Eight years ago this January in Pasadena, Calif., Texas and USC waged the most memorable national championship game of the BCS era. Back then, it felt as if Pete Carroll's Trojans might well "win forever," but Longhorns' quarterback Vince Young's last-second touchdown scamper on fourth-and-five from the eight-yard line ended USC's dynasty. It felt like Texas, being Texas, would keep reloading and rolling for as long as Mack Brown visited recruits in their living rooms.
This season, the BCS title game will return to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 6. While we're a long way from knowing which teams will play for the crown, we can safely say that the event will include neither the Longhorns nor the Trojans. In the wake of their respective Week 2 implosions, it's now a foregone conclusion that both will either be looking for, or will have recently hired, new coaches by that date. There's no point in sugarcoating the situations any longer, and there are no more excuses capable of explaining away the embarrassment at both schools.
On Saturday night, two of the sport's most storied programs continued their descents into mediocrity by delivering disastrous performances. In Provo, Utah, Brown's offseason full of pledges that Texas had finally turned a corner was buried under the feet of BYU's unmolested ball carriers. In Los Angeles, USC coach Lake Kiffin's puzzling refusal to name a starting quarterback in fall camp suddenly made sense when the Trojans passed for a meager 54 yards against Washington State.
In the closing seconds against the Cougars, the crowd (or what was left of it) at the L.A. Coliseum could be heard chanting "Fire Kiffin," which is not a good sign given that the Trojans still have 11 regular-season games left to play. Meanwhile, Brown was asked in his postgame press conference whether embattled coordinator Manny Diaz would still be coaching the Longhorns' defense next week against Ole Miss. On Sunday, Brown provided an answer, firing the onetime up-and-comer, who was an integral part of the program's massive 2011 makeover. Stepping in for Diaz is Greg Robinson, Brown's coordinator in 2004 before unsuccessful stints as the head coach at Syracuse and the defensive coordinator at Michigan. Brown conveniently re-hired Robinson this summer as a behind-the-scenes "analyst."
Texas is the most experienced team in the country (19 returning starters), and has a roster full of four- and five-star recruits, but BYU -- which lost its opener 19-16 at Virginia and ranked 79th nationally in total offense a year ago -- gained 679 yards in a 40-21 rout. The Cougars gained a staggering 550 yards on the ground. Sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill completed just 9-of-26 passes, but he gashed the Longhorns for 259 rushing yards on 17 carries. For Texas fans, watching defenders continually take bad angles and grasp at air while trying to tackle Hill or running back Jamaal Williams (30 carries, 182 yards) was a sadly familiar sight; 2012's school-worst defense ranked 88th in the country against the run.
"It's not how we want to represent the University of Texas," said linebacker Jordan Hicks, "especially with who we have on defense."
Brown has spent much of the past three seasons putting out fires (like having to explain last week why he didn't recruit freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, an Alabama native who is looking like a superstar at Florida State), and firing Diaz is just his latest attempt to stay one step ahead of the mob. 'Horns fans will turn out to Royal-Memorial Stadium this weekend in hopes that the team will turn things around against Ole Miss and its explosive offense. But Brown seems to be trying to patch a leak on the Titanic. It's mind-boggling, really, how a program that has played in two national title games in the last eight years, and in which 10-win seasons were once seen as a birthright, can surrender 550 rushing yards to a previously middling offense.
Things were actually going better more recently for Kiffin, though USC's 10-2 campaign in 2011 now seems like an eternity ago. The Trojans finished the 2012 season by losing five of their final six games. At the time, things didn't seem like they could get any worse for USC after its 21-7 Sun Bowl loss to 6-7 Georgia Tech. Whoops.
Against a Washington State team that went 3-9 last season -- and lost its opener to Auburn (0-8 in the SEC last fall) -- the Trojans turned in their worst offensive performance in 12 years in a 10-7 loss. Kiffin's lack of confidence in quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek became abundantly clear when USC stopped even attempting to throw past the line of scrimmage in the second half. The pair finished 11-of-21 for 54 yards, with a pair of interceptions, one of which, from Kessler, was returned 70 yards by cornerback Damante Horton for the Cougars' lone touchdown.
"The plan was if we were able to hold up on defense to make sure we didn't screw up on offense," said Kiffin. "As boring as it was, that was the plan.
That was the plan ... against Washington State.
Texas probably has a better chance than USC of salvaging the season. The 'Horns talent and depth are not issues; the problem is quite clearly coaching. And the Big 12 is not exactly brimming with Top 25-caliber opponents this year (though heaven help Texas' defense when it has to face Baylor's offense). If the Longhorns gets to nine or 10 wins -- and especially if they beat Oklahoma -- Brown may get to dictate the terms of his own exit. It's another story entirely if the loss to BYU marks the beginning of an all-out debacle. Either way, he surely knows the end is near.
