Friday, September 29, 2006

Dear ESPN...

Back in the Golden Days of my youth ESPN's SportsCenter was an oasis in the dessert of basic cable monotony. I would watch the Dan Patrick/Keith Olbermann show at 11pm, then happily sit through the Brett Haber/Craig Kilborn recap at 2am. The personalities, catch-phrases, and plethora of highlights were ambrosia to my insatiable hunger for sports.

But the show became TOO popular - eventually corporate America realized there was a market opportunity and swooped in. In the ten years since that time the "Worldwide Leader", and the Disney corporate behemoth that calls the shots, has tightened its iron grip on sports news and as a result the quality of the on-screen product has steadily deteriorated right before our eyes. It got so bad that I stopped watching SportsCenter completely, except for those five glorious months known as Football Season. After a long lay-off it's been a bit jarring seeing how far ESPN has fallen. And sure, maybe those halcyon days of yore can never be recaptured, but here are some suggestions that would help ESPN become fun to watch again, or at least would make me less likely to hurl my remote at John Buccigross...

- Improve the talent level. I realize this seems pretty obvious, but when Mark May and Lou Holtz are your main studio analysts for college football there's a problem. Back in the day there were personalities at ESPN that were almost as big a draw as the highlights themselves - Olbermann, Mayne, Kilborn, and Patrick just to name a few. Now there seems to be an assembly line spitting out bland, interchangable hosts on SportsCenter. The attempts at improving diversity have resulted in the unwatchable Rachel Nicholls and the unlistenable Stephen A. Smith. There are still some great talents at ESPN - Dan Patrick appears to be a lifer, the underrated Brian Kenny excels wherever they send him, and the GameDay guys are the best. But much like Florida State, the Worldwide Leader doesn't have the depth it once did.

- SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT TERRELL OWENS!!! Seriously, enough is enough. For a three-hour span every Sunday I care about Terrell Owens. Other than that I don't give a rat's ass about the man. I don't care what he said about his QB, I don't care what he ate for breakfast, I don't care, period. There are plenty of talented, decent people in sports who deserve more coverage than that pill-popping ass-monkey.

- Don't go the MTV route. The so-called "Music Television" station hasn't shown a music video since 1998. Now they're focused on cheesy high-school dramas and "Pimp my Ride" marathons. Similarly, ESPN has lost it's focus with original programming like the short-lived "Playmakers" and the atrocious "Tilt". What happened to the World's Strongest Man competition or any of the other off-the-wall sports ESPN used to feature? This attempt at original programming reeks of Disney interference, and it takes the focus off of actual sports coverage, which is the heart and soul of the network. Dance with what brung ya', guys.

- Please for the love of god tone down the "personal interest" stories! I'm a morning SportsCenter guy now so I have a 30 minute window to get my sports fix in the a.m., and there's nothing worse than turning on the TV expecting highlights and instead getting the sad piano music from "Full House" and a 10 minutes piece about a one-armed high school football player in Tennessee. And yes, I realize I'm going to hell now and I'm okay with it.

- Could we maybe hype up the Mannings a little less until one of them actually wins something? I mean, Peyton never won his division in the SEC, and he has yet to make a Super Bowl appearance, yet he gets 10 times the coverage Brady does (though watching him try to look tough in that GatorAde Rain commercial may be the only thing funnier than Monty Python's "Holy Grail").

- Is SportsCenter a TV show or a carnival ride? I feel like I'm about to have a seizure half the time I'm watching the show with all the crazy, flashing graphics flying around the screen. It's the same problem I have with Fox Sports and the visual hyperbole they like to throw around their football coverage. I'm already watching the station, all I want is some highlights and some witty analysis, so what exactly is the purpose of the hyper-drive light effects or the dancing robots? Enough already.

- Woody Paige and Skip Bayless should fight to the death, with the winner getting a bullet to the back of the head. Under no circumstances should either of these men be on television for any reason. Watching the ancient Paige try to make a coherent point with his hair all gelled up like a California beach boy is one off the most painful things I've ever witnessed, and I've been watching a Jeff Bowden offense for six years now. Besides, what exactly is entertaining about a bunch of sportswriters screaming at each other? I have yet to figure that out...

- Steer clear of the high school sports. Maybe we should blame LeBron for the phenomenon, but the increasing coverage of high school sports and shows like MTV's "Two-a-Days" reeks of exploitation. These 15- and 16-year olds kids should be allowed to grow up, to learn, to succeed, and to fail without the pressure of a national audience.

That's all I've got. Overall I'm happy ESPN exists and for the most part they do a great job, but I also know it could be a whole lot better. If ESPN would get back to focusing on what made them great in the first place - first rate coverage of the sports world at large - then maybe I'd find myself once again anticipating that famous theme song every night at 11pm. Da-du-da! Da-du-da!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Top 24 - Week 4

Hard to believe we're already through the first trimester of the season, but man what a ride it's been already. Almost every team has played a big game at this point, and here's what I've learned:

- There is no dominant team this year. Last season was magnificent from the opening kick-off to the final gun of the Rose Bowl. Everyone sensed that something special was happening, and everyone was right. There will be no Clash of the Titans in Glendale on January 8, but what we have in its place is a wide-open race to the BCS that's sure to end in controversy and bitterness. Good times!

- The SEC is the only conference that hasn't been completely embarrassed yet, though Georgia's near-loss to Colorado was an awfully close call. Perhaps the comference will get thier come-uppance in November when all the ACC/SEC clashes go down (yes you read that right).

- Many pundits seemed to think that Brady Quinn had the Heisman Trophy and the #1 spot in the NFL Draft locked up before the season even started. Many pundits are idiots.

- The national championship race has been whittled down to less than a dozen teams and will be decided by conference schedules. Conference Championship games could also play a big role (Damn you Pac-10! Damn you Big 10(11)! Damn you Big East!). At this point we think there are ten teams that still have a legitimate shot at the crystal football, so this week we'll look at why each team might win it all, and why they may fail miserably.

On to the Top 24...

1. Michigan (W vs. Wisconsin 27-13)
Last week: 4

Why they can win the title: Right now they simply have the best resume of any team. Their KO of the Fighting Irish was the most impressive win of the season so far and the Wolverines are the only team with no glaring weakness. The defense has been rock-solid behind Lamarr Woodley and Prescott Burgess, while a healthy Michael Hart has brought balance and harmony to the offense. When compared objectively to the other top teams they are the most deserving of the #1 spot at this point.
Why they won’t win the title: Lloyd Carr is still the coach right? There was something unsettling in his reaction to the Notre Dame win…you could see the disbelief in his eyes. It was as if he was happy to have won, but had no idea how it happened. I’m still not convinced he’s a big-game coach, and that little tussle with Ohio State at season’s end is going to be as big as they get.

2. Southern Cal (W vs. Arizona 20-3)
Last week: 2

Why they can win the title: Sure the Trojans lost a lot of talent in the off-season, but Pete Carroll has blue-chippers backing up his blue-chippers. Dwayne Jarrett is the best WR in the country and the young RBs have undeniable talent. While the offense is rounding into form the defense has emerged as a fearsome shut-down unit with perhaps the best LB corps in the nation.
Why they won’t win the title: The Trojans haven’t really been tested yet so there’s no way to know how they’ll react when the game is on the line. Matt Leinart’s legend was born on the road at Auburn and was cemented when he hit Jarrett on 4th-down at Notre Dame. Will John David Booty be able to come up with such clutch plays when the Trojans’ backs are against the wall?

3. Ohio State (W vs. Penn State 28-6)
Last week: 1

Why they can win the title: Troy Smith may be the best senior QB in the nation and their arsenal of offensive weaponry is unmatched. Jeremy Gonzalez has had a break-out season opposite Ted Ginn while the underrated backfield has turned in a number of big plays. There is still plenty of speed and skill on the other side of the ball as well.
Why they won’t win the title: For the second straight year Smith was handled by Penn State, what will happen against Michigan's superior D? The Buckeyes are loaded on offense, but their conservative play-calling tends to keep even their inferior opponents in the game. The defense has given up chunks of yardage on the ground and they haven’t been tested by a good QB yet.

4. Auburn (W vs. Buffalo 38-7)
Last week: 3

Why they can win the title: Defense, defense, defense. I was concerned about the Tigers’ undersized front seven coming into the season but they were magnificent against LSU. The Auburn D flies around the field creating havoc and shutting down the run while David Irons and the secondary make life miserable for opposing WRs. David’s brother Kenny is pretty good too, in case you haven’t heard.
Why they won’t win the title: Brandon Cox seems like a “caretaker” QB to me, ala Craig Krenzel, as opposed to a playmaker like Troy Smith. True, you can win titles with a caretaker QB but everything has to fall into place on defense and special teams. Plus, Krenzel had Michael Jenkins and Chris Gamble to throw to. Who does Cox have? Other than Kenny Irons the Tigers lack playmakers and if they find themselves behind in a big game they’ll be hard-pressed to come back.

