Rich Rants: Week 4 - Watson, Michigan, Kiffin

Week 4 thoughts, musings and ramblings about the weekend.

Early-mail Rich Cirminiello
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It’s with mixed feelings in Death Valley that the Deshaun Watson era at Clemson began in Tallahassee Saturday night. The Tigers have already lost twice, so it makes perfect sense to begin eyeing the future, particularly since the true freshman should be an upgrade at the position before long. Watson has all of the requisite physical tools, and his poise in a tough setting is one of the many reasons he’s a budding superstar behind center. You can do a lot of things as a senior quarterback. Just don’t lose. Cole Stoudt is learning that a window of opportunity closes quickly, when a team’s preseason goals begin to fade.

Michigan is a disaster. It’s hard to fathom that Brady Hoke has fallen this far, this fast after beginning his career in Wolverine with so much optimism and momentum. History shows that Hoke isn’t this bad, nor is Doug Nussmeier, the offensive coordinator he fired away from Alabama. Yet, the Wolverines are playing as if they’ve already packed it in this season. Is the offensive personnel really so paltry that this program should go without an offensive touchdown in two of the last three games? Michigan got handled by an average Utah team in the Big House, a low-point not seen since the RichRod era. AD Dave Brandon ought to put his best package together to get Jim Harbaugh back to Ann Arbor. Harbaugh vs. Urban Meyer each November would be the next best thing to Woody and Bo.

Nussmeier’s successor in Tuscaloosa, Lane Kiffin, is off to a rousing start at Alabama. The only noise being generated by the deposed USC head coach is coming from his suddenly high-octane offense. Kiffin called a terrific game versus Florida on Saturday, and he’s making outstanding use of the preponderance of talent he inherited. Kiffin is also slowly resurrecting his reputation for the day that the inevitable next head job offer comes his way. Blake Sims has exceeded expectations as the heir to AJ McCarron behind center. But Bama is in the thick of the playoff hunt, because Kiffin is putting his players in the best possible positions to succeed. And because WR Amari Cooper forces opposing defensive coordinators to alter the way they approach preparations.

The ACC dodged a serious bullet in Week 4. It was a rough weekend for the conference, which channeled the Big Ten for about 12 hours. In non-conference games that mattered, it was 0-5, with North Carolina’s 70-41 loss to East Carolina serving as the exclamation mark. But Saturday would have reached Defcon 1 had Florida State not rallied to beat Clemson at Doak Campbell. The Seminoles are the only ACC team with a legitimate shot of earning a playoff berth. And while the Noles certainly could have rallied from a close loss, in which Jameis Winston sat, their margin for error would have been non-existent for the next 10 weeks.

It’s not a bad time to be a football fan in the state of Mississippi. Just days after Ole Miss made a rare appearance in the AP top 10, Mississippi State is on the verge of joining its hated rival. The Bulldogs delivered a breakthrough moment in the Dan Mullen era, outplaying LSU in a game that was a lot more one-sided than the 34-29 indicated. Mississippi State is for real, because it finally harbors the talent needed to compete, week-in and week-out, in the SEC West. With a backfield comprised of QB Dak Prescott and RB Josh Robinson, and a defense stout in the front seven, it’s shaping up as a special fall in Starkville.

Step aside for now, Leonard Fournette. You may not be the best rookie running back in the country after all. Oklahoma true freshman Samaje Perine enjoyed his national coming-party in Morgantown Saturday night, bludgeoning the Mountaineers for 242 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries. The 5-11, 243-pound bruiser is just what the Sooners need to complement the playmaking ability of QB Trevor Knight. And what better way to frustrate up-tempo Baylor on Nov. 8 than to feed it a steady diet of Perine, a blue-collar brawler who can completely change the tenor and the pace of a game?

Give credit where credit is due. The Big Ten deserves a swift pat on the back for finally stopping the hemorrhaging in Week 4. The league enjoyed a much-needed momentum boost before conference play ensues. There was just one loss, Michigan to Utah, and the Big Ten’s victims included Pitt, Syracuse, Navy, Missouri and Miami. Okay, it wasn’t enough to wipe the perpetual scowl from the face of commissioner Jim Delany, but it’s a place to start. And a weekend like the one that just passed lends faint hope to Michigan State that one loss to Oregon could still be enough to sneak into the inaugural playoff.

If East Carolina wins the American Athletic Conference, the other four Group of Five champions can forget about qualifying for one of the six major New Year’s Day bowl games. Over the last three weeks, the Pirates have nearly upset South Carolina, defeated Virginia Tech and lit a fuse beneath North Carolina. Meanwhile, unbeaten Marshall of Conference USA was busy treating Rhode Island, Ohio and Akron like speed bags over the same time period. Wouldn't it be nice to see ECU face Clemson and Duke to see if the Pirates are the second, third or fourth-best team in the ACC? Someone ought to tell ECU that the ACC will never send that long-awaited invite if it keeps embarrassing its current members.

Even during the toughest times last season, Florida could count on its D to keep games competitive. Now that that defense has coughed and wheezed over the past two weeks, where does Will Muschamp turn for answers. No, the Gators aren’t as porous or as overwhelmed as Alabama made them look Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. But it’s a bad omen when a unit allows more yards than any other team in school history, especially when the opponent’s quarterback is starting the fourth game of his career. Start the Muschamp countdown now, because the coach doesn’t have the playmakers—on either side of the ball—to save his job for 2015.

Poor Cal. The Bears were on the verge of an extremely unlikely 3-0 start, when fate struck the snakebitten program. A Hail Mary, of all things, robbed Sonny Dykes’ team of a pivotal upset of Arizona in Tucson. It’s going to be interesting to how the young squad responds to adversity in the coming weeks, because winding up on the wrong side of a miracle can do funny things to a team. The Bears have made enormous strides for Dykes and the staff, especially on offense, so it would be a shame if a fluky 47-yard heave that somehow wound up in Austin Hill’s bread basket derailed what Cal accomplished this offseason.


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