Heroes and Villains, College Football Week Two
1. Let’s talk about Drew Lock’s shining start to the season. I know, I know … the Tigers whomped Tennessee-Martin by a 51-14 mismatch in Week 1. And after lurching early against Wyoming on Saturday, Mizzou went off for a 40-13 win. In the two dubs, Lock completed 74.3% of his passes for 687 yards, averaging 12 yards per attempt. He has eight touchdowns without an INT. He rushed five times for 51 yards and a score vs. Wyoming. Nice start. But hold off on those premature analyses of Mizzou football. Because now the real season begins. Here are Mizzou’s next four games, in order: at Purdue (which will improve), Georgia at home, at South Carolina, at Alabama. This is not only a substantial test on the football field for Missouri, but it could sway public opinion on head coach Barry Odom. There is very little buzz in the state over MU football despite last season’s strong stretch run, Lock’s charisma, a fun cast of playmakers, and many returning starters on defense.
2. The SEC West is the best division in the nation. Does anyone really dispute that? Granted, Chad Morris will need a season or two to get his innovative offense jumping at Arkansas. But Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Ole Miss have roared out to a combined 11-1 start.
And the only loss was an honorable defeat, with a recharging Texas A&M program led by first-year coach Jimbo Fisher losing by two points (on the final offensive play) to No. 2 Clemson. The Aggies came into the game as double-digit ‘dog. With the new power coach taking over, A&M is a lot better — a lot sooner — than many expected.
The Texas A&M loss was the West’s first in non-conference competition against other Power 5 teams. Even with the Aggies coming up short against Clemson, the SEC West is 5-1 against Power 5 challengers with a plus 97 point differential. And all five wins came on the road or a neutral site.
3. The Big Ten West is pathetic. Onward, Wisconsin. Roll out the barrels. You’ll face little resistance from B1G West brethren. It was a lousy weekend in the division. Purdue lost to Eastern Michigan at home, 20-19, and is 0-2 after turning the ball over five times in the two games. Coach Jeff Brohm, what’s up? Northwestern lost to Duke, 21-7. Scott Frost’s debut at Nebraska fizzled with a 33-28 loss to Colorado. Biggest threat to Wisconsin? Probably Iowa. But it’s early for Wisky’s division rivals. Or is it late?
4. The SEC East is almost as phlegmatic as the Big Ten West. Georgia clinched the division by trouncing South Carolina, 41-17 on Saturday. C’mon, I know the Dawgs didn’t actually clinch but with South Carolina as the only SEC East challenger worth mentioning, enough said. And enough seen. You saw what Georgia did to a fine South Carolina team in SC’s house. If South Carolina can’t do any better than lose by 24 at home … who can legitimately emerge as a division threat to Georgia? And there is no quarterback controversy in Athens. Sophomore Jake Fromm was brilliant in the pillaging of SC.
5. Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush regressed. performed solidly in the big win over Michigan, but immediately regressed with a three-interception day in a 24-16 victory over visiting Ball State. Wimbush has one TD pass and four picks in two games; this must change for the Fighting Irish to have any shot at one of the four playoff spots.
6. Scratch Khalil Tate’s name from the list of candidates to win this year’s Heisman Trophy. More on this later, but Arizona’s dynamically talented quarterback doesn’t appear to be a smooth fit for new head coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense. After rushing for 1,411 yards, 9.2 yards per carry, and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore last season, Tate has 15 rushes for 22 during the Wildcats’ 0-2 start.
7. If he stays healthy, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be hugging the Heisman during the holiday season. After two weeks Tua is No. 2 nationally in QB rating at 237.2. He’s also second in yards per attempt (13.0) and ranks 16th in touchdown passes (six) and 17th with a 74% completion percentage. And Tagovailoa is just getting warm. Tua is sharing time with Jalen Hurts and has left the two blowout games early to avoid unnecessary physical punishment. . Imagine what the dude’s numbers will look like when he plays an entire game. FYI: Alabama plays at Ole Miss this Saturday … facing a Rebs’ defense that got bombed out for 41 points, 629 yards and 29 first downs by Southern Illinois. Ole Miss scored 76 to prevail in this fierce defensive fight.
