HIGHS AND LOWS from September 24th weekend
By Dave Hershorin
NationalChamps.net Managing Editor

September 28, 2005

We begin this week’s column with an old echo, one that again has the weather playing a major role in shaping college football events. Hurricane Rita, at mid-week a category five storm, made ADs all along the western gulf coast revamp their team’s weekly proceedings. The biggest impact was again felt in Louisiana, where the SMU-Tulane tilt was moved up, and LSU had to wait til Monday night to host SEC rival Tennessee. The Vols were set to arrive on Saturday for that night’s game, but wiser heads prevailed. The Monday night showcase – usually reserved for the NFL’s chosen matchup – meant that (except Sunday) every night of this week will have college football as a primetime feature. It was clear for us last year that, with games starting to dot the week as early as Wednesday, any part of the week ending in the word “day” is a viable target for the NCAA to bump a game. Such an open-ended scheduling policy allows for altered games to not have to wait until season’s end to be played, an option that minimizes the impact of weather impediments. Still, with this never-ending hurricane season we have all been experiencing (which officially lasts through November), LSU and Tulane might wind up cramming their entire slates into December.

Speaking of Tulane, their 31-0 drubbing of SMU poses a real interesting breakdown of logical sorts. See, the week after TCU went into Norman and shocked the college football world and the Sooners 17-10, SMU handily beat the Horned Frogs. Everyone jokingly saw this sequence and wondered just how well SMU might actually do against OU - the team their defeated opponents had just whooped a week earlier. Technically, if a team wins, they should be able to beat those who have lost to their defeated foes, right? Now, add to that logic Tulane beating SMU and one figures that Tulane might just be better than the Sooners. Given that the Green Wave is top-ranked and OU 42nd for total defense, one just might begin to wonder…

Southern Cal got a scare in Autzen Stadium Saturday night, but their talent survived over Oregon’s will. Oregon made USC react or lose, going out 13-0 to then force the Trojan’s hand. Forty-five points later and the Ducks were wondering (as are we) just how good Southern Cal must be. But many of us saw how Oregon’s marginal D would struggle to hold any lead, if one could be established. The Trojans head into Arizona State this week and then into South Bend two weeks later, so their work is somewhat cut out. But how fair is it that USC gets four of its last five at home, only needing to take one trip (to the Bay area) after late October. Once you factor in that ASU and ND both rank in the lower echelons for total defense, only USC’s November tilt in Berkeley and their closer versus UCLA look challenging for the two-time defending champs. But then, there’s Texas and Virginia Tech…

NEWS FLASH: Beamer Ball is back!!! Virginia Tech served notice that its defense and special teams are in top form, again, making foes realize that either dimension alone can beat them. With 105 kick blocks in 214 games under head coach Frank Beamer, everyone goes into a tilt versus Tech knowing how the Hokie’s special teams win games for them. But it is Tech’s No.3-rated total defense that has the ACC shaking…that, their No.2 scoring D, their No.3 passing D (efficiency), and their third-rated TO-margin (+2.25). All of these wrapped up in one are what make up “Beamer Ball”, and their 51-7 win over then-No.15 Georgia Tech – a quality team – reflects dominance in all of these areas. See, GT was riding high on QB Reggie Ball’s dual abilities until this beat-down, which proves much more about VT’s swagger than it does about the Yellow Jacket’s lacking talent. VT also serves notice that it has its eyes set on the BCS’ top game, the Rose Bowl, and will possibly become like 2004’s Auburn team by going undefeated, only to then be kept out of any national championship scenario(s). What happens if four teams deserve a title shot? Or five?

Michigan State’s freshman Javon Ringer may be the best RB you have yet to hear of. With 194 yards on 13 carries, Ringer led the Spartans to a 61-14 win Ron Zook’s Illini. State’s No.2 offense is led by underdog Heisman candidate Drew Stanton’s 73% completion percentage and his 13:2 TD:INT ratio. Factor in the 24th-best scoring D and you get that their next two games (home versus Michigan and then at Ohio State) make or break the Spartan’s entire campaign. Two tough games like this could not come at a better time, with MSU playing its best ball of the season right as these two juggernauts come calling. Michigan has much to prove as “overrated” has become the main Wolverine adjective now used. Only Wisconsin (who MSU doesn’t play) has as good of a shot as any of these other three at snagging the Big Ten crown, so watch the next few week’s developments to see the best race this conference has seen in some time.

