Each week, college football writer — and AP Top 25 & Heisman voter — BOB ASMUSSEN breaks down the game he loves
Team of the Week
To say the Mountaineers are enigmatic is to say they like to party in Morgantown. One week, they are shut out by Maryland. The next week, they bounce back by stunning Oklahoma State. We can’t quite figure out Dana Holgorsen’s wacky bunch, but it’s a lot of fun to try. It still seems wrong that West Virginia is even in the Big 12. The ACC made much more sense. Too late now. Just enjoy the bumpy ride, which could turn weird again Saturday in the game against undefeated Baylor.
Team of the Weak
The Trojans figured out how to get rid of the bumbling coach: lay down against Arizona State. Pat Haden, one of the best short quarterbacks in program history, had finally seen enough. He dumped Lane Kiffin after Saturday’s debacle against Arizona State. Ed Orgeron takes over on an interim basis. If Orgeron is able to turn the program, Haden will have to consider him for the permanent job. We should have seen the last of Kiffin on a college sideline. What he did to Tennessee, leaving after only one year, was a tip that he wasn’t the right guy for the job. Never good when your top players hold a meeting about the team and you don’t know about it. Clue ... less. The Southern Cal program has been hurt by scandal in recent years, but the ineptitude of the Kiffin regime was so much worse.
SCHOOL PREVIOUS RANK
1. Alabama 1
Somewhere, Nick Saban is rubbing his hands together like an evil genius. Probably in his palatial Tuscaloosa office. The one with the moat. And 10 “Do Not Disturb” signs. Saban must get a kick out of proving the doubters wrong. So often. Last week, Mississippi was supposed to threaten the two-time national champions. Not quite. Alabama pitched another shutout. And another shut up. Saban would smile about it. If he knew how. The word on Saban the guy is that he is a combination of aloof and testy. H.U. thinks that describes many of the great leaders in sports. No doubt that it works for Saban, who is at his best when his team is questioned the most. They already have survived Texas A&M, and a loss looks less likely by the day. Bank on seeing the Fighting Sabans in the Rose Bowl. Wearing scowls that would work as Halloween masks. Mommy, I’m trick-or-treating as Saban this year. Gimme some candy. Or else.
2. Ohio State 2
Give Wisconsin credit for hanging with the Buckeyes. But Wisconsin couldn’t end the nation’s best 17-game winning streak. Not with Braxton Miller playing like Kenny Guiton. Some thought Urban Meyer should replace Miller with his supersub. That shows you why Meyer earns the big bucks. After missing time with a strained knee, Miller threw a career-best four touchdowns against the Badgers. Now, with two capable quarterbacks, Ohio State is more dangerous than ever. If Miller struggles for a series or two, Meyer can bring in Guiton from the bullpen. The Buckeyes face one of their most difficult tests left Saturday against Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald would love to end Ohio State’s winning streak while putting his own team in position for a BCS berth. The Wildcats have played well early in the season but not as dominant as some expected. Those thoughts go away with a win at Ryan Field. And Fitzgerald will have his defense ready for whatever gadgets Meyer wants to try. Like changing quarterbacks every play.
3. Oregon 3
Another game, another 50-point outburst by the mighty Ducks. Actually, Oregon has hit at least 55 in its first four games. It should make it 5 for 5 after Saturday’s game against rebuilding Colorado. It doesn’t matter who runs the program as long as they keep firing the ball down the field. The current Ducks are second in the country in scoring. No surprise there. Even better, they are fourth in the country in points allowed. The offense draws all the praise and headlines, but the best way to get to the title game is with defense. It appears that Oregon has both. And one of the prettiest campuses you are ever going to see. The old joke was “Oregon is where you go when you flunk out of California.” Don’t think many Oregonians would make that trade today. Except during the rainy season. Or if Dodgers tickets are part of the deal. Good seats, near Magic Johnson.
4. Clemson 4
Should beating up on Wake Forest even count as a win? The Tigers are getting by these days on two parts talent and one part creative scheduling. They are at it again Saturday, visiting Syracuse. We would like the Orange’s chances in hoops or lacrosse, but not on the football field. Not against Clemson. The Tigers own the big win against Georgia, which looks better and better each week. But that’s about it. If Clemson wants to play for the national title, it will need to wipe out Florida State by a big score and hope for some help from underdogs in the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12. The clock is ticking against Clemson. Not in a good way. In a bomb-is-about-to-blow way.
