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Sunday, October 10, 2004

College Football Observations

I'm not a fanatical fan of any college football team, and I don't follow any team as closely as many other bloggers do, but for what it's worth, here are some observations about what happened yesterday:

1. Texas-Oklahoma. The Longhorns are the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Sooners' New York Yankees. Will Mack Brown have the same fate as John Cooper, once of Ohio State, and get the gate precisely because his teams cannot win the big ones? 12-0, Sooners. The conversations on this morning's review shows on TV and the radio suggest that the Sooners are the favorites for the national title. Why? They have the defense to do it.

2. Nebraska-Texas Tech. 70-10, Red Raiders, as the Cornhuskers suffered their worst loss in school history. The Husker faithful certainly are pining for Tom Osborne, but they might even be pining for Frank Solich, who was canned last year after a (woeful?) 9-3 mark. Bill Callahan and his staff have to be reeling, and the Husker faithful has to be wondering why AD Steve Peterson didn't go after an up-and-coming college coach last year even harder (see, for example, Jeff Tedford). Good thing that the Huskers wear red -- it's sufficient camouflage for the bleeding that's going on in Lincoln this morning.

3. Cal-USC. The Trojans are definitely beatable, but, to their credit, their defense, which was porous yesterday, bent but did not break. Cal outgained USC by almost a 2-1 margin, garnering 404 or so yard on offense to USC's 205, and the Bears were driving for a TD and failed to connect on two TD passes at the game's end that would have tied it up at 23 (thereby giving Cal the chance to take a 24-23 lead with the PAT). Instead, USC prevailed 23-17. The pundits on ESPN (Corso, Herbstreit, Fowler) all opined that Cal will be playing in a BCS Bowl come season's end. Lee Corso also opined that Dirk Koetter's Arizona State Sun Devils have a chance against the Men of Troy if ASU throws 50 times a game. Corso said he doesn't think USC has good athletes at linebacker and DB. That's fine, Coach, but they're still the Number 1 team in the country. Cal QB Aaron Rodgers solidified his Heisman candidacy (that's not to say he'll win the hardware) with an amazing performance that saw him complete 23 passes in a row, tying an NCAA record. Rodgers had better stats that USC's Matt Leinart, but, as USC's offensive coordinator Norm Chow remarked, "You have to remember we won the game." True, but until Carson Palmer breaks out (a Chow protege) or until David Carr, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller emerge (all are Tedford proteges, as Fresno State, Oregon and Cal respectively), the debate as to whether a USC QB or a Cal QB is better might not be worthy of having.

4. Cincinnati-Army. Congratulations to Coach Bobby Ross's Black Knights of the Hudson, who ended the nation's longest Division I-A losing streak with a 48-29 win at home. There's hardly a better setting than watching the home team win amidst the beautiful fall scenary at Michie Stadium overlooking the Hudson River. Congratulations to the Cadets!

5. Purdue-Penn State. The Boilermakers's high-octane offense ran into a buzz saw that was the Nittany Lions' defense, which caused Heisman front-runner Kyle Orton to throw two interceptions, but in the end the Boilermakers prevailed, 20-13, in State College. On the one hand, if you're a Penn State fan, you're pleased that your team made such a good showing given that your offense isn't very good. On the other hand, if you're a long-time Penn State fan, you're wondering why you should settle for being satisfied for a "good effort". You used to paste teams like Purdue with regularity, and now you have to struggle to stay with them. That's not to take anything away from Purdue, but this is Penn State we're talking about. The Nittany Lions now are 0-3 in the Big 10. There are all sorts of story lines now in Penn State country. One is that the officials just didn't cut them a break yesterday (blogger's note: that typically what you hear from a program with major issues). Another is that joining the Big 10 has been the source of their problems because the midwestern writers will never give them a break and the eastern writers will never forgive them, so recruiting always will be an issue. Another is that they're getting outrecruited in New Jersey. Another is that the assistant coaches aren't any good. And finally, there's the hard reckoning that Joe Paterno has another four years to go on his contract and won't leave until has another undefeated team, the way he did in the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's. None of those story lines are comforting to the blue-and-white faithful. There are 117 Division I-A teams, and about half of them go to bowl games. Penn State will not be one of them.
6. Florida State-Syracuse. Another close-but-no-cigar game for an underdog, with the Orange leading at the half and then failing to hold on, losing to #8 Florida State 17-13 in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse has struck me as a once-mighty team trying to stay on in Division 1-A as a mid-major and not fall to the bottom third of Division I teams. Which the Orange fans have hoops season to look forward to, Florida State escaped unscathed. This was the type of game that when you're watching the ticker at the bottom of your screen you're hoping for a cut-in, hoping to see the upset, only to see, as frequently happens, that the ranked team pulls out the game. Bobby Bowden can only hope that his Seminoles will regain their focus in the weeks to come.

