College Football Corner: Old School

ADVERTISEMENT

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The second football Saturday of the year yields its riches in Columbus, Ohio, and Ann Arbor, Mich., as four traditional powers square off in a kind of swapping of their oldest rivals: No. 7 Ohio State takes on No. 3 Southern Cal, sworn enemy of No. 18 Notre Dame, which takes on its second-most hated annual foe, unranked Michigan, blood feudist of Ohio State. It's like some kind of 1970s mash-up.

Not all of these programs are, here in the 21st century, at the same level, with the Irish and the Wolverines scrambling and scrapping to climb back to the elite of college football after years (or in ND's case, decades) of inconsistent play -- and losses to their rivals in Ohio and L.A.

Meanwhile, intriguing match-ups abound around the country: The Ball Coach's South Carolina Gamecocks head to Athens to face No. 21 Georgia, a loser in its opener at Oklahoma State; Purdue visits a beleaguered and now unranked Oregon, which fell controversially to No. 11 Boise State in the season opener for the second year in a row; and everyone's Pickens-fueled favorite for a BCS bowl, the No. 6 Cowboys of Oklahoma State, welcome the flamboyant offense of unranked Houston into Stillwater.

Forthwith, the Corner's capsule breakdowns of this week's headliner games:

Clemson (1-0) at No. 13 Georgia Tech (1-0), Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN: Any discussion of these ACC foes really comes down to the two marquee running backs: Clemson's C.J. Spiller and Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer.

It's also no surprise that the two made their feet heard as as soon as possible in week one.

Dwyer kicked off his Heisman campaign in fine style, taking his first touch 74 yards for a touchdown. Still, the Yellow Jackets' 37-17 Week 1 win over Jacksonville State was anything but perfect. Lost in the 497 yards of production in Coach Paul Johnson's vaunted triple-option rushing attack were the five fumbles and multiple dropped passes.

Spiller earned ACC player of the week honors after last week's 37-14 win over Middle Tennessee and taking the season-opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. But after a 50-yard punt return that set up another score, Spiller came up lame with a hamstring tweak and missed the rest of the game. Reports say that Spiller will be ready to go tonight, but no assurances can be trusted when discussing persnickety lower body problems on a speed specialist.

"He Spiller is going to get the ball so many times and you have to tackle him when he gets it. He is a great player but it would not be any different than trying to tackle Jonathan Dwyer practice or a scrimmage," coach Johnson said at his weekly press conference. "When he has the ball you have to wrap him up. You have to rally to the ball and more than one guy has to get there. You have to be aware of how they use him."

Both teams got a shortened week, so look for those same lingering mistakes and injuries to pop up in this match-up. Since it's lining up to be a defensive battle, many may point to Clemson's front seven as the key. Defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins turned in four tackles, one for a loss, in last week's effort. Middle linebacker Brandon Maye, a first-team freshman all-American last season, paced the Tigers with 14 tackles and two quarterback pressures.

Still, this same defense showed little improvement from last year in allowing Middle Tennessee to convert 45% of its third down opportunities. And don't forget, it was third downs that really killed Clemson throughout 2008.

Corner's Choice: Georgia Tech 33, Clemson 28
-- Sung Moss

No. 3 USC (1-0) at No. 7 Ohio State (1-0), 8 p.m. EDT, ESPN: The Buckeyes are hearing it for their 31-27 escape from Navy last week. They had their hands full with Navy's option offense, and now they'll have to contend with Trojan halfback Joe McKnight, who had a big day in USC's romp over San Jose State.

"Offensively, we face a group that conceptually is very, very similar to what they've been," said Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel. "They do have a significant number of new faces, although those faces were on the field a year ago, a lot of them in the special teams and some of them in back-up roles and throughout the course of the year did have some opportunities to play, very talented, great speed, great team defensive speed, excellent knowledge of what they're doing."

The game features two young quarterbacks, Ohio State sophomore Terrelle Pryor and USC freshman Matt Barkley. History has shown that Southern Cal should prevail, but something tells me an upset is brewing in the Horseshoe. Barkley may be a future great, but Columbus is a tough place to play in your second college start. What do you say, Ohio State?

Corner's choice: Ohio State 27, USC 24

-- William Hennelly

No. 20 Notre Dame (1-0) at Michigan (1-0), 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC

Notre Dame visits the Big House as the favored team for the first time since the early 1990s.

(Full disclosure: one of us here at the Corner attended Notre Dame as an undergraduate in the final years of Holtz.)

Lots riding on this one for everyone involved, from fanatics to head coaches. It's been noted before that whatever team loses this annual no-love-lost affair more often than not finishes with a mediocre-to-awful season. The winner, on the other hand, is odds-on to cap the year with a bid to a major bowl. (It's true. Look it up.)

Both Charlie Weis and Rich Rodriguez have helmed their respective old-school powerhouses to unthinkably bad 3-9 seasons (the former in 2007, the latter last year). As such, their proverbial seats are proverbially hot, no matter what the athletic directors say publicly.

But both teams also showed up well in their 2009 openers, trouncing their overmatched opponents in impressive fashion, with ND blanking Nevada 35-0, and Michigan taking care of Western Michigan 31-7.

As far as nuts and bolts go, Blue and Gold fans worry about what they perceive to be a weak Irish defensive line, especially pitted against a challenging Wolverine spread offense, led by a surprisingly sure-of-himself rookie QB, Tate Forcier. Blue and Maize fans, meanwhile, worry about what they perceive to be a weak secondary, especially as it faces two of college football's premier wideouts: Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Flipping sides, Notre Dame's OL will continue to nettle Irish diehards until it proves itself against a worthy foe. (Michigan's quality defensive linemen will afford ND that chance.) Michigan, on the other hand, must protect its young signal-caller against an aggressive blitzing defense coached by the blitz-mad Irish defensive coordinator John Tenuta.

