SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
9/30/2006 07:17:00 PM
Saturday Observations Part III
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was not too happy about his team's performance against Georgia Tech.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- On a day when two more embattled coaches (John L. Smith and Dirk Koetter) moved one step closer to sealing their pink-slip fate, let’s take this opportunity to mention someone who deserves much praise. If this guy isn’t asked to fill one of the vacancies this offseason, there should be an investigation. That would be Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta.
While it was Calvin Johnson’s catches that got the ball rolling against Virginia Tech Saturday, it was Tenuta’s always-solid defense that carried the Jackets to a big 38-27 victory, limiting the Hokies to 43 rushing yards and sealing the game on Phillip Wheeler’s fumble-causing sack of QB Sean Glennon, which Gary Guyton returned for a touchdown to go up 31-13. Tenuta’s blitz-happy defense has become one of the most feared in the country, and this was just the latest example why.
• Speaking of hot-seat coaches, what a crushing blow for Texas A&M’s Dennis Franchione. The Aggies played a terrific second half on both sides of the ball to turn a 24-14 deficit into a 27-24 lead. They even appeared at one point to have thwarted Tech’s last-minute drive with an interception, but it was overturned on replay, and Raiders QB Graham Harrell ended up hooking up with Robert Johnson for a game-winning 37-yard touchdown. I guess Mike Leach’s guys got the “prima donna” message.
• I have to admit, I really underestimated the abilities of Alabama’s rebuilt defense. The Tide took it to Chris Leak and Florida for three-plus quarters before Dallas Baker’s nifty 21-yard touchdown catch finally gave the Gators some breathing room. If you’re Urban Meyer, you have to be concerned with your uneven offense the past two weeks headed into a murderous stretch of three straight top-10 opponents (LSU, Auburn and Georgia).
• If Oregon were to play USC on a neutral field right now, I’d take the Ducks. Seriously. While the Trojans are still finding themselves offensively, the Ducks look like a well-oiled machine. They put up nearly 600 yards on Arizona State in a 48-13 victory, with RB Jonathan Stewart (12 carries, 142 yards) and WR Jaison Williams (10 catches, 137 yards, two TDs) once again strutting their stuff. Of course, Oregon plays USC at the Coliseum, and not until November, when the Trojans will presumably be much improved.
• Very impressive performance by Boise State in thrashing Utah 36-3 in Salt Lake City. The Broncos now jump to the front of the line of potential BCS crashers (unless Houston knocks off Miami), but will likely be met with much backlash if their best win of the season turns out to be Oregon State.
• It’s getting close to kick off here, so blog posts will be limited from here. Look for a regular column off the Ohio State-Iowa game later tonight.
Illinois coach Ron Zook consoles Michigan State QB Drew Stanton after the Illini's 23-20 win.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Did you hear that clip that was going around the Internet last week of the Michigan radio host screaming his lungs out for 15 minutes about Michigan State's choke job against Notre Dame? Hope he's got his voice back for this week. It's unreal how the Spartans, like clockwork, collapse at this point every season.
Saturday's 23-20 loss to Illinois had some extenuating circumstances -- QB Drew Stanton got hurt on a sack late in the game -- but that wasn't the problem. Even without him, MSU rallied from a 20-10 deficit to tie the game at 20-20 with a few minutes left. Give major credit to Illinois freshman QB Juice Williams, who drove his team down the field for the game-winning field goal. The Illini easily could have played for overtime, but Williams rushed for one first down and threw for three others on the drive. At last, there is hope for the Zookers. John L. Smith? ... Not so much.
• Can we all officially acknowledge Calvin Johnson's greatness? Can we get him in some Heisman Watches? The guy is single-handedly torching Virginia Tech's usually stingy defense, catching two first-quarter touchdowns. As I write this, Georgia Tech has just gone up 21-0. This would be an enormous win for Chan Gailey's team if they can pull it off, as it would put them in the driver's seat in the ACC Coastal Division. Of course, with Gailey it's not the Virginia Tech and Miami games you have to worry about so much as Duke and N.C. State.
