Just For Argument's Sake ...
From the picking the Big Ten's best linebackers (good luck) to Texas and OU leaving Dallas to non-BCS teams to, of course, ND-USC, Ivan Maisel tackles all the hot topics.
Originally Published: October 12, 2005By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com
From nagging questions to soapbox moments to Heisman hype, Ivan Maisel tackles the hottest topics in college football.
3 Nagging Questions | Soapbox Moment | Whatever Happened To ... | Introducing
Just A Thought | Hidden Stat | Heisman Hype | Top 10 | 3 Games Worth TiVo-ing
Just A Thought | Hidden Stat | Heisman Hype | Top 10 | 3 Games Worth TiVo-ing
"I'm not going to lie," Northwestern linebacker Tim McGarigle said Monday afternoon. "I'm pretty sore right now."
It just seemed like Northwestern's Tim McGarigle made every tackles against Wisconsin.
His Monday schedule included one education class, 20 minutes of moving back and forth from the hot tub to the cold pool, and then extended couch time watching Monday Night Football.
"I go back and watch the film," McGarigle said, "and I was kind of shocked. Out there in the heat of the moment, you have no idea you're making that many tackles."
McGarigle made 15 solo tackles and had 10 assists Saturday in the Wildcats' 51-48 home-field victory over the Badgers. Two of his stops were sacks. Two others occurred behind the line of scrimmage. It's not as though McGarigle ran into stat guys who wanted to build up the home team. No other Northwestern player made more than eight tackles.
"Any Big Ten game is physical. When you have 300-pound guys trying to take out your knees on every play, you're pretty sore. Wisconsin is a real physical team. Their goal is to come and pound the ball down your throat. We did a good job of stopping the run [Badgers rushed for 189 yards, 23 below their average]. Our defensive tackles, Barry Cofield and Trevor Schultz, played great. That forces the linebackers to make plays. I don't want any two other guys playing in front of me."
The humility is typical of McGarigle, said Northwestern linebacker coach Pat Fitzgerald.
"He actually missed three tackles," Fitzgerald said. "Those were the only three tackles he wanted to talk about. He understands why he missed them. There are a lot of things he needs to work on. He's a hungry player who wants to get better."
McGarigle is reminiscent of Fitzgerald, an undersized Northwestern linebacker who won the Nagurski Award as the nation's best defensive player in 1995 and 1996. McGarigle is listed at 6-foot-1, 235, and he has gained 31 pounds since he arrived on campus from the north side of Chicago.
"He's what you want in a linebacker," Fitzgerald said, "a very diligent worker with incredible linebacker instincts. He's very physical. He's a master of the craft."
Especially against the Badgers -- in three games against Wisconsin, McGarigle made 56 tackles.
"That's the exact team I love playing," McGarigle said, "a power team that you have to get off your blocker and go make the tackle. I would hate to play our offense. I'm a Big Ten linebacker who wants to go out there and pound people."
I am a traditionalist. I didn't grow up going to Fair Park in early October, but as transplanted Texans are fond of saying, I got there as fast as I could. The Sooners and Longhorns have been playing in Dallas, not quite 200 miles from their respective campuses, since 1929. And after 2007, they won't be there any more.
The days of OU-Texas in the Cotton Bowl may be winding down.
Oh, the city of Dallas is scrambling to keep the schools from moving the game to their respective campuses, but the city looks like a spouse trying to save a marriage that can't be saved. While mayor Laura Miller is "absurdly optimistic," as quoted by The Dallas Morning News last Saturday, the facts are lined up against her, and against the city.
Fact: The city of Dallas didn't lure Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to Fair Park. The Cowboys are going to Arlington.
Fact: The city has waited far too long to renovate the aging edifice. The Cotton Bowl game on Jan. 1 has fallen from the first tier of bowls to the second, and clings there because of tradition, not the creature comforts of Fair Park in 35-degree, New Year's Day weather.
Fact: No matter how new and improved the Cotton Bowl becomes, Texas and Oklahoma can keep more ticket buyers happy on their own campuses. Texas is getting ready to spend another, yes, another $100 million to expand Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
"We would get 90,000 Texas fans in our stadium that would see the game every other year," Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said in Dallas on Friday. "Now we get 37,500 fans here every year." Do the math -- that's more than 50,000 Texas Exes who could see their team's biggest game of the season.
And do the other math -- home games are seven-figure profit centers for athletic departments with high eight-figure budgets.
Miller is thinking of a $50 million bond issue. It's hard to believe that would be enough to bring the Cotton Bowl among the 21st-century palaces that pass for stadiums these days.
"It's not our place to tell [the city of] Dallas what to do," Dodds said.
I think both schools have told Dallas their intentions. They've built huge stadiums and they can fill them. Tradition didn't keep Auburn-Alabama in Birmingham, and that rivalry, now home and home, didn't miss a beat. Texas and Oklahoma will survive leaving the Cotton Bowl.
The shortest road to get to 10-0 appears to be at the feet of UCLA. The Bruins have no ranked teams among the next five on the schedule. But the trick for the Pac-10 teams (no league playoff) is to get to 11-0. Since the 11th opponent is No. 1 USC, the Bruins' bridge to the Rose Bowl might be out. Funny thing, since the Bruins could be the first to play for the national championship in their home stadium since Miami won the 1991 title in Orange Bowl.
Two other teams among the nine have only one currently ranked opponent remaining -- Texas Tech and Florida State. But the Red Raiders must play at No. 2 Texas on Oct. 22. Construction on their road to the Rose Bowl won't begin until that game ends.
The Seminoles are the only one of the eight with four road games left. And, like the Seminoles' possible ACC Championship Game opponent, Virginia Tech, as well as Alabama, Georgia, and Texas, Florida State has a difficult league playoff game as the last step.
Nope, the shortest road to Pasadena starts in State College. Penn State has three of its final five games at home, plays two teams with losing records (Illinois and Purdue) and has no games remaining against top-10 teams.
The longest road starts in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has three ranked opponents remaining, one of them in the top 10 (Tennessee, LSU, Auburn), along with a presumed SEC playoff game against Georgia.
The next longest road belongs to the team that is actually closer to the Rose Bowl than any of the other. The Trojans play three ranked opponents as well (Notre Dame, Cal, UCLA). One fact in USC's favor: after the Notre Dame game Saturday, four of the Trojans' last six games are at Memorial Coliseum.
Virginia Tech plays only two more ranked teams (Boston College, Miami), both at home, but the Hokies' five remaining opponents currently have a combined record of 19-9.
We make room on the soapbox this week for John Robinson, a coach smart enough to be wearing a national championship ring (USC, 1978), and a coach foolish enough to think he could go home again. Robinson coached the Trojans from 1976-82 and returned to USC in 1993. He took the Trojans to the Rose Bowl in the 1995 season, and was unceremoniously dumped two years later.
John Robinson knows a little about the USC-Notre Dame rivalry.
Robinson retired from coaching last year after six seasons at UNLV. He is doing some TV work on NFL games, and some radio work on college games. He loves the latter, getting to visit stadiums he has never seen before, such as the Big House and Bryant-Denny. This week, he will be going to Notre Dame for the eighth time, but the for first time as a fan.
Robinson, a Catholic, remembers getting off the bus on the Notre Dame campus one year and seeing a nun outside the bus.
"Beautiful day, isn't it, Sister?" Robinson said.
"Our boys are going to beat the hell out of you!" the nun said.
Robinson described himself as a scheme nut. Even though he retired, he is studying video, trying to keep up with what's going on, both for his radio work and because he is voting in the Master Coaches Survey.
His best teams at USC were known for their powerful running games -- he carried on the tradition of student body left and right built by his mentor and predecessor, John McKay -- but Robinson loved trying the newest thing. Looking back, he understands his fascination might have hurt the Trojans as much as it helped them.
"My coaches used to say, 'Don't let him out of town,'" Robinson said. "It [the new wrinkle] is your idea, so you're not going to give up on it. You need somebody to say, 'This isn't working. You better get out from under it.'"
He recalled a Rose Bowl against Michigan when his offensive coordinator, Paul Hackett, kept calling passes even though they were right into the teeth of the Wolverine defense.
