OK...here's where the fun begins. Now we've all had a little taste of what to expect out of most of the teams in the country (well, sort of) and this week things start getting REAL interesting. First things first, storylines from last week:
-I'll start with one of my favorite things to talk about: anything and everything negative about the Florida Gators. I make no secret of my hatred for the Gators. However, you could make the argument that this fact actually better qualifies me to comment on the state of affairs in The Swamp. Much in the same way that college football fans have a tendency to know the most about their favorite teams because they actively follow them, I know a lot about the Gators because I do, in fact, follow them, for the sole purpose of rooting against them and excessively scrutinizing them. However, while being a fan of a team often makes one biased in their favor--sometimes unrealistically--hating a team has the opposite effect of making you one of their biggest critics--which, quite often, is the best thing for the team and their fans. I'm starting to wonder if I could make a really good living reporting on the Gators.
Now. Having said all that.
You can imagine my giddiness watching the Gators struggle so mightily with lowly Miami of Ohio this past Saturday (a team that won as many games last season as the Gators lost--one). It would seem that the replacement of NFL-caliber Center Maurkice Pouncey with his brother Mike (moving over from Guard) is causing much bigger problems than anyone could have anticipated. But there were much bigger problems with the Gators' performance Saturday that were overshadowed by the flurry of bad snaps. For one thing, several of the fumbles were not caused by bad snaps but by bad handoffs, pitches, or just plain lack of ball security (and/or good tackling mechanics). Not only that but for more than half of the game, the Gators appeared to be getting manhandled in the trenches on BOTH sides of the ball.
Imagine if Jeremy Foley and Urban Meyer actually had the chutzpah to open the season against an actual BCS conference team with a pulse (god forbid a top 25 team like Georgia, Alabama, LSU, and many others outside the SEC have done several times over the last few years). Imagine if the Gators had lined up across from North Carolina or Virginia Tech or Clemson in the Georgia Dome. Imagine if they had traveled to Oklahoma State (the OSU of last year when they still had Zac Robinson) or welcomed Oregon to The Swamp. Imagine if they had opened their season in Landover, MD against Boise State. They would be nowhere near the top ten right now after being steamrolled. Even if they had played their opponent for this week (South Florida) last week, they probably would have lost.
As has been said a number of times, the Gators had months to work on these basic fundamentals and now they've had a week to fix some major problems. They have another week before they begin their SEC schedule at Tennessee and another two weeks after that before they travel to Tuscaloosa. I already had the Gators struggling to win ten games this year (I had them losing to Bama and Georgia as well as possibly FSU and/or LSU) but if they dont fix a lot of problems in a big hurry, they could end up struggling to be bowl eligible. The general consensus is that the Gators won't have another performance like this one and that seems like a safe bet (even though this performance was put forth against one of the least formidable opponents they'll face all season). However, it won't take a performance this bad to lose to Alabama, Georgia, FSU, LSU, South Carolina, or even Tennessee, South Florida, or Mississippi State.
It seemed like the whole college football world was penciling the Gators into the SEC title game against the Crimson Tide before the season. Now, suddenly, they barely look like a top 25 team. Only time will tell if the Gators will play up to preseason expectations, down to the expectations created by this game, or somewhere in between. But one thing is for certain: Florida has some very serious concerns to address if they plan to compete for an SEC title.
-Another, slightly less noteworthy, struggle was that of USC's defense against Hawaii. If you've been paying attention for the last couple years, you've noticed that USC's reputation for ferocious defenses is slowly fading and the trend continued this past week when they gave up 36 points to lowly Hawaii. It seems like, nowadays, the only thing the Trojans' D is good at is hitting and hurting people. Last season they gave up 27 points to Notre Dame, 36 to Oregon State, 47 to Oregon, 55 to Standford, and now they give up 36 to Hawaii. If I were Monte Kiffin, I'd be in full on panic mode right about now.
-While we're on the subject of teams that looked sorely disappointing last week:
*Pittsburgh looked nothing like a team deserving of a spot in the top 25 in their upset loss in Utah. Their defense had holes EVERYWHERE (especially in pass defense) and they had no passing game to speak of. Maybe Utah is just a lot better than we thought--Jordan Wynn is very talented and the Utes are phenomenally coached--but there's no denying that the Panthers certainly did not look like a team capable of winning the Big East (although I'm not sure who else would).
**Side note about this game: shame on Kyle Whittingham for using one of the lowest tricks in the book by attempting to freeze Pitt Kicker Dan Hutchins TWICE by calling a time out split seconds before the ball was snapped for his game-tying kick, nearly costing his team the game on the second occasion when the would-be kick sailed wide, which would have ended the game if not for Whittingham calling ANOTHER timeout moments before the snap, thus negating the miss. Not only was this stupid--the miss on the second kick was kind of the whole point of the timeout on the first one--but it was slimy and he got what he deserved when he watched the field goal attempt he had underhandedly negated sail wide. Let this be a lesson to all coaches across the nation: STOP PULLING THIS CRAP!