• If Purdue can find itself a defense sometime in the next couple years, it's going to be pretty good, because QB Curtis Painter is the real deal. What I like most about him is, unlike past Joe Tiller QBs, he can run the option, which makes the Boilermakers' spread much more dangerous. Of course, as I write this, they're losing 28-7 to Notre Dame.
• Did you see JaMarcus Russell's stat line against Mississippi State? He was 18-of-20 for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Dear lord. Ditto Wisconsin's John Stocco against Indiana: 15-of-17 for 304 yards and three TDs.
• The Mountain West really screwed itself by ditching ESPN. After failing to get its new channel, The Mtn., into the league's own major markets, it's had to put some of its biggest games on cable channel Versus (formerly OLN). If you're able to see this Boise State-Utah game, feel free to give me updates.
Freshman QB Juice Williams gave Michigan State a lot of trouble in the first half.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -– Today, the Blog is coming to you from The Edge, a sort of upscale sports bar that, as the name suggests, is right on the edge of town. There are plasma screens all around the circular bar. Unfortunately, for all the money this place must have spent on the décor (including framed autographed NFL jerseys of former Hawkeyes Jared DeVries, Bob Sanders, Robert Gallery, Mike Goff and Dallas Clark), they neglected to pony up for GamePlan or FoxSports Net. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
(In an unrelated note, they sell something called Roaring Lion instead of Red Bull.)
But then, not a lot of Iowa fans spend their Saturday afternoon at sports bars. A writer friend of mine drove past the stadium at 8:30 this morning -- nearly 11 hours before kickoff -- and the tailgate lots were already packed. I checked out the scene myself a couple hours later. It’s insane. Yellow as far as the eye can see. Tonight’s game is unquestionably one of the biggest ever to be played here, and the locals are savoring every minute of it.
As for the early games going on around the country ... dear lord, they’re awful. The only two semi-interesting developments are Juice Williams staking Illinois to an early lead on Michigan State and yet another one of my "Upset Specials," Toledo, going down in flames. This has not been a good year in that department.
So instead, I want to talk about one of the greatest television shows I’ve ever seen. I stumbled upon it by accident in my hotel room last night. It was on the university’s student-run station, and it’s called Incompetent Sports Talk. It’s basically two kids doing their best attempt to impersonate Wilbon and Kornheiser -- only they’re freaking hilarious. Last night I was treated to a debate over which is the better conference, the Big Ten or the SEC, only they kept pronouncing the SEC as the “Seyc.” There were a lot of umms and likes (as in, “Is this Ohio State team, like, umm, the best in the country?”), but mostly, the one guy, Dean, kept shooting down everything the other guy said. ESPN should hire these two immediately (they would be an immediate upgrade from Mark May and Lou Holtz).
OK ... I promise to give some football commentary as soon as something worthwhile happens.
A four-year starter for Houston, QB Kevin Kolb is off to the best start of his career.
With Miami off to an uncharacteristic 1-2 start, one might assume the Hurricanes' games are no longer must-see TV. This week's is. It would be well worth your while to check in on Miami's game against Houston on Saturday (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2) because it will be one of your few chances this season to see one of the nation's top quarterbacks.
If it seems like you've been hearing the name Kevin Kolb for about eight years … you're not that far off. As the Cougars' starting quarterback from the very first game of his true freshman season in 2003 (40 consecutive starts), Kolb is Division I-A's current career leader in completions (766), passing yards (10,348) and total offense (10,987). He trails only Florida's Chris Leak in touchdowns (67).
But while the past three years have been rocky for both Kolb (who threw a career-high 15 interceptions last season) and the Cougars (which went to two bowl games but also went 3-8 in 2004), both player and team have soared out of the gates in 2006. Last weekend, Kolb completed 21 of 28 passes for 313 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 34-25 win over Oklahoma State. The game gave Houston its first 4-0 start since 1990 and its first win in five tries over a Big 12 opponent. On the season, Kolb has completed 69.6 percent of his passes for 1,193 yards, 12 touchdowns and just one interception.
"The game seems a little bit slower for me this year," said Kolb. "That comes with the offensive line playing well. We're just in a groove right now. We feel very confident."
