Okay, I wasn't quite done. I had a couple more things to note about college football and I still had more to say. There were a couple of issues that I forgot to mention, but have been on my mind. So it's time to let it out. Yes, I just need to let it go. Let it all go. Breathe in. Breathe out. Let the head roll around like steamed celery. Aaaahhhhhhh.
What were we talking about? Oh yeah, college football. Again.
Among the bigger stories in college football last year was the rise of Rutgers. The State University of New Jersey, after putting together 135 years of "suck", finally figured something out and made a run at the big time. A solid running game, stout defense, and adequate play from the quarterback finally made them something that is not a laughing stock with an 11-2 record and their first bowl win. Ever.
Their rise to the big time is both surprising and not. I was not shocked to see them finally make a run, but I had not expected it either, so it falls into the realm of "Should have seen it coming," even though there was really no way to expect it to happen.
The rise of Rutgers was surprising because, let's face it, there was absolutely no reason to expect Rutgers to be good at football, ever. They had gone to two bowl games prior to last season, and they lost both of them. Their last year with as many as eight wins was 1979. Their total win percentage prior to last season was less than 50% (Incidentally, according to the NCAA, Rutgers finished last season dead-even at 50% with 580 wins, 580 losses, and 42 ties in 1,202 games of college football). With a resume like that, I cannot, even now, say that this is a team that could be expected to have a big year.
Yes, some people had been saying that Rutgers was ready to break out, but there was no reason to expect that they would. People have been saying that for 10 years and all they had to show for it was one 7-5 season. I'd heard it for so long, I didn't buy it anymore.
However, Rutgers itself is in a good situation and should be able to put together a good team. New Jersey, while not one of the prime recruiting hotbeds, does have a good base of players that can be tapped to build good teams. Wisconsin, for instance, pulled a lot of their players from New Jersey and that helped Barry Alvarez put together a great string of seasons. While the state is not on par with California, Florida or Texas, the states of New Jersey and New York can be tapped for a solid base of talent. And judging by the sort of football that Wisconsin played with a lot of New Jersey players, they can put together a badass bunch of bruisers that can be ridden to 10 and 11 win seasons on a regular basis.
However, it's too early to expect Rutgers to be a year-in year-out power. They have potential, but they have a long way to go before they can get into the elite. Now that people are expecting them to be good, they will be facing teams that are ready for them and expect to have a fight on their hands. It was easier for them last year when they could sneak up on people. Not anymore.
However, Rutgers is getting a lot of pub thanks to being the first good college football team since the heyday of West Point that was anywhere near the media mecca of New York. So there is probably too much hyperbole surrounding a team that is still in its tenuous, formative stage.
I never understood why the ACC was expected to be a power conference to challenge the Big XII and SEC. Their best chance at a perennial top-10 team is Florida State, but they are hitting the doldrums just on the cusp of a 70% all-time winning percentage. Anybody could have guessed Miami would fade, and Boston College is still an odd choice to me. Virginia Tech -- even now, at the best point in their history, they are still on the outside looking in at the really big hitters and they are still not recruiting truly top talent. They are iffy even at their best. Especially once Frank Beamer retires. The rest of the conference is, amazingly, even worse than I had expected. Though Georgia Tech did some good things in their first two games this year; but I even hesitate to say too much after just two games (especially games that I didn't watch).
The Big East, however, has prospered with its new lineup and teams that were stuck in the shadows finally have the opportunity to stand up in the spotlight. And some new faces have joined the party also, giving the conference some crowing rights. In fact, the only real disappointment has been the one team left in the conference that had made a name for itself in the lore of college football: Syracuse.
Memo to Syracuse: Save yourself the time, fire Greg Robinson now. Your idiotic canning of Paul Pasqualoni allowed you to hire a guy who was all gung ho to run the new, exciting, never-before-seen, cutting-edge spread offense; you know, the one everyone else was running. Note that the spread offense has now given over to the spread option, which Paul Pasqualoni would have been perfectly happy to run. See case file "McNabb, Donovan" for an explanation of how I came to this conclusion.
