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06 Sep 2010

One Foot Inbounds: Opening Weekend

by Robert Weintraub

Last season, I spent the opening Saturday of college football trying to avoid my newborn son's projectile vomit. This season, I spent it in the press box of the Georgia Dome, watching LSU hold off the North Carolina JV team in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game. Upgrade!

Yes, One Foot Inbounds, the flavorful weekly gumbo of college football stats, opinions, and wisecracks from your friendly neighborhood columnist is back for another season of fun. We begin the year right down the road from my footy command center here in Decatur, Georgia, at the Georgia Dome, where FO assistant editor deluxe Dave Gardner and I had a good view of what almost became Les Miles' final game as LSU coach. (We commented on the game live through Twitter, and you can check out my tweets all season: @robwein.) I have little doubt Lester would have been strung up by his Buster Browns had North Carolina completed an unlikely comeback. Miles is roughly as popular as BP down in Cajun Country, and blowing a 30-10 lead on national TV wouldn't have helped his status.

The Bayou Bengals got that lead thanks to some extraordinarily shoddy special teams play by the Heels. Patrick Peterson, the wondrous Lowsman Trophy frontrunner (see below), racked up 244 return yards in the first half! That's a school record, and, as they kept reminding us in the press box, a Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game record. (It isn't too hard to set a record in a "traditional" game that has only been played three times.) UNC also botched snaps, required a remedial course in returning kicks out of the end zone, and generally looked like a team missing 13 players to suspension, including defensive linemen Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn, both potential top 10 draft picks next April.

Then, just as Gardner and I were about to slip into spicy-chicken sandwich-induced food comas, the Tar Heels found a passing attack out of nowhere. Quarterback T.J. Yates, was brutal in 2009 (S&P passing rank -- No. 103). But as his namesake, William Butler, put it, "Do not wait to strike until the iron is hot -- make it hot by striking." And strike he did, hitting Jheranie Boyd with a scintillating 97-yard touchdown pass, tossing a beautiful corner route for another score, and after a bizarre sequence that included a recovered onside kick, an LSU strip-and-sack, an LSU fumble as they were about to ice the game, and a stirring drive, Yates had UNC on the LSU 5-yard line with two ticks left. But his final pass went out of the hands of usually reliable tight end Zack Pianalto, and the Tigers held on for a victory that felt like a loss to the thousands of purple-clad fans on hand.

If Yates truly did find his inner Elway in the last eight minutes of the game, after 52 mostly futile ones, then Carolina may indeed have found a way to win without mashing opponents with a superb defense, strong even without the suspended stars (linebacker Quan Sturdivant is awesome with a capital AWE). But I would be surprised if that's the case. As we like to say around here, Yates' heroics represented a rather small sample size.

As for LSU, they have some fine athletes, including converted quarterback Russell Shepard, who caught a touchdown pass and bolted 50 yards for another score, but they are young, dumb, and without a coherent offensive identity. Oh, and they have the second-toughest schedule in the nation according to our projections.

Sunday, John Blake, the Heels' recruiting guru who has left programs in flames wherever he has coached, resigned in disgrace. Perhaps Allen Mogridge, the Special Teams coach, should follow Blake out the door (Mogridge also coaches the tight ends, so the drop by Pianalto is on him too).

It was almost a double disaster for the SEC West. Ole Miss didn't escape a late comeback, losing to FCS opponent Jacksonville State 49-48 in double overtime. The Gamecocks almost took out Florida State last season, so it wasn't shocking that they gave Ole Miss a game. And Houston Nutt's team had dropped six spots in F/+ maestro Bill Connolly's recalibrated preseason projections (25th to 31st).

But I think we can all agree that the loss was karmic payback for the cynicism involved in laying out the welcome mat for new quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who transferred one step ahead of the Oregon police under a dubious NCAA bylaw, and required an appeal last week to be allowed to enroll.

So good on Jax State and its twin-engined quarterback attack for pulling this one out. Marques Ivory and Coty Blanchard made amazing, improvisational plays at the end of regulation and in the second overtime, respectively, to shock the good ole boys in the Grove and get the well oiled alums in the house to call for Houston's Nutts.

