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Those of us who had midseason in the JaMarcus Coming Out Party pool thought our tickets were no good when the redshirt freshman started the second half against Oregon State. Russell's ability to lead the Tigers could be seen between his so-so numbers (9-26-0, 145 yards, two touchdowns). He led LSU back from a 15-7 deficit, and the temptation to give the 6-foot-5, 236-pound Russell the team is too enticing for some Tiger fans to resist.
Still, what's the rush? Randall is not a bum, despite his numbers (7-18-1, 66 yards). Drawing conclusions from one game is for the knee-jerk fan. It may just be that Oregon State is pretty good. It may just be that Randall is the perfect vehicle to bring Russell along at an unhurried pace. Coach Nick Saban said Monday that the Tigers are a two-quarterback team for now. He knows what Randall can do, and he knows what Russell will do someday.
Oregon State coach Mike Riley was chatting with Saban on the field before the game. Riley said he pointed out Randall and said, "Your new quarterback is athletic."
"Yeah," Saban replied, "but the guy over here," pointing out Russell. "He's not ready yet, but he's gonna be a good one."
"Wow," Riley recalled, "what a body. He played with a lot of poise and did a good job. I've never seen a guy that big be as nimble."
Russell has the tools. Let him learn without forcing it down his throat.
At the Tigers' football offices a receptionist greets callers with, "National champions LSU, how can I help you?" If they want any chance of repeating the phrase in 2005, I'd start Russell.
This isn't anything personal against Randall, it's business. Randall, who won the job fair and square after spring and fall workouts, started last Saturday evening's game against Oregon State and completed 7-of-18 passes for 66 yards and one interception in the rain slop. He was pulled for Russell, who threw two touchdown passes, ran in a two-pointer, but only completed 9-of-26 for 145 yards, but no picks. When he got dinged up late in the game, Randall is the one who put LSU ahead with a 5-yard TD run in overtime.
But if not for three missed extra points by Oregon State's Alexis Serna, LSU's hopes of a two-peat might already be in the dumper. Saban knows his team gritted it out against OSU. He also knows it lucked out too.
If I were Saban (which means I'd have a full head of hair and some serious coin in my bank account), I'd give most of my practice reps and Saturday's start against Arkansas State to Russell. But Saban, who called in both quarterbacks to his office Sunday, has already decided to split the reps and make a decision on a starter later in the week.
I understand Saban's dilemma. Randall is a senior, and there's a certain loyalty owed to an upperclassman. Plus, Randall's experience might allow the Tigers to use more of their offensive scheme. Was Russell appreciably better than Randall in the near loss? Nope, but that's not the point. The question should always be: Who gives you the best chance of winning? In this case, short term and long term, the answer is Russell.
Look at the schedule. Arkansas State, fresh from a 32-point loss at Missouri, comes to Death Valley. This is the perfect opportunity for Saban to give Russell lots of quality time, in a home environment, against a lesser team. Consider it an investment because the following week the Tigers travel to Auburn, then two weeks later go to Georgia, and then Florida after that. Somehow survive that Shawshank Redemption crawl through the sewer pipe and now you've got a seasoned quarterback ready for a much friendlier stretch run against Troy, Vandy, Alabama and Ole Miss (all four games at Baton Rouge), and a regular season finale at Arkansas. And if Russell gags against Arkansas State, or struggles at Auburn, then you still have Randall as a safety net.
Russell is the equivalent of a 'Vette with a coat of Turtle Wax on him. He just needs to be polished up a bit. Hard to get buffed up on the bench.
Notre Dame went to great lengths to rearrange its schedule at the 11th hour in order to move its Brigham Young game to Sept. 4, so that the Irish would have a game before Michigan comes to South Bend this week. Be careful of what you wish for.
