5 Thoughts, Week 1
1. Great, TCU, your just had a nice mid-October day
in the Pac 10
I'm sorry, TCU. I'm trying to get into it, but I just can't.
That was a good win on Saturday night to be sure, but all you did was win a home game against a good Pac 10 team. Does that mean we're supposed to be doing backflips and assume it's national title time? It almost seems like everyone is putting the Horned Frogs in Glendale because of the schedule and not necessarily because this is some sort of a be-all-end-all team.
Beating Oregon State 30-21 isn't a statement; it's a victory. Baylor will be a nice test, but any team that's worthy of being in the top ten wins that game in a walk, and the same goes for a home game against BYU. If the Cougars travelled to Tuscaloosa, or Columbus, or Gainesville, would you expect anything less than a comfortable win?
Utah is the one big test left considering it's a road game, but it you offered TCU the option of going to Salt Lake City to play the Utes, or Iowa City to play the Hawkeyes, or Madison to face the Badgers (two road games Ohio State has to face), or to Baton Rouge to face LSU (Alabama's most dangerous road test), which would you take? To be in the national title debate, going unbeaten isn't good enough to TCU at this point. It has to win out and it has to do so in romping, stomping fashion. This team might be capable of doing it.
Lost after the clunker of a loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl was how dominant the Horned Frogs were throughout last year. This team has speed, skill, coaching, and a great leader in Andy Dalton, so it's possible that the game against the Beavers was merely a nice win that's setting the stage for the huge things to come. But there's no margin for error. Appearances count now.
2. In the Be Careful What You Wish For department
Welcome back, Michigan and Notre Dame. We've missed you.
I know, I know, these might be the two most arrogant franchises in college football with two of the most insufferable fan bases, but it's great to have Michigan and Notre Dame be MICHIGAN and NOTRE DAME again. Even if last week was a mirage and even if the teams aren't nearly that good, they certainly looked the part against two very solid opponents and their performance have made for a fun start to the season.
For Michigan, the offense worked. That's what we've all been waiting for and that's what was promised when Rich Rodriguez took over. After the BS and the losses of the last few years, it has been totally forgotten that the guy was special at West Virginia as he put together a team that came within a banged up Pat White from playing for the national title. The guy got the gig for a reason, and while it might have taken a while to get to a point where things look like they're supposed to, now is when the fun might begin. Remember, the whole idea here was to makeover the program and take a step back to take a giant leap forward, and this might be it.
On the other side, Notre Dame is likeable again only because Brian Kelly isn't that guy. There's a breath of fresh air around the program, and while the tension and pressure will always be there, it's different. Notre Dame has become likeable, if only because there are more big games and high profile moments when the place is buzzing. We want to see the Irish play the Wolverines when it matters. We want NBC to be a big part of the Saturday viewing schedule instead of just a channel to flip to when the real games are at a commercial. We want to be able to love/hate them, depending on your preference.
College football is better when there are a lot of good power programs, and while the season won't stink if the Irish and Wolverines turn out to be merely above average, it'll be far more fun it they're good. If nothing else, this weekend will be important. Yes, Notre Dame vs. Michigan is Notre Dame vs. Michigan again.
3. The Big East needs a boost
While the conference landscape is ever-evolving and the future uncertain, at least for this one year, it's a shame that the Big East has an automatic BCS bowl bid…and the Mountain West doesn't.
Linked for the past two seasons in any discussions about automatic berths, the two leagues couldn't have taken more divergent paths in the opening weekend. From the league assured of playing in a marquee, lucrative game, favorite Pittsburgh lost at Utah, two-time reigning champ Cincinnati faded at Fresno State, Connecticut was outclassed by Michigan, Louisville got dumped by Kentucky, and Rutgers needed almost three quarters to pull away from Norfolk State. Syracuse, which snuffed out Akron, was the only member to defeat an FBS opponent.
