by John Furgele
Three weeks are in the books, and as expected, there were many twists and turns. Before long, the leaves will begin falling and the landscape will begin to take shape. Here is what we have learned through three weeks.
1) It’s Three Strikes and You’re Out for Ohio State: The Buckeyes have probably been the nation’s most successful team this decade, but this was the third straight time they laid an egg in the big game. The first two came in the BCS Championship Games in 2006 and 2007, and we saw the third last Saturday at USC. They looked impressive in their first drive, but settling for the field goal hurt them tremendously. It would not have mattered, but the lack of aggression certainly didn’t help. Unless the Bucks go 11-1 and are the only team in the land with one loss, they’re not getting another shot for the BCS title. If there are five teams with one loss, Ohio State will be ranked number five. As good as they have been, the nation has tired of them.
2) This Week the PAC-10 Takes a Hit: As good as USC looked in their thrashing of Ohio State, the rest of the conference looked awful. Based on what we saw, is there a PAC 10 team that can beat the Trojans? The PAC 10 went 3-7 this week and were blown out in some of these games. Oregon picked up a nice come-from-behind win at Purdue, 32-26 and Oregon State, which is far from a good team, drubbed Hawaii 45-7. Other than that, it was a week to forget for the PAC 10 brethern. UCLA was humiliated at BYU, losing 59-0 against a team that they have now played three times in less than a year. The Jim Harbaugh Era continues to be a stuggle as the Trees were smothered by TCU. Oklahoma drubbed Washington 55-14; UNLV beat Arizona State in overtime, ruining next week’s showdown versus Georgia; Maryland looked reinvented in a 35-27 win over California. New Mexico beat Arizona, and lowly Baylor beat Washington State. The ACC and the Big East have taken the week one and two hits, now it’s the Pac 10s turn.
3) The Mountain West Beats Up The Pac 10: The MWC continues to be the best non-BCS conference. BYU is for real and they have a legitimate shot to play in a BCS bowl game even if they lose one game. The Cougars clicked on all cylinders in their win against UCLA. How much better can they get? Not only did the MWC go 7-1 this week (Colorado State was idle), they went 4-0 against the PAC 10 with New Mexico, TCU, BYU, and UNLV beating Arizona, Stanford, UCLA and Arizona State respectively. Maybe the best football west of the Mississippi is played in the Rockies.
4) Buffalo and Temple Are Building Programs: The key to success in college football is to build a program, a machine. That’s what the powerhouses do. USC, LSU, Ohio State, Alabama and many others have been able to do this. When you build a program, kids want to play there, they want to send tapes there and they want to be wooed by these schools. And, when the coach of the program called, the recruit listened and listened intently. If you were a kid being recruited by Penn State, Ohio State and Pitt, you laughed when Temple called. If you were being recruited by USC and UCLA, you laughed when Cal or Washington State called. For most of this decade, Buffalo and Temple were arguably the two worst (service academy excluded) teams in the country. But now, things are beginning to change. Both Turner Gill at Buffalo and Al Golden at Temple are building the positive culture that may lead to an actual program. In one of the best games of the day, Buffalo beat Temple 30-28, when Bulls QB Drew Willy hit Naaman Roosevelt on a 35 yard “Hail Mary” with no time left on the clock. ABC analyst Craig James said, “can you believe we’re showing Buffalo-Temple highlights.:” That was a step in the right direction. Now, instead of being hung up on and forced to recruit players better suited for 1-AA, kids should be willing to listen when Temple and Buffalo call.
5) Syracuse, Rutgers in Deep: Most agree that the Syracuse program is in sad and sorry shape. Penn State drubbed the Orabne 55-13 and probably could have scored 75 points had they wished. The Orange do nothing well. They can’t throw, they can’t run and they can’t tackle. This week, they host 1-AA Northeastern and they will have their hands full against the 0-2 Huskies. Why? Because Syracuse is playing with 1-AA players that are 1-A in name only. This might be the only chance for an Orange victory this season, a season which will ultimately result in a coaching change.
As for Rutgers, they might be a fraud as well. They have played two home games and have been routed in both, losing to Fresno State, then getting absolutely drubbed by so-so North Carolina 44-12. There are ambitious plans in New Jersey for a school that really has one game to lay claim to. When they beat Louisville on that Thursday night two years ago, many thought that was going to be the landmark moment for a team that had struggled for decades. But, what has Rutgers done since that? They won a Texas Bowl against a sub-par Kansas State team, then went 7-5 in 2007 and beat a MAC team in the International Bowl. Does that qualify them as a big time school? Certainly not. The problem with Rutgers is that coach Greg Schiano and company talk like they are a perennial top 15 school, which they are very far from being. Of course, after they beat Navy and 1-AA Morgan State, they will be 2-2 and likely be chirping again—until they get drubbed by the likes of South Florida and West Virginia.
The only Big East team that is playing solid football is South Florida, which beat a good Kansas team on Friday night. West Virginia is pretty solid and Connecticut is solid, but after that, the conference is well below average.
Finally, the Ivy League teams start their 2008 seasons this weekend. There was once a time when the Yales and Harvards ruled the college football world, but those days are long gone. But, you have to respect a conference that waits until students actually get settled into classes before playing football games. College football has become a huge industry, which has delighted many and disgusted others, but regardless of which side you are on, you have to admit that the Ivy League has maintained its pride and integrity and more importantly, its independence.
Until next week.