As for the Trojans, they simply do not have a quarterback, and that doesn't bode well in the offense-heavy Pac-12. USC does seem to have a pretty good defense and perhaps that will carry them through the season. But Kiffin has already lost the fans. It's almost impossible for a coach to overcome that.
The upshot is that two of the most attractive coaching jobs in the country will likely become open at season's end. That will surely lend itself to a long year of speculation about potential replacements.
Miami, ACC continue recent growth
After concluding his press conference following Saturday's rout of South Carolina State, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney made an unsolicited tribute to his conference's latest big win. "How about that ACC?" he said. "Spunky little old league." Then, just before exiting, he flashed the "The U" hand sign in honor of Miami's 21-16 upset of No. 12 Florida.
The ACC has made plenty of impressive moves in basketball and in conference realignment, but rarely has it enjoyed such acclaim for football as it did during an eight-day span to open the 2013 season. On Aug. 31, Clemson topped Georgia in the marquee game of Week 1. Two nights later, Florida State quarterback Jamesis Winston delivered a jaw-dropping debut in prime time against Pittsburgh. And on Saturday, the 'Canes joined the Tigers in topping a vaunted SEC foe, which further boosts national credibility for the league's upper tier.
"I've been saying it since I arrived. We have to do our part for the ACC to take that next jump," Miami coach Al Golden said on Sunday. "Obviously Clemson and Florida State the last two years have made that jump, and now we have to do our part. I think it's great that we have multiple teams ranked."
For Golden, Saturday's win meant far more for his own program, which has endured two arduous rebuilding years while also serving self-imposed bowl bans and awaiting (still) the NCAA's final verdict in the Nevin Shapiro case. Golden called the final jubilant seconds of the win over the Gators "cathartic." The 'Canes had to grind it out; after the first quarter they could barely move the ball against Florida's stout defense, converting just 1-of-11 third downs.
But Miami, a defense that got shredded for much of last season, notched five turnovers and a fourth-down stop in the red zone. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel threw for a career-high 291 yards, but he and the Gators looked just as dysfunctional as they did last season in the red zone. A grown-up 'Canes' defense certainly played a part in that.
"We took steps last year," said Golden. "We went from being blown out versus Kansas State [52-13] and Notre Dame [41-3] to playing a more competitive game against Florida State [33-20], who had 11 guys drafted, and then we were able to grow and compete with Virginia Tech [winning 30-12]. But this was different in that it was a punch-counterpunch kind of game, and our guys enjoyed the battle. There was no complaining, no in-fighting. We're a very mature team."
Michigan's offense shines against Notre Dame
In the clamor this preseason to anoint Ohio State as 2013's most formidable challenger to the SEC's hegemony, one tiny little detail got overlooked: What if the Buckeyes aren't even the best team in their own conference?
Michigan -- or That Team Up North, as it's known in Columbus -- will host Ohio State on Nov. 30 at the Big House, a venue in which third-year Wolverines coach Brady Hoke improved to 16-0 with a 41-30 victory over regional rival Notre Dame on Saturday night. That No. 17 Michigan beat the comparably ranked No. 14 Irish is not especially surprising. That it rolled up 41 points on a very talented Notre Dame defense, however, is eye-opening. In particular, quarterback Devin Gardner put all questions to rest about what Michigan's offense will look like post-Denard Robinson. It looks really darn explosive, primarily because Gardner -- who wore No. 98 this week in honor of 1940 Heisman winner Tom Harmon -- has asserted himself as a laser-armed passer.
The fourth-year junior went 21-of-33 for 294 yards, four touchdowns and one regrettable interception (it came in his own end zone). He formed a particularly productive connection with receiver Jeremy Gallon (eight catches, 184 yards, three touchdowns). Gardner's skills were never more evident than on his last touchdown pass, which came on second-and-goal from the four-yard line with 4:18 remaining. With Notre Dame pass rushers Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo coming at him full bore from opposite sides, Gardner set his feet and threw a perfectly placed dart to receiver Drew Dileo in the end zone.
It wasn't a flawless performance from the Wolverines, and it took two Irish pass interference penalties for Gardner to even be in position to throw that final score. But the offense looked incredibly promising, starting with the fact that All-America tackle Taylor Lewan helped prevent Irish star Tuitt from making a single tackle.
"I feel like if I limit my mistakes we can go as far as we want," said Gardner. "The offensive line is going to block, the runners are going to run, and the receivers are going to catch, and the host of other backs are going to run. If I do my job, we'll be fine."
