2010: A look ahead

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With the corpse of the 2009 season not yet even cold, what better time to look at the 2010 season than at the present?

Sure, it’s kinda like taking a date to your wife’s funeral, but, just like the deceased spouse, I’m sure ’09 would want us to be happy and move on quickly to next season, right?

With that in mind, we’ll take a quick glance at what may happen in 2010…

FIVE COMPELLING STORY LINES

1. Meyer: For or Against Urban Renewal?

C’mon, is there any story that’s even close to whether or not Urban Meyer will be back as Florida’s coach by the time the regular season rolls around?  This will be the dominant story over the next six months, and how it plays out before the season starts will shape how UF’s regular season will go.

2. Big Ten: Earnest Growth or One-Time Blip?

The most beleaguered and vilified conference in the country finished the 2009 bowl season with a 4-3 record, the first winning record for the league since 2002. And it’s not like they compiled that mark with a handful of Emerald Bowl-type wins; no, their wins came in BcS games over the Pac-10 and ACC champions (Ohio State over Oregon and Iowa over Georgia Tech, respectively), with the other two coming over No. 13 LSU (Penn State) and No. 14 Miami of Florida (Wisconsin).  It was a statement postseason for the beleaguered conference, but only time will tell if the performance was a shifting trend upward or simply false hope.

3. Mountain West: Finally the Time For Some Respect

The loss by TCU to fellow non-automatic qualifier left a bad taste in the conference’s mouth, but the MWC still exited the bowl season with a 4-1 mark and a healthy dose of national respect.  With their play this year, they have finally confirmed to most of the masses that they deserve an automatic BcS bid.  Carrying that momentum through 2010 will be key for the automatic bid to become a reality.  The conference is on a perilous slope perception-wise, and simply can’t afford to take a step back.

4. The BCmesS: Time to Grab the Congressional Pitchforks?

At no time in its controversial history has the BcS been under more fire than it is right now.  They were the subject of congressional hearings throughout 2009, and the only question remains when, not if, the government becomes more deeply involved.  Based on the tea leaves, one thing is certain: there will be some type of change to the system in the coming years, whether by force or by the threat of force.  Will it lead to a full-blown playoff system that most of the country, including the First Fan, wants?  2010 should go a long way toward answering that question

5. Replacing Legends: Adios, Tim & Colt; Hola, John & Garrett

Entering the past three seasons, there were no question marks at the quarterback position for both Florida and Texas.  With the departures of Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy due to expired eligibility, John Brantley of the Gators and Garrett Gilbert of the Longhorns have the unenviable tasks of replacing arguably the greatest QBs in their respective school’s history.  How they perform will go a long way in determining whether or not the two programs can remain at the top of the national scene.

WAY-TOO-EARLY HEISMAN ROLL CALL

1. Mark Ingram, Alabama — To be the man, you gotta beat the man.  Winning the Heisman as a sophomore will keep the running back in the trophy talk for the next two seasons.  Provided he stays in Tuscaloosa after his junior year, of course.

2. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State — Was the Rose Bowl performance a sign of things to come?  If it is, you can bet the Buckeyes quarterback will be in any and all Heisman talk.

3. Kellen Moore, Boise State — One of the best quarterbacks in the country that nobody talks about, the early-season match-up with Virginia Tech will go a long way toward determining Moore’s place in the Heisman discussion.  Speaking of that showdown with the Hokies…

4. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech — 1,655 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns as a freshman?  Yeah, that’ll get you into the mix.  The Moore-Williams September head-to-head will jump-start the race for the stiff-armed trophy.  And, no, we’re not completely finished with Six Degrees of Kellen Moore

5a. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State — With 1,440 yards rushing, 21 touchdowns and, for good measure, 78 receptions out of the backfield, this Beaver back is one of the best running backs in the country that nobody talks about.  Oh, did I mention that Rogers’ Beavers will take on Moore’s Broncos in September?  Early-season Heisman intrigue, indeed.

5b. Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh — It’s hard to believe a freshman had a more productive season than Williams, but Lewis did just that.  1,799 yards just screams Heisman contender for many years to come.  Unless, of course, head coach Dave Wannstedt rides him into an early RB grave.