8. Were the kids partying hard in Lawrence on Saturday night? The roadkill streak is over. Until winning 31-7 at Central Michigan, Kansas had lost 46 consecutive road games since Sept. 12, 2009. Congrats, to coach David Beaty, we think. True freshman running back, Pooka Williams Jr., is legit. A heralded national recruit who remained loyal in his commitment to KU, Williams showed the Jayhawks how to win on the road with 125 yards and two touchdowns on 14 rushes.
9. I’m wanting to crown Stanford as the best damn team in the Pac 12. David Shaw is an outstanding head coach, and his defense gave up only 13 points combined in victories over San Diego State and USC. But to win the stronger Pac-12 North, Stanford will encounter hazard zones in road games at Washington and Oregon.
10. Oklahoma looks fantastic with new starting quarterback Kyler Murray, and the Sooners had little stress in crushing UCLA on Saturday. But: OU’s star running back, Rodney Anderson, injured his knee in the first half against UCLA. and will miss the remainder of the campaign. That stinks. Anderson rushed for 1,162 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2017, including a 201-yard game against that snarling Georgia defense in the Rose Bowl.
Stats that caught my eye: Anchors Aweigh. In erasing a late 21-9 deficit to upset AAC West division favorite Memphis 22-21, Navy won for the first time since 2008 when trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter … Alabama has exceeded 50 points in in each of the first two games in a season for the first time since 1925 — jumping on Louisville for 51, then following with 57 against Arkansas State … USC’s three points in the 17-3 loss to Stanford were the fewest points scored in a game by the Trojans since getting blanked by Washington in 1997 … Eastern Michigan had lost 38 in a row to Big Ten opponents until winning at Rutgers last year, and beating Purdue on Saturday. (Hat tip to The Athletic.)
* How about Arizona State coach Herm Edwards? His Sun Devils moved to 2-0 with a 16-13 late-night win Saturday over 15th-ranked Michigan State. Who saw this coming? Edwards is wonderful person — but he’s 64, hasn’t coached at all in 10 years, last coached at the college level nearly 30 years ago, and most kids know him from his long run as an animated analyst in the ESPN studio. When ASU hired Edwards last offseason, the reaction went like this: They did WHAT? As Pat Forde wrote at Yahoo Sports: “The number of people who thought this was going to work would fit in a Prius. It’s working so far.” Yep. With the win over Sparty, Arizona State moved into the Top 25 this week at No. 23.
* We’ll divvy this up among two Mississippi State teammates. First, running back Kylin Hill rushed for 211 yards and two TDs on only 17 carries during the Bulldogs’ easy 31-10 win at Kansas State. And though QB Nick Fitzgerald wasn’t accurate in the passing game, he stood out for other reasons. This was Fitzgerald’s first game back since suffering a gruesome broken ankle in the rivalry game against Ole Miss last Thanksgiving. And on Saturday it Fitzgerald’s speed, strength and elusiveness were on display as he rushed 19 times for 59 yards. Mississippi State is showing well under first-year head coach Joe Moorehead, the former offensive coordinator at Penn State.
* Your leading Heisman Trophy contender among the running backs is Wisconsin soph Jonathan Taylor, who has 398 yards rushing in two games.
* Kentucky, for breaking a insanely frustrating losing streak against SEC brother Florida. And the Wildcats got it done on the road, beating the Gators 27-16 at The Swamp. How long had it been since Kentucky’s last victory over Florida? The date was Nov. 15, 1986. The No. 1 film at the box office that week was “Crocodile Dundee.” The No. 1 song on the charts was “Amanda” by Boston. And on that day, The Beastie Boys released their debut album, “Licensed to Ill.” Oh, yeah … and on the next day, the New Orleans Saints defeated the St. Louis football Cardinals 16-7 at Busch Stadium II before a crowd of 32,069. Anyone remember Cliff Stoudt, who had replaced the benched Neil Lomax? Stoudt was intercepted three times by the Saints in that game.
