Ten Things - Week Four
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Ten Things, Week 4
After a week off, it seems the college football world has turned upside down. Since the preseason polls were released, four teams have already suffered a loss – three of them were upsets. It seems the field is still littered with teams who want their shot, and maybe one or two of them will break through. Nevertheless, September is nearing an end, autumn is in the air and this season of football is just heating up. Join me as we relive the week that was in this week’s Ten Things…
1.Bama, Oregon Solidify Top Spots – With all the shuffling in the top ten, and from the looks of things there will certainly be more shuffling ahead, Alabama and Oregon have risen to the top in what appears to be a field of pretenders. No team has played at the level of these two teams this year, and no team can couple that with the consistency of the past few years (looking at you, Florida State, Notre Dame, etc). Alabama still has a tricky game in Baton Rouge on November 3rd, but no other teams at this point seemed to be in a position to challenge the Tide. At the other end of the country, Oregon also has a potential stumbling block at USC, and unless Stanford or Oregon State continue to progress, the PAC-12 North might be locked up by the Ducks.
2. Separating the Contenders from the Rest – With the top two teams on their island for now, let’s observe the rest of the group of top teams vying for a shot at the crystal football. LSU needs to show that it’s better than beating a weak Auburn team by a safety (albeit on the road), while three SEC East teams (South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida) can sneak their way into the mix by beating the other two rivals. Florida State is standing tall with the most promise its shown since Bobby Bowden’s last championship team in 1999, and because of that they have to do more than beat Clemson at home to erase the disappointments of recent history. Likewise, Notre Dame has shown promise, but the Big Ten isn’t what it used to be (more below). Kansas State got a huge monkey off its back by beating Big Twelve giant Oklahoma, but new kid on the block West Virginia isn’t far behind. We will find out who carries the conference flag when they meet in three weeks in Morgantown. Stanford has the biggest victory of any team in the top ten, over USC in Palo Alto, but must prove itself at South Bend in two weeks. If the Cardinal survive, then we might be looking at November 17th as the game of the year in Eugene against the mighty Ducks.
3. Big East Woes Continue – Did I say Big East? I meant Big Ten, though it’s certainly difficult to tell them apart right now since the Big East favorite, Louisville, is ranked above every Big Ten team eligible for the championship game (AP #14 Ohio State is ineligible). Even the Buckeyes had their hands full with the mighty UAB Blazers of Conference USA. Michigan QB Denard Robinson threw away his last possible chance at a Heisman with four straight pass attempts caught by Notre Dame defenders. Michigan State carries the banner at the present moment, but they don’t leave the state of Michigan for real challenge until October 27th at Wisconsin (sorry Indiana, you don’t count). Nebraska may sneak up, but after a shoddy game at UCLA a couple of weeks ago and the inevitable Taylor Martinez regression, you never know. At least with conference play getting into full swing, when a Big Ten team loses, you know a Big Ten team will win.
4. Once Dormant Powers Awaken – Having sufficiently labeled Florida State, Notre Dame, and Kansas State in the second tier of the football world as we know it, it is quite refreshing to see these teams occupy the same top ten as recent up and comers Oregon, West Virginia, and South Carolina. For all the history, Notre Dame has been the butt of many a football joke the past two decades. Coaching changes, BCS busts, and generally a lack of interest in many circles left the Irish in an unfamiliar setting – not an integral part of college football. But third year coach Brian Kelly has his team undefeated for the first time in a decade, and some games against tough teams could be enough to propel the Irish to the BCS even with two losses. Florida State certainly lacked some luster in the twilight of Bowden’s career, but Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles in the part of the rankings they dominated for more than a decade. Whether it pans out is yet to be seen, but a weak ACC should help. And even though Kansas State may not have the same level of history as Notre Dame of FSU, it’s impossible to overstate the job that Bill Snyder is doing in reviving this program for the second time. This time, it’s only taken him 4 years to get the Wildcats mentioned in the same breath as the elites, and this year following a hard fought win in Norman they hope to carry the torch for the Big Twelve.
5. Player of the Week: Taylor Heinicke, QB Old Dominion – That’s right, you read that correctly. The player of the week this week doesn’t even play for an “FBS” school. But in a world that has Oregon, Dana Holgerson, and the Air Raid offense, a quarterback that sets the single game passing record at 730 yards while completing 55 of 79 pass attempts (by comparison, Alabama QB AJ McCarron is 51 for 81 on the season). Heinicke led his team back from a fourth quarter deficit of 54-38 with two touchdowns and two-point conversions to tie the game with 10:09 left. With all the touchdowns (5 passing and 3 rushing for each team), the game was decided by a chip shot field goal.
