Back to Campus
September 5, 2011
by Bob Epling
Welcome back to campus … a weekly review of the Saturday that was in college football.
Any good professor starts class with an outline of objectives, so at the end of this piece you should be able to:
- Summarize the lastest rumblings in conference realignment
- Identify three big winners and losers of the weekend
- Explain why not to worry much about Notre Dame
- Assess the immediate future of Georgia and Mark Richt
- Preview big matchups coming up in Week Two
Conference Realignment – The Latest
Let’s get off-the-field news out of the way first. The continuing (and tiresome) saga of conference realignment stole some attention from the opening weekend of college football when University of Oklahoma president (and former U.S. Senator) David Boren released a statement announcing the Sooners would divulge plans – either to stay in the Big 12 or bolt to another conference – within weeks, if not days. Reports suggest the Sooners are smitten with the Pac-12, and could fulfill the wishes of left coast commissioner Larry Scott to expand his league to sixteen teams by bringing along Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech.
With Texas A&M having already given notice, the Big 12 teeters. If the “big four” head west, the conference might act proactively by inviting SMU, Houston, BYU, and other candidates to fill the vacancies. Otherwise, wait and watch the remaining schools … Missouri, Kansas and K-State, Baylor (left behind by their Texas brethren). While last year’s potential seismic shifts were a bit premature, this go around a significant realignment seems much more probable.
Week One Winners and Losers
Here is one man’s opinion on the top performances of the first weekend:
1. LSU … Pac-12 commissioner Scott may have been gloating about off the field maneuvers, but on the field his league got taken to the woodshed and no program took a worse whipping than Oregon at the hands of LSU. The Bengal Tigers never missed a beat with backup QB Jarrett Lee at the helm, physically dominating both sides of the ball in a 40-27 victory that was more thorough than the score shows. I’m already looking forward to seeing the defenses of Alabama and LSU collide later this season.
2. Wisconsin … While UNLV provided less than stellar competition, the Badgers looked terrific. Transfer Russell Wilson moved right into the starting quarterback role, providing a mobile dual threat. However, the most impressive aspect of the game was the power of the Wisconsin attack. A huge offensive line, two really good running backs, and a savvy veteran QB all add up to make the Badgers an early season national title contender.
3. Baylor and Syracuse … This ranking is a tie between the winners of the weekend’s two best games. Baylor and QB Robert Griffin III jumped all over TCU in Waco, fell apart as the Horned Frogs gigged their way into a late lead, then recovered and won a thriller 50-48. It’ll be tough to find a more exciting game all season. Up in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse trailed Wake Forest by 15 points in the 4th quarter but scored two touchdowns (adding a 2-point conversion on the last one) to send the game to overtime. The Orange prevailed with a TD in overtime for the 36-29 win. That’s a nice win for Coach Doug Marrone and keeps some momentum rolling from last season’s Pinstripe Bowl triumph. Hopefully, you got to see these two thrillers.
At the other end of the elation scale, here are this weekend’s biggest losers:
1. Big 12 … There’s no way to sugar-coat the looming loss of the league’s premier programs – Oklahoma and Texas – along with their sidekicks OK State and Texas Tech. Texas and ESPN deserve a lot of blame for the whole specter of conference-hopping overshadowing on-field performance. The Longhorn Network – which will have to be modified for Texas to join the revenue-sharing Pac-12 – was a joint (greedy) venture between the Bristol bad guys at ESPN and the peacock proud puffed shirts in Austin. It may well go down as a boondoggle that ruined at least one major college football conference (and could impact many others).
2. Pac-12 … Off the field, the league could emerge as a really big winner if the four schools mentioned above join, but at least for a weekend the conference got handled on the field. LSU over Oregon, Houston over UCLA, Sacramento State over Oregon State, Hawaii over Colorado, close wins by USC (vs. Minnesota) and Washington (vs. Eastern Washington) against heavy underdogs wiped the smile from Larry Scott for the weekend.
3. Georgia … Mark Richt and the Dogs looked nearly as bad against Boise State as they did at the end of last year during a 10-6 Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida. The Broncos may not have been bigger, stronger, or faster than Georgia, but they certainly were tougher, better prepared, and more poised. With South Carolina, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Ole Miss on the horizon, things could turn ugly fast in Athens.
Notre Dame Will Win
Assuming Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s head did not explode after his Irish lost a frustrating, weather-delayed game to South Florida … I think his team will be OK. There is no excuse for a seasoned team to make a deluge of mistakes – a fumble at the USF 1-yard line that was returned for a touchdown, two interceptions inside the Bulls’ 10-yard line, a fumble on a punt return, dropped passes, botched punts, a missed chip shot field goal, back-to-back personal foul penalties leading to a TD – but those are correctable mistakes. The Irish still gained more than 500 yards of total offense, passed for nearly 300 yards in the second half alone, came back from a 16-0 deficit to lose by a field goal (although they never really threatened to win the game), and played solid defense most of the night. The main change will come under center where Kelly must replace Dayne Crist with sophomore Tommy Rees. Rees is not athletic in the size-speed categories, but he is smart and an accurate thrower. The Irish should be fine, but better fix things quickly with Michigan, Michigan State, and Pitt coming up.
All Not Well At Georgia
The Bulldog season could go south – and I mean Deep South – in a hurry.
South Carolina comes to Athens this week, fresh from sleeping through a quarter against East Carolina before pinning half-a-hundred on the Pirates. The Dogs hold a special place in the heart of Gamecock head ball coach Steve Spurrier … special in the sense that he loves to beat and humiliate them whenever possible. Consider that possible this weekend. SC features a strong, durable runner in Marcus Lattimore, an athletic (if unpredictable) quarterback in Stephen Garcia, a big-play receiver in Alshon Jeffery, and decent size and speed on defense.
Georgia boasts none of those weapons at this time. The loss to Boise was disheartening in a number of ways. The offense looked stagnant and directionless … playing nearly exclusively from the shotgun but not running a true spread attack. The team looked disorganized (an all too frequent occurrence) on both sides of the ball and undisciplined (multiple penalties on the very first offensive possession). Boise appeared in much better physical condition, Georgia having to call a timeout three minutes into the second half because the Dog defense was already out of gas.
Most surprisingly, the Dogs are very thin. How does a major college team – in the SEC no less – find itself playing a walk-on at linebacker when a starter (Alec Ogletree – who had moved from safety himself back in the spring) goes down in the first game? Scholarship players were available, but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham (looking more and more like a questionable hire after a season and one game) and staff had apparently not cross-trained them at the inside positions. That is poor and inexcusable.
The buck stops with Mark Richt. The normally placid and friendly coach, a throwback to the Christian gentleman of yesteryear, spent the entire off-season ornery and defensive … with an “edge” as ESPN analyst Todd Blackledge stated Saturday night.
Richt will need any edge he can get this week because this game with South Carolina shapes up as pivotal for the Dogs’ 2011 season – and for the future of the program.
On the Horizon
Week Two includes excellent early weekend games with Arizona at Oklahoma State on Thursday, and Missouri at Arizona State on Friday. Other interesting games are Alabama at Penn State, Mississippi State at Auburn, and Notre Dame at Michigan in the first night game at the Big House.
See you at kickoff!