5 Thoughts, Week 3
Week 1 - Is TCU Deserving? |
Week 2 - The bad, bad ACC
1. Fun Stat: The two haven't played since 1940. Texas won 26-0.
Follow me on Twitter @ColFootballNews
I know I’m supposed to be College Football Boy and I know I’m supposed to have some of the answers (and fake it when I don’t ), but I’ll freely admit that I have no idea what to make of Texas and Florida at the moment.
The similarities are stunning.
These are two national title-level superpowers that have dominated the landscape over the last two years, and now they’re rebuilding. Both came up with phenomenal recruiting classes that need a little time to mature. Both lost quarterback icons who belong on any list of the greatest to ever play the game. Both replaced those quarterbacks with more talented NFL prospects, and both programs have no earthly idea what to do with them. Both teams are 3-0, winning each game by double digits. Both are coming off solid rivalry wins on the road, and both have mega-showdowns in two weeks, with Florida going to Alabama and Texas facing Oklahoma. And there’s one other startling resemblance.
They both sort of suck right now (at least compared to previous seasons).
The Texas offense ranks 72nd in the nation, while Florida is sputtering along ranking 92nd. Right now, these are just very good teams. Each one is relying on defense, sheer athleticism, and a few key breaks to get big wins, but both teams are looking like shadows of their former selves against relatively average competition while Alabama, Ohio State, Boise State, Oregon, TCU, and Nebraska are crushing and killing everything in their paths.
With that said, any team in America would take a 14 point win at Tennessee, but the Gator victory looked extremely pedestrian compared to the nuclear bomb Oregon dropped on Knoxville in the second half two weeks ago. There’s no apologizing for a ten-point victory in Lubbock, but this hardly seems like the same Red Raider offensive juggernaut of past seasons, as it’s going through a rebuilding and retooling job of its own.
Neither one has the look of a national title contender, but they each control their own destiny … somewhat. Florida certainly has its fate in its own hands; it’s playing for the national title if it goes unbeaten and wins the SEC title, and it might still get to Glendale by going 12-1 with a close loss at Alabama and win in a rematch in the SEC Championship. The Longhorns would probably need Ohio State to lose and/or the SEC champion to have one loss, but if they go 13-0 with wins over Oklahoma, at Nebraska, and in a Big 12 title game, good luck selling America on the idea of keeping them out of the show over Boise State or TCU.
The problem is that neither one has played up to the uniform, the talent level, or to what each will be in the near future. Florida can’t snap the ball, Texas is trying to become a running team without an offensive line that can run block, and both superstar quarterback prospects appear to be fish out of water.
Florida, under Urban Meyer, rocks when it runs the spread or has an element of it in the attack, and it’s not getting the most out of John Brantley’s talents. Texas dominated college football by relying on Vince Young and Colt McCoy doing everything over the past few years, but Garrett Gilbert isn’t a runner and the passing game hasn’t been efficient enough to make him look anything like the 2008 Gatorade National Football player of the Year. The desired offensive balance isn’t really working all that well.
Will these two find their mojo in time to be part of the national title discussion, or is this the year to catch them? With the talent they’re amassing, if you don’t get them now, you probably won’t have a shot over the next few seasons, but for right now, if you’re South Carolina in the SEC East, or Texas A&M in the Big 12 South, this might be it. This might be your chance to get by the sleeping bears, but there’s also a chance that these two, because of raw abilities on offense and because of their great defenses (Texas is No. 1 in the nation against the run and Florida is giving up just 277 yards per game), they’re still better than just about everyone else, even if they don’t look like it.
Style points don’t really matter for these two, but they will for any team that beats them – if anyone can beat them.
2. Get Well, Coach
Follow me on Twitter @RichCirminiello
Early Sunday morning we learned that Mark Dantonio, the nervy Michigan State coach who beat Notre Dame on a fake field goal, had suffered a mild heart attack. It was startling news, but not at all surprising.
I don’t personally know Dantonio. To the naked eye, the 54-year old appears healthy, so the need for an angioplasty was, at a minimum, unexpected. What I do know is what it takes to become successful in Dantonio’s field and how being a head coach can be painfully detrimental to one’s health. When the career of a player ends, there are countless physical scars, the price of playing the game. It could range from arthritis and rickety bones to the effects of post-concussion syndrome. The rewards are great, but so are the risks. Though not discussed openly, the same applies to head coaches.
For a coach, the accumulation of hits aren’t physical, yet often times can be more hazardous to his health. It’s the never-ending stress, the ridiculous hours and pace, and the by-product of that lifestyle, which frequently includes a poor diet, inadequate rest, and a lack of exercise. You can make it to the top of your profession, but you better be willing to make sacrifices that will never show up in a job description. The case of Urban Meyer last December was a prime example of the driven coach struggling to achieve life balance.