Current BCS forecast
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's my current edition:
Behold the Baylor Bears. While most of their Big 12 compatriots have struggled thus far on offense (most notably Oklahoma, which scored 17 points and completed less than 50 percent of its passes against West Virginia), Baylor has scored 69 and 70 points, respectively, in its first two games. Against Buffalo on Saturday, it hung 56 points in the first half. Quarterback Bryce Petty averaged 26.0 yards per completion and running back Lache Seastrunk averaged 8.8 yards per carry. Baylor, Big 12 champs? Why not?
Meanwhile, I wouldn't yet rule out Notre Dame as a BCS at-large team, but it has no margin for error between now and its finale against Stanford on Nov. 30. If the Irish beat Oklahoma on Sept. 28 they'll re-enter the lineup. In the meantime, the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC all seem well positioned to earn two berths, unless a non-AQ team like Fresno State finishes high enough to grab a guaranteed bid.
Spreading the field
• In typical fashion, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier did not hesitate to pin Saturday's 41-30 loss to Georgia on his defense, which he barely oversees. "It is a freshman-laden defense out there, and they're going to take their lumps, I guess, but we've got to be creative," he said. "We're going to change our defense a little bit. We're not going to just stand there like we did today. I'll give [defensive coordinator Lorenzo] Ward some suggestions."
Spurrier isn't the only cook in the kitchen. Star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, whose Heisman hopes have already been laid to rest, would also like to see some changes. "I told the coaches you got to put me somewhere else. In the middle if you want to. Somewhere I can make some plays help my team get in position to win. But (Georgia) took me right out of the game." Oh, and some of the defensive coaches got in a tussle on the sideline. "Well, at least they care," said Spurrier.
Here's my full column from the game in Athens.
• Ohio State hardly missed quarterback Braxton Miller after he left Saturday's 42-7 win over San Diego State with a sprained knee. Coach Urban Meyer said of Miller, "I think there's a chance he'll be ready next week [at Cal]." The Buckeyes can likely win that game with experienced backup Kenny Guiton if necessary, seeing as the Bears' defense allowed 553 yards to Portland State in Saturday's 37-30 win. Fair warning, though: Cal true freshman quarterback Jared Goff has passed for 935 yards in his first two starts.
• Stanford finally opened its season on Saturday night against San Jose State, and unlike several other highly ranked teams, the Cardinal were as good as advertised. Their veteran defense held talented Spartans quarterback David Fales to 216 passing yards on 43 attempts. Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney, playing for the first time since 2011, rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Receivers Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste both topped 20 yards per catch.
• New coach, same Oregon, or at least it appeared that way in a 59-10 rout of Virginia on Saturday. The Ducks had seven touchdown drives of two minutes or less, yet they fixated afterward on all the times they stubbed their toes, committing 11 penalties for 119 yards. "If everything starts to click for us ... I think things will get rolling and we'll be pretty good," said quarterback Marcus Mariota, who ran for a 71-yard touchdown. It was also a big DAT day; De'Anthony Thomas carried 11 times for 124 yards and three scores.
• The Ducks' next opponent is Tennessee, which is fresh off an unusual but gratifying 52-20 rout of Bobby Petrino's Western Kentucky team. The Hilltoppers committed five turnovers in a six-play span in the first quarter, including consecutive pick-sixes. Western Kentucky outgained the Vols 393-382 but trailed 31-3 before Tennessee even had the ball for more than five plays on a possession. "I've never ever been associated with anything like that," said Vols coach Butch Jones.
• Northwestern continues to employ an unusually harmonious two-quarterback system. Kain Colter (15-of-19 for 116 yards and a touchdown; 11 carries for 87 yards and a score) and Trevor Siemian (15-of-19 for 259 yards, three touchdowns and no picks) helped the Wildcats rack up 581 yards of total offense in a 48-27 victory over Syracuse. And that was without star running back Venric Mark (lower body injury) even suiting up. "We've got two very dynamic quarterbacks," said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. "I've kind of been pounding the drum for years here talking about 1A and 1B, about two championship-level quarterbacks."
• Illinois first-year offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, formerly Western Michigan's head coach, has revitalized an Illini attack that ranked 119th out of 120 FBS teams in total yards last season. Illinois racked up 522 total yards in a 45-17 upset of Cincinnati. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who threw four touchdowns all of last season, has already tossed six passing scores in his first two games. "Coach Cubit has enough confidence in me to let me make some calls at the line of scrimmage and I don't think he would do that if I was messing them up," said the senior.
• TCU quarterback Casey Pachall's return to the field this season was short-lived. After being pulled from the Horned Frogs' Week 1 loss to LSU, Pachall started against Southeastern Louisiana, but he broke his left arm on a play late in the first half. Pachall had surgery on Saturday and will miss at least eight weeks, according to the Forth Worth Star-Telegram. Sophomore Trevone Boykin, who started most of last season and adds a quarterback-run element to TCU's offense, once again takes over under center.
