking of 38th.

Then the slide began. In 2011 the average was 57th, and in ’12 it was 59th. There was a minor rally in 2013 (49th) and ’14 (52nd), followed by a bigger slide.

In 2015, the five Texas Power Five schools had an average yards per play allowed ranking of 62nd, with no schools in the top 30. In ’16, the average dropped to 68th, with no schools in the top 45.

One week into 2017, the average ranking is 70th. And that’s with TCU (6) holding FCS opponent Jackson State to 1.2 yards per play Saturday.

Among the things that can be lost when you play fast:

Your defense.

Your clock-management skills.

Your job.

FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF

The important thing to keep in mind here is to largely trash preseason assumptions and rank teams on what just happened. Who played quality competition? Where did they play? How did it turn out?

If your team played an FCS opponent, a low-level FBS opponent or struggled significantly with a lesser opponent, The Dash is looking elsewhere. Until teams play somebody, they’re not getting into this College Football Playoff bracket. Which means there will be major revisions to come.

With all that in mind, The Dash would put this quartet in the field if selections were being made today:

Alabama (7). Last game: Wore down and eventually suffocated Florida State, 24-7, in Atlanta. Even after major personnel losses defensively and an inconsistent performance offensively, the Crimson Tide looks like the best team in the nation until proven otherwise. It easily handled the challenge of an experienced team many believed would be the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Next game: home against Fresno State on Saturday.

Nick Saban’s Alabama team looks like the title favorite yet again this year. (AP)

Ohio State (8). Last game: Rolled in the last 20 or so minutes to beat Indiana, 49-21, in Bloomington. The downfield passing game remains a question. The running game, sparked by freshman J.K. Dobbins, is not. The pass rush will be scary. The secondary will scare Urban Meyer. Next game: home against Oklahoma on Saturday.

Virginia Tech (9). Last game: Won an entertaining, back-and-forth battle with West Virginia, 31-24, in Landover, Md. The Hokies appear to have a keeper in new quarterback Josh Jackson (336 yards total offense, two touchdowns, zero turnovers). They have a go-to receiver in Cam Phillips. And they have Bud Foster dialing up defenses. Good building blocks. Next game: home against Delaware on Saturday.

UCLA (10). Last game: Performed miracle comeback to beat Texas A&M, 45-44, in Pasadena. The Dash doesn’t love including any team capable of falling behind by 34 points at home – but The Dash does love a team capable of rallying from that deficit and winning. The Bruins get the playoff nod over Michigan because they played a better opponent – Florida was both very shorthanded and very bad against the Wolverines. Next game: home against Hawaii on Saturday.

Also considered: Michigan, LSU, Maryland, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, Colorado, California, South Carolina.

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