Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Best/Worst Week Ever: Week I

In this new weekly column, I'll highlight the best and worst performances of the week from players, teams, coaches, conferences, etc., leaving no stone unturned in my quest to provide you with spot on college football commentary. We'll start with the superlatives.

1. Juice Williams
While his team may have fallen to the Missouri Tigers 52-42, Juice enjoyed easily his best game as a passer. He threw for 451 yards and 5 touchdowns. If you combine his 2 most prolific passing yardage games in his career, it totals 472 yards. And if you combine his 2 most prolific passing touchdown games in his career, it totals 6. Has Williams finally become a complete quarterback? That remains to be seen, but this has to be a troubling development for a Missouri defense that ranked 59th in total defense and 45th in opposing passer rating last season.

2. The MAC
While the league only managed a 6-6 record over opening weekend (with 3 wins coming over IAA foes), there were several impressive performances. Bowling Green upset Pitt on the road, Buffalo trounced what was thought to be a solid Conference USA team at home (UTEP), Temple crushed Army on the road, Ohio lost a 1-point heartbreaker at Wyoming, and Northern Illinois lost by 4 at Minnesota. 5 of the 6 losses came to BCS foes and 4 of those were road games. After going 0-3 in bowl games last season, this looks to be a conference on the rise in 2008.

3. Bulldogs--Western Breeds
Both Bulldogs from the WAC opened the season with wins over bowl squads from a season ago. Louisiana Tech got the canine party started by knocking off Mississippi State on Saturday night, and Fresno State one-upped them by winning a 3000-mile road game against Rutgers on Labor Day. For that reason, the Bulldogs had the best week ever.

Now who had the worst week ever? There are a host of candidates.

1. Hot Seat Coaches
A few gentlemen who could ill-afford to lose their opener, went out and did just that. Dave Wannstedt of Pitt, who has yet to post a winning record in 3 full seasons lost at home to Bowling Green. Mike Price, who has gone 9-19 in his last 28 games at UTEP, took a trip to upstate New York and got blasted by a Buffalo program that was 2-10 in 2006. Steve Kragthorpe, who has run the Louisville program into the ground in just 13 games, lost to archrival Kentucky for the second straight season. The formerly explosive Cardinal attack gained just 205 yards. To be fair, they lost a ton of talent, but 205 yards against a team that was 67th in total defense in 2007 has to be cause for concern. At least the defense did their job. While Kentucky scored 27 points, 14 came on defensive touchdowns, and the lone offensive score came on a drive that started on the Louisville 7. And finally we have Chuck Long. The San Diego State coach was 7-17 after 2 years at the helm, before losing to IAA Cal Poly. Long is now 0-2 against Cal Poly, having lost to them in his first season (2006) as well.

2. Inauspicious Debuts
Bobby Petrino pulled out a 28-24 squeaker over IAA Western Illinois in his debut as Arkansas head coach. Mike Sherman was not so lucky at Texas A&M as his Aggies fell at home to Arkansas State. No one expected greatness out of those 2 programs in 2008, but their respective starts could have been a lot better.

3. The Auburn Spread Offense
85 yards passing on 27 attempts is probably not what the Tiger faithful had in mind when Tony Franklin was hired as the offensive coordinator. The Tigers did crank out 321 yards on the ground, but consider the competition (Louisiana-Monroe).

4. The Kansas Offense
One season after taking the college football world by storm, Kansas has some kinks to iron out before their schedule toughens. Last season against Florida International, Kansas put up 615 yards and averaged 8.2 yards per play. This season they put up only 384 yards on the Panthers and averaged 4.4 yards per play. The offensive struggles maifested themselves in the running and passing game. The team averaged only 3.56 yards per rush (averaged more than that in all but 2 games last season--Missouri and Virginia Tech) and a woeful 4.9 yards per pass (averaged 5.3 in their worst outing last season). The Jayhawks did lose their best offensive linemen (tackle Anthony Collins), top rusher (Brandon McAnderson), and top receiver (Marcus Henry), so perhaps the early struggles are not that surprising.

5. The ACC/Big East
Both conferences took a tremendous hit over the opening weekend. The preseason ACC favorite, Clemson, was humiliated on a neutral field by possibly the 3rd best team in the SEC West (Alabama). Last year's champion, Virginia Tech, lost on a neutral field to a Conference USA school (East Carolina). NC State was whitewashed by a middle of the pack SEC school (South Carolina). Virginia was crushed by perhaps the best team in the country (Southern Cal) at home. Maryland and North Carolina barely beat IAA foes (Delaware and McNeese State). Duke, Miami, and Georgia Tech all stomped IAA teams, but the conference's lone victory over a fellow BCS-league foe belongs to Wake Forest. It truly is a sad state of affairs when the Demon Deacons are the sole ACC member in the top 25. Of course, it could be argued the Big East had an even worse week. 4 schools opened against IAA cupcakes (West Virginia, Cincinnati, Connecticut, and South Florida). Those 4 schools won handily. The other 4 opened against IA teams. All 4 lost. 3 of them were at home. Pitt lost at home to Bowling Green. Louisville lost at home to Kentucky. Rutgers lost at home to Fresno State. And Syracuse lost at Northwestern. Maybe the Orange Bowl should change course this season and invite a Mountain West and WAC school to Dolphins Stadium instead of the champion from either of these conferences. Thus, the ACC and Big East combined to have the worst week ever.

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