SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
11/10/2007 11:51:00 PM
Saturday Observations, Part III
Todd Reesing's scrambling ability Saturday night gave one individual flashbacks to the days of Doug Flutie.
Well, color me impressed.
As was presumably the case for a lot of folks, Saturday night’s Kansas-Oklahoma State game was my first chance to really watch the Jayhawks closely, and Mark Mangino’s team was every bit as advertised. In a tough road game against a Cowboys team that’s been competitive against every Big 12 foe it’s faced, Kansas raced to a 19-point lead, weathered an Oklahoma State comeback attempt and eventually pulled away 43-28.
QB Todd Reesing (28-for-41, 326 yards, three TDs, no INTs) showed what the hype’s about with his incredible scrambling ability, most notably on a 35-yard second-quarter completion that had Brent Musberger breaking out the inevitable Doug Flutie comparison. RB Brandon McAnderson (25 carries, 133 yards, two TDs) produced some solid, powerful running. And the Jayhawks’ defensive front, led by relentless DT James McClinton, seemed to be constantly swarming to the ball.
The Jayhawks’ secondary suffered some lapses on two second-half touchdown drives in which Cowboys QB Zac Robinson suddenly caught fire, briefly cutting Kansas’ lead to 33-28, but Reesing marched the Jayhawks right back down the field for another touchdown, and All-America CB Aliq Talib picked off Robinson on OSU’s ensuing series to put the nail in the coffin.
As has been the case all season, KU made very few mistakes – just three penalties (even lower than their national-best 3.8 average), one sack allowed and no turnovers (while producing four).
Barring an unlikely home loss next week to Iowa State, the Jayhawks are going to be 11-0 heading into their Nov. 24 showdown with arch-rival Missouri (9-1). Obviously, Kansas’ schedule strength still lags behind the other BCS contenders -- they’ve yet to beat a team with less than four losses. Hence, they will remain behind two more accomplished one-loss teams, LSU and Oregon, on my new AP ballot.
But no team in the country will play two tougher games down the stretch than the Jayhawks would if they beat the Tigers and face Oklahoma (9-1) in the Big 12 title game. This is a solid, if unflashy football team. If they manage to go 13-0, something’s going to have to give, because there would be no justifiable reason to leave Kansas out of the BCS title game.
• Have you ever complained to a co-worker or boss about having to "do the work of two people" because of some colleague who’s slacking? Tim Tebow could legitimately make the same gripe -– only in his case, it may be justification for a Heisman Trophy.
The Florida star once again put up numbers befitting two different positions Saturday night against South Carolina: 22-for-32 passing for 302 yards and two touchdowns; 26 carries for 121 yards and five touchdowns. That’s right: Tebow accounted for all seven Gators touchdowns in a 52-31 victory. That’s unbelievable.
• If you can figure out who’s going to win the SEC East, you’re much smarter than me. If you’re keeping track, Georgia (8-2, 5-2 SEC) is technically in first place, is the division’s hottest team following rousing victories over both Florida and Auburn and is the SEC’s highest-ranked team outside of LSU, but Tennessee (7-3, 4-2), which routed the Dawgs 35-14 on Oct. 6, currently holds the tiebreaker. Meanwhile, the Gators (7-3, 5-3) and Kentucky (7-3, 3-3) remain just a game behind in the loss column, and there are scenarios under which both can still win the division.
• At this point, it’s pretty safe to say there are going to be two Pac-10 teams in the BCS; the question is, who will be the odd man out? USC (8-2) kept itself in the hunt Saturday night with a rain-soaked 24-17 win at Cal, while 9-1 Arizona State pulled out an ugly 24-20 win at UCLA earlier in the day. Three upcoming games to keep an eye on: 8-1 Oregon’s road trips to Arizona on Thursday night and UCLA the following week, and the Sun Devils-Trojans Thanksgiving night showdown in Tempe.
• Two eyebrow-raising results in the ACC on Saturday night: Virginia (9-2), previously the king of 17-16 victories -- absolutely hammered Miami, 48-0, in the ‘Canes final game at the Orange Bowl no less. This, just two weeks after the Cavs lost to N.C. State. Try figuring out those teams. Meanwhile, 4-5 Maryland upended 8-1 Boston College, 42-35.
