Well, the boys went 2-0 over the weekend. Could nitpick here and there, and maybe even whine a little bit about Temple RB Ryquell Armstead once again proving that skill, toughness and being chiseled out of granite does not automatically keep you from being injury prone.
But we progress …
The Owls, now 3-3 after obliterating East Carolina, 49-6, last Saturday, despite questions about their discipline, strategy and Armstead’s health, pose the greatest threat this side of No. 23 South Florida to American Athletic rival Central Florida’s chances at repeating as conference champ, thanks to a deep roster and a strong-armed QB in Anthony Russo whose potential stretches well outside the box of what most believe capable at Temple.
Illinois, meanwhile, is 3-2 courtesy of a 38-17 drubbing of down-and-out Big Ten foe Rutgers the same afternoon, and, frankly, almost laughably because you don’t expect such things with the Illini, but they possess one of the nation’s best run-oriented backfields. How good is it? Well, put it this way, Mike Epstein had a pretty unproductive day … only to cap it with a 42-yard scoring burst that sealed the deal.
Both of my schools — gulp — are good enough to challenge for a bowl bid. This year. Seriously. Temple, in fact, could challenge for the AAC crown — yeah, even with the 10th-ranked Knights standing in the Owls’ way Nov. 1 and the Bulls the same two weeks later. Temple is that good when it plays well, which, usually, happens when Armstead is feeling right.
TEMPLE 2015 REVISITED
Ironically, the team that could give the Owls the most trouble in the AAC is the most similar to, well, themselves, circa 2015.
Temple caught the nation’s attention that fall, and even managed to steal a few moments of attention from Philly fans during — gasp — the Eagles season. Started the campaign 7-0, beat Penn State, played Notre Dame to a virtual standstill and peaked at No. 20 in the national polls before finishing 10-4.
Cincy, circa 2018? The Bearcats are 6-0, even tossing in a couple nail-biters that earmarked that Temple ’15 squad. They’re balanced on offense (RB Michael Warren II and QB Desmond Ridder are virtual carbon copies of Jahad Thomas and P.J. Walker in terms of production), and they’re stingy on defense — just the way those Owls were.
Of course, standing in their way of starting 7-0 like Temple did … will be Temple ’18 on Oct. 20 at Lincoln Financial Field.
by Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
Won’t make any bones about it.
Even for me.
Still, with that, comes a reality check … if you want to maintain any semblance of sense or sanity.
To wit, to me, you’re not going to find better quarterbacks than Penn State’s Trace McSorley and West Virginia’s Will Grier. Different, yes. Better, no.
That being shared, The truth of the matter is neither of them were going to challenge for Heisman honors this fall on an even playing field. Both had obstacles in front of them that Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins did not, mostly in perception.
Not only in regards to ability, but their teams.
Face it, despite the nation getting geeked up over McSorley’s “Vince Young in the Rose Bowl” reenactment two Saturdays ago for a few hours, the Nittany Lions’ senior needed either A) to put up those kinds of numbers (286 yards passing, 175 rushing) each week in 2018 to be seriously considered or B) to win that game against Ohio State or, more likely, C) both A and B.
Wasn’t going to happen with the Lions’ share-the-wealth approach, and didn’t happen thanks to James Franklin and Co.’s last-minute decision-making implosion.
Grier? He actually had a little more leeway than McSorley in that he wasn’t pigeonholed as the smallish, over-achieving scrapper — which is kinda comical since the PSU signal-caller is far more athletic and more physically imposing, just shorter. Grier has been a “known” for half a decade, and brought about him some mystical-type cachet in that he was really good as a freshman at Florida, but the Gators didn’t want him.
Oh, well, WVU’s gain. Big time.
He produced immediately, and has made the Mountaineers quite dangerous. Plus, he put up gawdy numbers — and wins. But, now, you take a look at his latest effort (332 yards, 4 TDs passing against Kansas), and it’s the negatives that stand out. He did have three picks in the game. He missed some throws. WVU didn’t win big … and for Grief to be a Heisman contender, it needs to against most teams.