When athletic directors are in the hunt for a new head coach, the FDA ought to require an explicit label of disclosure on all job applications. Warning: This career choice could be hazardous to your health. The early indications are positive for Dantonio to make a full recovery, but he’s the latest example of the toll being taken on today’s 24/7 college coaches. As salaries—and the expectations that come with them—keep skyrocketing, these types of disturbing occurrences are likely to become increasingly common in the world of college football.
3. The Over/Under Is Set At 200
With all due respect to Oklahoma-Texas and Florida-Alabama, Stanford-Oregon, deserves to be the headline act on Oct. 2, a key weekend destined to earn one of those annoying “separation Saturday” monikers.
Others match ups may have more history and a higher Q rating, but the Cardinal and Ducks are on a collision course for one of the most anticipated Pac-10 games not involving USC in more than a decade. In one corner is Oregon, which has deftly navigated a tumultuous offseason and the dismissal of QB Jeremiah Masoli to pile up an average of more than 600 yards and 60 points over the first three games. No one-note crooners, the Ducks actually lead the country in total offense, total defense, scoring offense, and scoring defense. Sure, competition has been a factor, but the numbers have been staggering, including a LaMichael James-led ground game that’s picking up real estate by the chunk. Oh, and don’t sleep on Nick Aliotti’s defense. Despite being up big in every game and emptying the bench early, it’s allowed just 5-of-46 third downs to be converted. Telling stats usually reserved for a video game.
Over in the other corner is Stanford, which actually appears to be better than a year ago, when RB Toby Gerhart was making his run toward All-American honors. Jim Harbaugh continues to do a magnificent job in Palo Alto, getting lots of help from QB Andrew Luck. The sophomore is becoming more than just the linchpin of the Cardinal offense. He’s the new face of the program and one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He’s spreading the ball around and flashing unexpected wheels outside the pocket. And, like Oregon, the program is stout where it matters most, up front. The D? While it still has plenty to prove, it’s been solid so far, leading the conference in sacks and going 12 quarters without allowing a touchdown pass.
Stop your snickering about the Pac-10 right now. The league is just fine, even without USC eligible to carry the banner. In fact, with Arizona also firmly in the mix after it’s thrilling win over Iowa, this is shaping up as a most entertaining run to Pasadena that really kicks into high gear two weeks from now. If Stanford and Oregon can survive prickly upcoming road tests in South Bend and Tempe, respectively, they’ll meet in Eugene on Oct. 2 with a chance to be thrust into the national championship discussion. That’s just one of the many reasons the Cardinal and Ducks will not take a backseat to anyone in Week 5.
4. It'll All Change Once Colorado Joins
There's one more reason college football needs to restructure its bowl arrangements and allow for far more flexibility in the construction of postseason matchups: We need to get the SEC and Pac-10 playing each other on a regular basis. These conferences have, by far, the most arrogant coaches in major college football.
In the SEC, everything is magnified, and the need to play political hardball - with enemies and friends alike - is accentuated at every turn. When Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino, and Urban Meyer bare their fangs, some people get offended, but there's an awareness that that's part of "the way the game is played."
In the Pac-10, that hasn't been the case over the long march of time. Sure, there have been firebrand coaches in the league - think Frank Kush at Arizona State - but as long as the 20th century persisted, you really didn't see too many coaches who went straight for the gutter.
Mike Price hadn't yet enjoyed a Pensacola (Florida) strip club when he coached Washington State. The universally-respected Bill Walsh gave Stanford football its best moments in the latter half of the 20th century. Terry Donohue led UCLA with a firm hand, as did John McKay and John Robinson at USC, but not in a "race to the bottom" manner. The rivalry between UCLA and USC was bitter during the Donohue years - it's always been spirited - but the coaches at the helms of the programs did not court controversy on a regular basis. Dick Tomey, Larry Smith, Rich Brooks, and Bruce Snyder were some of the more prominent Pac-10 coaches in the last 20 years of the 20th century, and no one would view any of those men as magnets for particularly unsavory rumors or the dirty dealings attached to them. Don James got taken down by a number of recruiting-based scandals at Washington, but "The Dawgfather" enjoyed a stable and highly successful 18-season career in Seattle and stepped down as an esteemed member of the league's old guard.
It's only been in the past 10 years that the Pac-10's coaches have regularly created a rancorous climate and then made it even worse.
New-guard coach Rick Neuheisel stirred things up with Oregon's Mike Bellotti. An original source of tension between the two men emerged when Neuheisel - then at Colorado - ran up the score on Bellotti's Ducks in the 1996 Cotton Bowl. Neuheisel - who parachuted in from Washington for a few years before departing under a cloud of scandal far worse than anything Don James left behind - was the chief antagonist for the more sober and restrained Bellotti.