Most ACC followers have been anticipating a BC-Virginia Tech rematch in the Dec. 1 conference championship game, but at this point, it could just as easily wind up being Clemson-Virginia. The Tigers (8-2, 5-2 ACC) host the Eagles (8-2, 4-2) next week in a division-deciding game; the Hokies (8-2, 4-2) visit the Cavaliers (9-2, 5-2) in two weeks.
• Finally, here’s a very important question for you to ponder before you go to bed tonight:
Next week, 1-9 Notre Dame (which lost 41-24 to Air Force on Saturday) hosts 1-9 Duke (which lost 41-24 as well Saturday, to Georgia Tech). Who should be favored?
Brian Robiskie (80) and the Buckeyes played themselves out of the national title game … for now.
At long last, our national nightmare is over.
You made it abundantly clear over the past month, America. You did not want to see another Ohio State national-title appearance. Not because of some inherent aversion toward scarlet and gray (I hope), but because … well, it just didn’t feel right.
No. 1 again? Really? After what happened against Florida? After possibly going the entire regular season without defeating a nationally respected opponent?
I remained somewhat skeptical of the Buckeyes myself, not because they weren’t a solid team, but because they weren’t being adequately tested by their schedule. Were they to meet an LSU or Oregon in New Orleans, the result would likely be similar to last year’s Florida beatdown -- not because those teams are inordinately better than Ohio State, but because the Buckeyes haven’t faced the type of speed during the regular season to prepare them for such an event. Mercifully -- as much for Ohio State’s sake as ours -- we no longer have to worry about that.
Speaking of speed, the Buckeyes had gone their first 10 games without facing a mobile quarterback the likes of Illinois’ Juice Williams. The sophomore has been largely erratic all season, but watching him Saturday, you would have thought he was Dennis Dixon.
Williams walked into the sold-out Horseshoe and threw a career-high four touchdowns against the nation’s top-ranked defense. Those four scores, along with the defense’s three interceptions of Ohio State QB Todd Boeckman, gave Illinois the lead, but it was Williams’ feet that gave the Illini the win. Four times on Illinois’ game-sealing, eight-minute, 15-play drive, the Chicago native converted a third or fourth down with a run to wrap up the 28-21 stunner.
A quarterback comes of age. An oft-criticized coach, Ron Zook, earns a landmark victory. A tradition-starved program pulls off its first win over a No. 1 team since 1956. Of all teams, Illinois turns the national-title race upside down.
At this point, nothing about this season can possibly surprise me -- Ohio State is merely the ninth top-five team to lose to an unranked foe this fall -- but think about how quickly its complexion changed Saturday. Seven hours ago, we were looking toward another epic OSU-Michigan showdown between two teams with undefeated Big Ten records; the two rivals will still play for a conference title and Rose Bowl berth next week, but few outside the Midwest will care.
Suddenly, LSU and Oregon sit in the national-title driver’s seat. Both, like the Buckeyes, lost to a current three-loss team; fortunately for them, those defeats came in September and October, not mid-November.
Suddenly, tonight’s Kansas-Oklahoma State game takes on added importance. Kansas, yes Kansas, is the last remaining undefeated BCS-conference team. Should the Jayhawks manage to win out -- something that is far from guaranteed, what with 9-1 Missouri and possibly 8-1 Oklahoma remaining -- voters could have one heck of a dilemma on their hands.
But don’t be fooled. Ohio State’s loss was merely the beginning of what I fully anticipate will be a tumultuous final few weeks to the regular season. By Dec. 2, we will have yet another, unprecedented BCS dilemma to debate.
Who knows? Depending on just how crazy things get, this year’s controversy might even involve the prospect of a two-loss national-title contender -- particularly if the only remaining one-loss team happens to be … Ohio State.
Led by Zach Brown (108 yards, two touchdowns), the Badgers racked up 232 yards rushing on Michigan.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Promise me this much, ABC/ESPN: Please, no Ohio State-Michigan countdown clock this year.
