John Mitchell: The college football season is in full swing after two weeks of games, and it has been a very exciting two weeks of football. Last week was dubbed Monster Saturday, and while this week may not have as many marquee matchups, it should be a fun week nonetheless. With me as always are Zach Bigalke and Matt Strobl.
Zach Bigalke: If last week was Monster Saturday, with teams all across the east and through the heartland playing big games, this week if anything is the Big Ten/Pac-10 challenge. There are three head-to-head matchups between the two conferences this weekend – USC heading to Minnesota, Arizona State facing the Badgers in Madison, and the Hawkeyes traveling to Arizona. If you also take into account the Cornhuskers’ trip to Seattle to take on Washington (given that Nebraska is a lame-duck Big XII team headed to the Big Ten next year), that’s four direct matchups between the long-term members of the two conferences. We’ll see how good each of the two regions are in relation to one another after this weekend for sure.
Matt Strobl: Hey, after enduring the stress of a big non-conference game for OSU, I’ll happily take a nice, relaxing Week 3. But before I can calm down, I have to express my outrage over the Vegas line for this week’s game in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech by 19.5? Are these guys high? That’s an outrageous margin for a team that has yet to win a game and just got picked off by James Madison. ECU is 2-0 under Ruffin McNeill, including a win over a solid Tulsa team. What the heck is going on here?
Mitchell: Let’s jump right in. Reggie Bush has made the decision to forfeit his 2005 Heisman Trophy. What do you make of that decision, and do you think Vince Young should be awarded the Heisman?
Bigalke: Reggie Bush learned something from his old head coach Pete Carroll, that’s for sure. Just like Carroll bolted from Troy for the Seahawks job just before the NCAA wolves started howling at USC’s doors, Bush handed over the Heisman before the Trust could take it away from him. It’s like a CEO who gets caught in a high-profile scandal and resigns — complete with his golden parachute, which in this case is the NFL riches his Trojans career earned for him. And just like the corporate world, it is not the deposed big man on campus but the people at the company (or team, in this case) who are left behind to suffer the consequences of those actions. Now moving on to the Young factor, Vince had his moments to win the title in the regular season that year but faltered in a key game against a mediocre Texas A&M defense to end the regular season, while Bush shredded a much better Fresno State squad. (Don’t let conference affiliation fool you there — the Bulldogs were a top-35 defense, while the Aggies were in the bottom quartile of all FBS teams that year.) As a guy who follows cycling, I’ve seen how hollow it is for a rider to win an award after the fact. Keeping the slot vacant on the record forever doesn’t allow this scar to fade over time; if anything, future players need to see that scar as a reminder of what happens when they try to circumvent the rules.
Strobl: I think it’s a nice gesture on Bush’s part, regardless of the underlying motivation for doing it. And I think it brings this whole ugly process one step closer to an ending. I actually posted on the decision here. However, this doesn’t mean Young should win it. While it’s absurd to have a “vacated” award for 2005, it would be even worse to give the Trophy to another player after the fact. What kind of satisfaction would VY have knowing he won 5 years later on a technicality? Regardless of what the record books say, Bush won the award and deserved it. Giving it back makes sense, but doesn’t undo his actions on the field.
Mitchell: It was a mature move on the part of Reggie Bush. The Heisman trust was really in a no-win situation with whether they should strip Bush of the Heisman Trophy or they should let him keep it. Really, regardless of what they did, they were going to make people mad. Instead, Reggie Bush decided to forfeit his Heisman Trophy and that took all the stress off the Heisman trust. I still will look at the 2005 Heisman as Reggie Bush’s and him giving the award back doesn’t erase the memories of him running all over people on the football field. He was a special player and one of the most dominate college players I have ever seen. I think he made the right decision, although I wouldn’t have had a problem with him keeping it. Also, I do not ever think that it should be given to the runner-up. Just like USC’s National Title in 2004, I don’t believe that runner-up Auburn should be given that, but that’s a whole different topic altogether.
Through the first two weeks of the season, we have seen more FCS schools pulling off upsets of FBS programs than I can ever remember. What does that mean in college football?
