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College FootBlog Week 1 Recap

Robert Griffin III lit up the TCU defense in a huge opening week upset (photo courtesy of collegesportsmadness.com and google images)

The first week of the 2011 college football season is officially in the books, and while the January bowls are still months away, we did manage to learn quite a bit from opening week.  Here is College FootBlog’s Breakdown from Week 1.

Another year, another over-hyped Notre Dame team:  A lot of hype surrounded the hiring of former Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly.  Because of the dismal state that Charlie Weis left the program in, the expectations were not too high last season.  This season was a different story.  Most preseason polls had the Irish in the top 25, and last weekend’s loss to USF in South Bend was proof yet again that the Irish are not a dominant program.  Much credit needs to go to USF and Skip Holtz, but once again, Notre Dame folded in the face of pressure and played like a team that was afraid of losing, instead of a confident team that expected to win.

RG3 is good.  Very good: While most people who watched TCU fall to Baylor are discussing the fall of TCU from the nation’s elite, we prefer to look at the unbelievable play of Baylor QB Robert Griffin III.  The junior signal-caller did everything except park the cars and sell the popcorn in Baylor’s amazing 50-48 victory over the Horned Frogs.  Griffin III has somewhat flown under the radar because of other NFL prospects in the Big 12 like Blaine Gabbert, Josh Freeman and Landry Jones to name a few, but last weekend was not a fluke.  RG3 came into the season with 41 career touchdown passes, versus only 11 picks.  This will not be the first time you hear from Griffin or the Bears this season.

Auburn could be in for a long season:  The 2010 BCS National Champs had to recover an onside kick and score with less than a minute in their nail-biter against visiting Utah State last weekend.  Much has been made of the Tigers’ holes vacated by Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and 13th overall NFL selection Nick Fairley, and the cynics got it right this time.  Auburn could not slow down the Utah State, who racked up 227 yards rushing and 448 total net yards.  With a healthy dose of SEC West opponents, it is only going to get more difficult, and the Tigers will have to fight to be bowl eligible this season.

The SEC is still King.  Just ask the Oregon Ducks:  After Nick Fairley dominated the Oregon offensive line, this year was the Ducks’ opportunity to get respect for themselves and the newly expanded Pac 12, but LSU stood in the way of that, dominating Oregon in the first bigtime match up of the young season.  Despite only getting 98 yards passing from Jarrett Lee, the Tigers stuffed last year’s leading rusher in all of college football, holing LaMichael James to an anemic 54 yards.  Until Oregon can score against the SEC, they can rack up as many yards and points as they want–it just won’t get them back to a title game.

Maryland trumps Oregon in most hideous uniform challenge:  If you watched the Miami vs. Maryland game on Monday night, you may have thown up your hot wings.  The Terps’ uniforms rivaled the uni’s from “Any Given Sunday”–if you’ve seen that horrible movie, you understand the comparison.  Previously, Oregon’s all-fluorescent yellow uniforms took the cake, but Maryland trumped those on Monday.  If nothing else, new head coach Randy Edsall has people (including us) talking and writing about Maryland football, which hadn’t been on the radar since Al Davis, in his infinite wisdom, took former Terp wideout Darirus Heyward-Bey with the Oakland Raiders’ first pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

NCAA–College Football’s Judge & Jury

College Football has a major problem–check that.  The NCAA has a major problem.  In the wake of several big investigations, including Oregon, North Carolina, Auburn, Ohio State and USC, Yahoo! Sports’ release of their story of the Miami Hurricanes and the cash, jewelry and other debauchery funded by convicted Ponzi Scheme artist Nevin Shapiro is the most recent problem the NCAA will have to review, and ultimately, impose sanctions.

Unfortunately, it is the college programs facing the heat, when the NCAA continues to make extremely questionable decisions.  Case in point, the NCAA’s handling of Auburn and Ohio State’s programs last season, and their ultimate decision to let Heisman quarterback Cam Newton play in the final games of the 2010 season, which included the lucrative BCS title game against Oregon.

What was even more disturbing was their decision to not impose the five-game suspensions on Ohio State’s athletes until this fall, allowing the suspended OSU players to play in last year’s Sugar Bowl.  A Sugar Bowl without Ohio State stars Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron and DeVier Posey, among others would have resulted in a minimally hyped bowl game with less cash to collect.  The NCAA wanted to make sure that they and the game’s sponsors got to cash their checks before they hammered OSU and their program.

