5 Thoughts ... Washington, the Parity, & More

Posted Sep 24, 2006

The resurgence of Washington under Ty Willingham, the possible need for a playoff more than ever, Texas still in the title hunt, and much more in the latest edition of Five Thoughts. Also, click on the Conference Links or the Team Pages for all the recaps and thoughts on the weekend's games.

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Week Four Thoughts

I'm still anti-playoff, but ...

By Pete Fiutak   
1. I've always been against a playoff in college football mostly because I think the powers-that-be would screw it up, but this year, I think I'll need one.

Don't get me wrong, I think the BCS is weird and believe BCS No. 1 should play No. 4, No. 2 should play No. 3, and then the two winners should play in one extra game. I just don't like the idea of the importance of the regular season being diminished. However, without a real playoff, it's unlikely that we'll really have some closure on this dead-even, wild season with no sure-thing top team.

I think USC is the best team in America, but it's hardly going to be compared to the greatest juggernauts of all-time. Ohio State certainly looked vulnerable against an average Penn State. Auburn came within a strange call of possibly losing to LSU (and still probably has to play Florida twice). Michigan, West Virginia, Florida, Louisville, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Oregon, and anyone else you want to name all have talent and could all beat anyone on any given week, but there are things to nitpick about with each of them.

Last year everyone is more than fine with USC vs. Texas. This year, what will Florida fans say if their Gators lose a squeaker at Auburn, go on to win the SEC title anyway, and get passed over for the national title game by West Virginia just because it's unbeaten? What will Michigan fans think if their Wolverines go unscathed until an end-of-the-year loss at Ohio State, but Notre Dame gets in to the title game after going on a great run with a win over USC? Don't even think about what would happen if Ohio State, Auburn, USC and West Virginia all go unbeaten. The point is that even if we have two unbeaten teams at the end of the year, that doesn't necessarily mean anything will really be settled.

Keep the eyes on Texas

By Richard Cirminiello
2. Unlike the last couple of seasons, there are no dominant, borderline invincible teams in 2006. That was evident this past weekend, when Ohio State, Auburn, USC, West Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Georgia and Virginia Tech all got pushed before pulling away late. Everyone is vulnerable and no one is unbeatable this fall-good news for college football and great news for Texas. The 'Horns are way off the national title chase radar, courtesy of their loss to Ohio State, however, that's going to change as they continue winning and other top 10 schools inevitably fall by the wayside. Plus, with the national spotlight off the program for now, freshman QB Colt McCoy is getting a chance to mature and develop with far less scrutiny than if Texas was perfect. Keep an eye on the Longhorns. Even though they have a loss, Glendale remains the goal for this team. .

Still figuring out the clock

By Matthew Zemek
In an ongoing discussion of clock rules in college football, the NCAA and relevant football people would do well to consider what has been said by many since the beginning of the season: have the clock run after first downs if you want to shorten games in a more natural and fluid way. Having the clock run before first-down snaps (following changes of possession) is an artificial and manifestly awkward vehicle for moving the game along. Having the clock run after first downs (so that officials can do their job more easily) is a profoundly more effective way of managing the tempo of a game.

I said a few weeks ago that running the clock after first downs was particularly effective because it would stop the process in which a ref has to stand over the ball at the scrimmage line and then jump away when the ball is ready for play. This unwieldy process makes quarterbacks (and centers) afraid to snap the ball too early, even if they have to snap the ball right away in order to beat the game clock. This happened at the end of the 1998 Rose Bowl between Washington State and Michigan, when the Cougars got jobbed for this very reason. It happened again Saturday night in Gainesville, as Kentucky--after getting a first down in field goal range with two seconds left in the first half--spiked the ball one second too late in the eyes of the officials. Kentucky QB Andre Woodson was afraid to snap the ball with the spotting official still running away from the scrimmage line, and that half-second made all the difference. Wildcat head coach Rich Brooks was wrong to claim time had run out prematurely, but if he and his staff had noticed, the clock operator--after UK got its first down with five seconds remaining--ran three ticks off the clock. It was that (unfair) loss of three seconds (from five down to two) that killed the Cats, not the final two seconds. It's obvious now, from all appearances, that if you only have two seconds left in a half, you can't snap a ball in time after a first down, given the one-second delay that inevitably occurs between the ref winding the clock and the ball-spotting official getting away from the scrimmage line. If you've snapped the ball with one second left, you obviously can't spike the ball before the double-zeroes emerge.