7. Princeton-Colgate. Princeton went into yesterday's game at Colgate (ranked #20 in Division 1-AA) 3-0, with wins over Lafayette (impressive), San Diego (less impressive) and Columbia (somewhat fortunate). It was their first 3-0 start in 9 years, and in 1995 the Tigers went on to win the Ivies outright for the first time in 30 years. Most Ivy watchers, and particularly Tiger watchers, saw yesterday's game as a litmus test for the Tigers' season. Beat the Red Raiders in Hamilton, New York, and your team might well contend for the Ivy title and maybe even win it. Beat the Red Raiders in their house, and you are probably deserving to be in the conversation as to who might contend for the Ivy title.

So what happened? Well, the Tigers played absolutely great football for the first three quarters, and we're leading 26-14 with 6 minutes to go in the game, when Colgate stormed back to score the game's last 15 points and beat the Tigers, 29-26. Clearly there was a reason why the Red Raiders went to the Division I-AA title game last year -- they are a gritty team. How does this game bode for the Tigers? On the bright side, they proved they could play with an elite Division I-AA team for most of the game. On the down side, they lost to their best opponent thus far, and they failed to finish off a fine effort. Winning begets confidence, and the Tiger program will need all of it they can muster to defeat Harvard, favorite Penn (which struggled to beat a 2-3 Bucknell team in Lewisburg, PA yesterday 32-25 in double OT) and Yale in that order. On balance, analagous to Cal's effort against USC yesterday, the Tigers proved that they belong in the conversation as to who will be left standing at the conclusion of the Ivy season. Remember the names Zak Keasey (hard-hitting LB), Justin Stull (more than 10 tackles in each of the last 10 games) and Jay McCareins (two-way player whose brother, Justin, is a WR for the Jets), as you might see them on NFL rosters in years to come.

And don't forget about the Princeton Tigers, at least not just yet.

(In an odd Princeton-Colgate-UVA connection, on Thursday night UVA beat Clemson 30-10 thanks to the running of back-up senior tailback Alvin Pearman, whose dad, Al, was a receiver at Colgate and then the WR coach at Princeton during the late 1970's and early 1980's, when the Tigers' standout QB Bob Holly put up huge numbers and was drafted by the Washington Redskins (he backed up Joe Theisman on the team that won the Super Bowl in 1983).

8. Tennessee-Georgia. Just when they were doubting whether Phil Fulmer still had it, and just when they were starting to finalize their plans for a national title game featuring the Bulldogs against Oklahoma or USC, the Tennessee Volunteers and their freshmen QBs marched into Athens, Georgia and upset their third-ranked hosts, 19-14. Fulmer led the Vols' to this victory a day after he received news that the SEC was upholding the $10,000 fine that it had penalized him with for missing media day in August. In fining Fulmer, the SEC outdid even the NCAA in terms of ridiculous regulatory behavior. Click here for my July post on why the fine was so ridiculous. Glad to see that the fine, if anything, proved to be a motivator for Fulmer and his squad and not a distraction.

Great weekend in college football. Those are only some of the stories. Of course, in Division I-A, the big question remains: whether the right teams will make it to the BCS title game.


Blogger TSB said...

I'm sure Bobby Bowden is hoping that his offense will snap out of it in the weeks to come, but don't count on it. It is no coincidence that FSU has lost 4, 5, and 3 games in full seasons following the 2000 season in which they lost to Oklahoma in the national title game. In 2001 Georgia hired FSU offensive coordinator Mark Richt away to fill the head coaching vacancy, and the Seminoles have not been the same since. FSU's success in the '90s was mainly due to Mickey Andrews coaching the defense and Richt coaching offense. Bowden does a good job as program administrator and recruiter, but he hasn't done too much actual coaching in years, and his son Jeff who he picked to replace Richt has not been up to the standard of his predecessor.
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