5. Stanford 5
At least the Cardinal players and coaches control their own destiny. Finish undefeated against the salty Pac-12 and they deserve a shot in Pasadena for the title game. Stanford dispatched Washington State last week like a bad term paper. Saturday, they take on another undefeated team, one that impressed the folks in Chicago. Washington has the talent to end Stanford’s winning run. It helps the Cardinal that the game is in Palo Alto. David Shaw’s guys have been warned. They are on upset alert.
6. Louisville 6
We would pity the plight of the Cardinals if they weren’t so darned good in every other sport. The basketball team soon will defend its national title, and the baseball team knows the way to Omaha for the College World Series. But the football team faces a basket full of problems if it wants to play for the national title. The teams in front of Louisville don’t seem to be moving much. Most of the upsets have been behind Louisville in the rankings. While Oklahoma State and LSU are no longer a threat, Louisville needs somebody to take out the Big Five. And that is not a reference to the basketball teams in Philly. After taking off last weekend, Louisville plays Temple. Not going to impress the voters with that one. The Owls just lost to Idaho (see below).
7. Florida State 9
Boston College played the Seminoles closer than expected. Maybe they were inspired by the Red Sox. Whatever the reason, Florida State didn’t put the drubbing on the Eagles. Which makes H.U. think Florida State could stumble against future Big Ten school Maryland. The Seminoles continue their slow climb up the rankings. But like others in the second five, it is slow going. The best teams seem to have a gap, maybe a fixable one, over the next wave. Makes sense. Not everybody can be first. There have to be layers. And Florida State is one peg below the very best. Win the rest of their games and the Seminoles can change everybody’s mind. Or at least the minds of those who really matter. Jimbo Fisher wants to see it happen.
8. Georgia 10
Hope you got to see Saturday’s game against LSU. While it wasn’t much to brag about defensively, the scoring explosion was fun to watch. One of H.U.’s sources tells us that Mark Richt is one of the best people in sports. So, feel free to root for the guy, who has spent more than his share of time on the hot seat. Not now. He has led the Bulldogs back from the Clemson loss. Georgia should stay on a roll Saturday against Tennessee, which doesn’t miss Lane Kiffin a bit. With no Alabama on the regular season schedule, Georgia should win the rest of its games.
9. Texas A&M —
Welcome back to the Aggies, who were briefly kicked out of the Top 10 after the loss to Alabama. In hindsight, that might have been a little harsh. The Aggies scored a lot of points and piled up a lot of yards against the Crimson Tide. Arkansas scared the Aggies last week. That might happen to a lot of teams playing against Bret Bielema’s Hogs. Texas A&M takes this weekend off before returning to the SEC grind Oct. 12 against Mississippi.
10. Washington —
And welcome aboard to the Huskies, who are 1-0 this season at Soldier Field (Jay Cutler didn’t have any turnovers in that one). Washington doesn’t get the press like Oregon and Stanford. Maybe that’s the way Steve Sarkisian likes it. He can hide his team in Seattle and come out when the team is ready for a big win. Those could be coming soon, with consecutive battles against the Cardinal and the Ducks. Sweep those two and Washington becomes the team in the Pac-12 with the best shot at the BCS title game. Only Sarkisian and his players thought that was possible before the season.
SCHOOL PREVIOUS RANK
125. Georgia State 125
The Panthers are a mortal lock to sit at No. 125 a week from now. How do we know this? Magic Eight-Ball? Palm reading? Nope. Nick Saban told us. Or he would if actually asked about Georgia State’s chances. The honest answer: Snowball in a pizza oven. The Crimson Tide is going to slice and dice the Panthers into salad fixings, then enjoy the meal. Saban likes to watch his weight.
124. New Mexico State 124
Lou Henson got back to Las Cruces just in time to see the Aggies lose a close game to San Diego State. The beloved coach figured it would be a long season for New Mexico State. Though they gave up just 26 points against San Diego State, no defense has allowed more scoring than the Aggies. Great for the fans as long as they don’t care who wins. Might be time to give defensive-minded Henson a whistle and see what he can do with the Aggies.
123. Florida International 122
With Idaho falling from the ranks of the winless, Ron Turner’s Golden Panthers move up (or is it down?) a notch. The clock wasn’t an issue for Florida International on Saturday. Because it had the weekend off. But the worst team offensively and defensively in the country doesn’t figure to have much luck against Southern Miss. Turner didn’t enjoy his earlier trip to Hattiesburg either as his Illini lost to the home team in a downpour. At least he didn’t have to drive home after the game. Keep playing like they have and Turner is going to want to put all of his guys on a one-way bus.