Perhaps the problem is that the SEC needs to Nutt-up when it comes to scheduling. According to the Birmingham News, no BCS conference travels less than the SEC, no conference dodges teams from other BCS conferences like the SEC, and 56 percent of non-conference opposition comes from either the FCS or FBS schools that haven't had a winning record in at least four years. And folks in the south whine about Boise State's schedule!

Speaking of mid-major powerhouses, Utah gutted out a great win over Pitt to start the season off right ... on Thursday night (welcome to the Web's lone college football poetry slam). Utah hasn't lost at home on Thursday night since 1954, leading to the obvious question -- Who was calling the game for ESPN, Uncle Miltie? Utes coach Kyle Whittingham obviously saw this study about icing kickers -- with Pitt trying to send it to overtime, kicker Dan Hutchins was true, but Whittingham had called time. Then Hutchins missed -- but Whittingham had called a late time out again. The third time, the wily coach faked a timeout call, but let Hutchins kick, and it was good. I think I speak for all concerned when I say, Screw whether it works or not -- just let them kick the damn ball!

The Buzzkiller of the Week Award goes to Boston College quarterback Dave Shinskie. After an emotional pre-game ceremony marking the return to action of linebacker Mark Herzlich -- who beat bone cancer the way he beat down enemy running backs in 2008 before missing all of last year -- Shinskie led the jacked up Eagles on the field in front of a roaring crowd. Then he threw an interception on the first play. Weber State, being Weber State, could manage only a field goal, as Herzlich made two tackles and rejacked the crowd. BC went on to cruise 38-10, and are an underrated bunch -- 33rd in the F/+ projections this season, but with a bullet, it says here.

If Dominique Davis were still at Chestnut Hill, the Eagles might be generating BCS talk. Instead, the talented but, um, academically questionable quarterback flunked out and wound up at East Carolina, where he provided a stirring game Sunday. (Not to worry, you NFL worshippers -- college ball isn't encroaching on your sacred Sabbath turf ... yet.) Davis had five touchdowns, 383 yards, and a Hail Mary pass on the game's final play to stun Tulsa 51-49. The winner was caught by 6-foot-8 freshman Justin Jones from Conyers, Georgia, just down the road from OFI headquarters. The freakishly tall wideout is always a nice weapon to have in case of emergency.

East Carolina's new head coach Ruffin McNeill tried to play a little three-card monte during the preseason, insisting that the quarterback job was open while it was apparent to anyone with eyes that Davis would be under center. Still, it wasn't official until he trotted out for the first series. I think he'll be starting Saturday when Memphis comes to town. Look out for the next two games -- at Virginia Tech and at North Carolina. ECU is just the sort of giant killer that doesn't get Boise State headlines but can kill BCS bowl dreams for a team like the Hokies.

In more good news for new coaches, Tommy Tuberville got his first win down in Lubbock after replacing Mike Leach. Taylor Potts threw four touchdowns in a 35-27 win over SMU (an awesome backdoor cover for those of us who picked the Mustangs). "There's no lollygagging around and playing backyard football out there," Potts said about life under Tuberville. Careful, Taylor -- Leach may be gone, but I understand he took his shed for locking up unruly players with him.

And no roundup of new coaching ventures would be complete without some Lane Kiffin talk. The new man with the plan at USC went for two after each of the Trojans first three scores against Hawaii, going 1-for-3. New A.D. and program cleaner Pat Haden's face turned the color of poi. Matt Barkley and Ronald Johnson looked sensational out among the tradewinds, but a very young defense needs to take Tackling 101. Kiffin avoided full-contact practices during the summer, and it showed -- no one wearing cardinal and gold resembled Ronnie Lott or Rey Maualuga, that's for sure.


