John Mitchell: Another week of college football has gone and we have been hit by more and more surprises. It’s been a great year so far and with me as always to preview the eighth week of the college football season are Zach Bigalke and Matt Strobl.
Matt Strobl: I’m glad that week’s over. What a letdown. Fair warning Zach—John and I have both felt the bitter sting of an upset defeat. Prepare yourself now in case your Ducks suffer a similar fate.
Zach Bigalke: Don’t worry about me, guys. Euphoria reigns here in Eugene as the Ducks looked like the true #1 in the country last night. Oklahoma? Please… I highly doubt they’d do much better than their rival, Texas, against a UCLA team obliterated by Oregon in a Thursday night spectacle. But enough of that… consider this my one gloat.
Mitchell: Thanks guys, let’s dive right in. The inaugural BCS rankings were released this week and Boise State was NOT #1 as expected. Instead, Oklahoma was atop the rankings. What do you think of Oklahoma being #1, and what are your thoughts on the rest of the rankings?
Bigalke: Calling Oklahoma a #1 team, quite frankly, is far too generous given the reality of things in Norman. The Big XII is down from its perch of years past, and seeing the way they’ve struggled against Cincinnati and Air Force and Utah State I can’t in good conscience identify with them in such esteem. The computers also seemed a little too hot on Auburn and LSU, though one will take a hit when the teams play next week. I’m still flabbergasted by Boise State’s position — not only were they not #1, they were also leapfrogged by Oregon for the other title slot. There is still time, but a situation is now in place where the winner of next week’s SEC West showdown also hops over the Broncos. Only more chaos can land the first non-AQ title appearance, which by the time this season finishes could still be very much in play. At least the humans have become wise about Boise’s (and TCU’s and Utah’s) true strength compared to the established BCS-conference powerhouses. It was a weird first glimpse as to where each team stood, but what else would you expect from an already-weird season?
Strobl: I read a good piece the other day written by Mark Schlabach that more or less summed up how I feel. There are computers involved in this broken system that consider Oklahoma to be the best team in the country. Two of the six computer rankings have LSU as #1. You both know, as do our loyal readers, that I’m a big proponent of statistics and generally dislike the “eye test”, but something is dreadfully wrong with the programming here. Oklahoma should have a loss—they were outplayed by a 3-3 Cincinnati team. In fact, the Sooners have looked good in only two of their six games. They looked marginal against Texas and were pushed to the limit by Air Force, Cincy, and even Utah State. Drubbing FSU and Iowa State…that’s enough to elevate you to #1 in four of the six computer polls? The LSU issue is even worse. No one with a clue about Tigers football would call them a #1 team. LSU could have three losses on the year and absolutely deserves at least one or two. I understand that there are significant problems with the human polls, but when your allegedly objective computers come back with this garbage, there is truly no hope whatsoever for the BCS. With each season that goes by I become more and more disgusted that this is permitted to continue. As I commented elsewhere this week: somewhere, someone very important is being made rich off the BCS. That’s the only explanation as to why we’re still dealing with it. It’s an embarrassment.
Mitchell: The BCS rankings, as usual, are garbage. They are complete and utter garbage. All these rankings showed me is further proof of something we already know: The system is broken. There are six computers that figure into these rankings and the #1 team in both the AP and Coaches polls was ranked 7th or lower by five of the six computer polls. The computers averaged Oregon out as the eighth best team in the country. You know what’s even better? LSU averaged out as the 2nd best team in country by the computers. Yeah, the same LSU that should have lost to Tennessee and could have easily lost to West Virginia and a depleted North Carolina team in the season opener. Two of the computer polls actually had LSU #1. I’m not a fan of the computer rankings and when it comes to college football, I base my thoughts on the eye-test. I’m a show me kind of person and I can’t see how college football can continue letting computers have a say-so in who plays for the National Championship, especially when they are this sporadic and continue ranking the wrong teams in the wrong position.
The first coach to be fired this season was Tim Brewster as Minnesota let him go after their loss to Purdue on Saturday. What do you think of the decision?
Strobl: It had to be made. Minnesota’s program is plain awful. The Gophers lost to a 1-AA team earlier this year, and while that in itself is no great shame, the way the team has played overall certainly is. A year ago the Gophers mustered a .500 record and went to a bowl game. Now they’re 1-6 with the lone win coming against the Sun Belt—an MTSU team that was missing its star QB Dwight Dasher. The fact is that Brewster can’t save this program, and while the travails may not be his fault, the university has to find a way to improve. What was happening wasn’t working. Trying something else is a reasonable option. I don’t envy whomever steps into role, though.
Mitchell: It was the right choice. Minnesota was a sinking ship that wasn’t going to resurface anytime soon without a coaching change. Unfortunately, they aren’t likely going anywhere anytime soon anyway unless they make a big splash signing. There were rumors that the Gophers were targeting Tony Dungy, but that’s not going to happen. In any case, it was time to let Brewster go. He was 15-30 in over three years with the Gophers and they were off to a 1-6 this season. I think a good choice that could actually happen for Minnesota is Kevin Sumlin, the current head coach of Houston. He would in the very least bring in an exciting offense to the Big Ten and make them competitive in most games. Plus, like Minnesota’s AD said, “You aren’t following Vince Lombardi here.”
