Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Cynic’s Guide to College Football, Week 4

All across the country, the weather is turning a bit cooler, leaves are starting to change colors and, with conference games coming soon to a stadium near you, we finally have the prospect of the end of these ridiculous cupcake nonconference games. And yet with the season less than a third of the way through, we already know a few things. Some bad things. Just as every silver lining has a dark cloud, here’s the lowdown on the lowlights of this week in college football.

1. Country Roads to Nowhere?

Is it too early to start pressing the panic button on the Bill Stewart (six-year) era at West Virginia? Probably. But that won’t stop me from doing it anyway. It’s not just that the Mountaineers are 1-2 this season. It’s that they’ve looked so decidedly sub-par. In all fairness, WVU did show signs of life in the “John Denver Bowl” vs. Colorado last Thursday. After giving up two quick TDs, the defense shut out Colorado for thenext 55 minutes. Pat White and Noel Devine both went over the century mark in rushing. And White’s 39 yard TD run in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty. But WVU had no passing game whatsoever (10-15 for just 43 yards; White actually had minus-five passing yards at halftime.) They were just 3-of 13 on third down conversions and had 91 yards in penalties. Even the rushing numbers are a bit misleading as anyone who watched the game saw that the Mountaineers offense was lethargic, unimaginative and, worst, predictable.

Look at the numbers:

2007 (Rank) 2008 (Rank)
Total Offense 456 ypg (#15) 303 ypg (#95)
Rushing Offense 297 ypg (#3) 164 ypg (#50)
Scoring Offense 39.6 ppg (#9) 25.5 ppg (#71)

Short version, the Mountaineers are averaging 153 yards and two touchdowns fewer per game than last year. Look, we all knew that the Mountaineers would likely be down a bit this year after losing Rich Rodriguez and Steve Slaton. But with uber-QB Pat White and a talented defense returning, I don’t think anyone thought it would be like this. Yes, the season’s still young and they still have a lot to play for (such as a possible Big East title). But the knee-jerk reaction to hire Stewart following the Mountaineers’ upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl isn’t looking good.

2. The PAC 10 is Godawful.

Much was made last week about the SEC being the first conference in history to land five teams in the top ten at the same time. Well, with USC out of action this week (does anyone else find it odd that the Trojans scheduled two bye weeks in the first month of the season?), it gave me a chance to check out how the other half lives. Big mistake. I really had high hopes for the Pac-10 this year, thinking that maybe, just maybe, Arizona State, Oregon or Cal could finally get to that "next level" and challenge for the conference title. Way wrong.

Six of the teams in the Pac-10 teams have lost to a non-BCS team. Not counting USC, the rest of the conference is just 10-12 in out of conference games. And that includes two wins over 1-AA teams and a 4-1 record against the WAC. They are 3-6 against the other BCS conferences (including 0-3 versus the Big 12) and an amazing 0-5 against the Mountain West. Frankly, most of the Pac-10 has to be grateful that conference games are starting up just so they might have a chance at winning a game or two.

3. Kansas State: Worst Week Ever.

Things started off bad for Kansas State when they had to travel to Louisville for a rare Wednesday night game. They proceeded to get throttled by a CUSA team (38-29 final, but it wasn’t that close) who, two weeks earlier against Kentucky, looked like they'd never seen a football. Sadly, that was the high point of the week. On Friday, KSU RB Leon Patton was released from the team after a run in with the law. But this was not your usual run-of-the-mill college football arrest. No DUIs, mary jane possessions or weapons charges here. No, Patton was arrested and charged with felony child abuse of a two-month old baby.

To KSU's credit, Patton had already been suspended while the investigation was ongoing and was kicked off the team once he was arrested on Thursday. But, man, talk about a rough week. Even with a new contract, the seat under Ron Prince is already starting to get a little warm. This week certainly didn't help matters any.

On a related note, I've always felt there was a particularly warm spot reserved in hell for people who hurt kids. In Patton's case, let's hope I'm right.

“Leon, meet Adolf. I’m sure you’ll have lots to talk about.”

4. Awww, Florida State Fall Down, Go Boom

Believe me, I wish I was making this quote up. But after FloridaState’s embarrassing 12-3 loss at home to Wake Forest this week, Seminoles offensive coordinator (and head coach in waiting) Jimbo Fisher offered this insightful analysis: “We made some boo-boos.” No, Coach Fisher. Boo-boos are something that happen to my two-year old daughter, not to a once-proud college football power. 12 penalties for 139 yards are not boo-boos. Seven turnovers are not boo-boos. Three points are not boo-boos. I’m not trying to bag on Wake Forest—I think they’re a good team and I really like Jim Grobe. And maybe I’m just bitter since I picked FSU to have a rebound nine-win season this year. But shouldn’t a program with the history and tradition of Florida State be held to a higher standard than this? I mean, this is just embarrassing for all of us. Even ‘Noles despisers have to admit that the haterade just isn’t as sweet right now. Like Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men, even if it’s to serve as the object of envy and hate, we want FSU on that wall. We need FSU on that wall! FSU administrators, you know what needs to be done. You can either rip the Band Aid off now and start the healing process. Or you can continue to let the “boo-boo” fester. Your choice.

Florida State’s next coach?

5. And Speaking of Octogenarian Coaches . . .

I have no idea if Penn State is any good. Yes, they’re putting up monster statistics. Sixth in total offense. Third in scoring offense. Seventh in rushing and total defense. Ninth in scoring defense. But for all that, does anyone really have any idea how good Penn State is? Their four opponents thus far (Coastal Carolina, Oregon State, Syracuse and Temple) aren’t exactly murderer’s row (a combined 5-10). To date, Penn State hasn’t been tested, let alone challenged. And frankly, I just don’t think I believe the hype. Admittedly, they’ve gotten solid if unspectacular play from QB Darryl Clark (7 TDs, 1 INT). But we’ll see how he responds under pressure—the Nittany Lions’ next three games get a lot more challenging as they have Illinois, @ Purdue and @ Wisconsin. If they can run that gauntlet, I’ll be a believer. But I’m not holding my breath.

6. Singular Names are Still Dumb, but . . .

And for my one positive note of the week, I bring you the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. In a year in which attention has been focused on BYU and possibly Utah as potential BCS busters, keep your eyes on Tulsa out of Conference USA. Through three games, Tulsa is second in the nation in total offense (587 yards per game) and fourth in scoring offense (52.3 points per game). QB David Johnson is simply unconscious—he’s on a pace for 4800+ yards passing and 60 touchdowns. The Golden Hurricane offense can put up video game type numbers. I know it’s early and they haven’t really played anybody yet. But their schedule is easy (they avoid East Carolina until a possible matchup in the CUSA title game) and, with this offense, there’s no reason to believe they can’t run the table. Would an undefeated CUSA season be enough to break into the BCS? Doubtful. But it’s still good to see a team who has always played third-fiddle in its own state achieve at a high level. Even if the head coach is the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit.

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