By Jim Weber
The “Cowboys Classic” between No. 8 Michigan and No. 2 Alabama was almost as big a letdown as last January’s BCS Championship Game between the Crimson Tide and LSU.
At least Michigan crossed midfield more than once and actually put points on the board. But Alabama completely man-handled the Wolverines in a 41-14 victory that wasn’t even that close.
Let’s start with Alabama. The defense is definitely green and had a couple breakdowns in coverage that made the final score closer than it should have been, but otherwise, the Crimson Tide D was everywhere. On the other side of the ball, the best offensive line in the country was as good as advertised, paving the way for 232 yards on the ground.
I’m convinced that even Alabama kicker Jeremy Shelley could have rushed for 100 yards last night behind that O-line.
As for Michigan QB Denard Robinson, aside from two long bombs, his passing performance was a disaster – 11-for-26 and two interceptions isn’t going to get it done against the defending national champions. And while Michigan wanted to establish a two-dimensional offense early to avoid the Crimson Tide stacking the box, many are now openly wondering why Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges didn’t allow Robinson to do what he does best – run the ball outside the pocket. With just one designed run in the first half, Robinson finished with a paltry 27 rushing yards on 10 carries.
For the Big Ten and Michigan, this shows just how far both have to go to win a national title. The SEC has humiliated the Big Ten many times in recent years – see Alabama’s 49-7 victory over Michigan State in the 2011 Capital One Bowl and Ohio State’s back-to-back beat downs in the 2006 and 2007 BCS Championship Games – and this was more of the same. To be fair, Brady Hoke is only on Year 2 of a massive rebuilding project and definitely has things headed in the right direction. But the Big Ten and Michigan got another serving of humble pie this weekend.
Here are some other observations from around the nation:
HEISMAN TALK: The overwhelming preseason favorite to win the award, USC QB Matt Barkley, was spectacular as expected vs. Hawaii. Throwing a 75-yard touchdown on the very first play from scrimmage, Barkley completed 60 percent of his passes for 377 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. It’s going to take a Herculian effort to snatch the bronze statue away from Barkley.
However, West Virginia QB Geno Smith and Oregon RB De’Anthony Thomas also had eye-popping days. Smith went 32-36 for 383 total yards and five combined touchdowns. Thomas? He touched the ball eight times for 125 yards and three touchdowns before Chip Kelly called off the dogs on Arkansas State. Wait until the most exciting player in college football gets his hands on the ball more.
QUACKTASTIC: Oh, those sneaky Ducks. Oregon just unveiled new uniforms and two other variations of the Rose Bowl “liquid metal” chrome helmet weeks ago. But the Ducks just couldn’t help themselves from using another new look for the season opener with a yellow liquid metal helmet. If you missed them, they basically looked like Oregon’s 1990s “Gang Green” uniforms – set 10,000 years in the future. As always, the uniforms almost broke Twitter with people either loving them or hating them.
DARRON WHO? Oregon fans were crushed when QB Darron Thomas left school early for the NFL draft after last season. While he’s still waiting at home for an NFL call that isn’t coming, the Ducks might have actually gotten better behind center with freshman QB Marcus Mariota (above). A nearly flawless performance (18-22, 200 yards, three TDs) has made Thomas’ ill-fated departure an afterthought.
STILL KIFFIN: So much for all that talk about Lane Kiffin maturing. Just weeks after the USC head coach was outed for lying on his coaches poll, Kiffin kept up his “Denis the Menace” act by banning walk-throughs at the LA Coliseum for opposing teams last week – a very petty move – and then going for it on 4th and – while leading Hawaii by 32 points in the fourth quarter with Barkley still in the game.
HOT SEATS: Jeff Tedford’s seat was already toasty entering the 2012 season. He’s most certainly feeling the burn now after a 31-24 loss to Nevada in the reopening of Cal’s Memorial Stadium, that underwent a $321 million renovation. This was a Wolf Pack team that went 7-6 last season in the WAC. That’s completely unacceptable for Tedford, a coach that’s the fourth-highest paid in the Pac-12 ($2.3 million per season).
Maryland coach Randy Edsall should be counting his lucky stars after a comeback 7-6 win over FCS William & Mary. A loss to the Tribe might have resulted in another College Park riot.
$AVANNAH STATE: I hope FCS Savannah State enjoys the $385,000 payday it got from playing at No. 19 Oklahoma State on Saturday because the Tigers’ football program has now become infamous for failing to cover a 67.5 point spread, reportedly the biggest in college football history. The school has no business scheduling games against Top 25 teams, as evidenced by the fact Savannah State went 1-10 last season and lost to Bethune Cookman, 59-3. That now looks competitive compared to the 84-0 loss to the Cowboys. Good luck to the Tigers next Saturday at No. 7 Florida State.
FRANK-LY SPEAKING: As people discussed even prior to Ohio’s upset over Penn State, there’s a very real chance the Bobcats go undefeated this fall. What fascinates me is the possibility that a BCS conference school hires Frank Solich this offseason. Yes, he’s already 67-years old and just signed a five-year contract extension. But the guy is a proven winner and I wouldn’t be surprised if his name comes up a lot in the coaching rumor mill. If a school like, say, Oregon State came calling, would Solich pick up the phone?
SLUGGISH STARTS: No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 12 Wisconsin looked like anything but national title contenders on Saturday. The Sooners inched their way past UTEP, 24-7, and Wisconsin had to hold off Northern Iowa of the FCS, 26-21. Performances like that are why preseason polls are almost useless.
THE PITTS: Poor Pitt Panther fans. A program that hasn’t been relevant nationally since the days of Dan Marino three decades ago has had to suffer through the Dave Wannstedt era, the Mike Haywood debacle and the Todd Graham divorce in recent years. On Saturday, new coach Paul Chryst debuted with a loss to FCS Youngstown State, 31-17. The Steelers’ season can’t get here soon enough.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM: After going 13-1 last season behind record-setting QB Case Keenum and former coach Kevin Sumlin, Houston came crashing down to earth Saturday with a 30-13 loss to Texas State. Yes, the same Texas State that was playing its first game as an FBS school. Things could get much uglier in the next two weeks for UH with games vs. Louisiana Tech and at UCLA.
Top five games: Week 2
5: No. 1 USC vs. Syracuse (at MetLife Stadium): Syracuse lost in heart-breaking fashion to Northwestern on Saturday but will need to pick up the pieces for the mighty Trojans. The score won’t be close but the game should be a spectacle.
4: Fresno State vs. No. 5 Oregon: Oregon should win big but Fresno State can score points, led by QB Derek Carr – the little brother of David Carr. Get your popcorn ready.
3: No. 23 Florida vs. Texas A&M: Will Muschamp and Kevin Sumlin are already sniping at each other and expect the 12th Man to be especially jacked up for A&M’s first SEC game.
2: Washington vs. No. 3 LSU: Washington QB Keith Price is being hailed as a darkhouse Heisman contender. We’ll find out if he’s for real in Death Valley with DEs Sam Montogmery and Barkevious Mingo bearing down on him.
1: No. 6 Georgia vs. Missouri: Georgia has national title aspirations while Missouri plays in its first SEC game with a potent offense.
Jim Weber is the founder of LostLettermen.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JimMWeber.
Photo credits: Matthew Emmons, Scott Olmos, Charles LeClaire/US Presswire