5. Louisville (W vs. Kansas State 24-6)
Last week: 5

Why they can win the title: Offense, offense, offense. Bobby Petrino had already established himself as one of the preeminent offensive minds in the country before the Cardinals dropped 60 on their first two opponents, and then lit up a great Miami defense. And the ‘Ville can hurt you on the other side of the ball as well. The defense forced a big turnover early against Miami and the ‘Canes were never able to regain the momentum. Louisville’s back seven may be the best in the Big East, which is saying more than you think, and I'd give them the edge over West Virginia defensively.
Why they won’t win the title: Hard to overcome the loss of two Heisman candidates and still compete at the highest level. If either Michael Bush or Brian Brohm were healthy I’d give Louisville a big edge in their showdown against West Virginia. With both guys hurt you’ve got to figure the offense will regress, as it appeared to do against Kansas State. We’ll see if Brohm is the same guy when he returns from his thumb injury…

6. West Virginia (W vs. East Carolina 27-10)
Last week: 7

Why they can win the title: Dan Mozes and the West Virginia offensive line have done an unbelievable job opening up holes – actually, they’re more like gaping chasms – for Steve Slaton and Pat White to rocket through on their way to the endzone. Everyone knows what’s coming against West Virginia this year, but no one’s been able to stop it. And as the Mountaineers proved in the Sugar Bowl last year, this is no gimmick offense – it works against fast SEC defenses, too.
Why they won’t win the title: I’ve got to figure that at some point West Virginia is going to run into a defensive coordinator with the smarts and talent at his disposal to make Pat White throw the ball, and then the Mountaineers could be in trouble. Do they even have wide receivers? The defense is still a question as well. When you don’t have a single sack in four games something is wrong up front. If Brohm comes back healthy and has all day to throw West Virginia is going to have a hard time with the Cardinals. Further hurting their chances is one of the weakest schedules in the country. Teams that take the easy route never win the big one.

7. LSU (W vs. Tulane 49-7)
Last week: 8

Why they can win the title: A talented roster, a tough remaining schedule, and loss very early in the season will keep the Tigers in the race. Games against Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida give LSU plenty of chances to reassert themselves in the SEC, and with their great WR corps and tough defense LSU has a chance to win out. Should Auburn falter they would assume the mantle of SEC favorite. With the strength of the conference and parity throughout the country a one-loss SEC team could still find its way to the BCS Championship game.
Why they won’t win the title: The offensive inconsistency LSU displayed against Auburn could cost them dearly down the road. JaMarcus Russell and Co. moved the ball well in Jordan-Hare Stadium but struggled to put points on the board, and with all the stingy defenses remaining on the schedule points will be at a premium. The emergence of a running game would help tremendously.

8. Texas (W vs. Iowa State 37-14)
Last week: 9

Why they can win the title: A plethora of great running backs and a stingy defense usually means a winning football team and Texas has both. They also get to play in a weak conference that doesn’t figure to offer much resistance to the Longhorns, even with a freshman QB. As the defending national champ Texas will get the benefit of the doubt in voters’ minds and they have the benefit of a Conference Championship game to further build their resume after an early loss that shouldn’t hurt too bad in the long run.
Why they won’t win the title: Name me a national champion from the last 20 years that had a shaky QB? If you’re struggling to come up with one it’s because it hasn’t happened, and it’s won’t this year. Colt McCoy has shown a lot of promise but he’s still a freshman. As Ohio State showed, any team that can put the game on McCoy’s young shoulders has a chance to shut down the Longhorn’s offense.

9. Florida (W vs. Kentucky 26-7)
Last week: 6

Why they can win the title: A veteran QB and a strong defensive front seven have given the Gator’s opponents fits so far. Chris Leak has had one of the hottest starts in the country throwing for ten TDs already to lead Urban Meyer’s revamped offense. The run defense has been outstanding and the secondary, led by Reggie Nelson, came up big in UF’s comeback win against Tennessee. Actually the Gator team as a whole showed poise and determination in pulling out a one-point victory in front of 100,000 orange-clad Vols fans.
Why they won’t win the title: Last year’s epic championship game didn’t just feature two of the country’s best collections of skill position players – it featured arguably the nation’s two best offensive lines. In general, teams with good offensive lines win big games and teams with bad offensive lines don’t. Florida’s offensive line falls into the latter category right now, and will cost them against the death squad defenses of LSU, Auburn, and Georgia. Plus, the Gator “faithful” are risking the vengeance of the Football Gods by booing four-year starter Leak in favor of unproven rookie QB Tim Tebow.

10. Virginia Tech (W vs. Cincinnati 29-13)
Last week: 11

Why they can win the title: The Hokies are good this year for the same reasons the Hokies are good ever year: special teams and defense. With Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall VT boasts one of the best LB duos in the nation, while their punt- and kick-block units continue to score points. And it’s not like the Hokies can’t score on offense. With Brandon Ore they have a strong running game to complement their array of dangerous WRs.
Why they won’t win the title: Sean Glennon feels like a pretty big step back at QB, and not just because he name’s not Vick. The offense has looked good at times but has been inconsistent overall. How will they fare against the tough ACC defenses the Hokies will see down the road? To be honest, I can’t answer that question because VT has played nobody this year. As bad as West Virginia’s schedule has been, Virginia Tech’s has been worse. Like I said, teams that take the easy route don’t finish on top. Teams that can’t win in November don’t finish on top either, and the Hokies have had a problem finishing the season strong for years now.

11. Oregon (bye)
Last week: 14

Not much to say after a bye week, other than Jonathan Stewart is a big fat badass. Is anyone else hoping against hope for an Oregon/Oklahoma rematch in the Holiday Bowl?

12. Clemson (W vs. North Carolina 52-7)
Last week: 15

No one believed me when I said Clemson was for real this year. Heck, even I started to waver after the Boston College game, but I think pulling out the game in Tallahassee last weekend gave this team a huge infusion of confidence. I’m not saying they won’t pull a Clemson and lose to Wake Forest, but for the first time in years I would be surprised if it happened. Right now they’re the runaway favorite to represent the Atlantic Division in the ACCCG.

13. Notre Dame (W vs. Michigan State 40-37)
Last week: 10

I would just like to thank Drew Stanton and John L. Smith in advance for the avalanche of hyperbole and breathless Notre Dame hype all of us are going to have to endure for the next six weeks while the Irish steamroll through the soft portion of their schedule. Notre Dame was done. D-O-N-E. Toast. And then suddenly Stanton forgot which team he was playing for and starting throwing the ball to Irish defenders like he was Drew Bledsoe or something. At this point does anyone else suspect that Charlie Weis is, in fact, a Jedi? Do they allow morbidly obese Jedi? It’s the only explanation for the inexplicable ability of his teams to suddenly start picking off the Peyton Mannings and Drew Stantons of the world just when things look their worst. And it’s starting to seriously piss me off.

14. Georgia Tech (W vs. Virginia 24-7)
Last week: 13

Yellow Jacket fans are happy that Tech finally cracked the AP poll at #24. I’m ticked off about it. What the hell took so long? You’re telling me that Tech’s stout defense, shaky QB, and All-World WR that played Notre Dame down to the wire were somehow worse than Penn State’s stout defense, shaky QB, and non-existent WRs that got blown out by Notre Dame? Georgia Tech is a solid team this year, I’m just waiting to move them up until they prove it by knocking off Virginia Tech on Saturday. For some reason I have the overwhelming feeling that the Jackets are going to the ACCCG this year. Book it.

15. Oklahoma (W vs. Middle Tennessee State 59-0)
Last week: 19

I was strongly tempted to drop Oklahoma, just to see what the university President’s reaction would be. I’ve seen teams get screwed over by worse calls than what Oklahoma dealt with, but I’ve never seen a group of allegedly sane, rational men fly off the handle the way the Sooners’ coaches and administrators have in the wake of the Oregon game. They may want to pay more attention to the shaky run defense or the anemic passing game, or all the refs in the world won’t be able to help them against Texas.

16. Georgia (W vs. Colorado 14-13)
Last week: 12

Should probably be lower based on the miracle it took for them to beat Colorado at home. I was already working on the banner I was going to hang up at work for all the UGA fans when Joe Cox threw his second TD pass and ruined the party, but the Dawgs were exposed against the Buffs as a one-dimensional offense with serious QB issues. The defense is still tremendous, but if the running game can get shut down by the likes of Colorado what’s going to happen against Auburn?

17. Tennessee (W vs. Marshall 33-7)
Last week: 16

Usually this deep into the season I think I have a pretty good feel for the strengths and weaknesses of the major teams, but one question still haunts me: how good is Tennessee? Are they as good as they looked against Cal, because in that case Florida is really tough and the Pac-10 might not be that bad. Or are they as bad as they looked against Air Force, in which case Florida still has a lot to prove and the Pac-10 is still a two-team race. It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma, covered in riddle sauce. Unfortunately we might not learn the truth Tennessee travels to LSU on November 4th. Or maybe we'll find out this week - the past two weeks the Chop Shop's #17 team has gone down in flames. If Tennessee loses this will officially become the Dead Zone of the Top 24.

18. California (W vs. Arizona State 49-21)
Last week: 21

One of the things that makes college football so great – and college football polls so quixotic – is that football teams are dynamic, living organisms that grow and change throughout the season. It’s entirely possible that the Cal team that just demolished Arizona State is a completely different unit from the timid squad that got worked over in Neyland Stadium to start the year. We’ll keep them behind the Vols for now, but one more performance like they put on this past Saturday and the Bears will be Golden once more.

19. Nebraska (W vs. Troy 56-0)
Last week: 22

I know college football scores do not fit into a linear equation. If Team A beats Team B by X points, and Team B beats Team C by Y points, it does NOT follow that Team A is (X + Y) points better than Team C. Still, for Nebraska to pound a Troy team that had given FSU and Georgia Tech a lot of trouble is impressive. They’d probably be higher if they’d shown anything against USC, and if I didn’t think Troy was wiped out by their third straight road game against a BCS opponent. Still, I’m keeping an eye on the intriguing Cornhuskers.

20. TCU (bye)
Last week: 18

I don’t know crap about TCU, so I won’t pretend to. Good defense, they play hard, blah blah blah. Their ranking is based on the belief that Texas Tech was good, which I have my doubts about. But, considering the issues I have with the rest of the teams in the poll I’ll leave the Horned Frogs here for now, if only because I like discussing “The Horned Frogs”. Hee hee.

