5 Thoughts, Week 4
Week 1 - Is TCU Deserving? |
Week 2 - The bad, bad ACC
Week 3 - What's the deal
with Texas & Florida?
1. The issue will probably end up being settled in Glendale.
The overall strength of schedule stats will always skew in the Big Ten’s favor, but before you completely dismiss Boise State from the BCS Championship discussion because of its pathetic WAC slate, take a long, hard, honest look at the Ohio State schedule. Now open up your blue book and write ten pages (front and back) on why, exactly, the Buckeyes should deserve to play for the national championship more than the Broncos if both teams finish the year unbeaten.
Remember, when it comes to the BCS Championship, it’s not about putting in the two teams we think are the best (because there’s no reason to have a season if we do that); it’s about what two teams deserve to be playing for the whole ball of wax. (Remember, soon-to-be ticked Buckeye fans, this is about the schedule, not the team.)
Take Alabama and all SEC teams out of this discussion, and in a strange twist, this year, take Oregon and all the Pac 10ers out of the debate. If an unbeaten champion emerges from either one of those two leagues, with the schedules they have to deal with both in and out of conference, then they’ll have a legitimate claim that that they deserve to play for the national title.
Winning the Big Ten title sounds neato, but Ohio State is playing a four game season surrounded by a big bowl of yuck.
I don’t want to hear anything about how beating Illinois, Indiana, Purdue (who just got cranked at home by a Toledo team that Boise State has to face), and Minnesota, for a team good enough to play for the national title, is any tougher than it is to beat San Jose State, New Mexico State, Utah State, and Louisiana Tech. All eight of those teams suck, and any team worthy of dreaming about the crystal egg thingy coming to the local Wal-Mart should beat any and all of them by three touchdowns.
Winning at Nevada will inspire nothing more than a polite yawn, but winning at Iowa will bring mass celebrations with confetti, tasteful appetizers, and an influx of babies nine months later. But if it’s all
supposed to be based on what’s happening on the field, then it can’t be ignored that the Wolf Pack obliterated Cal 52-31, Cal pushed Arizona to the wall in a 10-9 slugfest in Tucson, and Iowa lost to the Wildcats.
Remember, we’re talking about true BCS Championship contenders here, and not Pitt. Would you rather face Miami at home, or a 100% healthy, totally jacked-up Virginia Tech in a road game disguised as a neutral site battle? If you have a real, live defense, you want the Jacory Harris Interception Party Machine coming to your house.
San Jose State has done absolutely nothing this year against anyone … except Wisconsin. The Spartans’ two touchdown passes on the season came in Madison, and Arizona State came within a blocked extra point of forcing overtime against the Badgers. Yeah, Ohio State going to Camp Randall will be billed as a titanic showdown, and it is, but if we’re going to dog Boise State because it’s supposedly easy to get up for the one really big spotlight game on the schedule, like Virginia Tech or Oregon State, or like Nevada will be, then shouldn’t the same rule apply to Ohio State having to flip the switch to interested for a few biggies?
No, Penn State coming to Columbus is not a big game (and it wasn’t a big win for Alabama, either). This Nittany Lion team stinks, and a win shouldn’t be given any more weight than a win over Fresno State. Of course, there’s the suddenly-interesting game against Michigan, but that’s at home against a team that doesn’t play a lick of defense and has yet to see if its offense works against a defense with a pulse. (I’d LOVE to see Boise State’s defensive front vs. this Wolverine attack. I have visions of LeGarrette Blount punching Byron Hout the last time a high octane spread team tried to face the Broncos.)
When all is said and done, Ohio State will face just five sure-thing bowl teams (Miami, Wisconsin, Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan), and Indiana has a shot if everything breaks right. The Buckeyes catch a monster break by missing two bowl teams in Michigan State and Northwestern. Meanwhile, Boise State will face seven teams that are almost certainly going bowling (Virginia Tech, Oregon State, Toledo, Hawaii, Idaho, Fresno State, and Nevada). While Ohio State’s tough games still appear to be nastier, don’t forget about the staggered start.
The Buckeyes can beat Wisconsin by three and all will be fine. All they have to do is slip by Iowa and Michigan and the ranking won’t drop a lick. Boise State goes into every game from here on down 21. The Boise slate really is easier, but anything less than a 48-10 blowout every time out the rest of the way will bring screams and yelps from across the nation, along with a few lost votes in the polls.
Yeah, I’d still rather face Boise State’s schedule than Ohio State’s, but unlike the Boise State-with-Bama’s-slate argument, right now, I’m not ready to automatically assume that Chris Petersen’s really, really good team would suffer a loss against Marshall, Miami, Ohio, Eastern Michigan, at Illinois, Indiana, at Wisconsin, Purdue, at Minnesota, Penn State (after a two-week break), at Iowa, and Michigan.