Over on the other side of the debate, the Mountain West's leading men continued to carry the conference banner with pride and prestige. In the league's three notable match ups with high-profile opponents, the Utes defeated the Panthers in overtime, TCU got past Oregon State, and BYU held off Washington, one of the up-and-coming programs in the Pac-10. Although the league still lacks depth beyond Air Force, it's every bit as formidable as the Big East's trio of Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and Cincy.
The times are changing in the Mountain West. Utah and BYU are on their way out. Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada are coming over from the WAC. Still, as the league is currently constituted, it deserves to send its champ to a BCS bowl game without having to worry about polls or computers in December. It won't. The Big East will. That dynamic never made less sense than it did following the opening Saturday.
4. Another year, but more rules problems.
The first week of the college football season - as it so often does - reminds us of rules that persist long after they should have been wiped off the books. In the first weekend of 2010 action, two rules jumped out as blemishes on the code of college football, two parts of the sport that need to be done away with.
First, the coach-whispering-into-the-ear-of-the-referee method of icing a kicker before a late-game field goal. Look - it's fine to ice kickers. That's an accepted and legitimate part of the game, just as you'd ice a foul shooter in basketball. What's not okay is for the coach to call the timeout right before he thinks the ball is going to be snapped. Amidst the din of the crowd, the side judge will often fail to tell the lead referee that a timeout has been requested before the snap occurs. The snap and kick unfold, but because the coach has gamed the loophole in the rulebook, the snap and kick don't count.
Let's extend the logical progression, then. If you ice a kicker, that means the physical act of kicking should not occur unless it actually counts. If a kicker is to be iced in a fair and sportsmanlike manner, he must not kick a ball that won't count.
Let's use basketball to once again draw a parallel. When the referee in a basketball game puts the ball in the hands of the foul shooter, he is initiating the free throw. Once a player has the ball, the free throw should not be interrupted. The officials are expected to clear up administrative issues with the scorer's table before they give the ball to the free-throw shooter. To give the ball to the free-throw shooter and then ask for it back - all because of an administrative error - represents terrible officiating, and it serves to add to the foul shooter's nerves by snapping him (or her) out of a necessary competitive trance athletes are trained to develop.
It is little different with kickers. Once the long snapper lets loose, the kick must continue to its natural end. To blow the whistle after the snap has occurred represents an interference with the kicker's rhythms and preparations, and therefore with the integrity of the act. A kicker should get one legal chance to make or miss a kick (assuming, of course, that the snapper and holder do their own jobs). Win or lose, good or no good, a pressure field goal should happen only once, not the three separate times witnessed Thursday night in the Pittsburgh-Utah game.
Acting on this issue isn't hard. You can ice a kicker, but you can't game the system by standing right next to the side judge and calling timeout a fraction of a second before the snap begins. Coaches have to maintain a certain distance (at least five yards, let's say; it can vary) from the side judge, and they can't call a timeout once the play clock reaches 10 seconds. Call the timeout with 11 seconds, then, or suffer a 15-yard penalty. Whisper to the side judge if you want, but absorb a 15-yard penalty.
One need not eliminate icing the kicker from college football; just this one practice everyone is aware of... and almost everyone in the sport detests. Come on, rules committee. It can't be that difficult.
Secondly, the last-minute clock rules need to be amended in this sport. On Saturday, in the final minute of the LSU-North Carolina game, a UNC player got injured with 19 seconds left after an in-bounds pass that got a first down. After the injury situation was resolved, the referee started the game clock, which ticked down to 15 seconds before UNC quarterback T.J. Yates received the snap from center. There is just no good reason to penalize North Carolina a few seconds after an injury. College kids should not be expected - at least, not as much as pro athletes - to immediately snap the ball or bark out instructions after an unnatural (i.e., non-timeout-related) break has stopped the clock. College football should not have to endure these artificial and awkward situations in which a quarterback is forced to pay attention to the referee to see if the clock is ready to start. That act of paying attention to the referee will almost always create a 1- or 2-second clock runoff, and North Carolina could have used every second available at the end of Saturday's game. The four-second runoff from 19 to 15 was the difference between UNC getting one more play or not.