Thing is, there is nothing to knock Tagovailoa, Murray or Haskins about. They’re been spectacular. The teams — outside of Alabama, of course — haven’t always been. But that never was going to factor for their individual hopes.
You think Murray and Oklahoma losing to Texas last Saturday, or Haskins actually getting outplayed by McSorley (much like Ohio State did most of the night against Penn State) mattered? Think again.
That’s just the way it is.
But don’t feel too sorry for guys like Grier and McSorley. At least they ain’t McKenzie Milton, who’s in the midst of posting pinball-wizard numbers again while leading Central Florida to another unbeaten season, or Laviska Shenault Jr., the Colorado wide receiver who’s the best player by far the eyes behind these words have seen this season but remains mostly anonymous throughout the country.
Reality, people. It is what it is.
by Jack Kerwin | email@example.com
The irony is almost palpable.
You hear James Franklin speak Saturday night, you listen to his words, you take a moment or two to let them sink in, take a deep breath … and, then, well, you kinda chuckle.
Here he was, minutes after seeing his Nittany Lions’ hopes at a College Football Playoff berth implode before the month of October kicked off, the type of body blow that would leave many a contender doubled over and unable to continue, and the head coach who embodies arrogance and boorishness straight out of the Donald Trump School of Elitism was more concerned with how he and his charges were viewed than accepting what just happened.
Yeah, damn right the Lions are not elite … and reason No. 1 is the coaching staff’s performance at crunch time. Led by Mr. Great But Not Elite himself, Franklin.
Exhibit A came on Penn State’s final offensive play against Ohio State — a fourth-and-five at the Buckeyes’ 43 that saw running back Miles Sanders get swallowed up for a two-yard loss almost simultaneously with him taking the handoff. Ballgame over.
The call was not one borne of ingenuity. The Lions run that play ad nauseam with Sanders, and did so Saquon Barkley, too. It rarely has worked with either, especially in key moments. Looks kinda like a delay. Sorta like a run-pass option. But all it is, is some lame blast up the gut that never seems to catch anyone by surprise, except Franklin’s coaching staff when it doesn’t work.
Keep in mind that PSU quarterback Trace McSorley may have audibled into the play after waiting through timeouts by both teams and then surveying the OSU defense. Thing is, that’s still on Franklin and his staff because they have it drilled into the kid that the play works, or that it’ll catch defenses off-guard.
It hasn’t, and it won’t.
It was ridiculous that play was even on the table at that point, with the host Lions down one, having blown a 12-point lead with just eight minutes to go, and McSorley proving to be PSU’s best and most creative option all night, having made the Buckeyes look silly more often than not when scrambling out of the pocket.
Plain and simple, that situation called for a run-pass option, with one guy, and one guy alone, running the show: McSorley. He’d already ran for 175 yards and passed for another 286, frankly, looking like a far more legit Heisman candidate than his overly ballyhooed former backfield mate now with the New York Giants ever did.
Here’s the reality of it all: Franklin entered the game believing he had the lesser team, and at every juncture when OSU was ready to fold, the Lions blinked in a way that modeled their coach’s faith, or lack of it.
Could’ve blown out the Buckeyes in the first half.
Could’ve put them away multiple times in the second half.
Could’ve cut their hearts out with a conversion on that aforementioned fateful play.
Never happened. Not once.
PSU had the better quarterback, the better receivers (despite the hype), the better ground game, the better passing game, the better defensive line … going into the game.
But, really, you’d never know it because there always seemed to be an underlying fear in how things were called from the sidelines, and then played out on the field.
So, please, next time — and there will be a next time, no doubt — spare us the post-game Brett Kavanaugh act.
You want irony, here it is…
While Franklin and Co. could be ripped for overthinking and sticking to the “traditional” running attack, Temple and Illinois, my two schools, could be ripped for the exact opposite.
Sure, only the Owls were in action this past weekend, but both coaching staffs have been brutal with either A) not sticking with the run or B) not sticking with the hot hand on the run.
