This season is all of three days old and already two conferences have taken serious chin music. One is the Big East, which may not surprise many folks. The Big East’s representatives to the past two BCS postseasons — Cincinnati — had been demolished by superior competition (Virginia Tech, Florida) in those games. Last night, the reigning Big East champions were mauled by Fresno State in Fresno. The Bulldogs conceded the first 14 points, but scored the next 28 points en route to the victory. That much may not be too surprising. What is surprising is how poorly Zach Collaros was treated. The dimunitive quarterback and hero of last year’s South Florida game was sacked eight times. By contrast, Cincinnati quarterbacks in 2009 were sacked 15 times, for the entire season.
The rest of the conference did nothing to overly impress on the first week. The best performer was probably South Florida. Skip Holtz’s Bulls took care of business against SUNY-Stony Brook. Syracuse was 29-3 victors over Akron. Some results were baffling. Rutgers could only score 6 first half points against Norfolk State, ultimately winning 31-0. Likewise, West Virginia (#25) could only score 10 first half points en route to a 31-0 win over Coastal Carolina. Elsewhere, Louisville lost to in-state rival Kentucky to open the Charlie Strong era. Pitt (#15) lost at Utah. To be fair, the Wannies aren’t used to things called “fans” and “loud crowds” and “people in stands” and “people in stands with pulses”. They struggled and lost in overtime. Connecticut, a trendy pick to upset Michigan, was run over by the Wolverines. There was a lot of intrigue to this game regarding the nature of Michigan’s defense and, importantly, who would start for Rodriguez. Denard Robinson got the start and the assist from his offensive line, which created great push off the line and allowed Robinson to chew up yards and clock. It was easy to be impressed by Michigan this game, but some of UCONN’s play and gameplan was baffling. The Huskies had early success blowing Michigan off the ball, creating seals on the edge to allow tailbacks to chew up yards. But, they also had weird drops and would just hide from that gameplan for important stretches whereas Ohio State embraced it through the second and third quarters last year. Just as curious, UCONN insisted on running their base 4-3 package against Rodriguez’s offense as if the year was still 2001. This created hell for UCONN’s defense once Robinson and Michael Shaw were able to get to the second level. From this result, it should be clear that Robinson is probably the right man for the job at Michigan. Yet, I think they were enabled in important ways by UCONN.some strange results. It is easy to get caught in the odd results, ignoring that most programs (such as #1 Alabama) took care of business. This is expected of top flight programs, but the results in Oxford, Gainesville and Atlanta quite frankly defy belief. First, Jacksonville State did the state of Jacksonville1 proud by going into Oxford, Mississppi and upsetting the Rebels. So, yes, the Running Rebs had their Appalachian State moment. I think everyone and their mother knew this was karma for not making Admiral Ackbar their mascot. The Admiral would never fall for this trap, and yet Houston Nutt’s Ackbar-less Rebels did. Unlike Michigan’s Appy State nightmare, the Rebs had this game in full control. Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium even began emptying over the course of the second half, when the Rebels jumped out to a 31-10 lead. The Gamecocks rallied to take into overtime, complete with a 2pt conversion at the end of the fourth to even get into extended time. Therein, Jacksonville State opted to forgo the third overtime and put the ball in their hands of their true freshman quarterback to get the win. They did.
We need to be fair to Ole Miss. Jacksonville State did win the Ohio Valley Conference last year whereas Ole Miss was a 9-4 team and 4-4 in conference play. The Rebels are trying to be elite, but just need better athletes to rise to the top and compete with the very best of the Ohio Valley Conference.