South Florida has proven to be a good team beyond anyone's expectation. Interestingly, they seem to be making good use of the Florida speed that Miami and Florida State can't seem to do much with. The state is blessed with a lot of excellent football players, but considering how many colleges in the state now have football programs, the talent pool is spreading thin even among the kids who are looking to stay close to home. Just like the state of California and USC, don't be surprised if only one team from the Sunshine State remains a nearly permanent fixture in the polls.
One thing that interests me from the ACC, however, is Butch Davis at North Carolina. He was a very good coach and recruiter at Miami, which was surprising at the time he was doing it, because Miami had fallen far from where it had been. But Davis turned it around and put them back into a position where people can now say, "What the heck is wrong with Miami?" While North Carolina is a basketball school in a basketball state, they had a few good years when Mack Brown was there. But it was an odd decision for Davis to take the UNC job. Though I'm sure he is expecting to get another offer from a better school in the not-too-distant future and it was good to get his name back in the hat. And UNC is not as bad an assignment as the one Gene Chizik mysteriously took at the nearly invisible university of Iowa State.
The decline of Michigan's fortunes has been both precipitous and surprising. The Wolverines have not only lost, but they have looked awful doing it. Their problems with speed in the secondary have proven to be worse than anticipated, especially after they managed to cover those problems up so effectively, thanks to an excellent, but now mostly departed, front seven.
However, in retrospect, their fall should have been expected, if not necessarily so soon or so suddenly. Now that Ohio State has been recruiting Ohio much more effectively -- including the very vital Cleveland area -- UM's best source of talent has dried up. And now that Texas and Oklahoma are getting the cream of the Lone Star crop, Michigan's second biggest source of out-of-state talent has also left them. They can still pull in good players from Ohio and Texas, but they are not getting them in the same numbers and same quality as before. And the state of Michigan itself generally is not a source for a lot of great players; the Wolverines have been surviving on imports for a long time now.
Looking elsewhere for the talent lodes UM needs, California is essentially serving as the talent source for every team west of the Rockies and every team everywhere is targeting Florida as their key recruiting ground, so there isn't any low-hanging fruit in the two biggest recruiting states. Plus, Michigan is a long way from either of those states, both on the map and on the thermometer. So, as a result of all this, Michigan's talent has dropped off in the last few years and now it is really starting to show.
Furthermore, it seems that Michigan got stuck in the missed opportunities of last year and, I think, some expectation that the season wouldn't start until Ohio State arrived in Ann Arbor. All you heard about in the off-season was 0-3 against Ohio State and 0-3 in bowl games in the last 3 years. What has mattered so far this season is 0-2 against teams that Michigan was expected to handle. Perhaps, in some ways, it may been better if Henne, Hart and Long left, because then Michigan would have been forced to start over with the idea that they have a lot of work to do to get where they need to be.
It will be interesting to see what happens next with the Wolverines. They are reeling in the early going, but they are still a very proud program with some genuinely talented players, including a very good receiving corp and the exceptionally determined and very tough Mike Hart.
Michigan's biggest weakness for the last few years has been mobile quarterbacks. But there aren't a lot of those in the Big Ten and Ohio State's starter this year is a pure pocket passer. So they may still be a tough out for the teams in the Big Ten and particularly an Ohio State team that Michigan knows is the one key to finding redemption this season. But the rest of the Big Ten smells blood in the water from a team that has been kicking them down for a long time now. The nation's longest bowl streak will face a serious challenge this year.
Honeymoon over for the fat boy from New England. He'd been skating on thin ice after two bowl game demolitions and now that he has lost his so-called protege quarterback (who would have run through a brick wall for Notre Dame even before Weis showed up), he is facing a lot of questions about his coaching ability. I'm still not sure that he'll necessarily fail, but people were slapping the "genius" label on him awfully quickly. I think a lot of that came from his ability to turn around a stumbling Notre Dame team in his first year, despite the fact that nobody knew who he was.
Did I really pick them to finish #9?
On the whole, I think Notre Dame is regretting that 10-year, $30 million contract they offered him in his first year at the school. Because he's in year 3 and his record just keeps getting worse. And now he has started the year getting annihilated by Georgia Tech and Penn State. If ND loses to a Michigan team whose own season has started with two disasters for the ages and lost their starting quarterback for the week, then the Domers will be start being called Dome and Domer over that contract. I wonder, how hard is it for Notre Dame alumni to scrape together about $21 million for a buyout?