"I finally said, 'If you call one more pass, you're fired,'" Robinson said.
After a career of trying The Next Big Thing, Robinson now believes coaches should apply the Hippocratic oath to their work, same as physicians.
"First," Robinson said, "don't screw it up. Be good at what you do. If you try to do something new, you can be OK at it. But all the good coaches know exactly what they want to do. Against Bill Walsh, you knew what was coming. All the great coaches know the personality of their team. In those games when you're not quite what you want to be, you can become a split personality."
the Fresh Faces?
We've spent the last several years noting the disappearance of Alabama, Notre Dame, Penn State and Nebraska from the national rankings. Now that they are back, it's time to look at the other side. Whither the Iowas, the Washington States? What happened to the mid-majors that fomented so much debate in the last two seasons? There is no Utah question this season, no debate over the strength of the Boise State schedule.
The return of the Crimson Tide, the Irish and the Nittany Lions to the top 10, even if it doesn't last past Saturday, has made for great stories. But you have to admit how much fun it was to see Bowling Green make its run at the BCS in 2003, and see Alex Smith lead the Utes to the Fiesta Bowl a year ago.
No. 25 TCU is the only ranked team from -- what are we calling them now? -- conferences that don't receive automatic bids to the BCS (political correctness is never succinct. I miss "non-BCS.") The Horned Frogs won't be able to overcome their 31-10 loss to SMU no matter how many Oklahomas they beat. UTEP, Toledo and Fresno State are the only other one-loss schools from the, uh, those conferences.
Fresno State, which had its BCS flirtation in 2001 behind quarterback David Carr, is a good team. The Bulldogs, 3-1, spanked Toledo, 44-14, and lost at Oregon, 37-34. Quarterback Paul Pinegar (66-96-1, 788 yards, nine touchdowns) ranks seventh in I-A in passing efficiency, one spot behind Matt Leinart of USC, which brings us to the one chance that any of these schools have at the BCS.
Fresno State plays at USC on Nov. 19. The Bulldogs arrive in Los Angeles one week after the Trojans play at California, and two weeks before the Trojans' rivalry game against UCLA. In other words, it's a trap game for USC. It's a slim chance, and crazy to think about, but it's a chance.
Minnesota met The Little Brown Jug Saturday evening. It would be more accurate to say Golden Gopher fans became reacquainted with the LBJ Saturday, but since the two haven't seen each other since 1986, well, few Gophs could say they really knew it.
Minnesota was happy to finally have the Little Brown Jug back.
Minnesota beat Michigan, 23-20, at the Big House to win the second oldest trophy in Division I-A. The Little Brown Jug dates to 1903, when Michigan left the water jug at Minnesota following a 6-6 tie. The teams played for it for the first time in 1909. It has spawned at least one imitator (the Little Brown Stein, which Idaho and Montana have played for since 1938) and one classic song from the Glenn Miller Band.
On Saturday night, the Little Brown Jug imitated another famous trophy -- the Stanley Cup. After the Gophers arrived in Minneapolis, coach Glen Mason put the trophy in the back seat of his car, and he and his wife Kate headed downtown to Manny's Steakhouse, Mason's favorite restaurant. At Kate's insistence, Mason brought the jug in with them.
"Everybody came over to see it," Mason said, "and I bet half the people there had their picture taken with it."
It is at least the fourth time in Mason's nine seasons at Minnesota that his teams have won on a last-second or game-ending field goal. This one might be the sweetest.
"It means a lot, especially for a lot of the older guys on this team that have been around here for a while," senior defensive tackle Mark Losli said. "After the last two years losing to Michigan in tough, tough games it's a really big win for us to bring the jug home and actually leave a mark with our class."
Making All-America is tough enough, but it can't be any tougher than becoming an All-Big Ten linebacker, with competition like Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway at Iowa, A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter at Ohio State, Tim McGarigle at Northwestern and Kyle McKenzie at Minnesota. All Paul Posluszny of Penn State has done is win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for the last three weeks, which no one had ever done.
In a banner year for linebackers, Penn State's Paul Posluszny is one of the best.
