September 21, 2009
The week in the undercards.
And the skies opened, and the points rained down like...rain?
When I exhorted readers to tune into Boise State-Fresno State last Friday in order to cram a little more football into your lives, I had no idea just how much football we'd be subjected to -- 85 points, almost 1,000 yards of offense and six touchdowns of 60-plus yards in a three-and-a-half-hour barn-burner. This was classic WACtion, video-game stuff, one of those games where you leave your booth to grab another round of drinks, hit the restroom, feed the meter, make a phone call, and return to find that maybe a minute's run off the clock.
Though initially slow to catch up to the Broncos' opening lead, all credit to Fresno State for making a 51-34 loss feel like a close game. Bulldog back Ryan Mathews had 19 carries for 234 yards, most of them coming on touchdown runs of 69, 60 and 68 yards; Boise answered by averaging 10.3 yards per carry with 70-yard scoring runs by D.J. Harper and Jeremy Avery, who also took a short pass to the house from 67 yards out. Even the return men got into the game: Given a boatload of opportunities, Boise's Doug Martin and Titus Young each had 77-yard runbacks to set up quick Bronco scores.
"But it's the WAC," you quibble. "It's not real football if you don't bother to play defense." All right, we found at least one moment of stoppage, courtesy of Boise State's Winston Venable:
Last week's hot dish is this week's lunchmeat, and Brigham Young got their milk money stolen on their own turf by the maddeningly erratic heavy Florida State. The bloom is off the BCS-bustin' rose, and Max Hall's quietly budding Heisman hopes are fertilizer after a three-interception outing. And now that I've filled my metaphor-throttling quota for the week: This was an ugly, ugly game, is my point. Homefield advantage, all the momentum on their side -- with no discernible momentum of any kind propelling the Seminoles -- weren't enough to overcome five Cougar turnovers and, honestly, what looked like a pure speed and talent advantage on the part of Florida State. Christian Ponder is no Chris Rix, and for the first time this season I mean that in a good way. (Are the games where the 'Noles actually show up to play football the games where Bobby Bowden's alert and on top of it, or the games where he just naps under the bench for the entire second half? Legitimate question.)
So long, sleepers.
My prized BCS buster pick, Navy, fell to 1-2 in agonizing fashion, turning a botched punt snap into a penalty into a Pitt touchdown that put the game out of reach. With a front-loaded schedule, however (the Middies' best remaining opponents are Wake Forest and Notre Dame, both over a month away), I still believe we haven't seen the best of Ken Niumatalolo's boys. A visit from Western Kentucky next week should be just the cakewalk they need.
Hail the conquering alma mater.
The Doc's own Southern Miss Golden Eagles have a leg up on the ACC, thanks to the fast feet of Tory Harrison on a late, 57-yard touchdown run to complete a furious second half comeback from 27-10 down at home, finally taking advantage of the assured wretchedness of an Al Groh-led team after a rough start.
Profiles in continuing ineptitude.
Ball State's plummet from grace rolls along without a hitch; Turner Gill's once-touted Buffalo Bulls return to their regularly scheduled mediocrity; and Miami (Ohio) puts up its first points of the season ... in the course of a 48-26 defeat.
What Should Have Been ...
Utah State fell to a banged-up Texas A&M, Southern Methodist lost out on an overtime field goal despite statistically dominating Washington State and Toledo's (not to mention prolific quarterback Aaron Opelt's) star fell to earth at the hands one very crabby Ohio State squad coming off another big-game loss. The prickliest crown of thorns, however, is bestowed upon Utah, whose precious win streak is no more thanks to the now-what-the-hell-do-we-do-with-them Oregon Ducks. Ute quarterback Terrance Cain, a JUCO transfer, got a cold introduction to non-tomato can opponents with two interceptions.