6.MAC Gains Respect – The Mid-American Conference is known for pretty good teams, the occasional must-see exciting game, and mid-week “MAC-tion” for those of us jonesing for football by Wednesday. Over the weekend, they showed they can be the strongest mid-major conference this year. In one Saturday, MAC teams beat a team from the Big Ten (Iowa), Big Twelve (Kansas), and Big East (South Florida and Connecticut). Granted, those aren’t the top dogs in the big boy conferences, but the teams that won these games (Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, Ball State, and Western Michigan, respectively) aren’t the favorite to win the conference. That designation still belongs to undefeated Ohio, who beat Penn State to start the year.
7. Three-Year Expectation – Long ago, football coaches were given a four year grace period to get a team full of their own recruits. Around the turn of the century, that window shortened. Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and Jim Tressel won BCS titles in their second year. When Urban Meyer landed at Florida, it only took him two years to win. Even Gene Chizik caught lightning in a bottle in year two. But lately, patience seems to have won over many fan bases. The aforementioned Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher are each in their third year at their current post. Louisville’s Charlie Strong is making headway as well. But not all is well for third year coaches, as some are starting to feel the heat. Tennessee’s Derek Dooley has never really been welcomed, and losing to Florida the way they did shows that the Volunteers still have some growth before they can expect to play in Atlanta again. Speaking of Tennessee, USC coach Lane Kiffin, who took a wrong turn from Oakland to LA and wound up in Knoxville for a year, started the season with high hopes crashing down before the end of September. Skip Holtz had to think coaching in Florida would yield him more success due to the recruiting pool, but USF finds itself 2-2 with Florida State rolling into town. The seat’s not hot, but it is definitely warming.
8. Does Anyone Want the Heisman? – Preseason favorite Matt Barkley seems on a backslide. After two weeks and a 10-1 touchdown-interception ratio, he’s 2-4 and completing only 56% of his passes. Another preseason favorite, Denard Robinson, has had two bad games in four weeks – not the makings for a Heisman winner. West Virginia QB Geno Smith is #2 nationally in passing, but Marshall, James Madison, and Maryland are hardly strong competition. FSU’s EJ Manuel and KSU’s Colin Klien fit the mold of MVP of a top team, and De’Anthony Thomas of Oregon is a threat to score any time he touches the ball. Manuel and Klein aren’t in the top 50 nationally as passers and Thomas is barely in the top 25 in all-purpose yards. Could this be the year that a defensive player fills the void? Someone like Manti Te’o of Notre Dame or Jarvis Jones of Georgia are linebackers with the name recognition and the eye-popping impact on games.
9. State of the SEC – After one-third of the games have been played, it seems there is a change in strength of depth. The West has Alabama, LSU, and that’s about it as far as we can tell now. The East division has half of its teams in the top 12 nationally – Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. If Tennessee plays a full game against UGA and SC like they did the first three quarters against Florida, then we might be talking four SEC East teams in the top 20 by this time next month. It’s obvious that the new kids are either still experiencing growing pains (Missouri got waxed 31-10 at South Carolina) or still eating cupcakes (Texas A&M cruised to a 70-14 win over South Carolina State). Mississippi State is knocking on the door to another special season under Dan Mullen, but when your best victory is over either Auburn or Troy (I can’t decide), it’s too soon to make judgments.
10.Top Three to See:
- 1. Baylor at West Virginia – The Bears successfully thwarted the giant-killing Warhawks last week. This week, the competition looks to step up a couple notches with the Mountaineers. West Virginia will try to notch their first win over a team worth beating. My guess is no upset here. WVU wins, 38-30
- 2. Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati - I really wanted to go Ohio State-Michigan State for the second round of games, but unless Sparty finds its offense, the game to see is at FedEx Field. Virginia Tech has looked as solid as ever except for the loss at Pittsburgh – the same Pittsburgh team that lost 34-10 at Cincinnati. If the Hokies are going to make noise in the ACC, this game will serve as a massive confidence boost. If the Bearcats are to challenge Louisville as the favorite in the Big East, a solid win away from home will be just the ticket. Frank beamer will have his guys focused, though, and carry the day. VT wins, 31-17
- 3. Oregon State @ Arizona – After a completely demoralizing defeat in Eugene last week, the Wildcats still have a chance to win the PAC-12 South, and that starts with bouncing back against a scary good Beaver team. Mike Riley has Oregon State motivated early in the season with upset wins over Wisconsin and UCLA. Those wins were narrow, though, and neither of those may wind up being quality victories by season’s end. I expect RichRod to have the Wildcats practicing their red zone play-calling (after going 0-for-6 last week) and notch a much needed win. Upset Alert, Arizona wins 24-14
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