Notre Dame's running game disintegrated in the mountain air, gaining 11 yards in 21 carries. Take out the sacks, and the true numbers, 32 yards in 18 carries, aren't much better. Admittedly, BYU's 3-3-5 defense is built to sow confusion among the offensive linemen. Notre Dame's veteran blockers looked lost Saturday night. There wouldn't have been holes there even if Irish starting tailback Ryan Grant had played.
Cougars defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall pointed out that BYU finished 14th in the nation in total defense last year, even as the team went 4-8, and that they had 10 months to prepare for the Irish, who beat the Cougars last year, 33-14.
"They (the Irish) are talented," Mendenhall said. "That night our kids played with physical and emotional output that exceeded what their guys had. The difference in the game is effort. Our defense is high risk. Our risk management is conditioning. To be a pressure team and not be in shape is a liability. Our players were trying as hard as they could for a longer time. That made us seem faster. We're really not that fast."
Notre Dame also came out on the losing end of the special-teams battle, although props must be given to the Cougars' punter and placekicker, Matt Payne, who made field goals of 44 and 53 yards and dropped six punts inside the Irish 20.
Michigan stifled a Miami (Ohio) team with relative ease, and it's hard to imagine that any Wolverine team would take an Irish team for granted. Notre Dame is looking an 0-2 start square in the face.
No, you stay home and piece together jigsaw puzzles of Joe Montana and Ara Parseghian.
What? Of course, you go to the game.
You go because there are few, if any, better places to watch a game than Notre Dame Stadim.
You go because eight of the last 13 games between ND and Michigan have been decided by five points or less.
You go because the average margin of victory in the series since 1978 (not counting last season's Michigan blowout at the Big House) is 6.6 points.
You go because you can't swing Chris Fowler without hitting an ESPN Classic-caliber moment in this series.
You go because Notre Dame's 20-17 loss at BYU and Michigan's 43-10 win at home against Miami (Ohio) are both deceiving.
You go because Irish tailback Ryan Grant, who missed the BYU game because of a hamstring injury, is expected to return.
You go because ND sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn completed 26-of-47 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown, despite little or no pass protection. Just think if the Irish O-line actually figures it out.
You go because Miami (Ohio) trailed by only 14 early in the fourth quarter and were driving for another score when free safety Ernest Shazor returned a gimme interception for a Michigan TD.
You go because David Underwood is no Chris Perry, because Michigan averaged less 3.0 yards per carry against the RedHawks, and because Notre Dame has given up 100 rushing yards just 11 times in the last 26 games.
You go because ND is 6-4-1 against Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium.
You go because Touchdown Jesus will know if you scalp the ticket.
You go because what happens if the Irish pull off the upset?
First of all, none of these teams came into the season burdened by expectations of contending for their respective conference championships.
OK, enough with the disclaimer.
The Spartans are the only team that had a winning record last season, and graduation losses left coach John L. Smith with a lot of rebuilding to do, so cut them some slack. It's too early to say whether this is the year that Rutgers gets over its decade-plus hump. But it's possible, which means this loss may not be as embarrassing as it first appeared.
As for the others, it wasn't the losses so much as the margins that surprised. Fresno State and Utah are the top two contenders to gain a BCS bid from whatever we're calling the don't-call-us-non-BCS conferences. Offseason enthusiasm notwithstanding, the Huskies and the Aggies have some rebuilding to do, and have begun to do it.
The Syracuse staff came into this season having barely escaped being fired after last season's 6-6 record. Athletic director Jake Crouthamel did his best Atticus Finch imitation after last season when he told the fans who wanted coach Paul Pasqualoni's head to turn around and go home. Crouthamel directed Pasqualoni to make some staff changes.
One game is not a fair measure. Syracuse has always been a slow-starting team. But even Pasqualoni said after the game that the Orange, in his hip-to-be-square words, had laid an egg. Pasqualoni threw in his lot with freshman quarterback Joe Fields, who looked a lot better than the Syracuse defense, which made Boilermaker quarterback Kyle Orton look like John Elway.