Technically, the Wolverines’ 37-21 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday does not affect the stakes of next week’s showdown in the slightest. Both teams will still be playing for the Big Ten title, and Michigan can still go to the Rose Bowl with a victory. Nor did Saturday’s result really tell us anything about the Wolverines’ chances of upending the 10-0 Buckeyes, considering they were once again without Chad Henne or Mike Hart, both of whom will likely be back next week.
But it wasn’t exactly a banner day for Michigan’s defense, which largely reverted to Appalachian State/Oregon form against Tyler Donovan and the Badgers. Wisconsin (8-3) has been playing much better these past few weeks than it did the first half of the season and finally has a signature win to show for it, but you also have to wonder whether the 8-3 Wolverines were "looking ahead" just a little bit.
The biggest consequence of Michigan’s loss is that it pretty much guarantees the only way the Big Ten is going to get two BCS berths is if the Wolverines beat 10-0 Ohio State. The Wolverines no longer stand chance of finishing in the top 14 with another loss, and unless Wisconsin returns to the rankings at a very high spot next week, no other conference team stands a chance.
That’s bad news for aspiring bowl teams further down the conference pecking order, which just got a whole lot more crowded. Northwestern (6-5), with its last-second victory over 6-5 Indiana, and Michigan State (6-5), with a surprising 48-31 rout at 7-3 Purdue, both became bowl-eligible Saturday, giving the conference a staggering 10 bowl-eligible teams for only seven guaranteed spots. Jim Delany is going to have a whole lot of lobbying to do in the coming weeks.
With a 17-12 win over Alabama in which its defense absolutely stifled Crimson Tide QB John Parker Wilson, Mississippi State (6-4) has now beaten three ranked SEC foes: Auburn, Kentucky and Alabama. These same Bulldogs, however, got crushed just a few weeks ago by West Virginia. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the SEC, but a tremendous achievement for Sylvester Croom’s team, which, after enduring three years as the conference whipping boy, is likely headed to a bowl game.
I watched most of the first half of the Arkansas-Tennessee game but had to stop because it was simply too frustrating watching Houston Nutt manage a game. You’re playing on the road against a tough opponent and you’ve got a running back, Darren McFadden, who just ran for 321 yards last week. So what do you do? You throw on first down. You don’t even have McFadden on the field on a crucial 4th and 1 play. You basically look completely out of your element, helping explain why your seemingly talented team is now 2-4 in the SEC.
The real stunner of the day so far: Somebody has scored 65 points (and counting) at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium -- and for once, it wasn’t the visitors. That’s right, folks. As of this writing, Nebraska (4-6) leads 5-4 Kansas State 65-17. Props to the Huskers for showing they’re not going to go down without a fight, but what’s happened to the Wildcats? They’ve absolutely gone in the tank, losing four of six since their 41-21 rout of Texas.
I have to admit, this one snuck up on me: If Clemson beats Boston College next week, the Tigers are going to the ACC championship game. And the way Tommy Bowden’s team is playing right now, I wouldn’t want to bet against them. The Tigers (8-2) spanked Wake Forest on Saturday. Surprisingly, the offensive assault wasn't fueled by star runners James Davis and C.J. Spiller, but rather a methodical performance from underrated QB Cullen Harper (27-of-35, 266 yards, three TDs, no INTs). Clemson has now eclipsed the 40-point mark in three of its four straight victories.
Can Rashard Mendenhall guide the Illini to a huge upset over Ohio State?
Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMI
I regret to inform you that this weekend’s Blog could be considerably less eventful than previous weekends. No reports from the tailgate lot at Autzen Stadium. No reports about the skimpy Halloween outfits in State College. Today, it’s just me, my couch -- and a whole lot of Kleenex and cold medicine.
Yep, unfortunately, I caught the cold this week, but if there was any weekend I had to be laid up, this would be it. You know there’s no truly big games when GameDay decides to broadcast from somewhere like Amherst-Williams. They do that about once a year, and while I think it’s extremely cool to get a taste of college football outside the usual suspects (did you like how you could see right on to the field from behind their set?), it’s safe to say they wouldn’t have been there if today was, say, Ohio State-Michigan week.
All that said, I’m extremely confident in predicting this Blog will have no shortage of material to work with over the next 12 hours. Why do I say that? Because it’s inevitably weekends like these -- the ones that look drab on paper -- where the most craziness happiness.