Strobl: I’m not sure what to think. We’re not just seeing FCS upsets over lesser FBS teams like Kansas and Minnesota, but also over the big boys. It may be a down year for Ole Miss, but the Rebels are still an SEC program. And Virginia Tech is one of the ACC’s strongest teams. Temple, favored to win the MAC, barely survived against Villanova in week 1. I think that the better FCS programs are improving, and dare I suggest that such improvements could be due to the division’s playoff format? I won’t state that with any certainty, but it’s clear that these schools are fielding excellent teams, yet are still being overlooked as legitimate competition. I’m certain the best FCS teams are far better than the worst FBS teams, and if the college football landscape was a bit different than it is, I’d argue for a relegation system that would allow them to step up their level of competition.
Mitchell: It shows that FCS schools are getting better and are starting to be able to compete with some FBS schools. It used to be that only the worst FBS schools would lose to the best FCS schools. Now, the last few years we have seen the likes of Michigan and Virginia Tech, two prominent FBS programs losing to FCS schools. But, this is going to make it harder for the top FCS schools to schedule games against FBS schools, because they don’t want to risk being knocked off. I think we are going to begin to see more and more FBS schools avoiding games against FCS programs. I mean, a team like Virginia Tech would probably be better off scheduling a game against Florida International than it would against James Madison if they are looking for what they hope to be an easy win.
Bigalke: Now that is quite a fascinating idea, Matt… promotion and relegation in the NCAA. If anything, you could see that work at multiple levels. Imagine a scenario where we saw contraction to the point where there were four 16-team conferences — hell, it almost came to fruition in our brink-of-football-Armageddon summer this year. You could then have four regional conferences behind them at the second tier. Relegate the three or four worst teams from the top tier to the middle tier and promote the three best from that second-tier regional conference, and we might better approximate a sense of fairness amongst the various schools. Of course, that would then necessitate more divisions below. Honestly, when you get down to it, we’ve seen that a combination of scholarship limits, financial resources across the board, the increase in televised games at all levels and the overall improvement of high-school football across the nation have ballooned the depth of the talent pool from which schools can recruit. No longer are players willing to necessarily sit on the bench at a traditional name-brand powerhouse anymore; they know that they can get NFL scout exposure just as easily at one level as another. The cream rises no matter what you label it, and it is evident in the increase in exploding cupcakes on teams’ schedules.
Pittsburgh’s star defensive end Greg Romeus will have to undergo back surgery and will be out indefinitely. How will his loss affect Pittsburgh’s quest for a Big East Title?
Mitchell: It’s devastating. Pitt showed they had a lot of question marks in their season opening loss to Utah two weeks ago. Dion Lewis hasn’t looked like the same runner from a year ago and now they have lost their best defensive player for an extended period of time. The best thing for Pittsburgh is that the Big East doesn’t seem to be as good as recent years. The two-time defending Big East Champion Cincinnati is off to a 1-2 start with losses to Fresno State and North Carolina State out of conference. Connecticut was throttled by Michigan on the opening weekend, so even without Romeus, Pittsburgh is likely still the favorite to win the Big East.
Bigalke: Honestly, does it really do that much to change their fortunes? Nobody looks like they really want to step up and assert their dominance in this conferences in 2010. Cincinnati doesn’t look the same now that Butch Jones is in charge, Connecticut isn’t the team we thought they were, West Virginia has struggled and South Florida stopped looking good after halftime against the Gators. The Panthers still have enough defensive pieces to be right there in the hunt, and if Wannstedt is worth a damn as a coach he won’t let Romeus’ injury work as an excuse for those players who remain.
Strobl: The Big East has been used and abused over the first two weeks of the season. But some team still has to step up and win the conference, regardless of how weak it might be. Pitt had a real shot to do so, particularly given the struggles of Cincinnati and UConn. But without Romeus, the defense takes two hits, one to its production and one to its reputation. The latter might be more damaging, because opposing offenses won’t have the fear that Romeus once inspired in them. I think the Panthers’ odds of winning took a significant downturn, but the offense is still good enough to win.
What team was the biggest disappointment in Week 2?
Bigalke: Look, I know everyone wants to point at the Hokies. But honestly I was more disappointed by their ACC rival Georgia Tech. They traveled to Lawrence and promptly watched their undefeated record go up in flames against a Kansas team that had lost the previous week at home 6-3 — to North Dakota State. The Yellow Jackets, led by Josh Nesbitt, outgained the Jayhawks on offense but couldn’t beat them on the scoreboard. There was no shame in losing to a stout Iowa team last year in the Orange Bowl, but losing to a Big XII afterthought — even on its home turf — brought even more stain on the ACC in a weekend where it needed some glimmer of hope from one of its “elite” teams.
Strobl: It has to be Virginia Tech. Not only for the Hokies’ own sake, but for Boise State’s as well. The VT loss was a real embarrassment to the program and to the Blacksburg faithful, but it also undermined BSU’s slim title hopes. For those reasons, I consider it to be one of the worst losses suffered by a ranked FBS team in recent memory.
Mitchell: Virginia Tech is the obvious answer, but what about another ACC school? I didn’t think Florida State would go to Norman and beat Oklahoma, but I also didn’t think they would lose by 30 points, either. The Seminoles showed little resistance to the beating put on them by the Sooners last Saturday and really didn’t look like the class of the ACC Atlantic. Their defense couldn’t stop anybody and their offense struggled to move the ball on Oklahoma all day long. Florida State showed some glaring weaknesses that need to be fixed if they want to compete for the ACC Championship.
Which team was the most impressive last week?
Strobl: I think the way Oklahoma blew Florida State out of the water deserves a lot of recognition. This was a toss-up game in the minds of many, and for it to be so one-sided was amazing and unexpected. But more than that, it was the way the Sooners dominated that impressed me. We all know about DeMarco Murray and what he can do. But Saturday’s woodshed job was executed by Landry Jones. The much-doubted Landry Jones, who took great strides in silencing his critics.
Mitchell: Matt’s a big answer stealer, so I won’t go with Oklahoma. How about Air Force? The Falcons have been looking to crack into the top three in the Mountain West for a while now. They just haven’t been able to take one of the spots held by TCU, Utah, and BYU. Well, after a convincing 38-17 win over BYU on Saturday, Air Force may be ready to finally break through into the top three in the conference if they can handle their business the rest of the way out. I don’t expect them to give a serious run at TCU for the conference title, but I think they have a great shot at finishing third now.
Bigalke: I’m still one of Landry Jones’ critics, but I’ll go into that more later. So which team did impress me the most last weekend? This isn’t intended by any means to be a homer selection, but the way Oregon rebounded from their early play and used the thunderstorm delay in Knoxville to regroup was impressive. The Ducks went to Neyland Stadium and hung 448 yards and 48 points on an SEC defense. We’re always hearing how the champion out of the SEC has to face more consistently tough defenses game in and game out, so this display in my mind shows how the speed coming out of the west coast is starting to get comparable across the board. Great win for Chip Kelly’s crew to go to 2-0, scoring a point a minute in their two blowouts so far.
We saw some surprises last weekend. Of those, what team was the biggest surprise in your opinion?
Mitchell: biggest surprise team on Saturday in my opinion was Virginia Tech and not in a good way. You can try to blame their 21-16 loss to the FCS’ James Madison to a hangover from the Boise State loss on Monday or the short week of preparation, but it was just flat out inexcusable. I picked the Hokies to win the ACC at the start of the season, and while their 0-2 start has absolutely no effect no them being able to win the conference, it was still utterly shocking to see the debacle on the field against James Madison on Saturday, especially with the game being played in Blacksburg.
Bigalke: Virginia. Sure, they lost, but going into Los Angeles and losing by three points to USC is a valiant effort if I’ve ever seen one. This Cavaliers team looks completely transformed this year under first-year head coach Mike London. They outgained the Trojans on offense, earned more first downs and committed fewer penalties. Sure, USC is not at its lofty best given their recent hammering by the NCAA. But even with Lane Kiffin as the new coach the Trojans are still stacked at most positions and should in theory be as formidable as ever. The Cavaliers have shown a completely different mindset now that Al Groh is gone and right now might be the best thing going for the ACC.
