Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pigskin Points: Week Two

Week two of college football is in the books, and an intriguing story was written between the yard lines.

A Tale of Two Freshmen

Chapter One

One program is in the best of times, one is in the worst.
One is in an age of glory, the other in an age of questions.
The times -- as always -- are uncertain, but one program can see a clear path ahead, while the other is just able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The first program is, of course, USC.
The classic stalwart, USC is one of the standards of the game, and has been a sure bet to be in the title hunt since Pete Carroll's arrival in Pasadena.
The other is Michigan.
A once-proud program filled with tradition and passion, Michigan has fallen on hard times in recent years.
Long-time head coach Lloyd Carr left in 2007 after the Wolverines finished 9-4.
Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez away from West Virginia, and things were looking up in the Big House.
They wouldn't look that way for long.
The decline was swift and terrible.
The Wolverines went 3-9 in Rich Rod's first year as the head Michigan man, the worst record in the program's 129-year history.
Then came the off-season.
And the questions.
And the emotions.
Now, however, the season is two weeks old and the Wolverines are 2-0, thanks in large part to a man named Tate Forcier.
Forcier happens to be Michigan's quarterback, and he also happens to be the first of the two freshmen in our tale.
The Wolverines desperately needed a win against rival Notre Dame to prove to fans and opponents alike they are, in fact, on their way back.
The entire team made that happen Saturday, besting the Irish 38-34, and Forcier proved he has what it takes to strap on one of the most classic helmets in football and butt heads with anybody.
Forcier had a good day throwing the football, completing 23-33 passes.
Two of them went for touchdowns, including the game-winning five-yard toss to Greg Mathews.
Forcier was unflappable on the final drive.
He's a freshman, who, -- in that moment -- played not like a senior, but like a pro.
Now, at least for a week, Big Blue is back.

Chapter Two

Matt Barkley is apparently USC's present-day version of the Trojan horse.
The Trojans infiltrated the walls of Ohio State's Horseshoe and rode the freshman quarterback to a huge win.
Before the game, Barkley said he was ready for the test and up to the challenge.
Afterword he admitted he was nervous.
If he was, he didn't play like it when it counted.
Comparing present players to those of the past is not uncommon, but it is sometimes difficult to see where those comparisons come from.
After Saturday, it's safe to say people have yet another reason to compare Barkley to a certain Hall-of-Famer.
There are similarities, you know.
The confidence.
The poise.
The talent.
Now there's one more to add to the list.
In the first road game of his college career, in front of thousands upon thousands of hostile fans, Barkley engineered a Drive of his own.
With his back to the Buckeye student section, from the shadow of his own end-zone, Barkley and the Trojans began a classic series that ended when Stafon Johnson walked into the end-zone without being so much as grazed by a Buckeye.
The Trojans converted the two-point try and then the defense stifled Terrelle Pryor's attempt at a game-winning drive.
The night belonged to Barkley and the Trojans, and surely there will be many more like it to come.

On Saturday, two freshmen proved they were ready, willing and able to lead their teams.
In doing so, they each accomplished a far, far better thing than anyone expected -- except them.


If you've been looking for a good college football blog to keep you up-to-date on everything happening on the gridiron this season, look no farther than 4th and Goal.
4th and Goal is a comprehensive college football smorgasbord, complete with the weekly AP Poll, predictions for games and things learned each week.
It's full of useful information, insights and opinions from a man who knows what he's talking about.
If you don't believe me, just look at his Upset Calls record so far.
4th and Goal will be updated frequently, so be sure to check back often, and stayed tuned next week for the third edition of Pigskin Points.
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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pigskin Points: Week One

The moment has passed, the day has dawned and gone.
Football season has officially begun, and what an opening week it was. Handshakes and brawls, underdogs and upsets, week one had it all. Here are some of my observations from the first weekend of meaningful football.
1. Greg Paulus is a freak of nature.

The former Duke point guard traded sneakers for shoulder pads Saturday, and nearly did something remarkable.
If not for a heartbreaking interception in overtime, Paulus would have led the Syracuse Orange to a victory in his first football game since he won the New York state title in 2004.
That's right, Paulus nearly led a team that finished a paltry 3-9 a year ago to a win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who will make a serious run for a Big Ten title thanks to the seemingly deadly combination of quarterback Adam Webber and wideout Eric Dekker.
Syracuse may have lost Saturday, but something else happened, too.
As Paulus and the rest of the Orange walked into the locker room, fans applauded their efforts.
The paper bags have come off their heads, and they have begun to see the light at the end of the Syracuse Dark Ages.
The mixture of a new coach and a new quarterback who plays like a point guard has ignited a spark in the once-proud program.
Sure, it was only one game, and we are talking about Syracuse.
Sure, it was apparent Paulus had grown used to facing defenses comprised of five men waving their arms in his face instead of 11 men trying to plow him into the ground and leave cleat marks on his chest.
Paulus was rusty, but who wouldn't be?
The fact he can return to football and play at such a competitive level after four years away from the game is commendable, and it will be an interesting storyline in an already interesting season.

