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