21. Iowa (W vs. Illinois 24-7)
Last week: 20

I can not state this strongly enough: Iowa sucks, and anyone who has them in their top 10 isn’t using sound logic. I know Kirk Ferentz is a good coach, I know Iowa is generally solid, but they haven’t been impressive in a game yet this year and they’re about to get their asses handed to them by Ohio State. The thing that irks me is that many observers will use a blowout of Iowa as further proof of Ohio State’s omnipotence, when in fact they’ll just be topping a middling Hawkeye squad that was fortunate to beat Iowa State. Thanks for all the corn and everything but Iowa, you’re starting to get on my damn nerves.

22. Florida State (W vs. Rice 55-7)
Last week: 23

As detailed in an earlier post, the Florida State offense that dominated Rice looked nothing like the flat, ridiculously conservative unit that got dominated throughout the first three weeks of the season. Everything was better, from the blocking to the ball security to the execution. Most importantly, the play-calling was far and away the most creative and varied we've seen this year. Unfortunately the stirring performance came against a team named after a starchy side dish, as opposed to a Southern state. Do it against a real opponent (NC State will have to do, I suppose) and the ‘Noles will be back in the top 20 where they belong. More Xavier Lee might help the cause. As a side note, get well soon Marcus Ball! You will be sorely missed.

Is this the man that will turn around the 'Noles season?

23. Boise State (W vs. Hawaii 31-24)
Last week: NR

I haven’t seen a single minute of a Boise State game this year. I know they’ve looked good, and their QB’s name is Jared so that’s cool, but I can’t put a team that only beat a June Jones-coached team by one score any higher than this.

24. Michigan State (L vs. #10 Notre Dame 37-40)
Last week: NR

Yeah, yeah, they lost…in horrible, could-only-happen-to-Michigan-State fashion. They also dominated a solid Notre Dame team for three-plus quarters and were mere minutes from starting the season an impressive 4-0. Despite the melt-down Drew Stanton-to-Matt Trannon is a dangerous combination that not many teams can match. Maybe I’m swayed because I only saw the good side of Michigan State on Saturday, but I was impressed. If games were only three quarters long maybe they’d be in the top 10, but with all the parity in college football this year you can’t tell me there’s 24 teams better than the Spartans right now.

What Did I Ever See In You??? … Boston College (#17), UCLA (#24)

Monday, September 25, 2006

What the Hell Was That?

On Saturday afternoon Rice and some team wearing Florida State jerseys played a ballgame in Doak Campbell stadium. I’m not sure who the team in Garnet & Gold was, but they looked pretty darn good! The blocking was strong, the offense was balanced, and for the most part they played smart, focused football. We should invite those guys back some time, because they were fun to watch. In all seriousness, that game was just what the doctor ordered for FSU and their fans. It had been a while since the team has looked that dominant, and even though the opponent was lowly Rice, the terrific performance by Florida State has fanned the tiny flames of hope that flicker deep inside every true fan. Here’s what I saw on Saturday…

The Good
- The thing that immediately stood out was the emergence of the running game for the first time this season. Both Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith surpassed 100 yards on the ground and of the ‘Noles 500 yards of offense nearly 300 came on the ground. The blocking was excellent and the runners hit the hole with authority. Apparently Jeff is starting to realize that running the football is kind of important…

- Greg Carr is still alive! I thought maybe he’d joined a monastery or had been abducted by Leonard Hamilton, but there was on Saturday afternoon catching everything thrown his way and blocking out the sun with his impressive 6’6” frame. It’s a crime FSU hasn’t gotten him more involved in the offense since he’s obviously more than just a jump-ball receiver. On one play in the first half he showed excellent quickness and agility, catching a ball on an underneath route and proceeding to juke out two smaller defenders on his way to a first down. He’s a weapon that must be used more often down the road.

- Xavier Lee looked good in his first action of the season. He still looks raw for a guy with his talent and three years in the system, but he’s seen precious little game action. Hopefully he’ll see the field more often as the season progresses, because as Georgia showed it’s always nice to have a decent back-up ready just in case. Normally I would be concerned about a QB controversy, but Drew Weatherford’s attitude is good enough – and his play has been shaky enough – that I think X needs to get more reps.

- Youth was served on Saturday, and it’s becoming clear that FSU signed a very special group of youngsters in this last recruiting class. True freshman LB Marcus Ball looked like the most dynamic defender on FSU’s defense until his injury, and Myron Rolle was impressive in his first start. Dekoda Watson made his way into Rice’s backfield repeatedly, and Bud Thacker was spotted playing noseguard in a 3-4 defense late in the game. Plus, Preston Parker and Chop Shop favorite Damon McDaniel both saw action. None of that includes Patrick Robinson’s blocked field goal against Clemson or the impressive contributions of TEs Caz Piurowski and Brandon “Scorin’” Warren. From a sheer talent perspective this is the best class FSU has seen in nearly a decade.

- Jeff Bowden called a great game. The same Jeff Bowden that has been pilloried on this page all week – and deservedly so – earned praise for mixing up the play calls, balancing the offense, and attacking weaknesses on the defense. Sure, it was Rice so there was a target-rich environment, but it was light-years better than what we saw against Troy, or any game from the past year for that matter. One question: whywhyWHY didn’t he figure it out a week ago???

The Bad
- This team has fumbled more in the last three weeks than any FSU team in recent memory. I’d like to attribute the butter-fingers epidemic to youth, but fifth-year senior Chris Davis has been one of the main culprits. You can overcome turnovers against Sun Belt schools, but there are still some big games to be played this year (cough, cough, FLORIDA, cough) and the ‘Noles have to do a better job of protecting the ball if they want to win out.

- FSU’s secondary has been the weak point of the defense all year and that trend continued on Saturday. Despite being the obvious focus of the offense Jarrett Dillard found enough space to catch 7 balls for 113 yards and 1 TD. Roger Williams improved his play, but Dee McClure is going to have to step up as the primary back-up at both safety positions. With Tony Carter’s injury the young corners are going to be pressed into service ahead of schedule. Hopefully the secondary can tighten up ahead of the big games looming at the end of the year.

The Ugly
- Really the only thing to be upset about after the ‘Noles great performance was the injury to Marcus Ball. He had looked fantastic all season, and his interception return in the second quarter was an incredibly instinctive play for such young player. The injury looked bad on TV and we don’t expect to see him until next year. Good luck and Godspeed Marcus…can’t wait to see you next season!

- Since that was the only ugly part of FSU’s game, how about Michigan State and Drew Stanton playing the 4th quarter of their game aginst Notre Dame with both hands around their necks, allowing the Irish to complete a 17-point comeback that saved their season? The baffling part is that all Michigan State had to do was HANG ONTO THE BALL and they would have won the game! Unfortunately, now the rest of us will be subjected to two more months of insufferable Notre Dame hype until their inevitable season-ending demolition at the hands of Southern Cal. Damn you Michigan State, damn you Drew Stanton, and damn you John L. Smith. At some point doesn’t it get old choking away your season every year?

Bring on NC State!

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Top 24 - Week 3

Well, I certainly picked a hell of a time to start an FSU blog... almost 20 years on top of the college football world and I launch The Chop Shop just as the wheels are coming off! Losing at home to an unranked team used to be inconceivable in Tallahassee, like snowstorms or decent sushi. Now there are message board posters asking, in all seriousness, what to do if we lose to RICE!!! Just for the record those people are idiots, but the pervasive pessimism surrounding the program is suffocating the joy out of this young season. Fortunately we here at The Chop Shop are not just FSU fans; we love all things pertaining to college football, including the construction of arbitrary lists ranking teams based on completely subjective conjecture. Oh, and using big words. We LOVE using big words. On to the Top 24!

1. Ohio State (W vs. Cincinnati 37-7)
Last week: 1

I remember exactly where I was in 2002 when Cincinnati led Ohio State deep into the 4th quarter and narrowly missed a game-winning TD in the closing minutes. Those memories were flashing through my mind as the Bearcats once again took a lead on the Buckeyes, but this time Ohio State ended the suspense pretty quickly. While I still feel that the 2006 Ohio State Buckeyes are nowhere near a great team - I would take the 2005 Buckeyes over these guys in a heartbeat - I also recognize that this is a supremely confident Ohio State squad. They calmly regained control of the game behind Troy Smith and Antonio Pittman and cruised to another victory. Given the state of the Big 10 I wish we could fast-forward through the formalities of the Penn State and Iowa beat-downs straight to the OSU-Michigan game that's starting to look like a potential Game of the Year candidate.

2. Southern Cal (W vs. #20 Nebraska 28-10)
Last week: 3

Another ranked opponent, another easy win for the Trojans. Among the most impressive aspects of the USC run has been the ease with which they dispatch their opponents no matter what the name on the front of the jersey says. In the 2004 National Championship game the Trojans steamrolled Oklahoma with the same efficiency that they destroyed Oregon State or Stanford. In this game a talented Nebraska team was handled was dominated like so much WAC fodder. Due to the regional broadcast I didn't get to see much of this game, but the Trojan defense seems to be coming on strong as John David Booty picks up where Matt Leinart left off. If you listen hard enough you can already hear Dan Fouts pimping him for the Heisman after the Trojans destroy Notre Dame in November. Sadly, it looks like a wide-open path to the BCS Title Game for USC, unless Oregon can get the refs from the Oklahoma game reinstated in time for their showdown in November.

3. Auburn (W vs. #3 LSU 7-3)
Last week: 4

Auburn can start making travel arrangements for Atlanta after their big win over LSU ("big" here referring to the magnitude of the victory, not the four-point margin by which said victory was achieved). This was gritty, ugly, old-school SEC football and ultimately the Tigers just seemed to want it more. Despite being held in check by LSU's maniacal defense Kenny Irons ran with a reckless abandon that seemed to inspire his teammates, while the Auburn secondary did a great job against LSU's impressive arsenal of stud WRs. While the game itself may have set back offensive football by 20 years Auburn showed that the timeless qualities of determination and persistence still equate to winning football. The meager offensive output leaves them behind Southern Cal, but if the Auburn wins out I would argue that they're more deserving of a BCSCG berth than any Pac 10 school. Of course, we've heard this argument before...