I was on the couch the day Appalachian State beat Michigan (Sept. 1), the day five of the top 10 lost (Sept. 29) and the day both No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Cal lost on the same day (Oct. 13). I took a stab at guessing a couple “upsets” in the Weekend Pickoff -- Auburn over Georgia and Arizona State over UCLA -- but something tells me there’s going to be at least one even bigger shocker by the time all is said and done.
What will it be? Illinois over Ohio State? Oklahoma State over Kansas? (I realize most of you would not find that to be much of a shocker, but it’s still 5-4 over 9-0.) How about Fresno State over Hawaii? Or maybe something completely out of left field, like, say, Temple over Penn State? (No chance.)
Whatever the case, you guys need to get in the right mindset. Because judging by my e-mails this week, some of you seem to be under the impression that the final month of the season is going to play out completely to form. Why do I say that? Because a whole bunch of you wrote yesterday befuddled how I could pick Arizona State and Georgia to lose just days after projecting them to earn BCS at-large berths. The idea being, apparently, they would eliminate themselves from consideration by suffering their second and third losses, respectively.
I don’t know whether those exact predictions will come true, but I do know this: A 10-2 Pac-10 team will have no trouble finishing in the BCS top 14, and there will be at least one three-loss BCS at-large team. Look at the rankings. We’ve still got four weeks of games left, and we’re already down to 18 BCS-conference teams with two losses or less. Trust me -- by December 2, that number will be cut in half, and the carnage will likely start today.
In last season's Oregon-Oklahoma game, the officiating crew botched a call on an onside kick and cost the Sooners the game.
Looking at the current landscape, there are no shortage of potentially intriguing BCS matchups. Ohio State vs. LSU in another Big Ten-SEC national title showdown? Les Miles’ Tigers partaking in their own Pac-10 “knock down drag out” with Oregon? How about a Tim Tebow-Colt Brennan Sugar Bowl duel? Or maybe a surreal but entirely feasible Fiesta Bowl matching longtime juggernaut USC against overnight sensation Kansas.
All, however, pale in comparison to one particular grudge match I know I’d like to see -- as would the residents of at least two states, if not the entire country. It’s a bowl matchup so intriguing that, provided both teams are eligible, I would personally volunteer to step in and broker some sort of old-school, pre-BCS backroom deal to make sure it happens.
I’m talking about Oklahoma vs. Oregon.
On Sept. 16, 2006, the Sooners and Ducks became unwitting participants in one of the most controversial moments in recent history. Nearly 15 months later, the mere mention of the word “Oregon” still sends smoke rising from the ears of any devoted Oklahoma fan. Mention the game to any Ducks fan (as I did a few times in person last weekend), and he’ll immediately start fuming at the mere thought of all those fuming Sooners fans.
Clearly, these teams need to meet again. I see three scenarios under which it could happen.
Scenario 1: Oregon and Oklahoma both reach the BCS title game. This one’s the simplest, albeit seemingly unlikely at this point. Basically, both Ohio State and LSU -- the current No. 1 and 2 teams in the BCS standings -- would need to lose a game, while the third-ranked Ducks and fifth-ranked Sooners (which themselves might have to take care of No. 4 Kansas in the Big 12 championship game) would have to win out.
Scenario 2: Oregon wins the Pac-10 but does not finish No. 1 or 2; Oklahoma loses in the Big 12 title game. The Ducks would automatically go to the Rose Bowl, which, if it loses the Buckeyes to the BCS title game, will have first choice of at-large teams to replace them. Ideally, the folks in Pasadena would prefer another Big Ten team, but the only possibility is current No. 12 Michigan (which would be no lock to finish in the top 14 if it loses to Ohio State). Which sounds more appealing to you: A rematch between 11-1 Oregon and a 9-3 Michigan team it already beat 39-7 -- or a potential rematch between the 11-1 Ducks and 11-2 Sooners?