2. Yes, the ACC actually has a team that can play
It’s time to start taking NC State seriously as a threat to play for one of the
ten available BCS slots. And QB Russell Wilson as a legit contender for any individual awards that the sport has to offer.
It’s taken a little longer than expected, but Tom O’Brien has the Wolfpack turning the corner and heading toward serious contention in a wide-open ACC. For years, the coach was the Rock of Gibraltar at Boston College, perennially punctuating an eight or nine-win season with a bowl victory. His teams were steady and well-coached, a sure-thing in a sea of uncertainty. In Raleigh, however, he lost seven games in each of his first three years, besieged by injuries and struggling to find the same level of consistency he had on the Heights. Until now.
At this level, sometimes all you need is a little momentum to turn a problematic situation around. The Pack has it, thanks to its first 4-0 start since 2002 and O’Brien’s first in 11 years. It also has confidence, dramatically improved play on defense … and Wilson.
Every program on the rise needs a leading man, a player that brings a sense of calm to the huddle and elevates the potential of his teammates. For NC State, Wilson is that guy. He’s a coach’s dream, a veteran playmaker who leads by example and has the maturity to never become flustered. That Wilson’s professional career is going to be in baseball, not football, is irrelevant. That he’s under 6-0 will only add to his legacy. All that matters is that he’s performing about as well as any other quarterback in the country. In the last two games, double-digit wins over two of last year’s BCS bowl participants, Cincinnati and Georgia Tech, he accounted for seven touchdowns, 750 total yards, and just one turnover. Plus, he’s spreading the ball around and getting rare help from the running game, a combination that’ll cause sleepless nights for opposing defensive coordinators.
In an otherwise forgettable month of September for the ACC, NC State has stood out as a storyline worth bragging about by the league honchos. The Pack is peaking, exciting, and home to a quarterback worthy of a lot more national attention than he’s been getting so far in 2010. For O’Brien, it’s happening in just the nick of time.
3. Come for the food, stay for the game
Red River Rivalry tickets now available … buy one, get one free.
Of course, that’s an exaggeration and the game will be a typical sellout, but when was the last time this game had such little juice outside the Southwest region? Texas, naturally, gets most of the blame for the lost luster, but it’s not as if Oklahoma is blameless.
UCLA sent shockwaves throughout the college football world when it cold-cocked the ‘Horns on Saturday, 34-12, in Austin. Texas didn’t just lose a game. It was embarrassed in such a way that it completely altered the program’s trajectory for 2010. It was also the worst home loss of the Mack Brown era, a rare lower-the-bar moment in these parts. Against mediocre competition, the Longhorns had no answers, not for the Bruin running game or for their own offensive ineptitude. They were simply lost, which could be the first crack that ends up ending their run of nine consecutive 10-win seasons. The overall execution was really that hideous.
Just because Oklahoma has yet to lose a game does not mean it isn’t culpable. The Sooners have lived dangerously in all but the Florida State game, ironically, beating Utah State, Air Force, and Cincinnati by an average of four points. The running game has stalled. The defense has serious issues, yielding more than 400 yards in 3-of-4 games. The No. 8 ranking could end up being very generous as the season unfolds.
Texas-Oklahoma is perennially one of the nation’s most entertaining rivalries and anticipated games. This first Saturday of October, however, it’s going to be trumped by Florida-Alabama and Stanford-Oregon. Poor play and an ugly loss a week earlier will have that effect, even on a game of this stature and magnitude.
4. Oh yeah ... the other two months
September is done, but there's precious little clarity to be found in the college football world. The variations in results from week to week, and the statistical anomalies attached to a number of games, make it very hard to come up with definitive verdicts about the nation's FBS programs (well, some of them).
South Carolina's win over Georgia? It doesn't look all that great right now. Ditto Arkansas' win at Georgia.
Michigan's wins over Connecticut and Notre Dame? Not that big of a deal in either case.
UCLA isn't "back." Not when you realize that the Bruins scored enough points to win the game (13; Texas finished with 12) in a first half that featured just 62 yards from coordinator Norm Chow's offense. That's a "one-off" weirdo not to be replicated anytime soon. Credit UCLA for a tremendous performance on one Saturday, but the Bruins will actually have to, you know, throw the ball a little before they can be taken very seriously.
LSU is 4-0, but with one of the most inept and dysfunctional offenses in all of college football. Maybe the Bayou Bengals will straighten things out, and maybe they won't. The only thing predictable about LSU is its unpredictability.
Is Florida "back"? It's hard to say so when you realize how bad Tennessee is, and how much of a whipping boy Kentucky has been for the Gators over the past 20 years.
Do we have any idea how USC will fare in the Pac-10? Are the Trojans' first four games an accurate barometer of how the rest of the season will proceed? Tomato cans don't give us a good look inside the pulse of the Men of Troy.