122. South Florida 121
Didn’t think the Bulls were going to get in the left-hand column against Miami. Not with Derrick Rose’s shaky knee and LeBron James’ dominance. Oh, wrong sport. But you get the idea. South Florida is going to have a hard time winning any games with ineptness on offense and defense. Cincinnati won’t be kind Saturday. Not with the kind of lumps it has taken this season. Cincinnati moves closer to a bowl bid, and the Bulls move closer to replacing a bunch of assistant coaches. They aren’t going to fire the head coach. He just got there.
121. Miami (Ohio) --
Champaign-Urbana got a close look at that stinkfest. No offense to the fans of the school who live in town (both of you). The RedHawks used to be a threat to the BCS. Now they are reminding us more and more that it is a hockey school with a football problem. Don Treadwell is on the way out. But not before moving far up the list of the nation’s worst. Good luck Saturday against Central Michigan. He shoots, he scores ... another football loss.
LEAGUE PREVIOUS RANK
1. SEC 1
2. Big Ten 4
3. ACC 5
4. Pac-12 3
5. Big 12 2
6. MAC 9
7. American 6
8. Mountain West 7
9. Conference USA 8
10. Sun Belt 10
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. He keeps his place at the top after a steady game against Arkansas. Here is the part where H.U. tells you Manziel needs to start piling up big numbers and that another loss by the Aggies will do great damage to his repeat chances. Some of the voters are going to be reluctant to give the award to the same guy in consecutive years. And it hurts Manziel to be compared with the previous two-time winner off the field. Is it fair? Of course not. But the award is an emotional choice for many of the voters and Manziel doesn’t make it easy.
2. Tajh Boyd, Clemson. The voters will have no problem picking the quarterback, who comes across great in interviews. Boyd just became the second ACC quarterback to compile 100 touchdowns in his career. Count on Tiger backers to point that out often. What Boyd really has in his favor is the undefeated record. He’ll need it to earn a trip to New York.
3. Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Time feels right to reward the Ducks for all of their splendid offense. And Mariota deserves a long look. Does he have more help than the other candidates? Probably. But you can’t cut the trophy into chunks. Bronze doesn’t cut easily. But if you did, give the arms to Manziel, the head to Mariota for being smart enough to pick Oregon and the legs and heart to Boyd. Begin cutting.
The punishment never fit the crime. Mostly because the people who deserved the worst weren’t available. After watching Penn State comply at the highest level after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the NCAA is easing the constraints on Bill O’Brien’s program. While the four-year bowl ban drew all of the attention, the cut in scholarships does the greatest harm. No way for the school to rebuild when it isn’t allowed to bring in as many players. O’Brien and his team did an admirable job in the first season, winning way more games than most thought possible. Now there is a light at the end of the Sandusky tunnel. The hope in State College is that the bowl ban will be cut soon, maybe to time served. That would help put Penn State on a quicker road to recovery. The worst is over as long as O’Brien stays in place. And that seems like a good bet. Penn State officials should shoo away any reps from the Patriots or Giants or Cowboys. Tell them to find their own coach.
Hats off to former Illini offensive coordinator Paul Petrino (above), who picked up his first win as Idaho’s head coach. The Vandals, who were 0-4 going into the game, knocked off Temple. After leaving Illinois, Petrino spent a year trying to rehab his brother’s old program at Arkansas. But he always wanted to be a head coach, and Idaho gave him his first Division I shot. Illinois did good work with Petrino in charge of the offense. So nobody will be surprised if he builds his own program. Another former Illini offensive coordinator might earn himself a second chance at a head coaching position. Back at Maryland, Mike Locksley has helped the team to a perfect start. His recruiting success and offensive work could help him erase the failed term at New Mexico.
Next in line
Now that Southern Cal has parted ways with Lane Kiffin, Pat Haden needs to make a boffo hire. First, he should round up all of the program greats and ask for hefty donations. Money can’t be an object. The hire is too important. Don’t think Haden will look toward the NFL because that’s where Kiffin got most of his credibility, limited as it was. Steve Sarkisian seems like the ideal choice because of his history with the program. Maybe that is too obvious. Haden has got to call Nick Saban, who will say no. Leave it in H.U.’s hands and the call would go to another SEC school: Mississippi. Hugh Freeze has done great work at Ole Miss and has the background story Hollywood lives for. Will Ferrell will be on the sidelines, cheering at every game. If not Freeze, maybe this is the job Boise State’s Chris Petersen has been waiting on.