Scenario 3: Oregon wins the Pac-10, Oklahoma wins the Big 12 -- and the brokering begins. By letter of BCS law, the Ducks and Sooners would be sent to separate games: Oregon to the Rose Bowl, Oklahoma to the Fiesta Bowl. Listed at the very end of the BCS’ official “selection policies and procedures,” however, is a convenient, intentionally vague clause that’s been sitting there for nine years but never previously invoked. It basically says that after all the teams have been selected and slotted, BCS officials can “adjust the pairings…” if, “alternative pairings may have greater or lesser appeal to college football fans.”
Think Oregon-Oklahoma might have “greater appeal” than, say, Missouri-Arizona State?
Mind you, there have been numerous occasions in the past where you would think someone should have invoked this apparent “common-sense override.” Like in 2002, when Iowa and USC met in the Orange Bowl instead of the Rose Bowl. Or a year later, when the Orange Bowl got stuck with a Miami-Florida State rematch. Or in 2004, when undefeated Auburn and undefeated Utah were sent to separate bowls.
The problem in all those cases, however, was that it would have involved one bowl getting a dream matchup while another got dumped on. Despite what the language of that aforementioned clause says, each individual bowl’s interests always come before the general good of college football. In fact, some of the bowls flat-out despise each other; think they’re going to voluntarily lend their buddy a helping hand?
But what if there was a way to give one bowl an Oregon-Oklahoma game while simultaneously boosting another? This is where I’m offering to provide my services as a broker -- specifically, between the Rose and Fiesta bowls.
Should the landscape on Dec. 1 remotely resemble the current pecking order, the Rose Bowl is going to be hurting for appealing options to match up against Oregon. As stated earlier, the Big Ten runner-up would be either ineligible or, in this case, unappealing. And most of the other logical candidates -- Big East champ West Virginia, ACC runner-up Boston College or Virginia Tech -- would be coming from the other side of the country. The Rose could really use Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, the Fiesta Bowl just hosted Oklahoma last season. As you may recall, it was not a pleasant result for Sooners fans. And with hometown school Arizona State looking like the current frontrunner for the other spot (if Oregon goes to the Rose Bowl), the Fiesta could really use a team that would bring in a ton of out-of-town fans. This year, that team could be current Cinderella Kansas.
So here’s what we do. We have the Rose Bowl draft the Jayhawks to replace the Buckeyes, keeping them out of the hands of the Orange or Sugar bowls. Then, we have the Rose “trade” Kansas to the Fiesta Bowl in exchange for Oklahoma.
The Fiesta gets the team it wants; the Rose gets a game we all want to see.
With his epic 323-yard performance against South Carolina, Darren McFadden may have jumped to the front of the Heisman race.
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
1) That Darren McFadden is back (not that he ever left). He started the season as the undisputed player to beat for the 2007 Heisman Trophy, but the way these work, McFadden faded from the discussion as his Razorbacks faded from national relevancy with three early losses. It’s not like D-Mac had suddenly lost his supreme abilities; it’s that his team lost some football games. (Not to mention a 122-yard game against Chattanooga isn't the kind of performance that sends voters' hearts racing.)
But following McFadden’s epic performance in Saturday night’s 48-36 win over No. 23 South Carolina, the Heisman electorate is going to have some serious re-thinking to do. Dennis Dixon, Tim Tebow, Matt Ryan (whose brief moment in the sun ended in pretty humbling fashion Saturday night), Chase Daniel -– all are putting up big numbers every week for teams in conference and/or national-title contention, which has pretty much become the Heisman model over the past decade or so. But the award is supposed to go to the nation's "most outstanding player" -- and what McFadden did Saturday night was the dictionary definition of "outstanding."
The stat line: 35 carries for an SEC-record 323 yards and a touchdown. Plus, a 1-yard touchdown while lined up in Razorbacks’ slick WildHog formation. Amazingly, teammate Felix Jones added 163 yards and three touchdowns of his own. And Arkansas needed every one of those yards to fend off the 6-3 Gamecocks, whose quarterback, Blake Mitchell, was having his own way with the Razorbacks’ porous defense. Afterward, coach Houston Nutt likened McFadden to Barry Sanders. Eric Dickerson is another common comparison for the junior, who is now third nationally in rushing yards (1,316) -- despite sharing carries with fellow 1,000-yard rusher Jones (1,026).
