5 Thoughts - Oct. 24
(What to do with BYU)
(The problem with the polls, and the new star QBs)
(The sleeper team to watch out for)
(The Big East apology)
(To Tebow or not Tebow)
(Bama vs. Florida ... already?)
(The pecking order for the national title)
1. But I really, really, really want
to see these two go 12-0 and play for the SEC title.
I think Florida and Alabama are the two best teams in America, and you probably think Florida and Alabama are the two best teams in America, or at least in the top three (with Texas in the discussion), but I'm done making excuses for them. Gators and Tide, it's time to start playing better.
There is something to be said for being unbeaten at this point in the year. It doesn't matter who you are; you don't get to Halloween with a 0 after the dash without knowing how to sidestep a few landmines, but there's getting by a tough, fired up team when things aren't working all that well (Iowa over Michigan State and Texas over Oklahoma), and there's struggling the way the top two are. If Ohio State is going to get blasted for Tressel Ball, then where's the outcry over the offensive struggles for the top two teams?
No, Tennessee isn't that great. The D is solid and Jonathan Crompton are improving, but if you're ea national title contender at this point in the year, you don't need a blocked field goal at home to get by a team with that many holes. This wasn't a blip on the radar for a Tide team that sputtered to get by Kentucky, struggled to put away South Carolina, and had a nightmare of a time throwing it accurately against Ole Miss. Meanwhile, Florida's passing game is playing for the Minnesota Vikings (Percy Harvin) and Oakland Raiders (Louis Murphy), the offensive line struggles in pass protection, and Tim Tebow, one of the most efficient quarterbacks in college football history, isn't making the players around him better.
For the moment, it might be time to stop assuming that the winner between these two, or whatever team ends up winning the SEC championship, deserves an automatic free pass into the national championship, and that goes double if the champion has one loss. But everything could quickly change.
Bama QB Greg McElroy can find his early mojo again and make the passing game shine. Florida can stop giving the ball away and can finally start to get more out of the air attack. As ugly as the games might have been over the last few weeks, Florida is still No. 1 in the nation in defense and the Tide is No. 2 in run defense and fourth overall. However, one of these two teams will be the heavy favorite to win the national championship, and if there's a Utah over Alabama embarrassment again, or if there's a Texas over USC in the 2006-Rose-Bowl-like upset in Pasadena, look back to what's happening over the last few games and remember the signs that the SEC might not be wearing any clothes.
2. No, the coach isn't looking at houses in
the greater South Bend area quite yet.
Zach Collaros. The best recruiting tool in America
If you're a talented high school quarterback, how can you not be impressed by the miracles that Brian Kelly continues to perform at the position? Year after year, everything the coach touches seems to turn to gold. Ben Mauk goes from Wake Forest cast-off to one of the most prolific passers in school history. In just over a year, Tony Pike makes the trip from third-stringer to Heisman contender and NFL prospect. And now Collaros. No disrespect to the sophomore, but it's not as if he was a can't-miss prospect coming out of high school. Yet, in almost two games of work, he's looked like an All-America, first taking the torch from an injured Pike at South Florida and then torching Louisville in the first start of his Cincinnati career. As the Bearcats cling to hopes of a Big East championship—and possibly more—without Pike, Collaros calmly went 15-of-17 for 253 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks in a 41-10 demolition of the Cards. Kudos to Collaros, but the performance was an even bigger statement about the ability of Kelly to prepare a quarterback for game-time situations and get him to maximize his potential.
I don't care if you're in Ohio or Florida. If you're a quarterback looking to grow exponentially, why wouldn't you consider Cincinnati as long as Kelly remains at the program? If you put in the time and buy into the message, success is almost built right in. More than just helping keep the Bearcats remain unbeaten, that's what Collaros did for the program on Saturday.
3. If Buffalo could do it ...
Southern Methodist is becoming credible. Idaho has been IN-credible (naturally, in the best sense of the word). Kent State is fashioning a terrific season. Iowa is making magic each and every week. Louisiana-Monroe is making its way to the top tier of the Sun Belt. Cincinnati is singing and soaring. Pittsburgh is finally putting its talent to good use. There are many great stories developing in college football this year, but on Saturday, one narrative trumped all the others when 14 hours of TV watching had come and gone.
The words "Temple football" have often constituted an oxymoron over the past three decades. The Philadelphia program, which is mistakenly located in the Mid-American Conference (much as the Atlanta Braves once played in the National League West), actually enjoyed a modest measure of success in the 1970s under different conditions, but since then, the Owls have failed to take wing, a fitting fact for a team that is plainly out of its geographical element. (Philadelphia and Middle America? We'll leave that one alone.)
Dating back to 1980, Temple has won six games or more in just two seasons, 1984 and 1990. From 2003 through 2006, Temple won a total of just four games, making a 3-9 season feel like a breakthrough. Plunged into this perceptual black hole of misery, the Owls developed a Cavalier attitude in order to solve their problems. Temple brass tabbed Al Golden, formerly the defensive coordinator under Al Groh at Virginia, to lead the way out of the bleak shadows that had engulfed Lincoln Financial Field. Golden replaced woebegone coach Bobby Wallace in 2006 and served as the impotent inheritor of a 1-11 team in his first season at the helm. But as soon as he found his footing in Philly, Mr. Golden has truly lived up to his last name.
