Asmussen: Big Ten struggles on big stage

Asmussen: Big Ten struggles on big stage

Team of the Week
Central Florida
Winning any game at Happy Valley is a good thing, even against the Jerry Sandusky-ravaged Penn State program. Going into the season, George O’Leary was a candidate for one of those endless “Coach on the Hot Seat” lists. Not now. After winning against the Nittany Lions, the Knights moved to 3-0 and onto H.U.’s AP ballot. There are plenty of tests coming for Central Florida, including two games during a three-week span against South Carolina and Louisville. Split those games and Central Florida has a chance to represent the American Conference in a BCS bowl. Have to admit, never saw that one coming.

Teams of the Weak
Jim Delany’s favorite schools
The Big Ten had a chance for a monster weekend. Instead, it had a dinosaur-sized meltdown. It was more than just Penn State that let the league down. Nebraska blew a big early lead at home against UCLA, turning Bo Pelini’s job security into a hot topic in Omaha, Lincoln, Beatrice and Gering. Also failing were Illinois, Wisconsin and Purdue. And Michigan escaped an upset bid by Akron that would have made fans question the growing legend of Brady Hoke. Reports from Michigan fans: Devin Gardner looked awful. But what do you really think?

Top 10
1. Alabama    2
Does Saturday’s win against Texas A&M reach “Classic” status? Sure seems like it. The game had a lot of everything, including a ridiculous game by Johnny Manziel and an even better performance by underrated Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. Time to stop calling the guy a “game manager” and say what he really is: a winner. That’s also the best word to describe Alabama coach Nick Saban. He recruits well. Always has. But it is about more than talent. There is a Saban Way that makes his guys better. There are only two reasons the dominance is going to end: scandal or Saban looks for another challenge.

2. Ohio State    1
Call it a college football version of the traditional breakup line “It’s not you, it’s me.” With the Buckeyes playing the role of dumpee. Ohio State did nothing wrong, H.U. simply found a prettier girl (or hairier guy — no judging). Put their resumes next to each other and Alabama moves just a bit ahead of Ohio State. But it is close. And a long way from being over. Ohio State needs to keep winning, while also hoping that its opponents stay strong. The best way for Ohio State to settle the debate is by taking on and beating the Crimson Tide in the last-ever BCS title game. Cross your fingers. It is a game we should all root to see. Unless you are a fan of Michigan or Auburn.

3. Oregon    4
The Ducks forced their way up a spot by humbling Tennessee. The Vols actually fooled themselves into thinking they had a chance. Until the game started. Now comes the scary part: Oregon is just getting started. The Ducks figure to dominate the Pac-12, setting up the possibility of being in a three-team battle for one of the two national title spots. They will scream in Eugene if Oregon is the odd team out.

4. Clemson    3
After taking the weekend off,   the Tigers have a Thursday night shindig against North Carolina State. The Wolfpack is undefeated, but one of the two wins was a two-pointer against Richmond. In other words, North Carolina State has no chance. But that Jim Valvano-led basketball team was a lot of fun to watch. At Clemson, they prefer football and will remind N.C. State they are far superior in the sport.

5. Stanford    5
Turns out, Army was ready for the Cardinal. The Cadets played a close game at home against Stanford, losing by two TDs while making the commander in chief proud. Maybe the Cardinal was looking ahead to Saturday’s game against Arizona State. The Sun Devils held off Wisconsin thanks to some strange doings in the closing seconds. If Stanford doesn’t bring its A-plus game (the kids are smart in Palo Alto), it will get burned by the Sun Devils.

6. Louisville    6
The Cardinals have been making noise about being a national title contender. They almost had to shut it after a close win against Kentucky. Teddy Bridgewater actually looked human and not like an alien from Lovetron. He should put up huge numbers Saturday against Florida International.

7. LSU    7
Kent State was no problem for the Tigers. They have much bigger issues with those pesky Internet sports sites that continue to question Les Miles, going back to his time at Oklahoma State. The Tigers on Saturday host a rejuvenated Auburn. With a loaded schedule ahead, Miles and the team can’t take anyone lightly.

8. Oklahoma State    9
Speaking of schools facing unwanted scrutiny, meet the Cowboys. They should have known that having a billionaire paying for everything would draw attention. Next time, take the money quietly and don’t name every building for the guy. Mike Gundy likely canceled his SI subscription after the magazine dove into his program. The sad part is that the Cowboys are playing at a high level and have a chance for a special season. But the attention is elsewhere. Good time for a week off. Wonder if Gundy will take the team on a road trip? Somewhere quiet. Like Vegas.

9. Florida State    --
Nice of Jameis Winston to take it easy in the blowout win against Nevada. The superstar freshman threw for just 214 yards and a couple of scores. Plenty to beat the other Wolfpack. The Seminoles will need even less from their star in Saturday’s game against Bethune-Cookman. Maybe Barry Alvarez is right about not playing teams from a lower division. This one figures to get ugly in the first few minutes. With or without Winston going bonkers.

