Just For Argument's Sake...
Updated: October 19, 2006, 2:31 AM ETBy Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com
From nagging questions to soapbox moments to Heisman hype, here's a look at the hottest topics in college football.
3 Nagging Questions | Soapbox Moment | Whatever Happened To ... | Introducing
Just A Thought | How To | Heisman Hype | Power 16 | 3 Games Worth TiVo-ing
Just A Thought | How To | Heisman Hype | Power 16 | 3 Games Worth TiVo-ing
I know what you're thinking, and the answer is no. The Atlantic Coast Conference should keep its bid.
The Big East? The conference with three teams in the top 19 (one more than the ACC, not to mention the Big 12)?
So far, it's clear that the demise of the Big East has been greatly exaggerated. The demise of the ACC is just as temporary, although it should be pointed out that Miami never had these behavior issues when it belonged to the Big East.
"It's all a perception issue," Big East associate commissioner Nick Carparelli, Jr., said this week. "You can clearly make a case that every one of our teams is better now than two years ago. We weren't as bad (in 2004) as everyone thought we were. Everyone assumed the teams we were left with were no good."
If No. 4 West Virginia wins at UConn on Friday night, and No. 6 Louisville wins at Syracuse on Saturday, they will have made their game on Thursday, Nov. 2, one of the biggest in the history of the conference, not just the history of newly configured one. This Saturday, No. 19 Rutgers takes its 6-0 record to Pittsburgh to play the 6-1 Panthers in a game that ESPN2 thought enough of to move to 5:45 p.m.
"When you have a one-horse conference," Carparelli said, "you're banking on one thing happening. When you have two, three, four teams that are perceived to be good, the number of quality games multiplies."
The Big East has a new contract with ESPN. With the success thus far this season, the automatic bid to the BCS appears safe. After the shakeup of conferences that took place two years ago, the new Big East asked to be judged over a period of time. Already, it looks as if it's worthy.
"We try not to overreact to how well we're doing," Carparelli said. "You never know in this game. We're not going to have two teams in the top 10 all the time."
The same courtesy should be given the new ACC. I'm sure that, given time, it will prove itself worthy of keeping its automatic bid, too.
When Tommy Bowden went to Clemson in 1999, he bucked the trend toward big, hulking offensive linemen. He wanted them lean and quick for offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. A couple of them didn't even make 260 pounds.
Fast forward to 2006, when the No. 12 Tigers are 6-1 for only the second time in Bowden's eight seasons. A big reason is a senior-dominated offensive line that averages -- averages, mind you, -- more than 300 pounds per man.
"We were a shotgun, fast-paced, no-huddle team," Bowden said of his early teams at Clemson. "Man-blocking. You had to have athleticism. Our offense was ahead of the times. When people caught up, we were kind of mismatched. People caught up with us. I didn't have enough of a running game out of our one-back offense."
When they put another defender in the box, Clemson couldn't account for him. Once quarterback Woody Dantzler graduated in 2002, Bowden didn't have a quarterback whose running skills could keep the defense at bay. Bowden dabbled in Urban Meyer's spread option. But he wasn't, as he put it, "married" to it.
He brought in offensive coordinator Rob Spence from Toledo. The Tigers stopped spreading out so much. They became more of a power team. It's more old-school, more to the liking of a coach, Bowden, who grew up with the I formation.
"I've got three tight ends I can put in the game," Bowden said. "I got another blocker for the defense. Put another guy in the box, I can take care of him. If you did it then, I had to throw. I'm all zone blocking now. You need road graders."
Rodriguez, Bowden said, has stayed ahead of defenses at West Virginia by sticking to a running quarterback.
"With his quarterback (Pat White), he's got three tailbacks," Bowden said. "His quarterback throws it well but nobody can stop his rushing. Until he plays somebody like Michigan or Ohio State who can take his quarterback and make him throw it, they're going to run."
But even Rodriguez has adjusted. His linemen average 287 pounds.
As we ease into the latter part of October, the number of undefeateds and only-defeateds is shrinking at the same rate. There are seven of the former, as one glance at the BCS Standings will tell you: Ohio State, USC, Michigan, West Virginia, Louisville, Rutgers and Boise State.
There are six of the latter, although they are not so easily found. You have to comb the bottom of the conference standings, which is where to find Duke, Eastern Michigan, Florida International, San Diego State, Stanford and Temple.
Jim Kirchner/Icon SMI
Al Golden and Temple are among the six winless I-A teams in 2006.