4. Michigan (W vs. #5 Notre Dame 47-21)
Last week: 7

On a day of huge games around the country it was Michigan's complete and utter destruction of Notre Dame that made the biggest impact. I was wiped out by the end of the game...not from excitement, but from getting up every five minutes to let the guys out on the porch know that Mario Manningham had just abused the Notre Dame secondary for another touchdown. Michigan's coaches did a great job of exposing the Golden Domers flaws, and you can bet that every team the Irish play for the foreseeable future - like, maybe, a certain team from East Lansing - will try to imitate Michigan's game plan

The best part of this game for me (other than watching Brady Quinn struggle to hold back tears) was the post-game press conference when Lloyd Carr just sat there looking like a 5-year-old on Christmas, not quite sure what he did to deserve such a wonderful bounty of goodness and completely overwhelmed at the sheer awesomeness of it all...but also with a little "F%#@ all you sportswriters and bandwagon fans!" twinkle in his eye. Thank you Michigan for giving me a reason to smile last Saturday.

5. Louisville (W vs. #17 Miami 31-7)
Last week: 6

If it weren't for Michigan abusing Notre Dame this would have been the statement game of the weekend. First Miami embarrassed themselves with their logo-stomping antics, then it was the Cardinals turn to embarrass the 'Canes by blowing them off the field with precision execution on offense and hellion abandon on offense. How did a Louisville team with a bunch of Big Three rejects destroy the 'Canes so thoroughly? Confidence and coaching.

I became a huge Bobby Petrino fan on the play after Brian Brohm was knocked out the game (by the way Bobby, real estate is cheap in Tallahassee. I'm just saying...). In came the back-up QB, and out flew a perfectly thrown post-pattern that snuffed out any flicker of hope the 'Canes had left.
If there's one lesson to learn from the past weekend it's that aggression is rewarded in football, and the coaches that knew how to go for the jugular were the guys smiling after the game. On the other hand, it was shocking to see how fragile the psyche of the 'Canes has become. Once Charlie Jones fumbled inside the UM 10-yard-line the Hurricanes seemed resigned to their fate even though they still had the lead. More than any other factor is this lack of confidence that should ensure Larry Coker's departure from Coral Gables.

6. Florida (W vs. #16 Tennessee 21-20)
Last week: 7

As much as I hate to do it, I have to give props to the Gators. They were the only one of the Big Three who didn't blink in the face of adversity. While FSU fell apart at the very end and UM lost it completely, the Crocs showed great composure in putting together a game-winning TD drive after Tennessee had seized momentum with James Wilhoit's 52-yard FG. You can question the INT that was called back on a terrible Roughing the Passer call, you can question the Tennessee D for not crowding the box anytime Tim Tebow entered the game, but you can't question the determination and precision with which Florida executed in the 4th quarter.

7. West Virginia (W vs. Maryland 45-24)
Last week: 9

Everyone expected West Virginia to roll over Maryland, but it was supposed to take longer than 15 minutes! Steve Slaton renewed his BadAss license by romping through the Terps' defense for yet another huge night, while Pat White provided the perfect complement in the speed option. Do they deserve to play for the National Title? Hell no. But give the Mountaineers credit, they've resurrected something special in Morgantown that many thought we'd seen the last of: a dominant running team that can compete at the highest levels. Not since mid-'90s Nebraska has a team so thoroughly dominated on the ground. I'm getting all giddy just thinking about the land-vs.-air battle that will ensue when West Virginia invades Louisville on November 2nd.

8. LSU (L vs. #4 Auburn 3-7)
Last week: 2

The last of my bandwagon teams bites the dust, just as everyone was climbing on board. While the defense was at its hellion death-squad best, the erratic play of the mercurial Jamarcus Russell doomed LSU (and not a missed call, as some LSU fans have claimed). With two star receivers and the experienced Russell calling the shots I expected LSU to show a lot more on offense, but maybe the loss of Joseph Addai and several key offensive linemen was just too much to overcome. Or maybe Jimbo Fisher is going all Jeff Bowden on us. Or maybe both, who knows? All I know is that with this loss LSU will be hard-pressed to return to Atlanta unless Auburn pulls a major choke-job.

9. Texas (W vs. Rice 52-7)
Last week: 8

I love the talent at Texas. The Longhorns probably have the best pair of running backs in the nation, the offensive line is one of the best around, and Limas Sweed is the real deal. On defense they have a bunch of QB-seaking missiles on the defensive line and speed demons at linebacker. The one thing they lack - and that every team above them has - is a veteran leader at QB. I'm convinced that a college football team can overcome anything - bad coaching, bad officials, and bad luck - if they're talented enough. But bad QB play will kill any team at any level, and Texas is no exception. Until their baby signal-callers grow up Texas stays at the back of the pack.

10. Notre Dame (L vs. #10 Michigan 21-47)
Last week: 5

Every flaw in Notre Dame was exploited to perfection by Michigan. Their soft interior defense was exposed by Michael Hart to the tune of 124 yards and a TD. The weak secondary was demolished by Mario Manningham and an OC who actually decided to use his star receiver in the second half (sorry, but I'm still pretty pissed about Patrick Nix's inexplicable Calvin Johnson embargo during the Georgia Tech game). Best of all, the offense that has always been more one-dimensional than most people realized was totally disrupted thanks to the constant pressure applied by the Wolverines. Make no mistake, Notre Dame is still a solid team that is extremely well-coached, but they finally ran into the perfect storm: a more-talented team, combined with a coaching staff that knew how to utilize that talent to hit all the pressure points, much like Ohio State in last year's Fiesta Bowl. Michigan must have watched that tape closely, because they used the same game plan with the same result... a severe beat-down of the Fighting Irish.

11. Virginia Tech (W vs. Duke 36-0)
Last week: 11

It's very difficult to accurately rank the Hokies considering the pathetic schedule they've played so far. Still, lots of teams have feasted on cupcakes and few have been as impressive as Virginia Tech in dismantling the opposition. The defense and running game have been better than expected, and although the QB spot still seems unsettled the talent is there to have a good. I haven't forgotten the Hokies propensity to fall apart in November, but at this point they get bonus points for being one of only two ACC teams that haven't completely embarrassed the league yet. The other one - Georgia Tech - comes calling next Saturday, when we may finally find out what the Hokies are made of.

12. Georgia (W vs. UAB 34-0)
Last week: 12

Well, it may be a little early to start the "Matt Stafford 4 Heisman" campaign, but with a backfield that's deeper than the Nietzsche and a death squad defense who cares? Georgia is the only team in the nation that has yet to give up a single point and that's impressive no matter who you play. Can they run the table with true freshman Stafford under center? Well, they're ranked below Florida so you know what I think. But with that Dawg Pound D anything is possible.

13. Georgia Tech (W vs. Troy 35-20)
Last week: 13

You'd think that all of my friends who gave me so much shit after FSU struggled with Troy would offer their profuse apologies after seeing Tech struggle against the Trojans into the 4th-quarter. Of course, you'd be wrong. Tech did a better job than FSU of executing on offense, which is why they handled Troy by a wider margin, but Reggie Ball still scares the hell out of me. Still, Calvin Johnson and a great defense will take you pretty far in the world of college football. Quick question; is there any way we can trade Troy for NC State?

14. Oregon (W vs. Oklahoma 34-33)
Last week: 17

Yeah, yeah, we’ve all seen the replays and we all know that Oregon was the beneficiary of some horrendous and inexplicable officiating errors against Oklahoma, but the Ducks should get all the credit in the world for taking the breaks they got and turning them into game-winning points. Adrian Peterson is the best player in the country, but Jonathan Stewart isn't far behind, and Dennis Dixon is legit. I don't know if Oregon has a realistic shot at USC, but it should be a whole lot of fun finding out.

15. Clemson (W vs. #15 Florida State 27-20)
Last week: 21

Is it wrong that during the entire game I wanted to hunt down Will Proctor's dad and punch him in the throat? Proctor played well, but I have a hard time seeing all the good things Clemson did for all the bad plays on FSU's side. Still, you've got to give the Tigers' coaches credit. The end-zone throw on third-and-one was a great call, and the hurry-up snap in the fourth-quarter was a thing of beauty. Plus, James Davis is a total stud. The talent gap between the Atlantic Division powers has officially been closed. As much as I can fault Jeff Bowden for the loss, Clemson did a better job on the sidelines and they deserved the win. Now if I could just find the Proctor's home address.

16. Tennessee (L vs. #7 Florida 20-21)
Last week: 16

I actually thought Tennessee became a little over-rated after their big win over Cal. Sometimes in college football certain games spiral out of control... all the breaks go one way, or a team gets the early momentum, and the team on the wrong side of things gets totally derailed. That seemed to be the case on week 1, and I thought the Vols close call against Air Force was a better indication of their ability. So I was pleasantly surprised at the level of poise and control Tennessee showed on offense and the speed and skill of the Tennessee defense. They should have beaten Florida, plain and simple. I wasn't sure they belonged this high before but they played well enough in losing that my impression of them actually improved. Great defense, Phil Fulmer stretching his Dockers to the breaking point, and choking against Florida - the Vols are back!

17. Boston College (W vs. BYU 30-23)
Last week: 10

If there were any Boston College fans that actually read this blog I'm sure they would point out that BC just beat Clemson and surely deserves to be ranked higher than the Tigers. I respectfully disagree. Although the Eagles won the game, Clemson outplayed them and was unfortunate to take the loss. Then Clemson followed up the game by beating FSU on the road while BC was severely tested at home by BYU. Sorry, Eagles, but I still think Clemson is the better team.

