HIGHS AND LOWS from September 17th weekend
By Dave Hershorin
NationalChamps.net Managing Editor
 
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September 19, 2005

Our college football week started with a glance at two teams many have been curious to see. Thursday night’s tilt between TCU – the humble Horned Frogs who whooped Oklahoma 17-10 in Norman two weeks ago – and Utah – the BCS darling who lost both its greatest QB along with eight coaches – let us see just where both of these top Mountain West teams land at this early season juncture. A well-fought battle came down to an overtime stanza that proved TCU’s defense is/was the team’s most reliable dimension. That’s how they stuffed the Sooners and how they pulled away from Utah in OT 23-20 there in Fort Worth last week. How did TCU “sleep” the week between the two big wins and lose to SMU 21-10? The answer is that both Oklahoma and Utah have been overrated (the Sooners more so), so the anomalistic nature of TCU’s plight becomes clear. Utah played at a rather competitive level for where we expect they need to be to defend their conference crown, especially seen as the Utes’ D matched TCU’s by holding the Horned Frogs scoreless over the final 15 minutes of regulation. But Utah’s offense is not close to what it was under Urban Meyer and Alex Smith, though the spread option they now employ did show signs of its past dominance. Ute first-time head coach Kyle Whittingham will undoubtedly succeed, it just won’t be until later this year that we see Utah come near the levels they displayed in becoming the first non-BCS aligned team to break through.

Speaking of the overrated Sooners, look at them now. Many of us predicted that their offensive profile had changed enough such that Adrian Peterson wasn’t likely to have nearly the campaign he did his freshman year. With a QB who averages just over 100 passing yards per game and has two INTs and no TDs, we are seeing just how human Peterson really is. The slight given last year to Texas’ then-senior RB Cedric Benson by the media as they clamored for then-freshman Peterson enough so that Benson (who had nearly equal running stats to Peterson 1834 vs. 1925, but WAY more receiving yards – 179 vs. 12) wasn’t even invited to the Heisman presentation shows partly just how over-inflated Peterson’s 2004 numbers were due to ex-Heisman winner Jason White (Peterson’s ’04 QB and backfield mate) distracting defenders. Moreover, it reveals how little substance most of the media needs in order to create and then support its own hype, riding their claims of how Peterson is better than sliced bread “Enron style” until such claims hit the wall before they will admit it was all done to get people to the commercials/ads (you know, the real reason TV/newspapers exist(s)). New Sooner QB Rhett Bomar, though evidently the best out of the three OU hurlers, has been exposed to show just how over-blown Oklahoma’s prowess was anticipated to be. UCLA let OU stay in the game until the second half, when two fourth quarter TDs put the score out of reach. In winning 41-24, the Bruins have staked their willingness to claim the PAC 10 crown if/when any of the others ranked above them falters. In losing, OU pulls back the curtain to reveal head coach Bob Stoops desperately pulling a bunch of levers to justify his team’s over-inflated rankings. Texas is still on the docket, and other conference foes will make 2005’s payback a year Oklahoma fans will want to remember later rather than Sooner…

Another highly-anticipated matchup came this weekend as Oregon State finished its non-conference games off with a trip to Louisville. The Beavers knew they were facing both of last year’s Liberty Bowl participants within these first three games, and had dealt the powerful, well-balanced (offense of) Boise State its own 30-27 payback loss (for beating OSU 53-34 in 2004) just last week. But the Beavers found out this week just why the Redbirds have been ranked so highly, losing 63-27 in the Bluegrass state. When comparing numbers, one really has to give Brian Brohm’s 18-for-22, 368 yard, five-TD the slight nod over Texas A&M Aggie Reggie McNeal’s 15-for-24, 349 yard, five-TD effort, though McNeal did run for 100 yard on but six tries. Brohm, still an underclassman (soph), looked flawless as UL tied for the most point ever scored on this top-level BCS-aligned squad. McNeal did his damage to SMU, so you can see the disparaging comparison. McNeal won the Walter Camp due to his added rushing numbers, so kudos for the Aggie’s well-deserved praise. Now 16-0 when scoring over 40 points under head coach Bobby Petrino, Louisville held its second-straight foe under 50-yards rushing (42) and its fourth-straight to under 100-ground yards (dating back to 2004). But the biggest story swept under the rug this week is again Elvis…Elvis Dumervil to be precise. The big senior DE, who set the single-game NCAA sack record last week with six last week, added three more to now also be the record-holder of sacks (nine) over a two-game span. Dumervil again added two forced fumbles (for a total of four for both weeks), making his two-game effort one of the most commanding ever (he leads all D-I players in both categories). Hopefully, they read this column down in Tampa so that someone there at USF will call for a double-team on the Miami-native. Otherwise, expect a three-game sack record to soon be established, too.

West Virginia beat Maryland 31-19 in College Park, proving that the Big Eat can still be competitive as their members dwindle and morph. Given, the Big East’s latest recruit, Louisville, is a juggernaut; still, USF and Connecticut don’t quite add up to Miami and Virginia Tech. With the Mountaineers racking up 301 rushing yards, they continue to avenge four-straight losses to the Terrapins (two of which were in 2003) and also continue to surprise many who thought that WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez’ would experience a lull without ex-QB Rasheed Wallace. But Rodriguez has gone to a two-QB rotation that seems to work, so far, as Adam Bednarik and Pat White combined to go a modest 8-for-11. With their four toughest games left all at home, things in Morgantown look even better now that the Mountaineers are again the kings of this jagged border.

