5 Thoughts - Sept. 5
1. The BYU Issue ... Get Ready For A Fun Season
And here we go with what's going to be an ongoing debate for the next three months. Does an unbeaten BYU deserve to play for the national title? dford comes back and is Sam Bradford again, do we just throw out the loss to BYU?
When it comes to non-BCS teams having a shot for the national title, Boise State is out. It might not be fair, but the WAC is too awful and beating Oregon just isn't enough to demand anything more than a BCS game if the Broncos go unbeaten. But BYU brings a far different debate. The Mountain West is being generally accepted as a lighter BCS-level conference, and after all the ruckus made by Utah after pasting Alabama to finish off an unbeaten 2008, the league is on the front-burner when it comes to national discussion topics.
It's not like BYU beat Oklahoma in Provo, or Glendale, or on a true neutral field; BYU beat Oklahoma in Dallas, Texas in what amounted to a home game for the Sooners. Also, it's not like BYU has Idaho, New Mexico State, and Utah State on the conference slate. Well, actually, there is Utah State on the Cougars' non-conference schedule, and it's not like San Diego State, Wyoming, and New Mexico will do anything this year, but if Bronco Mendenhall's club it goes unbeaten, it'll have beaten Oklahoma in Texas, Florida State, Colorado State, TCU, Air Force, and Utah. The toughest remaining road date is at UNLV. Again, the toughest remaining road game is at UNLV. These things have a way of working themselves out in the final pecking order, don't just assume wins over the Seminoles, Rams, Horned Frogs or Utes just because the Cougars get those games at home, but with it's all there for a true dream season thanks to the argument-ender: they beat Oklahoma.
But here's the problem. It's not like BYU applied a Boise State-over-Oregon-like beatdown. Are you convinced that the Cougars beat the Sooners if Bradford plays the whole game? Of course you're not, because BYU got a deer-in-the-headlights Landry Jones under center instead of a No. 1 overall draft pick. If and when Oklahoma gets rolling again with Bradford back, this win for BYU could look shakier and shakier when talking about the national title. Meanwhile, if Oklahoma gets rolling and runs the table, do we throw out this loss to BYU because Bradford and TE Jermaine Gresham weren't factors?
Sam Bradford doesn't play defense, and the retooled Cougar offensive line held the NFL-caliber OU defensive front to a standstill. Coaches preach about overcoming adversity no matter what, and the Sooners didn't use their pro running back tandem of DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown to take over the offense. And in the end, BYU beat Oklahoma, and that includes knocking out Bradford. Football is a cruel business, and if you get a chance to take out the opposing quarterback, you do it. But everything will be factored in as the season goes on, and this game will likely have repercussions deep into early December.
2. Is Terrelle Ready For The Big-Time?
Does Tony Dungy have some time to have a sit down with Terrelle Pryor? The kid appears as if he's in need of some advice and sound direction.
Listen, I've said all along that I have no beef with Michael Vick being back in the NFL. He did his time, he paid a hefty price, and deserves another chance to pursue his chosen. Suggesting otherwise just doesn't make good common sense. However, in light of the reasons why he spent almost two years behind bars, why, as Pryor did on Saturday, would you script his name in your eye black during a game? It was shockingly asinine and surprising that Jim Tressel didn't notice it.
On a weekend, when Oklahoma lost Sam Bradford and a game to BYU, and Notre Dame and Michigan took baby steps back to prominence, maybe my focus should be elsewhere, but Pryor's move irked me for its infinite stupidity. A show of support? Are you kidding me? Raise your hand if you feel more compassion for Vick now that Pryor treated his face like a billboard. Okay, now raise your hand if you think the sophomore needs a six-credit class in public relations. If you want to flash your individuality, please do us all a favor and take it away from the stadium. One of the beauties of the college game is that, in stark contrast to the NFL, the program and the school trump the individual. It's a team thing at this level.
Pryor's response to the move was arguably stranger than the show of support itself. After the game, he offered this gem:
"Not everybody is the perfect person in the world. Everyone does — kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me. I just feel that people need to give him a chance."
Did Terrelle forego a helmet on Sunday? There are bigger issues out there, I know, but this level of oddity should not be swept under the carpet. Please, guys, play the game and save your personal leanings to any day but Saturday. Honest, by being somewhat bland as an amateur, you'll do yourself a huge favor in the long run.
3. It's Only Week One, But ...
After week one (minus Monday's two games), it's worth trying to make the distinction between really good indicators of teams and games that provide very inconclusive evidence (if any evidence at all) of a team's season-long fortunes. The best way to go about this dicey subject is to identify teams that: A) Face a more-than-normal amount of urgency at the beginning of the season, and B) are playing opponents good enough to either expose weaknesses or reveal strengths.
Using these two guiding principles, it would be fair to say that Illinois and Ron Zook are in deep trouble. Veteran players were waiting to make amends for a dismal 2008, only to do a face-plant in St. Louis against Missouri.
