Pac-10 on the rise, Tressel under fire, Barkley impresses, more mail
We begin with this...
I wish I could, but it would be like a lone guy with a hose trying to put out a forest fire.
There's one obvious reason fans' obsession with conference supremacy continues to rage stronger every year: the BCS. Last year, Florida, Oklahoma and USC all finished the regular season as one-loss conference champions, but the Gators and Sooners played for the national title over the Trojans. Why? Because voters felt the SEC and Big 12 were stronger than the Pac-10.
A year later, however, that perception may be about to change.
Both last year and early this season, I've observed that when it comes to public perception, individual teams get credit for big wins, but conferences take the rap for bad losses.
When Alabama beat Virginia Tech on opening weekend, the general reaction was that the Tide look like they'll be a BCS contender again; however, the Hokies' loss, coupled with Virginia losing to William and Mary, Duke losing to Richmond and Wake losing to Baylor meant the ACC must stink. When Oklahoma State beat Georgia, the Cowboys were hailed as "legit;" when they lost to Houston -- on the same weekend Kansas State lost to Louisiana-Lafayette and Colorado lost to Toledo -- the Big 12 suddenly became "overrated."
This is precisely what happened to the Pac-10 last year. On the same weekend USC got feted for thrashing Ohio State, Arizona lost to New Mexico, Arizona State lost to UNLV, Cal lost to Maryland, Stanford lost to TCU, UCLA lost 59-0 to BYU and Washington lost 55-14 to Oklahoma. Any credibility the conference might have hoped for effectively evaporated that weekend, and the Trojans' impressive win was essentially forgotten as soon as they lost to Oregon State (which itself had already gotten blitzed by Penn State).
Looking at the first two weeks of this season, however, I would contend no conference has performed better than the Pac-10. The league boasts the best record (6-2) so far against the five other BCS leagues and the Mountain West and has largely avoided bad losses (with the exception of Oregon's poor showing at Boise State). If the league can pull off a couple more wins this weekend -- like Oregon State against Cincinnati or Arizona (which previously shut down Central Michigan) at Iowa -- it's going to be pretty tough for anyone from the SEC, Big 12 or elsewhere to argue with that record.
But of course, should Pac-10 teams lose more games than they win, or should UCLA (against Kansas State) or Stanford (against San Jose State), suffer a bad loss, it's easy to predict the reaction.
First of all, I don't think I've ever received such a barrage of outrage over such an innocuous column as I did for
When considering some of the guys who came before Barkley, it becomes clear the kid must be something special to have earned that distinction.
But he is still a freshman, and USC clearly intends to lean on its running game for now. For 53 minutes, Ohio State did a great job taking away the Trojans' running game and putting pressure on the young quarterback, and yes, Barkley struggled at times. As for the game-winning drive, I did notice a lot of over-the-top columns after the game that made it seem like Barkley marched USC down the field
So, call it "overhyping" if you'd like, but I've been around a lot of college quarterbacks, including a lot of very timid freshmen and sophomores, and Barkley carries himself more like a junior or senior. He's got a swagger to him, and coaches want that in a starting quarterback.
Can you believe it? The same man who, just a few years ago, probably could have run for governor of Ohio and won in a landslide, is suddenly receiving the
I agree Tressel did a poor job coaching last Saturday night, but I want to be as specific as possible. While I got a whole bunch of e-mails about his "conservative play-calling," it was more a case of "conservative game-management." Truth be told, USC had the more conservative game plan. Ohio State took more shots down field and took more chances with its quarterback. But when it came to key fourth-down decisions, USC was aggressive (going for it four times, including on its first touchdown) while Ohio State played for field position. The strategy eventually backfired.
In the grand scheme of things, however, game micromanagement is not what's holding the Buckeyes back. As I wrote Monday, Ohio State's staff is not properly utilizing
Contrary to common opinion, Tressel has adapted to his personnel in the past. Ohio State did not run the same offense with
The Buckeyes are still going to beat most of the teams they face due to superior talent, but to cross that last threshold they're going to need to figure out their identity.
At least in the AP poll, I believe voters are taking their job more seriously than ever before and are adhering more closely to the AP's stated directive that voters "base [their] vote on performance, not reputation or preseason speculation." I'm not saying they're 100 percent consistent about it -- if taken literally, any number of teams could rank ahead of Florida and Texas right now -- but it explains the more dramatic fluctuation from one week to the next. I also think there's a greater respect now for teams like BYU, Boise State and Houston than there was in the past. There have been enough BCS bowl victories and in-season upsets by now that most informed followers are acknowledging that the upper-level non-BCS teams are perfectly capable of competing with most major-conference teams.
But that's the AP poll. The coaches seem to be a little slower coming around. How they could not even include Houston this week after winning at Oklahoma State is stupefying. In fact, of the five non-BCS teams currently ranked, all but Utah are ranked higher by the AP than the coaches -- and the Utes are the only ones that haven't beaten anyone of consequence yet this season. Obviously, you never know what hidden agendas are at work with the coaches, but it's probably more a result of the fact that the coaches, in general, put less thought into their ballots, or that they're being filled out by SIDs or other support staff less likely to rock the boat.
I used to employ a highly complicated formula involving records, returning starters, projected yardage and turnover margin, home-field advantage and potential weather variables. But after going 3-7 last week -- three and freakin' seven! -- I might as well flip a coin to decide the winner, then flip through a phonebook to come up with the scores.
I know Clawson was a popular scapegoat for Tennessee fans last year, but the reality is he was vindicated the day Bowling Green made him its head coach. (The Falcons, it should be noted, nearly toppled Missouri last week.) He's a guy that's widely respected in the coaching profession -- as well as by many of the local media that covered him last season -- and anyone unfortunate enough to have watched last week's UCLA game could plainly see the Vols' offensive struggles have far more to do with talent than scheme.
But Fulmer remains responsible for the fact that Tennessee's talent level fell so far in the first place. Once upon a time, his program recruited as well as any in the SEC, but by the last few years of his tenure it'd been lapped by Florida, Georgia, LSU and Alabama, and apparently made some mistakes with the guys it did land.
That sounds absolutely, positively excruciating. But I do have some news that should cheer you up.
On a related note, I don't mean to brag (actually, I do), but a certain connection hooked me up with two tickets to Wednesday night's live performance of
The lesson here: It's good to have a Crush.
Not really. It only proves that reports of Oklahoma State's newfound defensive prowess and accompanying national preeminence were premature.
For all his quirks, Gundy is a perfect fit for that program. His teams play an exciting style of football, and the program has a chance to be more consistently competitive now than at any point in its history. But no matter how much money
That doesn't mean Gundy's teams can't compete at a high level, win nine or 10 games and maybe even reach a BCS bowl. But No. 5 team in the country? That illusion was bound to get shattered at some point. It just came a few weeks earlier than most might have expected.
You'll have to excuse Chris. He was at a coffeshop when he wrote this.