Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Week One Cheers and Jeers
Week 1 provides some cheers and many jeers
By Pat Forde
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (ACC season basketball tickets sold separately -- rush orders now available!): Just one question before we get going. Did anyone get the license plate number of the Escalade (1) that ran over serial poser Clemson Saturday night?
OK, one more question: Is Clemson really the best the ACC (45 days 'til Midnight Madness!) has to offer?
When Ohio State's Beanie Wells (2) suddenly went one-legged near the goal line Saturday afternoon, the response was immediate among the group The Dash was watching it with on TV: Why is he still in the game?
At that time, the Buckeyes led FCS Youngstown State 26-0 in the third quarter. There was zero percent chance the Penguins, who produced 74 yards of total offense for the game, were going to come back and win. (By the way: Penguins? In Ohio?) It was all over but the stat padding. If Wells is lost for any appreciable amount of time -- and no matter what, it's difficult to envision him at 100 percent against USC on Sept. 13 -- coach Jim Tressel (3) will have to live with a key injury that could have been avoided. But this is the kind of Cupcake Roulette almost all powerhouse schools play, especially early in the season. They love to sell big-dollar tickets to guaranteed wipeouts. They love to run up big scores against overmatched opponents. They hope nobody essential gets hurt in the process -- especially when the game is in the bag.
Bang. Ohio State lost this game of Cupcake Roulette.
We all understand what was going on in The Horseshoe on Saturday: Tressel was giving his Heisman Trophy candidate a few more chances to pile up numbers against an outclassed defense. Wells had 12 carries for 113 yards and one touchdown to that point. The 13th carry would be it, as he collapsed to the turf reaching for his right foot.
Any of 100 other coaches would have done the same thing with his star running back. But the fact remains, they'd all be taking a dangerous risk.
In strict scoreboard terms, Ohio State had not gotten to the point of rubbing it in. Cupcake Etiquette says the stars should be off the field when the lead reaches 40 points or more. Youngstown knew its role: take the $650,000 guarantee check, take the beating, go home.
Mark Sanchez was still throwing in the fourth quarter against Virginia.
But even though the Buckeyes had not broken any unwritten sportsmanship rules, there was no true need for Wells to play at that point.
You could say the same thing about USC quarterback Mark Sanchez and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy's playing into the fourth quarter of blowout victories. The only difference is that the Trojans went on the road and played someone from a BCS conference (Virginia), and the Longhorns were playing a 2007 bowl team and 2008 Sun Belt favorite (Florida Atlantic). When you have a key injury in the second half while thumping an FCS school, there are no really good excuses.
Speaking Of Scheduling …
Sometimes a soft start can roll into something big. For example, take a look at Kansas last year: The Jayhawks opened with four straight home games and did not leave their home state until Week 7. By then, they were 6-0 and flush with confidence, on their way to a breakthrough 12-1 season.
Here are five teams that have a chance to turn a user-friendly early schedule to their advantage:
Indiana (4). First road game isn't until Oct. 4, at Minnesota. If the Hoosiers can get by Michigan State on Sept. 27 and beat the Gophers, look out. They get an Iowa team they've beaten two years in a row on Oct. 11. It's possible (though not necessarily likely) they'll be 6-0 traveling to Illinois Oct. 18.
Texas Tech (5). The Red Raiders do have a road game this week, at Nevada, but they don't play an opponent from a BCS league until visiting Kansas State on Oct. 4. If they're not 4-0 at that time, something went terribly wrong. First game against an FBS opponent who won more than seven games in 2007: Oct. 25, at Kansas.
Nebraska (6). Bo Pelini's first road game as a head coach isn't until Oct. 11, at Texas Tech. After three walkovers, the Cornhuskers host a Virginia Tech team that suddenly appears unimposing, then Big 12 North Division heavyweight Missouri. But keep in mind, Mizzou hasn't won in Lincoln since 1978.
Florida State (7). The Seminoles don't leave north Florida until Oct. 4 and don't leave the state until Oct. 16. But they do have Wake Forest on Sept. 20, Colorado a week later in Jacksonville and Miami on Oct. 4. Given the ghastly Week 1 results, there is ample room for the Seminoles to return to power in the ACC (Tyler Hansbrough is back!).
Boston College (8). The Eagles dazzled no one while defeating Kent State 21-0 in Cleveland, but now they're home until Oct. 4. That's when they make what could be everyone's favorite road trip in the ACC (Gold medal for Mike Krzyzewski!) this year, visiting NC State.
And one team that already blew its scheduling advantage:
Louisville (9). The Cardinals don't play a road game until Oct. 10 against Memphis, and don't play another BCS conference opponent on the road until Nov. 1 -- and that's Syracuse, which really doesn't count. However, after Louisville racked up two points, 205 offensive yards and five turnovers in a humbling loss to rival Kentucky on Sunday, none of the scheduling favors might matter.
Debuts To Boo
Mike Sherman (10), Texas A&M. It's bad to lose your opener to a so-so Sun Belt Conference team. It's really bad to be outplayed in the process. Arkansas State outgained the Aggies by more than 100 yards, committed three fewer turnovers, shut out A&M over the final 34-plus minutes of the game and allowed no running play of longer than 13 yards. How the rest of the season looks: dicey, in a very strong Big 12. If it improves in the coming weeks, A&M could go 5-7.