The Orange's schedule is not that daunting -- for every Virginia and Florida State, there's a Buffalo and a Temple -- but that leaves Pasqualoni with no excuse. Syracuse is clearly the team in the most trouble, and the clock is ticking on getting it fixed.
Does none count as an answer?
Yikes. U-Dub gets dissected by Frenso State at home like a lab frog. Texas A&M's defense can't stop Reveille from scoring a touchdown these days. Syracuse has locomotive marks from Purdue's 51-0 victory. Hawaii lost in overtime at home to a Florida Atlantic team that isn't even a full-fledged D-IA program (FAU was I-AA in 2003, a transitional member in 2004). And Michigan State played so poorly against Rutgers that MSU coach John L. Smith might scale Mt. Kilimanjaro again -- and jump.
But if I have to pick one team with the best chance of finishing .500 or better I'll go with the Spartans, though my heart isn't really in it.
Look, Smith didn't win the Big Ten Coach of the Year honors by accident. He knows what he's doing. But going on the road with a young team, with a new quarterback, against improved and psyched-up Rutgers was a Julia Childs recipe for a loss.
This isn't the first time Michigan State has stumbled early against a lesser-regarded opponent. The Spartans lost to Louisiana Tech in Game 3 last season and then won five straight. Given MSU's schedule in the coming weeks (Central Michigan, Notre Dame, at Indiana, at Iowa, Illinois), a 3-2/4-1 stretch isn't out of the question.
Right now, three quarterbacks are listed atop the depth chart -- fifth-year senior Damon Dowdell, sophomore Drew Stanton and redshirt freshman Stephen Reaves. If the more talented Stanton can overcome a nagging knee injury, he'll be the guy. And Reaves certainly has the arm and pedigree (he's the son of former Florida All-American John Reaves) to run Smith's pass-happy system.
There are other issues, including a lingering knee injury to linebacker Seth Mitchell (he missed the Rutgers game). But the Spartans still have a boffo receiving corps and an impressive special teams game.
Will it be enough? Just barely.
With the bulk of this weekend's games taking place on the third anniversary of Al Qaeda's attacks on the U.S., the occasion is screaming for some sort of unified national acknowledgment by the NCAA. It could be something as simple as a moment of silence between quarters, or a solemn pre-game ceremony, or a uniform patch. Instead, any commemorations that are held will be local in nature. That's too bad. College football touches millions of lives over the course of one Saturday, and it would have been nice to see the sport to pay universal tribute to the lives lost.
Major league baseball made a similar gesture several years ago by retiring Jackie Robinson's number on every team in the sport. College football missed an opportunity.
Isn't it a little weird that one conference -- the Big Ten -- uses a form of instant replay, but none of the other 10 leagues do? To me, that's like the AFC West using replay, but not the rest of the NFL.
If I'm Brand I call Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and ask how best to institute replay on a more widespread basis in D-IA. Forget about 100 percent participation -- not every school enjoys weekly television coverage. But as NCAA president I would insist on pushing for its inclusion in the other major conferences. They can afford it, plus, despite the first-week glitches, it works.
Oregon State kicker Alexis Serna should be getting back to campus any day now after being forced to hitchhike home from Baton Rouge. Or there's the one that had Northwestern kicker Brian Huffman, who two days earlier missed five field goals in a 48-45 overtime loss at TCU, trying to transfer to Oregon State.
OK, they didn't really happen. In fact, Serna, the redshirt freshman who missed three extra points, including what became a game-ending one, in the Beavers' 22-21 overtime loss at LSU, appears to have weathered his troubles, Oregon State coach Mike Riley said Wednesday.
After the game, Riley said, "I didn't go right to him. I talked to him in the locker room. I told him, 'Nobody has worked harder than you have for the opportunity.' He's a good, young kid. I saw him out here in the summer by himself, kicking, kicking, kicking. Just because you're out there doesn't mean it will work out. More than what I said is how the team reacted to him."