  • Let's not go crazy over a single performance, but suddenly (and finally), South Carolina has a raft of playmakers, perhaps more than any SEC team outside of Gainesville and Tuscaloosa. Marcus Lattimore is the Truth, and the sort-of-in-state star that the Cocks let slip away for many years.
  • Shaky Smithson fumbled twice in an ugly first half for Utah, although they pulled out a 27-24 overtime thriller over Pitt. Seriously, if your nickname is Shaky, should you be getting the ball against a ranked opponent?
  • A lot of comparisons are being made between Denard "Shoelace" Robinson and RichRod's old spread magician Pat White. Let's see Shoelace do it for more than one game, but he sure dismantled UConn in front of 113,000 fans at the expanded Big House (soon it will resemble on of those Brazilian soccer stadiums that seat 150,000, without a good seat in the place). Last season, I picked against UConn at every opportunity, and they killed me. So I jump on the bandwagon in 2010, and they screw me again. You can't trust a Huskie, been saying that for years.
  • Fox Sports Net gets the prize for overzealous promotion -- they are calling next week's TV slate "Showdown Saturday." The sked includes such traditional clashes as Colorado-Cal, Wyoming-Texas, and Kansas-Georgia Tech.
  • Kansas had a loss far worse than did Ole Miss, falling 6-3 to the mighty Bison of North Dakota State. Charles Barkley, who loudly complained when new Jayhawks coach Turner Gill didn't get the Auburn gig, is suspiciously quiet today. Losing to South Dakota State, a top 10 FCS team, would be one thing, but NDSU not only isn't ranked, they didn't even get a preseason vote for the FCS top 25. I mean, Cornell got a vote, but not the Bison. Somewhere, Mark Mangino is chuckling over his 14th doughnut of the afternoon.
  • A lesser version of Russell Shepard plays in Athens. Logan Gray moved from quarterback to wide receiver in order to get playing time at Georgia, and he caught a touchdown pass in the team's rout of Louisiana-Lafayette. The pass was thrown by true freshman Hutson Mason, Aaron Murray's backup. It was Mason's first ever pass as a collegian. Gray said afterward that he took several attempts to get a completion, so his position switch is probably wise. Mason went to Lassiter High, where my wife taught for several years, so he's a favorite in this household. Mason and Shaw are changing the perception that Georgia supplies brilliant athletes but few top-flight quarterbacks. He could be the face of the SEC circa 2012.
  • The biggest gainer in the updated F/+ preseason projections was Kansas State, up 16 spots (88th to 72nd), and the Wildcats looked tough and spry in crushing UCLA. Daniel Thomas ran wild, with 235 yards and a pair of scores. Even with USC on ice, Rick Neuheisel can't get any LaLa Land Leverage over his rivals.
  • Cam Newton was pretty fabulous in his debut at Auburn, passing for three scores and running for two more. Dude, you're getting a Dell!
  • Oregon 72, New Mexico 0. In the words of Homer Simpson, there's a New Mexico?

2010 Blogpoll News

Because of the holiday and tonight's massive Boise State-Virginia Tech collision in D.C. (the pick -- Tech and the points), I couldn't do my inaugural blogpoll at "press time." It will be here in the coming weeks. Here's how I would have voted (top 10 only because the rest is folly this early):

1. Ohio State
2. Alabama
3. Texas
4. Miami
5. Boise State
6. TCU
7. Florida State
8. Oklahoma
9. Florida
10. Virginia Tech

And introducing ... The Lowsman Watch

Heisman Trophy watches are boring, obvious -- and ignore nearly 20 positions on the field. So here is the opposite of the Heisman Watch -- the Lowsman Watch (High, Low, opposites -- c'mon, work with the gimmick here). Every week, I'll rank the best of the non-skill position players, on the road to the trophy presentation in December, to be held at the nearby Decatur-DeKalb YMCA.

1. Patrick Peterson, CB-returner, LSU. Talked about him above. Only snag for LSU was that he couldn't cover everybody, and his fellow defensive backs need work.

2. Chad Manis, LB, Utah. Converted quarterbacks seem to be my theme this week. As the "Stud" linebacker in Utah's swarming unit, Manis and his mates held Pittsburgh star runner Dion Lewis to 75 yards (and 2.3 yards per carry) in the Utes' victory.

3. Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri. Two sacks, three tackles for loss, 10 total tackles, and countless hurries (get the game-charters working for me, pronto!). Smith looked like a man among boys against Illinois in the Mizzou win Saturday, and not just metaphorically -- he dwarfed the Illini players.

4. Lane Taylor, OG, Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have a new offense under Houston's old offensive coordinator, Dana Holgorsen, and four new linemen to implement it. Taylor is the only returning vet, and he anchored a dominant performance up front by OSU, who crushed Washington State 65-17. The unit opened massive holes for Kendall Hunter, who racked up 257 yards and four scores in little over a half.

5. Mark Herzlich, LB, Boston College. 'Nuff said.

Posted by: Robert Weintraub on 06 Sep 2010

21 comments, Last at 09 Sep 2010, 10:28pm by Robert Weintraub


by Rocco :: Mon, 09/06/2010 - 12:10pm

"But his final pass went out of the hands of usually reliable tight end Zack Pianalto, and the Tigers held on for a victory that felt like a loss to the thousands of purple-clad fans on hand."

Probably had something to do with the DPI committed by the LSU defender.

by Parmenides :: Mon, 09/06/2010 - 3:41pm

Maybe South Carolina will win more than seven games. It could happen damnit it could happen.

by BWV 1129 (not verified) :: Mon, 09/06/2010 - 5:27pm

Kansas State "crushed" UCLA? UCLA was a two-point conversion away from tying the game with two minutes left. K State tacked on a TD while running out the clock after the post-failed-conversion onside kick failed. The game was in contention for 59 minutes.

by Jeff Fogle :: Mon, 09/06/2010 - 5:53pm

With 2 minutes left:

Score: Kansas State 24, UCLA 22
Yardage: Kansas State 335, UCLA 331
YPP: Kansas State 5.0, UCLA 5.3
TO's: Kansas State 2, UCLA 2

by speedegg :: Mon, 09/06/2010 - 7:04pm

I watched that game and I agree UCLA was crushed. They got lucky to pull within 2 points in the last two minutes. There defense was tired and getting steamrolled, QB Kevin Prince looked horrible, the UCLA receivers had hands of stone on passing downs, they couldn't convert on 4th downs in the redzone....and they shouldn't have been in those 4th down situations.

Granted, Prince missed most of summer and didn't practice with his receivers, but it's hard to tell if the QB was at fault or the offensive coordinator Norm Chow was at fault. I know Chow favors medium passes, but putting Prince in the pistol and calling QB runs indicates the offense is tailored to Prince. Too bad, it seemed he wanted to take off when his first read was covered and got frustrated when a D-Lineman stopped him for a 2 yard run.

by BWV 1129 (not verified) :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 12:01am

It wasn't Chow. The playcalling was great. Prince wasn't ready; he stared down receiver and threw the ball late, and when he managed to hit his target, the ball got dropped.

It was a humiliating, awful defeat. But it wasn't crushing.

by Jeff Fogle :: Mon, 09/06/2010 - 7:41pm

So, what was K-State doing wrong that they could only lead by 2, only lead yardage by 4, and had few yards-per-play through 58 minutes...given all of the negatives that UCLA was experiencing. Not denying the negatives of Prince. Kansas State only passed for 65 yards on 16 passes themselves. It's not a "crush" just because the losing team stunk in the air and on third downs.

Kansas State had to be enduring its own negatives to fail and get any significant scoreboard or statistical distance through the first 97% of the game...