• The Chuckie Keeton show continues to produce highlights. Utah State's quarterback ranks third nationally in total offense after going 32-of-40 for 360 yards, five touchdowns and one pick and rushing eight times for an additional 77 yards in a 52-20 win over Air Force. It marked the fifth time in seven games the junior has thrown for at least 300 yards. His performance helped the Aggies win their Mountain West debut.
• Michigan State is now into its second year of failing to produce a competent passing game. The Spartans trotted out three quarterbacks against USF: Connor Cook, Andrew Maxwell and freshman Tyler O'Connor. They managed to produce a combined 94 passing yards in a 21-6 win. Through two games the Spartans are averaging 3.4 yards per attempt, dead last nationally. How concerned is coach Mark Dantonio? "On a scale of one to 10 ... I would say it's about eight," he said.
On the bright side, Spartans sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun earned Walter Camp Player of the Week honors after returning both an interception and a fumble recovery for touchdowns.
• Two days after Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo lost his mother, Lamala, the Midshipmen knocked off Indiana 41-35. Navy players wore heart-shaped decals with the initials "LN" on their shoulder pads. "I just tried to stay glued into the game and tried to find a way to win this one for my mom," said Niumatalolo.
• Finally, thoughts and prayers go out to the UCLA football program and the family of Nick Pasquale, a redshirt freshman receiver who was killed early on Sunday morning when a car struck him while he was walking in San Clemente. Pasquale was 20. "This is a tragic loss," said UCLA coach Jim Mora. "Nick was an outstanding young man who had a positive impact on everyone who knew him."
Alabama-Texas A&M rematch is finally here
How much has college football changed in the state of Texas in the span of a year? The Longhorns will play a home game on Saturday night in Austin, where hotel rooms are filling up ... with reporters who couldn't get a room in College Station.
The Game of the Century of The Year has finally arrived. No. 1 Alabama is set to visit No. No. 6 Texas A&M, which means the year-long Johnny Manziel reality show may finally reach its apex. Or he'll throw for 400 yards, beat Nick Saban for a second straight season and ascend to a level of fame not even Tim Tebow can fathom.
In his one full warm-up game against Sam Houston State on Saturday, the reigning Heisman winner showed off the finely tuned passing skills we've heard about all summer. He went 28-of-41 for 403 yards, three touchdowns and one interception while running just seven times for 36 yards and a score. Afterward, Manziel spoke with the media for the first time since SEC Media Days and surely infuriated Paul Finebaum Nation by saying Alabama merely "feels like another game, feels like Week 3 of the season."
This is easily the sport's most anticipated regular-season game since LSU-Alabama Part I in 2011, though not for any of the usual reasons. It's not a traditional rivalry. It's not a No. 1 against No. 2 game. This year's suspension-ravaged Aggies are not universally viewed as a juggernaut, and even the Tide looked mortal in their opener against Virginia Tech. But Sept. 14, 2013, became a red-letter date on Nov. 10, 2012, the day Manziel and the Aggies stormed Tuscaloosa. The date only seemed to loom larger with each Manziel controversy this summer.
This could be his day of reckoning, or it could be the day Manziel's transcendent football abilities finally reclaim the headlines. Either way, it can't get here soon enough.
Eminem: What could go wrong?
On Saturday night, in an awkwardly forced cross-promotional segment that some ESPN exec probably pegged as a really cool idea for the 18-to-35 crowd, a bug-eyed Marshall Mathers paid a visit to the broadcast booth during Notre Dame-Michigan. By the time it ended, Kirk Herbstreit surely wanted to punch someone off-air, while Brent ... heck, Brent has fun no matter what.
Mini-previews for three of Week 3's big games:
• UCLA at Nebraska, Saturday (Noon ET): The thought of quarterback Brett Hundley and that powerful UCLA offense going against Nebraska's woeful defense does not inspire much confidence in the Huskers. On the other hand, quarterback Taylor Martinez, running back Ameer Abdullah and company could well make the Bruins' defense look silly, too.
• Alabama at Texas A&M, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): If you're watching at home, pay close attention to how many times Gary Danielson bemoans A&M's gimmicky hurry-up offense. Then, if that offense keeps the game close, listen as he preaches why this game is yet another example of the rugged SEC.
• Wisconsin at Arizona State, Saturday (10:30 ET): We should learn a lot from this one about a pair of teams lurking as dark horses in their respective conferences, though both of which have yet to play any notable competition. Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly can make a name for himself if he shreds standout linebacker Chris Borland and the Badgers.