COACHING HOT SEAT

1.Rich Rodriguez, Michigan

The throne entering the 2010 season is RichRod’s alone, and no one else is really close.  An 8-16 overall mark in two years at Michigan is bad enough; a 3-13 record in Big Ten play is wholly unacceptable in Ann Arbor.  Add in an NCAA investigation and two losses to archrival Ohio State by a combined 46 points, and you have a coach facing an absolute must-win season.

2. Ron Zook, Illinois

Really, is there any explanation needed?  With the exception of a head-scratching 9-4 season in 2007, The Zookster has compiled a 12-35 record in his five seasons with the Illini.  The school has recruited better than that record indicates, which is a tribute to Zook’s innate ability to coach his players down.

3. Paul Wulff, Washington State

You don’t go 3-22 in two seasons and not have your butt planted on something with at least a little bit of warmth to it.

4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

T. Boone Pickens did not donate approximately $300 kajillion (U.S.) to watch his beloved Cowboys go 9-4, not play in the Big 12 title game and lose bowl games.  T. Boone wants more bang for his buck, and what T. Boone wants T. Boone gets.

5. Pete Carroll, Southern Cal

This one might be stretch.  In fact, it’s so much of a stretch that I might’ve torn a muscle typing it.  However, with the looming specter of an NCAA investigation coming to a conclusion at some point this year, coupled with an utterly disappointing 2009 season, Carroll could be feeling the heat more so than he has at any point in his USC career.

FIVE RISERSFive teams outside the final Top Ten who could surprise

1. Nebraska

Sure, they have to replace a Beast Named Suh, but there is plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball returning for Bo Pelini & Company.  If the ‘Huskers could just get some type of consistency on the other side of the ball — yeah, I’m looking at you Zac Lee — this team should be the class of Big 12 North and might be able to challenge Texas for conference supremacy.

2. Miami of Florida

The Hurricanes showed in the early part of the 2009 season that the talent is there.  Look for The U to put it together throughout the entire 2010 season and make a serious bid for both an ACC title and top-ten ranking.

3. Pittsburgh

With Dion Lewis and that defense, the immediate future is looking very bright for Dave Wannstedt & Company.

4. Oklahoma

Simply put, Bob Stoops is too good of a coach, and there’s too much talent in that program, for the Sooners to spend another season outside of the Top 25.  Call this one a hunch.

5a. Stanford

Yes, the likely loss of Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart to the NFL leaves a void, but, as long as
Jim Harbaugh
doesn’t bol
t for the NFL and quarterback Andrew Luck stays healthy for the entire season, the Cardinal is poised to challenge Oregon for Pac-10 supremacy in 2010.

5b. Tennessee

Lane Kiffin made most of his news in 2009 for what he said and did off the field.  Behind all that brashness, however, he and his staff were quietly rebuilding a storied football program on the field.  They might be a year away, but it would be no surprise at all to see the Volunteers challenge for a BcS berth as early as this year.

FIVE TUMBLERSFive teams inside the final Top 25 who could struggle

1. Florida

Uncertainty surrounding Urban Meyer.  The loss of Tim Tebow.  A pair of talented juniors — Joe Haden and Aaron Hernandez — have already left early; up to five more, including two-fifths of the starting offensive line, could follow suit.  Charlie Strong left for the head coaching job at Louisville, and his presence will be missed.  If he does indeed return as expected, it will take the best coaching job of Meyer’s coaching career to keep the Gators on top of their lofty national perch.

2. Cincinnati

Butch Jones is a tremendous football coach, but make no mistake — losing Brian Kelly to Notre Dame will hurt this program.  This won’t be a free-fall — Kelly left too solid a foundation for that to happen — but Jones could struggle in his first year at a BcS school.

3. Penn State

Losing quarterback Daryll Clark to graduation and Navorro Bowman to the draft are huge blows to the Nittany Lions.  Evan Royster, get your rest.  The offense will be on your shoulders.

4. Texas

Losing Colt McCoy will have an effect on the Longhorns, although Garrett Gilbert showed in the BcS title game after being suddenly thrust into the spotlight that he has a bright future.  In 2011.  UT will dip a little bit in ’10 — not bottom out, mind you — but look out for a reloaded group in ’11.

5. LSU

In the first three years of Les Miles‘ tenure, the Tigers did not win less than 11 games in any season.  In the past two seasons, the Bayou Bengals have gone a very pedestrian 17-9, including an even 8-8 mark in SEC play.  The concerning part for LSU faithful, though, is that there is not much hope that a turnaround is in the offing at any point in the near future.  And, if Miles doesn’t turn it around in 2009, he could very well find himself on the coaching hot seat.  Especially if he continues to boggle the mind with mind-numbing clock management at the end of games.

EARLY-BIRD TOP FIVE

1. Alabama: They were the best team in the country throughout the 2009 season — regardless of what the polls said.  They return most of the key performers from their national title team.  No way you can keep this team out of the top spot entering the season.

2. Ohio State: (And let the whining and bitching commence…)  This is all predicated on the Terrelle Pryor that seemed to mature in one sixty-minute Rose Bowl game being the real deal.  And the fact that the five-time defending Big Ten champs lose almost no one of consequence.

3. Boise State: Why?  One, because I can, and two, because they convincingly beat the team — TCU — I felt should’ve been playing in the national title game.  And that same team returns 23 of 24 starters in 2010.  If a non-automatic qualifier is ever going to make a run at the BcS title game, next year’s Broncos have the best shot at it.

4. Texas: As the BcS runner-up, they will start roughly in this area if not higher.  It’s deserved, given their finish, but it’ll be too high come the end of the year.

5. Iowa: The only two games the Hawkeyes lost in 2009 were games where quarterback Ricky Stanzi was unavailable for either all or part of the games due to injury.  A healthy Stanzi and a dominating defense helped Iowa roll Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, setting the tone for what Hawkeye Nation hopes will be a run at the Big Ten crown.  If not more.

Are they back now? Texas snaps four-game losing streak to TCU

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Before the 2018 season began, many were pondering what’s been an annual question of late: “Is Texas back?” A road loss to an embattled Maryland in the opener suggested no.  The last two weeks, however, might say otherwise.

Trailing 13-10 at the half, and then 16-10 in the middle of the third, Texas ripped off 21 straight points to secure a huge 31-16 win over No. 17 TCU in the Big 12 opener for both schools.  The win snapped the Longhorns’ four-game losing streak to the Horned Frogs.

Sam Ehlinger passed for 255 yards and a pair of touchdowns while rushing for another score in a winning effort.  Tre Watson led all rushers with a game-high 58 yards.

Defensively, the Longhorns forced four turnovers — three interceptions, one fumble recovery.  Texas was able to turn those turnovers into 14 points.

Combine this impressive win with a 23-point win over then-No. 22 USC the week before, and we’re right back to…

Of course, the answer to the question won’t be definitively answered for another two weeks as, after a road trip to Kansas State, Texas will play host to No. 5 Oklahoma.  And, even then, we may not get answer.

Old Dominion stuns No. 13 Virginia Tech for first-ever Power Five win

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Since returning to the FBS level, Old Dominion had been 0-9 against Power Five teams, with eight of those losses coming to schools from the ACC.  And then Saturday afternoon/evening happened.

Coming in as a 27.5-point underdog, Old Dominion left Foreman Stadium with a stunning 49-35 upset over No. 13 Virginia Tech.  The Monarchs had been 0-3 entering the game — losses to Liberty, FIU and Charlotte — while the Hokies were a perfect 2-0.

Tech had allowed just two touchdowns in two games; ODU had four in the fourth quarter alone and seven total in the game.

The two teams traded the lead six times, while it was tied on another six occasions.  The Monarchs took its first lead of the game with just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, only to see the Hokies tied it up nearly three minutes later.

With 5:11 left in the contest, ODU took the lead for good on a tremendous one-handed catch by Jonathan Duhart on the back-end of a 29-yard touchdown pass from Blake LaRussa.

Both teams ended the game with their backups quarterbacks on the field.  LaRussa passed for 495 yards and four touchdowns after he replaced the starter before the second offensive series, while Ryan Willis went eight-of-15 for 115 yards and a touchdown in place of the injured Josh Jackson (8-16, two touchdowns, one interception).

