Each week, staff writer Bob Asmussen breaks down the game he loves:
Team of the Week
What in the name of Urban Meyer is going on in Salt Lake City? Looking a lot like Meyer’s teams back in the day, the Utes stunned undefeated Stanford at home Saturday. That sent a shock to both the Pac-12 and the AP Top 5. Stanford had been trying to figure out a way to bust into the national title picture. Utah made the quest moot. Kyle Whittingham had done great work in the years A.M. (After Meyer). But the move into the Pac-12 seemed to cause the Utes to stagnate. Saturday’s win puts them back toward where they want to be: in a bowl every year and threatening to make it into a BCS game again. Congrats. Now, go hit the slopes.
Team of the Weak
H.U. senses a conspiracy in Norman. What was the one way Mack Brown could save his job at Texas? Beat the Sooners. And who is the one coach Oklahoma wants to see stay at Texas? Brown. Had the Sooners played well and pounded Texas as expected, Brown would be out the door. By losing to the Longhorns, the Sooners guarantee another game or two against the underperforming Longhorns. Texas can’t fire Brown after the biggest win in five years. Now, Oklahoma has its own coaching quandary. What should it do with Bob Stoops? The coach has been mega-successful in Norman, but there are signs of slippage. Let it go too long and the school could be looking at another John Blake-like skid. It can’t let that happen. The answer, and Stoops knows it, is to recruit just a little bit better. Injuries on defense cost the Sooners against Texas. Better backups and more depth might have made a difference. Well, at least Brown will be around next year for the Sooners to pick on.
SCHOOL PREVIOUS RANK
1. Alabama 1
In the four games since Texas A&M threatened college football’s dynasty, Alabama has outscored its opponents 149-16. That is Yankees/Celtics/Patriots-type domination. Kentucky had no chance. Though we heard the basketball practice went well. The Wildcats figure to even the score during the hoops season. Not sure how Arkansas can even the score after Saturday’s upcoming mauling by the Crimson Tide. Maybe a hog calling contest. “Sooey, there goes another Alabama touchdown.” Bret Bielema would love to skip the ‘Bama game and work against Illinois this week. He is the one who decided to move to Fayetteville, so it is his bad. Have you ever heard that they call Fayetteville “The Paris of Arkansas?” Me neither. It does have kind of catchy ring to it. Nick Saban is known as the “Vince Lombardi of the South.” Or he should be.
2. Ohio State 2
All that hard work against Northwestern tuckered out (ranch term) the Buckeyes. They took Saturday off, probably calling Jack Nicklaus for help with their golf games. The Buckeyes go back to work Saturday against Iowa. Sounds difficult if we were talking about the Chuck Long Hawkeyes. He is now in the BTN broadcast booth (he does a fine job). Ohio State is surviving despite a passing offense that ranks 78th nationally. The running game is great (10th) and the schedule is soft. The Hawkeyes present the only challenge until the finale against Michigan. Pipe down, Penn State fans, one lucky win against the Wolverines doesn’t make you relevant again.
3. Oregon 3
Go ahead and boo the Ducks. Lustily. They will turn those boos upside down and beat you over the head with them. All seemed in place for Washington to end Oregon’s perfect season. The fans arrived early and seemed to be full of that special coffee they make in Seattle. The problem for Washington and all other future Oregon opponents is that the defense is about as good as the much-admired offense. Washington did pull off a minor accomplishment, keeping Oregon from scoring 50 points for the first time this season. But the Ducks hit 45. Count on the Ducks returning to the half-century mark in this week’s game against Washington State. Wonder if Mike Leach will get in a postgame dustup with the Oregon coaches? That will make it worth watching until the end.
4. Clemson 4
Da-na. Da-na. Think theme from “Jaws.” The killer shark is coming to town for the biggest game of the year. Florida State visits the Land of Waffle Houses with a shot at the national title on the line. The loser will certainly fall out of contention. The winner starts to mention all the flaws with the SEC and Pac-12. Maybe Clemson looked ahead a bit to the Seminoles during Saturday’s ho-hummer against Boston College. Never a good sign when your score shows up on ESPN’s “Upset Alert.” Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd helped the Tigers avoid disaster. Clemson has to play better if it hopes to hang with the ‘Noles.
