College Football Random Thoughts (9-7-12)
by Larry Ness
The 2012 CFB season opened this past Thursday night when the ol' ball coach took his 9th-ranked Gamecocks into Nashville to take on Vanderbilt. South Carolina is one of five SEC teams ranked in the AP poll's preseason top-25 and needed a favorable pass-interference "no call" to go its way in the mid-fourth quarter to escape with a 17-13 win. CFB's first weekend concluded Labor Day evening in Blacksburg, when 16th-ranked Virginia Tech got by Georgia Tech 20-17 in OT. All but one of the AP's preseason top-25 schools were in action this first weekend, as only No. 20 TCU was idle.
There were two games in which top-25 opponents faced each other, leaving 20 top-25 teams playing non-ranked opponents. Those teams were a perfect 20-0 SU but were a losing proposition ATS, going 8-12. It was a particularly "ugly" ATS performance by top-10 teams, which went 1-7 ATS. The lone winning ATS team amongst top-10 teams was No. 7 Florida State, as the Seminoles crushed Murray State 69-3, as 44-point favorites on the "extra-game" board. Let me also note that three ranked schools. No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 21 Stanford and No. 23 Florida all failed to score as many points in the game, as they were favored by! Wisconsin was favored by 32 points over Northern Iowa but won just 26-21. Stanford closed as a 26 1/2-point choice against San Jose St but had to eke out a 20-17 win. Florida was a four-TD favorite against Bowl Green but won only 27-14.
Checking in on the two games played between top-25 opponents this first weekend, No. 13 Michigan St dominated No. 24 Boise State on the "stat sheet," outgaining the Broncos 461-to-206 yards but on the scoreboard, the final was 17-13 (MSU closed as an eight-point favorite). The marquee matchup of the first weekend was Saturday night's contest between Alabama, the defending national champs (ranked No. 2) and No. 8 Michigan. It was a "no contest" from the opening kickoff. Alabama led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter, 31-7 at the half and cruised to a 41-14 victory. An SEC school has won each of the last six BCS titles and I don't know many betting against the idea of an SEC team being in this year's national title game again.
All eyes were in State College Saturday at 12 noon ET, as Ohio U invaded not-so Happy Valley. Penn State players and the coaching staff had to be anxious to get back to just "playing football," after enduring about 10 months of dealing with the issues and fallout caused by the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Bill O'Brien has accepted the job of "saving" this program but as we all saw on Saturday, it's going to be a long haul. Penn State did take a 14-3 lead into halftime (helped by a blocked punt deep in Ohio U territory) but it was all Bobcats in the second half, as Ohio U won 24-14. PSU was supposed to have a decent defense this season but Bobcats QB Tyler Tettleton (31-of-41) passed for 324 yards with two TDs plus added 47 yards rushing with another TD. RB Blankenship had 109 yards rushing plus caught seven balls for 72 yards, as Ohio U converted 13-of-21 third downs.
The FBS welcomed four new schools to what was previously called Division I this weekend. The four additions to the FBS ranks in 2012 are UMass (MAC), UT-San Antonio (WAC), South Alabama (Sun Belt) and Texas State (WAC but headed to the Sun Belt in 2013). UMass played at UConn and not only lost 37-0 but managed just three FDs (converted 3-of-15 on third down) and totaled only 54 yards on offense (just three rushing yards on 24 attempts). South Alabama and UT-Antonio played each other on Saturday, postponed one day because of Hurricane Isaac. It was worth the wait, as the two teams played an entertaining game in which UT-Antonio won 33-31 on a 51-yard FG with 16 seconds remaining.
However, it was Texas State which made the biggest "splash" among the new teams, as the Bobcats (did they steal that nickname from my beloved Ohio U team?) won their first game at the FBS level, shocking Houston 30-13. This was NO fluke, as Texas State (a five-TD underdog) led in yards 444-to-326 and in FDs, 23-to-15. Remember, Houston was 13-1 last season and finished No. 18 in the final AP poll, plus many preseason publications had them contending in C-USA's West division in 2012. So much for that. The win had to be particularly special for Texas State's head coach, the much-maligned Dennis Franchione.
