by John Furgele
For many, Chrsitmas came on August 30 at Noon EST as the 2008 College Football season “officially” began. For most, it is the beginning of a 12 game schedule, with one to two more depending on conference affiliation and bowl games. Of course, for Division 1-AA teams, many will play a 12 game (instead of 11) regular season, then, hopefully four postseason games for a total of 15. From the hot summer of August to the cold, snowy Novembers, it is four month joyride.
Week 1 was full of intruigue, if not surprises. Let’s take a closer look
1) The ACC is not very good: It was a tough start for the ACC. North Carolina State trailed South Carolina 3-0 at halftime before getting drubbed 34-0 to a no better than average Gamecock squad. The ACC-SEC Challenge is kind of like the Metro Atlantic-Big East college basketball challenge, and the ACC is the Metro Atlantic. Virginia Tech got a dose of itsa own medicine when it got beat by a blocked punt at East Carolina, a Conference USA school. Then, there was the performance by Clemson, which we will be mentioned later.
Not only did the ACC struggle, but Maryland struggled mightily to beat 1-AA Delaware. The Blue Hens are very good and they were the 1-AA runner-up in 2007, but they were breaking in a new quarterback and had the ball at their own 35 late in the game against a usually solid ACC/BCS team.
2) Watch Out for Turner Gill and the Buffalo Bulls: Last year, the Buffalo Bulls finished 5-7, hardly a great record. But, if you know your college football, you know that it was a spectacular job done by the former Nebraska quarterback. For years, the Bulls were ranked dead last in 1-A football and their 42-17 pasting of the Mike Price coached UTEP Miners was a statement game. The Bulls have a very good coaching and a senior quarterback in Drew Willy who does more than manage games. Nebraska wanted a top assistant from a major program, so they chose Bo Pellini. They may regret the fact that they did not select Gill. Next up for Buffalo is a trip to Pittsburgh, a team that lost to MAC rival Bowling Green.
3) Sad Times for Syracuse: The Greg Robinson Era at Syracuse has shown no improvement at all. The Orange were trounced by mediocre Northwestern, and quarterback Andrew Robinson appears to have regressed. Greg Robinson has tried to install the West Coast Offense, but it looks more futile each game. The offense is so conservative, but the biggest problem is Andrew Robinson. In order to run the West Coast, the QB has to be accurate, and Young Robinson was not even close on most of his throws. And, the usual cry of wait ’till basketball season is not a good one, as the hoopsters are coming off back-to-back NIT appearances.
4) Beware the Heisman: The Heisman hype is not really worth mentioning, but we will mention it nonetheless. Many picked Ohio State running back Chris “Beanie” Wells as a favorite, but he hurt his ankle against Youngstown State. Last year, many were giving the trophy to Oregon QB Dennis Dixon, then he tore his ACL and was done for the season. Can we please wait until November?
5) The Fraud That Is Clemson: Every year, many in the media fall in love with the Clemson Tigers and every year, they fall short of expectations. They opened the season against Alabama in the Georgia Dome, far from a gimme. The Tigers were outplayed, outcoached and clearly outclassed by the rising Crimson Tide, who are clearly moving forward with Nick Saban. Clemson fans think its 1981, with Danny Ford breaking all the rules to get players, and Homer Jordan is looking downfield for Perry Tuttle. Tommy Bowden is a decent coach, but there is pressure for him to get at least to the ACC Champiionship Game this season. Clemson is an 8-4 team, but the boosters are thinking 11-1. 10-2 all the time, and the reality is they are not an top tier program.
6) The Mountain West Is a Solid Conference: The Mountain West is clearly the best non-BCS conference in the nation, and it could be better than the ACC. Utah not only beat Michigan at Michigan, they were in control for most of the game even though they only won 25-23. And, the Utes may only be the third best team in the nine team league behind Brigham Young and Texas Christian. Air Force can give you fits, and New Mexico went 9-4 last season. Most BCS teams simply do not want to schedule MWC teams, so give Michigan credit for taking on the Utes. This week, San Diego State visits Notre Dame. The Aztecs are young and should be there for Notre Dame’s taking, but it should be noted that the Irish dropped a BCS opponent and replaced them with San Diego State. Should the Aztecs win, that will be splashed across all the media.
The true shame of the college bowl system is that the winner of the MWC goes to the Las Vegas Bowl and plays the fourth or fifth place team from the PAC 10. This conference deserves a better slot than that.
7) USC vs. Ohio State: These two teams, who seemingly played in every Rose Bowl from 1966-1976 will hook up at the LA Colisieum on September 13. Many thought the Trojans, who are a bot young and inexperienced might be fodder for the veteran Buckeyes, but no more. Mark Sanchez looked like all the understudys do—Leinhart for Palmer, Booty for Leinhart and now Sanchex for Booty. USC was expected to win, after all Virginia is in the ACC, but the licking they put on the Cavs was quite impressive. The good thing is that the loser of the game is not necessarily out of the BCS title race.
8) 1-AA versus 1-A: With the addition of the 12th regular season game, most 1-A teams like to fill it with a 1-AA opponent. The move serves several purposes. First, it gives the 1-A team in essence, a pre-season game and the seventh home game. Second, if they win, they only have to win five more games to be considered for a bowl game. Third, it gives the 1-AA program some money, some exposure and a chance to pull off the dream and upset the big brother. Last year, we saw the mother of all 1-AA/1-A upsets when Appalachian State won at Michigan. But, there should be more thought put into some of these matchups. You can certainly see Youngstown State playing Ohio State and Western Illinois-Illinois (just an example). But what was Coastal Carolina doing playing at Penn State? That one made as much sense as Eastern Washington visiting West Virginia and Norfolk State playing at Rutgers last year. If you’re a 1-A team and want to play a 1-AA opponent, use your noodle—and a map. We can see Penn State hosting Villanova; we can see Rutgers hosting Hofstra and we can see Boston College hosting Massachusetts. In fact, the Delaware-Maryland game made great sense. Not only is Delaware a top 1-AA team, but the states border one another, and that may be a game that may help a recruit decide if they want to play for 1-A Maryland or 1-AA Delaware. And, let’s not forget that it is an easy road trip for the Delaware fans to make. It’s alright to schedule a 1-AA opponent, but it should make sense.
9) Poor Old Army: Speaking of 1-AA, Army should be there. Of course, I have been saying this every year, beginning in 2000, but Army just can’t compete at the 1-A level. They will argue that Navy and Air Force face the same challenges and flourish, but Air Force has different academic requirements (easier) and Navy plays a well conceived schedule. And, there are 119 1-A teams in the land—they can’t all go 6-6/7-5 and be eligible for bowls. Army, of course, is too proud and will never concede and move down, but they would certainly be more competitive at the 1-AA level. Losing to Temple is no longer insulting as the Owls have improved, but getting rolled 35-7 at home before a half empty Michie Stadium is. Next week, Army plays host to New Hampshire, one of the top 1-AA teams in the nation. It would be an upset if Army wins. If that doesn’t tell the leadership at the Military Academy anything, what will?
Until next week, enjoy the games.