5 Thoughts - The Big Game You Must See
Missouri's Jeremy Maclin and OSU's Dez Bryant
Missouri's Jeremy Maclin and OSU's Dez Bryant
Posted Oct 6, 2008

While this week will be all about Oklahoma vs. Texas and LSU vs. Florida, there's a big-time game that you might not know about that could be the best showdown of the weekend. That and the new Penn State star, the shift of power at Tennessee, and more in this week's 5 Thoughts.

5 Thoughts ... Oct. 5

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- Week 5

One Bathroom Break And You'll Miss Two Touchdowns

By Pete Fiutak   

1. Joe Six Pack College Football Fan might only care about the wink and the wiggle of Oklahoma vs. Texas or LSU at Florida or Penn State at Wisconsin, but you want more than the obvious showdowns. As good as those should be, as Saturday shakes out, they might take a back seat to the under-the-radar matchup that'll have a huge impact on the BCS race.

Oh sure, those spotlight games will be wars that'll be overanalyzed by every talk show host and every pregame show; we've all been fired up about these games for months. However, if you've been paying attention to what's been happening so far this season, there's a hidden gem that didn't seem like much before the season started, but now should be every bit as worthy as the Red River Rivalry when it comes to finding out who really gets a seat at the big boy table.

8:00 p.m. EST in Columbia, Missouri ... Oklahoma State is visiting Missouri. Don't let it get pushed aside by the Tigers - Gators and Nittany Lions - Badgers, who are playing at the same time.

Now that Mizzou is No. 2 in the only poll that matters, the Coaches' Poll, it's time to find out just how real this team is. Beating Illinois was strong, and the blowout over Nebraska wasn't without its charm, but this Oklahoma State team is a whole other animal.

It might seem like overhype to call OSU another Alabama, but that's what it'll be if it pulls off a win in Columbia. If nothing else, this will be the rare firefight between two high-octane offenses playing at the highest level.

All Missouri has done is hang 52 on Illinois, 52 on SE Missouri State, 69 on Nevada, 42 against Buffalo and 52 against Nebraska. The attack has been flawless, currently ranking second in the nation in scoring (behind Tulsa) and third in total offense (behind Tulsa and Texas Tech). Meanwhile, Oklahoma State scores 39 in Seattle against Washington State to open the year, 56 against Houston, 57 against Missouri State, 55 on Troy and 56 against Texas A&M. OSU is sixth in the nation in total offense, third in scoring, and second in rushing. No, the Cowboys haven't exactly beaten LSU and USC, and that's why this game is so intriguing. If the T. Boone Pickens Cowboys are ready for prime time, we'll know it after this weekend.

And there's so much more to this showdown.

With all due respect to Florida's Percy Harvin and North Carolina's Brandon Tate, this will be a showcase for the nation's two best all-around playmaking wide receivers. Everyone knows about Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, the highlight reel superstar who has caught 31 passes for 480 yards and five touchdowns, rushed for two scores, and is averaging just over 10 yards per punt return and over 30 yards per kickoff return. As good as Maclin is, he could take a backseat if this is the coming out party for the leader in the race for the Biletnikoff Award.

Oklahoma State sophomore Dez Bryant has gone ballistic. He wasn't really involved in the offense against Missouri State, he wasn't needed, but in the last three games that have mattered he caught nine passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns against Houston, six passes for 118 yards and three touchdowns against Troy, and five passes for 106 yards and three touchdowns against Texas A&M. He's averaging 20.3 yards per grab even though every secondary has focused solely on stopping him. Oh yeah, and he's also fourth in the nation in punt returns averaging 23.5 yards per try with two touchdowns. Bryant is sixth in the nation in average all-purpose running yards per game while Maclin is fifth. Bryant is second in the nation in scoring behind Tiger RB Derrick Washington, who has 12 touchdowns with two rushing scores in each of the first five games

OSU QB Zac Robinson is third in the nation in passing efficiency. Missouri's Chase Daniel is fifth, and is fourth in the nation in total offense. Oklahoma State's Perrish Cox is second in the nation in kickoff returns averaging 35.78 yards per try. OSU RB Kendall Hunter is fifth in the nation in rushing.

In other words, as the man says, get your popcorn ready.

And You're Wondering Why Terrelle Pryor Didn't Sign

Richard Cirminiello   

2. After watching Darryl Clark guide Penn State to a 6-0 start, I’m wondering if Penn State should be applauded or criticized for the quarterback’s play. For the second time this decade, the Nittany Lions have buried a talented quarterback until the latter stages of his college career. Where was Clark when Anthony Morelli was throwing bullets into the other team’s chest in back-to-back seasons? That sounds eerily similar to the situation involving Michael Robinson, who was forced to play wide receiver as an ineffective Zack Mills got the nod under center. After Mills graduated, Robinson flourished as a senior at quarterback, earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors. Even RB Larry Johnson had trouble getting reps in his first three years, languishing behind such luminaries as Eric McCoo and Omar Easy, before exploding for 2,000 yards as a senior in 2002. Is the Lion staff painfully loyal or doing a poor job of evaluating players early in their careers?

