Monday, September 3, 2012

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year ...

College football is back. Thank God.

I can say without hesitation that my days are brighter from late August through January each year (and then thankfully the NFL playoffs are upon us). I may be biased, but the college football experience makes it the greatest sport in this country. From the smells of fresh cut grass, charcoal and barbecue to the sounds of marching bands and the roar of crowds to the visual pageantry and rich traditions, it completely overwhelms your senses.

But I have a feeling that you already knew all of that.  

So, without further adieu, I bring you a few of the many thoughts that crossed my mind during week one of the college season.  

Man those helmets are slippery suckers. 
We're trying to protect the players ... I get it. Over the last 3-5 years we've all witnessed a series of rule changes and new penalties which have begun to change how the game of football is played. Fact. This season of college football brings with it another wave of rule changes intended to protect players and prevent the situations that make them the most vulnerable on the field. 

Kick-offs now originate from the 35 yard line, potentially resulting in more touchbacks (the ball now comes out to the 25 yard line) and arguably, fewer high power collisions on returns. To me, special teams is one of the best aspects of football and I was a little worried that we might see fewer kick off returns (no, I'm not advocating for injuries). The numbers may prove this to be the case, but in the games I've watched, I've still seen quite a few kick-offs land just outside the goal line leading to a return.

The other highly publicized new rule from the NCAA states that a player must leave the game for one play if they lose their helmet on the field. I have been surprised over the past 1-2 seasons at how many helmets do come off during plays. Obviously a helmet can't be glued to a player's head/neck, but it also shouldn't come off with the slightest direct force. I mean ... it's supposed to protect your head. My only, somewhat paranoid, concern about this rule is that certain high-profile players (particularly running backs) could be targeted in the pile and have their helmets pulled off requiring them to leave the game. We'll see if that ever happens, but in the meantime, just keep the gosh darn thing on your noggin.

Now to the games ... 

Luck's got nothing to do with it ...  
Andrew Luck deserved to be the #1 overall draft pick. Not only has he been impressive in NFL preseason play (more on the NFL to come in future posts), but Stanford's nail-biter vs. San Jose St. was all the evidence I needed.  They barely squeaked out a 20-17 win at home against a Spartan team that went 5-7 a year ago. It will be interesting to see how their season plays out.

I always thought Montee was a cool name ... apparently not.
Despite losing Russell Wilson, Wisconsin's Achilles' heel for the season may be their defense, not their offense. The Badger "O" may not have put up huge numbers against Northern Iowa, however they seemed to be effective when they needed to be. Danny O'Brien had a productive day going 19/23 for 219 yards and 2 touchdowns (with no interceptions) and Montee (that's Mon-tay to you) Ball gained 120 yards on 32 carries. Ball wasn't as productive as we've seen in the past, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry; however he was understandably preoccupied by having to constantly correct the pronunciation of his name (eye roll). In all seriousness, Wisconsin's secondary may be a big weakness if they have any injury issues with their starters. Their back-up corners gave up pass plays of 55 and 31 yards in the 4th quarter ... both resulting in TDs.

That's why it's called a strength ...  
Denard Robinson very well may go on to win the Heisman Trophy; however as we saw against Alabama, he will not be successful unless Michigan utilizes his unique skill set. Although the Scarlet & Gray part of me is always happy to see UM struggle, I can only imagine how frustrated Wolverine fans were watching the game on Saturday night. Denard's strength is his speed, size (and ability to blend in behind the O-line) and mobility. He is a play maker ... he is not a pocket passer. Don't get me wrong, Shoelace can certainly complete some impressive passes, and we saw that in Dallas; but UM's offense would have been much more productive if he had carried the ball on more plays in the first half. Now their defense is another story ...  

Wait - you can score 7 points?
Alabama's offense seems to be the real deal. McCarron threw for just better than 50% (11/21); however he was extremely productive, averaging 9.5 yards per throw and 2 TDs. Most importantly, he appeared to make good decisions and looked much more comfortable running the Crimson Tide's offense. And there seems to be little doubt that Alabama will continue its streak of impressive backs with freshman T.J. Yeldon. He averaged 10.1 yards per carry, breaking 100 yards on just 11 carries. The caveat is that Michigan's defense has not been their strength over the past several seasons. One thing is for certain, for Alabama to continue to replace all those field goals from a year ago for touchdowns they'll have to do better on 3rd down: they were only 3/10 against Michigan.

Thank goodness there are 4 quarters.  
Oklahoma's offense clearly has some kinks to work out. Despite returning Senior QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma fans were in for a nail-biter until the 4th quarter of their game against UTEP when the Sooners finally scored 2 TDs to put the Miners away. The 10-7 score at the end of the 3rd quarter seemed to finally spark some life into the OU offense who ended up with over 400 yards spit evenly between the passing and rushing attacks. Jones finally settled down and started making completions and finished 21/36 for 222 yards and 2 TDs. One thing's for sure, OU will have to get out the gate faster against their stauncher opponents this season or they won't be able to make up enough ground in the 4th quarter. 

The other team doesn't have to score points?
There is no question that Aaron Murray will have a great season at QB for UGA, he's already proven to be a proficient passer and effective leader with a strong grasp of the playbook. Freshman Todd Gurley had an impressive debut with 100 yards and 2 TDs on only 8 carries. The bigger concern for Georgia moving forward may be their defense. They gave up 347 yards (199 yards rushing) to a Buffalo team that went 3-9 last year. Not only were the Bulls able to have a balanced offensive attack, they were able to capitalize in the red zone, ending the game with 23 points (culminated with one 4th quarter TD). Obviously UGA had no problem winning this game, but against a more proficient SEC opponent they might not have quite so much breathing room. 

Now that the season has started, let's begin to move on.
It was a turbulent off-season for college football. There are always obligatory coaching transitions and speculation regarding new talent, however the far-reaching and appalling scandal at Penn State left a scar on college football which will be slow to heal. The victims undoubtedly deserve both monetary and legal retribution, and Jerry Sandusky also deserves his day in court; however I believe that it's time to begin to move on. 

Although I was never a huge fan of Joe Paterno (for a myriad of reasons which I won't bore you with now), I have always respected Penn State. One of the most impressive (slash overwhelming) college football gameday experiences I have ever witnessed was at Penn State.  As a member of TBDBITL, I had the opportunity to travel to State College in 2005 for the OSU vs. PSU game. It was an 8pm kickoff and a terribly dreary day for a place nicknamed Happy Valley; however Penn State had organized one of its now infamous "white outs" for the largely anticipated match-up. Although my Buckeyes ultimately fell to the Nittany Lions 17-10, I will never forget the atmosphere in Beaver Stadium that night. The white out, the deafening noise, the energy of the fans and the endless onslaught of "Zombie Nation" are what college football is all about. 

I tell that story to say this: let's get back to football. We can't, and shouldn't, forget what happened at Penn State, and they will pay the price in more ways than we can begin to imagine. However, for the sake of college football, I'm hopeful that the epic atmosphere I experienced in Happy Valley in 2005 could someday exist again (although preferably not against Ohio State).