18. TCU (W vs. #23 Texas Tech 12-3)
Last week: NR

Three points? THREE POINTS??? Any time you hold Texas Tech to three measly points you're playing some mad defense. On the strength of that D the Horned Frogs finally crack the Chop Shop Top 24. Let the celebrations in Waco commence!

19. Oklahoma (L vs. #14 Oregon 33-34)
Last week: NR

The only possible reason Oklahoma was included in many top 10 lists after Rhett Bomar's dismissal was the defense that, as we were all told, was a cross between the '85 Bears and Sauron's Ringwraiths. Well, fantasy was definitely the right genre to discuss because this Oklahoma D is nowhere near as good as the fearsome units that were featured on Bob Stoops' earlier teams. Stoops and the Oklahoma administration can whine and cry all they want (and they've shown no sign of letting up), but as bad as the refs were it was the defense that ultimately let the Sooners down. However, Adrian Peterson by himself is better than half the I-A teams in the nation. On the strength of his unbelievable skills we welcome Oklahoma back to the Top 24.

20. Iowa (W vs. Iowa State 27-17)
Last week: 19
I realize I've been hard on Iowa, but I finally got a chance on Saturday to realize the error of my ways and watch the Hawkeyes in action. I hoped to get a better feel for Kirk Ferentz's troops and their special brand of whup-ass that MGoBlog can’t get enough of. Finally I saw the Hawkeyes and Drew Tate in action…and I couldn't have been less impressed. Iowa's WRs and secondary are painfully average, and Pam Ward's endless fawning over Drew Tate's competitiveness only underscored the celebrated Iowa QB's phenomenal lack of talent. Ferentz deserves all the credit he's received for turning this into a winning program, because he has nowhere near the level of athleticism you see at any SEC school, let alone the major Big 10 programs. It was a nice comeback win for Iowa, but beating an average Iowa State team that ran out of gas in the second half won't win you many points around these parts. I came away from the game with the impression that any other top 20 team would handle the Hawkeyes with ease.

21. California (W vs. Portland State 42-16)
Last week: 22

You get no credit in this poll for blowing out Portland State. Cal is still in the rankings solely on our belief that Marshawn Lynch is a stone-cold badass and that the Tennessee game was a fluky amalgam of bad luck and home-team mojo run amuck. We'll find out a lot more about the Bears this weekend when they welcome the enigma that is Arizona State to Berkeley.

22. Nebraska (L vs. #2 Southern Cal 10-28)
Last week: 20

While the defense is quite possibly the real deal we still don't believe that Bill Callahan will ever get Nebraska over the hump, and the Cornhuskers uninspired effort in the second half against USC only reinforces that opinion. There has been undeniable improvement but Nebraska is a long way removed from the elite status they so desperately crave.

23. Florida State (L vs. #21 Clemson 20-27)
Last week: 15

I didn't even watch this game. What happened? Who won? Wait, what's that? I did watch it...and I've written two colums bitching about it already??? Hmmmmm, I must be repressing all the rage I have over Jeff Bowden's unbelievably incompetent display of play-calling and the depths to which he's dragged the once-proud Seminoles. In the '90s losing to anyone at home was unacceptable. In year six of the Jeff Bowden Experience it's not even shocking anymore. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go eviscerate myself with a melon-baller.

Bobby explaining that it's not like golf... in football you want a HIGHER score than your opponent. Note how all this new information gives Jeff a splitting headache.

24. UCLA (bye)
Last week: 24

Still clinging to the rankings on the strength of their week one domination of Utah and the fact that they didn't have the chance to embarrass themselves last Saturday. Still, unless they show me something against an improved Washington squad I'm looking hard at moving a Big 10 team (Penn State? Wisconsin?) into this spot. Or maybe an ACC team, if only for comic relief.

What Did I Ever See In You??? … Miami(#17), Texas Tech (#23)

Calvin Johnson is the Man

In the wake of last night's complete and utter annihilation of Viginia, here is a brief mid-season tribute to the force of nature known to mortal men as "Calvin Johnson"

Monday, September 18, 2006

10 Things I Learned on Separation Sunday

10. Adrian Peterson is the Best Player in the Country. At this point the only player I can compare to "All Day" Peterson is Bo Jackson. Not the real Bo, mind you...I'm talking Super Tecmo Bowl Bo that could rocket around the corner and then demolish any defender foolish enough to block his path. Peterson was a one-man wrecking crew against Oregon as he single-handedly put the Sooners in control with 145 yards in the 4th quarter. The only men on the field who could stop AD were the guys in black and white, as two gawd-awful calls robbed Oklahoma of certain victory. The loss doesn't diminish Peterson's performance one iota, though. With Brady Quinn's struggles not only has Peterson grabbed the lead in the Heisman race, but a lot of NFL teams have to be penciling him in as the #1 prospect in the country.

9. When Did Quarterbacks Become Untouchable? I understand that when you've got 300-lb. DEs racing around the edge looking to inflict maximum pain there need to be measures to protect the QB, but it's gotten out of hand this year. In three weeks of football I've seen three ludicrous Roughing the Passer calls that have directly affected the outcome of major games. In each case the team that benefited from the call won the game:
Week 1 - Call against Georgia Tech on a clean third-down hit on Brady Quinn keeps a TD drive alive, allowing the Irish to seize momentum. Tech loses a lead it never regains.
Week 2 - Again against the Irish, Penn State is robbed of their biggest play by a bogus late hit call on Quinn. Sapped of all hope the Nittany Lions are blown out.
Week 3 - An non-descript shot on Chris Leak is called (as a make-up call) negating a pick-six that would have put Tennessee up big. Gators go ahead in the final minutes and hold on.
Look, these QBs are out there with big boys. If they don't want to get hit they should go play soccer or something. Enough already.

8. Ohio State is the New Miami. OSU has become a bottomless well of great defensive players much like the Hurricanes during the Russell Maryland, Warren Sapp, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Jonathan Vilma, Sean Taylor run. UM still has plenty of badasses on D, but the offense has gone off the rails and the team no longer has the old swagger. Apparently it's moved to Colombus, Ohio where the Buckeyes have simply reloaded on D and have a wealth of lightning quick skill players - another Hurricane trademark - to rip the heart of their opposition. Add in an annoying catchphrase and former players receiving jail sentences and the resemblance becomes uncanny.

7. Welcome Back Big East. West Virginia and Louisville each made strong statements over the past week. WVU was expected to beat Maryland, but the ease with which the Mountaineers dismantled the Terps was astonishing. But that was only the appetizer for the Big East. Louisville served up the soup, the entree, and dessert agianst Miami in dismantling 'da U'. The most impressive part for me was the way Louisville didn't let up a bit after Brian Brohm left the game. Even with both of their Heisman candidate on the bench the Cardinals ran the 'Canes defense ragged. Despite Pitt getting put in their place the Big East can now boast two legitimate top 5 teams which no other league can claim, except possibly the SEC. Not bad for a conference that was considered too weak to have an automatic BCS bid.

6. Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder. It cracks me up reading SEC fans talk about how amazing the Auburn/LSU game was two weeks after bashing the FSU/Miami game as a boring, sluggish, ugly game. Both were defensive battles with tons of skill and speed on defense. The only difference is that FSU and Miami both managed to find the end zone. I wan't argue that Auburn and LSU are better than the two Florida schools right now, but only an old-school SEC purist could enjoy Saturday's slug-fest in Auburn.

5. USC is the New Florida State. Once upon a time FSU...yes, that FSU...put up 60+ points as a matter of routine. The Seminoles annually sported a veteran QB throwing to dangerous WRs behind a massive wall of All-American offensive linemen. Sound familiar? USC has simply reloaded their killer offensive attack, and not just on the field but in the coaches' box as well. Where once there were Charlie Ward, Danny Kanell, and Chris Weinke now there's Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and John David Booty. Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett have inherited the mantle from Peter Warrick and Anquan Boldin. Add in a bunch of mean, lightning-fast defenders, a red-and-gold color scheme, and a mascot on a horse and you have the West Coast version of the 90's 'Noles.

4. Parity Rules in 2006. Every week we're receiving these bizarre reports of BCS schools getting beat, often at home, by lower-tier schools and even some I-AA teams. Stanford lost to San Jose State. Northwestern lost to New Hampshire. And Colorado...1990 co-National Champion COLORADO! handled by Montana State. And we haven't even gotten to the ACC yet (more on that in a minute). Scholarship limits and young, inventive coaches have seriously narrowed the gap between the haves and have-nots.

3. The ACC Sucks... Okay, coming into the season I figured that with the lack of big-time QBs and the loss of so much defensive talent to the NFL the ACC was bound to take a step back, but not even in my darkest nightmares could I have envisioned the train-wreck the league has become. In week 1 Duke was shut out at home by Div-1AA Richmond, while Boston College was tested by Central Michigan and Virginia got pounded by Pitt. In week 2 NC State was upset at home by Akron, while Florida State was tested by Troy and Virginia escaped in overtime against Wyoming. In week 3 Miami was blown-out by Louisville, while NC State was waxed by Southern Miss and Virginia dropped one to Western Michigan. Are you seeing a pattern here? The depth that was expected to be a strength of the league has dried up overnight, and suddenly there's not enough hot seats to go around (Fridge takes up two, which doesn't help). Expect massive carnage among ACC coaches in the off-season...if not sooner.

