As we pass the midpoint of the college football season, here are four things we know:
1. Notre Dame is on their way to the top.
I said it last week and I’ll say it again: I have nothing but respect for head coach Tyrone Willingham in his first year with the Fighting Irish. The team is playing fundamentally sound defense and the offense is finding just enough plays to get the job done. Win ugly, but win often — no harm in that. After a stunning 21-14 victory against the Air Force Academy this past weekend, the Irish are 7-0 and sitting pretty for the first set of BCS rankings due out later today.
Many thanks to the nationwide Irish faithful for their “colorful” insights, accusations and history lessons last week. Though the information was quite helpful as an educational tool, I’m afraid it did nothing more than confirm the popularity of the Fighting Irish and the earnestness of their fans, who offered every reason imaginable for the preferential treatment their team received from the BCS twice in three seasons.
2. Nebraska is falling to the bottom.
For Husker fans nationwide, the current 5-3 team is an embarrassment — a shell of the stalwart programs we have seen in years gone by. Nebraska is nothing more than an average college football team. This week’s loss to Oklahoma State — the first in nearly 40 years — can be classified, officially, as an embarrassment. Perhaps the red “N” on the players’ helmets, should stand for “Nowhere,” as in where the Cornhuskers are currently headed.
Just connect the dots. The Penn State disaster was a wake-up call, and then the Cornhuskers dropped their first game in seven years to Iowa State, 36-14. Two weeks ago, Nebraska fell out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in 21 years. Last week, the free-fall continued when reserve running back Thunder Collins, who is raising his younger brother while he finishes school, quit the team in hopes of finding a job that pays more than his recently restricted scholarship. Taken altogether, these events spell disaster for the Cornhuskers this year.
For the fans of Husker nation, football is life. In years where the harvest is low, a Husker win eases the pain, even if it is for only one Saturday afternoon. It may sound heretical, but this year Nebraska has become an also-ran.
3. Texas is troubled.
Luckily, last week’s game with Oklahoma may be the last time we have to watch senior Chris Simms struggle against a top 10 team. Double-digit interceptions and no touchdowns in these marquee games have raised more than enough questions about the star quarterback’s ability to perform on the big stage.
Sure, he has beaten rival A & M a couple of times and got a lucky one against Kansas State last weekend, but 0-for-3 in games against arch-rival Oklahoma, last year’s Big 12 championship debacle against Colorado, and two bowl games without a championship add up to a less than stellar record for the former number one quarterback coming out of high school.
Of course, the blame cannot all ride on Simms’ shoulders. What about coach Mack Brown? Once again, we remember his most-unfortunate nickname — “Mr. February.” He may win the recruiting game in the winter, but forget about the big games during the fall.
4. Miami is still dominating.
This team lost 11 starters to the NFL last year, including their starting tight end, running back and vaunted defensive secondary. This team is playing what, at the beginning of the regular season, was regarded by many as the most difficult schedule for any defending national champion. And, if that pressure is not enough, being the defending champion certainly is. Not exactly a recipe for success when everyone is gunning for you.
Admittedly, I was among the preseason naysayers. I know you should never readily count out the current champs, but they were not supposed to bring their unbeaten streak to 28, set a record with 20 straight weeks as the AP’s #1, or start a brand new defensive secondary, tight end and running back at the level where the last group left off. Just ask Rex Grossman and the Florida Gators about that.
All right, so there was that close call with Florida State. But, all top teams seem to have a close call at some point along their title run. Last year’s Miami games at Boston College and at Virginia Tech come to mind. And, it really wasn’t big news that Florida State missed the field goal, was it? I mean, this has become common practice for them with Miami the last 11 years or so.
With games against Tennessee and Virginia Tech still on the schedule, a trip to Tempe in January for the BCS title game is far from assured. But, with better talent than their remaining competition at virtually every position, the momentum of that incredible winning streak, a sure-fire Heisman Trophy finalist leading the way at quarterback, and a soft-spoken coach who gives his players the freedom they need to operate on the field, Miami is still the team to beat.
So, with all that said, enjoy the second half of what has already become a very intriguing college football season. The unexpected early success of Georgia in the SEC, Washington State in the Pac 10, and North Carolina State’s best start in 35 years are just some of the exciting storylines. With no established front-runner for the Heisman Trophy and no co-favorite for the BCS championship game, the remaining eight weeks of college football have a lot to settle and should add some interesting chapters to the aforementioned stories.