Recent history shows an unlikely symmetry between the two. In the last 10 regular seasons, there have been 18 unbeatens and 19 winless. There has been one year with no winless teams (2002) and one year with no unbeatens (2003). A remarkable 13 of the 18 unbeatens won their bowl game as well, and three of the five bowl losers fell to another unbeaten.
Still, the one extra game, a bowl game against a highly ranked opponent, proves that it's tougher to go unbeaten than it is winless. As for this year's regular season, the fact that Ohio State and Michigan play each other, and that West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers play each other, means that three of the seven unbeatens are guaranteed to lose.
It is difficult to predict that any of the six winless teams will find the answers necessary to win one game before season's end. Florida International has dismissed two players and suspended 16 others indefinitely after last week's brawl with Miami. Stanford just set a historic low for offensive output. Temple has allowed more than 60 points to three of six opponents.
Eastern Michigan, with three losses by eight points or fewer, looks ready to end its schneid. San Diego State's five opponents are 17-9 against the rest of their schedule, which means the Aztecs' schedule only gets easier.
Duke is 0-6 and has been similarly afflicted, but its remaining schedule includes only one team, up-the-street rival North Carolina, with a losing record. The Blue Devils will play at home this Saturday against a Miami team that is 13 players lighter than it was last week because of the aforementioned brawl. Hmmm
All of us owe an apology to the University of Miami and its president, Donna Shalala. I just hope she can forgive us. What she said Tuesday, punctuated at times with a shaking fist, should make the public understand the wrong done to the Hurricane players in the wake of their brawl last Saturday.
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
Donna Shalala and Miami haven't had much to smile about lately.
"It's time for the feeding frenzy to stop," Shalala said. "These young men made a stupid, terrible, horrible mistake and they are being punished."
Twelve players have been suspended for one game. One player has been suspended indefinitely. Well, OK, several of them committed acts that, had they occurred off the field, might have been grounds for assault changes. The players will not be allowed to play Saturday at Duke.
That's Donna "Throw the Book" Shalala to you.
Florida International, meanwhile, dismissed two players from the team and suspended the other 16 indefinitely. FIU is winless and will play its next game at Alabama on Oct. 28 with a team that might not need a second bus.
Maybe that's what caused Shalala to leap to the defense of the players who sullied Miami's good name. Florida International took a hard line. Miami just gave us a line.
"This university will be firm and punish people who do bad things," Shalala said. She announced a new "zero tolerance" policy.
You can't get any tougher than zero tolerance. All it took was for Miami to lay down the law was three incidents in seven games. Here's the new math: When do four incidents equal zero tolerance? When you play football at Miami.
Police at Dartmouth are considering filing charges after the school's 24-21 overtime loss to Holy Cross on Saturday ended with postgame fighting. At Miami, Shalala wants everyone to quit picking on her players.
"This is not the old Miami. This is the new Miami," Shalala said. "We've always known we can't make mistakes. We don't get a break."
The old Miami, the Miami of the late 1980s and early 1990s, featured players who relished disrespecting their opponents. The Miami of the last decade found a way to win a national championship without all that other stuff. This team has resurrected that "old Miami" and shame on all of us for ever making the comparison.
After all, there's one big difference. Those Miami teams won a lot.
If you could launch Google Earth to zero in from outer space onto the redshirt junior's college football career, you would start in 2003, when he arrived at USC with the sky as his limit. Washington came in with all the high school All-America credentials you've ever heard of. He belonged in the same breath as classmates Reggie Bush and LenDale White.
Then you would telescope forward three years, past the 2½ years of academic ineligibility. That's right: 2½ years. It's remarkable that Washington never took "No" for an answer and transferred.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Chauncey Washington rumbled for 108 yards against ASU.
"We talked about alternatives, all kinds of stuff, junior colleges," coach Pete Carroll said. "He just kept coming back. He wanted to play for USC. It's a marvelous story for that reason. His love for 'SC, his wanting to play here, kept him hanging on through some times when some other guys would have gone south."
Why did Washington stick it out?
"I got discouraged, but my father picked me up," Washington said. "He said, 'Let's go. You've still got time. You're young. Everything will work out.' My whole family is behind me. It's all paying off. I believe everything my dad tells me. When he tells me something, and he's really serious about it, you can look at his eye and see."
Now you arrive at this fall, with the focus on the first five games of this season, when Washington rushed for 292 yards and two touchdowns while sharing the job with three other Trojan tailbacks.