Make no mistake about it.  It all has to do with money, and the NCAA hauls in more than its share–they reported budgeted revenues of $757,000,000 in 2010, the majority of that revenue coming from college football.  The BCS games and fees the NCAA collects for using their logos on many items and games, including the ever-popular NCAA Football games produced by EA Sports have generated the machine that operates the NCAA.

The NCAA allows EA Sports to use their logo and players who have the same size, skill sets and jersey numbers as the actual football players from each school that is represented in the game.

Essentially, the NCAA’s message is loud and clear:  It is against the rules and there will stiff consequences for exploiting college athletes….unless the we ( the NCAA)are the ones making the money off playing the role of pimp for the student-athletes.

The real question we should be asking is where are the checks and balances here?  Who does the NCAA have to answer to?  If it is okay for the NCAA to push nearly $1 billion for exploiting these kids, then how are they any different from the boosters, agents and runners that have created so much damage to schools like USC?

College Football is in a different place, economically and culturally, than it was when many of the NCAA rules were written and instituted, and until there is a committee or governing body reviewing what the NCAA is doing, the playing field will not be balanced, and they will continue to be judge and jury.  If the NCAA is going to deposit the checks from the juggernaut that is college football, then they should have to answer some of the questions and more importantly, they should have to recognize that they must adapt with the changes and nuances that come with a billion-dollar-plus machine.

And if the last 18 months have shown anything, it is that the current system is not working.  Unless something changes, 18-22 year old athletes will continue to drive millions and millions of dollars to their respected schools and the NCAA, but the kids will be punished for reaping a fraction of the monetary benefits they generate.

BCS Title Game Breakdown: Part 3

The wait is nearly over.  Tomorrow college football fans will get to see the match they have been waiting for since mid-season when Auburn and Oregon bring their high-powered offenses to Glendale, Arizona to declare this year’s BCS Champion.  In case you missed it, College FootBlog provided two previous breakdowns for this match up, but in the finale, we will provide what we feel will ultimately be the difference in this shoot-out, and we will give our score prediction.

As we pointed out in our first breakdown, each team has an X-factor, and both Oregon’s Darron Thomas and Auburn’s Cam Newton are on the offensive side of the ball.  The difference in this game, however, will be who can make plays on defense.

For Oregon, there has been a lot of talk about senior linebacker Casey Matthews, and rightfully so.  If Oregon has a shot in this game, however, FS John Boyett must have a big game.  Boyett is tied for the team lead in interceptions with five and ranks third on the team in tackles with 67.  The talented sophomore defensive back has proven all season that he is dangerous against the pass, but he is also excellent in run support.  The Ducks will need the best of both worlds against Newton, who is the most dangerous dual threat quarterback in the nation.

Auburn DT Nick Fairley has dominated all season and will be key in the BCS Title Game on Monday (google images)

For Auburn, DT Nick Fairley is one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the country, and the Tigers’ success or failure to limit Oregon’s potent rushing attack, led by the nation’s top rusher LaMichael James, will depend largely on how effective Fairly is against the very quick offensive line from Oregon.  The dominant defensive tackle has racked up 21.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks on the season.

Final Analysis/Score Predicition

We agree with the experts that this game will light up the score board.  We believe that Fairely’s impact on this game could be the difference.  Fairley has dominated all season, many of those games coming at the expense of a solid running game (see Alabama).  While the Crimson Tide’s rushing numbers have been down considerably compared to last season, they were finally healthy and back up to full strength for the Iron Bowl match up and presented Auburn with a very balanced attack.  Fairley dominated against both the run and pass.

Although Auburn has faced the spread attack, they have not faced the speed and balance that Oregon presents.  Still, in the end, we expect Auburn to create a key turnover in the second half that could prove to be the difference, and most turnovers, even the interceptions, are caused by pressure up the middle.

As Terrell Owens would say, “Get your popcorn ready.”  This will be a fun game to watch that will likely not be decided until late in the game.  Our final score prediction:  Auburn wins 41-31.

BCS Title Game Breakdown: Part 2

The college football bowl season is about to begin, and although there are several solid match ups, none are as intriguing as the title game, where arguably the two most explosive offenses in the nation square off, as Oregon and Auburn take the field in Glendale, AZ next month.

In the first of our three-part breakdown of the title game, College FootBlog took a brief look at the X-factors from each team.  In part 2 of our analysis, we look at the individuals who have led the way for each team–the head coaches.  

