Early Season Notes
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After three weeks of games, we can now kind of start to get a feel for what teams are going to be good, and what teams have serious work to do. Here are some of my observances from the early part of the college football season.
* Notre Dame - Preseason, I picked the Irish at number 19 in my top 25 poll. While I was halfway trying to get some chatter going, I really did (and still do) think Notre Dame was going to be fairly good under Brian Kelly right away. This is coming as the Irish are on the verge of a 1-3 start. Yes, after beating Purdue, ND is looking at three Ls in a row courtesy of Michigan, Michigan State and next, Stanford. But after the Cardinal though, do not be surprised if ND is still primed for a winning season in Kelly's first year. I see them beating Western Michigan, Tulsa, Navy and Army, and giving Boston College (away) and Pittsburgh (home) all they want. Utah (home) and USC (away) are probably losses, but teams change a lot over the course of the season, and by then (weeks 10 and 12) the Irish may have come around. If they could win just one of the 50/50 games, and step up in a big game at the end, they would wind up 7-5. 8-4 is not out of the question, but is a stretch. For now, they welcome a nationally ranked Stanford team that is on a tear, but the Irish could score a MAJOR, program changing morale booster with a win. They better be ready, however, because this Cardinal team could embarass Kelly's boys at home...
* Rise of Stanford - The Cardinal are good, folks. These guys aren't some fad team that just throws the football around all over the place. Remember last year when Toby Gerhart ran his way all the way to the Heisman stage? That was Head Coach Jim Harbaugh's style of play, and quarterback Andrew Luck has added to that this year. Luck is widely regarded as not only the best quarterback in the Pac-10, but very possibly the whole country. This team has completely destroyed the first three opponents they have faced this year, and I see the Pac-10, at least as of right now, as a battle between Oregon and Stanford. Harbaugh's coaching success in Palo Alto has not gone unnoticed. I guarantee you the folks in Ann Arbor know exactly what their alum is doing out West, and this only adds to the pressure that current UM Coach Rich Rod already feels.
* Rich Rodriguez - So with his back against the wall, what will Rich Rod do in his third season at Michigan? It is an understatement to say the least that he hasn't rocked the worlds of Wolverine football fans. An 11-16 record there is boring and bad. But here in 2010, he has his team of to a 3-0 start and ranked 21st in the AP poll. The next two games will certainly see UM favored big, so a 5-0 start is looking very, very real leading into two huge midseason home games with Michigan State and Iowa. If Rich Rod takes care of business the next two weeks he will have those two games to boost his team back into the top 10 going into the season's last third. This is nothing but an outsider's opinion, but I see Michigan finally getting it together this year - at least enough for RR to save his job and release a little heat from the seat. And that is a good thing for him, because Harbaugh would be a welcome face in Ann Arbor - and he knows it!
* SEC East: Different challenger to Gators? - Tennessee already has a conference loss, and Georgia already has two. Is this the year that South Carolina is the clear-cut favorite to challenge Florida for first place in the SEC East? There is no doubt that UF is one of the premier teams in the nation, but the question is whether or not the Gamecocks have the players on roster to fulfill the demanding requirements of a Spurrier-coached team. After a few games, the answer is a very definitive "just maybe." USC has had a strong, physical defense for several seasons now, but needed a game breaker on offense. Now, with beastly receiver Alshon Jeffery, and sensation freshman running back Marcus Lattimore, the Cocks may seriously be a threat to win the SEC East. At quarterback, Stepehen Garcia is a wild-card, but the backup, Connor Shaw, is a gem (and a fan favorite) in waiting if Garcia gets hurt. The Gators and Gamecocks play November 13th in Gainesville.
* Alabama the team to beat - Whoever does win the East will most-likely get Alabama in the SEC Championship Game (LSU and Auburn will have a say, but I'm picking the Tide). After three games, it is clear that the Crimson Tide are on another kind of mission again in 2010. They have shown no remorse on their first three opponents, and I can sum things up with one sentence from Coach Nick Saban. With his team leading 45-13 at halftime of the recent Duke game, Saban told a reporter, "....doesn't matter because our defense is playing like $hi*." Yes folks, if Alabama isn't your pick to repeat as the national champion, I would love to hear your argument for that. They play brutal on defense, are fundamental until it hurts, and can run the ball as good as any team since the Nebraska Cornhuskers of the mid-1990's. Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson are a lethal, lethal combo running the football. The Tide travel to Arkansas this coming weekend in what should be a fantastic game early on. But with that said, I see Bama winning comfortable by the time the dust settles.
* Not as planned at Ole Miss - A year ago, Ole Miss was one of the hottest teams in America, rising up into the top ten, and eventually beating Texas Tech to win the Cotton Bowl. Then, this summer, Ole Miss learned they would be getting the services of super talented quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who had left the Oregon program after being an early Heisman contender in 2009. A replacement to Jevon Snead had been found, right? Doubt it. Three games into 2010, the results have been less than desired for Rebel fans. Masoli has thrown just one touchdown in three games, while the team record sits at 1-2, including losses to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt. Things could still get turned around, but with Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU still on the schedule, this could get even uglier. Fresno State will probably beat them Saturday...
* Is Oregon really that good? - After beating their first three opponents by a combined score of 189-13, it would seem as if the Ducks were clearly one of the top two or three teams in the nation, right? Maybe. If you take a closer look, there has to still be question marks concerning the quality of the opposition. The first team was New Mexico who isn't exactly the '85 Bears. And the third team the Ducks played - Portland State - I have never heard of before this year. The middle team - Tennessee - is clearly not as strong as their historically famous name. The Vols have MAJOR problems right now, albeit Derek Dooley is taking the right steps to fix them. So I am wondering if Oregon is really as good as I think they are. The offensive gameplan is awesome, I do know that! And I think the defense has some tremendous athletes. I have the Ducks third in my top 25 poll, and I think they are national title material, but we will just have to wait to get the real answer on this team.
* Quiet - but strong - start for Big 12 - With so much talk about Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon up top, it is easy to miss that the Big 12 has three unbeaten teams in the top 10. Yes, Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma have all gotten off to 3-0 starts, with OU and NU notching huge out-of-conference beat downs (Florida State and Washington, respectively). This league has been a factor in the national title chase in nearly every season this decade, and I would be very surprised if that doesn't somehow become the case again this year. Of the three, I would like to see Nebraska make it back into the biggest game of them all, but it is tough to say what they have until Texas comes to Lincoln October 16th.
* Early ACC Favorites - OK, so with the league's annual disastrous start OOC, many may read this and say, "who cares, anyway?" Whatever, you don't have to read this then....Early on, it would appear that the Atlantic division has two of the stronger teams in the league in NC State and Clemson. The Pack are 3-0 and beat Cincinnati with ease last week. The Tigers lost on the road at Auburn, but showed they can go toe-to-toe with #15 in a hostile SEC night environment. On the Coastal side, Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and North Carolina have all lost games out of conference, and only UNC looked decent of the four. GT lost to a Kansas team that got pummeled the next week by Southern Miss for goodness sake. An important inter-divisional game goes down next Saturday from Clemson when Miami visits Death Valley.
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