 

Tech was the second ranked ACC team to go down in defeat at the hands of a previously-winless squad.  Earlier in the day, No. 23 Boston College was railroaded 30-13 by a Purdue team came in 0-3.

Tua remains flawless as No. 1 Alabama slays No. 22 Texas A&M

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No. 1 Alabama and its Heisman candidate quarterback Tua Tagovailoa cruised through their first three games, but Saturday was supposed to be different. No. 22 Texas A&M was coming to Tuscaloosa, and for the first time this season, the defending national champions would face a team that would match them athlete for athlete, coach for coach, and dollar for dollar.

Or so we thought.

Texas A&M threw its best bunch at college football’s crimson bully, but in the end Alabama accepted that blow and landed a torrent of haymakers back, cruising to a 45-23 win that wasn’t as close as the final score.

The game opened with a quick interception by Alabama’s Mack Wilson and an even quicker touchdown pass, as Devonta Smith hauled in a 30-yard score one play later to give the Tide a lead just 50 seconds into the game.

The next sequence was the best for Texas A&M (2-2, 0-1 SEC): after Alabama downed a punt at the Texas A&M 1, the Aggies marched the length of the field to tie the game. The key play on a 54-yard quarterback draw by Kellen Mond, then a 15-yard strike to tight end Jace Sternberger. It was the first 99-yard drive surrendered by Alabama since Houston did it in 1997.

But, in typical Alabama (4-0, 2-0 SEC) fashion, the euphoria of legitimately challenging the Tide was short lived. Tagovailoa moved the Tide 75 yards in nine plays, scoring on a 1-yard keeper, to give Alabama a lead it would not relinquish.

Seth Small put the Aggies within 14-10 at the 8:50 mark of the second quarter, but Alabama put the game away with 17 points over the final half of the second frame: a 23-yard strike to Hale Henteges, a 6-yard toss to Henteges and a 47-yard Joseph Bulovas field goal to stake Alabama to a 31-13 lead.

Josh Jacobs scored on a 3-yard rush to push the lead to 38-13, and Henry Ruggs III took a ball 57 yards to the house to add the capper at the 2:01 mark of the third quarter.

Trayveon Williams added the final score of the day, a 1-yard rush, with 12:55 to play in the game.

Tagovailoa added to his Heisman resume with perhaps his best game yet: 22-of-30 for 387 yards and four touchdowns while adding another on the ground. Damien Harris and Najee Harris combined to run 15 times for 95 yards.

On the other end, Mond endured a number of sacks to still rush for a game-high 98 yards while throwing for 196 more, but the bulk of those were in garbage time, and two interceptions were backbreakers for the Aggies.

The win moved Nick Saban to 13-0 against his former assistants, though Jimbo Fisher‘s 22-point loss was ahead of Saban’s average margin of victory of 27 points.

Will Grier reminds Heisman voters he’s still here as WVU blasts K-State

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Thanks in large part to a game canceled because of Hurricane Florence, Will Grier had seemingly fallen behind the likes of Tua Tagovailoa, Dwayne Haskins and Kyler Murray in the Heisman Trophy discussion of late.  Saturday afternoon, the West Virginia quarterback very loudly reminded voters that he’s still here.

In a 35-6 romp over Kansas State in Morgantown, Grier passed for 356 yards and five touchdowns on 25-35 passing in less than four full quarters worth of work.  The only real blemishes on the day were a trio of interceptions, although those were just the second, third and fourth picks of the season in over 100 pass attempts.

Grier now has thrown 14 touchdown passes on the season in just three games, and he’s thrown at least four in every one of them — five in the opener vs. Tennessee and four in the Week 2 romp over FCS Youngstown State in addition to the five today.

The performance came on the same day a very nice feature on the quarterback — and his wife and daughter and, because of social media, more-famous younger brothers and sister — ran on ESPN‘s College GameDay show.

Fourth-ranked WVU is now 3-0 on the season, with Texas Tech up next in Lubbock in a matchup that should do nothing but add to Grier’s Heisman numbers.