Gene Chizik When he was named head coach at Auburn, many experts questioned the hiring, mainly due to Chizik’s mediocre results as the head coach at Iowa State.  Chizik silenced most of those critics last season when he led the Tigers to an eight-win season and gave Alabama (the eventual national champion) everything they could handle in last year’s Iron Bowl.  Chizik slammed the door on the few, if any, critics that were left going into this season, as he has rolled through the nation’s deepest and strongest conference with a perfect 13-0 record.

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik has had a lot to celebrate this season. Will he be celebrating a BCS Championship next month? (google images)

Chizik

, who had been known for his defensive strategies, has relied on his offense since arriving at Auburn last season.  While Auburn has some play makers on defense, Chizik and his staff bet all their chips on Heisman Trophy winner Cameron Newton to be a virtual one-man show, and the bet has paid huge dividends. 

Perhaps even more impressive is how well Chizik has sheltered his team from the media frenzy that has surrounded the program since questions regarding Newton and his father handled his recruitment last season.  Through it all, Chizik has kept his cool, but more importantly, his team has continued to prosper, despite the negative attention.  Handling the media for a national title game should be a cake walk, compared to the last month.

Chip Kelly:  Oregon’s offensive explosion is actually a continuance of Kelly’s days as the Ducks’ offensive coordinator.  He took the OC job in 2007 and perfected the spread attack, and the Pac 10 hasn’t been the same since.  While the Ducks have athletes on defense as well, Kelly remains an offensive mastermind, and other than one game against Cal, no team has kept Oregon from putting up 37 or more points–the Ducks put up at least 50 points in and astounding six of their twelve games this season.

Like Chizik, Kelly is in just his second year as head coach of his program.  And like Chizik, Kelly has generated championship results, despite controversy surrounding his team.  Even the avid college football fans probably didn’t even know who Kelly was until the famous right cross of LaGarrette Blount connected on Boise State’s Byron Hout after the Ducks’ opening week loss to the Broncos.

Kelly suspended Blount, who had been his top running back, and publicly discussed the incident and his plan get his team refocused and to help Blount get back on track.  Oregon won the Pac 10 title last season, but in the wake of the Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State, his starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate, Jeremiah Masoli was dismissed from the team for burglary.  Even without his starting QB, Kelly’s squad has put up ridiculous numbers on offense, leading the nation with over 49 points per game.

Analysis:  Each program should be very excited about their respective head coaches, not only for this season, but for years to come.  There really appears to be no clear-cut advantage in the coaches.  Expect each coach to have his team ready to play, and the way they have led their players through previous media turmoil, don’t expect either team to be rattled because after all, each team has been in the national spotlight (for good reasons and bad) quite a bit the last several months, but each coach has persevered and each coach now has a shot at a championship ring in year two of taking the reigns.

Look for our third and final breakdown of the BCS Title Game later this week.

Week 9 Heisman Update

With only six weeks remaining in the college football season, College FootBlog takes a look at who is making the strongest cases to make the trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony.  Here are the four elite players we feel have the best shot at bringing home the hardware this December.

Cameron Newton (QB/Auburn):  When you’re leading your team in rushing as a quarterback and your team is ranked #1 in the country, you’re making a very strong case for the Hesiman.  Newton’s numbers have been sick this season, averaging over 305 yards per game with 27 total touchdowns.  He will get at least one more chance to shine on national television when he leads his Tigers into Tuscaloosa to face Alabama in the Iron Bowl.  A strong performance against Nick Saban’s defense would essentially lock up the Heisman and an SEC Championship game.

Sophomore LaMichael James leads the most explosive offense in the nation (google images)

LaMichael James (RB/Oregon):  After missing the opener due to a suspension, many writers had removed the talented running back from their Heisman watch lists.  But James has burst back onto the scene and currently leads the nation in rushing yards per game with 161.  If Oregon keeps winning and James keeps getting his touches, he could be the fourth straight sophomore to win the coveted award.

Kellen Moore (QB/Boise State):  Once again, BSU’s quarterback has quietly put together the most efficient passing attack in the NCAA.  The junior signal caller has thrown for over 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns, with only one interception.  With six more games remaining, he could end up with video game statistics again this year, and his Broncos have their best chance ever at playing for the BCS Title.  If his stats hold up (and based on his career, they should) and if BSU can secure a BCS Title game, Moore will have as good of a shot as anyone at winning the Trophy.

Justin Blackmon (WR/Oklahoma State):  Dez Who?  Blackmon has ripped through secondaries all season long for the 6-1 Cowboys and leads the nation with 158.9 yards per game.  In last weekend’s shoot out with Nebraska, the sophomore wideout eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark to go along with 14 TD receptions.  If he keeps this pace, he would finish the season with 1906 yards and 24 touchdowns–numbers that should lock him up for a trip to New York.  OSU has a tough road to finish the season, with games against Texas and Oklahoma, so keeping that pace will not be an easy task.