The camera zeroes in on one game. In the first three quarters last Saturday night against Arizona State, Washington carried the ball nine times for 40 yards.
On USC's first possession of the fourth quarter, the score was tied 21-21. Trojans quarterback John David Booty had lost his rhythm, committing two third-quarter turnovers that the Sun Devils converted into touchdowns.
Almost there now: The Trojans embarked on a 14-play, 74-yard, power-running drive for the winning touchdown. Washington carried it 10 times for 64 of those yards, including the last two.
At last -- if you want the essence of what makes the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Washington worth waiting for, it's not the Superman tattoo carefully inked between his shoulder blades. Google Earth would stop at one play, the second play of the winning drive.
On second-and-four from the USC 32, Washington burst through the middle, dragging would-be tacklers for some 20 yards of a 23-yard gain. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, sitting in the press box, was mesmerized.
"When you saw that, and you saw the way he got up from the run," Kiffin said. "You have got to watch that stuff. It's an emotional game. You saw him get up from the run. He wasn't going to let them stop him. Sometimes I take my eyes away to go to the next play. I happened to see that. You just had that feeling."
"I was yelling, fired up," Washington said. "'Let's go! C'mon! Ryan (Kalil, the center) was egging me on, telling me, 'Let's go! We got this!'"
Kiffin set aside any plays scripted to go wide. He kept Washington between the tackles. Washington found a rhythm. He laughed as he described it in front of his locker Saturday night.
"I really haven't had a rhythm here," Washington said. "My freshman year, I really didn't get into a rhythm. This is my first time I've had a rhythm since high school. Crazy, huh? It feels great."
A rhythm, a focus: finally, Washington has a career.
Let's say it right:
Innnnntrooooohdooooocingggggggg, in this corner, the unintentionally funniest e-mail I got this week, from Alabama regarding its game next week.
ALABAMA-FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL SET FOR PAY-FOR-VIEW
It's on the Top Rank undercard, of course, before the main event between Miami and Georgia Tech.
When Oklahoma tailback Adrian Peterson burst onto the college football landscape two years ago, the question was not whether he would win the Heisman but how often. Peterson finished second as a freshman to USC quarterback Matt Leinart in 2004. He rushed for 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns. He combined speed and power in a way generally unavailable to teenagers.
Adrian Peterson is only 151 yards behind Billy Sims' OU rushing record.
And he will never win a Heisman. A high ankle sprain sapped him of his ability to run effectively last season. Last Saturday, he broke his collarbone when he landed awkwardly on a dive into the end zone at the tail end of a 53-yard run. Doctors originally said that Peterson might be back for a bowl game.
However, he always has been a quick healer. He suffered a separated shoulder in his first practice as a freshman. Four weeks later, he rushed for 100 yards in the opener against Bowling Green.
The injury does little to change the universally held notion that he will leave for the NFL after this season. That's the dilemma for Peterson. It's hard to imagine that he would come back if playing puts him at risk for his preparedness for the combine and predraft workouts.
But that's between Peterson and his love for his team and the Oklahoma record book. He needs only 151 yards to break the Sooner career rushing record held by 1978 Heisman winner Billy Sims.
Whatever happens, once Peterson goes to the NFL, he will join a small fraternity of college underclassmen who finished in the top five of a Heisman vote without going on to win it. That list includes Archie Manning of Ole Miss (fourth in 1969, injured late in 1970 and finished third), Ricky Bell of USC (third in 1975, second in 1976) and Marshall Faulk of San Diego State (second in 1992, third in 1993).
Editor's note: Every week, Ivan Maisel will explain how to perform a task integral to college football. It might happen on the field. It might happen on the sideline. It might have to do with tradition, or preparation, or the band, or the managers. But you'll go inside the sport as you never have before. Here goes:
A coach can talk to a recruit until he's tired of the sound of his own voice. He can win over the high school coach, the principal and the guidance counselor. He can recruit the teammate, and win over the girlfriend.
But if the college coach doesn't convince the recruit's mother that he will take care of her 300-pound little baby, he can forget about getting that baby's signature on a letter of intent. That is truer now than it ever has been, said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who has been recruiting them for more than 50 years.
Manny Millan/Icon SMI
Bear Bryant was one of the best at winning over moms.