Bigalke: It isn’t entirely unexpected. Brewster wasn’t going to last forever, especially at a school that fired his predecessor for giving up a huge comeback in a bowl game three years ago. Of course, fortunes haven’t much changed despite bowling last season. In a Big Ten only getting bigger and tougher to navigate, Minnesota is a minnow amongst sharks. Would a more established coaching presence draw in more recruits to compete on a more level scale in the conference? Maybe one or two more big names would come to town, but the advantages of matriculating in the Twin Cities is nothing compared to the better shot you have at a Big Ten title in Columbus or Iowa City or Madison. (And that’s without mentioning the draw of the sunny life down south after so many winters growing up.) The real problem at Minnesota, as I see it, is in their athletic director. How Joel Maturi still has a job is what’s REALLY beyond my comprehension.
Mitchell: Florida has now dropped their third straight SEC game. What is the problem in Gainesville?
It’s proof that regardless of how much talent you get to come to your school year in and year out, everybody experiences rebuilding years when you lose a lot of talent. Florida lost a lot of talent from last season including some guy named Tebow. I think Florida is too focused on using the same offense as last season with John Brantley. Let’s get something straight: John Brantley and Tim Tebow are completely different QB’s. Brantley is not someone that is going to make plays with his legs as Tebow once did. Brantley is a pocket passer and he should be used as such. Urban Meyer won a national title with Chris Leak at QB and he certainly wasn’t as scrambler. He knows the formula for success with a QB like Brantley and it’s just a matter of doing what it takes.
Bigalke: To be blunt, the team was overrated to begin the season. It has been the victim of a roster exodus in the past few years that has depleted the championship swagger of recent years. It has experienced a coaching talent drain — after all, it was former offensive coordinator Dan Mullen who pulled off the most recent “upset” in the Swamp in his new post as head coach at Mississippi State, and Charlie Strong has made Louisville at least competitive once more. The blame falls no one place; every facet of the Gators has taken a hit as players graduated or left for the pros. And just like USC on the other coast, the program’s success allows the Gators to nab many top recruits. But as the case of Cameron Newton shows, sometimes stockpiling the blue chips can backfire when they transfer to other schools and a suitable replacement is lost. Florida was a top-25 team for so long more due to their previous success than current results. It’s amazing it took three losses for the country to finally awaken to the reality.
Strobl: I think it’s mainly an issue of expectations. No program can win every game every year. Even schools that reload with round after round of blue-chippers need time to adjust, and Florida is making the biggest adjustment of all. Not only do the Gators have a new quarterback, but they have a new style of quarterback. I think the change from Tebow to Brantley has been rockier than anyone thought it would be, and that includes Urban Meyer. In fact, I’ve watched this year as Meyer has tried to use Brantley as he once used Tebow…there seems to be a certain unwillingness among the coaching staff to work with what they have. Running the option with John Brantley is not going to win you games, just as trying to turn a guy like Denard Robinson into a pocket passer would also be a disaster. Of course, the team’s woes go beyond this issue. I think the personnel in general are not quite as talented as we’ve seen in recent years. I think the program really misses Charlie Strong as its defensive coordinator. I think Meyer has been there long enough that other SEC coaches are beginning to learn to handle him better, especially guys like Dan Mullen who once worked for him. Taking all of these difficulties together, the result has been painfully obvious. Florida is no longer king of the SEC. Not this year. I have no worries about Meyer’s long-term success. This is one of those bumps in the road that even good team must weather.
What team was the biggest disappointment last week?
Bigalke: Nebraska. Look, I know Texas is better than their losses to UCLA and Oklahoma. But this Longhorns team is nothing like its title-snatching predecessors. The Huskers, on the other hand, had looked even better than last year’s team that trounced Stanford in the Sun Bowl last season, showing sparks of having an actual offense for a change with Taylor Martinez. But the freshman phenom couldn’t get his game going on the ground, Nebraska’s receivers couldn’t catch anything either Martinez or backup Zac Lee threw at them, and the only touchdown they got was on a pooch punt return from field-goal formation. Credit Mack Brown and his coaching staff — they had Texas perfectly prepared to meet this challenge. But Nebraska came out flat in front of their home fans despite having ample motivation for revenge after last year’s Big XII championship game and the fact they’re leaving the conference after this season. Bo Pelini made one kneejerk reaction after another, and the Cornhuskers looked nowhere near a top-five team.
Strobl: Ohio State. Not because Wisconsin played well, but because the Buckeyes failed to respond. The Badgers are a good team. But OSU had so many opportunities to win that game, even after allowing themselves to trail 21-0. That was inexcusable, of course. But it happened, and had the team bounced back from it it would have been forgivable. They didn’t. Terrible coaching decisions and lackluster play throughout the first half doomed them. And when they pulled to within 3 at 21-18, the defense couldn’t come up with a critical stop needed to fully turn the momentum. This game could and should have had a far different outcome; the fact that it did not told me a lot about this Buckeyes team. All of the weaknesses I’ve gotten glimpses of this year were fully exposed, and that includes leadership problems. Once again, Tressel was outcoached in a big game.