Look for another breakdown in a few weeks that will provide our pick for the top three, along with who College FootBlog thinks will ultimately bring the award home.

Week 9 College FootBlog 3rd & 1

Week 8 in college football was saw another big upset and saw a Heisman contender move to a Heisman front-runner.  We cover these topics and more in this week’s edition of our 3rd & 1.

1st:  Oklahoma’s lack of a vertical passing game finally caught up with them.  Whether it is conservative play calling or zero confidence in quarterback Landry Jones, the Sooners’ lack of the intermediate and deep passing game was finally exposed by the Missouri Tigers this past weekend.  In match ups against Florida State, Texas and Mizzou, it was abundantly clear that the OU coaching staff does not want the sophomore QB to make reads down the field.  Until the Mizzou weekend, Jones’ weaknesses were somewhat masked by a barrage of bubble screens and the fast pace of the no-huddle offense.  Mizzou walked their safeties and corners up to the line of scrimmage and kept the bubble screens in check, and begged OU to challenge their pass defense.  Still, the OU play calling was bubble screens and quick slants, and it cost the Sooners one loss and could easily cost them another if the coaching staff doesn’t improve the passing game.

QB Cameron Newton has led Auburn to an 8-0 start this season (google images)

2nd:  The Heisman Trophy is Cameron Newton’s to lose.  Auburn’s  junior signal-caller eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in last weekend’s victory over previously undefeated LSU.  Although his passing numbers were far from explosive (10 for 16 for 86 yards), the elusive QB rushed for over 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns against a LSU defense that had previously only allowed one player, Tennessee’s Tauren Poole, to break 100 yards.  Newton is 9th nationally in total yards per game with 305.1 and has already accounted for 27 touchdowns, despite going against the stout defenses of the SEC.  If he can put up similar numbers in the Iron Bowl, not only will he have a great shot at the Heisman, but he will have the Tigers in position for a BCS Championship.

 

3rd:  Oregon’s offense is scary-good.  The Ducks lead the nation with just under 570 yards per game.  Their lowest scoring output so far this season was against Arizona State, when the Sun Devils “held” them to a mere 42 points.  Last Thursday’s 60-point, 582-yard thrashing of UCLA gave the rest of the nation an opportunity to see just how explosive the 2010 Ducks are.  Quarterback Darron Thomas has made everyone forget about Jeremiah Masoli’s departure last spring.  The sophomore QB has accounted for over 1,500 yards passing and 17 TDs to go along with 269 yards and two TDs on the ground.  Sophomore running back LaMichael James has picked up right where he left off last season and currently leads the nation in rushing yards per game with just over 161 YPG.

….and 1:  Only Iowa stands in the way of a Big Ten Title for Michigan StateThe undefeated Spartans invade Iowa City this weekend and face the Hawkeyes, who lost a heart-breaker at home last weekend to Wisconsin (who Michigan State beat earlier this month).  MSU has the luxury of not having Ohio State on the schedule this year, and after this weekend’s trip to Iowa, they wrap up the rest of the regular season with home games against 1-7 Minnesota and 4-3 Purdue, before traveling to Penn State for the finale.  If the Spartans can knock off Iowa this weekend, they can still afford to lose one game and be guaranteed at least a share of the conference title.  Look for Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeyes to give MSU all they can handle in what should be a great game.

College Football Preseason Top 25 (#1-#7)

The countdown is over.  For the past week, College FootBlog has broken down college football’s 2010 Preseason Top 25.  In case you missed them, take a look at teams #8-#15 and teams #16-#25.  We now unveil our Preseason Super 7, along with some things to look for this fall.  

1.  Alabama:  The Crimson Tide will likely be everyone’s #1 going into this fall, and why shouldn’t they be?  They lost All-Americans at all three levels of their defense; DT Terrence Cody, linebacker Rolando McClain and cornerback Javier Arenas, but ‘Bama will reload at each position, none more that Dre Kirkpatrick at corner.  The strength of the Tide, however, will be the offense.  The running game will once again feature the tandem of Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and ultra-talented Trent Richardson.  Wide Receiver Julio Jones could be next year’s top receiver taken in the NFL Draft, and under center will be Greg McElroy, who, as opposed to last fall, has not only played on the biggest stages (see SEC Championship and BCS National Championship), but he has come through with flying colors.  Put it all together, and Nick Saban appears to be in position to win it all again in 2010.

Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor will look to pick up where he left off last season in the Rose Bowl (google images)

2.  Ohio State:   If Terrelle Pryor picks up where he left off in the Rose Bowl, look for Ohio State to challenge for a BCS National Championship this season.  Pryor was inconsistent at the beginning of the season, but as the 2009 season progressed, he seemed to be more relaxed and confident, and he helped lead the Buckeyes to six straight wins to close out the season.   Tailbacks Brandon Saine and Boom Herron will compliment Pryor in the backfield behind a very physical and very experienced offensive line.   As is typically the case in Columbus,  Jim Tressel will have a stacked defense.  Although changes in the depth chart could happen after two-a-days in August, the spring depth chart for the Bucks has ten seniors starting on defense, highlighted by linebacker Brian Rolle.

3.  Boise State:  This fall the Broncos will not have to fight the preseason rankings like they have in year’s past.  The BCS formula and bowl selection failed miserably by putting BSU against TCU in last year’s Fiesta Bowl.  The Broncos return 23 of 24 starters from last year’s undefeated squad, including quarterback Kellen Moore.  Chris Petersen’s team will also have a national audience for their opener at Virginia Tech.  If they can win that game and take care of business for the rest of the season, pollsters will find it difficult to continue to keep them out of the BCS National Championship, especially if Ohio State or Alabama suffers a loss.

4.  Virginia Tech:  The Hokies will try to break the recent trend of ACC teams that are hyped up all preseason, only to fail miserably early in the season (see Clemson).  The defense will break in several new starters, including the DE position vacated by E Jason Worilds, who left early for the NFL.  While the youth and inexperience on defense may be an issue, this is certainly not defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s first rodeo.  Look for the Va Tech defense to be solid, and they will be aided by the running game on offense.  Ryan Williams blew up last season for over 1,600 yards and 21 touchdowns, and he will be joined by Darren Evans, who sat out last season with an ACL tear.  Tyrod Taylor is still more dangerous with his feet than his arm, but last season, he proved he could win games by throwing the ball, too.

Sophomore QB Garrett Gilbert will take the keys to the offense in Austin this fall (google images)

5.  Texas:  With the losses of Heisman runner-up Colt McCoy and soon-to-be first round pick Sergio Kindle, one might think the Longhorns would be in a bit of a rebuilding year, but Mack Brown is one of the best recruiters in the business, consistently replacing All-Americans with newer All-Americans.  The early departure of McCoy due to injury in the BCS National Championship was a major blow to the ‘Horns chances of beating Alabama, but it provided great experience for then-freshman Garrett Gilbert.  It did not take long for Gilbert to settle in, and when he did, he gave the Crimson Tide defense (which was arguably the best in the country) a run for their money.  Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp once again has a talent-rich defense led by linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho.

6.  Oregon:  Had it not been for Jeremiah Masoli’s suspension for the entire 2010 season, the Ducks would be ranked as high as #3, but when you lose a Heisman candidate, it is going to drop you at least a few spots.  Head coach Chip Kelly proved last year that he can not only keep his team focused despite a suspension to a key player (i.e. LeGarrette Blount), but he can also replace talent with more talent.  LaMichael James replaced Blount with seemingly no issue, as the freshman tallied just under 1,500 yards on his way to earning the Pac 10 Freshman of the Year.  An off the field incident in February, however, will result in a suspension of at least one game this fall.  If the Ducks can finish with one loss or less, they will have made a very strong case for a shot at the BCS title.  That is because their schedule is one of the toughest in the country, and includes road games at Tennessee, Cal, USC and they cap off the season in Corvallis for the Civil War against Oregon State.

7.  TCU:  In ten years at the helm, head coach Gary Patterson has quietly led the Horned Frogs to an 85-28 record.  Like Boise State, they return the majority of their starters from last season.  Led by quarterback Andy Dalton, the offense returns nine of their eleven starters.  Last season,
Dalton accounted for over 2,700 yards passing and over 500 yards rushing.  On defense, TCU loses linebacker Daryl Washington and dominant defensive end Jerry Hughs.  Linebacker Tank Carder should fill the void at LB, but the Horned Frogs will need to find someone off the edge to provide pressure on opposing quarterbacks for Patterson’s defensive scheme to be effective.  Patterson’s troops open up at home against Oregon State.  A win against the Beavers on national television combined with their high preseason ranking could likely send them to their second-straight BCS bowl at season’s end.