October 25, 2011
BEST OF TIMES: A snapshot of teams, coaches and players at their peak…
Tommy Tuberville. Tubs has spent the better part of two years at Texas Tech toiling in the long, unforgettable shadow of his swashbuckling predecessor, much of it based on the simple fact that Tuberville is not, nor ever will be, Mike Leach. He was the guy who watered down the offense that had defined the Raiders to the rest of the country and hadn't won any games worth writing home about. Suddenly, in the span of a few lightning-delayed hours, he's the guy whose offense put the ball in the air 53 times in the upset of the year.
Where the national narrative is concerned, the Raiders' 41-38 ambush of Oklahoma as 29-point road underdogs is about OU's uncharacteristic failures at home — the win snapped a 39-game winning streak in Norman dating back to 2005 — particularly on defense. As far as Texas Tech is concerned, though, it was the moment when its new regime came into its own, and did it in precisely the high-flying fashion that put Raider football on the map: After a 452-yard, four-touchdown barrage against the Sooners, Tech ranks third nationally in passing, fifth in total offense, has scored at least 34 points in every game and ought to return to a warmer welcome than usual Saturday against Iowa State.
USC's Defense. All things considered, Saturday's effort in a 31-17 upset at Notre Dame was the Trojans' best in two years under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, in more ways than one: The Irish's 267 total yards was a new season low for both offense and defense, Notre Dame's offense only reached the end zone once (its second touchdown came via kickoff return) and three ND turnovers gave USC eight takeaways in the last two games — three more than it managed in its first five games combined. "Hopefully, this is who we are," said head coach Lane Kiffin on Sunday. "I would kind of argue we've been this way more than we haven't."
For his sake, he'd better hope Saturday was who the Trojans are, and that they're only getting: Next up is Stanford, currently averaging more than 46 points on a little shy of 500 yards per game with minimal effort from quarterback Andrew Luck, which shouldn't need much time to bring the brief nostalgia trip back to reality.
Cincinnati. Congratulations, Bearcats: Two weeks into conference play and you're the last Big East team standing without a conference loss. Enjoy it, before you get consumed by the knot that is the Big East standings, too.
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WORST OF TIMES: …and of the ones way down in the hole.
Maryland. The Terps fired an alum with ten solid years in College Park and a second ACC Coach of the Year award to his name in 2010, and what did it get? An uninspiring replacement, a set of widely mocked uniforms and a direct line to the bottom of the ACC standings.
Since knocking off suspension-ravaged Miami on opening night, Maryland has dropped five of six — the one win coming over Towson — with a 31-point home loss to Temple, a blown second half lead against Clemson and, most recently, a 41-16 rout at the hands of reeling Florida State. Already, first-year coach Randy Edsall has had endure heavy attrition and public grumbling about the transition from predecessor Ralph Friedgen. Sophomore Danny O'Brien, widely regarded as the best quarterback in the ACC coming into the year, is fleeing for the exit at the end of the year. With another loss or two over he last five, more than a few Terp fans will be suggesting they send Edsall packing instead.
Rick Neuheisel. Sure, mathematically, UCLA still has a lot to lose: At 3-4, the Bruins are only one game below .500 and only one game back of Arizona State for the lead in a weak Pac-12 South — newcomers Colorado and Utah have yet to win a game in their new conference in eight tries — theoretically leaving a further downward trajectory as a division title, a winning record and finally another season on Neuheisel's watch are successively crossed off the checklist in November. Neuheisel has even vowed not to throw in the towel, on the heels of a fresh vote of confidence from his athletic director. Surely there are still deeper disappointments to come.
Mathematically, yes. Emotionally, no: After last Thursday's nationally televised, 48-12 embarrassment at Arizona — not just a loss at the hands of a lame-duck outfit that had just fired its head coach on the heels of its tenth consecutive loss vs. I-A/FBS competition, but a listless massacre at the hands of a lame-duck outfit that had just fired its head coach on the heels of its tenth consecutive loss vs. I-A/FBS competition — even one-time Neuheisel backers aren't bothering to pretend he can still salvage his job. Things could conceivably get better, as improbable as that seems. But once you've watched your defense yield 254 yards on the ground to the nation's 119th-ranked rushing offense, it cannot possibly get any worse.
Navy. Saturday's 38-35 loss to East Carolina was the Academy's fifth in a row, putting the Midshipmen on the fast track to their first losing season since 2002. The worst part of the skid: Four of the five losses have come by three points or less, two of them marred by controversy in the final seconds.
On the bright side, they get a chance to right the ship this weekend (no pun intended) against a perennial punching bag.