Franchione spent six years at New Mexico and in his final season of 2007, led the Lobos to the school's first bowl game since 1961. Up next was TCU for three seasons where he led the Horned Frogs to their first bowl win since 1957 in 1998, as well as the school's first top-25 ranking (got as high as No. 11 in the AP) since 1959 in 2000. He moved on to Alabama in 2001 and led the team, which had posted a 3–8 record the prior season, to a 7-5 record and then a 10-3 record in 2002. Alabama officials offered Franchione a 10-year contract extension but because the school was dealing with sanctions put in place before he arrived, he accepted the Texas A&M job when R C Slocum was fired. His tenure as College Station was troubled in five seasons, as the Aggies went just 32-28 and lost all three bowl appearances. He resigned in 2007 under fire. Franchione was named head coach of Texas State's football program on January 7, 20011 and the team was 6-6 last year in the school's final transition season. It's an understatement to say the team's win at Houston on Saturday was a BIG DEAL!
"Bad Beat of the Week" belongs to those who had Minnesota/UNLV on Thursday. The total closed 52 1/2 and the games was 10-7 UNLV at the end of the third quarter. Minnesota took a 13-10 lead with two, fourth-quarter FGs but to the dismay of all under bettors, UNLV tied the game with 2:46 left. The teams then traded TDs in the first two OT periods, to sneak over. The game ended 30-27 Minnesota, in three OTs. Saturday's Northwestern/Syracuse game was a pointspread thriller. The Wildcats opened as 2 1/2-point road favorites but Syracuse closed as a two-point favorite. Northwestern led 35-13 in the late third quarter but Syracuse scored the game's next four TDs to take a 41-35 lead with 2:40 left. However, Northwestern drove 75 yards in 10 plays, capping it off with a nine-yard TD pass with 44 seconds left for a 41-41 win. That's why they call it gambling!
Checking in on the Heisman: From the moment USC's Matt Barkley announced he would return for his senior season, he became the clear-cut favorite. However, that has been the "kiss of death" in recent years. Sam Bradford won the 2008 Heisman, surprising the 2007 winner Tim Tebow. In 2009, there was a trio of favorites, Tebow (2007 winner), Bradford (2008 winner) and Colt McCoy. One was all but guaranteed to win but Mark Ingram (RB of Alabama), who had almost zero notoriety coming into the season, became the Tide's first-ever Heisman winner. Ingram and Ohio St QB Terrelle Pryor were co-favorites in 2010 but Cam Newton ran away with the award, a player who didn't even play at the FBS level the previous season. Then last year, Andrew Luck (the 2010 runner-up) was the odds-on favorite but the award was "stolen" by Baylor's RG III, hardly a household name at the beginning of the season.
Barkley did little to disappoint his backers Saturday, as he was 23-of-38 for 372 yards with four TDs and zero INTs in USC's 49-10 win over Hawaii. A couple of other contenders saw their "stock drop," as Landry Jones and the Sooners struggled at UTEP, leading just 10-7 into the 4th quarter before winning 24-7. Jones was 21-of-36 for 222 yards with two TDs and zero INTs. Michigan's Denard Robinson all but saw any long-shot chance put to rest Saturday night, as the Wolverines were destroyed by Alabama. Robinson was 11-of-26 through the air (200 yards with one TD and two INTs) plus the man who has run for 2,878 yards the last two seasons (6.1 YPC with 30 TDs), had 27 yards rushing on 10 carries (he did have a TD). Wisconsin RB Montee Ball ran for 1,923 yards last season, averaging 6.3 YPC and scoring 33 rushing TDs (added six more catching passes). He and the Badgers struggled badly against Northern Iowa this past weekend, as the Badgers (-32) won just 26-21 with Ball gaining a modest 120 yards on 32 carries (just 3.8 YPC) with one TD (it was his 21st game scoring a TD). Ball's biggest trouble this past weekend came from fellow Big Ten RB La'Von Bell of Michigan St. He ran for a career-high 210 yards with two TDs plus caught six passes for 55 more yards. Bell had 265 yards from scrimmage, outgaining the entire Boise St team, which gained only 206.
Making the biggest Heisman "splash" this weekend was West Va's Geno Smith. When last we saw the Mountaineers QB, he was leading West Va to a 70-33 Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. He completed 32-of-43 passes last January for 407 yards with six TD passes and zero INTs. He added 26 yards rushing, scoring a seventh TD. Last Saturday in West Va's season-opening 69-34 win over Marshall, Smith was 32-of-36 for 323 yards with four TD passes and zero INTs. He added 65 rushing yards with a fifth TD. He's now accounted for 12 of Clemson's 20 TDs in the Tigers' last two games with Clemson scoring 139 points. Keep an eye on Smith.
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