Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The first week of college football is now complete and it is certainly not too early to formulate some ideas and extrapolate on where exactly the season is headed. A lot of information has been assimilated this past holiday weekend, clearing up several lingering questions heading into the 2006 campaign. So, without further ado, here are some random thoughts, bold predictions and carefully plotted theorems following a great first week of the season.
IRISH EYES AREN'T EXACTLY SMILING
The Irish faithful can try to put a spin on this week's season-opener at Georgia Tech, but serious questions have to be asked. If Notre Dame weren't so highly ranked, surviving at Bobby Dodd Stadium would be deemed acceptable. However, the second-ranked team in the nation looked out of sorts for much of the first half and the high-powered Charlie Weis offense with golden boy Brady Quinn at the helm, needed the UND defense of all things to bail the team out. It seemed more a condemnation of Chan Gailey's defense, which ran out of gas in the second half, allowing Notre Dame to take over the tempo and do enough on the offensive side of the ball to hold on for the win. If the Irish don't get going offensively this week, Penn State should have no trouble winning in South Bend.
If Charlie Weis and the Irish don't get going offensively this week, Penn State should have no trouble winning in South Bend.
SEC-OND TO NONE
The SEC elite were flat out awesome in the first week of the season. Sure, Arkansas took it on the chin against USC and Kentucky got whipped by Louisville, but those are two of the worst teams in the league, playing against National Title contenders. It is the top of the SEC which opponents have long worried about and this year is no different. Auburn smoked Washington State, as Kenny Irons kicked off his Heisman campaign in grand fashion. LSU completely destroyed UL-Lafayette as expected, while Florida made light work of Southern Miss. Finally, Tennessee owned a good California team from start to finish in Knoxville, letting everyone in the SEC East know that the Vols are back.
BEASTS OF THE BIG EAST
When talking about getting to Glendale for the National Title Game this year, few experts have picked the Big East to be represented. After this week, pundits have to like what they see in powerhouses West Virginia and Louisville. Tailback Steve Slaton led the Mountaineers to a romp of in-state rival Marshall, rolling over the Thundering Herd for 203 yards and two TDs, seemingly taking over where he left off as the nation's top freshman in 2005. The Cardinals, behind All-American candidates Brian Brohm and Michael Bush, blew by Kentucky, albeit at a severe cost. Bush, one of the top runners in the country and last year's scoring leader, tallied three TDs and 129 yards, before leaving the game with a broken tibia. He will be lost for the season and time will tell if Louisville can continue its run at the national title without him in the backfield.
Lest anyone forget Pete Carroll and USC, the new-look Trojans went into Fayetteville and looked every bit as potent as when Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White were on the team. John David Booty looked sharp in the win, throwing for 261 yards and three TDs, leading a Trojan offense that amassed 472 yards. With California's demise in Knoxville, it certainly looks good for USC to run away with the Pac-10 yet again. The other half of that memorable Rose Bowl last year, Texas came out firing as well to start the 2006 campaign. Even though it was against North Texas, QB Colt McCoy looked solid as Vince Young's replacement. McCoy passed for just 178 yards, but connected on three TDs, while completing 12-of-19 passes. This week will tell the tale, as McCoy takes on the top-ranked Buckeyes. It isn't a stretch to think that the Trojans and Longhorns could once again play for a national title.
BETTER THAN EXPECTED
The "better than expected" award has to go to Phil Fulmer's Volunteers, who took it to ninth-ranked California last weekend and owned the game from start to finish. This could be more indicative of the Golden Bears being over-hyped and their inability to win on the road, but Fulmer has a star in the making in wideout Robert Meachem (five receptions, 182 yards and two TDs) and an efficient signal-caller in Erik Ainge (291 yards and four TDs). The defense was masterful against what was supposed to be a juggernaut offense, holding the Bears' Marshawn Lynch to just 74 yards rushing and keeping the Heisman hopeful out of the end zone. The team takes on Air Force this week and will get a real litmus test on September 16th, when the Vols host rival Florida.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
Jeff Tedford is probably painstakingly going through the film this week, wondering how such high hopes for his Golden Bears have vanished after week one. Long thought of as an offensive guru, Tedford watched his potent rushing attack fail to show up in Knoxville, while his QB- tandem of Nate Longshore and Joe Ayoob looked baffled at times. A lot of it had to do with a tenacious UT defense and a raucous Neyland Stadium crowd, but to find college football Nirvana (BCS Bowl Game), winning in hostile environments is a must.
The big game in the Orange Bowl on Monday lived up to the hype in regards to both defenses. The Hurricanes and Seminoles played defense at a level in terms of speed that is rarely seen. Bodies were flying all over the field, negating anything the two teams were trying to do offensively. It was a carbon copy of last year's tussle. In all, the teams combined for an jaw- dropping three yards rushing. Two stars that stood out defensively were FSU's Buster Davis and Miami's Kenny Phillips. Davis had a whopping 12 total tackles, with 3.5 TFLs and two sacks. Phillips covered everyone like a blanket and seemed to be in position on every play. Bobby Bowden's Seminoles now have gotten over the early season hurdle in their schedule and could head into their season-finale against Florida with a perfect record. Larry Coker's Hurricanes are in an early hole, but the team certainly has the talent to win the Coastal Division and still vie for the ACC Title.
MASH UNIT REQUIRED
The aforementioned loss of Michael Bush could be this week's single greatest loss for a team, as Louisville's national title hopes rested in part on the ultra-talented tailback. However, many teams around the nation suffered major injuries this week and will need to shake them off and continue on their quests. Clemson lost talented LB Tramaine Billie before the season started and Tommy Bowden's defense took another major hit against Florida Atlantic, as Butkus Award candidate Anthony Waters went down with a torn ACL. Not that San Diego State was going to vie for a national title, or even a Mountain West crown for that matter, but the loss of starting QB Kevin O'Connell to a thumb injury won't help the Aztecs any. Likewise for Wake Forest and starting QB Benjamin Mauk, who was lost to a broken arm against Syracuse. The good news for SDSU (if there is such a thing) is that the surgery to repair O'Connell's thumb shouldn't keep him out all season long.