Change the rulebook, FBS coaches of America. This can't be too hard. Use some common sense. This is the 21st century, after all.
5 Gill + Nutt do not = twins
By Matt Zemek
On one hand, it is thoughtful and accurate to say that Kansas and Ole Miss find themselves in very similar situations this week. Within a narrow football-only perspective, it is indeed fair to point out that the Jayhawks and Rebels have already been deflated by balloon-busting embarrassments against FCS foes on home turf. One can quibble and nibble around the margins in terms of comparing the finer points of each situation, but it remains that Kansas and Mississippi can be linked because of what they failed to do against North Dakota State and Jacksonville State on Saturday. The point is readily apparent.
Now, with that having been said, let's end that discussion and make a more important statement: When looking at these programs through a moral or ethical lens and not using football as the filter for the outfits in Lawrence and Oxford, there are important differences between KU and UM.
It's true that Kansas Athletic Director Lew Perkins - though soon to retire - has presided over a basketball ticket scandal and has witnessed his reputation take a pronounced pounding if not an outright nosedive. Being a D-I athletic director is a messy business; the need to raise and manage substantial sums of money will demand an approach where the bottom line becomes the bottom line. Any sober realist must acknowledge as much. Yet, the past few years have given clear indications that for all the hardball elements which belong to the work of an athletic director, Perkins has slipped toward - if not below - the line of acceptability. Kansas athletics is not a beacon or a model for the rest of the country, and the Mark Mangino divorce from the university affirmed this reality. Point taken.
This is where the story turns, however. For all the ugliness surrounding Jayhawk sports, including the contentious events that marked the 2009 football season, Mr. Perkins chose to give Mangino a pink slip instead of stomaching him for another year. You can say that KU had a disappointing 2009 campaign, a fact which certainly made Perkins' decision easier, but it's worth acknowledging that many supposedly easy decisions from a moral standpoint are not made in big-ticket collegiate athletics. Perkins deserves some credit for wanting to cleanse his football operation of the bitterness that had infected it.
Then consider the man Perkins tabbed as Magino's replacement.
Turner Gill is as upstanding a man as there is in an FBS head-coaching position. Gill won the undying admiration and respect of the young men he led at Buffalo, and in a cutthroat profession, Gill is the last person who is likely to cut an ethical corner in order to grab an extra "W" on a Saturday. If the discussion is related to football acumen, the jury is still out on Gill, and this weekend's humiliating 6-3 loss to North Dakota State will only raise more questions about the ability of this 1980s football hero to win games outside the Mid-American Conference. However, in looking at life beyond the sole province of pigskin, Gill is a man every college football fan (outside of Kansas State and Missouri; we can make exceptions for heated rivalries) should root for.
This is not the case for Houston Nutt, for all the obvious Jeremiah Masoli-based, NCAA-influenced reasons that have been given ample ink and cyberspace over the course of the past month. Nutt has become - quite reasonably, it should be added - the poster boy for situational (faux-)morality that college football coaches so often resort to when their depth charts shrink or their team speed decreases. Just recall what Gill's mentor, Tom Osborne, did when the matter of Lawrence Phillips in 1995. That was another case in which a coach said a young man needed football after partaking in criminal activity (in that case, the crime Phillips committed - assault - was far worse than anything Masoli ever did). Nutt's words about being in the "people-helping business" - this from the man who hired high school coaches onto his Arkansas staffs just so he could retain the right recruits for his gameday needs - are as hollow as the scoreboard victory LSU won over North Carolina's farm team this past weekend.
And let's not get started on the matter of Ole Miss AD Pete Boone, who didn't like David Cutcliffe's morals but hired the sketchy Ed Orgeron and now has the increasingly embarrassing Mr. Nutt on his hands. (And oh, how about Andy Kennedy's brush with the law, too?)
Go ahead and link Kansas and Ole Miss solely on the football field. That's fair.
Laughing at both programs' troubles? Turner Gill deserves your support, not your chuckles.