Bye weeks are always a welcome break, at least for me. For the Bruins, or more specifically Bruin fans, Rice was an unexpected, unwelcome development. Utah seemed to have satisfied the Cranks; Rice brought them back into the open. The one great truth in Bruin Nation is that those who opposed the Dorrell hiring are still opposed, and in no mood to soften their position. Somehow I suspect losses and poor performances go down just a little easier for these guys (I am not questioning their loyalty). 10-2, 2-0, and still the Bruins can't nudge past even Boise St. in the football polls. And as ignorant and revolting as he may be, Kirk Herbstreit keeps alive the national perception of UCLA as the premier underachiever. And we all know only one thing can change that, i.e., wins and impressive performances. Does that mean Oregon, Notre Dame, Cal and SC are must wins? Of course not. But it does mean playing well in all of them (preferably winning maybe a couple), along with no upset losses and nothing like a repeat of Arizona and SC.
Notre Dame is obviously beatable. Though Charlie Weis is an outstanding offensive coach, he can do nothing about their defense beyond trusting his coordinator and recruiting some new blood on that side of the football. He might want an infusion of O-line talent, too.
Today, the Oregon and Cal games look pretty even (with the edge going to the home teams, unfortunately). Still, both are winnable. And wasn't it gratifying to finally see one of these sorry Pac-10 officiating crews nailed with a suspension? I would assume that includes the geriatric replay judge up in the booth. It's past time one of these crews was made an example of.
Despite the national hype, SC is still something of a curiosity, at least to me. Dwayne Jarrett is becoming a Mike Williams-type nightmare for your typical smurf cornerback, and John David Booty looks to be a decent enough quarterback. His arm is fine and he steps up well in the pocket when facing outside pressure. But I doubt he's another Heisman. The linebackers are obviously quick, and death on sweeps, but who knows how good their secondary is - they've yet to face a competent passing game (or even a challenging offense). There are no Reggies among the freshmen, and the miraculously eligible Chauncy Washington is no LenDale White. That was not an impressive performance vs. an extremely nadless, almost castrato, Corn Husker. Bill Callahan can't possibly be long for Lincoln after such a timid, Donahuesque performance. Talk about "living to fight another day." Of course that 'Husker quarterback was awful, so maybe staying on the ground wasn't such a bad idea. But all those dead-on-delivery sweeps? How retro was that. 'Husker Nation might as well start traveling in bell bottoms and body paint while clutching their little daisies. My, how the mighty have shrunk. I mean damn all the risks and pass the 'roids, for Godsake!
Just as the Utah game loomed large in the way of Bruin rehabilitation, so also, this week, does the Washington game. The road is always an iffy proposition for college teams, especially the first trip of the year, and the Huskies are yet another unorthodox spread offense with a mobile quarterback. Isaiah Stanback is no great passer going downfield, and he does tend to turn over the ball, but it's never a happy prospect chasing one of these quick, athletic guys. I mean he might just have a birthday on any given Saturday. Give me one of those "statues" any day.
Jim Svoboda now seems well aware of the old Bruin problem of tipping off their intentions by formation. I suspect the passing game, along with defending it, is still the biggest Bruin worry, but I expect most of us are looking for Ben Olson to come up with something more like the Utah performance than Rice. The Bruins may only be a four-point favorite, but a loss in Seattle would be hugely deflating, while a win will put them on a direct track, going into Eugene, for that 5-0 we've all been wishing for.
So what's up around the rest of the country? It certainly looks as if Urban Meyer made the right choice in going south. Florida St. and Miami are about done as serious, national title contenders, which seems to leave the Gators as the last man standing tall in the state of Florida. The 'Noles early victory over Miami now looks about as significant as UCLA's ultimately meaningless streak over SC. Larry Coker is almost surely finished, while 'Noles' fans now appear to have the same dilemma as Penn St. fans, i.e., how soon can we decently dump our "living legend?" The question for Joe Pa and Poppa Bowden is no longer who will have the most lifetime wins… it's who will finally leave without having to be pushed… I wouldn't bet on either of them. This has all the makings of a future melodrama.
Ohio St. and Michigan certainly look tough, and for the obnoxious, dyspeptic Lloyd Carr it couldn't have come a minute too soon. There's no question about the Buckeyes; we'll have to wait on the Wolverines (oh, and who's got the home field this year?). West Virginia, with Steve Slaton, looks for real, and VA Tech continues to win with special teams (but how long can you count on blocked kicks to win you big games?). Unless Colt McCoy provides Texas with a passing game, how likely is it they can handle a well-balanced, nationally-ranked team? When they play Oklahoma, take the unders. Lucky they're both in the lame Big 12. The SEC powers are pretty formidable defensively but, with the exception of Florida, seem to lack quality passing games. Everyone talks about the high-scoring Pac-10; what about the low scoring SEC? Louisville looked poised to pull another Urban Meyer, Utah number, but lost their quarterback, Brian Brohm, for about a month.
Now I'm something of a slacker when it comes to marathon football Saturdays in front of the TV. I'm sure many of you could've provided a more detailed summary of the national scene than the above. In my defense, I can only say that BRO Message Board denizens Derf and Mood are particularly weak in providing for the TV needs of even wannabe, football wonks. On the other hand they're quite strong when it comes to food and adult beverages (too bad I don't drink). But even when the Bruins are on the road and I'm comfortably plunked down in front of the TV at 9:00 a.m. (I can no longer tolerate GameDay with Herbstreit and the ugly little clown in the "funny" mascot head), I admit to often, uh… almost always losing interest in those early Midwestern mismatches on ESPN (that's when I get my yard work done). I can do Notre Dame at 11:00 a.m. if they're not playing someone like Air Force, then maybe another Pac-10 game in addition to the Bruins. And, finally, if the Bruins played well, I might even do a night game if it's any good (at least the first half). Perhaps when UCLA truly "turns the corner," I'll have more interest in early-season national games. As it is, it still doesn't leave much time for the movies, which, after the usual summer of adolescent, FX crap, is almost as important as football.