Power Rankings - Week Three
Week two is behind us. So are the West Division games for week three - we're not gonna pretend those didn't happen - which means they will color the rankings. Most games went the way one would expected - as least results wise. There were some surprising struggles for eventual winners, as well as a contest or two that was more facile than projected. The rain of course had a big effect on the highlight game of the week - mostly to the detriment of Nojima. We'll take it into account but at the end of the day it's a results based business and you don't get marks for style.....no wait......that's not right.....you do.....you totally do!
IBM Big Blue
IBM followed up an emotional and historic win over Obic in round one with a complete destruction of the Pirates in week two. Only the rain kept the score at 52-0. Big Blue did it all on the ground too which means teams have to account for their ability to score all kinds of ways. The defense is only getting better, and as Charles Tuaau works his way back to full match fitness that's going to continue. The combination of Tuaau and James Brooks on the line is sure to give opposing OCs nightmares going forward. They line up all over the place too. Inside and out. IBM may be a little short on depth but if they can avoid injury their front line personnel match up well with any team. We see no reason to move them from #1
Impulse might have failed to click after an initial scoring burst in their opener but our preseason top rankers have been scary since. Their total destruction of Challengers (and to a lesser extent Black Eagles) has put the league on notice. No other team has such talent in depth. Panasonic can score at will and stop any team from doing the same. Only the fact that they haven't faced a top side keeps them out of the number one slot. They'll finally get their first big challenge of the season in week four when the Frontiers visit Osaka. The champions only have a week to prepare for that game whereas Panasonic have two. That could be the difference this time, but it may not be the only meeting they have this season.
We told you Silver Star were good. Credit to Fujitsu for the way they responded and eventually won. However the fact remains that the Frontiers needed to block a last minute FG and hit a Hail Mary to avoid going in down at halftime. Panasonic and IBM utterly destroyed similar middle-of-the-pack teams in the Pirates and the Challengers, so that leads to Fujitsu slipping a spot. As we've said before, with just a six-week season, winning alone isn't enough to hold your spot, you gotta win with style. The bonus points Fujitsu got for the all-black uniforms were unfortunately counterbalanced by Panasonic's points for their all-whites ones.
Obic players expressed confidence in the gameplan and their abilities before the Nojima matchup. That faith was borne out by a solid all round team effort. Kevin Jackson turned back the clock to harass Devin Gardner all game and Shun Sugawara was effective in the air and on the ground. The scoreline may not seem so great at first glance but this Rise team is a lot better than last year (except at wideout obviously) and anytime you keep Devin Gardner scoreless it's impressive. If the Seagulls are to challenge the teams above them however they will need Ikaika Woolsey back. They probably are too much for Silver Star to deal with but on Oct 13th they have to travel to Osaka to take on Impulse. Getting their signal caller healthy for that game will be huge.
Nojima Sagamihara Rise
From 84 points to none. The rain obviously played havoc with whatever Nojima had hoped to do against Obic but as the saying goes the conditions were the same for both teams. Rise need a better ground game to complement what Devin Gardner does and to prevent opponents from focusing solely on the former Michigan quarterback. The loss of Jeremy Gallon means Gardner in the spring became accustomed to doing it almost all himself. When he pushes too hard though turnovers happen so maybe Nojima just need to be a bit more patient. Even after giving the ball away four times they still just lost by two scores and might actually have had one missed by the officials right before the turnover on the line. The good news is that Mario Ojemundia continues to improve and could be the Rise's version of Trashaun Nixon. His speed certainly makes it difficult for opponents to get outside runs going. Once Nojima get Sione Houma in a rhythm it'll open things up more. It's possible to see read option plays with Gardner going wide and Houma up the center being successful.
Elecom Kobe Finies
The Finies bounced back from a loss in the opener to destroy the Black Eagles and followed that up with an win (albeit an unimpressive one) over the Challengers.Their new recruits are starting to improve and as with Charles Tuaau at IBM, Alex Pace is just going to cause OCs more and more headaches as the season progresses. Big Blue are up next and Kobe will be looking to avoid the rough start they suffered against Impulse. They actually matched up well with Panasonic over most of that game so there certainly is potential there. There is no doubt that they are a run heavy team that will keep feeding Jordan Canzeri the ball but they need a bit more balance in playcalling to keep opponents honest.
Asahi Beer Silver Star
Silver Star didn't come to take part, they came to take over. Like the Notorious Connor McGregor they couldn't back up their fronting but you really have to admire the way coach Arima has them playing. The Frontiers didn't like what was going on in the trenches but there is no arguing with its effectiveness. Silver Star almost went in ahead at halftime. A lack of depth (especially with the American players not yet cleared) hurt them late but we like their chances against Lixil next time out.