... and What Never Had a Prayer:
As usual, a prayer for the poor souls facing BCS heavies with something to prove (Oklahoma 45, Tulsa 0; Ohio State 38, Toledo 0), poll support to shore up (Michigan 45, Eastern Michigan 17), reputations to maintain (Alabama 53, North Texas 7), or middling schedules to disguise with gaudy margins of victory (Penn State 31, Temple 7).
Token Mini-Major Meltdown.
I-A newbie Western Kentucky, gunning for what should have been its only relatively easy 'W' of the year, couldn't even keep pace with its old I-AA comrades, falling to Central Arkansas 28-7.
Player of the Week: Jeremy Avery, RB, Boise State. Apart from the luscious stats detailed above, there hasn't been a whole lot of noise out of Avery this year. He was a nonfactor versus Miami (Ohio), and accumulated only 78 yards of total offense against Oregon in the season opener, but Friday's outing against Fresno State was a career day in about 19 different ways: At his current pace, Avery will rack up more than 1,500 all-purpose yards for the season.
A Somewhat Arbitrary Mid-Major Top 10
1. Boise State (3-0) Survived a shootout away from the Smurf Turf.
2. Houston (2-0) Bye week means undefeated still!
3. TCU (2-0) Undefeated but had some hiccups against Texas State.
4. Central Michigan (2-1) Alcorn State to Akron next week will be quite the competitive leap, though the Chippewas did get to work on their running game.
5. Southern Miss (3-0) A win over Al Groh is still a win. Kinda.
6. Colorado State (3-0) It's almost October, and Colorado State is undefeated. Just let that sink in.
7. BYU (2-1) Zero answers for Florida State team that should've been reeling.
8. Middle Tennessee State (2-1) Finally makes the list after back-to-back victories over Memphis and Maryland.
9. Utah (2-1) Utes remain of dubious quality after losing to a quite dubious Oregon squad.
10. Northern Illinois (2-1) Our second newcomer has been playing the Big Ten hard.
Dropped out: Navy, Louisiana-Lafayette
Stay Tuned. On the radar for next week: Southern Miss at Kansas, Marshall at Memphis, Akron at Central Michigan, UCF at East Carolina, TCU at Clemson, and Louisiana-Lafayette at Nebraska.
• Most Realistic Upset: Several pairs of teams of suspect quality to keep an eye on here, but we like the underdogs' chances when Missouri goes to Nevada on Friday night; UAB heads to Texas A&M; and Army rolls into Iowa State.
• Most Unrealistic Upset: Don't bet on Fresno State at Cincinnati. The Bearcats are no Badgers. Also steer clear of Ohio U. at Tennessee, where the Vols have just begun to realize they can play football, like a very surly baby discovering its feet, and shield the eyes of women and children when gazing upon Louisville visiting a Utah team out to avenge its snapped win streak.
• Most Inevitably Gruesome Blowout(s): Where to begin? If you like gore, this is your weekend. A suddenly all right Northern Illinois has a yarn ball to play with against Idaho; BYU will be (politely) out for blood versus not-long-undefeated Colorado State; Toledo will use a trip to Florida International to prove it's closer to the team that routed Colorado than the one that got stuffed into a trunk and thrown off the side of the highway by Ohio State; and Ball State is just bad, a fact we repeat only because we continue to be astonished week to week at the very bad badness of a team that was so good just last year, and a fact sure to be accentuated Saturday by a resurrected Auburn offense. Your Most Inevitably Gruesome Shootout gold star goes, of course, to the impending Texas Tech-Houston tilt in Space City, which appropriately enough will send enough juice to the Robertson Stadium scoreboard to launch it to the moon.
Scoreboard. The only mid-major "conference" to remain winless against the "Big Six" is that of the independents, but they've only had three shots at it, and those have come against Ohio State, Pitt, and Duke. (Note: Though unaffiliated, for our purposes Notre Dame isn't counted as an independent, owing to its BCS tie-in.) The Mountain West has the most wins over major conference teams (three), and the mid-majors are 11-58 overall against the BCS leagues.
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Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.