Welcome back to campus (and The Campus Game!) and the kickoff of the college football year.
The best and briefest sport season on the American calendar opened with a five-day football feast … and after the first Saturday, college football 2012 looks a whole lot like a replay of 2011. These “Cliff’s Notes” summarize my review of toe meeting leather on weekend one across the nation.
Head of the Class
Three teams stood out to me in these initial games:
Alabama … the Crimson Tide program remains on a different level. In crunching Michigan 41-14, Bama dominated all phases of the game. The offensive line looks absolutely nasty and should be the nation’s best. That group paved the path for freshman T.J. Yeldon to establish himself (after only one game) as Alabama’s best running back, even though junior Eddie Lacy and Dee Hart (another frosh) are certainly serviceable. Yeldon is just different – and so is the Crimson Tide. Until somebody proves otherwise, Nick Saban’s squad remains the valedictorian of not only the SEC, but also the entire country.
USC … this is the most polished team in America. Senior QB Matt Barkley could just as easily be tossing touchdowns for an NFL team next week as throwing them for the Trojans (he hit Marqise Lee for a 75-yard TD on SC’s opening offensive play of the season Saturday night against Hawaii in a 49-10 victory). Barkley leads a balanced attack that features all-star receivers Lee and Robert Woods, and the Trojans make up for depth issues with pure talent. My preseason prediction for the BCS title game was USC-Oklahoma, but I’d really like to see Lane Kiffin and company take on Saban and the Tide.
Oregon … yes, a good, physical defense would probably stifle the Ducks, and their pinball wizard style of offense can result in a “tilt” if they fall behind in down and distance for any given series. But, boy does Oregon have speed and play fast. New QB Marcus Mariota led a dazzling Duck raid on Arkansas State when Oregon blazed to 50 points in the first quarter and a half of the game. I truly believe Oregon could have fairly easily posted triple-digits on A-State had not Chip Kelly called off his flock and settled for a very misleading 57-34 win. While I favor defense and physicality, you best believe the professor will be hunkered down to watch USC play Oregon (both times – they’ll meet in the PAC-12 title game too).
A Good Start
Fans of these programs should feel pretty good after opening week:
Tennessee: While it’s just one game, the Vols might finally be on the march back to contender status. They sure showed a lot of speed and talent in a nice 35-21 thumping of well-thought-of NC State. Junior college WR transfer Cordarrelle Patterson electrified a pro-Big Orange Friday night Georgia Dome crowd with two long touchdowns (a 41-yard catch and a 67-yard run) and QB Tyler Bray looked like the gunslinger he is in whipping the ball around for 333 yards and two TDs with no interceptions. The Vols also looked fast on defense, with sophomore LB Curt Maggitt showing star potential. The Vols are far from a finished product, but Derek Dooley and his young team may grow up this season.
MAC Teams: The professor holds a soft spot for the MAC, and the underrated conference played several nice games. Ohio beat Penn State at Beaver Stadium, notching a win for Frank Solich in a highly publicized pairing. Northern Illinois played Iowa to within a point on the road, Toledo took Arizona to overtime in Tucson, Buffalo rang up 23 points against highly-rated Georgia between the hedges, and Bowling Green scrapped with Florida at the Swamp before falling 27-14. Kudos to the Mid-American.
Notre Dame: The Irish finally started a season without moving as if in a fog. Maybe it was the trip to Ireland that lifted ND’s spirits, perhaps it was a Navy squad that might be the worst team the Domers play all season, or possibly it was the calming influence of QB Everett Golson or the upgraded size and power of the lines. Whatever. Irish fans will take it after dismal starts in Brian Kelly’s first two seasons.
Ohio State: No need to get too excited yet, but next year – oh yes. Urban Meyer has a perfect QB for his system in Braxton Miller and the bowl ban this season will provide Meyer and his charges with all the anger and edge needed to be a real threat next year. The Bucks may be the B1G’s best team before this season is over (but probably not). Won’t be long though.
Fans of these squads might call for some extra tutoring or time in study hall because they did not impress the first weekend:
Penn State: No need to say more about this situation. While normally a Nittany Lion fan, I took a wee bit of guilty pleasure in seeing PSU take a kick to the gut from a MAC school – mainly because of the shameful way the trustees buckled to the Freeh Report and turned on Joe Paterno. Billy O’Brien is a class act, but he and Lions fans are in for a tough year.
Florida: The Gators looked awfully ragged in their opening win over Bowling Green. While the game was never in doubt (a slight improvement over some of their performances last year), the sloppy penalties and sluggish offense is very reminiscent of Will Muschamp’s first season in Gainesville. The Gators have too much talent to look so fragile.
Savannah State: OK – nobody even knows them, but what was the AD doing scheduling Oklahoma State (84-0) and FSU to open the season? $375K, which is the payout for the Stillwater scalping, is not sufficient for the beating this team took. Hope Jimbo Fisher is feeling charitable next weekend in Tallahassee or there may not be a SSU Tiger team to pull for the last ten weeks of the season.
Enjoy the Labor Day matchup of Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech!