Thursday, September 15, 2011
College Football Odds and Ends
Hooray! At last, football is back! Maybe it's because of the near-strike in the NFL, or because I attended a game at a historical venue (more on that later), or maybe it's because I'm in a relationship for this first time with a chica who actually likes sports, but I find myself appreciating it all the more this season.
As a Notre Dame hater, I've enjoyed watching them start out 0-2, and see any hopes of a national championship bid vanquished. That said, this team is better, much better, than their record right now indicates. Not only does Notre Dame lead the nation in turnovers (10), but almost all of them have been crucial red-zone turnovers. That's really the only way (besides penalties) that a good team beats itself, because fast players will not turn slow, strong players will not turn weak.
That said, we also don't know how good Notre Dame's opponents have been yet. Neither Michigan nor South Florida came into the season with much in the way of expectations, and besides Notre Dame, the two schools have only faced MAC opposition. Their next opponent, Michigan State, also hasn't played anybody yet, but they do have expectations this year and are coming off their finest season in a long while. If you want to know how good Notre Dame will be this year, watch them against Michigan State.
I attended Texas A&M's opening win over SMU the Sunday before last. Believe it or not, it was by far the largest-scale college game I have ever attended — I was too much of an emo snob to go to games when I was a student at Ohio State in the mid-'90s, and that leaves the laughably poorly-attended Akron games I have been to, and a game at the University of Delaware.
It was glorious. A&M's reputation for being one of the most tradition-laden, intimidating places to play are well-founded. The campus area was a lot of fun, too. I've been to my share of college bars, including several as a thirty-something, but I felt less conspicuously way-older-than-everyone, you-don't-belong-here-old-man at O'Bannon's in College Station than I have felt anywhere else. I also had lunch at a hidden gem called the Potato Shack — a place featuring giant baked potatoes stuffed with all sorts of things you don't normally associate with baked potatoes. I ordered mine with taco meat and queso cheese. Heavenly. I was licking the tin foil after I was done.
As far as the product on the field goes: A&M is ranked higher than they have been in a long time, and they look like they deserve it. The 46-14 scoreline is still probably not as close as the score indicates, as A&M was utterly dominant except for about half a quarter in the first half when the Mustangs put together back-to-back touchdown drives. Don't forget, SMU won Conference USA's West division last year.
The Aggies will find out how good they are in short order. Half of the Big 12 is ranked, and two that aren't — Iowa State and Missouri — had an impressive upset win and a tough overtime road loss against a good team, respectively, in Week 2.
Even though SMU was blown off the field, head coach June Jones made a bold and impressive move. After their quarterback, Kyle Padron, gave up two early picks and suffered a couple of sacks, Jones pulled him for J.J. McDermott.
The reason that's a big deal is Padron came into the season with big expectations and a number of SMU career passing records within reach. That's not a guy you would typically give the hook to. But it was the right move, as McDermott went 21-for-34 with a touchdown and no interceptions. Ironically, the last team I remember benching such a highly-touted quarterback was their opponent, last year: the Aggies' Jerrod Johnson made many preseason all-Big 12 lists, and no one had heard yet of Ryan Tannehill yet.
On the upset front, there have been two so far that are significant. One was in Week 1, when Division 1-AA (for the uninitiated, I refuse to call the lower echelon of Division 1 football "FCS") Sacramento State took down Oregon State. Oregon State has slid quite dramatically in the last two years. The season before last, they played Oregon in their final regular season game with a Pac-10 title on the line. They slipped to the middle of the pack last year, and this year is looking like a good bet to land in the Pac-12 basement.
I'm less amped about this upset than I would be otherwise, because I sort of like Oregon State. Maybe it's because I hate their in-state rival, Nike Laboratories, Inc., so much.
The other big upset was New Mexico State knocking off Minnesota, which I think we can start talking about now that it looks like Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill is fine and will coach this week after suffering a seizure on the sidelines in this game.
Minnesota had to have high hopes after nearly beating USC the week before, and now have crashed back to earth. New Mexico State came into the game on the heels of a blowout loss at home to Ohio University, and has had four winning seasons and no bowls (the longest streak in Division 1-A) in the last 40 years.
No team has had more of an embarrassing run against 1-AA opponents and lower-echelon 1-A opponents than Minnesota over the last few years. In 2006, they escaped the Metrodome with a 10-9 win over 1-AA North Dakota State when NDSU missed a field goad as time expired. A sampling of results since then:
2007: Bowling Green 32, Minnesota 31
2007: Florida Atlantic 42, Minnesota 39
2007: North Dakota State (1-AA) 27, Minnesota 21 (Revenge! Minnesota also went winless in the Big 10 in 2007)
2009: Minnesota 16, South Dakota State (1-AA) 13 (Another squeaker against a Dakota school)
2010: South Dakota (1-AA) 41, Minnesota 38
2010: Northern Illinois 34, Minnesota 23
2011: New Mexico State 28, Minnesota 21
Perhaps from a competitive standpoint, Minnesota should consider leaving the Big 10 and join the about-to-be-homeless castoffs of the Big 12. Minnesota will try again to crack these pesky Dakota schools in two weeks when they host NDSU again. By the way, does the University of North Dakota feel left out, since Minny has played North Dakota State, South Dakota, and South Dakota State in the last few years? Doesn't Minny want to complete the Dakota superfecta?