In the end, it's a tough one to call. Shades of bias aside (and believe the Cornermen when they say that Irish fans have always been prone to pessimism, even during the best of times), Notre Dame has the more experienced team, not to mention Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen and his array of weapons. As usual in a rivalry game, anyone could win. And if you believe the trends, Notre Dame could be in trouble, as the underdog has emerged with the "W" in eight out of the last 10 meetings. But if the Irish play to their potential, they'll buck those trends and snatch a victory on the road.

Corner's Choice: Notre Dame 27, Michigan 23

UCLA (1-0) at Tennessee (1-0), 4 p.m. EDT, ESPN : The winner of this Pac-10-SEC clash will make a case for Top 25 inclusion. First-year Vols coach Lane Kiffin is talking national championships in Knoxville already, fresh off a 63-7 rout of Western Kentucky in the opener. It was the Vols' biggest victory margin since 2000. Senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton completed 21 of 28 passes and threw for five touchdowns. Senior running back Montario Hardesty rushed for 160 yards on 18 carries. Freshman back Bryce Brown chipped in 104 yards on the ground. The Vols are also solid on defense and are touting defensive back Eric Berry for the Heisman.

Kiffin is leery of UCLA: "This is a physical defense. This is a defense that has three first-round draft picks and a middle linebacker who is making a ton of difficult plays and two defensive ends that can really rush us. We are going to have to be able to hit on all cylinders to be able to play in this game." Corner's choice: Tennessee 28, UCLA 20

Syracuse (0-1) at No. 5 Penn State (1-0), noon EDT, Big Ten Network: The Orangemen extended Minnesota into overtime last week, but this week they'll be in Happy Valley playing a little bit stronger Big Ten team. The Nittany Lions were sound in thrashing Akron last week, as quarterback Darryl Clark completed 29 of 40 passes for 353 yards and three TDs.

"Some of the best games we've ever been involved in at Penn State since I've been here were Syracuse-Penn State games," Joe Paterno said at his weekly press conference. "So it's hard for me to figure out what happened with the Syracuse program. But I think that they've got the right combination now. The coach Doug Marrone is a Syracuse graduate. It seems as if he's been able to get some of the old Syracuse guys back into the pool, coming around."

Much has been made of the fact that Syracuse quarterback Greg Paulus once played point guard at Duke University. Paulus had a decent game last week, completing 19 of 31 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. His favorite target was senior wide receiver Mike Wilson, who caught seven passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. Running back Delone Carter rushed for 88 yards.

Corner's choice: Penn State 38, Syracuse 17
-- William Hennelly

Idaho State (0-1) at No. 14 Oklahoma (0-1), 7 p.m. EDT: At first glance, a home contest against a Football Championship Subdivision foe (read: Division I-AA) like Idaho State shouldn't seem like much of an event to highlight.

Well, that was before last week and the shock heard 'round the college football landscape. After getting scuttled 14-13 by non-BCS conference darling BYU, Bob Stoops is left with more questions than answers. The follow-up against the Bengals of Idaho State, then, just got a lot more interesting.

The good news is that it can't get much worse for the Sooners. Lose the first game of the season to an opponent you should have beat? Check. Lose your Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to injury for the foreseeable future? Check.

Worse still is that "Big Game Bob's" offensive line was exposed like many thought it would. The lasting images are plentiful. The line allowed a blitzing BYU linebacker named Coleby Clawson, who wrenched Bradford's throwing shoulder, to enter into lore in the still infant season. But that same offensive line also registered a laughable number of penalties, including one that turned a last chance OU 49-yard field goal attempt (kicker Tress Way hit from 47 yards in high school) into a 54-yard prayer and miss.

On the other hand, Idaho State may have had even less to celebrate in week one. The offense came up with three points and 37 total offensive yards, while the defense gave up 50 points and 407 yards. Idaho State will be entering Norman this week with 16-straight road losses.

So, the question shouldn't be whether or not OU avoids the loss. Instead, it should be whether they'll continue to disappoint in their win. As we all know, a BCS championship run is as much a beauty contest as a cage fight.

If there was any bright spot from Oklahoma's disappointing week one showing, it was the stellar, disruptive play of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who found a home in BYU's offensive backfield accounting for four tackles for a loss. Look for the Sooners to rely on its defensive front, then. Clean up the fumble problems from week one, and a healthy dose of running backs DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown would make sense. In other words, OU fans should hope that redshirt freshman QB Landry Jones not try to power the 51-point per game output from last season. Instead, he just needs to learn the art of the handoff this week.

Corner's Choice: Oklahoma 24, Idaho State 3

-- Sung Moss

Corner kicks: How good is Cincinnati? The No. 23 Bearcats put a serious whupping on Rutgers in their Big East opener on Labor Day. Tony Pike was flawless at quarterback as Cincy's passing game was unstoppable. One lesson Rutgers learned was to make up its mind at quarterback. Freshman Tom Savage will start this week vs. Howard. ... Who knows, maybe BYU and Boise State will end up in the Citi BCS Championship Game. What would it mean for the automatic bowl berth "BCS" conferences to miss their own party?

Get all your back issues of the Corner by clicking here.

 

Show Comments

Back to Top