2. ...But Thank God for the Big XII. The conference began to show serious signs of decay last year with the Oklahoma teams scuffling and Texas A&M underperforming. But this past weekend provided a golden opportunity to regain some respect with four games against BCS foes and one against #20 TCU. The result? The Big XII went 0-5 in the five games, including Texas Tech getting demolished by TCU and Nebraska getting dominated at home against USC. Oklahoma can cry about the refs all they want, but if they play better defense or hit the field goal at the end they win anyway. I won't even mention Texas A&M's inexplicable near-loss to ARMY...except I did mention it because it's freakin' hilarious. And all of this followed Texas' near-shut out at the hands of Ohio State's young defense last week. Only surprising Missouri has surpassed expectations this season and they're far from a top team. This league is a mess and I honestly can't figure out why, but they've sunk to the bottom of the BCS packing order that now reads as follows:
1. SEC ... Two great teams and three good ones is more than enough for the top spot
2. Big 10(11) ... Michigan's big win validates the entire conference
3. Pac 10 ... A win is a win for Oregon, while USC is here to stay
4. Big East ... No depth, but the two good teams are REALLY good
5. ACC ... Bad QBs, bad coaches, and bad mojo are killing the league
6. Big XII ... What the hell is going on out there?

1. Jeff Bowden is the Devil. There's no way FSU should suck this bad. With an average offensive coordinator this team should score 30 points a game. Instead they have 0 points in the first half through three games, and have somehow managed to regress on offense to the same predictable, let's-burn-all-our-time-outs-in-the-first-five-minutes eyesore of 2002. The offense's performance so far has been so atrocious I actually yearn for the halcyon days of last season, when the 'Noles finished dead last in rushing in the ACC (which, I remind you, includes Duke) with a 94 yards/game average. I would kill distant relatives for 94 yards/game right now!

The back-to-back-to-back embarrassing outings have finally convinced me that no matter how many talented recruits we bring in, no matter how many teams the coaches visit for ideas, no matter WHAT, barring divine intervention FSU's offense will suffer as long as Jeff Bowden is ostensibly running the show. They look ragged, the execution is terrible, and the play-calling has been abysmal...again. To quote the great Homer Simpson, Jeff Bowden is the suckiest suck who ever sucked, and he's killing the program. And as long as the offense is inept the defense will continue to get hung out to dry, which has happened repeatedly to the warriors on the other side of the ball. The sad fact is that FSU is stuck until Bobby retires - I'm guessing after the 2007 season - because Jeff stays as long as Bobby does. I understand the situation now and I'll deal with it, but I DON'T LIKE IT.

Also, thanks to the inept showing of FSU's offense I got to watch Clemson score a last-second game-winning touchdown in Doak Campbell, only to change the channel in disgust just in time to see Florida score a fourth-quarter game-winning touchdown against Tennessee, which is roughly the football equivalent of getting a prostrate exam and then, right when the doctor's in up to his elbow, he kicks you in the nuts. So that sucked.

All in all a great day of football that went horribly, horribly wrong. On to the conference schedules!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

It's The End of The World As We Know It

In the wake of FSU's demoralizing 20-27 loss to Clemson last night the season, indeed the future of the entire program, seems to be on the edge of the abyss. While there were innumerable struggles over the last five seasons, there was always a reason for hope. But after three consecutive disappointing performances to start the season I feel like that hope has finally been extinguished. I will always love the 'Noles and I think there's a lot to like about this team, but it became clear last night that we are nowhere near the force we once were and are unlikely to regain elite status until the next coaching regime takes over. Here's what I saw last night:

- The one positive development for FSU was the increased commitment to the running game. For the first time this season the Noles cracked 100 yards on the ground and Antone Smith and Joe Surratt punished Clemson with inside runs. We're not exactly '95 Nebraska - no back carried more than 11 times and the team only averaged 2.7 yards/carry - but the fact that JB actually ran the ball after the first quarter was a pleasant surprise.

- Mickey Andrews wass ready for the wide receiver screens. Clemson gashed FSU repeatedly last year with WR screens to Chansi Stuckey, who racked up almost over 150 yards receiving and two TDs in that game. This year FSU's DBs did a much better job of attacking the ball and Stuckey was held to 34 yards (though he did catch a TD pass). In the second half FSU was able to force Clemson to all but abandon the screens.

- The team showed tremendous heart in coming back to tie the score at 20-all. There is no quit in this team and it is this fact alone that let's me believe there may be a brighter future ahead. In the second half the offense finally showed a physical side and the defense continually rose to the occasion until the final drive. Still, you can't keep digging yourself into a hole and expect to climb out every time. With two second-half comebacks already in the books it was simply too much to ask for a three in a row.

- The last two discs of "Lost: Season 1" came in the mail today. So that's pretty cool.

- The offensive line is still below-average. Clemson dropped LBs into coverage on almost every down and never moved their safeties up, yet FSU was unable to break a single long run all night as Clemson quickly closed any holes that opened up. Of even more concern were the four sacks on Drew Weatherford, which was a huge disppointment considering how good the pass protection had been in the first two games. Some of the sacks came from coverage with the Tigers dropping eight men into coverage, but it was embarrassing how much pressure Clemson was able to apply with a three-man rush. Mark McHale is looking like another shaky hire on an offensive staff that's full of them.

- Outside of the improved screen coverage the secondary wasn't good at all. Free safety Roger Williams has been a notable weak link in FSU's defense with several missed tackles and poor coverage. He should have been helping Tony Carter with deep help on Clemson's third-quarter TD, instead he was looking into the backfield as Will Proctor lofted a pass over his head. Williams wasn't the only culprit though. Broken coverages on third-down repeatedlykept Clemson drives alive and drained the defense in the first half.

- Paul Griffin's injury really affected FSU's defensive line. With Griffin, and back-ups Emanual Dunbar and Aaron Jones injured, FSU essentially played without a DT for most of the game. In the 20 years I've been following FSU football I can't recall them ever playing a three-man DL as much as they did last night. At some points Alex Boston was moved inside, but that took away FSU's most consistent pass rusher, and as a result Will Proctor often had all day to throw. He wasn't sacked all night. The three-man line was a bold move by Mickey Andrews and it almost worked, but ultimately the lack of depth took its tolll and the defense was unabe to stop Clemson's final drive.

- FSU's defense made one major mistake in each half and both times it led to a Clemson touchdown. Letroy Guion's late hit negated what would have been 3rd-and-long for Clemson in their own territory. Instead they got a first down and ultimately took the lead on Proctor's 20-yard TD run. At least I can give Guion, who was playing hurt, credit for hustling on the play. FSU's coaches GOT hustled late in the fourth quarter when Clemson's offense lined up, hiked the ball, and rolled off a 54-yard run as the 'Nole defenders were staring at the sideline waiting for a signal. As bad as the 'Nole offense was all night, FSU still could have won the game without those mental errors.

- The wide receivers were terrible. Awful. Cover-your-eyes bad. Richard Goodman, who is apparently a God on the practice field, dropped a sure TD pass. Chris Davis dropped a first-down throw from Weatherford that hit him squarely in the hands. Greg Carr was a non-factor. Coming into the season I felt that FSU had a very underrated group of receivers, but so far they've shown nothing. Only DeCody Fagg has shown up each week, though freshman TE Brandon Warren continues to impress. If only the WR coach could get more out of his group. Speaking of which...

- We are now on year six of the Jeff Bowden Experience and the true magnitude of the damage is plain for all to see. Seriously, it's like he never even looked at the tape of last year's game. Clemson came out in the exact same defense they shut FSU down with last year - don't worry about the run, rush only the four DL, and drop seven into coverage - and yet the Seminole offense seemed totally unprepared for it. The offense was once again shut out in the first half and no adjustments were made until after the half. To me the disparity between Clemson's OC and FSU's OC was made clear by the following contrast: in the third-quarter Clemson faced a key 3rd-and-1 around FSU's 30. Instead of pounding away at FSU's stacked D Proctor executed a perfect play-action pass into the endzone and Clemson took a 20-9 lead. Later in the game FSU faced a huge 3rd-and-1 at their own 40. At this point in the game FSU had tied the score, Clemson's defense was tired, and the crowd was going crazy. I turned to my buddy Hootie and said "FB Dive", which was exactly what JB called. The 'Noles had already run SIX FB Dives in the game and it was painfully obvious to everyone - including, of course, Clemson's entire defense - that it would be run again because JB can't seem to grasp the concept of setting up the defense. Surratt got the ball, all 11 Clemson defenders jumped on top of him, and Clemson was able to regain some much-needed momentum and eventually win the game.

At this point we all know the deal. Jeff Bowden is terrible at his job and he has two guys under him - QB coach Daryl Dickey and OL coach Mark McHale - who apparently do nothing at all. The Seminole offense has steadily deteriorated under their watch, yet they have better job security than a Supreme Court Justice thanks to Bobby Bowden...and there's the rub. I love Bobby and have the utmost appreciation for what he's done at Florda State. The man is a legend and he deserves to go out on his own terms, but now I recognize that those terms include allowing his son to wreck the program he spent half of his life building up. It's a damn shame and will be sad to watch, but there's nothing any of us fans can do about it. In "Fever Pitch" Nick Hornby compared being a fan to being in a bad marriage... sure, there were some good times but now every little thing drives you insane and you feel like screaming until your head explodes. On Saturday night I knew exactly what he meant. The ongoing offensive struggles have drained me of all hope and watching the team drives me mad, but I'm still a 'Nole. 'Til death do us part.

Immediate Reaction to the Game...

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(Okay, that's not even 1 million but I don't want to blow up Blogger's server. I think I made my point)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Lo Siento

To my many, many readers (latest estimate: 4) I apologize for the crappiness of my posts lately, but for some reason I'm expected to accomplish things at work from time to time, which has really taken a bite out of my posting schedule. Now that Comcast has managed to find a man brave enough to drive the entire two miles from their headquarters to my new apartment, and smart enough to flip the switch that grants me access to this internet thingy, expect The Chop Shop to improve in both content and deliverance.