Bobby Petrino (11), Arkansas. Nobody expected greatness from this group, but do you think they paid Petrino $2.85 million to need a last-gasp comeback to beat FCS Western Illinois? How the rest of the season looks: Unless the Razorbacks get a lot better very quickly, they could lose eight games -- more than Houston Nutt ever did.
Rich Rodriguez (12), Michigan. When you lose the school's all-time leading rusher (Mike Hart), all-time leading passer (Chad Henne), two NFL wide receivers (Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington) and the No. 1 overall NFL pick (offensive tackle Jake Long), struggle is inevitable. Factor in a completely foreign offensive scheme, and it figures to get worse. Michigan lived down to the grimmest of expectations in being dominated by Utah in the Big House. To make matters worse, Michigan paid the Utes a reported $800,000 to come in and kick sand in its face. How the rest of the season looks: At Notre Dame Sept. 13 could be a swing game between losing season or bowl eligibility.
June Jones (13), SMU. The Mustangs' defense was really bad last year -- but it never gave up 56 points the way it did to Rice in Jones' first game. How the rest of the season looks: not a whole lot better than last year's 1-11.
Paul Wulff (14), Washington State. The Cougars were dominated by Oklahoma State in Seattle, producing no plays longer than 14 yards and reinforcing preseason predictions of finishing last in the Pacific-10. How the rest of the season looks: The Sept. 13-20 games against Baylor and Portland State will be important. How does 4-8 sound?
Rick Neuheisel (15), UCLA. How does that controversial hire look now? Neuheisel took a depleted, injury-ravaged team that appeared to be completely overmatched by Tennessee and pulled the biggest shocker of the opening weekend, 27-24 in overtime. The newly toughened Bruins bear scant resemblance to the faint-hearted teams of Karl Dorrell. Neuheisel might have the best coordinators in college football in DeWayne Walker, Norm Chow and Frank Gansz Jr., but credit the head coach for the in-game psyche job on quarterback Kevin Craft to keep him from crumpling after four first-half interceptions Monday night. How the rest of the season looks: Before this, a winning record looked like a stretch. Now? Who's going to count the Bruins out?
(Meanwhile, Tennessee once again looks like a team with more talent than ticker. That's not uncommon in recent years under Phil Fulmer.)
(Meanwhile II: Those sketchy Pac-10 officials reared their inept heads once again. Twice goal-line plays went to replay, and twice the refs appeared to get them wrong to the advantage of the Pac-10 Bruins. Once, it appeared UCLA should have been nailed for a safety, but was given the ball on its own 1-foot line. Then running back Raymond Carter's sweep for a touchdown appeared to come up short when he was knocked out of bounds, but replay upheld it as a touchdown. Did these guys work that infamous Oklahoma-Oregon game from a couple of years ago?)
Houston Nutt (16), Mississippi. The Rebels routinely defeat Memphis to open the season -- this was four in a row -- but never dominate Memphis. Until now. After losing five straight against FBS competition heading into this season, this was a strong start for what could be the surprise team of the year in the SEC. How the rest of the season looks: like a return to bowl eligibility for the first time since 2003.
Paul Johnson (17), Georgia Tech. Aside from Wake Forest, this might've been the best thing that happened all weekend in the ACC (Jack McClinton, underrated shooting guard!). The Yellow Jackets played against type and hype by throwing downfield on the first play of the Johnson Era. But make no mistake, if Tech's path to any potential goes on the ground, not through the air. How the rest of the season looks: Eh. Tech will still struggle to reach bowl eligibility.
Larry Fedora (18), Southern Mississippi. Golden Eagles fans tired of unproductive offenses were happy to see perennial success Jeff Bower removed as coach and replaced by a guy who specializes on that side of the ball. They had to like the opener, in which USM piled 51 points on Louisiana-Lafayette. How the rest of the season looks: still iffy; roughly 6-6.
Bill Stewart (19), West Virginia. How enjoyable was Saturday for Mountaineers fans? They got to see the coach who jilted them lose in his first game at Michigan. They got to see overhyped archrival Pittsburgh lose to a MAC opponent. And they got to see their own team mug Villanova by 27 points, as quarterback Pat White threw five touchdown passes. The bad news was a defense that gave up 399 yards to the FCS Wildcats. How the rest of the season looks: two tricky road games loom, at East Carolina on Saturday and at Colorado Sept. 18. If they win both, 11-1 could be in the offing.
Bo Pelini (20), Nebraska. For the first time since the fifth game of last year, the Cornhuskers held someone to fewer than 28 points in a 47-24 victory over Western Michigan. You say giving up 24 points to a MAC team isn't that impressive? The Dash reminds you that Nebraska surrendered 40 last year to Ball State. So that's progress -- even if the Broncos threw for 342 yards. How the rest of the season looks: like a return to bowl eligibility, after staying home in two of the four ugly years under Bill Callahan.