10. Georgia    10
After taking the weekend off, the Bulldogs get back to work ... against North Texas. The game shouldn’t count. The folks in Athens will remind you that the schedule is loaded later on. And that the Dawgs already played South Carolina. Fair point. But Georgia drops out of the Top 10 if it doesn’t beat the Mean Green by 40.

Bottom 5
125. Georgia State    125
Is it a coincidence that two of the teams in the B-FIVE are nicknamed the Panthers? Probably not a good sign for the NFL team in Carolina. After the expected blowout loss to West Virginia, Georgia State will try to extricate itself from the list with a winnable game against Jacksonville State. That’s the third game for the Panthers against FCS schools. It should have scheduled 12 of them.

124. New Mexico State    124
The Aggies missed a chance against rival UTEP. It isn’t going to get any better this week in Las Cruces. Hungry and talented UCLA hosts New Mexico State in Pasadena. Don’t think Jim Mora Jr. will take it easy on the visitors. He’s got a Top 25 to climb, and impressive wins always help. After this, the schedule lightens up for New Mexico State. Thankfully.

123. Texas    —
Sorry, Longhorn Nation, but when you get dominated in back-to-back games against teams you should beat, you deserve a spot on the naughty list. Think Mack Brown is in his office now, packing up all those Coach of the Year trophies? Or maybe he has the safe open and is loading a bag with some getaway cash. However Brown tries to sell it, Texas is the major disappointment of the early season. And Texas might not be done losing. Two of the next three games are against Kansas State and Oklahoma. Both of those teams are better than Texas. Right now. Might be time for Texas to call Nick Saban to see if the school really is his dream job. Doesn’t hurt to ask.

122. Idaho     123
The Vandals earn a small promotion thanks to a decent performance against Top 25-ranked Northern Illinois. Idaho knew it was going to be rough this year. But a 10-point game against the Huskies is something to build on. The flip side could come Saturday, when Idaho visits improved Washington State. Don’t believe it? Just ask Southern Cal.

121. Florida International    122
There is that nickname again,  Panthers. This model showed no fangs or claws in losing to Bethune-Cookman last Saturday. And it won’t get any better this week against Louisville. Unless Ron Turner finds another year of eligibility for Kurt Kittner and gets him to transfer, Turner’s first season back in college is going to end without a win. Happened to him at Illinois, so we know he can bounce back.

Conference call
1. SEC    1
2. Pac-12     4
3. Big 12    5
4. ACC    3
5. American    6
6. Mountain West    7
7. MAC    8
8. C-USA    10
9. Sun Belt    9
10. Big Ten    2

Heisman ballot
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
OK, he lost. But not without a fight. Call him what you want, jerk, immature, dopey. But the guy can play. He threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns. Against Alabama. And ran for another 98. Nobody, other than Manziel, does that against the Tide. Those autographs are going to be worth a fortune if he becomes the second two-time Heisman winner. H.U. likes his chances even more after Saturday.

2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
The sophomore quarterback, coming off a so-so game the previous week against Virginia, looked like a Heisman candidate with a 456-yard passing day against Tennessee. In those complicated quarterback ratings that nobody understands, Mariota had a near-perfect outing. And, unlike Manziel, his team hasn’t lost.

3. Brett Hundley, UCLA
Of course, the list is a little QB heavy. They get all the glory. But Hundley forced his way into consideration by leading the comeback win at Nebraska. Not many guys have pulled that off. Now that he’s got everybody’s attention, Hundley will show voters his skills as a thrower and runner. Nebraska couldn’t tackle the guy.

Random thoughts
Thorny issue
H.U. will take on any request. Always has. But, in hindsight, life would have been easier if I had just said “No” to the Rose Bowl. The wonderful folks in Pasadena asked The News-Gazette to be a part of a panel picking the all-time Rose Bowl team. Not as easy as you think. Even with the great help provided by bowl officials. The problem with the task came in trying to compare players in different eras. The teams were broken down by decade, though some players and a lot of coaches straddled two decades. There were some obvious easy calls, like John McKay and Vince Young. Among the Illini on our ballot were Dick Butkus and Bill Tate. Sorry, Juice Williams didn’t make the cut. The teams will be announced soon and provide all sorts of debates. Please, no heckling the voters.

Hanging on
Obviously, the people in Washington are thrilled with the great start by the football team. But check back again in late November. If the Huskies keep winning, which looks likely, Steve Sarkisian will be at the top of every school’s must-hire list. Don’t be surprised if his former employer, Southern Cal, takes a run at Sarkisian. He is young, talented and says all the right things. Only problem H.U. sees is his unwillingness to meet with the media the day before a game. Something about putting on his game face. Somewhere, Bob Knight is smiling.

Hanging on II
Washington isn’t the only school that has to worry about keeping its coach. Here is H.U.’s endorsement for Eastern Illinois coach Dino Babers. Not that he needs it. He has been on big-time staffs and has shown the ability to run his own program in Charleston. The school should not count on him being the next Bob Spoo. But five years from now, the Panthers might be bragging about “that guy who spent two seasons winning big on campus.” If Eastern wants to keep him, it might need a hefty donation from alum Tony Romo.

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