Riley said the defensive players maintain that if they had made one more stop, it never would have come to this, which is just the type of response you want as a coach encouraging his players to pull in the same direction.
Almost as difficult as watching Serna's distraught reaction to the final missed extra point was seeing Riley frantically trying to call timeout before that last snap. Ironically, this is the first season in which coaches may call timeout from the sideline, instead of instructing players on the field to do so.
"I probably would have decided to go for two," Riley said. "I wanted the timeout to talk about it. That was a coaching mistake. Our guys just ran onto the field. Nobody came to me and said anything. I'm talking to the offensive coordinator about calling a play and I look up. Most of the game, there's an official, the back judge, standing right next to me. On the extra point, he's on the goal line. I tried to get his attention. There was a lot of noise. He was just looking dead ahead."
Other conferences, such as the Big East, are considering adopting an instant replay system.
True, to a point.
Some of the Big East athletic directors are in favor of replay, and the idea has been discussed with the league's coordinator of officials. The conference is monitoring the Big Ten's limited use of replay, but nothing is on the table for 2005. Yet.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley's decision to allow linebacker Channing Crowder and free safety Jarvis Herring to play Saturday against Eastern Michigan cocked eyebrows across the nation, including mine. Foley made it look like the football tail is wagging the disciplinary dog.
Foley suspended the players for one game in July after their arrest over the summer for an incident outside of a Gainesville bar. The university announced that the players would sit out the opener against Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 4.
However, after Hurricane Frances postponed the MTSU game until Oct. 16, Foley decided that the suspensions would not transfer to the Gators' new opening game against Eastern Michigan this Saturday. Instead, the university released a statement this week that the suspension of Crowder and Herring will continue to apply to Middle Tennessee State.
The original suspension said nothing about the opening game. Here's the beginning of the announcement in July: "University of Florida football players and Channing Crowder and Jarvis Herring will serve one-game suspensions for their involvement in an off-field incident earlier this summer, Athletics director Jeremy Foley announced Tuesday."
Well, why pick the opener? You pick it because it's the next available game, and it announces the priority of the disciplinary action. Show me another program that suspends a player for one game, then announces it's the sixth game of the season.
By the way, the argument that the players need a game before they play at Tennessee on Sept. 18 holds no water. Last year, Crowder was suspended for the Gators' opener. The following week, he made six tackles and broke up a pass -- against Miami.
Your team leads, 27-13, with one second left to play. You have the ball on your opponent's 4-yard line. So, of course, you:
A -- Take a knee and run out the clock.
B -- Rush your field-goal unit out there and attempt a kick.
C -- Have your starting quarterback throw a fade in the end zone as time expires.
If you're 116 out 117 Division I-A coaches, you choose A and tell your ninth-string quarterback to take the snap and then take a knee.
But not Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.
Leach had Red Raiders QB Sonny Cumbie throw not one, but two passes in the final seconds of last Saturday's victory against SMU. Tech didn't score. It also didn't get the memo about sportsmanship.
Afterward, SMU coach Phil Bennett made a beeline to Leach -- and they weren't exchanging recipes for crumb cake. Bennett was steamed about Leach's lack of football etiquette and said so.
This isn't the first time Leach has been accused of trying to run up the score (a 49-0 game against New Mexico in 2002 comes to mind), and it won't be the last. Leach coaches to the beat of his own percussion section. Cumbie was making his Tech starting debut, the wide receivers inexperienced, the situation perfect for trying to beat the clock. It was a learning opportunity.
"We're not a team that kneels on the ball, not a team that runs the dive up the middle," Cumbie told reporters after his 470-yard, four-touchdown performance. "It's a different philosphy between the two. I guess if you don't like it, stop us."