While it would have been nice if Clark had attempted more than nine passes last season, the good news is that he doesn’t appear to be hurting from a lack of experience. Through six games, he’s accounted for 13 touchdowns, while throwing just a single interception. He’s a dual-threat who’ll zip passes into tight places and bury a defensive back when he leaves the pocket. And he brings a swagger and confidence into the huddle that’s reminiscent of Robinson when he finally got his chance in 2005. No one has been more instrumental to Penn State’s unexpected rise in the polls than No. 17. Don’t get a false of security, Big Ten fans, that this is the only year you’ll have to deal with the senior. A former Prop 48 student, Clark is well on his way to completing the required number of credits needed to earn an extra year of eligibility for 2009.  

The Tennessee Ying And The Yang

By Richard Cirminiello

Could life get any worse for Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer? Not only are the Volunteers buried in the SEC East basement, needing to escape Northern Illinois Saturday, but the program has lost the back page in the state to Vanderbilt. Vandy is bigger than Rocky Top, just another sign of how much things have changed in college football.

What’s not to like about the Dores’ first 5-0 start since 1943, which was capped by a win over Auburn and has captured the attention of the entire football nation? The program does things the old-fashioned way. In a league of football factories, the athletes are truly student-athletes, pulling double-duty at one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country. The even-keeled coach, Bobby Johnson, doesn’t permit swearing on the field. The team, still at or near the bottom of the SEC in total offense and total defense, trades flash for fundamentals. From tackling and turnover margin to sacks and special teams, Vanderbilt does all of the little things needed to overcome an obvious talent gap compared to the rest of the league. The only thing that could have made this story more enjoyable is if I had predicted it back in August.

So where does this leave Fulmer? Technically, whatever Vanderbilt does has no bearing on the coach’s future in Knoxville. However, losing the spotlight to a perennial doormat sure isn’t helping. Whatever support he had entering the season is gone, meaning change could be in the air at the end of the season. The Vols get a first-hand look at the Commodores on Nov. 22 in a game that’ll have profound implications to the future of both programs.

Somewhere This Weekend, FIU And Army Fans Got To Rejoice, Too

By Matthew Zemek

4. One of the great treasures of college football is found in the fact that every Saturday (except for week two of this season, one of the biggest duds in the sport's long history) offers numerous success stories that hit the heartstrings in different places and from various angles. It's not just the multiplicity of magical moments that inspires those of us who watch this sport for a living (and believe me, watching Iowa-Michigan State or Hawaii-Fresno State or Missouri-Nebraska for a living is not fun; when the quality of play is poor or the matchup doesn't sizzle, this generally wonderful job can be a downright chore). College ball, unlike the NFL brand, sings and soars because of the different identities, the unique regional portraits of passion and pride, that emerge around the country every Autumn.
This past weekend offered many glimpses of gridiron glory, but the flavor of each victory was definitely not the same at each program.
Ohio State proudly defended its Big Ten title at Wisconsin, setting up a 15-round heavyweight title bout vs. Penn State on Oct. 25. In Columbus, conference crowns are expected, but after sweating out a close one in Madison, perhaps Buckeye fans will appreciate how admirably consistent their team has been over the past several seasons. (And perhaps OSU's most ferocious critics will man up and give Mister Sweater Vest a little more respect.)
For Vanderbilt, success is always expected in the classroom and in the world's most noble professions... but not on the gridiron. The sweet nectar of victory that's being imbibed by a parched Commodore Nation carries a taste quite different from the brew being downed by Buckeye fans.
The state of Ohio would have a collective coronary if forced to endure anything close to what Vandy football fans have experienced for the past 26 years. Commodores of all ages would give their right arm and their left leg--but not a decline in test scores or academic credentials--to win 10 games and play a January bowl game in just one season. Even 7-5 with a bowl victory would do wonders for Nashville's Little Engine That Could.
Illinois also registered a special victory on Saturday. No, the Illini won't make a BCS bowl, but a decisive triumph at Michigan--a stadium Wisconsin couldn't conquer the week before--showed that Ron Zook's program has attained a measure of staying power in the Big Ten. For a program that had been at the very bottom a few short seasons ago, an upper-division conference finish, with a solid 8-4 record and a chance at the Outback Bowl, is something to be cherished, not panned.
Victory and success, as you can plainly see, acquire different tones and textures for various teams. It's why no two programs--or wins--are created equal in this sport. Fans on opposite sides of various divides would do well to walk in another program's shoes every now and then.

Don't Call It A Rebuilding Year. O.K., Call It A Rebuilding Year.

By Steve Silverman  

5. Illinois 45, at Michigan 20

Missouri 52, at Nebraska 17

There’s nothing like the have-nots beating up the haves. I’m not talking about a perennial down-and-outer coming through with a miracle and squeaking by a good team as they play in front of their rabid fans at home. No, this has nothing to do with a last-minute field goal or a miracle goal line stand.

Illinois goes on the road to Michigan and overwhelms the Wolverines with a huge second-half performance. Missouri goes into Lincoln and smacks the Cornhuskers around for 60 minutes. Neither one of these wins were flukes. Illinois has an accomplished offense with Juice Williams at the controls and some issues on defense but those issues were invisible against Steven Threet and his crew of Maize and Blue masqueraders.

The Tigers are an unstoppable force on offense with future NFL star Chase Daniel and WR Jeremy Maclin leading the way and the Tigers handed Nebraska its worst home defeat in 53 years.

Will these trends continue? Possibly. But whether they do or not, there’s something reassuring about a major turnaround. Maybe life is fair after all and those that work hard will finally get their rewards. You think that for about five seconds and then realize that the Chicago Cubs are now working on their second century of futility. Life will always hit back in one way or another.