September 07, 2009
The week in the undercards.
Business as usual, until it's not. In traditional first-weekend fashion, mismatches were many and surprises few. The marquee smashes, you know already: Oregon-Boise State, BYU-Oklahoma and, almost, Navy-Ohio State. The balance of the weekend proceeded largely according to script -- not without its clenching moments, but nothing on the order of a Michigan-Appalachian State shocker.
You got something, kid. With so little material to work with, most of our question after four days of competition are confined to the arena of, "OK, are we that good, or were you that awful?" A couple teams we think may have a big year in front of them yet:
• Steady as she goes, LaTech. Auburn actually trailed at times to Louisiana Tech, and led by only a field goal at halftime before scoring 24 points in the last two quarters en route to a 37-13 victory. Last year's travails aside, defense isn't traditionally a weak suit on the Plans, and Louisiana Tech, as I pointed out in a rare moment of seriousness last week, is reliably pesky, and with that continuity on top of the wholesale coaching changes, we'll give Auburn the benefit of the doubt for the moment. They've got three weeks of middling tuneups with Mississippi State, West Virginia, and Ball State before getting into the thick of serious SEC competition. Tech won't have it easy themselves, facing Navy, Hawaii, Nevada Boise State, LSU, and Fresno State between now and December.
• Boise State, show your hand. This one may not get answered any time soon, if at all. A trendy pick several years running for Cinderella treatment, BSU boasts no currently ranked opponents on the remainder of their schedule, and if Oregon's impending collapse plays out the way last Thursday night suggested, a true assessment of the Broncos' prowess may not emerge until January, if then.
EXPOSED! Just because it's early, however, doesn't mean we don't feel pretty safe calling some early and outstanding clunkers. Several mid-major schools taught us more about their big bully brothers than perhaps fans of the latter would care to know.
• Here's something fun for Bret Bielema, who has enough to deal with already, to read this week: "Wisconsin held off a late N. Illinois rally to escape with a 28-20 victory Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium." Quitting in the fourth quarter, at home, in your season opener against a MAC team? Ouchtown, population: Badgers.
• CAUGHT IN THE ACT! Dan Hawkins abandoned his usual doofus-cut for a slicked-back hairdo and Agent Smith sunglasses, and appears to have thrown any semblance of a strength and conditioning program by the wayside with equal disdain. And let me get this straight: Colorado State knocks off Colorado -- no, manhandles Colorado -- at home, storms the field after the upset and takes down the goalposts ... and nobody thinks to release Ralphie? That's just a waste of a perfectly good buffalo.
Welcome to the bigs. Is Lane Kiffin for real, or is Western Kentucky real, real bad? Both? Neither? The Hilltoppers' debut as full-fledged Sun Belt players was, after a tense first quarter, an inauspicious one, as they fell to a gleefully chip-shouldered Tennessee squad, 63-7. Your creepy mascot-fu is weak, WKU.
What Should Have Been ... You know, for the first time in a long time this preseason, I honestly believed Ohio State had or would very shortly create the total package. I still believe the Buckeyes will handily notch a very fine winning record given the performances on display from the rest of the Big Ten this weekend, but man alive, did Navy ever give them what for. In his third year as head coach, Ken Niumatalolo seems dangerously close to assembling the total package himself -- they weren't kidding about Ricky Dobbs being the best passer in ages in a strictly run-first position, and he was just fine at the running requirements, too. And with a remaining schedule that lists only one more ranked team (Notre Dame, in early November), color me blue and count me squarely in the Middies' corner for a big-time run at the big games this winter.
... and What Never Had a Prayer: Ostrich vs. Emu. Despite cheeky assertions to the contrary in last week's Upset Bait picks, I took this one seriously: The Irish have a history of odd stumbles, even at home; Nevada seemed a quality opponent and bandy-legged Wolf Pack QB Colin Kaepernick is a longtime personal favorite. This was, to say the least, not to be, as the Irish shut out what was generally assumed to be a not-terrible opponent with a four-TD outing from Jimmy Clausen. Kaepernick, considered by pretty much everyone as the best player in the WAC, was 12-of-23 for 149 yards with two picks and no scores.
Token Mini-Major Meltdown. There's the can of worms (Bill Stewart, football coach), and there's the can of nuts that explodes novelty snakes all over one's face (Kirk Ferentz, NFL-bound hotshot no more). And then there's losing to William & Mary, at home. Dear Tribe, you are the pride of the Colonial Athletic Association and the new favorite pocket-sized program of weary sports scribes everywhere, desperately tired of speculating what it will finally take to send Al "The Scowl" Groh packing.
Player of the Week. Please don't get me wrong: Injuries are bad, mkay? Playing a team at anything less than their full strength isn't really playing that team at all, and teams facing Oklahoma in the near-term know it won't be properly Oklahoma without Sam Bradford. That said, one player has managed to flip the narrative of the entire season and the title game itself on its head -- BYU linebacker Coleby Clawson, who with one (clean) knockdown of Bradford has opened up the races for the Big 12 South, the Heisman, and the championship. Good? No. Bad? More unfortunate than bad. Notable? Undeniably.
A Somewhat Arbitrary Mid-Major Top 10
1. BYU (1-0:) Cougars' potential is limitless after the biggest upset of the weekend.
1a. Boise State (1-0): Would be more impressive if we didn't get the sneaky feeling Oregon may be really, really bad.
3. TCU (0-0): Suddenly salivating over next week's opener at Virginia.
4. Utah (1-0): '08 darlings are holding court, but docked for giving up a 97-yard touchdown run to Utah freakin' State.
5. Houston (1-0): Prolific as expected vs. outmanned Northwestern State; statement game coming up at Oklahoma State.
6. East Carolina (1-0): C-USA favorite nearly blew big lead against Armanti-less Appalachian State.
7. Navy (0-1): Midshipmen had three 80-plus-yard touchdowns in one of the most "impressive" losses of the weekend.
8. Colorado State (1-0): Physically dominated Colorado, then took the Buffs' home field. Pretty hardcore start, Rams.
9. Southern Miss (1-0): Explosive offense in cakewalk over mourning Alcorn State.
10. Air Force (1-0): 474 yards rushing in the highest point-total of the weekend, 72-0 over Nicholls State.
Stay Tuned. Non-con play continues apace next week. Will more mids show up to win than got out of bed this weekend?
• Most Realistic Upset: Colorado at Toledo, Friday night on ESPN, all alone with no televised competition that's not high school ball. Toledo gave Purdue's defense (or perhaps just Purdue's new head coach Danny Hope) occasional fits this week, losing to the Boilermakers but running up 31 points in the process. If the Buffs' lines don't stiffen up in the next four days, this could be quite the night for the Rockets.
• Most Unrealistic Upset: Kansas at UTEP. Weird things happen in El Paso, particularly at night, but as Todd Reesing abides, so will the Jayhawks.
• Most Inevitably Gruesome Blowout: Troy at Florida. A noon kickoff in the Swamp after Saturday's practice maiming of Charleston Southern? Troy has played the trap game to its advantage more than once, but they also just lost to rebuilding Bowling Green.
Scoreboard. After one week, mid-majors are 3-18 versus major conference opponents, having given up a lot of their old dates to even less feisty (and just as cheap) I-AA schools. The MWC is pulling the most weight, at 2-2; the MAC brings up the rear at 0-7.