by John Furgele
For the most part, the nonconference games are officially done and conference play has begun in earnest as the crucial month of October has arrived. There have been some surprises (Vanderbilt), disappointments (Auburn, Clemson), and under the radar flyers (Ball State). But, from here on out, every week will tell us something major. Here we go.
1) Texas and Oklahoma Are Still Frauds. That is a harsh word, but I use it knowing that the tag will end Saturday when the two teams get together in the Red River Shootout in Dallas. Both teams are 5-0, but both have had cupcake schedules. The loser is likely out of the BCS Championship picture, but that is far from a certainty. The Sooners are more hyped, and more respected, but nobody is really sure how good both teams are. This has to be a quality played football game. The closer the game, the better it’s played, the better the Big 12 will look. A win by Texas would really set them up to get in the BCS title hunt. If they win Saturday, they host #3 Missouri on October 18, and should they beat the Tigers, they would likely be number one going into November.
2) The SEC, Though Ballyhooed, is Soft. The Big East could play six SEC top cats, beat them all, and still, most of the pundits will say—without thinking—that the SEC is the best conference in the land. But, truth be told, the SEC has been soft this year. Alabama has arrived, perhaps a year ahead of schedule, and LSU has been very good, but the rest of the teams are mediocre at best. After Alabama and LSU, the SEC West features Auburn, which doesn’t know what to do on offense; Mississippi, which shocked Florida, but couldn’t follow that up, losing to South Carolina, which isn’t very good either; and Arkansas and Mississippi State, which are very bad teams right now. Very bad.
The SEC East is led by Vanderbilt, which no matter what their record is is not a great football team. Deep down, the SEC leaders are hoping that the perennial weak sister loses a few games and fast. They have to play Florida and Georgia, but the Gators couldn’t beat Mississippi at home and Georgia was throttled by Alabama. The rest of the division features South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee, all mediocre teams. Tennessee does nothing on offense and is only 2-3, with wins coming against UAB and Northern Illinois. A week after losing 14-12 to Auburn, they barely beat Northern Illinois by a score of 13-9.
In the end, things might be different, but right now the SEC is hurting.
3) Patience Should Be Tried ala Pittsburgh. Too often, we are quick to say this coach is in trouble and this coach should get fired, and Dave Wannstedt has certainly felt the wrath of those comments, but maybe Wannstedt knows what he’s doing at Pittsburgh. After losing its opener to Bowling Green, the fans were calling for Wannstedt’s head. In Week 2, the Panthers survived Buffalo, but then began to get rolling. They got a nice win, beating Iowa 21-20, then survived at Syracuse 34-24, before making a statement with a 26-21 win at South Florida, the Big East frontrunner. At 4-1 and 2-0 in conference play, the Panthers may have a Big East title in reach, but the next three games will be telling for the Wannstedt Era. Beginning October 18, they play at Navy, a team that beat them last year and runs the tricky triple option; host Rutgers, then travel to Notre Dame to take on the resurgent Irish. If the program is indeed on its way back, the Panthers should win all three games. They should beat Navy by at least a touchdown, beat Rutgers at home by 10 points and if they’re worth their salt, should be able to pull out a white knuckler at Notre Dame. If they win all three, they will get the attention thay crave, and at 7-1 will be in prime position. Going 2-1 would be fine, but if they’re really back, they need a sweep.
4) Army , Army, Army. The Black Knights did it all last Saturday in a 44-13 victory at Tulane. They blocked punts, ran the ball, and played solid defense and like good teams do (Army is not there, of course), they pulled away in the fourth quarter. The one thing Army did not do this week(or last week) is throw the ball. And, that’s a good sign as it indicates that the Knights have re-commited to the option. In a 21-17 loss to Texas A&M on September 27, they ran for 280 yards on 65 rushes, and at Tulane rushed 44 times for 291 yards, an average of 6.6 yards per rush. The only way Army is going to be competitive at the 1-A level is to schedule appropriately, and run the option offense. And, it looks like coach Stan Brock has weaned them from Bobby Ross’ pro style to the triple option. It took five weeks, but it looks like it is finally starting to take form. Army hosts Eastern Michigan this Saturday at Michie Stadium and not only is this a winnable game, the Knights will likely be a slight favorite. Watch out Navy, here they come.
6) The Woes Continue for Indiana State. Now that Army is in the win column, getting Indiana State a “W” is now high priority, but it won’t be easy. The Sycamores lost another one Saturday, getting whipped by Illinois State 57-6, to fall to 0-5 on the season, after going 0-11 in 2007. Things get no easier this weekend as ISU travels to 2-2 Southern Illinois. We’ll keep rooting.
Until next week.