Speaking of conference “sleepers”, none seems more ready than Alabama to actually show its stuff. If you happen to remember the Crimson Tide’s 2004 final defensive rankings (1st in pass defense, 2nd overall and 7th in scoring), you know why they currently have the 4th-best total D – team speed and discipline. But this year’s ‘Bama squad, having replaced just two departing linemen, is better at rushing defense so far, ranking second in the nation as run-stuffers. With QB Brody Croyle back and in classic form, the differences between 2004 and this year grow as UA (like WVU) gets all of its toughest remaining foes at home. They match up well with Florida, so expect a real defensive edge (take the under) when the Gators (and their 2nd-ranked D) come-a-calling in two weeks.

Even though Drew Stanton led Michigan State over new-look Notre Dame (then 10th), undefeated MSU seems to still be ranked lower than the one-loss Irish (AP has ND 16th and the Spartans 17th; Coaches Poll 18th and 22nd, respectively). The Irish share a 2-1 record with Michigan, though ND’s 17-10 win in the Big House finds them still placing behind the Wolverines in both major rankings. With an undefeated Iowa State beating Iowa, yet still ranking lower than their in-state rivals, one begins to wonder just what criteria is more important than overall records and head-to-head results in voters’ minds. No, really, can you tell me, because this one really has me doubting if there is anything sacred left when crap like this is what speaks of fairness and justice in this land. Oh, I forgot FEMA, sorry…which makes the NCAA seem trivial in its ability to allow extraordinary stupidity to govern what seems to be obvious and straight-forward.

Ohio State again struggled with San Diego State before pulling away 24-6 in Columbus. Two years ago, it was a 16-13 squeaker, and the 27-12 tilt in 2001 proves that either/both the Buckeyes aren’t as consistent as some perennial top 10 teams and/or the Aztecs really gear up for this one. Bet on the combination of the two, for it is (least of all) curious as to why OSU can’t use their two amazing QBs to more easily run away from opponents. Pure-passer Justin Zwick went 9-for-10 for 47 yards, while dual-threat Troy Smith took way more snaps in going 14-for-26 for 149. It’s the running dimension that Smith brings which forces foes to wait that extra second until they know what kind of play OSU is developing, giving the speedster that much more room to wreak havoc (14 carries went for 87 yards and two ground scores vs. SDSU). With Ted Ginn’s super-quick duality (as a RB/WR) lining up so many different ways with Smith’s role(s), the creativity Jim Tressel is capable of employing seems endless. Our suggestion for those episodes of offensive obstruction/stagnation – try keeping Smith on the field at all times, creating even more confusion as foes attempt to quickly spread their resources that much more to cover any/all possible Buckeye outcomes. Smith, as a WR/HB, gets him (that) many more touches, and the Buckeyes that many more TDs. OSU seems to score a lot more when Smith is in, huh. Something has to give if you are going to keep lining up phenom Ginn in/near the backfield and only get him one carry. Just like running Ginn more, having both Zwick and Smith in for about a third of the plays would add those extra dimensions that keep defenses flat-footed and guessing. Tressel is still light years ahead of Bobby Bowden in managing two talents at QB so that each can shine.

Lagniappe

Penn State looks to be serving notice to their Big Ten brethren that they are back after two-straight (and four out of the last five have been) losing seasons. Oh, you mean those were patsy non-cons and the conference buzz-saw starts now?...Nebraska survived Pitt 7-6 with two blocked FGAs, the second as time expired after Pitt had botched its first game-winning try into a failed pass. “Third time’s the charm” fails to apply not only to the Panther’s special teams, but to Dave Wannstedt’s 0-3 startFresno State proved the rankings wrong – they were 23rd (AP) and Oregon was unranked before the Ducks prevailed 37-34 at Autzen StadiumNorth Texas’ RB duo of Pat Cobbs and Jamario Thomas (last year’s leading rusher for all of D-I) was held to 113 combined yards as Tulsa won 54-2, holding the Mean Green without a TD for the first time since Texas beat them 65-0 last year. Fortunately, Tulsa is not a Sun Belt foe, but what does this say for North Texas’ OL?...Florida’s 16-7 home win over Tennessee only proves what we here at NationalChamps.net previously knew – that Urban Meyer is the X-factor that will put an already-talent-laden Gator squad over the top in both their conference half and the national rankingsHow can Purdue rank 12th after barely inching past Arizona (3-8, 2-10, 4-8 their past three campaigns) 31-24?...Vandy looks dandy after dissing Ole Miss 31-23. It is the Commodores first 3-0 start since 1984, when they went to 4-0 before finishing 5-6. Jay Cutler looks like he can deliver the first winning season in Nashville since 1982Give ESPN some dap for their extensive efforts in switching viewers over to the hottest ticket once the Oregon State-Louisville game got out of hand. Seeing Vandy do its thing was a nice bonusEven though Syracuse lost to Virginia 27-24, new coach Greg Robinson served notice that this version of the Orange will not be nearly as streaky in its play. In holding Marques Hagans to 16-for-26 and 145 with three INTs, SU forced him to scramble to beat them, which he did well to prove why he is the second best dual-threat QB in the state (see Marcus Vick and his 12-for-16, 200 yard performance in VT’s 45-0 win over the Ohio “Frank Soliches”)Texas Tech will seem like an unstoppable force with six fairly basic foes to start. Then we will see why defense wins championships once they go to Austin (10-22-05)Both LSU and Boise State have yet to make any INTs, and while LSU, Florida, Texas Tech and UCLA have yet to throw any, only UCLA and Texas Tech have yet to even turn the ball over onceVirginia Tech, Memphis, Oklahoma State, and Mississippi are the only ones not to have allowed any passing TDs, while nine squads have yet to allow any ground scores. VT and Nebraska are the only schools to have allowed but one TD total so farAnd finally, on this statistical note, if LSU continues to net 48+ per punt, it will likely be they and UF facing off in Atlanta for the conference championship come December 3rd. In a tight SEC race, special teams can be the difference