Thoughts and ramblings on the first round of games, courtesy of a misanthrope (look it up!) with DirecTV (Side note: Rankings here represent the AP Poll, so the Southern Cal game can be included)…
Marshall-7, #2 Ohio State-45
Here’s one of the myriad problems with week 1 of the season: most teams play “warm up” games like this one. I’m curious, though, as to why the lesser teams have to wait a week for warmups. Why doesn’t everyone just find a lesser team and pummel them? Or why doesn’t college football have a meaningless preseason like the NFL? Instead, we have a system where good teams that take risks are punished, while teams that take the easy road are given a leg up. Sure, Ohio State plays Miami (the good one) next week, but the rest of their nonconference schedule consists of Marshall, Ohio, and Eastern Michigan. Other schools are even worse: Texas’ best nonconference foe is UCLA, Nebraska’s best is Washington, and there’s a host of other examples. Playing one good nonconference game should not be a license to screw around with the other 3, but in our current system this is really the only option. Think about it: Oregon State plays TCU and Boise State. If they drop those 2 games, win their other nonconference game, and sweep the Pac-10, they still go to a BCS bowl, but there’s no way they’d play for the title. A playoff with conference winners (or common sense) would remedy this situation and encourage aggressive scheduling. As it stands, we’re supposed to be impressed with teams “daring” to play a ranked nonconference opponent, while ignoring weak sauce games like this.
As to the game itself, what do you want? The score tells most of the story, though it was kinda cool to see Marshall run a blocked punt back for their only points. Let’s move on…
Florida A&M-0, #13 Miami-45
(NOTE: No real analysis here, game was as dull as a bowling ball)
So to prepare for one another Ohio State and Miami played a mediocre Conference USA team and a decent 1-AA team, respectively. This raises more than a few questions: How is that realistic? Does anyone think that OSU and Miami’s 2nd teams couldn’t provide more challenge to the starters than these squads? I guess the hitting is more “realistic” with a cupcake opponent, but is that it? Are these games anything more than glorified scrimmages? If Ohio State really is the 2nd best team in the country, then how does pummeling Florida A&M serve as a preparatory step? And will I really continue with the hackneyed gimmick of asking rhetorical questions? The answer to the last one is “no.”
#14 USC-49, Hawaii-36
O, how the mighty have fallen! The Southern California Trojans treated this as though it were a major win, the right way to start of the Lane Kiffin era. Really? This? Beating last year’s 5th place team from the WAC? Oops, started asking questions again, my bad. Watching the game, though, it was clear that the Trojans are probably going to struggle this year. Hawaii’s not anywhere near the best team that Southern Cal will play this season, and Southern Cal never really put them away until about halfway through the 4th quarter when they responded to Hawaii’s late score with one of their own. Hawaii’s offense kept scoring on a very porous Trojan defense, and only Hawaii’s awful defense allowed Southern Cal to win the game. Fortunately for the Trojans, they play a rather pathetic nonconference schedule, meaning that they don’t have any real challenges on the schedule until October, which will give the defense some desperately needed time to gel.
As to the Southern Cal offense, they proved that they could score against a WAC team which, unless that team’s name is “Boise State,” isn’t saying much. The SC offense was well balanced, with virtually equal passing and rushing yardage. Unfortunately, they actually hung up LESS yardage than Hawaii did, though that was largely a consequence of field position. Hawaii’s not a terrible team, but they’re nowhere near the national threat they were considered to be in 2007, and Southern Cal will finish in the middle of the Pac-10 again if they keep playing the way they did on Thursday.
#15 Pitt-24, Utah-27
Normally I’d just riff on Utah for being a boring state, but this was actually the best game of the night by leaps and bounds. The game was a pitched battle, with both teams putting up some rather embarrassing penalty numbers while putting on a very good show. The Utahns (Utahers? Utahites? Utahonians? Sloppy, what the frick do I call you people?) who showed up to support the Utes provided a suitably hostile environment to test the Pitt Panthers, a test which the Panthers ultimately failed.
Given that I’m writing this on what is technically Saturday (it’s really early…), it’d be a waste of everyone’s time to try and describe the entire game. You could have watched the highlights a few hundred times by now. Instead, let’s focus on the final play of regulation: the Pitt field goal to send the game into overtime. Just in case you didn’t know, the Panthers were driving, trying to win/tie the game with time running out. With 3 seconds left on the clock, their kicker trotted out and nailed a 30 yard field goal. Except that Utah’s coach had called a last second timeout.
So they lined it up again, he kicked it again, but this time he missed! Utah wins! Except their coach had called a timeout.
So, for a third time, Pitt kicks a field goal. This time he hits it, Utah’s coach doesn’t call timeout, and the game goes into OT.
Now, a few seasons ago this was a HUGE deal. Heck, coaches calling timeout to ice the kicker at the last second was such a trend during the 2007 season that it was added as a feature in EA’s NCAA game for the following year. Thankfully that trend died down a bit after coaches realized that it had minimal effect on most kickers, and allowed more than a few missed kicks to be retried, therefore completely backfiring on its users. Last season there wasn’t much mention of the tactic at all, a far cry from the NCAA meetings in early 2008 where a rule change was discussed to stop the rather underhanded tactic from being used. One can only hope that this trend isn’t going to crop up again. Calling timeout while a kicker is on the field is one thing. Heck, one can even wait until the lines are all set. But for crying out loud, why call timeout right before the snap? It’s underhanded, it’s unnecessary, and most of the time it doesn’t even work! Remember this one? And for crying out loud, coaches, if you’re going to pull this little stunt, don’t do it more than once! If Utah’s coach had called one timeout, then allowed the kick, they would have won the game then and there. Instead, in a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horse has already run away, Coach Whittingham did not call timeout on Pitt’s last kick, which sailed, in a very ugly line, through the uprights. The timeout tactic is simply low, and it really needs to be addressed by the NCAA somehow. I mean, come on, some of the most famous misses in college history have come after no timeouts at all!
I guess I’m making too much of it, Pitt threw an interception on the first play of OT and Utah won anyway. However, now it is time for…
Tales from the Bottom 95
The logic being that the Top 25 are worthy of analysis, whereas the others are merely worthy of random footnotes here, each separated by an ellipsis…Don’t complain, you can skip this part, or scan it if your favorite team is bad…What better way to kick off the season than with the historic Wake Forest/Presbyterian College game? Seriously, that was the first game of the year?…Tulane only beat their 1-AA cupcake by 6. Gonna be a looooong season in New Orleans…South Carolina took care of Southern Miss, which really is problematic. If the Gamecocks had just gone ahead and gotten upset, they wouldn’t have gotten their fans’ hopes up again…Quick nod to Middle Tennessee State, who held their own against Minnesota right up to the closing whistle, and very nearly won…Buffalo opened up their season (and their new coach’s era) with a win…Florida Atlantic beat UAB in what was apparently a very thrilling game. I am basing this totally on the box score, though…
That’s all for Thursday. Hopefully I’ll be able to do one of these for Saturday as well.