We'll see how Cumbie feels if Tech finds itself on the wrong end of the nose rubbing. This wasn't a 77-0 Oklahoma rout of Texas A&M last season, when the Sooners did everything they could not to score late in the fourth quarter. This was game won, seconds left, and Tech still chucking passes.
"I've said this before: I liked Mike Leach before the game, I like him now,"' said Bennett in the WAC's weekly teleconference. "I just. . . didn't like the way it ended. Mike and I talked after the game and it's a done issue."
And the conversation?
"You know, Mike, he's a believer (in) run your offense, do your things," said Bennett. "My point was they hadn't thrown the fade in the game, so why wait until the last 30 seconds with your No. 1 offense?
"Let me say this: I'm not a crybaby. I didn't have a problem with it until I saw late in the game they were trying to call a timeout. I let my emotions get the best of me."
Bennett went on to say that Leach is a good coach and "they deserved to win the game."
But SMU deserved more respect. If nothing else, it deserved to see a knee.
Here's another reason to believe that Florida State will beat Miami on Friday night: Bobby Bowden will have access to the same fountain-of-youth pipeline that Joe Paterno at Penn State and Lou Holtz at South Carolina have. Both Paterno and Holtz are coming off a string of mediocre or worse seasons, and both have teams that showed surprising life in their openers last weekend.
The Nittany Lions, coming off three losing seasons in four years, beat Akron 48-10 last week, the 340th win for the 77-year-old Paterno, now two victories behind the 74-year-old Bowden. In third place among active coaches is the 67-year-old Holtz, whose South Carolina team, coming off of back-to-back 5-7 seasons, destroyed Vanderbilt, 31-6, for Holtz 244th victory.
Bowden's Seminole teams haven't fallen as far as the others but they have taken a step back in the last three years (27-12). The preseason buzz about Florida State is good. The geezers will try to make it three-for-three Friday night.
Not surprisingly, the starting place-kicking job at Oregon State is available. After three missed extra points by redshirt freshman Alexis Serna, Beavers coach Mike Riley has declared the position open to competition.
If you saw Oregon State's 22-21 loss to LSU then you also saw the distraught Serna crumple to the ground after the third miss, which would have forced the game into a second overtime. And if he had converted just one of the other two extra points in regulation. . .
Of course, what you didn't see was Serna in the visitor's locker room after the game. He sat on a bench in front of his locker and rocked back and forth as he sobbed. Teammates did what they could to console him, but what do you say to someone who thinks he cost the Beavers of an upset of the defending national champions?
Here's what Bill Swancutt, Oregon State's star defensive lineman and a stand-up guy, said: Serna isn't the reason OSU is 0-1.
Serna wasn't on the field as LSU completed passes of 26 yards and then a touchdown-scoring 38 yards with 1:05 remaining in regulation to cut the OSU lead to 15-13. And he wasn't on the field when LSU converted a two-point play to tie the score. But he was the guy who kicked a 40-yarder in the second period.
It must be a lonely time for Serna. Even though he's received support -- including from FSU kicker Xavier Beitia, who missed a key field goal against Miami in 2002 and was trying to e-mail Serna with words of encouragement -- school has yet to start on the Oregon State campus, which means solitude and the harsh memory of those missed kicks. It also means a kicking competition between him and junior John Dailey.
The Beavers travel to Boise State for its next game. Here's hoping Serna gets a second chance.
. . .The 2001 Helix High backfield?
The San Diego area high school went 25-1 in 2000 and 2001, winning back-to-back CIF Section championships. The Helix quarterback, Alex Smith, is leading Utah on its charge into BCS land. The Helix tailback, Reggie Bush, has gone to USC and made himself the most exciting player in college football as we speak.
"I was wondering when this was going to get attention," Smith says with a laugh. "I'm always talking about him."
"Alex was real good," Bush says. "He wasn't as good a scrambler as he is now. He was slippery, though. When he scored against Texas A&M (Smith ran 37 yards for a touchdown, one of five he threw or scored), I thought, 'That's not the same Alex.'"
