Friday, December 13, 2002
Penn State, Notre Dame and USC score big
By Terry Bowden
Special to ABC Sports Online
The thing that caught my eye on Saturday was the reemergence of some of college football powers. It may not have been good for Michigan, but it's good for college football that Notre Dame is winning again. It may not have been good for Colorado, but it's good for college football to have USC winning again. It may not have been good for Nebraska, but it's good for the Northeastern U.S. and all of college football that Joe Paterno is coaching with excitement and purpose again. It's just good for all of us who love college football when our long-standing traditional powers find new life and excitement in their programs.
Nittany Lions roaring back
The question of whether Penn State was overrated or Nebraska was underrated is hard to answer. Actually, it's a little bit of both. Penn State is clearly not the same team it was at the beginning of last season. Joe Paterno has the Nittany Lions playing better in every phase of the game. If you remember them at this time last year, they couldn't run, pass, stop the run or stop the pass. They were absolutely horrendous.
The Penn State team I saw against Nebraska looks more like a team that can compete for the Big Ten title and finish in the Top 10. It all centers around quarterback Zack Mills. He is the guiding force behind the Nittany Lions resurgence. The key is not that he is so talented or experienced, it's that he's a great leader. And along with the great leadership skills, Mills runs the ball just well enough to hurt you and passes the ball just well enough to hurt you. When you combine him with tailback Larry Johnson and a receiver like Bryant Johnson, it's hard to stop this team.
One more thing about Penn State, the more they win, the more confidence they'll have in themselves and their ability to win. This thing could have a real snowball effect. If it does, Ohio State may have some tough competition for the Big Ten crown.
The game Nebraska played against Penn State confirms my suspicions that they had not improved this team from what I saw in last year's games at Colorado and against Miami. This team has serious problems that I don't think can be corrected this year. I'm not saying they won't have a winning record and play better football, but this team will not be a national contender.
First of all, they lack the speed and athletic ability on defense that they had during the '90s when they won three national championships. The Cornhuskers can look good against average opponents, but they can't stop good teams from moving the football.
Offensively, I don't see anything that resembles the great running games from years past. Neither the power running game nor big plays are coming from their backs or receivers.
'Horns humble Heels, OU looming
|Penn State's Larry Johnson dashed for 123 yards and two TDs.|
This was a big game for Texas. North Carolina was a big game because it was on national TV and the 'Horns needed to shine.. When it was all over, Chris Simms had thrown for 298 yards and four touchdowns and Cedric Benson had rushed for 208 yards. The Longhorns did nothing to hurt their national ranking, but there were times when they seemed to fall asleep -- Miami did the same against Temple.
All the concerns about Texas' ability to run the ball were put to rest. You have to discount any bad showing against teams like North Texas or Middle Tennessee State. That's just part of football -- you just don't always get up. It was more important for the voters or spectators perception for UT to run the ball well. Anybody who thought they wouldn't have a strong running game because of their yards against North Texas is be crazy.
UNC is not Oklahoma. The main thing is until this team plays OU in the Red River Shootout on October 12, we're not going to know if they actually have made the move up from last year.
Give 'em a Buckeye
|Cedric Benson rushed for 208 yards and two TDs to power Texas on Saturday.|
Ohio State, along with Penn State and Notre Dame, made the biggest impression on football fans around the country. They went from being a solid contender for the Big Ten championship to a team that has its sights on the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. All the talk has been about Maurice Clarett, and by all means he should get plenty, but the strength of this Ohio State team is its defense.
Because of its defense, the Buckeyes were able to get a great day out of Clarett. Remember at halftime, they were losing 7-6 to a very good Washington State team. The Buckeyes offense had not done much of anything. Because they believed so much in their defense and believed it could continue to dominate, Ohio State stuck to its gameplan, didn't panic or waffle, and stayed right on course. It was after halftime that the attack finally took off with Clarett getting 194 of his 230 yards.
Washington State goes back to being what I thought they were before the game -- a strong contender to win the Pac-10. I didn't think of the Cougars as a team that would play for the national title -- to do that they would have had to beat Ohio State in Columbus. As long as Mike Price gets his players to understand the ramifications of their loss to Ohio State, their season will still come down to what they do in Pac-10 play. This changes nothing for them.
Men of Troy make statement
This is a game of two teams headed in completely opposite directions. Southern California finally has QB Carson Palmer playing up to his potential. He's been mediocre up until now and because of that USC has found ways to lose football games. Now in his senior year, he fully grasps offensive coordinator Norm Chow's offense and has had two sensational games. USC's defense is tremendously athletic. If they can shut down Kansas State's offense and win the game against the Wildcats, I think it will say even more about this team. Regardless of that game, this is one of the four or five teams with a shot at the Pac-10 title.
Although on one hand Gary Barnett has made a career out of losing early games, he's also made a career out of recovering from early losses and having good seasons. I'm sure CU will be much better than what we saw Saturday. I could never imagine Colorado rushing for less than a 100 yards against anybody -- yet, that's what I saw. There's no way you could credit all of that to Craig Ochs being out. In fact, his replacement Robert Hodge, is much more mobile. While that would not help them in the passing game, it should have added some new dimensions to their running attack. I really have to wonder since CU got so much preseason hype, if these players have lost their heart and drive for this season.
One-man show doesn't fly on the South Plains
|Malaefou MacKenzie had two TDs in the first quarter to bury the CU early.|
Eli Manning may be as good or better than any of the other QBs in his family, but he's still not good enough to carry the Ole Miss team by himself. Texas Tech has a pretty good QB of its own in Kliff Kingsbury -- and an even better passing system than Ole Miss. The Red Raiders showed why a team can't put all its hopes in just having a big-armed quarterback.
However, I can sum up the prospects of both teams in just one answer: these teams don't play good enough defense to contend for their respective conference championships. Thank goodness they have exciting quarterbacks and productive offenses. And this year, like most, they'll be able to win seven or eight games, give some excitement to their fans and play in a nice little bowl.