Temple is far more guilty of A; Illinois B. Either way, they’re annoying.
Yo, Geoff Collins, you got a big-time, NFL-caliber stud at tailback in Ryquell Armstead. Truth be told, he’s better than the guy you just faced in Boston College’s AJ Dillon. Use him. Keep using him. None of this Anthony Russo misfire after misfire thanks to his erratic arm and the receivers’ erratice hands when you got Armstead going for 7 or 8 yards a pop.
Kid had 171 yards and four TDs on 24 carries against the Eagles.
Illinois has two quality backs in Reggie Corbin and Mike Epstein (both average 6.8 yards per carry). The perform best when they’re both on the field. So, Lovie Smith, just keep them both on the field at the same time and knock it off with trying to cross up teams.
THIS AND THAT ...
by Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
Upon further review …
For the fourth straight week, my two schools went a combined 1-1. How positively “meh” of them.
With Illinois, still waiting for Lovie Smith to walk out the door — by his choice or not. At this point, excusing the players’ inexperience is not an option anymore. Nor is pointing at their lack of talent. That ain’t the issue. Coaching is. Game-day coaching.
Exhibit A: Friday night, at home, against then-No. 10 Penn State, the Illini are keeping pace behind the tag-team running of Mike Epstein and Reggie Corbin. They’re down 21-17 at half. Epstein, coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, has 72 yards on 12 carries. Has a couple receptions, too. First possession in the second half, he gets a break and before OC Rod Smith can get him back in there, Illinois manages to pull off a 75-yard drive to take a three-point lead. Fair enough.
But then the kid doesn’t see the field the rest of the third quarter, even as the wheels start coming off faster than you can “three-and-out” while the Lions catch fire. By the time Smith goes back to him, it’s too late. Damage done.
The Illini had no “feel” for using him against South Florida a week earlier, either, which resulted in them blowing a 19-6 lead in the fourth.
Can we stop rejoicing over M.J. Rivers II play at QB, too? Great, we get it, he’s a freshman. Can’t expect too much. Yeah, but we can expect him to feel pressure once in a while, and this guy can’t even sense the sharks circling a step away and the blood swirling all over.
Temple? Yo, take the win and just keep running Ryquell Armstead. Enough said.
This upcoming weekend may be the best for big-time matchups thus far, and could serve as the “yay” or “nay” final say for several teams with playoff hopes.
No. 4 Ohio State travels to No. 9 Penn State in the featured, prime-time contest Saturday night, but it ain’t the only one with major implications. No. 7 Stanford visits No. 8 Notre Dame the same night (and time) as well. No. 12 West Virginia has to go on the road at No. 25 Texas Tech, which just dismantled then-No. 15 Oklahoma State on its own field, and No. 11 Washington hosts No. 20 Brigham Young, which already dropped then-No. 6 Wisconsin at its place this season, in the other biggies.
by Jack Kerwin | email@example.com
It caught my eye.
Despite the futile track record, my daily scan at warp speed through social media continued in earnest Tuesday to see if anything popped out at me … and, much to my surprise, something did.
Wasn’t anything deep or detailed. Just a graphic courtesy of Fox Sports that pointed out the remaining unbeatens after three weeks of college football action this autumn of 2018.
But it got me thinking …
Which teams are capable of crashing the four-team party to settle the national champion that already seems to have sent out invitations, pending committee approval, to the current top five-ranked ranked squads: Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma?
Five? Three? Any?
Let’s be honest here. In this day and age, any outfit not named above that has a loss is out of the running — save for, maybe, Notre Dame … and that’s big MAYBE anymore anyway.
Those five are so far above every other program the difference defies description, and Alabama is, by far, the elite of that elite.
Frankly, Clemson, with its NFL-caliber defensive line and freshman phenom Taylor Lawrence looking like he may get forced into being “the man” faster than head coach Dabo Swinney had planned, seems to be the only legit competition to the Crimson Tide defending its crown.