The Deers did what they had to do. They got the win, put up almost 40 points and shut out the Eagles. Because it's the Eagles though it's hard to get too excited. We don't see the Police beating anyone this year - except perhaps the Bulls. Next week will tell us a lot more about where Lixil really stand. Most people expect them to beat Silver Star but that's probably based on past history. If you'd just seen the two teams play this autumn you'd have to expect Asahi Beer to come out on top. Lixil may be stronger than we think but looking at the schedule, it'd be a surprise to us if they finish better than 2-4.
Tokyo Gas Creators
Tokyo Gas are who you thought they were. This team knows what it's good at and it's going to do that one thing until you submit. They will run the ball on almost every play and dare you to stop them. As Minerva found out, when you do oversell to stop the run they will hit you deep. Only three completed passes in the second half but all 30-yard plus TD bombs. Whether that limited gameplan will work against the National Champions is another matter however. The Creators though have been good value for their wins and while it ain't pretty, it's certainly impressive. They will continue to be tough for teams that can't score with limited possession to deal with and might even finish 4-2.
Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers
The Challengers have got to be disappointed in both being 1-2 and the nature of their two losses. The blow out by Panasonic was rough but losing 7-0 to Finies with only a single missed FG to show for ten possessions just isn't good enough. They've a decent QB in Alex Niznak who is a good leader and teacher but it's going to take another year for them to get things together. More big plays are needed from their defensive imports as well. Challengers ask their players to do a lot and play positions they aren't used to so it can take some getting used to and be exhausting. They face the team immediately above them next time out. It'll be a tough game but if they start to put things together on offense they have a chance. Creators will keep the ball most of the game so it's vital the Challengers don't waste possessions.
All Mitsubishi Lions
The Lions are unbeaten. 2-0 and still 11th. Hardly seems fair, but after stealing a win in week one they weren't great against the league's weakest team. Maybe they are just warming up but with Obic on the schedule next they will need to be a lot hotter if they are to have any chance. Realistically that's not going to happen and weeks five and six are where we will see this teams true worth with games against Creators and Silver Star.
Meiji Yasuda Penta Ocean Pirates
Yes the Pirates took a hammering at the hands of Big Blue, but we get the feeling they won't be the only team IBM beat up this year. Big Blue aren't ranked number one for nothing. The Pirates had no answer to IBM's ground game or defensive pressure. They'll get a chance to play bully this week however with the Bulls on the slate. The Pirates are solidly lower middle of the pack. This team could be good in time but right now beating the teams ranked around them has to be their target. The next three games are all ones they should win and then in week six they can judge their progress when they take on the Creators. A win there would make it a good season.
As One Black Eagles
As One took care of Hawkeye with ease then got thrashed by Impulse. No surprises in either result. They have two rematches with teams they have beaten already and a game they won't win against Rise. We'd much rather see more games against Kanto sides but obviously there are logistical and financial reasons that's difficult. It does make evaluating them more difficult when we can't see them play teams like Pirates, Minerva and Lions but hey what can one do.
Yes the Cyclones were crushed by Finies but we are moving them above Hawkeye since we also know they beat that team in week three. Better than the four teams below them and not able to beat the 13 above them so really where else are they going to go. On a side note one game a season in Nagoya isn't really the best way to develop a fanbase. Hopefully the XLeague can schedule at least one more home game for the Cyclones in the future.
There comes a time when brave defeats just aren't enough anymore. Club Hawkeye are now 0-3 and so it's time to start dropping them down the rankings. They've got a rematch against Cyclones and games against the bottom two sides to come though so they may get that first ever win in X1 at some stage this season.
Fuji Xerox Minerva AFC
Minerva were ranked 13th in preseason but they haven't done anything to justify that so far. They've taken two heavy losses to mid table teams where they just weren't competitive at all. The remaining games for Fuji Xerox will give us a good idea of their relative strength down here as they face sides similarly ranked. Minerva are probably still good enough to stay in X1 but we aren't as confident about that as we were at the start of the season.
Metropolitan Police Eagles
The Eagles weren't terrible against Lixil, they just weren't on the same level. We aren't seeing anything at all from them on offense so it's hard to see where the points can come from against even the lower sides. They are unlikely to make it out of the bottom three all year.
Bulls Football Club
Well losing 36-7 is better than losing 84-0 but really the Bulls, like the Eagles, just weren't in the game. Will they make it off the bottom of the table at any stage? We wouldn't bet on it but Bulls did show fight in some games in the spring so you never know. Where there is life there is hope.