*Oklahoma struggled mightily with lowly Utah State, winning by only a touchdown, 31-24 (and that was the score for the last 17:31 of the game, in case you're wondering if it wasn't as close as it seemed) in spite of getting 218 yards and 2 touchdowns out of DeMarco Murray. In spite of jumping out to a 21-0 lead to open the game, the Sooners subsequently yielded 17 straight points to a vastly inferior opponent. Then, after expanding their lead back to 14 points at 31-17, they gave up another touchdown late in the third. Lucky for them the Aggies were unable to close the gap but Oklahoma was also unable to widen it. I didn't see the game but based on the box score, the problem for the Sooners on both sides of the ball seemed to be the passing game. Landry Jones completed just 17 of his 36 throws for 217 yards. He threw 2 touchdowns but also threw 2 interceptions, one of which was thrown inside the USU 25 yard line and one thrown inside the USU 10. Utah State QB Diondre Borel completed the same number of passes in the same number of attempts, however he threw for 341 yards. This, to me, is the one disappointing performance of the week least likely to be repeated next week or any time this year. This will be a wake up call for the Sooners, mark my words.
*I'm not sure how good Ole Miss was expected to be this year (even with Jeremiah Masoli) but I'm assuming they were supposed to be good enough to beat Jacksonville State. Apparently not.
-From disappointing performances to surprisingly positive ones:
*As far as single player performances, there was no bigger story in Week 1 than Denard Robinson. He set a record for rushing yards by a Michigan QB but more importantly looked confident, decisive, and, well, really, REALLY fast. Rich Rodriguez can finally breathe for the first time since he lost Terrell Pryor to Ohio State (imagine what Rich Rod's first couple years at UM would have looked like with that guy under center). As we've heard from just about every sports pundit in the nation over the last week, he's found his Pat White.
*Notre Dame allowed only 12 points in their win over Purdue and QB Dayne Crist looked pretty sharp in his debut replacing first-round draft choice Jimmy Clausen. I was also very impressed with Armando Allen and the Irish offensive line. We'll have a dandy on our hands when the Irish welcome the Wolverines this week.
*Many wondered if Oregon was going to be OK without the dismissed Jeremiah Masoli. Last week they steamrolled New Mexico 72-0. Well, then.
-TCU looked quite impressive in their Week 1 win over Oregon State...but so did Oregon State. I really don't think losing so admirably to a top 10 team is grounds for dropping out of the top 25, especially when you're being replaced with the likes of South Carolina, Arizona, Stanford, and BYU. I hate the whole reactionary idea that any team that loses HAS to drop in the rankings, even if they were expected to lose. Assess all the teams in front of you and decide who you think are the 25 best ones instead of making a loss an automatic drop in the rankings.
-Last but not least, congratulations to Boise State on a big time win over Virginia Tech. Not only was it impressive that they beat a team favored to win the ACC and poised to possibly make a run at a national title but even more impressive was HOW they won. Not only did they jump all over the Hokies to start the game but they survived several momentum swings and a furious comeback by a supremely talented team with a phenomenal quarterback and pulled out a clutch win when everything seemed to be going Virginia Tech's way thanks to a "Heisman Moment" drive led by Kellen Moore. I had several interesting observations about this game:
*First of all, both teams' special uniforms looked awesome; Va Tech looked super slick in all black (especially the helmets) and the Broncos looked very classy in shades of grey with blue pants...I also loved the Broncos' helmets--the massive logo was really cool looking and I love one-sided helmets.
*One thing I noticed about Kellen Moore is that on certain plays, he has a tendency to lock onto a receiver and throw to him even if he's not open at all.
*I will never, ever, EVER understand chasing points in any situation of any game outside the last 8 minutes...ESPECIALLY after the other team just had one blocked, giving you an advantage you wouldn't normally have in a game...but the real point is that you NEVER KNOW what might happen in a game and going for two just because it will put you up by 3 (instead of 2, with a worst case scenario of 1) or 7 (instead of 6, with a worst case scenario of 5) points is simply not smart because you never know how it could affect you later in the game if you miss and this has been demonstrated many, MANY times, including Monday night.
-One last thing: the Week 2 polls. I was extremely impressed by the Week 2 polls (especially the Coaches Poll) for several reasons:
*First of all, the coaches displayed more common sense than I can ever remember seeing them demonstrate in their poll voting--they moved Boise State up to #3, where they belonged all along (the AP, of course, already knew this), they dropped Pitt out of the top 25, they moved TCU up to #5, they dropped Oklahoma a couple spots, moved Oregon up a couple spots, dropped Florida to #6 (I expected the AP to drop them a little but I almost expected the coaches to inexplicably leave them at #3 since they won by 22 points)...also, to their credit, they had Utah ranked in the preseason poll and the AP didn't
*I am impressed with both polls having the courage and the wherewithal to drop the Gators after a poor performance, in spite of the fact that they won convincingly. The AP dropped them from #4 to #8 and the coaches dropped them from #3 to #6. Of course the AP is slightly more reasonable in both their preseason and current rankings of the Gators but I can't exactly make a convincing argument that Nebraska and Oregon are definitely better than Florida.