* Back to Texas A&M and coach Jimbo Fisher: When is a loss just as good as a win? “Never” would be the proper answer but I’m not so sure it applies to what happened Saturday night in College Station. In a thrilling game before 100,000 + fans, No. 2 Clemson barely hung on — having to stop a two-point conversion attempt — for a 28-26 win at Kyle Field. Clemson has one of the top three defenses in the nation, but A&M racked up 501 yards and 25 first downs, with sophomore quarterback Kellen Mond passing for 430 yards and three touchdowns. (And rushing for 33 yards.) Fisher had a mess to clean up after deposed coach Kevin Sumlin went 15-17 in SEC play during his final four seasons. As mentioned earlier, the Aggies clearly are better than anticipated, and Jimbo already has commitments in place for a great 2019 recruiting class.
* Yeah, Kevin Sumlin again: In his first season as the replacement for the fired and disgraced Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, Sumlin already is 0-2 after losing to BYU (28-23) and getting clobbered by Houston (45-18.) Sumlin’s coaching is so awful, we could say he’s the first college coach to successfully stop Arizona QB Khalil Tate — who was often impossible to stop last season — before Sumlin showed up with an offense that doesn’t play to Tate’s strengths as a runner.
* First-year head coach Willie Taggart and Florida State: After getting hammered by Virginia Tech 24-3 in the season (and ACC) opener, the Seminoles survived 475 yards passing by Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges to recover for a 36-26 victory that wasn’t settled until a pick six INT in the final minutes. The ‘Noles offense struggled to run the ball, and their defense was ripped apart for 575 yards. And all of this was done by Samford, an FCS opponent. … And an FCS opponent that turned the ball over five times, and STILL had Florida State in deep trouble. This prompted Tallahassee Democrat columnist Wayne McGahee III to declare, “The Honeymoon Phase Is Over” for Taggart. Wow. That didn’t take long.
* North Carolina coach Larry Fedora might want to start checking out moving-van rates, because he’s heading toward an inevitable dismissed after his team got crunched 41-19 by East Carolina. And while East Carolina had a good program in the past, that isn’t the case in 2018; in Week 1 the Pirates lost to an FCS squad, North Carolina AT&T. The Tar Heels have lost 13 of their last 17 games going back to late in the 2016 season. That includes an ugly 3-9 season in 2017 … and now this?
* Rutgers. This note, courtesy of The Athletic: In scrounging for a field goal in Saturday’s 52-3 loss to Ohio State, Rutgers scored its first points on the Buckeyes since 2015 — stopping a streak that went on for 11 quarters. Since Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014, Ohio State has outscored the Knights 271-27.
* Central Florida, and South Florida: They’re villains if you play or coach at Florida, Miami, Florida State, Florida Atlantic, etc. That’s because UCF is the best team in the state, and South Florida could be the second-best team in the state. At least until first-year Florida coach Dan Mullen gets the Gators going. And he will.
* Alabama’s crisis! What can you do for Alabama, the team that seemingly has everything — and in multiples? Well, give the Crimson Tide a bullseye placekicker who can put the ball through the freaking uprights. When Austin Jones committed to Alabama as a graduate transfer from Temple, it appeared that Coach Saban had finally solved a chronic and bizarre problem. Sabes has been searching for a money kicker for a long time, and hasn’t found what he’s looking for, As a junior at Temple last season Jones made 10 of 12 field goals and all 23 extra point attempts. But in Alabama’s first two games, Jones missed a field goal and three extra points. After two of the missed XPA fluttered awry n the first quarter against Arkansas State, you can probably figure out what happened next: Saban demoted Jone. Next kicker up: Joe Bulovas, who made all three XPA attempts Saturday after entering the proceedings.
We can file Alabama’s kicking peculiarities in the category of “First World problems.”
Thanks for reading …