I watched the game too. Kansas State was smoother in accumulating its points and yardage (2 turnovers and 5 incomplete passes compared to 2 and 17 until UCLA's pick on its last play of the game). But, smoothly getting to 24 points and 335 yards through 58 minutes isn't "crushing" getting to 22 points and 331 yards in fits and starts. It's still 24-22 and 335-331...

by Brendan Scolari :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 6:34am

I agree, I watched the game and I didn't think either side significantly outplayed the other, although K-State's drives were easier on the eyes, if you will.

by t.d. :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 12:29am

pretty sure that was grandpa simpson, and the sec doesnt really need any input. if ohio state wins the national championship, i'll eat my hat

by Robert Weintraub :: Thu, 09/09/2010 - 10:28pm

Sorry, it's Homer--he and Bart are on a father-son raft trip, and Homer is contemplating a map of Krusty Burger locations when he notes there is a New Mexico.

by An Onimous (not verified) :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 4:55am

"According to the Birmingham News, no BCS conference travels less than the SEC, no conference dodges teams from other BCS conferences like the SEC, and 56 percent of non-conference opposition comes from either the FCS or FBS schools that haven't had a winning record in at least four years. And folks in the south whine about Boise State's schedule!"

Yes, folks in the south whine about its schedule. Not its non-conference schedule, its WHOLE SCHEDULE, from start to finish. And folks in the south are perfectly 100% justified in their whining.

Last year, the SEC teams finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 31st in SoS according to FEI. That's 5 of the 6 toughest schedules in the nation, as well as 11 of the 18 toughest schedules. Boise State finished 104th in SoS.

In 2008, the SEC teams finished 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 14th, 16th, 35th, 45th, and 47th. That's 4 of the top 6 and 9 of the top 16 toughest schedules in all of college football. Boise State finish 89th.

So the SEC schools routinely schedule creampuffs. Congratulations to the tens of thousands of journalists who managed to expose that shocking secret to the world at large. My question is, who cares? Objective SoS values show that the SEC schools ROUTINELY face far and away the toughest schedules in the entire nation. No other conference even comes within shouting distance of the SEC's overall Strength of Schedule. Perhaps it's time to stop taking Florida to task for scheduling App State this season (in addition to LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State, Alabama, and whoever else they face in the SEC Championship game if they make it that far- that's 6 games against preseason top-30 teams), and also to stop praising Boise State for scheduling Virginia Tech (in addition to Wyoming, New Mexico State, Toledo, San Jose State, Louisiana Tech, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah State).

Really, this whole distinction between "conference schedule" and "nonconference schedule" is the most ludicrous distinction I've ever heard of. Why do tough games only count if the other team isn't in your conference? Why are creampuffs only a negative sign if you don't play them every single year? If you took every SEC team's schedule for the past 5 years, and mixed in Boise State's schedules for the past 5 years, Boise State would finish with the 5 weakest schedules in the entire batch. At no point in history has Boise State had a schedule harder than the *EASIEST* SEC schedule that season. Never. So yeah, fans in the south complain about Boise State's schedule, and how winning one game pretty much guarantees them a spot in the championship game over a 1-loss team from a major conference that had to work a hell of a lot harder for their record than Boise State did. And this isn't even an SEC-specific thing. A 1-loss Pac 10 team, a 1-loss Big 10 team, a 1-loss Big 12 team, any one of them would be more deserving of a shot at the championship than Boise State.

In 2007, Hawaii went undefeated against a schedule that featured 0 quality teams, and voters rightly kept them out of the championship game. In 2010, my fear is that Boise State will go undefeated against a schedule that includes 1 quality team, and voters will let them into the national championship game, anyway.

Let's just say that for the rest of the month, I'm a huge Oregon State fan.

by Tom Gower :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 10:50am

FEI's SOS calculations don't include games against FCS opponents at all. To the extent that, e.g., SEC schools play games against FCS opponents whereas Big 10 schools play games against lesser FBS opponents like MAC teams, then the B10 schools will have a worse SOS according to FEI despite playing superior opponents (assuming the average MAC team is better than the average FCS opponent).*

*-I have no idea if SEC teams play more FCS opponents than B10 teams, and if so how large the difference is.

by Eddo :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 10:55am

Isn't there a bit of circular reasoning in play, too? That is, SEC teams have high SOS because they play other SEC teams, who are strong because they play against a strong schedule full of other SEC teams.

by An Onimous (not verified) :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 2:10pm

