A pretty fun weekend of football, don't you think?
It's rare that we can actually start to answer some questions this early in the season instead of just endlessly asking more. While the balance of power did not shift between the conferences, one can now see where we should be heading come the latter half of October.
Starting with the USC/Ohio State game, Southern Cal certainly answered some questions about their title hopes for the year. To ask a Freshman to make his first ever road start at a major power and win is a pretty tall order. Colt McCoy lost his first start against a ranked team at home, Ohio State in 2006, but he recovered and has led the Longhorns to last season's Fiesta Bowl, against Ohio State. Matt Barkley did him one better, beating the Buckeyes on a late fourth quarter drive in Columbus oin front of one of the loudest crowds ever at the Horseshoe. It gives USC an inside track at the championship game early and establishes Barkley as a big time player. Not a bad coming out party.
Southern Cal also told the world that it's defense is ready for the big time. Stopping Terrelle Pryor is hard for anybody as he really is a great athletic presence, but the Trojans held him to 117 yards in the air and an interception while keeping him under a 50% completion rate for the game. USC has been able to play with anybody for awhile now, but the statement they made as conference play begins for them this week against Washington will be heard long and loud from coast to coast.
For Ohio State, it is too early to really worry about their season as a whole. With the close call to Navy and loss to USC both at home, there are a few worried faithful about just where the season will go. Relax, they will be fine. Pryor took responsibility for the loss, a sign of maturity despite the fact he actually did not allow the winning score, and the defense only allowed 18 points to one of the top offenses in the country. Toledo is next to get confidence back and they draw Illinois at home to start the Big 10 followed by a trip to Indiana. They will be ready for the three game closing stretch, at Penn State, Iowa, and finally at Michigan. Win two and they will get a BCS bid.
Speaking of Michigan, what a game for the Wolverines against Notre Dame Saturday. With all the attention to head coach Rich Rodriguez and the investigation into too much practice, the Wolverines put the controversy behind them and at times dominated the Irish, carrying an 11 point lead in the fourth quarter. While the win puts them back into the Big Ten picture, they are probably the fourth best school in the conference behind Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa, who put a whooping on Iowa State on the road. Michigan's defense was beat several times in the game and let Jimmy Clausen pick apart the secondary. In fact, they gave up 490 net yards. The difference, however, was two fold. Tate Forcier is having a whale of a freshman campaign and Charlie Weis game management was awful.
Notre Dame had the ball and Michigan only having two time outs with 2:13 left and a three point lead. A run on first down was followed by a bomb on second. If the pass was completed, that would have been the end of the game or pretty near as Notre Dame would literally been able to run the clock down to nearly nothing. Weis, however, chose to throw on third down, also incomplete, and hand Michigan the ball back with nearly two minutes left. Really?
Forcier executed, rambling and scrambling down the field to score the winning touchdown on a five yard pass to Greg Matthews with eleven ticks of the clock left, something surely that would have not been there if Notre Dame had done the safe thing and ran. When the Irish fire Weis after this season, that will be the reason why. A .577 winning percentage in college football doesn't cut it at a big school and with as easy of a schedule as the Irish have, it is pretty inexcusable. Notre Dame's defense still could not stop a parked car on a freeway and as good as Clausen and running back Armando Allen looked, Forcier and his two way passing and running threat looked better. Michigan is not a real BCS threat, but a major wild card in the conference as they are ranked at #25. Home games against Eastern Michigan and the conference opener against Indiana should have the Wolverines at 4-0 and that would beat last year's win total before the first of October.
For the Irish, it is gut check time with a home game coming up against Michigan State, who should be seething after their loss to Central Michigan. Their schedule probably gets them a 9-3 or 8-4 season as USC and Boston College loom along with Navy, but a great team with that schedule should be no worse than 10-2. This year, it's not Notre Dame.