"He was big and strong, 15, 16 years old, a very strong runner, breaking tons of tackles," Smith says.
"He was a good passer," says Bush, who, as he does at USC, lined up both in the backfield and out wide. "He was accurate, and he could throw the long ball."
Smith belongs on the short list of top collegiate quarterbacks, as does the guy Bush lines up behind at USC, Matt Leinart.
"I've been very fortunate," Bush says. "They are different, two different types of quarterbacks. They are both good passers. Alex can scramble a little better than Matt, but Matt hasn't had to scramble. I know he can."
"Playing with Reggie made me a better quarterback," Smith says. "People talk about the change in speed when you get to college. Can you adjust? I came from throwing to guys who are faster than the guys here. It made the adjustment easy."
. . . Florida Atlantic and Rutgers.
You likely didn't see the game, or even the score for that matter, but Florida Atlantic beat Hawaii, 35-28, in overtime last Saturday night. This was a shocker for all sorts of reasons, beginning with the fact that FAU was a Division I-AA program a season ago and doesn't formally join I-A until next year. Plus, do you have any idea how difficult it is for a team to travel that many time zones? By game's end, it was nearly 4 a.m. Eastern time for the FAU players.
Coach Howard Schnellenberger, who helped rebuild Miami into a national power, is constructing FAU's program from scratch. The Owls finished 11-3 a season ago, and with the Sunshine State as a recruiting base, Schnellenberger should do fine on the D-IA level (I counted just six out-of-state players on the FAU roster). Case in point: junior tight end Anthony Crissinger-Hill, who caught 15 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns against Hawaii. Crissinger-Hill is from Tampa.
Rutgers' mini-upset of Michigan State shouldn't go unnoticed either. It didn't by several of the larger New York dailies, which made the trip to Piscataway for the game -- something that used to happen on only a semi-regular basis.
The Scarlet Knights are slowly stocking their roster with some actual talent. There's more depth at more positions than ever before, with the exception of quarterback, where junior Ryan Hart has to stay healthy for Rutgers to earn a bowl spot. But running back Brian Leonard, voted the league's freshman of the year last season, is an absolute keeper.
Rutgers finished 5-7 last season, with wins against Buffalo (1-11), Army (0-13), Navy (8-5), Temple (1-11) and Syracuse (6-6). Not exactly Murderer's Row. But this year coach Greg Schiano (8-27 in three seasons) should be able to win at least six games, possibly more, thanks to home games against softees New Hampshire, Kent State, and Temple, and road games against struggling Syracuse and Vanderbilt.
Geno is all over Darren Sproles, the Kansas State tailback who hung 221 yards on Western Kentucky. Some of us are waiting for the Wildcats' I-A schedule to begin this week against Fresno State before we assess Sproles. I can't imagine that Gene would dump any of the players on his watch last week, although he may be tempted to dump Chris Leak, who hasn't played yet, in favor of Alex Smith of Utah. If Geno's not tempted, he should be.
(Geno's real picks: USC QB Matt Leinart, Oklahoma QB Jason White, Kansas State RB Darren Sproles, Texas RB Cedric Benson, Purdue QB Kyle Orton.)
Ivan isn't easily swayed. If he was, he wouldn't still be wearing wingtips.
Nothing any of his early favorites did in their first games will cause Ivan to switch names. Georgia QB David Greene, Mizzou QB Brad Smith, Texas RB Cedric Benson, USC QB Matt Leinart and Oklahoma QB Jason White have put up early Heisman-quality numbers, so I'm hard pressed to criticize Ivan (and it's killing me too).
(Ivan's real picks: Texas RB Cedric Benson, USC QB Matt Leinart, Oklahoma QB Jason White, Georgia QB Greene, Utah QB Alex Smith.)
1. Oklahoma -- I've got a sneaking suspicion that Bowling Green is pretty good, and the Sooners just took the Falcons apart.