Mitchell: Arkansas. After pushing Alabama to the brink of upset a few weeks ago, I honestly thought the Hogs might be the second best team in the SEC and would seriously compete for a BCS Bowl game. Those thoughts were derailed on Auburn on Saturday as Arkansas showed a total incompetence on the defensive side of the ball that was said to have been much improved from a year ago. They could not stop Auburn a single bit and allowed the Tigers to rack up 65 points. Arkansas put up 43 offensively, even with backup QB Tyler Wilson playing for most of the game due to a Ryan Mallett concussion that was suffered in the second quarter. In most games, 43 points is good enough to win, but not when your defense just has no answer for the opposing offense. I was wrong about Arkansas and they showed me that on the Plains Saturday.
What team was the most impressive last week?
Strobl: I found Texas to be the most impressive team. After suffering a pair of early-season losses, including that crushing defeat at the hands of UCLA, the ‘Horns had to go into Lincoln and take on a bona fide Top 10 team in its own backyard. A team that had been decimating opponents with a killer ground game. The result? Texas held the Huskers’ offense to 13 points. That was amazing enough. But then the Longhorns’ offense stepped up and took control of the game. Garrett Gilbert looked like a new man at QB as he led his team to a critical conference win. Now I realize that Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez was let down big time by his receivers. Nebraska had, I believe, eight official drops, and I think there were a couple more passes that could have gotten that label as well. He receivers’ inability to hang onto the ball cost the team its undefeated record, and now Nebraska is looking up at Missouri and hoping that Oklahoma wins in week 8. But the miscues take nothing away from what Texas did. A team that had been uncharacteristically beaten down showed me some real resiliency on Saturday.
Mitchell: I was particularly impressed with Wisconsin’s win over Ohio State. I picked the Badgers to beat the Buckeyes, but I had no idea that they would thoroughly dominate the Buckeyes like they did on Saturday afternoon in Madison. Wisconsin completely dominated Ohio State at the line of scrimmage and it led to them upsetting the #1 team in the nation. Coming into the game, we didn’t really know what to make of Wisconsin after their loss to Michigan State in East Lansing a few weeks ago. But, I think Wisconsin’s win over Ohio State further validates that Michigan State is a much better team than most people have given them credit for. The Badgers road loss to the Spartans does not look bad in anyway anymore, and it really shouldn’t have to begin with.
Bigalke: It was a couple of non-AQ schools knocking off their more lauded conference foes that really impressed me. Hawaii from the WAC and San Diego State from the Mountain West knocked off ranked competition in Nevada and Air Force respectively, edging closer to a valuable bowl berth in the process. Hawaii hosted the Wolf Pack and ruined their burgeoning BCS Buster dreams, getting a huge performance from QB Bryant Moniz and a defense that held Nevada to less than 300 total yards — a number they usually eclipse just on the ground. The Aztecs, meanwhile, had 13 fewer first downs, 20 more penalty yards and less total offense, yet thanks to QB Ryan Lindley and RB Ronnie Hillman San Diego State earned its first win over a top-25 school since 1996.
What surprised you the most in week seven?
Mitchell: Jake Locker finally showing his potential. I, along with Matt and Zach, have been very critical of Locker. It has mainly been because he hasn’t seemed to earn the lofty status he has gotten. The majority of the experts have said for two years that he was going to be the #1 pick in the draft whenever he decided to turn pro. Well, I got the chance to watch the Washington and Oregon State game Saturday night and I saw all the potential in Jake Locker that others have seen. He lifted Washington to a 35-34 double overtime win over Oregon State on Saturday night. He went 21 of 35 passing for 286 yards and five touchdown tosses to just one interception. He made some throws that showed me he does have a lot of NFL potential. The potential to there and it’s up to Locker to grasp that potential and become the QB he can be.
Bigalke: South Carolina snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, leaving all their energy in the locker room at halftime when up 28-10 on Kentucky. The Wildcats made them pay, as Joker Phillips got the biggest win of his nascent head-coaching career with a rousing come-from-behind win over the Gamecocks. Mike Hartline and Derrick Cobb proved a dangerous trap game with SC still high on their win over Alabama the week before. Steve Spurrier’s team was damn near undefeated coming into this game, but after a letdown performance like this one they’re lucky just to still be ranked — much less in the inaugural BCS standings, as much a testament to this still-retained yet wholly fallacious notion that the SEC is that much better than everyone else.
Strobl: Watching the Gators fall to Mississippi State, and only scoring 7 points in the process. I suspected that this year would feature a decline for Florida, but I never dreamed they’d slide this far. Losses to an LSU team that barely has an offense and now to a Bulldogs team that, despite being much improved, is still near the bottom of the SEC food chain…And more than the loss itself was the way it happened. The Gators were shut down in The Swamp. Credit Dan Mullen for knowing his enemy and credit the MSU players for putting together a complete game. But to only post 10 points and come away with a win…that’s a shocker.