Dr Football's Weekly Column

Dr Football previews yet another week of college football.

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Since before the season even started, I figured Notre Dame to be a fraud as a national contender, which is why I thought Georgia Tech had a good shot at beating them in the opener. Thank you, Lloyd Carr and Michigan, for calling out the Irish last Saturday and proving I was right (for once).

It was also heartening to see the Miami Hurricanes' street thug act fall completely flat against Louisville. Miami players made a show of stomping on the Cardinals' logo at midfield prior to kickoff – come on guys, this is an act that got old around 1986 – but when they started playing for keeps, Louisville bitch-slapped Miami three ways from Sunday. The Cardinals did it without their best running back (Michael Bush is gone with a broken leg) and with quarterback Brian Brohm sidelined most of the game with a thumb injury. Didn't matter. Louisville showed up Miami as the posers that they are (a process that really started last year when Georgia Tech went to Miami and kicked their butts on the road) and came away with a 31-7 victory.

"A football game is never won on swagger," Miami quarterback Kyle Wright said after game. "It's fake hype, is what it is, and I'm tired of it." Kyle, you might want to share those thoughts with some of the guys on your own roster.

For Tech, the games that really count start on Thursday evening when they play a Virginia team that is this close to having the wheels come off the program. It's amazing when you consider that Tech hasn't beaten the Cavaliers in four seasons, and yet the Jackets are still 16-point favorites heading into the ESPN showdown. Tech should have beat the Cavs last year and shut them out of a bowl game. If they can't defeat a team that has already lost to Western Michigan and had to struggle to beat Wyoming by one point, then the Jackets are in much worse shape than we thought.

I know that some Tech fans were wishing the Jackets were a little stronger at quarterback, but even if all Reggie Ball does is run draw plays, we're still way ahead of Virginia at this point. Coach Al Groh has gone through three signal callers so far and still has no idea who should be there. I expect DC Jon Tenuta and his guys to have a feast with the Virginia offense.

In their game against Troy, the Jackets came very close to covering that 17-point spread that seemed so improbable before kickoff and displayed a strong running attack that penetrated the Trojans time and again. With Ball, Tashard Choice and Rashaun Grant in high gear, Tech exceeded 500 yards in total offense, put five touchdowns on the scoreboard for the second game in a row, and continued to make some incremental progress toward that 8-4 record that I still think is very possible.

The Jackets still have a ways to go on kickoff coverage – the opposition is averaging 30.2 yards per return, one of the worst marks in Division I-A. On the other hand, Rashaun Grant played about as consistent a game as you can play against Troy. The two times he ran the ball he gained 25 and 26 yards – hard to be in a better groove than that. I like the way Tenuta's defense continues to force turnovers as well. Let's keep those trends going against the Cavaliers.

Time for a question or two –

Q: How have the new rules on stopping and starting the game clock worked out so far?

A: With three weekends of play completed and a decent sample of games to analyze, it's obvious that the new clock rules are resulting in shorter games where fewer plays are run.

Last year, the average number of plays in a Division I-A game was right around 140, or about 70 plays per team. Tech did a little better than the average with 73.5 plays per game (38.7 runs and 34.8 passes, to be precise).

Tech has only hit that figure once this year by getting off 73 plays against Troy. The Jackets ran only 52 plays against Notre Dame and 68 against Samford for a three-game average of 64.3 plays per game. The total number of plays for both teams in Tech's first three games were 128 plays for Notre Dame and Samford, and 144 total plays in the Troy game.

That loss of five to 10 plays per team seems to be the case in just about every game, with a few exceptions. Some teams are way, way down in the number of plays they run. Louisville only ran 49 plays in its defeat of Miami, Syracuse got off only 48 plays in its loss to Wake Forest, and Army ran a mere 50 plays against Arkansas State.

It appears that the head coaches at the stronger Division I-A programs don't like the new rule, which is no wonder. A game with fewer plays gives a team with a strong defense a bit of an edge over a team that emphasizes offense, because it's less likely the defense will run out of gas in the late stages. Since each team is running 10 or more fewer plays, it should make upsets more likely because it's easier for the underdog team to shorten the game and hold on to an early lead. Who knows, maybe Navy will finally break that 39-game losing streak to Notre Dame.

