Medical reports will be the telling factor in how 2009 season unfolds
Is it just me, or is this season beginning to feel a whole lot like 2007?
You remember 2007, a.k.a. the "Year of the Upset." The year Appalachian State beat Michigan, Stanford beat USC (though this one doesn't seem so shocking anymore), 10 teams ranked No. 1 or 2 lost over the course of the year and a two-loss team (LSU) won the national title.
In 2009, Nos. 1 and 2 (Florida and Texas) remain unscathed thus far -- but they're the exception. Nine different top 10 teams have lost in the season's first four weeks, including four (Ole Miss, Penn State, Cal and Miami) this past weekend. That's a lot of upheaval.
Consider: A year ago this time, 11 of the top 13 teams in the preseason AP poll were still undefeated. This year, only four are.
The instinctive reaction is to blame the pollsters and their admittedly arbitrary preseason ballots, which unduly lionized a whole bunch of "frauds." Oklahoma. Oklahoma State. Ole Miss. USC. Penn State. Cal. Frauds, all of them.
The truth, though, is they can't all be frauds. As the season plays out, we will find some were unquestionably overrated, but that others were good teams that simply suffered an early loss. As the polls continue to fluctuate, some will eventually find themselves right back where they started. USC and Oklahoma are already back in the top 10, and preseason darling Oregon has literally come full circle, falling from a preseason No. 16 position to unranked following its opening-week train wreck at Boise State, then throttling Cal 42-3 to return to ... No. 16.
As you may recall, that's precisely how the '07 season played out, with LSU bouncing back from not just one, but two defeats to wind up national champion. It turns out there's an explanatory parallel between '07 and this season: a staggering amount of injuries to key players.
With parity what it is today, it only takes a little attrition to level the playing field between two ostensibly disparate opponents. In '07, seemingly half the LSU defense, including star tackle
Fast forward to '09, when the injury bug hit right from the opening Saturday. Reigning Heisman winner Bradford separated his shoulder in Oklahoma's loss to BYU. USC lost quarterback
Of course, upset victims can't use injuries as an excuse; they're part of the game. But they do remind us what a tight rope even the most talented teams walk in this age of parity.
Saturday night, Florida fans witnessed the injury scare to end all injury scares. For eight months, the Gators had been hailed as the hands-down, no-brainer national title pick, with their loaded defense and their all-everything quarterback. But as
Thankfully for all involved, Tebow got up, walked off and has since been diagnosed with a concussion. "Tim's taken a lot of hits in his career. He's a tough nut," Gators coach
Hopefully he's right, both for Tebow's sake and his own. Sure, the Gators throttled Kentucky 41-7 and have outscored their four opponents by a combined score of 182-29, but right now the once seemingly invincible Gators need Tebow to win.
Florida has taken its own share of hits to the roster, with receivers
To compensate for that, it seems the Gators have dusted off an old page from their playbook: "Run, Tebow, Run." Against Kentucky, the senior attempted just 10 passes prior to his third-quarter exit but ran 16 times for 123 yards and two scores. A week earlier against Tennessee, he notched 24 rushing attempts. The 40 combined carries mark his highest two-game total since Sept. '07.
While Tebow is long accustomed to having the ball in his hands, Florida's offense was at its sharpest last season when he spent more time distributing it. There is still plenty of time to develop new weapons, but as of now, Meyer is clearly counting on Tebow to carry the load.
Florida may well be the deepest team in the country, but as we saw Saturday night, even the Gators aren't immune to the injury bug. And as we've seen across the country, medical reports may be a more telling indicator these days than the polls.
Normally, visiting teams can't wait to get out of town after a road game, but South Florida quarterback
Why wouldn't he? It's home.
Playing in the same stadium where he grew up rooting for the home team, Daniels lived out a dream-come-true fantasy Saturday. Making his first career start in place of USF star
"I wasn't nervous at all," said Daniels, who played at Tallahassee's Lincoln High School. "I was familiar with my environment, seeing people in the stands I knew and playing in a stadium where I watched so many great players play."
Daniels was more than a little "familiar" with FSU. His father,
But while Daniels, an avowed
"After that first touchdown," he said. "The stadium was kind of quiet, and I remember just being happy for once that the stadium was quiet."
USF (4-0) has pulled off plenty of big wins before -- in fact, this marked the third straight year the Bulls have beaten a ranked nonconference foe -- but beating one of the state's Big Three for the first time marked a landmark moment for the program. "To me, it changes history," said USF's first and only coach,
Now comes the hard part: continuing the momentum. The Bulls' recent pattern has been to start off strong and finish slow. In their four years in the Big East, they've yet to lose fewer than three conference games.