I called my old NFL scouting friend, Deep Whistle, and asked him what he thought of the bunch. He reeled off the seven names above, and mentioned that some scouts like Penn State defensive end Tamba Hall as a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Speaking as a scout, he liked Hawk the most, and pegged McGarigle as the most valuable.
"I saw that Wisconsin game," the scout said. "He's got to make every tackle. If he doesn't, they [the Badgers] are going to score."
At this point, my top three are Posluszny, Hawk and McGarigle, but before the Hawkeye fans go nuts, it might be smart to declare that the All-Big Ten team will play a 3-4.
Ten turnovers? In one game? That would guarantee a victory, but it's also sheer fantasy.
Not the way Florida State uses the term.
"Takeaways," linebacker coach Kevin Steele said. "You make them punt, you force a turnover, you stop them on fourth down. You're getting the ball back on all three of those situations. You get the ball back 10 times."
Let's take a look at how the 10-takeaway rule applied to last Saturday's games. It's a pretty accurate indication of the efficacy of the defense and of the final margin.
Texas forced: two turnovers, seven punts, no fourth downs = 9
Oklahoma forced: one turnover, five punts, no fourth downs = 6
Final: Texas 45, Oklahoma 12
Georgia forced three turnovers, eight punts, no fourth downs = 11
Tennessee forced two turnovers, six punts, no fourth downs = 8
Final: Georgia 27, Tennessee 14
Wisconsin forced: two turnovers, three punts, no fourth downs = 5
Northwestern forced: two turnovers, three punts, no fourth downs = 5
Final: Northwestern 51, Wisconsin 48
Michigan forced: one turnover, five punts, one fourth down = 7
Minnesota forced: no turnovers, six punts, no fourth downs = 6
Final: Minnesota 23, Michigan 20 (OT)
Matt Leinart, USC, QB: One interception every 52 attempts is the best of his career.
Vince Young, Texas QB: If you like a Heisman as an MVP, Young is your guy. Where would Texas be without him?
Reggie Bush, USC, RB: Receiving and return games are receding, but he's got four straight 100-yard rushing games.
Marcus Vick, Virginia Tech, QB: Looking strong as he heads into the teeth of the ACC schedule.
Elvis Dumervil, Louisville, DE: Teams know all about him, and he's still sacking quarterbacks by the handful.
Knocking on the door: Maurice Drew, UCLA; Laurence Maroney, Minnesota; LenDale White, USC; Drew Stanton, Michigan State.
Headed out the door: DeAngelo Williams, Memphis. Heisman winners have to play on teams contending for championships. Tigers are struggling.
1. USC: Trojans might not have a conference championship game, but they will play UCLA on Dec. 3. What's the difference?
2. Texas: In a statement game, the Longhorns speak long and loud.
3. Virginia Tech: Two straight Thursday night games, at Maryland and against Boston College, could add to the Hokies' credentials -- or revoke them.
4. Georgia: Just as Wisconsin always has trouble with Northwestern, Dawgs have struggled with Vandy. A trip to Nashville is next.
5. Penn State: The Nittany Lions finish with two tough games: Wisconsin and at Michigan State. At least they get a week off between them.
6. Alabama: Off week came at the perfect time for the depth-challenged Tide.
7. Florida State: The 'Noles are the only unbeaten team with four road games left.
8. UCLA: That fourth-quarter comeback against Cal is the foundation on which to build a season.
9. Miami: Back-to-back games against Duke and at Temple? I think the scheduler just earned a letter.
10. Notre Dame: All is right with the world: Trojans and Irish in the top 10, playing in Rockne's house.
No. 1 USC at No. 9 Notre Dame
It is with the zeal of a convert that I began to look at this game. As a latecomer to the Church of Weis, it has been fun to examine the two teams with the notion that this game, unlike the last three, might be competitive. Three of the 27 victories in the Trojans' current streak came against the Irish, by margins of 31, 31 and, yes, 31 points.
It was the first of those mosses, 44-13 in the last game of the 2002 regular season, that planted the seeds of Notre Dame's disenchantment with coach Tyrone Willingham. The Irish came into that game with a 10-1 record and a No. 7 ranking. The Trojans finished with 610 yards of total offense, and -- what do you know? -- 34 unanswered points. It appears that Pete Carroll's teams have been exploding in the second half since at least that point.