As an adjustment to the loss of plays caused by the faster clock, more teams seem to be running some version of a no-huddle or hurry-up offense so as to maximize the number of snaps. This means that defensive coordinators and signal callers are going to have to get their guys ready for play a lot more quickly – which will probably result in fewer situational substitutions.

Two coaches who evidently haven't adjusted to the new clock rule are FSU's Bobby Bowden and his psychopathic defensive coordinator, Mickey Andrews. When Clemson had the ball late in the fourth quarter against the Seminoles, the Tigers called a quick snap and ran James Davis straight up the middle while FSU's defense was in the middle of a mass substitution and still trying to get all its players in position. Davis plowed through the befuddled defense before the Seminoles even knew what was happening and, 47 yards later, wound up on the FSU four-yard line. Davis scored the winning touchdown two plays later.

"It was wide open,'' Davis told sportswriters. "No one was there.''

If you're a defensive coordinator, you'd better make damn sure somebody is there from now on. There's not going to be a lot of time to shuttle defenders in and out of the lineup. Guys like Mickey Andrews and Jon Tenuta are going to have to put their best 11 defenders on the field and keep them there, for the most part.

This week's picks –

Tony Barnhart called last week's lineup of games "Shakeout Saturday" because the various matchups between two teams from the Top 25 would ensure that some of the losers got shaken out of the rankings. With apologies to Tony for stealing his punchline, this week's lineup should be called "Sucking Saturday" because of all the games that never should have been scheduled in the first place but were because of the need to fill a 12th game on the schedule.

Consider that Rice is a 30-point dog at Florida State, Cincinnati is considered 26 points worse than Virginia Tech, Buffalo betters will get at least 42.5 points for the team's game at Auburn, Oklahoma is a 29-point favorite over Middle Tennessee, and South Carolina is a 30-point favorite over Florida Atlantic. As bad as Maryland is, the Terps are still 18-point favorites over Florida International. The athletic directors at those schools should be ashamed of themselves for inflicting those kinds of lopsided matchups on loyal fans and alumni who are getting stuck for $50 ticket prices. (And yes, I include Georgia Tech's athletic leadership in that blanket condemnation for scheduling Samford.)

Kentucky at Florida (-23). The Wildcats actually have a winning record at this point in the season, which is one of the few times that has happened under the coaching of Rich Brooks, but that record surely will fall back to 2-2 after Saturday. Kentucky might be a worthy pick with the points, however.

Colorado at Georgia (-27). It has been reported that Colorado is shipping Ralphie the buffalo mascot to Athens for the game. When it comes to betting on the size of animal droppings produced by live mascots, I'll take Ralphie and lay five cowpies. In fact, I fully expect Ralphie to lay a cowpie or two on UGA the bulldog. It could be one of the few things Colorado fans have to applaud, and Dan Hawkins may regret the day he ever left the friendly confines of Boise State.

Boston College (-7) at North Carolina State. Chuck "The Chest" Amato complained about all the "non-qualifiers" playing for Akron when the Wolfpack was upset by the Zips. N. C. State fans are suffering because their school has its own non-qualifier – at the head coaching position. Boston College is still bobbing in the lower depths of the Top 25 rankings, but I think the Eagles could be this year's sleeper team that surprises everybody. It will be no surprise, of course, when the Eagle droppings fall on Amato this weekend.

Alabama (-2) at Arkansas. With Mitch Mustain taking over the reins at quarterback for Houston "Right Wing" Nutt and his Razorbacks, the game all of sudden has gotten more interesting. Arkansas isn't a bad pick at home and with the points.

North Carolina at Clemson (-16.5). Tommy Bowden and the kittycats deserve credit for banging in that winning touchdown against FSU in the final seconds, but this looks like their weekend to under-achieve again. The Tar Heels have to be better than they showed against Furman, don't they?

Wake Forest at Mississippi (-3). Brent Schaeffer at quarterback hasn't been the magical answer to Ole Miss' problems that Rebel fans thought he would be – Ole Miss couldn't even beat Kentucky, for heaven's sake. I think Jim Grobe and the Deacons steal a fourth straight victory, which also beats the spread. In fact, Grobe may be the only coach at the four Tobacco Road schools to survive this season without being fired.

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