Sunday, September 16, 2012

Scattershot, Sunday Edition: Desultory Musings From Around College Football

I'm uncorking a new feature here at Arena Apothecary called "Scattershot."  As often as possible, I'll present a varied, wide-ranging list of thoughts and opinions whenever a big day happens in a given sport.  (No promises, but I'll try to get one up every Sunday for college ball, every Tuesday for the NFL, and any morning after a big night of MLB or NBA action.)  This is the inaugural edition.  Enjoy.  

Well, No One Saw THAT Coming ... Except All Of Us.  

There were a lot of whuppin's put on inferior competition by the big boys this weekend, but one in particular stands out.  Alabama's 52-0 deconstruction of Arkansas wasn't exactly unexpected, it was just a grim spectacle and a letdown.  Before the season, everyone had this circled as a pivotal game, Arkansas being the only team in the SEC West remotely capable of upending the 'Bama/LSU power dyad.  The Hogs were ranked #8 in the polls heading into last week's ostensible gimme game against Louisiana-Monroe, setting up what should have been a top-10 match-up yesterday.  Then Tyler Wilson suffered a serious concussion, the Razorbacks faltered, and the Warhawks pulled off a stunner victory in OT that sent Arkansas tumbling all the way out of the AP Top 25.  (By the way, anybody with LA-Monroe on their schedule for the remainder of the year probably shouldn't sleep on them, as they nearly replicated last week's upset yesterday against Auburn.)  With Wilson still not medically cleared to play and Arkansas still reeling from Bobby Petrino's sudden and ignominious departure, the Hogs went from the role of darkhorse SEC contender to potential spoiler to chaff for Nick Saban's grist mill in record time.  Barring something truly outlandish, the Tide will roll unchecked right into November 3rd's showdown with LSU, where once again the SEC West Champion will be crowned. 


A hearty and heartfelt "welcome back!" to FSU and Notre Dame.  As someone who grew up in an era when the 'Noles were a dominant force and the annual Florida-FSU battle often carried National Championship implications, I am of the opinion that football is more enjoyable when FSU is good.  And so it warms my heart to see the team from Tallahassee prominently ranked in the polls again.  Granted, their schedule has been front-loaded with the squishiest baking tray full of cupcakes imaginable (Murray State, Savannah State, and Wake Forest), but they've done exactly what a dominant team is supposed to do, outscoring their opponents 176 to 3.

As for the Irish, it looks like this may finally be the year when all the predictably grating "is Notre Dame back this season?" chatter is answered in the affirmative.  Brian Kelly's team strolled into East Lansing and put a 20-3 beatdown on #10 Michigan State yesterday to stay undefeated on the year.  The Irish do have some formidable challenges left on their schedule, but they appear up to the task, playing with a poise and balance heretofore absent in recent memory.  If Notre Dame is still going strong when they meet the fifth-ranked Sooners on October 27 (quite possible), I'll be ready to buy in.  As with FSU, college football is better when the Irish are legitimately in the discussion.

Let's Talk About USC.     

In case you're utterly oblivious, Standford pulled off the upset of the week, defeating the vaunted USC Trojans 21-14.  Here in Atlanta, one of the personalities on AM 680's "Rude Awakening" morning sports show is a fellow named Perry Laurentino.  Perry is a Steelers fan from Scarsdale, NY (read: band-wagoning douche with no sense of geographical loyalty) and a proud USC alum (read: insufferable douche with no sense of reality.)  He is also among the most sanctimonious and enervating people ever to blemish the airwaves, and as far as I can tell he knows nothing whatsoever about sports.  Basically, he's Colin Cowherd with a Bronx accent but (mercifully) without the national exposure.  Anyway, since right around July, which is when we start discussing the upcoming college football season in Georgia, Perry has trumpeted two semi-related proclamations at every available opportunity: that USC will end the SEC's run of consecutive crystal footballs this season, and that pretty much everyone in the rest of the country will be overjoyed by this development.  As to the former, the Trojans spent last night getting manhandled in the trenches on both sides of the ball by freaking Stanford.  (They are now ranked #13 nationally and sit at the bottom of the Pac-12 South.)  Care to hazard a guess how they'd fare against LSU or even Georgia?  Regarding the latter, it's been my experience that much of the rest of the country doesn't care all that much about the SEC dominating college football.  Oh, I'm sorry, does "rest of the country" translate into "the Pac-12 plus Boise State" in your vocabulary?  In that case, and only that case, you're correct.  But you don't hear Texas or Ohio State bitching about SEC bias.  They know the way to assert themselves is to go out and win games, and they don't sit around whining about the rankings otherwise.

(Programming note for David Dickey and the 680 brass: I deeply enjoy listening to Rude, Sandra, Leo, and B-Finn.  Please stop ruining my morning commute and get this a-hole off the air.  Thanks.)

California Love.

Don't look now, but there's another team in Los Angeles, and they're playing damned good football so far.  UCLA is 3-0, including a win over (#16 at the time) Nebraska in week 2 that vaulted them into the AP Top 25.  They're fifth in the country in rushing, and they've outscored opponents by an average of 20 points per game this year.  No, I don't think the Bruins are serious contenders, maybe not even in the Pac-12, but they look a far cry from the 6-8 doormat we watched last season.  Keep an eye on Jim Mora's squad, your best bet for a conference darkhorse/spoiler out west. 

Coming To A Conference Near You.

Like Nuke LaLoosh, Pitt apparently wanted to announce their presence with authority.  (Albeit more successfully than ol' Nuke.)  In a preview of their move to the ACC in 2013, the Panthers lowered the boom on perennial conference power Virgina Tech, bludgeoning the Hokies 35-17.  Frank Beamer's traditional calling card of tight defensive execution was simply not in evidence, as Pitt QB Tino Sunseri threw for 283 yards and 3 TDs, and the ground game added 254 yards and 2 more scores for good measure.  Pitt's defense, too, looked fairly stifling, chalked full of energy and aggression.  Paul Chryst's stint as the Panthers' head coach was off to an abysmal 0-2 start, but if yesterday's display was any indication, the ACC will have a serious new contender in the Coastal Division next year.   

Peach State Problems.

Though both Georgia and Georgia Tech won their games yesterday, they have to be just a tad worried on the defensive side of the ball going forward.  The 'Dawgs and 'Jackets coughed up 20 apiece to Florida Atlantic and Virginia, respectively.  Allowing clearly inferior teams such a generous helping of points may not have posed any real danger this week, but it could potentially be disastrous when they run into real competition.  On October 6, UGA will clash with South Carolina and Tech will meet Clemson, both on the road.  If they don't get their defensive houses in order, it will make those already-heavy games very difficult to win indeed.  (Yes, I know Georgia was missing several key defensive starters that they should have back by then, but even the second stringers shouldn't have let the lowly Owls hang twenty on 'em.)

It Didn't Matter, But ...

For a game with absolutely no implications for anyone outside of the schools involved, one of the most compelling and entertaining contests of the weekend came via a shootout twixt a pair of basketball powerhouses.  Just watch these highlights from UNC vs. Louisville, it's good stuff:

Bring It On Home To Me.

West Virginia is 2nd in the nation is passing yards per game (386) and fourth in points (55.5).  Sure, the defense is suspect, but with their relatively navigable schedule and a few (monstrously lucky) breaks, they could be right in the mix come December.  Just something to keep in mind.  P.S. - scheduling people, can we get these guys to play Oregon sometime soon?  Just think of the joy inherent in watching those two offenses trade punches.  Get back to me.

Enjoy the NFL games, and I'll hopefully see you Tuesday.  Thanks for reading. 

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