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, judging by his performance at his press conference Tuesday -- and make no mistake, the correct verb for Weis at a press conference is "perform" -- will make USC's ability and desire to dominate the second half a focus of his team's preparation.
Weis has bequeathed his best Jersey attitude to his team. The Irish come out aggressive. Under Weis, when Notre Dame wins the toss, the Irish choose to receive. Under Weis, in the first half this season, the Irish have outscored their opponents 107-44.
Here's another important stat to consider: the Irish average time of possession is 34 minutes and 30 seconds, and have been over 35 minutes in each of the last three games. That's a great defensive weapon, especially against the best offense in the nation. It also speaks to the fact that Notre Dame has turned the ball over only four times in five games.
We have to assume that the Irish game plan will be to score early, play keep away and pray that the clock speeds up.
Here's what USC has going for it: an equally well-coached team with better players. The cynic in me can't help but point out that even though opposing offenses have the ball for only 25:30, Notre Dame is still 114th in pass defense, allowing 305.6 yards per game.
In each of the last two seasons, Matt Leinart has had or matched his season high in yards, completions and touchdowns against the Irish. The numbers: 50-68-0, 751 yards, nine touchdowns. Tailback Reggie Bush's bruised knee appears to be unbruising itself well. The rest of the game-breaking gang is available.
It would behoove USC to start faster. Notre Dame is one hare that might not give out before it reaches the finish line. But even if the Irish do jump out to a lead, there's too much evidence to indicate that USC will come back in the second half.
No. 11 Florida at No. 10 LSU
A couple of head cases, these teams.
The Tigers appear to have overcome their classic collapse against Tennessee. As overpopulated Baton Rouge begins to find a routine, so have the Tigers. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell improves weekly. The junior went 21-of-32 for a career-high 285 yards and two touchdowns against Vanderbilt to become the SEC Offensive Player of the Week.
The LSU defense rattled Vanderbilt senior quarterback Jay Cutler last week, sacking him six times. They will set their sights on Florida junior Chris Leak, who is playing despite having a banged up his shoulder in the 31-3 loss at Alabama.
The Gator offense, as a whole, is banged up, and coach Urban Meyer didn't have a lot of depth to begin with. They have two healthy receivers, Dallas Baker and Chad Jackson. Jemalle Cornelius, who didn't play against Mississippi State last week after spraining an ankle against Alabama, will be counted on to help against the Tigers.
The 35-9 final score against Mississippi State is not indicative of the game. Florida struggled to put the Bulldogs away. The prognosis for Florida's success remains long-term. I like LSU's position in the SEC West race. They don't have to worry about being the front-runner. That position is held by Alabama. Yet the Tigers still control their own destiny in the division, and two of their three toughest games, against the Gators and Auburn, will be in Tiger Stadium.
No. 8 Penn State at Michigan
The e-mails from Wolverine fans are steady. What are we going to do? What's wrong with Lloyd Carr?
Carr needs no defense from me. All he needs to do is ask the maize-and-blue grumblers what they did on Jan. 1 the last two years. That should bring the conversation to a quick close.
Yes, Michigan is 3-3, 1-2 in the Big Ten. But is there really anything systemically wrong with the Wolverines? Nothing that a healthy Mike Hart and getting kicker Garrett Rivas out of his slump couldn't cure. Michigan lost by seven to Notre Dame, three to Wisconsin and three to Minnesota. The 'Rines woes in the red zone are well-chronicled. Although it's a surprise that a team like Michigan would be so dependent on one tailback and one kicker, it's not as though these problems are insurmountable.
Penn State has problems of a different sort. They are the toast of State College and the toast of college football, the current flavor of the week. The Nittany Lions are 6-0 and ranked in the top 10.
It sounds odd to say that a Joe Paterno team might not know how to handle success. Is there any situation in college football that Paterno hasn't dealt with? But this a young team, and a team not used to the pressures that come with being the front-runner. Going into the Big House on Saturday will be a test of the Nittany Lions' maturity. Michigan is a dangerous team.
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