Entering this season, I thought Florida’s ranking (#4) in no way comes close to how good this team really is. My sentiment was borne out through the course of the game. The Gators did nothing right, but ultimately escaped with the ugliest 22 point victory I have ever seen. This was Miami… OF OHIO. One of the bottom five in college football last year, the 1-win Redhawks were scraping the barrel in every category of consequence in 2009. In Gainesville, it was the Gators who looked liked the 1-win bottom feeder. It may be difficult to parse through the aggregate statistics if you did not watch this game live, but Florida was hanging to a 9 point 21-12 lead early in the fourth quarter while having an aggregate of 26 yards of offense. One of those three touchdowns for the Gators was a pick-six. The other was one that was picked and returned to Miami’s goal line. The other was a turnover on downs that gave favorable field position to the Gators. Through important stretches of this game, John Brantley had roughly 2.5 yards a pass and 3 yards a completion. Center Mike Pouncey routinely snapped the ball behind Brantley or off the side of Brantley’s feet. Urban Meyer, perhaps wishing he was still resigned, retired, on indefinite leave of vacay (or whatever the hell that was), continued going for it on 4th down, not believing what he was seeing. He was frequently denied as well. A 72 yard Jeff Demps run ultimately put the Redhawks behind the 8 ball for good, but there was a point in this game where the Redhawks could’ve just conceded the ball to the Gators’ offense, wait for hilarity, kick a few more field goals and actually leave Gainesville with their undefeated streak against the Gators (1973 Tangerine Bowl) in tact. Then, they could make a toast to their victory with cake and beer. Losing their starting Messiah to the NFL should make the Gators less potent on offense, but I have no idea where this string of fatal execution errors comes from.
A strange result, all the more unfortunate for the Gators because there is no reprieve. The Gators will host South Florida, go to Tennessee, host Kentucky, go to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama (!!), and host LSU and Mississippi State before their bye week and the following World’s Largest Outdoor Non-Alcoholic Punch and Pie Social against Georgia. If Florida wants to compete with Buffalo and Temple for supremacy in the MAC’s East Division, it has got to figure something out, and in a hurry. You just don’t enter UB Stadium and expect to walk out with a win. No sir.
Lastly, the night cap of bizarre results came from Atlanta. LSU beat North Carolina; there is no surprise there. What is surpising is that LSU took the foot off the accelerator while taking a 30-10 lead into halftime. North Carolina, for their part, stormed back and damn near tied the game on the shadow of LSU’s goal line with two seconds left to play. Under normal circumstances, this game would be labeled a thriller and an instant classic. It may still be that, but UNC having to suspend or withhold half of its talent while under investigation for various shenanigans makes this the most embarrassing victory possible for Les Miles. Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter made it to the game and helped out in important ways in the second half. However, it is astonishing to know that UNC put up this kind of fight while having to burn eight redshirts, put out several scout teamers to the lions (or Tigers) who had never before seen action, and have to use a hastily cobbled together collection of 1st/2nd/3rd and scout teamers in order to play this game. UNC was outmatched at every position, no position moreso than in the trenches. TJ Yates had 1.5 seconds to let go of the ball or risk getting killed by a four man pass rush. False starts and overall Shoopishness haunted Tar Heel fans, and they damn near won this thing. It was a sight to behold last night.
Most of the Big Ten schools performed well. The Illini lost to Missouri, but you are not surprised. That’s just Zook being Zook. Purdue lost their opener at Notre Dame, marking a successful debut for Brian Kelly. Nerdwestern had some errors, but ultimately won the Brain Bowl with Vanderbilt. Wisconsin looked mighty impressive on offense against UNLV in Vegas, coasting to a victory and allowing Bret Bielema to go out, party, and eat nachos in good spirits. Penn State broke in their new quarterback with good results. Bolden had some early jitters, but overcame them and beat the Penguins handily. Next week’s contest at Alabama looms large for the freshman quarterback.
Week 1 is not done. Texas Tech and SMU have kicked off and Boise State-Virginia Tech is slated for primetime tomorrow night. These are all my thoughts. What else struck you from Saturday night?
- It’s actually in NE Alabama, but the proud citizens of the state of Jacksonville were partying last night. [↩]