But it’s nice to dream, or just wonder … what if?
Outside of that Fab Five, a whopping 29 teams have yet to taste defeat, or even a tie, offering hope of the improbable, if not impossible, to an awful lot of fans sports an awful lot of colors.
THE NO SHOTS
With apologies to many of my fellow Group of Five followers, if not alums, while this sport may love its “underdogs,” it very rarely rewards them. Central Florida not only was the nation’s lone unbeaten last season, it gave the country two of the most entertaining games in for-the-ages thrillers against South Florida and Memphis, won its conference and topped Power Five foe Auburn in a New Year’s Day bowl game — all while performing under the uncertainty of whether program builder Scott Frost would stay or leave.
For its efforts, UCF got a pat on the head with a No. 6 ranking, behind four teams with two losses each, mind you, and a ton of mockery thrown its way by stuck-in-their-ways experts and Joe Six-Packs alike for having the audacity to claim it had earned more.
With that in mind, watch out for the door hitting you in the face, North Texas, Louisiana Tech and Marshall of Conference USA, UCF, South Florida and Cincinnati of the American Athletic Conference, and Buffalo and Akron of the Mid-American Conference.
Boston College, Syracuse, N.C. State and Duke of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Minnesota and Indiana of the Big Ten, Kentucky and Missouri of the Southeastern Conference, and the Pacific 12 Conference undefeated quartet.
None of them — not Stanford, California, Washington State, Colorado or Oregon — have what it takes. Nice teams. But nothing special, even if Bryce Love returns to Heisman favorite form for the Cardinal.
Pretty much the same story with the rest mentioned right here, and in some cases, such as with Minnesota, Indiana and Missouri, that may be generous.
Iowa of the Big Ten, Louisiana State of the SEC and Oklahoma State of the Big 12. Oh, yeah, Notre Dame, too. Sorry, Irish backers, but your guys are brutal to watch — even in victory. ND, currently ranked eighth in the country, could be 0-3 right now very easily and with a stretch of five straight weeks against quality competition starting with road game No. 1 Saturday at Wake Forest, it can forget about an undefeated season.
Iowa, just, well, doesn’t impress anyone. Nine teams ranked with losses, and the Hawkeyes are 3-0, unranked and not even leading the way in “others getting votes.”
As for Okie State, will be forever grateful that it put the kibosh on another Boise State darling tale before it ever really got started, but, they look to be the third wheel in a two-team conference.
LSU? Puh-leeze. That offense still stinks. To high heavens.
THAT LEAVES ...
If memory serves, Virginia Tech of the ACC, West Virginia of the Big 12 and Penn State of the Big 10 — and, really, they’re all wing-and-a-prayer wildcards to do anything.
The Hokies, led by two brilliant DBs in Caleb Farley and Reggie Floyd, have the stingy defense while the Mountaineers and Nittany Lions have the gunslinging QBs in Will Grier and Trace McSorley. Incredibly impressive strengths for each team, but none of them are complete or balanced.
If any were to shock the elite, never mind the nation, Tech seem the one for several reasons — even beyond that incredibly ranging and athletic stop troops. Schedule, special teams and a few threats at the skill positions. In that order.
ND is Tech’s toughest regular season game left and the Hokies get the Irish in Blacksburg, Va. Its next two toughest games — Boston College and Miami — are also at Lane Stadium.
Conversely, Penn State has four ranked teams remaining on its slate, starting with No. 4 Ohio State on Sept. 29. West Virginia, meanwhile, closes its season with this stretch: at Texas, vs. Texas Christian, at Okie State, vs. Oklahoma. Good luck coming out unscathed from that.
At this point, just can’t see any team challenging the top 5 for a spot in the CFP. But Tech sure looks like the best bet to put that to the test.
Unless, of course, Mississippi State somehow shocks Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the SEC West under first-year coach Joe Moorhead, who has the Bulldogs playing their best ball since a magical run to No. 1 in 2014.
OK, now memory has served ...