5. Florida State 6
A lazy H.U. would simply write “see above.” But H.U. is rarely lazy. Except when Mrs. H.U. says it is time to clean the garage. Wonder if Mrs. Jimbo Fisher gave him Saturday off from chores, knowing he had the big game coming at Clemson and that he just pounded Maryland. The guess here is that the Fishers have a squadron of house cleaners at their disposal. When you win at Florida State, the fans love you and the cleaning is probably free. Remember how long it took for Bobby Bowden to win a national title? Fisher is way, way ahead of schedule. He owes a chunk of credit to quarterback Jameis Winston, who has a ridiculous 17:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. If Winston keeps it up, the Tigers are in trouble. And Fisher will have his house painted for free.
6. Louisville 7
While the Cardinals sat at home Saturday after a win against Rutgers, they moved up in the polls. Into a position to think about the national title game. See, good things do happen to good people, like Charlie Strong. Teddy Bridgewater played his typical game against the Scarlet Knights: 300-plus yards, few mistakes. The Cardinals try another non-Saturday game against Central Florida. The game is at home, so Strong can’t promise a trip to Disneyworld. But he can promise more talks about the BCS title game with a win. And he can promise Heisman consideration for Bridgewater. That should be incentive enough. As a bonus: basketball tickets. The good ones. Right behind Rick Pitino. For the record, that’s the 10th Pitino reference this season in the Louisville section. Sorry, but it never is going to stop. The coach was nice to H.U. one time so we have been a fan ever since. Plus, the guy knows how to dress. Very unsportswritery.
7. Texas A&M 9
That hush you heard was the sound of 90,000 Aggies fans when their hero appeared to be hurt. That other hush you heard was the sound of 90,000 agents who saw a potential payday evaporate with one hurt knee. Johnny Manziel lived to tell about the play against Ole Miss. And helped the Aggies rally for a 41-38 win. Manziel threw for 346 yards and ran for two touchdowns. So much for the injured wheel. The Aggies are 96th in the nation in scoring defense. That won’t get it done. A real team visits Kyle Field on Saturday. Auburn just moved into the Top 25 and would like nothing better than to ruin Manziel’s day. Auburn’s one loss was against LSU. After Saturday, the load lightens for the Aggies, who play Vandy, UTEP and Mississippi State. No trouble with those three. But be very aware of the Tigers.
8. Miami 10
Miami took the weekend off to get ready for North Carolina on Thursday. That is a poor use of an open week. The Tar Heels are going to have a difficult time hanging with Al Golden’s team. Even at Kenan Stadium. Miami can beat you with offense and defense. It is ranked ninth in the nation in points scored and points allowed. That’s the kind of balance that every team wants. In a better-than-expected ACC, Miami always seems to get the third mention. But it will have a chance to change all of that in an upcoming game against Florida State. The Hurricanes don’t wow you with stars. There isn’t a Heisman candidate on the field. And no boisterous receivers and running backs like in the past. Little trouble off the field. Just loads of depth and talent.
9. South Carolina —
Great news, Jadeveon Clowney and Steve Spurrier have apparently made up. The coach was riled up about Clowney’s unwillingness to play with a little pain. It turned into a stink that got settled when, surprise, Clowney joined his teammates on the field in Saturday’s blowout win against Arkansas. It was as easy as Saturday’s game against Tennessee is going to be. Do you think anybody in Knoxville bothered to tell Butch Jones that he wouldn’t get to play Rutgers and UConn every week? Live and learn. We do know that Spurrier will never take it easy on Tennessee. It goes back to his days at Florida. With or without Clowney, he is leaving with another big win.
10. LSU —
Welcome back to Les Miles and his band of merry Tigers. Well, not really merry. More like mildly amused. The defense stuffed Florida on Saturday, holding the Gators to six points. The offense remains a bit of a puzzle. The next two games against Ole Miss and Furman should heal LSU’s offense before the big finish against Alabama and Texas A&M. Miles loves to go berserk. Often at meddling reporters. He needs to save all of that pent-up energy for the games later in the season. For the next two weeks he should relax. Maybe get a massage and take in a movie.
SCHOOL PREVIOUS RANK
125. Georgia State 125
Last week, H.U. told you the Panthers would hang with Troy and they did. A seven-point loss to a team with a winning record counts as a win in some societies. Not this one. It looks like Georgia State isn’t going to finish the season without a win. And that’s all it will take to escape the disgrace of the bottom of the B-5. Best guess is the win comes Saturday against Texas State. It has to happen eventually. Even the Cubs will someday win the World Series again. That will come after Georgia State’s first win.
124. New Mexico State 124
We are running out of winless teams. A good thing unless you are trying to pick the five worst in the country. The Aggies certainly belong. They proved it last time out, letting New Mexico plop 66 on the defense. It doesn’t figure to get much better Saturday against Rice. Maybe they have thought of this already, but the best solution at New Mexico State might be to close down the football program and concentrate on the Frisbee team. Or lawn darts. Or squash. Football doesn’t seem to be the right fit.
