We made it. The five-game stretch we were all fearing at the beginning of the season is over, and Penn State is still undefeated. Good time for a bye week. Everyone connected to the football program has two or three days to take a deep breath and concentrate on other things. Coaches can do a little recruiting. Players can unwind.
As for the rest of us? We can turn our attention to the fine art of hating.
We'll start at the top of the list with the Texas Longhorns.
Who are these douchebags?
They're 8-0, score metric assloads of points, have a likely Heisman winner at quarterback, and wear swanky burnt orange uniforms. They're 93-17 since 2000. Their mascot is Matthew McConaghey. What's not to hate?
If they stay undefeated, can Penn State catch them in the rankings?
Heavens, no. We need them to lose.
Okay, is that even possible?
Well, sure, but it'll probably have to happen this week. The Longhorns travel to that metropolitan oasis, Lubbock, Texas, to take on unbeaten Texas Tech. Points? Yes, Virginia, there will be plenty of points. If Texas can make it past the Red Raiders, they finish with the following:
Then, of course, there's the Big 12 Championship Game on December 6 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Since we'll likely be in need of some serious shenanigans if Texas is still undefeated at that point, let's go with this -- Kansas City, early December, at 7 p.m. Blizzard, maybe? Would that help?
As for their opponent in the championship game, we have to hope for Kansas or a rematch against Missouri. Mizzou is probably the better team of the two, but they didn't exactly fare well against the Longhorns a few weeks ago. Given the remaining schedules of Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska (all currently at 2-2 in the conference), the likely Big 12 North winner is Missouri.
Am I overlooking the rivalry game against Texas A&M? Partially. They're awful this season, but let's not forget that while Texas was running up that ridiculous win/loss record noted above, they've lost two consecutive games to some rather sloppy Aggie teams.
How does Penn State match up with them?
Surprisingly well, at first glance. We'd certainly be a 7+ point underdog. Still, it's a team that Penn State may able to contain. Texas uses a short passing game as its primary method of moving the ball, and that plays a bit into Tom Bradley's hands. It's the old "bend but don't suck" defense, hopefully featuring sure tackling, zone discipline, and punishing wide receivers at every given opportunity. Lost in all the hype surrounding Colt McCoy is the fact that he's rushed for a ton of yards this season. He's no statue back there.
Offensively, Penn State probably has an advantage in the running game. Texas just played their best opponent to date, Oklahoma State, and there seem to be a few chinks in the armor beginning to show:
Texas gave up 217 rushing yards against Oklahoma State, by far the worst performance of the season (145 yards allowed against UTEP), but 66 yards below their season average. Far more distressing were the missed tackles (12) and yards allowed after those missed tackles (125, nearly one-third of the Oklahoma State offense).
Something to keep in mind. If the teams actually meet, prepare for the inevitable avalanche of articles asking if PSU can ditch the Spread HD tendencies and keep the ball away from McCoy by running the ball whenever possible.
Perhaps more encouraging is the apparent problem with special teams in Austin:
Both phases of the kickoff game have been less than stellar this season. [BON's Peter Bean] raised the question of whether Quan Cosby should be back returning punts and kicks, supporting his position with statistical evidence and concluding that Texas needs more playmaking on special teams. With Cosby rarely coming off the field on offense and starting to look fatigued, the case is stronger than ever to replace him as kick returner. Taking out Shipley's 96-yarder against OU and replacing it with the current average (24.4 yards per return) places Texas at 21.4 yards per return, which would place them in the low 60's nationally. With Curtis Brown playing well on defense and special teams, it's time to give him a chance on kickoff returns.
The kickoff game has been an unmitigated failure the last several weeks, leaving Texas 104th nationally and allowing 24 yards per return, a figure that doesn't even take into account the field position lost with the intentional short and high kicks the last several weeks.
And how fitting would it be if Penn State, under Joe Paterno, went into one last national championship game against a premier program, and had to use the tried and true Paterno formula of defense, special teams, and please offense, don't screw this up?
Seriously, the chance that Texas will lose?
Not terribly likely, as Texas has clearly been the best team since the beginning of the season. You may be better off pinning your hopes on Alabama's SEC Championship opponent, but hey, weird things happen at the end of the college football season.
(Late Update: Phil Steele takes a second helping of Hater Tots and calls for a Texas Tech victory.)