Monday, September 01, 2008

Thoughts on College Football: Week One

Thoughts on Week 1 of the 2008 college football season. See, as always, SMQ's more cogent thoughts.

Rice 56 - SMU 27
I watched this Friday night thriller primarily because (i) I missed Thursday's CFB action because of the trip to Green Bay, (ii) I was quite tired after a long week of work and wanted to just veg out, and (iii) I was interested to see how June Jones did in his new coaching job. So far, about all I can definitively say is that SMU isn't very good. I picked this game up late in the second quarter, after SMU's intiial onslaught, and saw very little to make me think the Mustangs will return to any of their glory at any time soon. The offense was intermittently productive against a non-elite Owl defense, while the defense showed hardly any other signs of life against Rice's offense. Now, the Owls will probably win like 8 games and go to a lesser bowl, primarily because of their offense, but the nearly-complete absence of good plays by SMU's defense should still be cause for concern.

LSU 41 - Appalachian State 13
With this game being moved because of Hurricane Gustav, we got an early look at whether or not the Mountaineers had a chance of repeating their 2007-opening upset of Michigan. The Tigers quickly answered that question-demonstrating their physical and football superiority early in a way the Wolverines had not been able to. Appy State may still be a I-AA national championship contender, but the early returns show they haven't yet been able to reload around Armanti Edwards.

Ohio State 43 - Youngstown State 0
Like LSU's game against Appy State, a glorified practice against a far-outclassed opponent. The most serious news out of this game of course is Beanie Wells' injury, which thankfully looks like it won't be serious enough to negatively impact his game for the showdown Sept. 13 against USC. The second-biggest story is the play of Terrell Pryor. He looked good-wasn't asked to do much in the passing game, but he was accurate for what he was asked to do. He scrambled well. The Penguins are a pretty good, but not great, I-AA team, so it's tough to say what that means against a competent team. If USC beats Ohio State, then I expect Pryor to be starting c. the end of September against Minnesota. If the Buckeyes win, they'll probably stick to a Florida c. 2006 rotation of Boeckman and Pryor.

Northwestern 30 - Syracuse 10
Wow, Syracuse is bad. I mean, really bad. Northwestern struggled early, more than you'd like against a team like the Orange, but eventually righted the ship. Bonus: the score at one point was SU 3 - Cats 2.

East Carolina 27 - Virginia Tech 22
I know this was the "best" of the early games, but I don't enjoy watching Virginia Tech play so I didn't see much of this game. From what I did see, the Hokies will struggle on offense all year. Redshirting Tyrod Taylor probably isn't a bad idea, tempting though it may be to play him this year, simply because the wideouts and running backs are unproven and not of the OMG Shirtless variety.

USC 52 - Virginia 7
Can we get this out of the way? Virginia sucks. Virginia under Al Groh has never been a good team, and will never be a good team. I don't understand why this is so-some of their players aren't too bad, as recent high draft picks Chris Long, Branden Albert, and D'Brickashaw Ferguson attest, but whenever they play another team with high draft picks, they get pounded, and so it was again on Saturday.

Utah 25 - Michigan 23
Michigan is, to me, the most interesting of the non-potentially-elite teams in college football this year. They're facing a level of talent exodus similar to that Notre Dame faced last year, while at the same time trying to implement a new offensive system, and without the OMG Shirtless recruit (ND had Jimmah Clausen, the aforementioned Pryor chose the Buckeyes). The Wolverine offense looked just as bad as you'd expect-the 23 points all came off the defense and special teams giving the offense a short field. The Wolverine defense was supposed to be pretty good. For the first half, though, that supposed defensive quality was almost altogether absent, as the Utes moved the ball up and down the field almost as well until they got to the red zone. With a little better luck, the Utes win the game by 3 scores even with the Wolverines' late comeback.

Oklahoma State 39 - Washington State 13
I kept forgetting about this game, only checking on it sporadically. The upshot was it's going to be another long year in Pullman. The Cougars simply aren't very good. The Cowboys had a much slower start than I expected, 3 in the first quarter and 15 in the first half.

TCU 26 - New Mexico 3
I saw about 2 minutes of this game, enough to see that New Mexico wasn't good enough to give TCU much of a challenge, and promptly completely ignored the rest of this game.

Louisiana Tech 22 - Mississippi State 13
The prime viewing time for this game, after the Utah-Michigan conclusion and before the prime time games, became my designated Saturday break from viewing. I did see a couple minutes of this, mostly late, but LaTech didn't look any worse that the Men of Croom. I want Mississippi State to be good, and Croom to show up Alabama for not hiring him, but the Bulldogs don't look like they'll be very good.