"As you recruit boys, one thing you need to find out is what person will he listen to the most," Bowden said. "As you get into many of their homes, more than 50 percent of them, it's just the mother. The dad is missing. You find out what she likes and dislikes. You better find out what she dislikes, and stay away from it.
"Be careful what subjects you talk about. She might be political and she has beliefs toward one policy or another. One other thing is whether she's religious or not. Make sure it doesn't hurt to discuss your feelings.
"You got to take care of her baby. That's got to be big. He's fixin' to go away for the first time. If you can sell her on that, you got a shot."
On that issue alone, Bowden is a master, says a coach who has watched him recruit on and off for 35 years. Bowden's son Tommy, the head coach at Clemson, has heard it all.
"He compliments the moms so," Tommy said. "The mom is a single parent. My daddy will say, 'His manners are so good. He's so polite. Who taught him to do that?' I've seen him operate. I know his lines."
One of the best at winning over the mom was the late Bear Bryant at Alabama. In the new book, "The Missing Ring," author Keith Dunnavant tells the story of Bryant's recruitment of Joe Kelley, a quarterback from near Ozark, Ala., in 1965. Bryant went in on the heels of a Florida State coach's pitch.
"Kelley's mother escorted the Bear to their big round kitchen table," Dunnavant wrote. "While she served everyone coffee and homemade cake, Bryant poured her a cup of coffee. Then he sat down right next to her."
For two hours Bryant ate cake, sipped coffee and smoked Chesterfields.
"That was the first and last cup of coffee my mother ever drank," Kelley said in the book. "She didn't like coffee. But when he left and I asked her about it, she said she thought it would have been rude not to drink that coffee, after he had been so hospitable to serve it."
Bobby Bowden, who began coaching at Howard College in Birmingham, knew Bryant. When I started to tell him the Kelley story, Bowden interrupted me.
"I was there that night," he said.
"I was an assistant coach at Florida State for Bill Peterson," Bowden said. "I was in Joe Kelley's house. He was very interested in Florida State. We thought we had a shot at him. I hear something on the front porch, somebody shuffling his feet and stomping around. Someone said, 'I think Coach Bryant is outside and it's his turn.' Somebody had called him and told him I was coming in that night. As I walked out, he walked in.
"I went back to Tallahassee and opened up the paper the next morning. It said, 'Joe Kelley commits to the University of Alabama.'"
1. Troy Smith, Ohio State, QB: Consistency and leadership is rewarded.
2. Steve Slaton, West Virginia, RB: Pat White had a better game against Syracuse but don't overlook Slaton's 183 yards.
3. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech, WR: With a week off, he gets healthier. That's not good news for Clemson.
4. Bobby Reid, Oklahoma State, QB: The Cowboys' quarterback is putting up great numbers and has led Oklahoma State back from a miserable 2005.
5. Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois, RB: He might have rushed for 25 yards against Western Michigan, but what's he going to put up against Temple?
1. Ohio State (1 last week): Hard to believe that five out of six computer rankings have the Buckeyes third. Hard to believe that we have to care.
2. West Virginia (3): The Mountaineer fans got the news that they feared. The BCS Standings won't be kind to them.
3. Michigan (4): You think those fans who wanted Lloyd Carr's head on a stick have any guilty conscience about rooting for him now? Probably not.
4. USC (5): Pete Carroll did his best Al Davis on Saturday night: "Just win, baby." Guess he knows that the computers have his back.
5. Texas (6): The Longhorns' chance of repeating got a jolt: They're behind three other one-loss teams.
6. Louisville (7): If nothing else, the Cardinals proved they have the best second-string quarterback in the nation.
7. Tennessee (8): As schedule breaks go, the Vols getting an off week before archrival Alabama comes to town ranks pretty high.
8. Auburn (12): Welcome back to the national championship race. How was your week away?
9. Cal (10): What's impressive about the 21-3 victory at Washington State is that the Bears, who had five straight 40-point games, won with defense.
10. Florida (2): If you can figure out how to separate the teams in the SEC, please clue me in.
11. Clemson (9): Beating up on Temple proves nothing.
12. Arkansas (12): Beating up on Southeast Missouri State proves nothing.
13. LSU (13): Nice rebound by the Tigers against Kentucky. LSU will get no bounce from playing a suddenly weak Fresno State.
14. Notre Dame (14): So if the Irish beat UCLA, they're 2-0 in the Pac-10 and 3-1 in the Big Ten. Can they finish first in both conferences without joining them?