From day one, Kolb's career has been intertwined with the resurgence of Houston's long-dormant program under head coach Art Briles. Kolb was a freshman on Briles' last team at Stephenville High School, where the coach spent 12 years and won four state titles before joining Mike Leach's Texas Tech staff in 2000. The day Briles was offered the Houston job in December 2002, he immediately placed a call to Kolb, by then a senior at Stephenville who had committed to Oklahoma State. "The year I left [Stephenville], I knew he was going to be a D-1 player," said Briles, "just like I know he's going to be an NFL player. Those things are pretty evident."
Briles' unique offense -- formulated over a 21-year career as a Texas high school coach -- suits Kolb's strengths. Combining elements of the spread, the Run and Shoot and everything in between, it leans toward quick-release throws and favors a quarterback who can throw on the run. "He's tough, he's intelligent and he's got a great arm," said Briles.
All those attributes will be significantly tested Saturday against Miami's athletic defense. As a sophomore, Kolb completed just 11 of 28 passes in a 38-13 loss to the 'Canes at Reliant Stadium. While Briles seems certain of the 6-foot-3, 225-pound QB's pro potential, the draft gurus aren't so sure, currently ranking him between fifth and 10th among the nation's senior QBs. "The overall image is that they think I’m kind of raw because of the system I’m in," said Kolb. "Hopefully they can see the potential."
A big performance Saturday would certainly help them to see it.
It's already looking like a wholly forgettable year for Temple coach Al Golden and the Owls.
I generally stay away from writing about gambling-related angles, but this one was simply too juicy to pass up. Reading through this weekend's lines in USA Today on Monday, I couldn't help but notice that Temple is a 33-point underdog Saturday ... to Vanderbilt!
Now, I realize this is not the same old Vandy. We all saw Jay Cutler lead the Commodores to wins over Tennessee and Arkansas last year and take Florida to overtime. This year, they've come within a field goal of both the Razorbacks and 'Bama. Still, no one's going to be confusing Vandy with Ohio State or USC anytime soon. It's just that Temple, which starts a freshman quarterback (Vaughn Charlton) and has played 18 other true freshmen (a Division I-A high), is that bad.
Following consecutive 62-0 losses to Louisville and Minnesota, the Owls, currently on a 16-game losing streak, were a 30-point underdog last week to Western Michigan. They didn't cover, losing 41-7. "I've never seen a team in the last 10 years that's been this non-competitive," said Mike Seba, senior oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which sets college football lines for many Vegas sports books. "It's not asking that much [for Vanderbilt] to cover 33."
Seba, who I spoke with Tuesday morning, was extremely helpful. For one thing, he took more than an hour out of his day to research the answer to one of my questions, which was: Has Vanderbilt ever been a 33-point favorite on someone? His data only went back to 1980, but the answer was: No. The only semi-close occasion was Oct. 11, 1997, when the Commodores were 22-point favorites at Northern Illinois (which was in the midst of a 23-game losing streak). Vandy won 17-7.
Seba also helped explain how he arrived at the 33-point spread. It represents the differential between the two teams' power ratings. A "dead-average" team receives a power rating of 50, with an elite team like USC closer to 70. In Seba's ratings, Vanderbilt (1-3) is a 52; Temple (0-4) is a 19.
"Vanderbilt is an underrated team; people think, 'Oh, they lost Cutler, they're not going to be any good,' but they have a very good defense," said Seba. "It's not about Vanderbilt, though, it's about Temple. They're a touchdown worse than they were last year [when the Owls went 0-11]."
Furthermore, Seba said sports books may soon be forced to take Temple's games off the board. "If they get beat bad again this week, we'd send out an alert to our clients to take lower limits on their games," he said. "And then if they get blown out again the next week [against Kent State], we'll stop putting lines on their games."
In other words, get in on the gold rush while you can.
1) That Notre Dame is headed to the Sugar Bowl. As flawed as that team is, you can pretty much script the rest of its season. The Irish are going to beat their next seven opponents fairly easily. And they’re going to get crushed by USC. That puts them at 10-2; Sugar gets first choice of at-large teams this year. The only remaining mystery is how much they’ll lose the bowl game by.
