It first caught my eye in Week 4. It was a non-descript game except for the fact that Johnny Manziel was involved. Texas A&M had built a comfortable lead at the half and to my surprise, Manziel was pulled after just one series in the third quarter.
I thought it was strange; after all, I've witnessed some great players stay late into the fourth quarter with an insurmountable lead. Heck, I've seen all-American QBs throwing the rock with 28-point fourth-quarter leads, yet in this spot, with a lead less than 30 points, it was time for Manziel to exit stage left.
My initial thought was that Kevin Sumlin had implemented a new rule for Johnny. After all, he's the franchise if you will. Can you imagine the backlash if Johnny "football" went down while playing in garbage time against SMU? Even though it was something I'd never seen before, it actually made perfect sense.
If that we the end of it, I could chalk it up to a specific player in a specific situation and move on with my life, but it didn't end there ...
Last week this disturbing trend spread like a smell of a dead skunk on a country road. Some might ask what's wrong with pulling your guys when you are comfortably ahead? To them I say, it's college football! Dammit! Since when do teams ease up when ahead? Did I miss a memo? Is this the result of the dodgeball generation? You know, the kids who couldn't play dodgeball at recess because too many people got their feelings hurt. Is this where we are headed? If it is, I need to know. Dammit!
Deep breath. As you might have gleaned already, I was the senseless victim of Jimbo Fisher and crew pulling their starters at halftime last week. If you were with me, you can understand my pain.
Look, to be completely honest, I don't really care if these coaches want to protect their players - like I said, in certain circumstances, it makes perfect sense - but the problem we run into now is we simply have no idea when it will happen. As if handicapping these games isn't hard enough, now we have to account for the depth of talent on the bench and if said players will get into the game - and when!
It's time to face facts. College football is evolving. This year it's resting players a quarter early. Next year it might be resting players in the first half once a playoff spot is assured. We can complain about it or adapt. Wait, I take that back. I'll do both.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter at @gregvara where I'll often have updated insight to matchups on the weekend. Last week I sent out late-week thoughts on FSU (oops, no not oops, I got that right. Dammit!), A&M under, Mizzou under and Hawaii over. I missed on a couple, hit a couple.
Cream of the Crop (Week: 3-0/Season: 18-8)
Northern Illinois at UMass: NIU is starting to fire on all cylinders. Jordan Lynch is starting to run the ball like he did last year, and the points are coming in bunches. UMass is as bad as ever. A quick look at its schedule and the losses don't look all that bad, but consider the competition and how the Minutemen are averaging just over 10 points per game and you have to wonder how they can keep this one close.
Side: NIU -23
Arizona at California: Amazingly, Cal has surrendered at least 37 points to every FBS opponent this year. Arizona's defense hasn't fared much better this season either. The Wildcat D averaged 27-plus points allowed to offensively challenged teams USC, Utah and Colorado. The Wildcats will certainly keep up their end of the bargain, the only question is whether Cal's offense will. Considering the opposition, I think Cal will put up enough points to push this game over the total.
Total: Over 66.5
Miami at Florida State: If you've watched Miami at all the last two weeks, you know that its record is misleading. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, FSU is coming off a win in which it let up for much of the second half. That won't happen this week as the entire country is watching, and FSU is in the business of impressing voters. This is a huge number for a game where both teams are undefeated, but Miami is not your typical undefeated team. The Hurricanes are on borrowed time, and if they play like they have the last two weeks, they won't keep this within 30 points.
Side: FSU -22
Best of the Rest (Week: 3-0/Season: 24-15)
Arizona State at Washington State: It's been two weeks since we last saw WSU and its QB who against Oregon, attempted 174 passes, give or take. It was as the Oregon D-coordinator would say, insulting. I mean, how dare the Cougars try to score when they are behind, the nerve! OK, so fast forward to this week, the Cougars love to throw the rock, which is probably why their conference games are averaging a combined 77-plus points over their last four. Impressive, right? Well, ASU averaged a combined 78-plus in that same span. You probably see where I am going here, right?
Total: Over 71
Virginia Tech at Boston College: I'm not sure what happened to the Hokies last week against Duke, but even in defeat, the defense remained strong. If the offense can hold onto the ball, they'll win this game. That's a big if, but after last week's debacle, I can't imagine they'll repeat the same errors. Boston College is just not a very good football team this year, and the Eagles will struggle to move the ball all day.
Side: Virginia Tech -4.5
UTEP at Texas A&M: A perfect spot to test my new theory about coaches pulling their players early. Any chance Manziel sees the third quarter in this one? Sure, the Aggies will probably be up 35 at the half, but with that defense and the second-string offense in the game for the entire second half, I don't see much separation after the half.
Side: UTEP +45.5
Ohio State at Purdue: Speaking of impressing voters, Ohio State has an uphill battle, but if last week is any indication, the Buckeyes are ready to start steamrolling the competition. Purdue is likely the worst team in the BIG Ten this year, and that's saying a lot. Working against Purdue this week is the fact that the Boiler's somehow kept it close against OSU the last two years. The Buckeyes won't make the same mistake three years in a row.
Side: OSU -31.5
Minnesota at Indiana: Am I missing something here? The Gophers have beaten Northwestern and Nebraska in consecutive weeks and now are 10-point dogs to Indiana? Weird. The only reason this game isn't in my "Cream of the Crop" section is because I think there's something I might be missing.
Side: Minnesota +10
PASSing Thoughts (Week: 1-2/Season: 18-20-2)
South Florida at Houston: South Florida isn't quite as bad as we thought it was about a month ago, but the fact still remains, the Bulls can't score. Houston, however, well, the Cougars have no problem scoring. In fact, they've put up 95 points the last two weeks. This number is high and weather could be a factor, but Houston looked really good last week and might be hitting stride.
Side: Houston -18.5
USC at Oregon State: USC has a pretty strong defense, but as it showed against Arizona a few weeks back, it can be had. Oregon State is coming of a frustrating loss to Stanford last week in which its offense never got going. That's one heck of an offense to stymie, and I have a feeling it won't happen in consecutive weeks. USC has shown more offense since the coaching change, and I expect a little back and forth action.
Total: Over 52.5
Georgia vs. Florida: The Gators really threw me for a loop a couple weeks ago when they were summarily dismissed by a Missouri team missing its starting QB. As for Georgia, with all the injuries, it's hard to get a gauge on them at all. What we can say is the Bulldogs defense is still weak, and Florida, closer to home, is bound to play better on offense this week. Missouri was able to solve the Florida defense a couple weeks ago, and I expect Georgia to do something similar this week.
Total: Over 47