Strobl: Kansas, without question. I’m suitably wowed by South Dakota and James Madison, but for the Jayhawks to beat defending ACC champ Georgia Tech was mind-boggling. It speaks to Turner Gill’s strength of will and ability to keep his team focused. This was a program that was knocked off in the worst possible fashion in week 1, and yet KU bounced back to earn a real quality win. I didn’t see it coming, but given Gill’s talent, I suppose I should have been less shocked than I was.
Now let’s shift our focus toward the coming weekend of college football. What positional matchup are you most looking forward to?
Bigalke: For me there’s no better positional showdown than the Air Force secondary against the Oklahoma receivers. Landry Jones looked great against Florida State last weekend, but this week he’s facing a secondary that last week shut down a BYU offense that has ranked in the top 20 in passing each of the past six years, allowing the Cougars just 88 yards through the air in their 35-14 win. We’ll know after this game whether or not the Sooners are a legitimate contender for the BCS spot out of the Big XII… or whether Air Force will buckle down and bolster their BCS Buster credentials out of the Mountain West.
Strobl: Contrary to popular belief, there are a bunch of critical games this week. One that is among the more interesting to me is BYU versus Florida State. First, there’s the revenge factor. BYU was decimated by Florida State last season and now has to come to Tallahassee to do something about it. But more recent history comes into play as well. Both of these teams were smoked last week. BYU was owned by the potent Air Force offense and FSU’s demise against OU has already been mentioned. What I want to see is which team bounces back, and make no mistake—this is about the entire team. I know this isn’t positional per se, but it’s the overall matchup that I find intriguing; both offenses were shut down and both defense were schooled in week 2. So which program will shake off the hangover effects and post a solid win?
Mitchell: I want to see how Georgia responds on Saturday against Arkansas coming off a conference opening loss to South Carolina in Columbia last Saturday. Particularly, I want to see how Georgia’s secondary is up to the tall task of stopping Ryan Mallett and the Arkansas passing attack. Arkansas has looked good in their two cupcake games to open the season and now we get to see what they are really all about as they head into Athens to battle Georgia. I’ll have my eyes on this matchup mostly for scouting purposes to see how good Arkansas really is as they face off with a formidable opponent before my Crimson Tide head to Fayetteville next Saturday.
What team is in most need of making a statement this weekend?
Strobl: By the time we post this column, the Cincinnati-NC State game will be over. So while the Bearcats need to make sure they finish with the W, I’ll go with a different matchup involving the ACC. Last week, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech were each dealt big time losses. Harmful losses. And the fourth contender in the ACC Coastal, UNC, was idle—licking its wounds from a valiantly-fought short-handed loss to LSU in week 1. My questions is which of these four teams wants the division? Because right now, all four look beaten down. On Saturday, the Yellow Jackets come to Chapel Hill to face the Tarheels, and the winner gets an early leg up in the race for the ACC crown. I think both teams desperately need a good showing, but UNC is the program with more to prove right now. An upset loss to Kansas is one thing; having the entire season in jeopardy because of an NCAA investigation is something else altogether. North Carolina needs to show that it’s still a team to be reckoned with, regardless of who is in or out of the lineup.
Mitchell: A lot of people have raised eyebrows after watching Texas play in their first two games this season. They haven’t looked as good as their ranking shows and Garrett Gilbert hasn’t shown the potential that he did in the 2nd half of the BCS National Championship game back in January against Alabama. This Saturday they go on the road to Lubbock to take on Tommy Tuberville and the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Texas desperately needs to get a statement win on Saturday to ease the doubts that have been going around about them in the first two games of the season.