Unless FSU loses tomorrow, and then it will just be a blank screen with the words "Die Jeff Die" repeated 20,000,000 times...

Go Noles!

Bowden Bowl IX - This Time It's Personal

Finally we have reached Football Nirvana - September 16 when seemingly the entire Top 25 will be involved in key showdowns that will determine the course of the National Championshp race for the rest of the year. Over on they are pimping the seven (SEVEN!) games between ranked teams including the two huge SEC games and the Miami/Louisville battle for ACC/Big East supremacy. A week ago it looked like there would be eight great games, but Clemson's one-point OT loss to Boston College knocked them from the rankings. What does that mean for FSU? Jack squat... this is still the key game of the whole year. Win and we're in great shape for the ACCCG, lose and the team's collective psyche is crushed while we're forced to play catch-up to Boston College.

It's not inconceivable that Bowden Bowl IX could chart the course for both programs for the next few years. A loss here and Clemson's hopes for a New Year's Day bowl are all but dashed before October...again. This has been a recurring theme under Tommy Bowden and is surely wearing the patience of the Clemson faithful awfully thin. Another sad offensive showing for the 'Noles on the heels of last week's embarrassment against Troy and the howls of protest from the FSU faithful will reach a fever pitch...again. So who has the edge in this Oedipal conflict?

FSU Offense vs. Clemson Defense - It's hard to say that FSU's offense has an edge against anyone these days, but this is a badly depleted Clemson defense. Star MLB Anthony Waters was lost for the year with a torn ACL, starting CB CJ Gaddis is out, and All-American DE Gaines Adams is banged up. A depleted secondary should have Drew Weatherford licking his chops, but so far FSU's receiving corps has been underwhelming. FSU desperately needs to get the running game going in order to force Clemson's safeties into the box and open up some space for Greg Carr to work one-on-one. Hopefully after the Troy debacle FSU's coaches have been challenging the OL to quit slap-fighting the DL, and for FSU RBs run through the holes instead of taking a Capital Circle-esque route around the line of scrimmage. Taking it right at the young Clemson D should wear them down and lead to favorable match-ups for the FSU WRs. At the beginning of the year this appeared to be a major advantage for Clemson, but with all of the star defenders for Clemson that are out or playing hurt and the added motivation for an FSU offense that has a lot to prove I have to give a slight edge to FSU.
Do the ongoing offensive woes signal
the end of the Bowden era?

Clemson Offense vs. FSU Defense - Clemson isn't the only team dealing with key injuries. Players getting hurt is never good, but losing your starting NG right before you go up against the ACC's best backfield is a disaster. Paul Griffin had looked great in the 'Noles first two games and his absence, on top of all the other injuries to the FSU DL, could have a major impact on the outcome of the game. FSU must find a way to slow down James Davis, Reggie Meriweather, and CJ Spiller or the 'Noles defense will be on the field all day. Even if they can stop the Tigers running game the FSU secondary still has to find a way to contain Clemson's Chansi Stuckey, who lit up FSU last year. Thankfully a dependable second receiver hasn't emerged yet for the Tigers so the 'Noles should be able to focus on Stuckey. I would have given FSU an advantage in this match-up but with Griffin, Emanuel Dunbar, and Aaron Jones all out with injuries ad Letroy Guion hobbled the edge shifts over to Clemson and their strong running game.

Could Bowden have another promising
season derailed in September?

Special Teams - Gary Cismesia missed a FG last week but he hit the one he had to hit a week after going 2-for-2 agsint Miami. The punting game has looked good so far and punt coverage has been outstanding. The one concern for FSU has been kickoff coverage, and Jacoby Ford of Clemson is just the sort of returner that could make the 'Noles pay. On the other side Clemson's special teams were awful last week in the BC loss. In fact it was ultimately a blocked extra point that provided the margin of victory for the Eagles. With all the issues the Tigers have had on special teams I give a slight edge to FSU here.

No surprise here, but I like FSU in this game. The night-time atmosphere at Doak Campbell will be electric and FSU should have extra motivation to prove themselves after last week's debacle. the tough loss to Boston College and the mounting injuries have to have had a detrimental effect on the Tiger's psyche. I think the FSU crowd and the rash of key injuries will be too much for Clemson to overcome as FSU wins a tough, physical contest. Go Noles!

No doubt about it, Bowden needs a big win this weekend

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Top 24 - Sept. 12, 2006

Week two is in the books and there were some major revelations around the country: apparently Vince Young was kind of important for Texas, Notre Dame has a good offense, and Jeff Bowden is really, REALLY bad at his job. Who knew? On to the Top 24...

1. Ohio State (W vs. #2 Texas 24-7)
Last week: 1

Whatever residual doubts there may have been about Ohio State's worthiness as a #1 team were erased by a 24-7 shellacking of Texas in Austin. Troy Smith and Anthony Gonzales were brilliant, and the running backs all looked dangerous. But the Buckeyes were supposed to dominate on offense - the concern was the youth on defense, especially in the back seven. Ironically, the pass defense was superb and it was the run defense that gave up some yards for the second straight week. Rushing defense is the only remaining concern for this team (except maybe placekicking), and in a year with no dominant team that's good enough. This was the biggest win for any team so far and left little doubt as to who should sit atop the polls ath this point.

2. Southern Cal (bye week)
Last week: 3
What can you say after a bye? In a week where so many Top 25 teams suffered through let-downs against lesser opposition maybe the Trojans picked a great time to sit at home and watch. Besides, the Trojans already got their cupcake game out of the way at Arkansas. Now they get to stomp on Nebraska, and based on the and the ass-whupping that's about commence I'm just going to go ahead and move them up to #2 now to save time.

3. LSU (W vs. Arizona 45-3)
Last week: 4
Is it too early to say "I told you so"? The Tigers didn't improve their resume by beating a sorry Arizona team, but thay appear to be gaining momentum ahead of their monumental showdown with Auburn. Since I'm still not sold on Notre Dame and I’ve been riding the Tiger’s bandwagon so far I have to put them here ahead of Auburn. Thankfully all speculation will end on Saturday, when we find out for certain which one of the SEC West powerhouses is the real deal. I know Auburn should have won last year but I think LSU's defense and array of weaponry on offense will wear down the Tigers.

4. Auburn (W vs. Mississippi State 34-0)
Last week: 7
Okay, okay I’m ready to admit that Auburn looks damn good so far. Even though Mississippi State may have the worst offense in the country outside of Tallahassee the Tiger's impressive 38-0 demolition was a nice prelude to the mega-showdown with LSU. However, there has to be some concern about MSU's ability to slow down Kenny Irons. The Bulldogs are a solid defensive team, but if they can affect Auburn's vaunted rushing attack what will LSU's fierce D be able to do?

5. Notre Dame (W vs. #18 Penn State 41-17)
Last week: 9
Other than the Ohio State/Texas game I watched more of ND/Penn State than any other contest. Despite the final score I came away with the same impression of the Irish that I got out of their week one win against Georgia Tech... if not for Charlie Weis this would be a thoroughly ordinary team. Darius Walker is good but isn't anything special on this level. Rhema McKnight is an impressive physical specimen but not a game-breaker. They have exactly two good players on defense in Zbikowski and Abiamiri. Penn State ran all over the Irish but repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with turnovers and penalties. Plus, the Irish got ANOTHER terrible call in their favor when a dubious clipping penalty negated Penn State’s best play of the day. I didn’t think Penn State had a shot at the Domers in the first place but they gave a much better effort than the score indicates. Still, if Notre Dame beats Michigan it would be a nice 3-0 start against tough competition. I'll be happy to give them their due should that happen.

6. Louisville (W vs. Temple 62-0)
Last week: 6
Another game, another 60-point outing for the Cardinals. If only we could clone Bobby Petrino and find him a spot on FSU's staff! It was an impressive effort without Michael Bush, but beating Temple won’t move you up the poll. We’ll find out how legit this offense really is when Miami comes to town this weekend for a huge ACC/Big East showdown. It's a testament to how much respect the Cardinals have earned in the last few years that most expect to see them win this game.

7. Florida (W vs. Central Florida 42-0)
Last week: 8
Two fairly impressive wins have set up UF nicely for the brutal stretch of SEC showdowns that pack their schedule. Chris Leak, Percy Harvin, and the defense have looked great so far but the Gators always look good aginst their traditional two cupcakes games to start the season. Now we find out what they look like agianst a real defense. UF got a pair of big break when Tennessee’s Inky Johnson and Justin Harrell were both injured against Air Force. Harrell is showing tremendous courage by deciding to play against UF. It will be interesting to see what sort of impact he has agsint UF's young OL. I have my doubts about the Gators, but they'll prove whether or not they belong in the Top 10 this Saturday.

8. Texas (L vs. #1 Ohio State 7-24)
Last week: 2
The Mack is back! The weather is getting cooler, gas prices are dropping, and Mack Brown is killing his team in big games…ahhhh, all is right with the world. Despite a thriving running game that was picking up yardage in huge chunks Brown elected to put the game on the inexperienced shoulders of Colt McCoy. Mack also made a ridiculous challenge after the Longhorns' goal-line fumble and watched his defense get burned by man-coverage of Ted Ginn right before the half. The result of Mack's genius? The Longhorns were nearly shut-out by Ohio State’s rebuilding defense and Texas is all but eliminated from the National Championship race. A soft Big XII conference and the return of Tarrell Brown may keep Texas near the top of the polls, but with the old Mack Brown in charge expect Texas to go back to struggling in big games and squandering their abundance of talent.