Was Cincinnati's close-but-not-quite effort against Oklahoma an indication of real improvement for the Bearcats, or is Oklahoma just awful? Does this mean that North Carolina State - conqueror of both Cincinnati and Georgia Tech - is an elite team? That's hard to know, since Georgia Tech's playing some of the worst football in the FBS this year.
In a slightly different but related vein, Fresno State drilled Cincinnati earlier this year, but Pat Hill's team got crushed by Ole Miss this weekend. Ole Miss - yeah, the same team that lost at home to Vanderbilt and Jacksonville State.
What about Arizona? The Cats were inspired against Iowa and anemic against Cal. In both games, Nick Foles and the rest of the U of A's offense did precious little. (Defense and special teams scored most of Zona's points against Iowa.) Is this a team that's going to get crushed by Stanford and Oregon? Maybe, but Arizona is winning tight ballgames, something entirely unfamiliar to the locals in Tucson. We don't know what these ugly but close wins are going to do for Mike Stoops in the weeks to come.
Does your brain hurt? It should.
The only things that were reaffirmed this past Saturday were the things we already knew: Stephen Garcia is still Stephen Garcia. Arizona State and Cal still torture their fan bases. Ryan Mallett is not ready for prime time. Georgia Tech can't defend. Boston College can't score. Penn State can't score touchdowns. Oregon doesn't waste time. Cam Newton can run. And Alabama knows how to win. (Perhaps a few other things, too.)
In the big picture: We don't know very much after one month. Buckle up for October. It's going to be wild.
5. Patience doesn't exist, but it's still a virtue
By Matt Zemek
In the internet age, a time of hypersaturated coverage and rapid-fire instant analysis, patience is even harder to come by than in the 1980s and before. Yet, one must still try to temper the passions that flare out of control in the first weeks of a college football season.
I saw some commentary on Saturday which proclaimed that Jim Harbaugh would be a better fit at Notre Dame than Brian Kelly. Let's play along with that statement ever so briefly.
Maybe, maybe, it's true. Sure, after seeing Stanford whack the Irish despite leaving plenty of points on the field, I suppose one could arrive at that conclusion. If you were to wonder about the comparative merits of the two men in a "thinking-out-loud" kind of way, that's a reasonable thing to do.
However, the sense I gathered from the online comments was that they were definitive and far-reaching pronouncements made with anger and intellectual clarity. In week four, a lot of diehards seem to be convinced about the strengths and weaknesses of their team's coaching staffs. This is where one has to step back, attain inner calm, and look at the big picture.
It should have been apparent after the "three-quarterbacks-all-throwing-one-interception" stumble against Michigan that Notre Dame just wasn't going to be very good this season, chiefly because of the lack of a big-time quarterback. If Irish fans were expecting Dayne Crist to be the cat's meow, they were mistaken. This isn't a knock on Crist; a man shouldn't be looked to as a messianic figure if he doesn't have the credentials of Jesus. Nothing Crist displayed against Michigan (or Purdue, or Michigan State) inspired confidence that Notre Dame would be able to outscore Stanford and Andrew Luck.
The Brian Kelly project is a three-year project. Urban Meyer is the master of the two-year turnaround, but 99 percent of FBS coaches aren't Urban Meyer. Kelly did whip Cincinnati into shape pretty quickly, but let's realize that it's not as hard to make a fast climb up the charts in a fluid and not-very-imposing Big East. Three years should still be the standard by which turnarounds are measured. Charlie Weis needed to be fired for a reason: Notre Dame fell precipitously from 2007 through 2009. Kelly is cleaning up the mess, and believe it or not, THAT TAKES TIME. What a concept, right?
Let's also frame the Harbaugh-Kelly debate this way: If you switched Andrew Luck and Dayne Crist - and no other players on the Cardinal and the Irish - who wins on Saturday? Bet your bottom dollar that Notre Dame would have prevailed.
If you're a Notre Dame fan, be patient with Brian Kelly.
If you're a Tennessee fan, be patient with Derek Dooley (and be thankful for what he's done to try to clean up your program).
If you're a Georgia fan, wait to see what happens with the Bulldogs when A.J. Green returns and Mike Bobo gets sacked as offensive coordinator. Mark Richt is still the best thing to happen to your program this side of Vince Dooley.
If you're a BYU fan, be patient with Bronco Mendenhall, the best man you've had in the head spot since LaVell Edwards.
Patience, believe it or not, is still a virtue for new head coaches and staffs. If you want to be impatient with a coach, there are plenty of options in America: Wannstedt, Tedford, Brewster, Zook, Stewart, Miles, Sherman, and Rodriguez, just to name a few.
Let's know when to render finite verdicts on first-year coaches. Difficult problems aren't solved in the first year on the job.