This does bring up a strategic point, then... until this stupid set of clock rules gets changed, anyway: if I have no timeouts and I just got a first down in field goal range with two seconds left in the half, I will instruct my quarterback and center to initiate a premature snap, even if it means getting a delay of game penalty. At least I know I'll be able to kick the ball (the adjustment is to ensure that a five-yard flag won't make a FG attempt unmanageable in terms of distance). And if I don't want to give up five yards, I would instruct my QB to kneel underneath the center so that he can immediately put the ball on the ground, instead of receiving the belt-high snap and then throwing the ball into the turf from the waist.

Might as well get close to the ground; that's the only way one can spike a ball inside of two seconds these days.

But of course, that's all background to the bigger issue: just let the clock run after first downs so we don't have this silly ('98 Rose Bowl/Kentucky-Florida) scenario anymore. Force teams (like Wazzu and Kentucky) to get out of bounds, period. If people want to shorten a game, do it that way; get rid of the new clock rules instituted for this season.

The Washington resurgence

By John Harris
4. Watching Notre Dame struggle through much of their matchup with Michigan State last night, I couldn’t help but think about their former coach and current Washington Husky head ball coach Ty Willingham.  Relax, Domers, this one isn’t about you; it’s about a man who has been a good coach for a long time, got caught in a difficult situation at Notre Dame and ‘escaped’ to an outpost in the Pac Northwest to take over a floundering Husky program.  It may not have looked like the best situation on paper at the time, but it was the perfect tonic for Willingham who had to be thrilled by the challenge of rebuilding the Huskies in the Pac-10.  After a 2 – 9 year in 2005, it looked as though Willingham’s rebuilding project was going to be a rough one, but outside of one poor half at Oklahoma, Willingham’s Huskies have played solid football this season.  His team’s performances have stoked the passion and energy of a football program that needed a boost in the worst way.  Is this a team that’ll absolutely, 100% without question be bowl bound this December?  Maybe, maybe not, but that’s not the point.  For that group of seniors, those guys having been recruited by Rick Neuheisel, coached by Keith Gilbertson and now by Willingham, this is one final opportunity to leave a legacy.  They’re the ones who’ve suffered through more changes than an aging actress on a plastic surgery binge; yet, they have a chance to rewrite the fortunes of Washington football for the foreseeable future.  That change was evident last night as the Huskies came from behind to beat a previously undefeated UCLA team.  Husky Stadium was electric and when Dan Howell, whose father passed suddenly only six days ago, intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown to seal the win, the television picture shook, as Husky Stadium erupted into a euphoria that hasn’t been experienced in quite some time.  That was early 1990s, Steve Emtman-Mark Brunell emotion coming forth from that crowd Saturday night, a by-product of what one man and his team of believers have wrought.  After the game, the TBS cameras caught Willingham hugging a player with a huge smile on his face before he did his post-game interview.  Of course, as Willingham turned toward the cameras, the public conscious head coach broke back into ‘game face mode’, but you knew what he was feeling.  It might’ve been odd to see Willingham with that huge grin on his face, but it spoke volumes of what he and the rest of Husky nation must be feeling today as they wake up 3 – 1 and in the mix for a bowl game.

Is this more fun?

By Pete Fiutak   
. Last year we had several all-time great games, an epic battle between USC and Texas in the opinion polls, an all-time great Heisman battle with Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Vince Young all worthy of the honor, the resurgence of Notre Dame, Alabama and Penn State, and, arguably, the greatest national title game of all-time. So far this year, most of the big games have stunk, there's not a dominant team, and the Heisman race inspires a yawn. However, in a quirky, different sort of way, is this season almost as fun?

It's never going to live up to 2005, but there are more teams in the national title race than ever with a sense that things are building, building, building to something really cool. By early November, there were be an all-out war of ideologies and belief systems between fans of the various conferences. At least, that's the hope. If Ohio State and Auburn win out and there's no debate in the end, it'll make for a great national title game, but the season will likely lack the drama and the flavor of past years. Here's hoping things pick up a little bit over the coming weeks. I expect they will.