2) That my colleague Austin Murphy’s Spinal Tap drummer analogy for USC’s fullbacks couldn’t have been more prophetic. The Trojans, having already lost seniors Brandon Hanock and Ryan Powdrell to season-ending injuries, pressed freshman Stanely Havili into action against Arizona. He promptly broke his leg. If you know of any wide-bodies who can move, Pete Carroll will be holding open tryouts this week.
3) That the Dirk Koetter/Arizona State quarterback situation is turning into a colossal disaster. Sophomore Rudy Carpenter threw four interceptions against Cal and now has eight in four games. “I'm obviously not as good as I thought I was,” Carpenter said after the game. I don’t know about that, Rudy: I think your coach thrust you into the most awkward situation imaginable.
4) That extra points are no longer a given. The Alabama-Arkansas game featured misses on both sides. Navy lost in overtime on a blocked extra point. Florida had two blocked. Notre Dame missed one on its second-to-last touchdown. At some point, you might as well just go for two.
5) That Florida fans need to get a clue. A contingent of idiots at The Swamp booed Chris Leak (the nation’s top-rated passer coming into the game) on two occasions during Saturday night’s win over Kentucky. Tim Tebow runs fast. He’s the future. I get it. But if you’re stupid enough to think the Gators would have won at Tennessee two weeks ago without Leak, I’ve got an autographed Bobby Sabelhaus jersey to sell you.
Brady Quinn revived his Heisman chances with a five-touchdown performance.
I had already written two-thirds of my Notre Dame obit. I had written an all-out apology for allowing myself to be so foolishly duped by the Charlie Weis hype machine (complete with an elaborate Rob Schneider analogy). And I was going to point out the irony that Tyrone Willingham's new team, 3-1 Washington, now had a better record than the one that fired him.
But as I was writing all this, Brady Quinn led the Irish on a phenomenal 19-point fourth-quarter comeback to beat Michigan State 40-37. Quinn, whose Heisman hopes seemed dead in the water after last week's debacle against Michigan, may have reinserted himself into the race by throwing for 319 yards and five touchdowns. It was one of the more stirring comebacks in recent memory -- and such a cruelly typical collapse by the Spartans.
Kudos to Quinn and cornerback Terrail Lambert, one of the goats of the Michigan game, whose two interceptions in the final minutes won the game. But I'm not getting carried way this time. The expectation level for this team has been taken down several rungs the past two weeks. Clearly, the Irish are still a far ways from contending for a national championship. Their defense is full of holes. Their running game has disappeared almost entirely. And Michigan State's own mistakes (where have we heard that before) helped them tremendously.
But that doesn't change the fact that this was a huge win for Weis and his program. The Irish now have a chance to put together a nice little winning streak between now and the season-ending USC game. More importantly, Weis saved himself the indignity of a second straight blowout loss that would have done some serious damage to the 'ol credibility. While the "genius" label has certainly taken a blow, you also can't say this is the "same old Notre Dame," either. The old Notre Dame would have folded the tent in the third quarter.
• Not sure why USC went so vanilla with its offense against Arizona -- when was the last time a Trojans quarterback completed 24 passes that went for just 180 yards? The good news for USC is that it appears a go-to tailback has finally emerged from the pack. Freshman Emmanuel Moody exhibited some slick moves in running for 130 yards on 21 carries.
• Big win for N.C. State. Chuck Amato's decision to switch to freshman QB Daniel Evans paid off, as Evans threw a game-winning 34-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left to knock off Boston College 17-15. Now let's see if the Wolfpack (2-2) can string a few together.
• Looks like Oklahoma took out a week's worth of replay frustrations on poor Middle Tennessee, winning 59-0. QB Paul Thompson's ascension continues -- 13-of-18 for 257 yards and three TDs.
• Your eyebrow-raising score of the week: Nebraska 56, Troy 0. This is the same Troy team that took Florida State to the wire and was tied with Georgia Tech after three quarters last week. The Huskers gained 597 yards of offense, which raises the question yet again: Why did Bill Callahan put the shackles on his offense against USC?
• Finally, talk about the ultimate indignity: Not only was it pointed out to me that my "Upset Special" pick this week, Ole Miss, was actually a three-point favorite against Wake Forest, but the Demon Deacons beat the Rebels 27-3. Heads up, fellow pollsters: Wake Forest is 4-0.