2. USC -- The Trojans, like LSU, didn't pick up where they left off last January. And like the Tigers, the Trojans will be fine.
3. Michigan -- Wolverine quarterback Matt Gutierrez didn't start against Miami, supposedly because of a sore arm. Freshman Chad Henne may have turned Gutierrez into a Wally Pipp.
4. Georgia -- Thanks to a Georgia Southern option offense that wouldn't leave the field, Georgia held the ball barely 22 minutes of possession. That makes the Dawgs' 48 points and 422 yards of total offense a little more impressive.
5. Texas -- When North Texas wins the Sun Belt, the 'Horns 65-0 victory will look even better.
6. LSU -- The Tigers can regain some swagger this week against Arkansas State. They'll need it next week at Auburn.
7. Florida State - With four extra days, the Seminoles get back two offensive linemen who may not have been able to play Monday. Advantage: FSU.
8. Ohio State -- Great performance by the Buckeyes defense, holding Cincinnati to six points. New starters, new coordinator, same result.
9. Miami -- The 'Cane defenders who had Chris Rix's number over the last three seasons are in the NFL now.
10. Utah -- Missouri's Brad may not be the best quarterbacking Smith. The Utes' Alex threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns and ran for two more scores in the 41-21 rout of Texas A&M.
1. Oklahoma -- Gee, do you think OU coaches noticed that Rice ran 55 times for 158 yards in its 10-7 win against upcoming Sooners opponent Houston? Expect Kejuan Jones and Adrian Peterson to get lots of carries as OU continues to establish its rushing attack (52 carries, 258 yards vs. Bowling Green last week).
2. USC -- After a week off, the Trojans play Colorado State at the Coliseum. This is some stretch for the Rams: at Colorado last week (a loss), at USC this week (a loss), at Minnesota next week (a loss).
3. FSU -- How much has Hurricane Frances affected FSU's preparation for the Miami?
4. LSU -- Arkansas State provides a welcome breather before the beefy part of LSU's schedule kicks in. And for what it's worth, Arkansas State's defensive coaches expect to see more of JaMarcus Russell than Marcus Randall.
5. Georgia -- Told you the Bulldogs felt good about freshman RB Danny Ware. A trip to South Carolina will provide a nice challenge.
6. Miami -- How much has Hurricane Frances affected UM's preparation for the Seminoles?
7. Texas -- The Longhorns flicked away North Texas. Now it's payback time at Arkansas, which beat UT in Austin last season.
8. Michigan -- Lloyd Carr would have made a great CIA agent. He'll announce a starting quarterback at the last possible moment.
9. Ohio State -- For what it's worth, Maurice Clarett always said Troy Smith was the next Michael Vick. Smith relieved starter Justin Zwick against Cincinnati. What happens this week against Marshall?
10. Florida -- The Gators begin their season a week late because of Hurricane Frances. They'll open their reconfigured schedule with Eastern Michigan, and now play 11 consecutive weeks.
Type in "revenge" on your TiVo keyboard and you may get served up these three games. Florida State at Miami The Seminoles got an unexpected boost in their attempt to break their five-game losing streak to the Hurricanes when the Atlantic Coast Conference moved the game to the first week of the season. The Hurricanes, as is their norm, have talent that most coaches only dream of recruiting. But you can't tell me that they can pick up where they left off last season when six of last year's players were picked in the first round of the NFL Draft. That defies belief, in the same way that Florida State creates new scenarios by which to lose by missing a late-game field goal.
Besides, exactly where did the Hurricanes leave off last season? This was a team with an NFL-worthy defense and an offense that was barely Big-East-worthy. Yes, Miami was two points better than Florida State in the Orange Bowl, but that was a 16-14 game, and most of the defense that limited Rix is gone.
So history be damned, I'm in with the Seminoles. Give me a supposedly more mature Rix over Brock Berlin, a fellow fifth-year senior who has yet to rise above being adequate.