15. Georgia Tech (15): Clemson's physical running game will test the Yellow Jackets' defensive front.
16. Wisconsin (NR): P.J. Hill Jr. for Freshman of the Year. Bret Bielema for Freshman Coach of the Year.
Adios: Missouri (16).
Alabama at No. 7 Tennessee
Saturday, 3:30 p.m ET, CBS
The rivalry is known as the Third Saturday in October. It is, like all great college rivalries, based in proximity. The history of this rivalry dates to the late 1920s, when Bob Neyland turned Tennessee into, first, a regional power, and then a national one. The Volunteers supplanted the Crimson Tide in the South, and then the two programs swapped being the best team in the South into the early 1950s.
When Bear Bryant returned to his alma mater in 1958, he returned the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry to its once-important status. That had been the Crimson Tide's big game when Bryant played in the 1930s. It's no coincidence that Bryant, at Kentucky, went 0-6-1 against Neyland. Bryant got so worked up to face Tennessee that he didn't handle the pressure.
When Bryant got to Alabama, he dominated. When Phillip Fulmer took over at Tennessee in 1993, the Vols quickly established dominance in the rivalry until last season -- their grip slipped when the snakebit Vols held the Crimson Tide to two field goals and lost, because they could score only one.
Tennessee has the better team. The offense, rejuvenated by the return of coordinator David Cutcliffe, can run or throw. Cutcliffe has turned quarterback Erik Ainge into a star. The same goes for receiver Robert Meachem.
The Crimson Tide have another stout defense. The offense is young and inexperienced with particular trouble in the red zone. Alabama has had 32 possessions in the red zone. It has kicked 13 field goals, scored 11 touchdowns and been turned away eight times. By comparison, Tennessee has 17 touchdowns in 23 red-zone trips.
No. 5 Texas at No. 17 Nebraska
Saturday, noon ET, ABC
If you like this game on Saturday, you'll love it on Dec. 3 in Kansas City. In other words, this game looks a lot like a preview of the Big 12 Championship Game. Now that Missouri has lost on the road to a physical opponent, the odds that the Tigers can go into Memorial Stadium in Lincoln on Nov. 4 and take control of the Big 12 North have gone up.
Nebraska has combined its physical style with a potent passing offense. Zac Taylor is ninth in the nation in passing efficiency (107-164-2, 1,547 yards, 14 TDs, 170.2 rating). This is a good team that has been slowed only by the superior speed and athleticism of USC.
Which brings up a problem. The Longhorns have the same kind of talent as the Trojans. Texas has not been challenged since its early-season home loss to No. 1 Ohio State, and the Longhorns are a much better team now. Freshman quarterback Colt McCoy gets better every snap. In fact, he is ahead of Taylor, fifth in I-A in passing efficiency (101-147-3, 1,229 yards, 18 TDs, 175.3 rating).
Nebraska has a shot to win, because the game is at home. As polite as the Memorial Stadium crowds are -- who else gives the visiting team a standing ovation at the end of the game? -- they make it tough for visitors. This will be a great example of how big a difference a home team can make. It won't be enough, but it will be fun to watch.
No. 13 Georgia Tech at No. 12 Clemson
Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Here's another game that might be replayed on Dec. 3, in Jacksonville in the ACC Championship Game. The No. 13 Yellow Jackets and the No. 12 Tigers are, to date, the best teams in the ACC Coastal and Atlantic divisions, respectively. Georgia Tech has lost only to No. 10 Notre Dame. Clemson has lost only at No. 22 Boston College in double overtime.
The Tigers, despite a lot of injuries, have remained atop the Atlantic because of a powerful running game and a stubborn defense. An offensive line of all seniors continues to open holes for sophomore James Davis and freshman C.J. Spiller, the best combination of backs in the league.
The Yellow Jackets' blitz-heavy defense confuses the most experienced quarterbacks. Clemson's Will Proctor might be a fifth-year senior, but this is only his first season as a starter. Georgia Tech is seventh in the nation in rushing defense ( 71.7 yards allowed per game) and ninth in pass efficiency defense (98.24 rating), which is impressive only until you see that Clemson is sixth in each (69.7 and 96.24, respectively).
On offense, Georgia Tech has the best receiver in the nation, Calvin Johnson, and four-year starter Reggie Ball is making a lot fewer bad decisions at quarterback than he has in the past.
The home field and offensive balance tip this one toward the home team, but Georgia Tech fans shouldn't fret. They'll get another opportunity in Jacksonville.
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