Temple's new boss has demonstrated a deft touch with respect to player development, attitude building and recruiting, a three-pronged plan that brought the Owls four wins in 2007 and five in 2008. Moreover, Temple's 5-7 record last season easily could have been 7-5 if not for a last-play Hail Mary loss at Buffalo and a last-minute fumble at Navy, which turned a touchdown lead into a wrenching overtime loss against the Midshipmen (Temple plays Navy again this upcoming weekend in Annapolis). So many people around the program could have resigned themselves to the idea that Temple had climbed high, but just wasn't meant to succeed. After Temple gagged away a 24-14 fourth-quarter lead to inner-city FCS rival Villanova in week one of this season, it appeared for all the world that the Owls would dwell in the dark of night once more.
The Golden One had other ideas.
From the rubble of their past, and the shattering, searing sickness of the Villanova choke job, the Owls have awakened thanks to a defense that just doesn't give up any meaningful scoring drives in the fourth quarters of games. As the gifted early-20th century sportswriter Ring Lardner famously said, "You could look it up." This past Saturday, Temple's defense--which only gives up empty garbage touchdowns these days--put the clamps on Toledo after halftime to pave the way for a 40-24 victory that lifted the Owls to 4-0 in the MAC, and 5-2 overall.
Toledo, once down 23-7, closed within 23-17 at halftime, but renewed attention to detail--the byproduct of Golden's halftime adjustments--quickly righted the ship for the visitors in Jamie Farr's beloved town. The Owls smothered the Rockets in the first 26 minutes of the second half; when Toledo tacked on a window-dressing touchdown with 3:02 remaining, Temple could afford to see seven points shaved off a 40-17 bulge. The theme that's been established in the 2009 MAC season was reaffirmed at the Glass Bowl, as Temple didn't allow second-half points until the outcome had been clearly decided in the Owls' favor.
Yes, win number six has yet to be attained, and the even-more-significant seventh scalp hasn't appeared on this team's MAC mantelpiece. Mark this down, though: Temple would have to lose four of its five remaining games in order to miss out on a winning season. Given the attitudinal shift that's taken place in Philadelphia, don't expect a Golden touch to desert the City of Brotherly Love.
If last year's ultimate feel-good story was the rise of Vanderbilt from the ashes of the SEC, this year's serving of comfort-food football has been dished out by Temple. Every lover of sports, every football lifer who has failed at a lower-tier program, can take hope from the soaring saga of Philadelphia's overachieving Owls.
4. Wow ... the guy really can coach.
Maybe Bill Snyder has the secret sauce in Manhattan after all.
Yes, it's only eight games into his second tour of duty as the Kansas State head coach, but it's hard not to be a little overwhelmed by what Snyder has started to accomplish. Although a final kick that includes games with Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska could change things in a hurry, the Wildcats are all alone atop the Big 12 North and a win away from returning to the postseason. That's downright miraculous considering how poorly the team played in its first three games with Massachusetts, Louisiana-Lafayette, and UCLA. Slowly but surely and despite not having gobs of talent, the ‘Cats have started to gel into a much better version than Ron Prince's final edition. It began quietly with a blowout of Tennessee Tech and has continued with league wins over Iowa State, Texas A&M, and Colorado. Not exactly a murderer's row of opponents, yet not much was expected from Kansas State this year either.
Two weeks ago, the Wildcats spread the wealth on offense, ringing up 62 points on the Aggies. On Saturday, they got a total effort from the defense, limiting the Buffs to six points and 244 yards. These aren't the Michael Bishop days in Manhattan, but they don't appear to be the dark days any longer either. It was a good weekend for Snyder, who raised plenty of eyebrows when he decided to come out of retirement almost a year ago.
5. Fear the 'stache.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Landry Jones era.
Jason White won a Heisman and was a finalist for another as he took the Sooners to two national championship games. Josh Heupel was a runner-up for the Heisman and gave Bob Stoops his only national title. And then there was Sam Bradford, who made the OU offense sing over the second half of last season as he grew into the perfect leader and playmaker for the fast-break, good-luck-catching-your-breath, point-a-minute offense. Jones is the next in line, and the goal for the rest of the season will be to groom him for a national title chase.
Jones has the size and is a better all-around athlete than Bradford. Now it's all about experience, and he's going to get it under fire and with few expectations, at least for this year, and little to no pressure. Oklahoma's goal each and every year is to win the Big 12 title and get to the BCS Championship, and since neither of those things will happen this season, seasoning Jones to be the Heisman-caliber playmaker who can carry the offense is the goal for the second half of the year.
Think about what might have been for the OU season. Bradford got hurt right away, RB DeMarco Murray was out this week, and TE Jermaine Gresham, arguably the best in the nation, was never able to get on the field with a knee injury. And in the storm, and with the close losses to BYU, Miami, and Texas, Jones has been thrown into the fire and has been more than solid. He has thrown six interceptions so far, but he has also pitched 13 touchdown passes and has held up well. The running game isn't working, top WR Ryan Broyles is playing hurt, and the line isn't providing the time that Bradford had last year. In other words, this is as bad as it's going to get for Jones, and it's going to pay off down the road. Get used to the mustache. It's going to be a part of your college football world until 2012.