It’s too early to say whether McFadden will win the trophy, but I predict the choice coming down to an extremely difficult decision between him and Oregon’s Dixon, a guy who’s putting up his own ridiculous numbers (68 percent completions, 20 touchdowns, three interceptions, plus 549 rushing yards and eight rushing TDs) for a team that’s likely going to finish with a much better record.
2) That the wrong Big 12 team is ranked No. 4. It’s been an amazing season for the once-beleaguered Big 12, which currently has four teams (Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Texas) ranked in the top 15. The problem is, the wrong one is highest-ranked.
No disrespect to 8-1 Oklahoma, which has a fine team and may well wind up winning its second straight league title. But c’mon, now. Kansas has played nine games now. They’re one of just two remaining undefeated teams (along with Ohio State) from a BCS conference. Why do we pollsters still have the 9-0 Jayhawks ranked lower than the 8-1 Sooners?
I, much like the rest of America, have been respectful, but still a tad skeptical, in regards to Kansas’ accomplishments to date. The fact is, they did not play a significant non-conference opponent, and they’ve yet to play any of the other three highly ranked Big 12 teams. At the same time, however, Kansas has won at Colorado (something Oklahoma -- which, if you haven’t noticed, is not nearly as dominant on the road -- could not do). And they just put up a staggering 76 points on admittedly hapless Nebraska. They’ve won games with both their defense (holding the Buffs and Texas A&M to 14 and 11 points, respectively, on the road) and their offense (Saturday’s was their sixth game scoring 45 or more points). I think it’s safe to conclude Kansas is pretty darn good.
When I filled out my AP ballot Saturday night, I kept the same top-three -- LSU, Ohio State and Oregon -- that I’ve had for several weeks now. They are all teams I’ve seen in person win significant contests and have emerged in my eyes as the head of the class nationally. The Buckeyes are undefeated, while the Tigers and Ducks have now won numerous games against ranked foes. But I could see no remaining reason why I should continue to rank Kansas lower than teams like Oklahoma or West Virginia which have no more distinguished resumes than the Jayhawks -- not to mention they, unlike Oklahoma, haven't lost a game. I bumped them from eighth to fourth. They’ll have a chance to move even higher if they keep it up; 5-4 Oklahoma State and 8-1 Missouri await them next -- and, if they can win those, probably a date with the Sooners themselves.
3) That LSU could be pretty darn good ... if it ever gets its act together. Early in the season, the Tigers amazed me with their seemingly endless wealth of talented athletes; now, they amaze me more for the fact that they keep winning. Let’s face it, Les Miles' 8-1 team could just as easily be 5-4 right now. In each of the Tigers last three wins (Florida, Auburn and Alabama), they trailed in the late stages of the game, and all three comebacks required ridiculously clutch plays by the guys on the field and absurdly huge strategic risks by Miles. The latest came Saturday in Tuscaloosa, when Miles’ latest gamble -- down by seven, facing a fourth and 4 at the Tide 32 with about three minutes remaining -- turned into an Early Doucet catch-and-go touchdown to tie the game. They won by forcing a John Parker Wilson fumble four plays later.
Afterward, Miles made no bones about the fact that while his team may have pulled out the win -– and is now back up to No. 2 in the BCS standings -- the Tigers aren’t playing anywhere near their best football. The fact is, all these last-minute heroics probably would not have been necessary if the Tigers could ever put together a complete game (or field their complete team). The last time they did, as you may recall, they blew a pretty darn good Virginia Tech team right out of the stadium. Since then, however, there’s always been at least one thing missing, whether it was top receiver Doucet missing five games with a groin injury, their highly touted defense letting them down during key spurts against Kentucky and Auburn or QB Matt Flynn struggling like he did for most of Saturday’s game (throwing three interceptions), one in which change-of-pace QB Ryan Perrilloux surely could have come in handy were he not being disciplined for his part in a late-night bar altercation.
In the end, however, all that truly matters is that even with all those blemishes, LSU survived one of the nation’s toughest schedules with just a sole defeat and put themselves back on solid footing to get to New Orleans. If and when we ever see the complete Tigers, there’s little doubt in my mind we’ll be seeing the nation’s scariest team (hence why I've kept them atop my ballot). Keep shooting themselves in the foot, however, and their luck will almost certainly run out.