9. West Virginia (W vs. Eastern Washington 52-3)
Last week: 13
I’m starting to come around on West Virginia as a contender. Not because they slaughtered Eastern Washington, but because everyone else looks mighty shaky. Maybe it's just that most other teams have played a decent opponent so far so their weaknesses have been revealed, but in not embarrassing themselves during the first two weeks of the season West Virginia has elevated themselve above 90% of the teams in the nation. Plus, as an FSU fan I’m in awe of any team that can average more rushing yards per quarter than the ‘Noles are likely to pile up all year. Plus Steve Slaton is a stone-cold badass. Still, if West Virginia plays in the National Championship game I will throw up in my mouth. Their schedule really is that bad.

10. Michigan (W vs. Central Michigan 41-17)
Last week: 14
I can't decide if I've been disappointed in Michigan so for, or if they've been exactly what I expected in two uninspiring wins over marginal competition. For Lloyd Carr’s sake I hope they’ve been sand-bagging so as not to tip their hand ahead of this weekend’s huge game against Notre Dame. Michigan's defense has been great so far and they have the Georgia Tech blueprint for stopping the Irish. If Michael Hart has a big game the Wolverines have a legitimate shot to knock off the Irish in South Bend. In fact, I like most of the match-ups for Michigan except the one on the sidelines. Sadly, I suspect the Wolverines are once again doomed to be victimized by an overly conservative coaching staff that will continue to let them down in big games.

11. Virginia Tech (W vs. North Carolina 35-10)
Last week: 13
North Carolina is not a good team, and Virginia Tech wasn’t especially overwhelming against the Tarheels, no matter what the score says. Unfortunately, this far down in the poll (#11!?!) everyone has some pretty major flaws, and at least the Hokies have yet to embarrass themselves. Sean Glennon couldn’t match his solid first start, but the defense again stepped up and led the Hokies to a victory. Against their Charmin-soft schedule a suffocating D and a competent running game will be more than sufficient on most Saturdays.

12. Georgia (W vs. South Carolina 18-0)
Last week: 16
When is a loss really a win? When your spectacularly untalented senior QB gets injured, paving the way for your uber-freshman QB to assume the reins of the offense AND avoid the nasty QB controversy that would usually accompany such a transition. With JTIII out of the picture the Dawgs offense may run into a few patches of turbulence - as evidenced by Stafford’s three INTs on Saturday - but they’ll be better off in the long run. They still have ridiculous depth in the backfield to help ease Stafford's transition to starting QB, and the defense is sufficiently unholy to help smooth over the rough spots.

13. Georgia Tech (W vs. Samford 38-6)
Last week: 19
As impressive as Tech’s defensive effort against Notre Dame was at the time, it became even more so after the Irish were able to slice-and-dice Penn State. Following their great effort on week one the Jackets controlled Samford in every phase of the game and were able to get everyone on the rosterdowmn to the back-up water-boy some valuable PT in the second half. Are you paying attention FSU? THIS is what you do against a cupcake! Georgia Tech just may be for seems to us that a strong defense, a decent running game, and Calvin Johnson will carry you far this year.

14. Oregon (W vs. Fresno State 31-24)
Last week: 17
Okay, time to move the Ducks up. Oregon followed up a great showing on week one by beating a tough Fresno State team on the road in their final tune-up for Oklahoma. Give Oregon credit for scheduling such a tough non-conference schedule to open the season. Give them even more credit for having an emerginging offense. As shaky as Oklahoma's D has looked so far I think Oregon has a great chance to knock off the Sooners. If the Ducks get to 3-0 they'll have a strong case for Top 10 consideration, and it says here they’ll get the job done.

15. Florida State (W vs. Troy 25-17)
Last week: 10
So does anyone know what Jimmy Heggins is up to? The long-time FSU OL coach “resigned” after his unit strung together a few uninspiring years of churning out a rushing attack that wass merely ranked in the top 30 nationally. Now we're 15 games into the Mark McHale era and I don’t know if the ‘Noles can eke out 30 yards a game! There is absolutely no excuse for the 'Noles weak showing against Troy on Saturday. The players are to blame for putting the ball on the ground seven times, but quotes such as the one uttered by John Frady in which FSU's starting center admitted the team wasn’t prepared or focused on the game puts the onus squarely on the coaches. Jeff Bowden has seemingly used the same game-plan in every game for the last five years, and opposing defensive coordinators figured out how to beat it about four-and-a-half years ago. Without some versatility in the play-calling and consistent execution on offense I fear the ‘Noles might waste their #1-ranked rushing defense and fall into the same 7-5/8-4 rut they’ve occupied for the first five years of the decade.

16. Tennessee (W vs. Air Force 31-30)
Last week: 15
I think I speak for everyone when I say, “What the fuck?” After the Vols dominant performance against Cal they almost coughed one up against Air Force. Blame injuries on defense or the looming game against UF, but this result raises the question of whether Tennessee is really back, or if they just caught Cal on an off-day. They get a chance to prove again that they’re legit this Saturday, but it will be a whole lot tougher to contain the Gators with Justin Harrell and Inky Johnson out for the year.

17. Miami (W vs. Florida A&M 51-10)
Last week: 21
While FSU came out flat aginst Troy it appears the ‘Canes found some motivation in their game-one loss. They dominated FAMU and racked up yardage by air, land, and sea. Miami pounded out their frustration on the Rattlers and instilled some confidence in the offense heading into what should be a tremendous game against Louisville this Saturday. Miami's defense should match up pretty well against Louisville with Michael Bush out. The Canes' back seven is second to none and is physically capable of shutting down Brian Brohm and Co, especially if Louisville's running attack isn't a threat. I just wonder if UM will look more dangerous on offense than they did aginst the Seminoles. No matter how good your D is you've still got to score points, and Brock Berlin isn't around to bale out the Canes anymore should they spot the Cardinals a big lead.

18. Boston College (W vs. #5 Clemson 34-33)
Last week: NR
How bad is Clemson wishing that Syracuse had been the third team poached by the ACC instead of Boston College? In their two years in the league the Eagles have handed Clemson two painful overtime losses, this one coming in the second OT period on a blocked extra point. Despite being out-gained by a wide margin, BC held tough behind the steady leadership of Matt Ryan and got the big plays when they needed them to stay in the game. Jim O’Brien’s team is once-again a scrappy, tough team that always seems to play close games, whether their opponent is Temple or Texas. This win could potentially put the Eagles in the driver’s seat for the Atlantic Division if Clemson can turn around and knock off FSU this weekend.

19. Iowa (W vs. Syracuse 20-13)
Last week: 12
I realize Drew Tate was out for this game, but Syracuse is a terrible (repeat: TERRIBLE) team that had no business hanging with a supposedly Top 10 team. The Hawkeyes do deserve credit for stopping the ‘Cuse seven times inside their own two and pulling out the victory despite tossing four INTs, but I still think this is a mediocre team that doesn’t have the weapons on offense or defense to hang with the big boys. Fans of the Big 10 need to recognize that last year is over and so far in 2006 the league, outside of Ohio State, is looking extremely average. Iowa may not be as good as last year (when they were an average squad) and yet they may be the 2nd-best team in the league, which isn't a good thing.

20. Nebraska (W vs. Nicholls State 56-7)
Last week: 20
QB Zac Taylor’s strong play has given Nebraska fans hope, but it’s the strong running game that gives them balance and truly makes them dangerous. Plus the defense is fast and far more talented than the Arkansas defenders who mere speed bumps for the Trojans. So can the ‘Huskers pull off the big upset? Short answer…no. Long answer…hell no. But the 'Huskers don't really need to win this game. Proving that they belong on the same field as USC is all that's needed to return Nebraska to respectability.

21. Clemson (L vs. Boston College 33-34)
Last week: 5
Two weeks have gone by and two of my bandwagon teams have already bitten the dust. In Clemson’s case a combination of poor special teams, a shaky secondary, and key injuries derailed their promising season against BC. The Tigers aren’t dead yet though. They can get back in the Atlantic race with a win over FSU this weekend, but they’ll have to show a bit more cohesion on offense and get the stops on defense when necessary. That will be difficult with most of their stars on defense hurting. Plus the Noles tough run D should put even more pressure on Will Proctor and the passing game to produce.

22. California (W vs. Minnesota 42-17)
Last week: 24

I suspected that Cal may have had a Murphy’s Law type of game against Tennessee where everything that could go wrong did just that, and their domination of Minnesota backs up that assertion. This was the Cal team everyone expected to see with Marshawn Lynch running for 139 yards and two TDs while DeShawn Jackson caught three of QB Nate Longshore's four TD passes. The Golden Bears appear to be playing with a chip on their shoulder after being written off by everyone after the first week of the season. If Cal can keep playing mad they may work their way back into the Top 10 by the time it’s all said and done.

23. Texas Tech (W vs. Texas El-Paso 38-35)
Last week: 23
My concern with Texas Tech coming into the season was the defense, which had to replace some talented players in the off-season. Those fears were partly confirmed by the Red Raiders’ 38-35 battle against UTEP. Tech deserves credit for the win, however, since Mike Price has built a pretty strong team in El Paso. In a weak conference the Raiders could very well be the second best team behind Texas, and as long as the Texas Tech offense continues to produce behind Graham Harrell they have a chance to make some noise.

24. UCLA (W vs. Rice 26-16)
Last week: 22
The Bruins followed the trend of many other teams with a big win in week 1 followed by a struggle with a lesser opponent in week 2. UCLA dominated a talented Utah team in their opener but struggled with lowly Rice in the follow-up game. Ben Olsen had another strong outing throwing for two scores, but it was the running game that’s trying to replace Maurice Drew that won the game against the Owls. UCLA wasn’t seriously threatened, but struggling with one of the worst BCS teams will cost you a couple spots.

What Did I Ever See In You??? … Penn State (#18)

Sorry the posts have been so erratic but I only have so many chances to procrastinate at work. Not that there’s much to say about FSU’s showing last week, but thankfully my home internet connection is finally being set up tomorrow, so let the bitching begin!