Give me the Seminoles' three new starting linebackers, including sophomore Ernie Sims, over the 'Canes three new linebackers, none of whom is the injured freshman Willie Williams.
Give me a Miami team that will have no room left to maneuver if it has one loss in the Atlantic Coast Conference race.
Give me the day when it will no longer be strange to discuss Miami in the ACC.
The Pick: FSU.
Georgia at South Carolina
With a 31-6 victory at Vandy last week, the Gamecocks played as if they wanted everyone to understand that the sub-.500 play of the last two years has ended. Quarterback Dondrial Pinkins threw 18 passes and ran 17 times, and if those statistics aren't right of the Lou Holtz Quarterback playbook, then Tony Rice is longer a Notre Dame hero.
More important, perhaps is that Pinkins completed 11 of those passes, and finished 245 yards of total offense. He ran for a touchdown. Georgia looked vulnerable to the offenses with rushing quarterbacks last week, when I-AA Georgia Southern kept the ball for 38 minutes. Bulldogs' defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder surely tossed a dash of vanilla into that defensive recipe with the Gamecocks in mind.
The Georgia offense looked more like the SEC champions of 2002 last Saturday than at any point last season. Freshman Danny Ware rushed for 135 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, it was against a I-AA team, but Georgia didn't have a single game last season in which anyone rushed for more than 100 yards.
Don't forget, also, that Georgia is 12-1 in away stadiums under Mark Richt, and David Greene has been the quarterback in every one of those games. The Dawgs are mentally tough, and will be tough enough to win Saturday night. But the Gamecocks will surely make them work for this one.
The pick: Georgia.
Texas at Arkansas
The Razorbacks' 38-28 victory in Austin last season serves as testimony that Arkansas remembered the bitterness of the one-time rivalry between these schools much more clearly than Texas did. A year later, it's the Longhorns' turn to harbor bitter memories, because Arkansas' victory last season was the first public indication that Texas wasn't strong enough to be a national power.
It's a new season, and Texas has a new attitude. The Longhorns couldn't have been more impressive in any and every phase of their 65-0 victory over North Texas. Arkansas, meanwhile, comes back minus 27 seniors from its 2003 team. While the Razorbacks' 52-20 opening victory over New Mexico State is an indication that a few staples are left in the cupboard, this is not the same ol' big-hat, no-cattle Texas. Cedric Benson rushed for 181 yards against North Texas, a performance in stark contrast to his early efforts in the first three years of his career. As a freshman, he needed four games to surpass 181 yards; as a sophomore, two; and as a junior, three.
Benson didn't play minor-league baseball this summer, and his dedication to football showed last Saturday. The defense is new, quarterback Vince Young is a year smarter, and Benson is at full speed. This year should be different for the Longhorns.
The pick: Texas.
(Last week: 2-1. Season: 2-1)
Florida State at Miami
Spend some quality TV time watching Florida State's offensive line vs. Miami's defensive line. The extra week might mean the return of FSU center David Castillo and/or guard Bobby Meeks. Both teams' practice schedules have been affected by Hurricane Frances.
The pick: FSU.
Michigan at Notre Dame
I know it's only the third week of the season, but this is a desperation game for Notre Dame. The Irish simply can't afford to drop to 0-2. Ryan Grant's return at tailback should make a significant difference (with no running threat to worry about, BYU blitzed the Irish about 11,000 times) and I think Notre Dame's defense is good enough to keep things close. I'm drinking the Irish Kool-Aid.
The pick: Notre Dame.
Kansas State vs. Fresno State
Washington can tell K-State all about the Bulldogs. Fresno is for real, though the Bulldogs are traveling two time zones and doing so on short week. K-State's offensive line has some issues, which means things could be a little tougher for star running back Darren Sproles.
The pick: Kansas State.
(Last week: 3-0. Season: 3-0)