Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Coast to Coast: Week One

Hopefully the first of a series of weekly round-ups from other games around the country, depending on how much alcohol I consume on a given Saturday, and what that does to my viewing schedule.

It's not who you are, it's who you beat.

Boise State has officially arrived.  Well, kind of arrived.  I mean, they've been here for, uh, well.  You know, right?

If it seems like I have a hard time expressing my feelings on the "Boise State situation", I'm not the only one.  It is the same story this year as it has been for the last few, a fiesty upstart from the WAC gets an impressive non-conference win, wanders through a weak conference season to an undefeated record, and then wants a seat at the table with the big boys.  We've all seen this movie before.  The college football world has always had an easy time pushing aside the Broncos in favor of more "deserving" teams, only to be reminded during bowl week that this Boise State team is for real.  Problem is, no one has been able to really come to terms with just what Boise State's place in the college football landscape should entitle it to.  Luckily that has never been a problem...until now.

This year, Boise has given us no choice but to come up with an answer.  With an impressive win over perennially good   but equally prone to big game choke jobs   Virginia Tech, Boise State has staked an impressive claim to its current position in the polls.  Coming in to the season under loads of preseason hype, returning 20 of 22 starters from an undefeated 2009 team that had wins against Oregon and TCU, Boise State has delivered on its end.  Beating Virginia Tech should leave no doubt that this program is for real, but that isn't the fundamental question that will keep Boise out of the MNC hunt.

Anyone who scoffs at Boise's new place among the college football upper echelon is fooling themselves.  This team has laid waste to its conference, winning seven of the last eight conference championships.  Only in 2005 did they lose more than one game (dropping four, three of which to BCS caliber foes in Georgia, Oregon St., and Boston College).  They have come up big in bowl games, especially the BCS, where they are 2-0.  Since 2005 Boise State has put together two undefeated campaigns, including last year's march to a top five spot in the polls, which ended with a win against a TCU in the "We Want a Shot" bowl.  We are past the days of bellyaching when Boise State gets invited to a BCS bowl game or spends the season ranked in the top 10.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the BCS championship, it's not who you are, it's who you beat (unless you're Oklahoma).  This is where Boise State's case falls apart.  One of the big argument's in favor of the current BCS system is, "the regular season is a playoff."  Like that logic or not, it has to affect the way you view a national championship contender.  Placing Boise State in the championship game after beating one "Big Six" power, a top thirty team and a bunch of WACy-cakes is akin to giving the Lakers a bye to the NBA Finals after they beat Oklahoma City in the first round.  Simply being worthy by virtue of an undefeated season is not enough.  It is hard to question the credentials of a one-loss SEC, Big 12, or Big Ten team when the conference schedules match them up with a handful of top twenty-five teams and only one or two gimme games in conference.  When Boise State plays seven or eight games that are on the level of an Indiana or Mississippi State, then you have to question the road they have taken.  Say what you want about weak non-conference scheduling among the national powers, but they earn their respect in their conference.  Boise can't do that.  Boise State's conference foes are who the big guys call on for easy warm up wins.

So don't let yourself be fooled when the conversation this week switches to, "Boise State deserves a shot because they always compete against the big boys, and they usually win."  That sounds good, but the logic ultimately fails to address the issue at hand.  We aren't judging Boise State on the state of the football program.  That debate has been put to rest.  The race for the national championship is about what happens on those twelve fall Saturdays when a team takes the field.  There should be no extra points for prestige or history.  You get twelve games to prove that you belong.

In the end it comes down to who you beat, and until Boise State finds themselves playing a reasonable schedule, the argument for a shot at the title ends here.


Ohio State 45 - Marshall 7; Miami (FL) 45 - Florida A&M 0
This week's game between Ohio State and Miami is setting up to be a classic showdown.  Terrelle Pryor gets the chance to finally answer the questions that have been hanging over his pedestrian 2009 performance and unexpected Rose Bowl breakout.  Meanwhile, Miami is trying yet another year to show that they are ready to step back into the national prominence that slipped away...the last time these two teams met.  May the best mistake-prone hyper-athletic QB win.

Utah 27 - Pitt 24; Rutgers 31 - Norfolk St. 0; Fresno St. 28 - Cincinnati 14
When it rains, it pours.  Other than WVU's solid win against a school I have never heard of, not much went right for the Big East.  Two teams expected to compete for the conference title, UConn and Pitt, started their seasons off in disappointing fashion.  These loses could look very acceptable or very embarrassing by the end of the season (I lean toward acceptable, but I am an unabashed homer).  Rutgers, meanwhile, can't seem to recapture the magic of a few years ago, struggling for an entire half against nobody, Norfolk State.  And if you weren't afraid of the coaching prowess of Brian Kelly before, look at the last two games Cincy has played without him at the helm.  One blowout loss to Florida and now an opening season loss to Fresno State.  For a program allegedly on the rise, this is a bad trend.

LSU 30 - UNC 24
Wait, what?  Did I read that right?  After losing multiple starters, the North Carolina second-team defense blanked LSU in the second half while LSU's defense allowed a suspect offensive unit to score two TD's in the 4th quarter, and almost win the game on a drive in the final minute.  The fumble by Stevan Ridley gave me flashbacks to a certain UM vs. Northwestern game, but ultimately the game should have been an afterthought at that point.  Les Miles' rope is wearing thinner and thinner down in the bayou.  However, the man on the other sideline, Butch Davis, might be in hotter water than anyone else in the country.

Oregon 72 - New Mexico 0
Masoli who?  The Oregon offensive machine is beginning to look like it is automatic.  Seven-hundred and twenty yards of offense is PS3 like.  I'll be interested to see what Derek Dooley has cooked up for next week when the Ducks roll into Knoxville.

Jacksonville St. 49 - Ole Miss 48
Speaking of Jeremiah Masoli, there isn't a much worse way to debut at your new school after an offseason of legal trouble, transfer drama, and NCAA hearings.  Masoli and Ole Miss were outscored 24-3 in the second half which set up a two-overtime showdown and perhaps the most impressive back to back plays of the weekend.  On 4th and 15 in the second overtime, true-freshman Coty Blanchard threw a high pass on the run to the back of the endzone that was brought in with a spectacular catch by Kevyn Cooper to pull Jacksonville St. within one point of Ole Miss.  Realizing that they had nothing to lose, the Gamecocks went for two and got it after Blanchard avoided a sack and tossed a pass to running back Calvin Middleton for the win.  Savor this feeling Coty, because there are D-I quarterbacks to go whole careers without matching the highlights you put up in your first game.

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