Dennis Erickson has had two coaching stops in the Pac-10 in the past decade; the man who used the Idaho program as a plaything and a waiting station - in one of the more despicable acts ever perpetrated by a coach over the past 15 years - is not one of college football's more honest brokers.
Then we come to the California-based schools in the Pac-10. This is where the ugliness of the league's member coaches really emerges in all its dark detail.
Neuheisel is back in business at UCLA, and the petty clash of immature male egos he had with Pete Carroll last November - which very nearly erupted into a full-scale brawl between UCLA and USC players - brought that contentious yet clean rivalry to a new low in Los Angeles.
Carroll - who was less to blame than Neuheisel for that incident, but still took Neuheisel's bait on that harmony-free Thanksgiving weekend - left for Seattle, and in his place, USC found a coach far more irritating and juvenile. Carroll spent his free time in L.A. visiting gangs at 2 a.m. and bringing a message of hope to people who needed to hear it. The man who succeeded the esteemed Mr. Carroll is a different kind of cat.
Lane Kiffin - the king of flippant press conference statements and laissez-faire attitudes toward NCAA sanctions - spent one year trucking in tricks and lies at Tennessee in a very Neuheiselian manner. Much as Neuheisel ran Colorado's ship into the ground but then found temporary harbor at Washington, Kiffin used Tennessee as a pit stop before bolting to USC and taking recruit-on-the-gray-areas assistant Ed Orgeron with him.
In the first months since he assumed Pete Carroll's old job, Kiffin created mini-firestorms with various actions, including the audacious and quite unseemly courting of a 13-year-old to play football for the Trojans. As colorful and stormy as his offseason was, Kiffin has generated even more friction in his first three weeks of gameday coaching. The steady stream of 2-point conversion attempts he's allowed at USC represent bad form in the world of college football etiquette. A selective use of 2-point tries is perfectly fine, but the regular practice of 2-pointers - without any particular scoreboard-based need - is just the latest manifestation of the bizarre and childish behavior that jaded, cynical pundits now expect out of Mr. Kiffin. Few men in college football do more to twist the knife into opponents without due cause. Kiffin's behavior is very SEC-like in nature.
It's also very much like Jim Harbaugh's behavior as well.
If you stayed up very late - we're talking until midnight on the West Coast, 3 a.m. in the East - you would have seen Harbaugh challenging a fourth-quarter fumble call with his Stanford team leading Wake Forest, 68-24. This came about 90 minutes after Harbaugh - with his Cardinal leading the Demon Deacons, 41-7 - iced Wake's field-goal kicker before halftime.
And gee, who else iced an opposing team's kicker before halftime, with THREE consecutive timeouts? Oh, that would be Jeff Tedford on Friday night against Nevada.
This is not the James-McKay-Donohue-Robinson-Tomey-Smith-Snyder way of doing business, Pac-10 coaches. The once-mellow conference has a collection of coaches whose first instinct is to be adversarial, not cordial.
Let's see an SEC-Pac-10 challenge in future bowl lineups.
Harbaugh-Saban? Neuheisel-Nutt? Erickson-Meyer? Kiffin-Petrino? Soap-opera directors wouldn't be able to write enough backstabbing into scripts if they tried.
Let's face it: In the realm of outsized coaching egos and anything-goes behavior on the sidelines, the Pac-10 and the SEC stand above - make that below - the rest.
5. Upon Further Review, Review
By Matt Zemek
Michigan State's after-the-play-clock snap on its fake field goal against Notre Dame.
Auburn's third-and-five offside penalty on the next-to-last play of Clemson's overtime possession. (Go back and review that third-down snap; notice an Auburn cornerback jumping into the neutral zone when the ball was snapped.)
Auburn's pass interference violation committed against Clemson, despite the fact (and it was a fact) that the Auburn corner made absolutely no contact with the Clemson receiver on the play.
Georgia Tech's continuous false starts against North Carolina, due to tackles and pulling guards leaving their stances a half-beat early.
These were just some of the plays that were incorrectly officiated on Saturday, with considerable consequences for each of the teams involved. What other detail links these four plays (or clusters of plays, in the case of Georgia Tech-North Carolina)? They either weren't reviewed or weren't subject to review.
Let's make the point plain yet again: All calls - ALL OF THEM - must be subject to review. It does little good to make some plays reviewable when so many others can and do carry just as much weight. College football's relevant rules and competition committees have to include this item in offseason reforms before 2011. (And oh, yes: As the Houston-Washington NFL game reminded us, college football ought to be a leader on the matter of prohibiting the icing of a kicker right before a kick.)