Another team that should be very concerned is North Carolina State. The ACC Atlantic contender was supposed to be powered by quarterback Russell Wilson, but the sophomore signal caller who flourished as a freshman looked strangely passive against a South Carolina defense that, for all its excellence, was truly loaded last season. All it took for N.C. State to win was a collection of three field goals, and the Wolfpack couldn't manage that much in a home game against an opposing offense that hardly dominated in its own right. Tom O'Brien's team lacked good field position in the first half of Thursday's throwdown, but not in the second half. Putting up three points at the beginning of a high-expectation campaign is a distressing sign in Raleigh.
A team that should gain a lot of confidence from week one (other than obvious candidates such as Boise State, BYU and Alabama) is Baylor. The Bears were playing an "upmarket" game, i.e., a game in which a number of intangibles didn't cut in their favor. Art Briles's team was on the road in a distinctly different part of the country against a program (Wake Forest) led by a senior quarterback (Riley Skinner) and a credentialed head coach (Jim Grobe). Yet, the youthful visitors traveled to Winston-Salem and dumped the Demon Deacons, validating the hopeful sentiments that had been wafting out of Waco in the off-season.
Many other teams should not be judged too much after week one, for better or worse. LSU struggled, but in Seattle late at night against a hyped-up underdog. Houston looked really good, but the Cougars were playing a glorified scrimmage and will be truly measured when they play Oklahoma State.
How much did week one take the temperature of your favorite team? Try to be honest--it's not an exact science.
4. There's A Reason Why It's The Most
Important Position In Sports
If there is any question about whether the quarterback position is the most important in college football, it was answered during the first full weekend of play, as those who had ‘em won and those that didn't lost. Yes, defenses and special teams and offensive lines played big roles in victories. We know that. But taking a look around the collegiate landscape, except in the cases of bigger programs stomping check recipients, the main games were won by teams that had solid play under center – or lost by those who were unable to get much from the position.
Take Virginia Tech. The hype surrounding Tyrod Taylor should officially be silenced, after he proved that he is not a major-college passer. Unless the Hokies want to go to the option, their defense and special teams had better be spectacular, or VT won't be winning the ACC. Georgia's Joe Cox was a pedestrian 15-of-30, as the Bulldogs fell to Oklahoma State, despite holding the vaunted Cowboy attack to a modest 307 yards.
Oklahoma was done once Sam Bradford went down. LSU subdued a game Washington team because of three TD passes by Jordan Jefferson. Get the picture? You need a real QB to win on a serious level in college football. It's why Notre Dame has hope this year. Even if Nevada showed up acting like a team looking for a payday, Jimmy Clausen was impressive. And Michigan has reason to feel good about its prospects after the performance of true freshman Tate Forcier. He has a way to go, but he gives the Wolverines more under center than they had last year. And as for USC, getting a 15-of-19 debut by freshman Matt Barkley had to be calm the nerves. Defenses will always win championships, but in college football, quarterbacks are almost as important. Saturday proved that.
5. The Boise State Issue ... Can The BCS Get
In Two Non-BCS Teams?
There are roughly 5,639 crazy things that are going
to happen over the rest of the college football
season, and we're on step three of the climb, but it
could be an interesting year ahead if BYU and Boise
State each go unbeaten and Notre Dame turns out to
be BCS eligible.
As it states in the BCS rules, a team from a non-BCS
conference gets an automatic spot it it finishes in
the top 12 of the BCS standings or if it finishes in
the top 16 and ahead of a BCS league champion from
another conference. If there are two teams that fit
the criteria, the highest ranked team gets selected
and the second team is in the pool for the at-large
bids. Last year, Utah got the automatic invite and
Boise State, despite being unbeaten and ranked ahead
of Ohio State, who ended up in the Fiesta Bowl, got
left out. This year, if Boise State goes unbeaten
again, after the way it waxed Oregon in the opener,
there will be some rightful screaming going on from
the WAC if there's not a spot in one of the big
ticket games. And that's a problem.
The BCS bowls don't want both BYU and Boise State.
They don't really want the ACC and Big East
champions, but they have to be in. As shown last
year, a marquee name like Ohio State still carries
more weight, and Boise State could once again feel
the squeeze, especially if Notre Dame gets in. All
the Irish have to do is finish in the top eight of
the BCS standings, which it could do by going 10-2
(with losses to, say, USC and either to Pitt or
Michigan State), and it's automatically in. With
only ten BCS game slots and six automatically filled
by the BCS league champions, the BCS bowls would
jump on the Irish, would have to take one non-BCS
team that finishes in the top 12, and would then
have to decide between a second SEC team, a second
Big 12 team, a second Big Ten team, and then,
possibly, either Boise State or BYU, to fill one of
those final two slots. If the Broncos or Cougars
have a loss, they're going to be out of the BCS mix
if the other is already in. But if they're both
unbeaten, then the college football world will truly
have a debate on its hands, and if there's another
Utah over Alabama-like bowl game, there will be
another offseason of changes being demanded by the
bottom five conferences.
But it's only early September. The BCS always turns
out perfectly in the end, right?