123. Miami (Ohio) 123
So, firing Don Treadwell was not the answer. But the good news is the RedHawks weren’t blown out. Lost by only seven. Of course, they were playing UMass. This could be the week Miami finally gets over the hump with a game against almost-as-bad Akron. Do you think Terry Bowden is reconsidering his jump back into the FBS? The near miss against Michigan by the Zips looks less impressive each week. Back to Miami, we tried to check in with Ron Zook to gauge his interest in the job but haven’t heard back from him. That might be a sign that discussions have already started. Or Zook could be off somewhere on water skis. Either way, he is an easy choice for the job. He will have his alma mater humming along in a year or two. You can go home again.
122. Western Michigan 122
The Broncos were downright miserable their last time out, losing 33-0 against Buffalo. The Bulls, not the Bills. Give Lou Tepper’s defense all sorts of credit for pitching the shutout. Western Michigan doesn’t figure to get a win against 6-1 Ball State, which is just outside H.U.’s Top 25. The Broncos struggle to score points. They struggle to prevent points. They don’t run well or pass well.
121. Southern Miss 121
Still trying to figure out how they lost to Florida International, the Golden Eagles took last Saturday off. We will find out if it helped to rest. Doubtful. Next up for first-year coach Todd Monken is East Carolina. The Pirates are 4-2 and in contention for the league title. A better chance for Southern Miss comes the following Saturday against North Texas. A winless season remains a strong possibility. A shame.
LEAGUE PREVIOUS RANK
1. Pac-12 2
2. SEC 1
3. Big Ten 4
4. Big 12 5
5. ACC 3
6. MAC 7
7. American 8
8. Mountain West 6
9. Sun Belt 9
10. Conference USA 10
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
All he did against Washington was throw for 366 yards and three touchdowns. Oh, and he also ran for another 88 yards and a score. Want to catch the attention of Heisman voters? Play a big game on the road against a good team. Mariota looks like the toughest competition for Manziel. He leads a great team. He is the face of the program. And he’s got the whole western part of the country rooting for him.
2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
The voters love grit. And that is just what J. Football showed in returning to the field last week. He will be challenged plenty by Auburn, which seems to have found new life with Gus Malzahn taking over. Auburn wants to keep climbing the rankings. A&M wants to stay in the BCS race. Manziel wants more trophies to brag about when he goes to Cabo for spring break. Something is going to give. Hate to admit, but H.U. is finding itself rooting for Manziel. He has made mistakes, of course. But he is young and will hopefully learn. Or, he will turn into the next Ryan Leaf.
3. Brett Hundley, UCLA
It was a good week in the Pac-12 for quarterbacks. He threw for 409 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. And his team keeps rolling along. Bottom line for Heisman candidates: your chances skyrocket when your team wins. And drop if you lose. Sorry, not my rules.
When will they learn?
Apparently at Michigan, the answer is a big, fat “never.” The loss to Penn State falls on Brady Hoke. Coaches everywhere should think of Hoke when they consider the idea of letting the kicker win it. That’s what Hoke tried. Twice. And got burned both times. Hoke should have let his offense try to score in overtime. But he deflated the ball and let the kicker take a shot. What a stunner when the first kick fell short. And another was blocked. It took an extraordinary play by the Penn State offense, and a blunder by Michigan’s defense, to even move the game into overtime. Hoke let his old-school brain get in the way during overtime. Somebody should have stolen his whistle. And his play card that reads “Trust the kicker.” If his name isn’t Rackers, we aren’t putting the game in his hands.
H.U. might have been a bit premature in bumping Missouri so far up in the Top 25. Sure, Missouri deserves the promotion after Saturday’s win against Georgia. But staying so high will be difficult without star quarterback James Franklin. He suffered a separated shoulder and is out for the rest of the regular season. Missouri will turn the ball over to redshirt freshman Maty Mauk. Word out of Missouri is that Mauk will have a difficult time keeping Gary Pinkel’s offense running well. But if he can keep it together, it will be a good sign for the future of the Missouri program.
No surprise the SEC set a record with eight teams in the latest AP Top 25. It helps to have 14 schools for the voters to consider. And it helps that most of the league schools play very soft nonconference schedules. By the time all of the bowls are done, it will be difficult for the SEC to have eight ranked teams. But seven or six is more than doable. The six teams in the league that aren’t ranked will continue to try to get better. Nothing makes a school more motivated than a steady stream of competition. Like they have in the SEC today, tomorrow and forever.