2. Sportsmanship handshakes will not be tolerated.
I'll start this point by saying I am 100 percent in favor of anything having to do with sportsmanship in any area of athletic competition.
That said, there are certain things -- like the new mandated pre-game handshake -- that begin with good intentions, but end with an astonishing example of irony.
Thursday night, in just the second game of the 2009 season -- and the second one showcasing the sportsmanship handshake -- Boise State bested Oregon and removed what was probably its biggest obstacle to another undefeated season and perhaps a berth in the BCS.
The win was an important one for the Broncos, but it was overshadowed by some unfortunate post-game actions.
Boise State defensive end Byron Hout was sent buckling to his knees after Oregon tailback LeGarrette Blount landed a punishing right cross to his jaw.
Blount then unleashed a flurry of punches upon his own teammates, who were trying to restrain him.
The scuffle got worse after the play was repeatedly showed on the jumbotron in Boise, angering fans.
The fans began to taunt Blount as he headed toward the locker room, and Blount suddenly vaulted toward the stands before being dragged away by an Oregon assistant and a policeman.
Blount apologized after the game, and later called Boise State to apologize to Hout and Boise State head coach Chris Petersen.
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly suspended Blount for the rest of the season, but allowed him to practice with the team.
Petersen said the team dealt with Hout privately, but he was not suspended.
I think Hout should have been suspended for at least a game, because there's no room for the particular type of talk on the football field or anywhere else for that matter.
However, his actions did not warrant the punch he took.
Being a sore winner is forgivable.
What Blount did was inexcusable.
He embarrassed himself, his school, his team and his coach, who was making his collegiate coaching debut after serving several years as the Ducks' offensive coordinator.
Some have said the incident will overshadow anything Kelly is able to accomplish at Oregon, but I applaud the way he handled the situation.
He acted swiftly and severely, but refused to "kick (Blount) out on the street."
Blount was allowed to keep his scholarship and continue to practice with the Ducks.
Kelly said his decision not to remove the running back from the program completely was an effort to help Blount turn his life around and be part of something structured.
I have nothing but respect for Kelly after hearing him say those words, and I wish him nothing but the best as the Duck's coach.
I wish Blount the best as well, but it is possible Thursday's incident might generate even more consequences for the Oregon running back.
An NFL scout told Todd McShay, an ESPN draft expert, Blount's actions may have rendered him undraftable.
Blount is an obvious talent on the field, but I hope he can get his act together off of it.
After all, as he has surely found out, there's more to life than football.

3. The SEC is on fire, the ACC is melting.
This weekend once again proves what everybody already knew.
The SEC once again is one of the best, if not the best, conferences in football.
SEC teams went 11-1 in the first week.
Georgia suffered the lone setback, a 24-10 loss at the hands of the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater.
The Bulldogs offense appeared to be in a weakened state, much like the immune system of senior quarterback Joe Cox, who battled flu-like symptoms all week before making his first start.
The Cowboys were strong on both sides of the ball, and look like they might be a force in the Big XII this year.
Alabama racked up 498 yards of offense and looked good in the final quarter of its 34-24 win Virginia Tech, although it will have to block better and stop shooting itself in the foot, or it might to be a long year in Tuscaloosa once the Tide reaches conference play.
Auburn had little trouble beating Louisiana Tech 37-13 in the opening game of the Gene Chizik era, and Lane Kiffin enjoyed a 63-7 thumping of Western Kentucky in his first game on Rocky Top.
The ACC, on the other hand, enjoyed very little about the first week of the 2009 season.
The conference had a dismal 4-6 record last week, and two of those losses came at the hands of FCS teams.
Virginia was upended by William and Mary, and Duke was bitten by the Richmond Spiders.
Virginia head coach Al Grough's seat is hotter than a desert in July, and Duke is well on its way to fulfilling everybody's expectations.
Even the football players are counting down the days until basketball season begins.
Virgina Tech turned in a gutsy performance against Alabama, despite giving up 498 yards of offense to the Tide.
If you asked me to size up the ACC following the first week of the season, I'd have to say it appears to be a three-horse race.