Minnesota 31 - Northern Illinois 27
Another game I only saw a couple minutes of. The Gophers aren't much better than the Huskies-not a surprise, but disappointing to Gopher fans. I'll have to talk to my designated Minnesota contact tomorrow to get a better read on this game.

Alabama 34 - Clemson 10
According to ESPN's coverage map, this game was supposed to be on WLS-TV 7 in the Chicago area. It wasn't. I was not pleased.

Cal 38 - Michigan State 31
This was the game on ABC in the Chicago area instead. Neither team is expected to be particularly great. The score is probably deceptively close, as I thought Cal had clearly the better of the play. MSU's defense is still lacking-somewhat surprising, given Dantonio's reputation as a defensive mastermind and his success as DC for Ohio State in their 2002 national championship season.

Mizzou 52 - Illinois 42
I'm not looking forward to going to work tomorrow, in part simply because I'll have to hear about how Juice Williams is so much improved as a passer. If by "improved," my interlocutors mean "can throw deep jump balls", then I'll agree with them. If they mean "able to throw the ball accurately and timely", then we'll just have to be at loggerheads. Like the Rose Bowl, I never thought Illinois had a particularly serious chance to win this game, though I'm confident my interlocutors will disagree.

Oregon 44 - Washington 10
I feel bad for UW QB Jake Locker. With a competent team around him, he'd be one of the most exciting players in the country to watch, and would be a darkhorse candidate for the H-----n. Alas, he plays for Ty Willingham and the Huskies, which means his receivers can't catch, his running backs can't run, his offensive line can't block, and his defense can't stop anybody. Still, with the decline of Hawaii, he represents the best hope for interesting late night college football watching.

Kentucky 27 - Louisville 2
Steve Kragthorpe looks like the worst hire since Bill Callahan at Nebraska. Louisville's offense has completely disintegrated, and the defense has lost all delusions of competence. I believe Hunter Cantwell was at one point touted as a likely first round draft pick and could be #1 overall. Never likely, of course, but after 20 of 43 for 152 yards and 3 INTs, he's looking at an Andre' Woodson-esque precipitous fall.

Colorado 38 - Colorado State 17
This is never a particularly good game, particularly lately, but I admit to having a soft spot for it, as it's the only major college football game I've ever attended in person, back when the Buffaloes ran all over CSU in 2001. A boring game, mostly, but redeemed by back-to-back second quarter kickoff returns.

Fresno State 24 - Rutgers 7
Another game I picked up in the third quarter. What most surprised me about this game is Rutgers' defense. It wasn't that long ago the Scarlet Knights (as of October) had a very outside shot at appearing in a national championship game behind the running of Ray Rice and a good defense that keyed an upset of Louisville. Now, though, the defense has work to do-the Bulldogs' first TD was set up by a breakdown in pass defense, another was set up by more poor pass defense, and they were also able to gash the defense for big runs in the 4th quarter. Offensively, Mike Teel was unable to make enough plays in the pass game to make up for Rice's absence.

I'll probably be back later tonight with thoughts on UCLA-Tennessee.

UPDATE (9/4/08 0010 CT): Ah, finally an update...
UCLA 27 - Tennessee 24 (OT)
What's either fun or incredibly aggravating about college football, or both, based on your perspective, is the wild swings in performance you see. This game presented a good example of that. In the first half, UCLA QB Kevin Craft was 7 of 18 for 66 yards and 4 INTs, 3 of which I called when he threw the ball. That's ridiculously atrocious. In the second half, though, he somehow stopped throwing the ball to the other team, and started throwing the ball to his own team. Tennessee really should have won this game-they ran the ball fairly successfully most of the game, but kept having Jonathan Crompton stand in the pocket and try to throw the ball. Dumb, dumb, dumb strategy. Plus, Fulmer kept trying 50+ field goals-this may be an ok strategy, and the kicker has the leg for it, but he kept missing them. It's this "Maroon Zone" where going for it is a perfectly acceptable option. The Vols lost the game on a missed field goal in overtime, when a kick from the left hash didn't curve nearly enough to make it through the uprights. Poor strategy.

It's tough to know what to make of either of these teams-I think Tennessee's defense is better than "giving up 24 points to UCLA", and 7 of these came off a blocked punt, and they can run the ball successfully. But, Crompton can't do for them the positive things Erik Ainge did last year, and unless and until they realize that, it could be a long year. For UCLA, well, I have no idea. If Craft plays like he does in the first half, it'll be a long year for Rick Neuheisel in Westwood. If he plays like he did the second half, they'll probably win a few games-not that he was great, but he made some plays and wasn't a liability, and that's frequently enough in the realm of the unpaid.

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