Posted: Sunday September 4, 2011 8:08PM ; Updated: Sunday September 4, 2011 9:42PM
Stewart Mandel

College Football Overtime (cont.)

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Irish Eyes are not smiling

Brian Kelly, seen here yelling at receiver Theo Riddick in the fourth quarter, was uncharacteristically heated during Notre Dame's loss to USF.
Brian Kelly, seen here yelling at receiver Theo Riddick in the fourth quarter, was uncharacteristically heated during Notre Dame's loss to USF.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is usually the picture of cool. And he's built a reputation dating to his time at Cincinnati for developing and seamlessly managing an endless string of overachieving quarterbacks. So it was stunning to watch the second-year Irish coach unravel in both departments during his team's disastrous season-opening performance in a 23-20 home loss to USF.

Ten days after declaring that quarterback Dayne Crist had won a toughly contested competition with sophomore Tommy Rees and that he expected the senior to "start all 13 games," Kelly pulled Crist after just one half. Crist struggled mightily (7-of-15 for 95 yards and a critical interception) while the Bulls built a 16-0 halftime lead. Rees came in after a long lightning delay and injected life into the offense, throwing for 296 yards and two touchdowns, but an interception near the end zone that deflected off receiver TJ Jones cost the Irish yet another red-zone opportunity. On the sidelines, a bright-red Kelly laid into Crist after his first-half pick and Jones after his second-half deflection in extremely uncharacteristic fashion.

Remember what I said about not reading too much into one game? This one's a perfect example. While many will say we media types mistakenly overhyped the Irish yet again, this could still be a very good team. The Irish outgained the Bulls 508 yards to 254, yet every indignity imaginable befell them, including a 96-yard USF fumble return, a touchdown wiped out by a holding penalty and Crist's costly interception. And remember, I for one warned the masses that Skip Holtz's Bulls could be a BCS-caliber team this season. (Kindly overlook one of the other picks.)

The problem is, the Man with the Plan has ignited a full-blown quarterback controversy after just one game, with no clear sign of how to solve it. "This was a step back for us as it relates to where we thought we were going," said Kelly. "We certainly did not believe or think that we would have to make the decision that we made today."

The halftime rain delay gave Kelly an extra two hours to ponder his decision to go with Rees. He now gets a week to figure things out before heading to Michigan.

Current BCS forecast

Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's my current edition:

Title game: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Rose: Stanford vs. Nebraska
Fiesta: Wisconsin vs. Boise State
Sugar: South Carolina vs. Florida State
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. USF

So, my "no non-AQ this year" stance ended after just one week. In fact, depending on when and against whom, it's conceivable Boise could lose a game along the way and still finish high enough to be guaranteed an at-large berth. It may depend on how the Georgia win is viewed three months from now.

Though Oregon will likely rebound, I'm subbing in Stanford as projected Pac-12 champ until the Ducks show signs of life and/or Andrew Luck proves mortal. And I'm sure I'll get my share of angry e-mails from Baton Rouge this week because the Tigers still aren't in here, but as I wrote Saturday night, LSU's convincing win didn't necessarily answer its most pressing question: quarterback.

Spreading the field

Auburn survives Utah State
Source: SI
The defending champs needed an onside kick and two touchdowns in the final minutes to survive the upset-minded Aggies.

• If not for the good grace of one incredibly executed onside kick, Auburn may have suffered the most mortifying season opener of any national champion in history. We knew the Tigers had serious rebuilding to do following the departure of 16 starters, but not to the point where Utah State would come into Jordan-Hare Stadium and outmuscle the Tigers on offense for nearly 60 minutes. The Aggies, led by fleet-footed freshman quarterback Chuckie Keeton (21-of-30, 213 yards), took it right to Auburn, gaining 227 yards on the ground. "I felt like we were stronger than them," said coach Gary Andersen, whose ingenious fake field goal call helped put Utah State up 38-28 with 3:38 left.

Of course, the Aggies could only hold down Gus Malzahn's offense for so long, and quarterback Barrett Trotter led the Tigers on consecutive touchdown drives to escape. Auburn has enough pieces to be OK on offense, but it could be a long season for Gene Chizik's young defense. "We are a long way off from being able to win very many games right now," Chizik said.

• Baylor's publicists made the most of quarterback Robert Griffin III's weekend in the spotlight. About six hours after leaving the stadium Friday night following his epic performance in the Bears' 50-48 upset of TCU, Griffin was in a car heading from Waco to Arlington, Texas, where he appeared on ESPN's GameDay. Despite only getting a couple hours of sleep, Griffin wowed the GameDay crew with his eloquence, leading Chris Fowler to call him "a great ambassador for Baylor."

• A year ago it probably wasn't a good thing if you heard a Michigan defender's name, so consider this progress: Linebacker Brandon Herron was named Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week after returning both an interception and fumble for touchdowns in the Wolverines' SI Videorain-shortened 37-10 win over Western Michigan. New coordinator Greg Mattison's defense dialed up the pressure as the game went on. Now we've just got to find out if Michigan can do it for an actual four-quarter game.

• Unlike Brian Kelly, Steve Spurrier makes no predictions about how long his starting quarterbacks might keep their jobs. He pulled Connor Shaw after the sophomore started 3-of-9 against East Carolina, and old staple Stephen Garcia came in after the Gamecocks fell behind 17-0 early and led them to SI Videoa 56-37 rout. "I didn't say [Shaw] was our quarterback for the year, I just said he would start the first game," said the Ball Coach, who took a little jab at Kelly while discussing the subject.

• You don't want to get too excited over a performance against UNLV, but Russell Wilson's debut for Wisconsin last Thursday showed potentially scary possibilities for the Badgers' offense. They still do their thing with running backs Montee Ball and James White, but Wilson brings exactly the dimension we thought. He was a highly efficient 10-of-13 for 255 yards and two touchdowns in the 51-17 rout and also broke off a 46-yard touchdown run. Good luck trying to defend all that.

• If Saturday's opener against Kent State was truly an audition for Alabama quarterbacks A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims, it seems like Nick Saban got his answer. SI VideoMcCarron went 14-of-23 for 226 yards and led five scoring drives, but did throw two interceptions. However, Sims threw for just 73 yards, also had two interceptions (one of which set up Kent State's only touchdown), took two sacks and fumbled. Saban gave no indication, however, that the competition is over.
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