The Tennessee-LSU matchup that was postponed until Monday was a real treat for viewers who already had too many games on their Saturday night docket. By putting off this great matchup for an extra two days, we saw a showcase of talent and fortitude from beginning to end. This “tale of two halves” ended (of course) with the Vols pulling it out 30-27 in OT, ostensibly the better team in the game’s latter stages. Tennessee had to fly in the day of this game, and their jetlag was evident as they struggled to get on the same page those first two quarters. But Phil Fulmer’s boys came out of the locker room totally recharged after the initial 30 minutes, whereas LSU relaxed due to its 21-0 dominance from the first half and then got clocked in the mouth accordingly. The Vols just totally outplayed the Tigers with more heart and determination, and Fulmer gave new LSU head man Les Miles a nice introduction to the SEC. Tiger QB JaMarcus Russell got ahead of himself at the close of the first half, blowing a deep drive by running the ball as time dwindled and not getting either out of bounds or a first down to stop the clock. Time ran on and then out as LSU tried desperately to get its FG-unit in place with no timeouts. The gimme chip-shot from the Vol’s five yard-line would have given the Tigers those three marginal points that would have kept Tennessee from sending it into OT and subsequently winning. With LSU still the likely winner of their SEC half (West), there could be a rematch in Atlanta come December 3rd’s conference championship game.

What happened to Louisville? After beating two BCS-aligned non-cons (Oregon State and Kentucky), the Redbirds went into the sweltering heat in Tampa confident they could beat an unproven South Florida squad. What they ran into was a Bulls’ 25th-ranked total D good enough to force three TOs and keep Louisville down at all of the right moments. This game was won on the ground – USF out-gained UL 251-104 – and proved why UL’s win over in-state rival Kentucky exposed the very elements needed for the Bull’s big 45-14 route. Louisville had been publicly vocal about their ability to go undefeated in their inaugural Big East campaign. Still likely to win the conference, Louisville now has its work cut out and a bullseye on its back, so don’t be surprised when other tough Big East foes continue to exploit their marginal defense (ranked 64th) and struggling special teams. Hey, Cardinals, do us all and yourselves a favor: don’t brag about anything with a first-year starter at QB and a defense that only holds UK to 24 points – this is not what national champions are made of. Kudos to anyone who saw this one coming. Epilogue note: Elvis Dumervil, who had set the NCAA’s two-game sack record the prior weeks, was held to five total tackles, no sacks, and no forced fumbles (he had two in each of the record-setting games). The question is this – why didn’t the double-teams Dumervil garnered help the rest of UL’s D lockdown USF’s running attack?

Miami’s 23-3 win over a punchless Colorado squad clearly means that the mantle of “second best conference” has officially been passed from the Big XII to the ACC (there are three top 10 ACC teams versus one from the Big XII, and six top 25 ACC squads vs. three from the Big XII)Speaking of polls, what kind of boat was missed by voters such that Purdue came in ranked No.11 against unranked Minnesota only to lose 42-35 in double-OT? Similarly, Wisconsin flew under the radar unranked until they beat the overrated Wolverines. Now ranked 17th and 18th respectively, the Badgers’ and Gophers’ surges prove that such “flavor of the week” poll voting doesn’t often reflect teams’ genuine worthPenn State is 4-0 for the first time since 1999, showing marked improvement over their recent ugly past. But with five of their last seven foes ranked (after none of its first four were), Joe Pa has proven little so far as to where the Nittany Lions will probably wind upThis weekend’s Virginia Tech-West Virginia tilt features Division-I’s No.3 and 4-ranked total defenses, respectively. Accordingly, with the 79th and 57th-rated offenses, can you say “under”?...Temple, now an unaligned school (dropped out of the Big East) that has been looking at possibly cutting its football program entirely, is 0-4 in likely its swan song season. As stated before, to allow a program at a great learning institution like Temple to fold is exactly what the NCAA should be focusing upon, not the financial ends of advertising and television. With five of their last seven opponents being bowl teams just a year ago, expectations of either a winning season or of another year of an Owl program become rather impossible, at best...Houston’s Willie Gaston and Ricky Wilson lead D-I for passes defended, but the Cougars rank 109th for pass defenseFresno State is well on its way to repeating last year’s feat of allowing 27 total punt return yards – not per game, but for the entire campaign. After three (of 12) games played, the Bulldogs have allowed only three yard on a total of two returns. Their coverage is good, but it’s Mike Lingua’s hang time(s) that allow State’s tackler’s to do their jobs so wellUCLA will likely roll toward higher rankings if the Bruins can continue this season’s trend of not turning the ball over yetFlorida-Alabama looks like a possible matchup for the SEC crown. The two play on CBS at 3:30pm this Saturdayand finally, congrats to Charlie Weis in winning the “Ty Willingham Bowl” 36-17. Washington’s only chance would have been if Willingham had been allowed to go over and coach the players he recruited to South Bend. But hey, Ty, realize, that by starting out 1-3 in Seattle, you have not raised expectations so high that any losing spells would spell dismissal, the problem you encountered at ND by taking off 8-0, only to then finish 13-16. Lesson learned - build slowly and many fans will come; build too quickly and their disappointment will tear you down