Week 1 surprises lead to Week 2 questions
Tennessee's upset of Cal caused quite a hubbub surrounding new offensive coordinator David Cutliffe. The Vols' offensive performance was obviously impressive, but their play on the other side of the ball is one of the least publicized and most underrated stories in college football. Under the guidance of associate head coach and defensive coordinator John Chavis, Tennessee consistently has fielded tough defenses -- even this year, after losing a number of starters to graduation. Since Chavis was named UT's defensive coordinator in 1995, the Vols have held their opponents to an average of less than a 100 yards rushing in six seasons -- including the much-maligned 2005 campaign.
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Tennessee's Turk McBride (90) and Ryan Karl (39) tackle Cal's Marshawn Lynch.
There's no question Cal was overwhelmed by the crowd; it's tough for a Pac-10 school to visit any SEC stadium. Cal was up against a talented team that underperformed in 2005 and came out of the gates with something to prove. Right away, the Vols looked more confident than last year's squad, which often appeared frantic and disheveled.
The win over a much-higher-ranked opponent -- Cal came into the game ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press poll -- was golden for Tennessee. The Vols were on the fringe after last season, and a loss would have created the same kind of furor that exists in Miami right now. If you start the season with doubts and open with a loss, it's tough to rebound. Instead, the Vols came out firing on all cylinders and making the types of plays on offense that haven't been seen on Rocky Top since Kelly Washington suited up for Tennessee.
Questions now surround Cal. The Bears take on a tough Minnesota squad Saturday -- possibly opening with the toughest two-game schedule in the country. Will they be able to bounce back from the loss to Tennessee?
This weekend's games are a little like going through the buffet line -- there's a little something for everyone.
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Troy Smith got a strong start to the season against NIU.
Of course, the top story is No. 1 Ohio State traveling to Austin on Saturday to take on the defending champion (and No. 2 team in the country) Texas Longhorns (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). There are off-field issues with Texas, as starting cornerback Tarell Brown was arrested on misdemeanor drug and weapon charges earlier this week. Coach Mack Brown has suspended Brown for the game against the Buckeyes.
More than losing Brown, Texas will be hurt by the media attention this case is receiving. Players will be asked numerous times for comment, and it will be tough to make sure everyone is focused on the game. Another edge Ohio State has is the play of its quarterback and Heisman candidate Troy Smith. Smith is playing at such a high level -- he tossed three touchdowns and accumulated nearly 300 yards passing against Northern Illinois -- and has so many weapons on offense, he will be tough to stop.
The Buckeyes have some issues on defense, although many of the 171 yards they allowed Huskies running back Garrett Wolfe to gain on the ground came after the game was decided. The Ohio State-Texas matchup reminds me a lot of the 2002 Fiesta Bowl, which pitted the Buckeyes against Miami and was only settled after two overtimes. (Ohio State won 31-24 after Maurice Clarett scored on a 5-yard touchdown run.) Both games featured a ton of premier talent -- there have to be at least 40 pro prospects in Saturday's game.
Both teams feature playmakers -- Texas has an inexperienced quarterback but a supporting cast that knows what it takes to win a national championship -- so the game will boil down to which team makes the bigger mistakes. The game shows all the signs of being an instant classic. Anytime you can pit the No. 1 team against the No. 2 team, it's a tremendous boost for college football.
ACCORDING TO THE SCHEDULES
When Division I-AA Montana State defeated Big 12 North defending champion Colorado on Saturday, it sent shockwaves through the college football world. Big schools pay to play smaller opponents for a variety of reasons -- to prepare their teams, pad their schedules, etc. When one of those schools rises up and wins a game, it draws a lot of attention to the way college football is run.
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Montana State coach Mike Kramer celebrates his program's signature win.
The merits of Division I-A teams playing I-AA teams have long been debated. With the addition of a 12th game for the 2006 season and the change in BCS rules to allow one win over a I-AA school to count toward a school's record each year, more Division I programs are looking to pay these "sacrificial lambs" to boost their résumés.
Sometimes, those schools don't have a choice. There are so many schools scrambling to add an extra game and only so many opponents. Particularly in leagues with championships, it is hard to schedule another conference game. We're seeing teams that are in the national title hunt schedule tougher nonconference opponents -- Saturday's Ohio State-Texas game is a good example. For whichever team wins, the game certainly will help. The team that loses could be out of the title hunt.
I believe we will see many more undefeated teams than we saw last year. West Virginia, for example, is the prohibitive favorite in all its games, and now that Heisman candidate and Louisville running back Michael Bush is out for the season, the Mountaineers easily could run the table. Conversely, USC not only plays a full Pac-10 plate but also schedules out-of-conference games against Nebraska and Notre Dame. Wins against both teams would help the Trojans, but they are by no means guaranteed.
In the SEC, it's even harder to run the table. It's often not about who has the most talent but who has the most favorable schedule. Although Florida and LSU are two of the top teams, Auburn and Georgia own the most favorable slates.
Finding the balance between playing a tough, BCS-worthy schedule and one in which your team will succeed is an extraordinary task. When you factor in that even scheduling I-AA contests doesn't guarantee you a win, it becomes much harder.
When I coached at Marshall, we were a Division I-AA school. We scheduled games against I-A teams because we had to; the money the school receives from those games funds the rest of the athletic department. As a coach, I was competitive enough to believe we always had a change in those games. The major difference between the classes is depth -- our starters could line up fine against many I-A teams, but we never had enough depth to beat one. Those games took a mental and physical toll on the team. We always ended up with at least one guy hurt; a lot of injuries occur when you're tired.
On the other hand, Division I-A teams have everything to lose in games against I-AA schools. They have everything to lose -- they know they'll get that team's best shot. It's tough, however, to get your team fired up to play a I-AA school.
Jim Donnan was the head coach at Georgia and Marshall and is an ESPN college football analyst.