At least they know they've found their quarterback.
I don't mean to pile on the Tigers, who showed up in this same space just two weeks ago. But you'd have a hard time convincing me
The Gamecocks (3-1) can play some defense. They've now bottled up two nationally renowned quarterbacks, NC State's
If Florida and Alabama met today on a neutral field (like, say, the Georgia Dome), I'd take the Crimson Tide. Whether I'll still feel that way in two months (or even two weeks) remains to be seen, but for now, I adjusted my title-game matchup accordingly. Virginia Tech reclaimed the ACC's spot
• It was bedlam at Robertson Stadium early Sunday morning after
"That's the biggest difference from last year," Houston coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Our defense has a feel that we're never out of the game, particularly with our offense and our quarterback. If we continue to get stops down the stretch, we're going to be pretty tough to beat."
• LSU safety
• Same goes for Georgia receiver
• OK, one more: With NC State trailing Pitt 31-17 late in the third quarter, Wilson took over, leading three straight touchdown drives and finishing the day with 322 passing yards, 91 rushing yards and four TD passes. "Russell is a very good under pressure," said receiver
• USC's offense produced three first-quarter touchdowns (including two long Barkley throws) against overmatched Washington State ... but just one more the rest of the way en route to an uninspiring 27-6 win that included 13 penalties. "We've got a lot of work to do," coach
• Meanwhile, Washington returned to reality post-USC with a 34-14 road drubbing at the hands of Stanford. Standout Cardinal running back
• Illinois quarterback
• On the flip side, Ohio State basked in its second consecutive shutout, the Buckeyes' first such achievement in 13 years. Throw in a largely dominant, albeit losing effort against USC, and it seems like OSU has managed to upgrade its defense despite losing
• After giving up a scourge of big plays against Clemson and Miami, Georgia Tech scrapped its 4-2-5 defense in favor of a 4-3, chucked an estimated 75 percent of its playbook and promptly held North Carolina to 154 total yards in a 24-7 rout. "Instead of playing seven or eight coverages, you play two or three," coach
• Oregon didn't touch its playbook, but it
• Boston College quarterback
• Officially, South Carolina receiver
• Remember when Kentucky was ready to build a statue for
• Remember when Maryland was ready to build a statue for
These were the lengths, in plays, yards and time, for Boise State's seven touchdown drives in its 49-14 win at Bowling Green on Saturday:
• Four plays, 59 yards (1:36)
Interestingly, the Broncos' offense seemed to fare worse the more time it spent on the field. Its two longest drives (14 and eight plays) resulted in zero points.
More interestingly: Boise's ascension to No. 5 in the AP and coaches polls this week is the highest for any non-BCS team since the BCS' 1998 inception. In fact, no such team has finished higher than sixth in the final BCS standings. As I wrote in last week's Mailbag, it will be interesting to see if and when the Broncos hit a ceiling, seeing as they now stand only three spots from No. 2 with 10 more weeks of polls remaining.
If Notre Dame, now 3-1, winds up reaching the BCS promised land, affording
With the Boilers leading 21-17, 37 seconds remaining and Notre Dame out of timeouts, Irish running back
"That helped us out a little bit right there," Weis said.
You think? Following an incompletion, Clausen hit tight end
"I just wanted to have enough time to run a couple of plays [after Notre Dame scored]," said Hope, apparently not a huge believer in his defense. "If I looked at the situation again maybe it wasn't a great idea."
You could watch the replay of Michigan's controversial, game-saving interception against Indiana a million times and still not be certain whether officials made the right call. But at least if you do that, you'd get to watch Indiana's steamed coach abruptly hurl the nearest object he could find: the chewing gum in his mouth. (Fast forward to 1:36.)
Generally speaking, you should probably wait until a week
About once or twice a season, I like to go mingle with my fellow Northwestern alumni at Blondie's, the fabled Upper West Side establishment where New York City Wildcats fans (yes, they exist) gather on Saturdays. Sadly, the faithful went home disappointed following a 35-24 loss to Minnesota, but not before engaging in an appropriately nerdy, yet brilliant ritual.
In past years, the Blondie's contingent celebrated touchdowns by singing the school's fight song, downing purple shots and lifting someone in the air (in past years, a girl; this year, a baby) for each point on the scoreboard. They're still doing all those things -- but with an added twist. Whenever the score comes on a touchdown pass by quarterback
There were several Florida State fans present at the same time watching their game. The only thing I saw them reading was the beer list.