4) That Florida State should be much better than it is. Saturday night, Bobby Bowden's team did something it used to do with regularity for a decade-and-a-half: Go on the road and squash some wannabe powerhouse’s dreams. Mack Brown’s North Carolina teams, the Joe Hamilton Georgia Tech teams, even a couple of Steve Spurrier's great Florida teams: All had their visions of grandeur squashed by superior Seminoles squads. And it usually happened in the same exact way as FSU’s upset of No. 2 Boston College on Saturday -- with a dominant defensive performance by the ‘Noles. Watching LB Geno Hayes notch FSU’s third Matt Ryan interception of the night and returning it for the game-sealing touchdown, it was as if the calendar had suddenly turned back a decade from 2007 to 1997. (Except that Chestnut Hill was not one of the 'Noles' regular road destinations back then).
But back then, the 'Noles were in the midst of a staggering run of 14 straight national top-four finishes. Even after Saturday night’s win, this FSU team is not even ranked in the AP poll. And while BC remains the front-runner in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, the ‘Noles sit mired at fourth, having lost conference games to Clemson, Wake Forest and arch-rival Miami (which itself is a mere 2-3 in the conference following Saturday’s loss to 4-5 N.C. State). It’d be one thing if FSU was just plain crappy, and Saturday night’s result was a fluke. On the contrary, what must frustrate ‘Noles fans to no end is that their team has proven capable of beating teams like BC and Alabama but has lost three league games by a touchdown or less. (Last year’s 7-6 team had five such close losses.)
No one would suggest that these ‘Noles are as loaded with talent as some of their predecessors, but you don’t need to be to contend in the current, mediocre ACC. Think Coastal Division leader Virginia has as many future pros on its roster as FSU? Not likely. The reality is, the ‘Noles would be BCS contenders right now if they could simply achieve consistency -- something they’ve lacked for several years now. Take a wild guess whose shoulders that falls on.
5) That Eugene, Oregon, is my kind of town. The idea behind this weekend’s "Oregon Trail" blog series was to share with you, the readers, the sights and sounds of a weekend on campus for a big game at the same time I was experiencing them for the first time myself. I only hope you had half as much fun reading about it as I did being here. (If you missed them, you can catch up starting with this entry and working your way back up to this one chronologically).
By no means was this my typical work weekend, and I harbor no delusions of being able to do it again anytime soon. But for one weekend, at least, it was incredibly fun to re-live college life, from standing in the student section at a basketball game to dropping in on a fraternity’s pregame tailgate to joining my weekend buddies Goss and A.J. on a "tour" of Eugene’s bars (Saturday night entailed my third visit in two days to campus staple Rennie's) to watching them flirt with the freshmen and sophomores. (I did draw the line at returning to their apartment for beer pong late Friday night. The goal of the weekend: Have fun, but don’t do anything I wouldn’t want to have caught on a cell-phone camera and splashed on the Internet. ... So far, so good.). Even now, as I write this, I’m sitting at a Starbucks surrounded by college kids with highlighters and text books -– one last dose before heading to the airport and returning to reality.
Just like I said in the Mailbag last week, I leave Eugene with yet another reminder how the college-football experience is different -- not better, not worse -- everywhere you go. As A.J. told me, Oregon is "a great football school ... during certain hours," and indeed, after listening to 60,000 fans at Autzen Stadium create nearly as much noise as 90,000 in Gainesville or Baton Rouge, after watching them pour on to the field in celebration in one of the sport’s truly universal scenes, within hours of the game’s end, life here basically returned to normal. Though Rennie’s was packed to the gills with both guys and girls in Dennis Dixon or "old school" Joey Harrington jerseys, neither SportsCenter highlights from the game, nor "No. 3 Oregon" appearing on the screen next to Kirk Herbstreit's face, elicited much of a reaction from the crowd.
But don’t take that as a sign of apathy. There’s no question they love their Ducks here just as Oklahoma fans love their Sooners or Ohio State fans love their Buckeyes -- they’re just a little bit mellower about it. Being a mellow guy myself, perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it here so much.