Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Throw the Flag: Cynic’s Guide to College Football, Week 3

While USC and Oklahoma fans are busy checking flight and hotel plans for the national title game, Throw the Flag, HHR’s resident cynic is back to report on the uglier side of Week 3 in college football.

1. The Rise and Fall of Rick Neuheisel, Version 3.0

Calling it first to worst would be a stretch, but what in the wide, wide world of sports is going on at UCLA? Two weeks ago, they knock off Tennessee in a thriller and (a few) people are thinking, “Hey, maybe the USC monopoly really is over” (well, not really). But then the Bruins venture east to face a good BYU team. And proceed to have their worst loss in 75 years. BYU not only shut out the Bruins, but hung 59 on them, including an unreal 35-point second quarter. 59-0, and it could have been a lot worse as the Cougars pulled their starters and let off the throttle, mercifully not scoring in the fourth quarter.

So which is the real UCLA: the ones who rose up to slay the giants from the SEC? Or the ones who played more like blocking dummies against BYU? We shall see. But with upcoming games against Fresno St., @ Oregon, @ California, @ Arizona State and USC, I’m betting on the latter.

Image: guttylittlebruins.com

Not so fast, my friend.

2. A Game Only a Bama Fan Could Love

Don’t give me that “a win’s a win” garbage, Auburn fans. You’re supposedly the #9 team in the country, and you put up three points? On Mississippi State? And still get the win? True the Tigers/War Eagles defense was solid, giving up just 116 yards. But Auburn was pathetic (or turribull as Auburn alum Charles Barkley would say) in every other facet of the game. 12 penalties for 94 yards (one penalty gave Mississippi their only points when an offensive lineman was called for holding in the end zone, resulting in a safety). Three turnovers. 3 of 16 on third down conversions. Two missed field goals.

I’m a defense guy, but let’s not pretend this was an epic defensive struggle. This was one bad football team versus another team playing down to the level of its opponent.

Image: thewizofodds.com

After watching this game, I’d need a swig, too.

3. Rich Rodriguez is No Prince

In his treatise “The Prince,” the 16th century political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli once asked whether it was better to be loved or feared. He said both, if you could pull it off. But if you had to pick one, it was better to be feared. Well, Michigan is now answering that same question with a resounding “none of the above.” Michigan is now facing a fate worse than death in the college football kingdom—irrelevance. If you think about teams that have dominated the college football landscape over the last couple of decades—Notre Dame, USC, Florida State, Miami, Oklahoma, Nebraska, etc.—there was very little middle ground when they were at the tops of their respective games. You either loved ‘em or you hated ‘em. Michigan used to be in that category but is precipitously sliding into the middle ranks of mediocrity and anonymity. As a practical matter, Michigan is simply no longer a player on the national stage—not really loved, hated or feared. Just kind of there. A year ago this time, they were a national laughing stock after losing at home to Appalachian State. To their credit, they rallied and had a very nice season. But this year appears to be very different. Not only do they not have the talent base they did last year, but Rich Rodriguez’ insistence on pounding square pegs into round holes seems unlikely to produce results in the near future.

During his post-Notre Dame press conference, Coach Rodriguez kept re-emphasizing “the sky is not falling” and “we’ll be back.” Not only do these words sound more like he’s trying to pep himself up, but the fact that someone from a program with the history of the University of Michigan has to even say such things shows just how far this program has fallen.

4. Where Have You Gone, Ryan Leaf?

I personally think it’s pretty cool that the Washington State alumni can get someone every week to stand in the back of the College Gameday crowd and wave a Cougars flag. If only their football team was so organized. After getting blown out 45-17 by Baylor (you know, Baylor? 13-43 since the creation of the Big 12 Baylor?), I don’t know that it can get much lower. They’re 0-3 and have lost by a combined total of 150-33. Ouch. This team is bad. Really bad. Fortunately, they have a date with Portland State this weekend that should let them get into the win column (although I wouldn’t bet the farm on it). After that, I don’t know if there’s another win on their schedule.

5. Don’t Want to Say I Told You So, But . . .

After their Week One loss to East Carolina, I wrote that Virginia Tech needed to find an offense and fast. Well, Frank Beamer didn’t listen to me. But now, courtesy of our colleagues at The Big Lead, comes news that apparently he’s listening to fan callers. And he’s none too happy about it. Apparently, Beamer got quite steamed during his weekly call-in show when a caller identified as “Jason in Arlington” dared to question the Hokies’ offensive coaching (audio here). He later went so far as to invite would-be offensive coaches to stop by his office in Blacksburg, saying, "If anyone can convince me they know more offense than [offensive coordinator] Bryan [Stinespring], I'm going to listen to them.” (Resumes can be faxed to 540-231-3060; please list “Offensive Coordinator” in the subject line.)

Through three games, the Hokies rank 107th in the nation in total offense (273 yards per game; behind such stalwarts as Army, North Texas and San Diego State) and 78th in scoring offense (22 points per game). The next two weeks they are on the road at North Carolina (39.5 ppg) and Nebraska (40 ppg). With the Hokies’ defense and special teams continuing to be solid, both games are certainly winnable. But with this offense, they could just as easily both turn into losses. Then listen to the radio callers.

And as for Jason in Arlington, he did what any self-respecting college football fan that got into a verbal sparring match with his team’s head coach would do: he started a blog.

6. A Rainy Night in Kansas

And to end on a more uplifting note: last Friday night, I was driving across Kansas on a miserably dark and rainy night. Fortunately, with the Kansas/South Florida game moved to Friday, I was able to find the radio broadcast on stations out of Wichita and Salina. In this era of pay-per-view, ESPN catchphrases and broadband internet feeds, the days of good radio play-by-play are slowly fading away. So I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of KU’s radio broadcast team. The play by play gave a good feel for the action. He was emotional and a KU homer, without being over the top, the way a good college play by play guy should be. (My only minor complaint was that he rarely talked about direction—it would be “so and so runs for four yards” or “pass complete at the 20” with nothing about running right or left, complete to the near or far side, etc.) And the color analyst was actually *gasp* insightful, with comments and analysis that actually helped understand what was going on in the game (instead of the current trend of such pithy analysis as, “Well, we had a chance to meet with so and so this week, and he told us that he likes asparagus.” Sorry I didn’t get their names, but kudos to the Jayhawk radio team nonetheless. They made a long, gray drive across the Kansas prairie a lot more enjoyable.

Until next week.


broy said...

Arizona romps UCLA this weekend

Pro-Hat Party said...

RichRod will have Michigan good in a few years.