Words To Swallow
Clemson defensive coordinator/Escalade comedian Vic Koenning (21) isn't the only person who said too much leading up to the first week of the season. His company:
Florida Atlantic's Howard Schnellenberger (22) is a great coach with a penchant for public optimism that sometimes borders on senior-citizen cockiness. Earlier in August, he went past cockiness to foolishness, questioning the hardihood of the Texas Longhorns (23) before the Owls played in Austin. Schnellenberger told the FAU student paper, "Texas always has a very polished team that has great talent, but they aren't tough, they aren't a physically tough team."
So much for sneaking up on the Horns. Sufficiently insulted, Texas flexed enough manhood to pulverize FAU, 52-10.
Then there was North Carolina sophomore running back Greg Little (24), who announced that simply beating teams wasn't good enough for the Tar Heels. "We're going to try to kill the ant with a sledgehammer," Little said. "That's what we're going to try to do. … We're just going to come out and try to obliterate teams."
McNeese State (25) proved to be a pretty big ant, outgaining the Heels and pushing them to the end before losing, 35-27. That lessens the hammer effect of what was supposed to be the surprise team in the ACC (Ty Lawson back at point guard!).
But that was hardly the only embarrassing moment of the day for Carolina. Before the game, two parachutists who were supposed to land in Kenan Stadium with the game ball instead erroneously touched down in Wallace Wade Stadium at nearby Duke. Which is completely emblematic of the entire lost weekend in the ACC (Roy Williams is a Hall of Famer!).
Clearly, if the parachuting pinheads knew that Dashette Melissa Claire Egan (26) was a Carolina grad, they would have found the right stadium in deference to her.
One Of Them Academic Schools?
The Dash doesn't want to accuse LSU of putting on airs, but what exactly is going on in Baton Rouge when the starting quarterback is Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch (27), new athletic director Joe Alleva (28) came from Duke and new basketball coach Trent Johnson (29) was imported from Stanford?
If Les Miles (30) starts quoting Shakespeare, it will officially be getting weird on the bayou.
The Rest Of The Fake-Punt Story
Last week, The Dash told a few memorable headset conversations related by coaches. One of them turned out to be apocryphal.
Rich Rodriguez's reminiscence about hearing nothing from his assistants on the headsets when he called the memorably bold fake punt for West Virginia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl was a joke. The reality of the situation was relayed to The Dash last week by Tulsa assistant coach Herb Hand (31), who was an assistant with the Mountaineers then.
According to Hand, who was in the booth during that game, he reminded Rodriguez to look for the fake punt call. Bill Stewart (now the coach at WVU) chimed in that it had been open earlier in the game.
So when West Virginia faced its fateful fourth-and-6 near midfield against Georgia, clinging to a three-point lead, the West Virginia cognoscenti convened via headset. Butch Jones, now the coach at Central Michigan, told Rodriguez the play would work. Hand concurred, then asked offensive coordinator Calvin Magee to sign off on it as well. Rodriguez made the final call.
The result was a fake by committee that resulted in a first down that secured the victory.
Fresh Faces, Fast Feet
In the Southeastern Conference, they don't waste any time breaking in the best skill-position talent. Forget redshirts for these guys and see how well they wear starring roles as true freshmen:
Jeffrey Demps (32), Florida running back. Demps has world-class speed, and showed it in ripping off a 62-yard touchdown against Hawaii.
Julio Jones (33), Alabama receiver. Jones had four catches, including a touchdown, in the rout of Clemson.
Greg Childs (34), Arkansas receiver. He had 88 receiving yards, including a 26-yard touchdown, in the ugly win over Western Illinois.
Eric Smith (35), Auburn running back. Even at a crowded position there was no keeping Smith on the bench in the opener. He finished with 66 yards on nine carries.
A.J. Green (36), Georgia wide receiver. Green had a 36-yard catch to set up a touchdown for the Bulldogs.
Brandon Bolden (37), Mississippi running back. Bolden wasn't even considered the Rebels' best freshman back (that was Enrique Davis) but then he broke out for 76 yards on eight carries against Memphis.
Tyson Lee (38), Mississippi State quarterback. In an otherwise dismal upset loss to Louisiana Tech, Lee came off the bench to complete 10 of 15 passes for 85 yards.
Putting Out An APB For …
… Former Miami quarterback Steve Walsh (39). He was a mere 23-1 as the Hurricanes' starting QB in 1987-88 before going on to a less-illustrious NFL career. Anyone with information on the Minnesotan-turned-Miamian, please apprise The Dash.
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former 1980s Boston College receiver Brian Brennan, is alive and well and working in the financial industry in Cleveland, where he played with distinction for the Browns. Brennan is managing director of the Debt Capital Markets Sales and Trading group at Cleveland-based Key Bank. He's also assisted on some local media coverage of the Browns. The Dash thanks the dozens of spies who sent in info on Brennan.
When thirsty in St. Louis, The Dash recommends dropping by the Morgan Street Brewery (40), a sprawling place on The Landing that has about everything a football fan could want in it. Including its own beer. Many of which are good. Start with an altbier and go from there.