*Kudos to the AP for putting TCU at #4 ahead of Texas, who looked decent in a 34-17 win over Rice but not as good as TCU who beat a ranked team and held one of the best RBs in the country to 75 yards
*I do not, however, necessarily agree with dropping Oregon State or North Carolina from the rankings.
PHEW! That was a lot to cover and I haven't even gotten to my picks yet. I should be getting paid to do this shit. Someday...
But anyway there are a ton of great games this week so let's get to the good stuff:
#22 Georgia @ #24 South Carolina
Both these teams looked pretty impressive last week in wins over inferior opponents (South Carolina's was slightly less inferior than Georgia's). Stephen Garcia is starting to look like the guy everyone expected him to be. However, I really like Georgia's defense and experience and I liked what I saw out of QB Aaron Murray. Georgia is my pick to win the SEC East this year and until they give me reason to feel otherwise, I'll be picking them every week.
Hobbitcore sez: Georgia
#17 Florida State @ #10 Oklahoma
The Noles looked pretty impressive against Samford (if you want to call a 59-6 win over an FCS team "impressive") and Oklahoma looked less than impressive in a narrow win over Utah State. Christian Ponder must be licking his chops after seeing Aggies QB Diondre Borel throw for 341 yards on the Sooners. However, as I said above, I expect Oklahoma to bounce back in a big way. Look for the Sooner front seven to get after Ponder early and often and also look for Landry Jones to bounce back from a shaky performance. DeMarco Murray will have a field day against the Noles' shaky defense.
Hobbitcore sez: Oklahoma
#18 Penn State @ #1 Alabama
Penn State looked like they were going to be fine without QB Darryl Clark last week in a big win over Youngstown State. Alabama, however, is not Youngstown State. This one will be a lot closer than people might think, especially if Mark Ingram doesn't play. But even without Ingram, Bama is too much for a rebuilding Penn State.
Hobbitcore sez: Alabama
UPSET OF THE WEEK
Michigan @ Notre Dame
I was actually kind of amazed to see that Notre Dame was favored in this game after the way Denard Robinson and the Wolverines looked in their win over Connecticut. Notre Dame was pretty impressive too but their defense better be ready because Robert Marve doesn't run the spread anywhere near as well as Robinson does. Robinson will have a huge day as no one on the Irish defense is even close to being able to keep up with him.
Hobbitcore sez: Michigan
GAME OF THE WEEK
#12 Miami (FL) @ #2 Ohio State
OK. I'm almost assuredly going to come off as a homer on this one. And I say this every year but these Canes are going to be better than people realize. Not only is this a landmark game for the Canes but they A. have nothing to lose because no one expects them to win and B. have the added chip on their shoulder from the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Not only that but, historically, the Canes always show up the biggest when A. the bright lights are shining and/or B. no one is giving them a chance of winning. Jacory Harris is healthy (all I've heard anyone say about him since last season was that he needs to eliminate his mistakes but a large chunk of his interceptions last season could conceivably be attributed to a thumb injury he sustained in a late-season game against North Carolina; a game in which he threw 4 interceptions, 2 of which were returned for touchdowns) and mature and, while his offensive line may be inexperienced, last year's O-Line wasn't exactly a strength--and I've noticed that when experienced O-Lines that aren't particularly good lose a lot of guys, the inexperienced guys that step in end up being surprisingly good. The Miami receiving corps will also give the Buckeye secondary fits and the stable of Canes RBs will too. On the other side of the ball, the Canes' defense will be extremely fired up after hearing about Terrell Pryor and Ohio State all week and will give the Bucks' offensive line fits with their depth and talent, especially on the front four. If the Canes can get pressure on Pryor rushing only four, Pryor will have a very long day. Also, don't underestimate the impact of Miami's special teams. I like Allen Bailey to register a couple sacks and the Miami backs to establish the run and short passing game to open up the field for Jacory to make some big plays with his arm and get the Canes their biggest win in nearly a decade.
Keys to the Game
-Force Canes to blitz
-Get Brandon Saine going
-Pressure Jacory Harris
-Protect Jacory Harris
-Get pressure on Pryor without blitzing (and keep him in the pocket)
-establish running game and short passing game early and often
Hobbitpick: Miami 21, Ohio State 20
MY HEISMAN BALLOT (if the voting was today)
1. Kellen Moore
2. Denard Robinson
3. Ryan Mallett
4. Christian Ponder
5. Jordan Wynn
OUT-OF-WHACK SPREADS (games I would bet on...if gambling were legal)
Georgia over South Carolina (-3)
Florida State over Oklahoma (-7)
Michigan over Notre Dame (-3.5)
Miami over Ohio State (-8.5)