Week 1 Winners & Losers
September 5, 2013
By Bruce Marshall
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A quick look back at the winners and losers in Week One College FB action...
WINNER: ACC...It's been a while since the ACC was really relevant on the national stage. Chalk that up to none of the flagship programs (Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Virginia Tech) being serious national title contenders for several years. But Clemson's win over Georgia in Death Valley is just the sort of statement game the loop needed, and since it is on the heels of the Tigers' Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU on New Year's Eve, for the first time ina good while the ACC is regaining a little prestige at the expense of the SEC.
Coupled with the dramatic emergence of RS frosh QB Jameis Winston at Florida State, and the making of the true regular-season ACC titanic when the Noles visit Death Valley on October 19 is now looming over the horizon. The next statement game from the ACC comes this weekend when Miami hosts the Florida Gators. If the Hurricanes can pull the minor upset, it triggers a true national storm warning from the conferences. And if so, we can safely say that after an extended absence on the gridiron, the ACC looks to be back in the national title discussion.
LOSER: MOUNTAIN WEST...No conference was as collectively underwhelming as the Mountain in opening-week action, with a combined 3-9 SU record between the league members. The only win over FBS opposition was by the skin of the teeth, too, as Fresno State needed to stop a game-deciding 2-point conversion try by visiting Rutgers to escape in OT at the Dog House. The other top contenders had a miserable go of it, especially Mountain-half favorite Boise State, drilled 38-6 at Washington in the worst loss for a Chris Petersen Bronco team and the biggest margin of defeat for a Boise contingent in almost a decade. All of the blame cannot be placed upon QB Joe Southwick, although by now it is apparent he is a modest talent at best and not up to the standards that Kellen Moore set at the position in recent years.
More humbling might have been West co-favorite San Diego State being whipped (at Qualcomm Stadium, no less) by FCS Eastern Illinois, 40-19. Although the Panthers are a lower-division force, they shouldn't be able to go on the road and beat any FBS team by 21 points, much less a supposed bowl contender. The Aztecs looked dangerously (and uncharacteristically) imbalanced on offense and now must face a test at Ohio State this week. The embarrassments piled up elsewhere last weekend in the conference, too, with the likes of Nevada, Colorado State, UNLV, and New Mexico the victim of ugly defeats vs. a cross-section of opponents. About the only bright spot for the Mountain came in defeat, as Wyoming and QB Brett Smith put a mighty scare into Nebraska. Still, it looks like we can safely eliminate the Mountain from providing a candidate for any BCS Buster discussions this season.
WINNER: PAC-12...We're still not convinced there are any legitimate national contenders in the Pac besides Oregon and Stanford. But top-to-bottom, the conference looks as if it could be significantly stronger than it was a year ago. That's mostly because the bottom half of the loop (in both divisions) looks as if it could be a lot more formidable than a year ago. Colorado's days as a pushover might be over thanks to the arrival of new HC Mike MacIntyre; sources say "Coach Mac"? was astounded at how poorly prepared the Buffs were a year ago under Jon Embree. And though we're only talking about one game, the 41-27 opening win over rival CSU (another black eye for the Mountain west) was a positive indicator. Keeping oft-injured WR Paul Richardson (two long TD catches vs. the Rams) on the field is obviously going to be a plus in Boulder. Meanwhile, Washington State confirmed reports of its upgrades in a close loss (but easy spread cover) at Auburn. Sources point out that 2nd-year HC Mike Leach is apparently beyond some of last season's internal strife that was partly associated with the change in coaching regimes and some of the difficulties in relating to the many holdovers recruited by predecessor Paul Wulff.
In addition, there might be a Cal renaissance under new HC Sonny Dykes. Although the Golden Bers would end up 44-30 losers to formidable Northwestern, Cal was in the game for much of the night, only to be victimized by a pair of interception TDs by Cat LB Collin Ellis. For most of the night, new Bear QB Jared Goff did not look like a true freshman, suggesting that Cal has a trigger-man for Dykes' uptempo spread. Finally, lots of encouragement at Utah as well, as the Ute offense looked to be a much better-oiled machine in the opener vs. Utah State than it was a year ago. Perhaps Dennis Erickson is going to make more of a positive impact as co-offensive coordinator than we first envisioned. Certainly, soph QB Travis Wilson certainly looked new and improved against the Utags, completing 17 of 28 passes for 302 yards and a pair of TDs in the 30-26 win over USU. The Utah infantry also suggested it could compensate for the departure of the leading rusher in 2011 & 2012, John White, gaining 144 YR vs. a stout Utah defense.
How about the Washington Huskies? They'll get their own special mention in just a moment.
LOSER: BIG TEN...We don't want to overreact to some pointspread losses in winning efforts. But for the most parts we were various degrees of underwhelmed by most of the Big Ten last week. Starting at the top with Ohio State, which was having a lot more trouble with undervalued Buffalo in the opener than the TV announcers would have you believe. (Sort of like watching Howard Cosell describing Muhammad Ali's first fight in 1973 with Joe Bugner, who was making it a hard night for Ali while Cosell described the proceedings as if they were a sparring match for "The Greatest,"? then acting surprised when the judges announced a closer scoring verdict than Cosell and the Ali sycophants had expected.) Some sloppiness and leaks in the Buckeye operation were exposed in the opener, giving Urban Meyer lots to work on before this week's game vs. San Diego.
