This is how I would rank the top teams in college football this week if I had a vote in the AP Poll:
1. USC (3-0)…Still the unquestioned top team in the country, but there are some tough road games coming up.
2. LSU (4-0)…Scary, frightening, intimidating, fast, aggressive—those are just a few words that come to mind when describing their defense.
3. Oklahoma (4-0)…Based on what we've seen thus far you can go ahead and give the Sooners the Big 12 trophy already.
5. California (4-0)…The prolific Bears meet the prolific Ducks in the game of the week nationally this week.
9. Ohio State (4-0)…So far the Buckeyes again look like the best team a very mediocre Big Ten has to offer.
12. Kentucky (4-0)…The schedule gets tougher in a couple of weeks, but the Wildcats have what appears to be their best team in decades.
15. South Florida (3-0)…If the Bulls beat the Mountaineers again this week that could catapult them into a BCS bowl.
19. Cincinnati (4-0)…This is the highest a team from Cincinnati has been ranked since the Big Red Machine days.
20. Arizona State (4-0)…Dennis Erickson's hiring is already paying huge dividends for the usually underachieving Sun Devils.
22. Michigan (2-2)…We're finally seeing the squad of Wolverines we expected to see from the beginning when they were preseason #5.
24. Purdue (4-0)…The Boilermakers have gone back to the future and rediscovered the Tiller-ball that once made them a Big Ten force.
25. Miami, Fla. (3-1)…Nice win over Texas A&M should help Randy Shannon right the ship after that early woodshed beating in Norman.
My Heisman Ballot
1. Mike Hart, Michigan…Quite simply, no player in the nation is more important to his team.
2. DeSean Jackson, California…Quite simply, no player in the nation is more versatile and explosive.
3. Pat White, West Virginia…Quite simply, he's the most feared quarterback in the nation right now.
4. Andre Woodson, Kentucky…Quite simply, he's the most dangerous passer in the nation right now.
5. Tim Tebow, Florida…Quite simply, he's the first player to really make Archie Griffin nervous about his place in Heisman history.
On the Cyclones
Even after the mind-numbing 0-2 start I still believed we hired the right coach when we handed the reins to Gene Chizik, although I questioned (I believe legitimately) what we saw in those losses. After Saturday night's debacle at Toledo in which the Cyclones invented a new way to lose – which is difficult for a program that has refined the art of losing over its history – I'm convinced of it.
Now, I know what you're thinking, you're thinking that's an odd take coming off another example of the Cyclones snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. However, when I heard what Chizik had to say on the postgame radio show afterwards, I became convinced that he finally gets what it will take to make the Cyclones a consistent winner. From day one Chizik has said the mental mindset of expecting defeat and disappointment were the two biggest obstacles he faced as ISU's head coach.
After the 0-2 start he got an idea of just what he was in for, which as a first-time head coach you can't possibly understand until you've actually been there. One longtime Cyclone football observer told me prior to the Iowa game that he sensed Chizik himself was surprised at just how far down the rabbit hole goes inside the ISU football program. He also sensed that Chizik was as surprised by the meltdowns and mental breakdowns we saw in the first two games as anyone else was. It was the first time Chizik fully understood just how fragile his team's psyche really was.
And after experiencing ISU's typical post-Cy Hawk letdown while witnessing his team hand over an 11-point lead with just over five minutes to play without Toledo's offense scoring a single point, Chizik said something we would've never heard the previous staff say.
Responding to a question from Eric Heft of the Cyclone Radio Network about trying to find positives in the loss Chizik summarily dismissed the premise of the question altogether and responded, "This is another game that we improved in but didn't win and I'm sick of telling them that already."
Translation: I don't care whether or not we improved, I only care about whether or not we won. Later, Chizik said, "I've never lost a game like this, this is uncharted waters for me."
Translation: I'm accustomed to winning programs and winning attitudes, not programs that invent new ways to lose—and I'm not going to get accustomed to losing. Nor will I allow my players to marinate in the afterglow of a moral victory.
On Saturday night Chizik, I believe, finally came to grips with just how much fear and defeat grips the Cyclone Nation. But instead of being bewildered by it, or embittered, he just refused to accept it. Period. End of sentence. No questions asked. There was no attempt to find a silver lining. No "our opponent was tremendous" crap. There was no singling out players for playing well in defeat. There's only winning and losing in Chizik's mind. As Yoda once said, "Do or do not, there is no try." Chizik clearly agrees with that mantra. In the long run that's going to serve him (and by extension us) well.
The only question is how exactly far off is the long run? Come quickly, because the next five weeks will be the most challenging Chizik will ever experience as head coach here. He's got to continue to build this team, instill confidence, and maintain accountability against a slate of opponents that will all be double-digit favorites against the mistake-prone Cyclones. If he wins any of these next five games it will be described as a major upset. So keeping this team together and on the same page as the new coaching staff while the wheels possibly come off the next five weeks will be quite the learning experience for the rookie coach.
Translation: It's going to get worse – a lot worse – before it gets better – a lot better – in the long run.