With two weeks under their belts, Texas and USC are 2-0 while Oregon State, Notre Dame and Georgia are 0-2. So far, all five teams have underachieved and have question marks. But who should be in panic mode and who should hold off pushing that red button?
Texas Longhorns 2-0
Quarterback Garrett Gilbert has been demoted to third string while Case McCoy and David Ash have been listed as co-starters this week. Head coach Mack Brown played 18 freshmen in the Longhorns' opening game against Rice and there were some great performances, most notably wide receiver Jaxon Shipley and running back Malcolm Brown (16 carries, 86 yards). But that was against Rice.
Brown rushed for 68 yards on 14 carries last week against BYU, a team that was dominating Texas in the first half and at one point, held a 13-0 lead. Brown was impressive and showed excellent field awareness. Texas won the second half with a strong running game but where was the offense in the first half? Gilbert was benched after a dismal 2-for-8, two interceptions performance against the Cougars.
Texas travels to Pasadena, California this Saturday to play the 1-1 UCLA Bruins who struggled against the San Jose State Spartans last week.
It's important to note that the Bruins are 21-4 at home against non-conference opponents and beat Texas last year in Austin, 34-12. Bruins head coach Rick Neuheisel is also fighting to keep his job and the lack of fan support at the Rose Bowl was evident—announced attendance for Saturday's game was 42,685 in a stadium that holds over 91,000. As of yesterday, there were reportedly around 25,000 tickets available for this Saturday's game against Texas.
This is a swing game for both teams. If UCLA wins, the fans will start to show more support for a team that has a lot of talent. If they lose, Neuheisel may as well start updating his resume. Conversely, the Longhorns need a strong, dominating performance to stay on track and continue to improve before they start conference play against an Iowa State team that upset Iowa last Saturday in a triple overtime thriller. Lose, and it's another long season with no bowl games in sight.
Verdict: Don't panic yet.
Oregon State 0-2
Beavers head coach Mike Riley is probably one of the most likeable coaches in college football. He does everything right, is a fantastic mentor and manages to coach up players better than most. Unfortunately, Riley has had to counter numerous injuries with unproven freshmen and the result has been predictable—0-2.
Quarterbacks Ryan Katz and Steve Mannion are without the services of flanker James Rodgers (knee) and tight end Joe Halahuni (shoulder), which would explain a lot of the lack of offensive productivity. Jacquizz Rodgers, who declared early for the NFL Draft (Falcons) adds to the loss of offensive firepower.
Katz has completed only 52 percent of his passes and has been sacked twice. Mannion has fared better completing 66 percent of his passes in his 50 attempts against Wisconsin, but the offense was shut out 35-0. The Beavers are ranked No. 86 in sacks allowed (5), special teams don't look very special (a punt for -4 yards?), they have one of the toughest schedules in the country and still have BYU left on their non-conference slate. They also lost to an FCS team, the Sacramento State Hornets. Welp.
Verdict: Panic mode is at DEFCON 1.
I like Mark Richt. I also like Russ (the interim Uga mascot), the hedges at Sanford Stadium and the Georgia "G" on the players' helmets. The only thing I don't like is the Bulldogs' performances in the last two weeks. With two losses, the heat is on but the good news is that one of those losses was to a non-conference team (Boise State)—as of now, Georgia is only 0-1 (South Carolina) in the SEC.
The biggest problem for the Bulldogs is obvious—Georgia is currently ranked No. 106 (7 of 25) in third down conversions and that computes to a scary 28 percent success. Another eye-popping statistic is 191 yards—that's the average number of yards Georgia's rush defense is giving up per game—but that stat is a little misleading. While most FBS teams are playing cupcakes that tend to inflate their early season statistics, Georgia has played two highly ranked teams in Boise State and South Carolina.
Their schedule does give them somewhat of a break—they avoided drawing Alabama and Arkansas from the West division, but have to play a rebuilding Auburn team that was projected to have a losing season by many analysts. Suddenly, Auburn looks like an eight or nine-win team. What once looked like a do-able SEC schedule for Georgia—if there is such a thing—now looks like a road filled with potholes.
IF Georgia can get past Mississippi State and Tennessee, the future looks pretty good—their remaining six games are at Vanderbilt, Florida (Jacksonville), New Mexico State, Auburn, Kentucky and at Georgia Tech. If the loss count is more than two in the second half of the season and the continued sloppy play continues, it's gut-check time in Athens.
Verdict: Stock up on emergency supplies for potential wide-spread panic.
Notre Dame 0-2
This was supposedly Notre Dame's year to make a serious run at the BCS Championship. If only they could hang on to the ball.
The Fighting Irish have committed a mind-numbing 10 turnovers in two games which makes them dead last (among 120 FBS teams) in turnover margin rankings. The frustration felt be head coach Brian Kelly is not lost on anyone—his team dominated South Florida (508 yards vs USF's 254) and still lost the game. A bright spot is that Notre Dame is No. 13 in total offense, averaging 510.5 yards per game.
It's obvious that if Notre Dame hadn't made such silly mistakes and taken care of the ball they would probably be 2-0 and ranked in the top 10. But the problems that occurred in week one against South Florida continued to manifest itself in the following week at Michigan, and that's a huge concern.
This week, the Irish face Michigan State at Notre Dame Stadium and are favored to win the game. They can't go 0-3... they just can't, can they?
Verdict: Panic. FireBrianKelly.com is up and running.
The Trojans are 2-0 but it's an ugly 2-0. Los Angelenos—known for arriving late at sporting events—got a glimpse of the Trojans in two straight lackluster second-half performances. Poetic justice?
In the Trojans' season opener against Minnesota, USC failed to score any second half points despite blistering performances by quarterback Matt Barkley (34 of 45 for 304 yards) and wide receiver Robert Woods (17 catches for 177 yards). The Trojans gave up 14 points to the Golden Gophers and hung on to win 19-17. To put this into perspective, New Mexico State (on the road) scored more points on Minnesota than USC scored on Minnesota while playing at home in the Coliseum.
Their second game against Utah wasn't that much better. The Trojans won 23-14 but six of those points were scored by special teams on a blocked field goal attempt by the Utes. Sure a win is a win but USC should be winning by a larger margin while playing at home despite being handcuffed by scholarship reductions and lack of postseason play. Is it a time to panic? Not really. SC fans won't panic over mediocre play in a year they can't go bowling. They just won't show up to games.
Nothing would make SC fans happier than to win the South even though they can't play for the Pac-12 crown. In the meantime, beat UCLA, Notre Dame and (perhaps either Stanford or Oregon) and the fans will be sated.
Verdict: Meh. Wait until next year when the Trojans are bowl eligible.