Meanwhile, the likes of Michigan State, Nebraska, and Illinois were less than impressive in victory, and we don't want to overreact to Michigan's 59-9 romp over a Central Michigan outfit that saw its starting QB (Cody Kater) and top RB (Zurlon Tipton) KO'd during the game. And Purdue was downright awful in Darrell Hazell's head coaching debut in a 42-7 loss at Cincinnati. We continue, however, to be impressed with Pat Fitzgerald's Northwestern side that again demonstrated its resourcefulness in that aforementioned 44-30 win at rejuvenated Cal. The Cats' 2-headed QB monster was reduced to one head early in the game when Kain Colter was KO'd, but Trevor Siemian did well enough in a solo flight the rest of the night to help NU over what was looking to be a tricky hump in Berkeley. Wisconsin also made new HC Gary Andersen's debut a successes with a 45-0 romp past U Mass, although the Badgers are going to face a more challenging We also might keep our eyes on Indiana, which confirmed reports of a new hyper-speed offense for third-year HC Kevin Wilson in a 73-35 track meet against Indiana State. Eventually the Hoosiers are going to be tested by upgraded opposition, but 73 points against anyone is hard to ignore, and not what we have been used to seeing in Bloomington (also a school single-game scoring record).
WINNER: FCS...With six wins by FCS foes over BCS entries last weekend, some major conference entries might want to think twice before scheduling capable lower-division opposition, and instead look for more Sun Belt, MAC, or CUSA lightweights. For the first time in memory, there were also some real whippings posted by the FCS winners, led by McNeese State's 53-21 blowout of South Florida in Tampa, ruining HC Willie Taggart's debut with the Bulls. More startling might have been San Diego State, a bowl rep last season and one of the favorites in the expanded Mountain West, getting hammered at home (as mentioned earlier) vs. Eastern Illinois. And then there was Towson turning up the heat several degrees under Paul Pasqualoni's hot seat at UConn with a 33-18 romp over the Huskies. But the biggest scalps of the week might have been claimed by the Big Sky's Eastern Washington, which took down a well-regarded Oregon State squad by a 49-46 count in Corvallis, and North Dakota State, which shocked a BCS rep from last season, Kansas State, by a 24-21 count in the opener at Manhattan. Elsewhere, Northern Iowa (28-20 over Iowa State) was a winner, as were Southern Utah (22-21 over South Alabama, which technically counts as another win over an FBS side) Samford (which was favored by a TD before beating FBS newbie Georgia State by a 31-27 count) also recording wins for the FCS vs. FBS entries.
LOSER: OHIO U...We had a feeling we were on the wrong side of this game after about five minutes of action, when it became apparent that Frank Solich's Bobcats were completely intimidated by the trash-talking Louisville Cardinals, who took advantage and completely bullied the Bobcats, who looked as intimidated as Floyd Patterson once did in the ring vs. Sonny Liston. It was not only a blow for the MAC, but also a warning shot from the 'Ville, whose schedule does not figure to present many challenges. We suspect that it is going to take an entry with some urban toughs on the roster (think Rutgers or Cincinnati), or perhaps UCF, to slow down the Louisville train and QB Teddy Bridgewater, who served notice that he is going to be a serious player in the Heisman race.
WINNER: Washington...It was a glorious day on the shores of Lake Washington, as a refurbished and glistening Husky Stadium reopened and the U-Dub football team completed the celebration with that aforementioned 38-6 romp over Boise State. We've already noted the blow this struck to the Broncos' national hopes, but it could also be a warning shot from Seattle that the Pac-12 North migth become a three-team race this fall and a clear indicator that Steve Sarkisian has rebuilt the Huskies into a force for the first time in over a decade. Much is expected of this upperclass-laden roster, especially sr. QB Keith Price, who regressed in a disappointing 2012 but looked on the mark as the Huskies piled up 592 yards of offense vs. what has been a stout Boise defense in recent seasons. There is a long way to go this season, but last Saturday's effort indicates that Sarkisian's critics, who have tired of the strong of mediocre results at Montlake, might be silenced this fall.
LOSERS: Coaches on the hot seat...The temperature has risen beneath several under-fire coaches after first-week results. Those would include the aforementioned Paul Pasqualoni at UConn; Kirk Ferentz at Iowa; Don Treadwell at Miami-Ohio; Lane Kiffin at Southern Cal (an unimpressive win such s the Trojans success at Hawaii can also put the heat on a coach); and Bobby Hauck at UNLV.
WINNERS: Coaches who moved a bit off the hot seat...Still early to claim that some of the following have moved on to safer ground. But, for one week, at least, the likes of Virginia's Mike London (important Cav win over BYU), Buffalo's Jeff Quinn (the Bulls much more competitive than expected vs. Ohio State), Marshall's Doc Holliday (after a slow start, the Thundering Herd routed Miami-oho, 52-14), Maryland's Randy Edsall (a 43-10 romp for his Terps over FIU) qualify as moving a bit further away from potential trouble.