College Football Handicapping: Week 1 Surprises
by Trevor Whenham - 9/8/2009
One of the biggest of the many, many joys of college football is that we can never really know what we have until we see the teams play. We can spend the whole offseason analyzing the players that have left the team and those that have joined it, the ways the coaching staff has changed, and so on. The problem, though, is that so much of what we think we know is just pure speculation.
We can't know for sure how good the high school players that join the team are, how important the seniors that left the team really were on and off the field, and how integral a departed coach may have been to the system. The information available to us isn't nearly as good as it is in the NFL, so we are forced to guess, and those guesses are often wrong - or at least they can certainly appear to be after one game.
Sometimes we think a team is going to be a serious contender yet they look like they couldn't beat a grade school team. Other times we assume a team will struggle and then they put an impressive performance forward. Here's a look at four teams who didn't perform like most people expected them to in Week 1:
Oregon - Everyone knows what happened at the end of Oregon's embarrassing loss at Boise State last Thursday. What fewer people probably have a sense of is just how terrible Oregon looked before the punch that rocked the world. They didn't get their first first down until halfway through the third quarter. Part of that was due to a strong Boise State defense, but at least as much of it was a result of stunning incompetence from the Ducks.
They rarely seemed to have any kind of plan, and when they did they couldn't enact that plan. Jeremiah Masoli was so good last year, but this year he looked confused, totally lacking in confidence, and generally forgettable. The play calling was so uninspired that the Broncos had little problem anticipating and defusing whatever offense there was. The defense wasn't great either, but they aren't a problem at all compared to the offense - especially now that the team will be without their starting running back for the season. This was supposed to be an explosive offense that was going to contend for the Pac-10 title. They looked nothing like that.
NC State - Russell Wilson came into the season as pretty much the consensus pick as best quarterback in the ACC. He was coming off a good debut season, and experience could only make him better. Or not. Wilson only passed for 74 yards, and he was a disaster on the ground as well. Like Masoli he looked confused and lacking in confidence where last year he looked comfortable and impressive. South Carolina played solid defense, but not so stifling that Wilson should have looked so incompetent. The Wolf Pack lost one of the most boring football games I have ever watched, and they are going to keep losing f they can't play like a different team from now on.
Virginia Tech - The Hokies did some things that made them look very much like the Hokies - they exploited mistakes and took advantage of opportunities they were given. There were a couple of concerning issues for a team that started the season ranked No. 7, however. Most notably, the team that played the first three quarters looked nothing like the team that blew up in the fourth. Their offense disappeared in the last 15 minutes, their defense was flatfooted, and the team was left gasping for breath. Whether the issue is stamina or mental toughness, or likely some combination of the two, a team that folds like that clearly doesn't deserve to be ranked where they were.
Michigan - We had been almost overrun with discussion of Michigan's problems leading into the season. Their coach was on the hot seat and embroiled in multiple scandals, they couldn't make a QB decision so they were playing three - two true freshmen and a returnee who was mostly lousy last year, and there were claims that the locker room was in turmoil. They took big steps towards silencing many of their critics with a tremendous first half against Western Michigan. The score was 31-0, and their performance was at least as dominant as that would suggest. True freshman starter Tate Forcier threw for three touchdowns, Denard Robinson ran for a stunning 40+ yard TD on a broken play as relief at QB, and the defense played with a pep and focus that was lacking all of last year. This team is still a year or two away from winning the Big Ten, but it only took one game to see that this is not the group of not-so-lovable losers that fans were forced to endure last year.
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