Here are the bests and worsts of college football week one:


VIRGINIA loses to WILLIAM & MARY 26-14
I picked this game as the worst upset not to offend the Tribe, they gave great effort and deserved the victory.
However, no one saw this one coming.
Duke was also upset by an FCS team, but that's not nearly as unexpected.
One game into the 2009 season, the Cavilers are on the way to a disappointing year.
Let's hope they can rebound, or they'll be rebuilding in no time.



The Gators were a 73-point favorite going into the contest, and yet someone chose to air it on television.
This was, as expected, a beatdown of epic proportions, and I believe another game, a closer game, would have been more interesting to see than a huge blowout.
I understand the Gators are number one, and TV time comes with the lofty ranking.
I also understand the desire to watch a former Heisman winner and arguably one of the best players to ever play the college game throw touchdown passes like he was tossing beanbags and run over linebackers and safeties like they were cardboard cutouts, but that's what SportsCenter is for.
Tim Tebow left the game after the first quarter, and the Gators squeaked by the Buccaneers 62-3.


This one's a tie.
Notre Dame and Charlie Weiss needed a good performance to kick off the season, and that's exactly what they got against Nevada.
The Irish won 35-0, and may be a little better than last year.
We'll find out in a hurry, when they play Michigan in week two.
The Wolverines were probably anxious to take the field following a drama-filled off-season complete with investigations into how head coach Rich Rodriguez runs his program.
Maybe it was the chance to wipe the slate clean and forget last year's abysmal 3-9 record, the worst in school history.
Whatever the reason, Michigan got off to a good start this season, thumping Western Michigan 31-7.
These two teams will tangle in Ann Arbor Saturday, so something's gotta give.


This was a great one throughout, and the finish didn't disappoint either.
However, I have a question for the Navy coaching staff.
Why in the world would you, Navy, attempt a pass on a two-point conversion to tie a game in the waning seconds?
You boast one of the best option offenses since the straight wishbone, and you threw a pass on that play?
Sure, everybody in the stadium knows what you're doing when you run, but they sure have a heck of a time stopping it.
Your quarterback, Ricky Dobbs, can throw, that's for sure, but you have a running offense.
Please use it from now on, especially when you need two yards to tie a game in the Horseshoe.
My heart sunk when Dobbs lofted that pass toward what he thought was a waiting Midshipman in the end-zone, but turned out to be two Buckeyes, one of which picked the ball off and took it to the house to seal your fate.
Close, but no cigar.



When it rains, it pours.
Oklahoma lost its first game and its Heisman-winning quarterback on the same day last week, and now comes the news the Sooners must do without go-to tight end Jermaine Gresham.
Gresham's season is done before it started.
He underwent season-ending surgery before he could attempt to win the championship he wanted.
Bradford, on the other hand, should return from his sprained shoulder within two to four weeks, and that return couldnt come soon enough for the Sooners.
BYU vaulted to number nine after the upset, and has a chip on its shoulder.
The Cougars are looking for respect, and if they keep playing like they did Saturday they just might get it.
The Cougars are a strong football team, and they are on the prowl for a much-coveted spot in the BCS.



The last game of Kickoff Week 2009 was a classic rivalry game, and one that will be talked about and remembered for some time.
The game see-sawed back and forth several times, and was not decided until the final play.
This game was so good I recommend you watch the highlights for yourself.
What a finish.
The one thing I didn't understand -- and this wasn't included in the highlight reel, so you'll have to take my word for it -- is why FSU tried to shuffle players in and out of the game with forty-nine seconds left without taking a timeout.
When Seminole quarterback Christian Ponder finally took the next snap, there were just nineteen seconds remaining.
That's thirty seconds of wasted time, and it turned out Florida State really needed that time.
It was not to be for them Monday, but watch out for the Seminoles later on this year.
Earlier I said the ACC looked like a three-horse race.
Here are the other two thoroughbreds, and they're leading the way out of the gates.



They're calling it the Collision in Columbus, and here are some reasons you won't want to miss it.
1. Ohio State will be fueled by the revenge factor.

The Buckeyes took a 35-3 thrashing in L.A. Colosseum last season, and they didn't like it.
Look for them to be fired up as they go for a win in the Horseshoe.

2. USC's Matt Barkley makes his road debut.

For the first time in history, the Trojans starting quarterback is a freshman.
He looked sharp in USC's season-opening win over San Jose State last week, but they're not Ohio State.
It's going to be loud and hostile, and it'll be interesting to see if Barkley can maintain the poise he showed last week.
Welcome to big-time college football, kid.


The best college football article I have read this week is ESPN.com columnist Pat Forde's "Forde Yard Dash."
Better known as The Dash, Forde goes through the 40 biggest headlines in college football.
This week's Dash has an interesting breakdown of conferences, plus Forde's latest Dashette.

Enjoy the games this week, and stop by later for next week's Pigskin Points.

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