Via Hey Jenny Slater:
1. By the end of the season, some previously unheralded teams' bandwagons will be so full they'll be having to bump passengers and offer them free vouchers and first-class upgrades; others will have emptied out in a big way. On whose bandwagon are you already scrambling to save a seat? Conversely, which team's bandwagon is being driven by Toonces the Driving Cat, prompting you to leap off now before it careens over a cliff to its fiery death below?
Quietly, I think Wisconsin took a very positive step to answering its one outstanding question, at quarterback. The assumption was that Tyler Donovan might be Jon Stocco at best, and Jim Sorgi at worst, but his debut was all kinds of hot against Washington State. Not like Matt Ryan or Sam Bradford HOT!!, where he's going for 400 and five touchdowns on 20 yards per completion, but Donovan threw for 289 yards and three touchdowns in his second start, in an offense Constitutionally required to pound the hell out of opposing fronts as a first resort. Washington State - and yes, of course we're talking about a good start against Washington State, which is quite a mediocre measuring stick - seemed like it was in the game early, answering the Badgers' first couple scores, but it never really was. Given the schedule, there are two serious but very winnable challenges (Iowa at home on Sept. 22 and at Penn State on Oct. 13) between the Badgers and 9-0 going into back-to-back dates with Ohio State and Michigan.
The schedule is also the reason I'm bailing on any Washington hype despite giving the Huskies very high marks for keeping the foot on Syracuse's throat Friday and then dismembering the Orange's corpse and hiding the various organs and limbs in dank alcoves of the Carrier Dome. Jake Locker and Louis Rankin look like a real belweather combo in the backfield, as long as they both remain upright (Rankin is coming off serious knee surgery and Locker was a reckless bowling ball in traffic), and I don't think we saw the extent of big Marcel Reese's potential impact at receiver. The talent level looked vastly improved.
The resemblance is uncanny.
But, without even adjusting for the high, high skepticism that accompanies any performance against Syracuse, how much will that help in the next six games, which happen to be Boise State, Ohio State, at UCLA, Southern Cal, at Arizona State and Oregon? Five of those teams currently reside in the top 25; the other (ASU) is coming off a 45-3 win over probably a better team (San Jose State) than Syracuse. I definitely would not want to face Washington and think an upset or two during that sretch might be inevitable. In the end, though, however improved it turns out to be, this is still going to be a borderline bowl team in real terms.
2. What do you think was opening weekend's biggest mirage -- either a "big win" over a team that isn't really as good as everyone thinks, or an embarrassing loss (or embarrassingly close win) that won't seem quite as embarrassing by season's end?
Michigan. Please. The Wolverines will not necessarily beat Oregon this weekend - the Ducks have the athletic, spread option-friendly quarterback that is has been the silver bullet to Michigan's D for years now, well before last week's debacle - and Lloyd Carr will not necessarily retain his job at the end of the season. Not without cutting a couple coaches loose, and maybe not then. But they will eventually rebound and contend for a New Year's Day bowl at minimum in the familiar fashion. They can't still be considered the favorite, by any means, but Michigan is the most consistent program in the country over the last 30 years and I'll believe its lasting demise when I see it.
3. Compared to how you felt Friday night, how do you feel now about your team's chances this season? I'm not just talking about your impressions of your own team -- also take into account their prospects relative to this year's opponents, whom you've also gotten a little more acquainted with after this past weekend's action.
I didn't see the game - a fellow displaced alum and I followed it on Fox's GameCast or whatever during the Cal-Tennessee game - but at any rate, my feelings about Southern Miss haven't changed at all. Whipping UT-Martin tells us nothing. Nobody got hurt, Damion Fletcher was nigh unstoppable, Jeremy Young was effective as a scrambler and subpar as a passer, and the defense held a I-AA offense to six points. Business as usual.
The most optimistic point is that Fletcher picked up where he left off and clearly does not appear to be a one-year wonder/slump-stricken sophomore as long as he's healthy, which I didn't expect in his case but still. There are three brand new, disturbingly undersized interior linemen and they rolled together for the first time, but again, it's UT-Martin and thus carries a predictability factor of zero. At Tennessee is the game for drawing early conclusions.
As for other teams on the schedule, well, see below.
4. Looking at how those future opponents performed this past weekend, which developments are you most excited about? Which of your opponents' performances have you a little worried?
Tennessee's already replacing defensive linemen, and its failure to stop Cal in any facet of the game is promising for Saturday, especially where Fletcher is concerned - USM is definitely in it to win a 13-10 sorta game that puts minimal pressure on Young to attempt anything outside of his very narrow comfort zone. Or attempt anthing at all, really, if they can get away with that.
Justin Forsett was pickin' up good vibrations against Tennesee's front, anyway.
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Obviously, they can't, and that's more of a problem if Fletcher is being harassed by eight-man fronts. I have no confidence in Young yet to put defenders on their heels or cause much indecision, because he'll attempt most of his passes in predictable situations, after the run game has faltered, and he's not effective in that role. Fletcher has to get something going to give Young a chance to make plays off play-action. Tennessee's inability to deal with Nate Longshore and Cal's passing game really has no translation because of the huge difference in philosophy and talent from Cal to Southern Miss, but the Bears' ability to run was heartening.
As far as other opponents, ugh, I knew the whole "unanimous conference favorite" bit was going to be tougher than all that, but East Carolina really looked tough on defense at Virginia Tech. And Virginia Tech's very conservative style of play offensively is one that does translate well to Southern Miss, which is still smarting from being upset at home by the Pirates in one of the worst offensive performances in school history last year. Though it was stuck on seven points, the fact the ECU offense wasn't completely destroyed by Tech's defense is more reason to worry about the trip to Greenville in a couple weeks, which will be the trap-worthy sandwich game of a killer three-game road stretch encompassing Tennessee, ECU and Boise State. I feel like a schmuck for actually considering East Carolina a potential equal, but Skip Holtz of all people obviously has a one-time laughingstock on an upward track athletically and in intangible competitiveness, and I know now it's going to be very tough to score there. Again.
Boise State is simultaneously more worrisome because of its balance on both sides of the ball and legitimate offensive explosiveness with Ian Johnson and less worrisome because it's out of the conference. Very little, other than ubiquitous pride, will be on the line at BSU unless Tennessee goes down Saturday. Memphis, on the other hand, is another potential conference spoiler if it can cut the turnovers. Phil Steele irrationally loved the Tigers in the preseason, and they moved the ball at will when not giving it away against Ole Miss in the opener.
Too little, too late, Schnatter.
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5. There are now 32 bowls in D-IA football, meaning 64 bowl teams, meaning any given team now stands a better-then-50-percent chance of going to a bowl. To get that number under 50 percent, we'd have to eliminate three bowls. Which ones would you get rid of?
Only two? The New Mexico Bowl is a worthless excuse to get fourth or fifth-place New Mexico another home game, but the Silicon Valley "Classic" and the Poinsettia, Emerald, Las Vegas, Motor City, New Orleans, Mobile Alabama/GMAC and Papa John's bowls paved that quasi-lucrative path. I'd vote to nix the newest: bye bye New Mexico and Papa John's, and the International for good measure (Hello, Toronto! We bring you a strange, exotic pastime from our homeland, America. It has four downs and 100 yards...). Most people never knew they were here to begin with. And you, Papa John's, you couldn't even provide pizza at a pizza-sponsored game. And beer! To the Wikipedia archives with you.