What we know so far - Week One
By Dave Bagchi
NationalChamps.net Writer


September 3, 2003
All of us are excited as college football's first week has come and gone. But this is fair warning to all to not be over zealous. Consider these lessons from recent history:

- In 1999, Penn State seemed like world-beaters after a week one 41-7 dismantling of a top five Arizona team. They rode the momentum to a number one ranking into early November. Three losses later, the Nittany Lions were forgotten and participants in a non-major bowl.

- 2001 started with a bang for the defending national champion Oklahoma Sooners. All the hype surrounded Bob Stoops and his gang as they rode an undefeated start into late October. Two losses later, the Sooners were forgotten in the title chase and ended by struggling through an insignificant snooze-fest with Arkansas in the Cotton bowl.

- The 2002 Oregon Ducks looked to be on their way to avenging their BCS slight from a season earlier as they began the year 6-0. Duck fans were howling (quacking?) until a shocking 45-42 loss to Arizona State. Five losses later, the quack attack was dead and buried.

Get the idea? Now that I've got your expectations tamed (at least temporarily), here are five early observations definitely holding water.

1. Speed, speed and more speed.
Watching the athletes on the defensive side of the ball from USC, Auburn, Ohio State and Oklahoma, it is mesmerizing how fast and strong collegiate athletes have become. The Trojan and Tiger defenses going at it was especially eye opening. It is really too bad that Auburn turnovers dictated the outcome of this war as the play on the field called for a much closer outcome. Not to take credit away, of course, from a Trojan team which took full advantage of and forced Auburn's miscues. But when I think beyond the final score and remembered watching Cadillac get hit by the Trojan defense, and the way the Auburn defense swarmed in return, it made me really think about something: Will these players ever play against a defense as fast and strong again? It will be interesting to see as the season progresses if these defenses can keep up the pace. One thing is clear - all four of the aforementioned teams will rely heavily on their defenses to make a championship run.

2. Playing Downhill.
There is a term used in football when a team takes over a game. It is referred to as "playing downhill." Defensively, it is when the other team is not only going three and out, but hardly even capable of getting a positive yard. Watching them, you almost feel they would be better off punting on first down. You've seen this happen from Washington in the 1991 Rose Bowl or Oklahoma in the 2001 Orange Bowl. Well, Ohio State's defense was playing downhill against Washington all night long on Saturday. To say the Buckeyes were suffocating defensively would be an understatement. Every time Cody Pickett dropped back to throw the Buckeye defensive line was in his face and the UW receivers were blanketed. Thank God for Husky fans that Pickett has a strong arm, otherwise, Ohio State would have had a whole lot more interceptions. All the talk about Clarett's suspension is easily forgotten if the Buckeyes turn out defensive performances like this all season. It will be exciting to watch this unit go up against powerful offenses from NC State, Wisconsin and Michigan during the Buckeyes' repeat quest.

3. Heisman, Heisman, Heisman.
As usual, the season starts with very few Heisman favorites. But we should have a bevy of them by mid-October. The roll call so far includes Ell Roberson, Phillip Rivers, Chris Perry, Fred Russell, Mike Williams and Roy Williams. Whoever thought that this was a weak season for the Heisman clearly is not aware of how well college football is progressing. There are more gifted and talented athletes on the gridiron today than ever before. Even more interesting is the exhausting variety of attributes among the candidates. From solid and heady winners like Rivers, to dominant athletes like Roberson, to physical specimens like Williams, this year's Heisman crop will be a voter's nightmare. Do not be surprised if a few defensive names soon begin popping on the list. My pick at season's start was Roberson, and I'll stick with the Wildcat for now. But be assured -for the first half of the season, this is going to be a dynamic and wide-open race.

4. Game Breakers.
The definition of a Game Breaker is the type of player who, every time he touches the ball, has you jumping out of your seat. Jamelle Hollieway, Desmond Howard, Michael Pritchard, Rocket Ismail, Tamarick Vanover are some recent ones, to name a few. At Miami, Game Breakers seem to come a dime a dozen. Three years ago it was Santana Moss, then Phillip Buchanon, followed by Roscoe Parrish in 2002. This year, the nation will be introduced to Devin Hester. Last week the red-shirt freshman ran back a long kick, grabbed two deep passes, and ran a nifty reverse play. Oh sure, other teams have similar standout athletes, such as Michigan's new-found star Steve Breaston, Ohio State's savvy Chris Gamble, or Oregon's electrifying Samie Parker. But one thing is clear: while most teams wish for one such special athlete, year-in year-out, Miami has a free-for-all competition. This season, the Canes will feature Parrish, Hester, Antrel Rolle and freakish safety Sean Taylor. It will be interesting to see how the ball is distributed and how egos stay under wraps as each of these players are given their chance.

5. Rocky Top is Back.
Watching Tennessee last season seemed sometimes like watching a rerun of the show ER. Those days are clearly behind the Volunteers and misfortune like they had last season will most likely not be repeated. With a healthy team, Tennessee looked dominant on defense holding Fresno State to negative rushing yards and only 6 points on Saturday. And while QB Casey Clausen struggled, it was great to see Cedric Houston and Jabari Davis ripping off long runs. Watch out for quarterback-turned-wide-receiver James Banks. He looks like the next playmaker for Tennessee. The O-line looked solid and the defense showed speed. Tennessee looks to be a legitimate 11th-20th ranked team, great news for the SEC. Combine this with Georgia and Alabama's strong showings, and the conference could be on its way to reversing 2002's dismal performance.

Still though, if I had to vote today, I would rank the SEC behind the Big 10, Big12 and Pac 10, while only narrowly ahead of the ACC and Big East. But it will be interesting to see how this changes with big-time match ups still on the slate. Alabama gets a home stab against Oklahoma, while Florida will battle at Miami next Saturday. It could be a day of redemption for the conference that was so dominant during the 90's.

So there you have the five things on my mind after week one. Please share your thoughts, opinions and observations. It will be exciting to see how things progress during what should be another epic season of college football.