It would be circular logic if the SEC teams only played each other. In reality, the SEC has dominated every other conference in terms of both non-conference play and (especially) bowl games over the last 5+ years. Then it becomes "SEC teams are tougher than non-SEC teams because SEC teams routinely dominate all non-SEC competition. SEC schedules are tougher than non-SEC schedules because SEC schedules are full of SEC teams, who are tougher than non-SEC teams because they routinely dominate all non-SEC competition."

by Brian Fremeau :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 11:16am

This is not true. The way I calculate FEI SOS (as the likelihood of an elite team going undefeated against the given schedule) means that playing lower level FBS teams is always (though incrementally) measured as stronger than playing FCS teams. An elite team might have a 97%-99% of defeating a MAC team. By disregarding FCS opponents, I'm effectively counting those games as 100% likely victories.

I do not calculate SOS as a simple average.

by Tom Gower :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 2:08pm

Thanks to Brian for this clarification.

by An Onimous (not verified) :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 2:58pm

This, by the way, is absolutely the only logical way to calculate SoS in college football, especially among the elite programs. A top 20 team that faces 12 teams in the 40-50 range is going to finish the season 12-0 (or possibly 11-1, if there's a big upset along the way). A top 20 team that faces 9 teams ranked 100th or worse and 3 teams in the top 5 is going to finish the season 9-3 (or possibly 10-2 if there's a big upset along the way). Anything that tells me the first schedule is harder than the second schedule needs to be fixed. Immediately.

Imagine the following two schedules:
1. Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Texas, Rice, New Mexico State, Tulane, San Jose State, Washington State, Eastern Michigan
2. Notre Dame, Auburn, Boston College, Navy, Tennessee, Air Force, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Purdue, Rutgers

If you're a fan of a top-25 team, which schedule would you rather see your team play?

by Eddo :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 10:59am

"In 2007, Hawaii went undefeated against a schedule that featured 0 quality teams, and voters rightly kept them out of the championship game. In 2010, my fear is that Boise State will go undefeated against a schedule that includes 1 quality team, and voters will let them into the national championship game, anyway.

Let's just say that for the rest of the month, I'm a huge Oregon State fan."
Virginia Tech and Oregon State would be two quality teams, for what it's worth.

Hawaii 2007 was a pretty special case, too; they had quite a few close calls and almost no track record, so no one really considered them close to a top-two team. Boise State, however, has been a top-ten team for quite a while now, and has defeated an AQ-conference team in the Fiesta Bowl in the last five years. They beat Virginia Tech last night in what was essentially a road game, and will have a chance to beat a good Oregon State team as well. If there aren't two other undefeated teams, I see no reason why Boise State won't be qualified enough to play for the national championship.

by An Onimous (not verified) :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 2:31pm

It's not a question of whether Boise is *GOOD ENOUGH* to win a title. I think they are. It's a question of whether they're DESERVING OF THE CHANCE to win the title based on their body of work this season. By that measure, I don't think they are.

In theory, next year Florida could leave the SEC, become an independent, and schedule nothing but creampuffs. In that case, they'd have been a top 10 team for quite a while, and they would have defeated plenty of top 10 teams in recent years. They would have a track record of success and an undefeated record on the field. Would you put them in the championship game? If not, how many "real" games would Florida have to play before it was deserving of a spot? Could it just add Georgia Tech to its schedule and waltz into the title? How many quality teams must a team face to merit a championship berth? How high quality must those teams be? Personally, I don't know the exact answer, but I'd start with "more than Boise State faces and/or tougher than Virginia Tech".

by Brendan Scolari :: Tue, 09/07/2010 - 6:30am

"Mason and Shaw are changing the perception that Georgia supplies brilliant athletes but few top-flight quarterbacks."

That Matthew Stafford guy was alright...

Also, I don't get it, if you would have voted Boise five spots higher than VT, why did you take "Tech and the points"???

by Robert Weintraub :: Thu, 09/09/2010 - 10:25pm

Stafford is from Texas, not Georgia--referring to home state, not college choice. GA is top flight in overall talent, but has historically not produced great QBs, although Buck Belue would disagree.