Bigalke: After Virginia Tech went out and blew the mojo not only surrounding their own program but also the Boise State team that beat them on the opening Monday of the season, the Broncos are now needing to do more than merely take care of business against Wyoming. Last weekend we saw the Cowboys give Texas some fits in the first half, in Austin, and if Boise State wants to continue to bolster its BCS championship credentials they not only have to equal but exceed what the Longhorns did — and at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, no less. If Boise State stutters against the Pokes, who are a mid-level Mountain West team looking to gain a signature win and earn bowl status for a second straight year, they can really kiss their championship hopes goodbye no matter what happens next weekend against Oregon State.
Upsets are always a fun subject to talk about, unless it’s your team on the brink of being upset. What team are you putting on upset alert this week?
Mitchell: I don’t see a whole lot of upsets this Saturday, even though I’m sure there will be. Michigan State is a slight favorite against Notre Dame in East Lansing this Saturday. I was impressed with Notre Dame on Saturday when Dayne Crist was able to see and lead the Irish offense against Michigan. The Spartans are the favorite, but I think it will be the Fighting Irish with the last laugh as they pull off a minor upset.
Bigalke: Oklahoma is favored by an absurd 18 points this weekend at home against Air Force. The Sooners offense seemed to get back on track last weekend, but I’m honestly not impressed given that it came against a Florida State team that isn’t appreciably better on defense than its 108th-ranked unit from last season. Air Force, meanwhile, showed it can completely clamp down on a strong passing game, rendering the BYU aerial attack useless last weekend. They obliterated Houston in their bowl game last year, intercepting Case Keenum six times. Landry Jones might be a decent QB, but he’s no Case Keenum. I don’t think the Falcons will just cover the spread; this is going to be an outright win for Troy Calhoun’s guys as they head back to Colorado Springs after this game 3-0 and in the thick of the BCS Buster race.
Strobl: Well, West Virginia was lazy last week, and this week gets a surprising Maryland team. Will we see some fireworks in Morgantown? I’ll be keeping an eye on it, but a more likely upset will be brewing to the South. After watching Georgia bumble its way to a bad loss in Columbia, I don’t really understand how the Dawgs can be favored against Ryan Mallett and the Arkansas Razorbacks. I realize that it’s home game for UGA, but the Bulldog defense couldn’t stop Stephen Garcia and Marcus Lattimore, I have trouble imagining how they’ll stop Mallett’s passing attack. Not that Arkansas is without weaknesses, but coming in as the ranked team with the better record, I see the Hogs as the favorite in this one.
What player will be the biggest game changer this week?
Bigalke: Colin Kaepernick (QB/Nevada) — The dual-threat signal caller for the Wolf Pack will be taking on a Pac-10 defense when Cal comes to Reno this weekend. Here’s predicting that he finds no trouble shredding Tedford’s crew for plenty of yardage and points. Last year Chris Ault’s team was top in the nation in team rushing, and Kaepernick was a big reason for that — the QB was among the three 1000-yard rushers for Nevada last season. He’s picked up right where he left off last year, putting up 547 passing yards and 221 rushing yards (at a 10.0 YPC average!) and eight touchdowns in his first two games. He’s going to help lead the current WAC/future MWC school to upset its more heralded neighbor to the west.
Strobl: Dayne Crist (QB/Notre Dame) – Michigan State is favored by three and a half at home, but Crist was a couple of bad decisions away from beating Michigan last week. I think the Wolverines look better than the Spartans, and if the Irish can hang with the former, they can beat the latter. Of course, can isn’t will… that distinction will come down to how well Crist performs, assuming his visions problems are taken care of. If he plays well, the Irish should grab the upset. If not, well… it’ll be a rough start for Brian Kelly against his new team’s Big Ten rivals.
Mitchell: Garrett Gilbert (QB/Texas) — This isn’t Gilbert’s official first road start, but it will be the first time he gets the taste of a real hostile environment as he leads his Longhorns into Lubbock to battle it out with the Red Raiders of Texas Tech. Gilbert’s performance will be the determinate in whether or not Texas will be able to rectify their last trip to Lubbock or if they will be upset by Texas Tech on Saturday. I’m still waiting for the Garrett Gilbert that looked really good in the 2nd half of the National Championship game to show up in 2010.
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