While the college football landscape is still in its infancy and extremely unpredictable, a few teams are starting to show that they may have what it takes to be in the discussion for conference and national supremacy.
I have yet to determine who my top team is, but I do have some teams that are in the hunt. Alabama has certainly looked impressive in its two wins as has Southern California and LSU. Other teams worth being in the discussion include Oregon, Oklahoma, and Florida State.
This past week, the SEC had two marquee games on its early slate, and each one lived up to its pregame billing. Florida showed that it had just enough quickness and toughness to outlast Texas A&M on its own field, while Georgia out-slugged Missouri in Columbia, MO. This past Saturday also featured a number of upsets. The biggest surprise has to be the devastating loss of the Arkansas Razorbacks to the UL-Monroe Warhawks. Other upsets include Oregon State’s victory over Wisconsin, UCLA’s victory over Nebraska, and Arizona’s victory over Oklahoma State. Perhaps Savannah State can thank the good Lord that they were able to cover the spread due to the skies opening up in Tallahassee (actually Vegas ruled NO BETS on the game, so really they didn’t cover!).
No matter how your favorite football team is doing, the college landscape is wrought with ups and downs, and the leaves haven’t even started changing colors yet!
Here’s my look at which teams are moving up and which teams are headed down in this weeks edition of the “Ups and Downs of College Football”.
Arkansas (NR – AP/ #21 – USA Today Polls). What can you say about John L. Smith and company (Insert Bobby Petrino jokes here)? The Razorbacks had one of the biggest collapses of any team in recent memory! On more than one occasion Saturday night, Arkansas had the chance to put away the pesky Warhawks from Louisiana-Monroe and they just couldn’t do it. As it would go, you let a team hang around long enough and they magically start to think they can win…well, it happened again! Louisiana-Monroe pulled off the shocker and left the Razorbacks stunned and in disbelief. The loss also cost Arkansas a chance to host ESPN’s College Gameday. Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler tweeted that they were all set to go to Little Rock for the Alabama game this week had Arkansas won the game. Now that they lost, College Gameday is headed to Knoxville instead; ouch…a double-whammy!
Arkansas had better pull themselves back together because the #1 team in the country, Alabama, is coming to town. The Razorbacks do not have time to sulk and pout over the loss or they will get beat again. A big question mark for Arkansas is the health of senior QB Tyler Wilson. Wilson left Saturday’s game after being hit in the head. At this point he is considered day-to-day. His loss would leave freshman Brandon Allen as the Razorback QB. Allen replaced Wilson on Saturday, but the Razorback offense was simply not the same.
Where Should They Be Ranked? I would have them ranked at #23. I simply do not believe that a team can be ranked in the top-10 one week then booted out the next. Pollsters have to take into account the loss of Wilson as QB. That fact alone, should have kept the Razorbacks in the top-25. We’ll see what Arkansas has left for their by the Crimson Tide this week.
Wisconsin (NR – AP/ #22 - USA Today Polls). This was a devastating loss for the Badgers. I know a stated goal for head coach Bret Bielema is to win the Big Ten every year, but I also think he secretly wears the Superman cape for the Big Ten on the national scene as well. In the past few seasons, it has been Wisconsin that has been the Big Ten’s highest ranked team going into the bowls. Last season they just were outmatched against the speed and quickness of Oregon. Deep down, I think Bielema and his team were hoping for another type of match-up in the Rose Bowl this year. Of course, I don’t want to write off Wisky just yet since the conference season has not even started, but the loss to Oregon State Saturday was a real stunner.
Clearly, if Wisconsin wants to remain an elite team, it must get back to its bread-and-butter, which is running the ball. Montee Ball, their pre-season Heisman candidate has 181 yards and 1 TD on 47 carries (3.85 ypc). Compare that to a year ago after 2 games when he had amassed the same total of 181 yards but already had 5 TD’s and that was on only 28 carries (6.46 ypc). A big reason why Ball’s production has slipped in the early going this year is the inability of the offensive line to generate any push at the line of scrimmage. This has caused a greater reliance on the pass, and his offensive line has not been doing a good enough job opening holes for him. Coach Bielema has tried to rectify the situation by relieving offensive line coach Mike Markuson of his duties and replacing him with Bart Miller, offensive quality control coordinator, just 2 games into the season.
It seem relatively obvious that if Wisconsin wants to remain at the top of the Big Ten, its going to need to find its running game to compliment its above average passing game. The Badgers play host to Utah State this week and UTEP the following week before heading into Big Ten play against Nebraska.
Where Should They Be Ranked? I would have them ranked at #20. Just like Arkansas, I don’t think a perennial top-15 team should drop out of the rankings just because they lost a game. In comparing Wisconsin’s loss to Oregon State on the road in Corvallis to Arkansas’s loss to UL-Monroe at home, the Wisky defeat has to be considered a better loss (if there is such a thing). Dropping them both from the AP polls seems a bit harsh this early in the year.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (NR- AP / #24 – USA Today Polls). The Cornhuskers are another Big Ten team that seems to have lost their identity, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Nebraska has always had a stable full of big-time running backs and this year is still no different. Head Coach Bo Pelini still can trot out the likes of Rex Burkhead (he missed the UCLA game with an injury) and Ameer Abdullah. They can also utilize the legs of QB Taylor Martinez. However something else that Nebraska usually possesses is stingy, tough-nosed defense that swarms to the ball.
So far, this year seems to be a bit of an aberration. The Cornhuskers rank 85th in the country allowing 28.0 points per game. There is no way that Nebraska can get into a track meet with most of the teams it faces in the Big Ten and still come out on top. They are going to need to find a way to limit the other teams big plays. Saturday night, Nebraska gave up TD plays of 27 and 49 yards and they allowed UCLA to throw for 309 yards while giving up 344 yards on the ground (653 total yards allowed). No team that expects to compete for a league title can give up that many yards and still win on a regular basis!
On a positive note, the Cornhuskers will have a chance to improve their defensive liabilities as they play host to Arkansas State and Idaho State before they launch the Big Ten portion of their schedule with tough games against Wisconsin and at Ohio State.
Where Should They be Ranked? I would have them ranked about #21. The loss to UCLA was not horrible by any means. The Bruins seem to be playing well right now and they caught the Cornhuskers on a bad night. Look for Nebraska to rebound the next few weeks before they are tested in their Big Ten opener.