Just For Argument's Sake ...

Originally Published: September 20, 2006
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

From nagging questions to soapbox moments to Heisman hype, here's a look at the hottest topics in college football.

1. Can this Notre Dame offense be saved?
It's difficult to say that any offense is having problems in the wake of a 40-37 victory. But a Notre Dame offense with eight senior starters, an offense that only gained momentum over the course of the 2005 season, has lacked consistency over the first four games of the season.

Even the best offensive performance of the season -- the 41-17 defeat of Penn State -- is a bit misleading. The Irish defense scored one of the team's five touchdowns, and the special teams set up another.
Brady Quinn
AP Photo/Al Goldis
Brady Quinn looked ordinary early in the Michigan and Michigan State games.
The Irish running game has gained a total of 299 yards over four games. That's 108th among teams, and would be 55th among players. The offensive line, which features four seniors, has struggled to resemble a unit.

In total, an offense that gained more than 500 yards in seven games last season has yet to gain 400 yards in any game this season. Granted, the new clock rules have some role in that decline, but fewer plays overall doesn't account for the entire difference between 79 plays per game last season and 64 this season.

Only in the second half of the Michigan State game, when Brady Quinn threw touchdown passes of 62, 43 and 14 yards, did the Irish begin to play as expected. But coach Charlie Weis refused Tuesday to accept the idea that the comeback against the Spartans meant that the Irish had solved their problems.

"I think that would be a little presumptuous," Weis said, according to a press conference transcript. "I think we have a lot of work yet to do."

The second half looked good, in part, because Notre Dame looked so ordinary in the first half -- again. Quinn went 2-for-6 for eight yards in the first quarter Saturday night.

He started the Michigan game 3-for-13 for 14 yards, which included the interception that Prescott Burgess returned 31 yards for the Wolverines' first touchdown in a 47-21 victory.

Last season, the Irish scored on the first or second possession in 10 of 12 games. This season, they have one field goal to show for those eight possessions.

When a questioner brought the early-game struggles to Weis' attention Tuesday, he responded, "You're preaching to the choir."

Weis said he doesn't believe that defenses have "figured out" his play-calling.

"Just haven't written the right plays, I guess," he said. "But I don't think it's them figuring it out … I'll always take my fair share of the blame because you can always write a different set of plays."

Weis said he has tried more aggressive play-calling early in the game as a way to shake the offensive lethargy. But consistency continues to elude the Irish. Weis, who loves to run and pass in equal amounts, does not like the numbers over the last two games: 34 rushes, 85 passes.

"I'm going to have to do a better job," Weis said, "as well as everyone else involved for us to get this fixed."

The schedule might help. Notre Dame has yet to play a team with a loss. Purdue comes into South Bend with a 4-0 record and a seven-game winning streak since starting last season 2-6. But after Purdue comes Stanford, which is 0-4, followed by an off week.

2. Are there any true freshmen who aren't SEC quarterbacks who are already contributing?
Enough about Mitch Mustain of Arkansas, Matthew Stafford of Georgia and Tim Tebow of Florida. There are more freshmen already playing well. They are also disproving the theory, which I first heard from UCF coach George O'Leary, that the farther a player lines up away from the ball, the quicker he might contribute.

That's certainly not the case with Iowa State defensive end Rashawn Parker, who leads the Cyclones with three sacks, and has another 1.5 tackles for loss.
Emmanuel Moody
Rick Scuteri-US Presswire
USC freshman Emmanuel Moody gained 130 yards against Arizona.

"I don't know that we could expect more out of an 18-year-old freshman in the first two games of his college career," Iowa State coach Dan McCarney said after giving Parker a game ball for his play in the 16-10 victory over UNLV on Sept. 9.

Parker, who played at Ponca City (Okla.) High, had 18 sacks a year ago, first in the state among 6A schools. At 6-foot, 245 pounds, he might not have fit the profile of what Oklahoma is looking for on the defensive line. Last February, the Sooners signed two defensive ends who average 6-3, 262.

Their loss.

Oklahoma does have a surprise at center, however. Chase Beeler has performed well in place of the injured Jon Cooper. Beeler played late in the Oregon game and started against Middle Tennessee.

The two top recruits at offensive tackle, Sam Young of Notre Dame and Andre Smith of Alabama, began the season as starters and alternate between swallowing defensive linemen and waving them through. But just the fact that they are starting on teams that have begun the season 3-1 speaks highly of their talent.

Once we move off the line of scrimmage, the candidates are impressive. USC's Emmanuel Moody, who stepped in after injuries ravaged the Trojans at tailback, has rushed for 258 yards in three games, including 130 yards on 21 carries in the 20-3 victory at Arizona Saturday night. Moody started in the backfield behind classmate Stanley Havili but the fullback broke his fibula and will miss at least several weeks.

Clemson tailback C.J. Spiller, whom coach Tommy Bowden won in a recruiting battle with his father, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, caught an 82-yard touchdown pass against Boston College, a Clemson record for a scoring reception.

Spiller's classmate, Jacoby Ford, set a school record with a 92-yard touchdown for a punt return against Florida Atlantic, which just proves he's a freshman. Upperclassmen know not to field a punt inside your 10-yard line.

Florida State has played 15 freshmen this season, a number that stuns even their coach, who has seen 362 victories. "They're sometimes better than what you're playing with," he said in a press conference this week, Corner Myron Rolle, considered one of the top recruits in the nation last February, had a hand in eight tackles in the 55-7 defeat of Rice last week. Rolle's classmate, Marcus Ball, returned an interception 54 yards against the Owls and has broken up two other passes.

It's never a good sign when a defensive back leads a team in tackles, but Toledo can take some solace in the fact that Barry Church, who already has 33 stops, might have more than 40 games remaining in his college career.

3. Wake Forest, Texas A&M, Purdue and Houston are undefeated and unranked. At what point should we believe?
There are 19 remaining unbeaten I-A teams. In addition to the four above, three others -- Boise State, Rutgers and Missouri -- are behind at least nine teams that already have lost a game.

Jim Grobe
Brian A. Westerholt/WireImage.com
Jim Grobe and surprising Wake Forest are 4-0 this season.

The problem is a combination of expectation (four of the seven came off a losing season) and schedule (six of them have played a I-AA team). The former will take care of itself with continued winning. The latter will, too, as the teams ease out of their nonconference La-Z-Boys and into the heart of their schedules.

No. 25 Missouri and, surprisingly, Wake Forest seem like the real deal. The Tigers are a senior-dominated team playing the best defense in the nation. Missouri ranks first in total defense (175. 8 yards per game) and rank no lower than 11th in the other major defensive categories.

Wake has played Duke, yes, but its Syracuse victory appears more respectable every week, and it won on the road against UConn and Ole Miss. Neither team is great, or possibly even good, but never discount nonconference wins on the road.

Both teams will be tested soon enough. Missouri has consecutive road games against Texas Tech and Texas A&M, while Wake has a home game against No. 18 Clemson next week.

The others will prove themselves this week. Texas A&M plays division nemesis Texas Tech, Purdue goes to Notre Dame, Houston plays at Miami, Boise State goes to Utah and Rutgers plays at South Florida. With the exception of Rutgers, a win by any of the other four will mean it's time to take them seriously.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com