Major Programs, Major Problems?

Wow. Well that was fast… 

We are now two weeks into the college football season, and many of the top programs are under pressure for a matter of reasons. Perennial playoff powers such as Ohio State and Clemson already have a loss, possibly leaving the door open for new teams.  

Other big names such as LSU, Miami, and Texas join them in the loss column, with the latter having a QB controversy. Florida is also having their own QB battle as Alabama comes into town this week.

Top that off with USC letting go of Clay Helton after two blowout losses and we are off to the wildest start in college football that I can remember.

Let’s dive in!! 

EARLY TESTS FAILED

1-1. Most teams are used to seeing a record like this, but for Ohio State and Clemson it is a record that is unfamiliar this early on. In recent years, if these two encounter a loss it tends to happen in January, not September. 

Being tasked with taking on a top 12 team early in the season is tough enough, but when you add in losing All-American Quarterbacks that were multi-year starters, that’s an enormous challenge. Both of those teams took that challenge on the head, and they failed. 

Clemson, who was tasked with not only replacing their QB, but also their All-American RB, opened the season facing an experienced Georgia team with a nasty experienced defense. 

New QB Dj Uiagalelei was attempting to stand in the pocket behind an experienced Tiger Offensive Line, but he was under pressure and duress all night. The pressure resulted in him being sacked 7 times, allowing the offense to never truly get in a rhythm. Finishing with 178 passing  yards, you would expect the running game to pick him up. 

Well they didn’t… Running for only 2 total yards, senior Lyn Dixon led the way with 10 yards, but those were all on one single carry. Freshman Will Shipley, who they expect big things from, had only 7 yards on 4 attempts. The Dawgs D shut them down all night, completely embarrassing the Tigers. Losing 10-3, the game’s only TD came on a 74 yard pick six. 

Now let’s move onto those Buckeyes. Undermanned Oregon came into Ohio Stadium as a two touchdown underdog, but that didn’t last long as the Ducks proved they belonged from the beginning. 

A bit different than Clemson,  Ohio State and new quarterback CJ Stroud showed up and did their share, throwing for 484 yards while the rushing attack also added 128 on the ground. So how did they lose you might ask? 

The Buckeyes simply couldn’t stop the Ducks running the football. Led by RB CJ Verdells 3 TDs, they shredded the weak and absent Defense that Ohio State trotted out there for 269 total yards. Anthony Brown, a senior Boston College transfer, added in 236 passing yards to keep the defense honest, but they were just out schemed and out manned by the Ducks speed and athleticism. 

The question now is, should we panic? I wouldn’t.  The Buckeyes have shown the ability to rebound from an early season stumble as they did in 2014 with an opening night loss to Virginia Tech. Clemson meanwhile lost that same weekend to the same Georgia team and still recovered for a successful season. 

For both of these programs, it’s playoff or bust as it usually is, and even though they have a loss, they really are in control of their own destiny. If they both win out, they will be in the playoffs, simple as that. The committee will not be able to withhold two of the sports biggest brands from their playoff with only one loss, especially to early season Top 12 opponents. 

Georgia is legit, they will be in the SEC championship game facing Alabama if their offense can just contribute a few points weekly. Oregon I see doing the same, with their own possible loss coming to a tough UCLA team in 6 weeks. They looked very dominant and physical on both lines of scrimmage, and with star DE Kayvon Thibodeaux hopefully returning soon I don’t see that changing. 

Just breathe Buckeye and Tiger fans. Get through the early season struggles and growing pains, give your young QBs some experience, and trust your 5 star talent. Neither team may face an opponent as good as the one they lost to until they possibly play each other in January once again. 

TROUBLE BREWING DOWN SOUTH

Ahh the South, where football is and will always be king. Not only for the fans, but also each University individually. Schools like Miami and Texas are top notch academic institutions that attract smart students, but they are more known for their football programs and the success they have had on the gridiron. 

Recently though, it hasn’t looked too bright at either school, with numerous coaches trying their hand to get the programs back on the right track and consistently back in the win column. For Miami, head coach Manny Diaz might be on his last straw as the man in charge. 

Following the Canes opening weekend blowout loss to Alabama, in which they were doubled up in the yardage department, they managed to squeak by Appalachian State by just 2 points, which didn’t exactly sit well with people. Being in a football hotbed like Florida, that is simply inexcusable.

Texas on the other hand is in a football hotbed of its own, and just at the beginning of the Steve Sarksian era. His job surely isn’t in question yet, but losing games at a powerhouse program like Texas is never good, especially when you manage to get blown out by Arkansas. After announcing the decision to depart the Big 12 with counterpart Oklahoma for the SEC in the summer, the Longhorns opened the season with a 20 point win over fellow top 25 opponent Louisiana. 

Everything looked to be rolling until they headed to face the Razorbacks. Just coming from the SEC and his job at Alabama, there were big expectations that Sark would be able to handle this game, especially against a bottom team like Arkansas. 333 Razorback rushing yards later, the Longhorns were standing in a SEC stadium with a L. What a pre-welcome to your new conference huh? 

While it may not be as academically inclined as the two schools mentioned above, LSU has some of the same standards on the football field. WIN. Head coach Ed Oregeon is getting closer and closer to the hot seat with not being able to get that done. Falling to UCLA and their “sissy blue”, the Tigers are back in the same spot as they usually are, not being able to pass the football. 

For all the NFL receivers they have had come through the doors and wear the purple and gold, they have only had one good QB and that’s Joe Burrow, who as you know was a transfer. In this day and age, passing the ball and spreading the field is a necessity, and I have major questions about the Tigers being able to do so. Coach O hasn’t shown the ability to get a QB of their own to develop, that’s a problem. 

All of these teams have questions to answer, but we shouldnt completely bail yet. Miami QB D’Eriq King is fresh off ACL surgery and still trying to find himself. If he looks like the King of old, The U should be just fine, though i do think it’s time to be looking for that next man because Diaz clearly isn’t the guy, coaching or recruiting. 

LSU for all the issues the offense has, we have seen year in and year out that they can still be competent with a horrific offense. But just like Miami, start the process of finding a new man. Ed is a great guy I’m sure and we all love his “Go Tigers”, but to be at a program like that in all conferences of the SEC with 2 new big dogs on their way in, it will only get tougher and tougher. Get out in front of this and nip it in the butt, find a good football coach.

Now onto Texas. As a fan of this team, I couldn’t help but be disappointed after last week’s result, but I didn’t expect this to be an easy rebuild for Sark. Only having to face one more opponent before going into Big 12 play, you shouldn’t have to worry about seeing a run defense that stout for a while. The questions at QB are concerning, they just have to get star RB Bijan Robinson rolling, and once that happens this team should be well on its way. 

WHO’S THE GUY?

Having a QB Battle is a common thing. You let two guys go at it all summer camp, let them battle it out, and pick your man heading into the season. For Florida and Texas, those battles have now extended into the season, which is never good. Head coach Dan Mullen has used a dual system to start the season for the Gators, whereas Sarkisian named a starter originally to lead the Horns before pulling him in the 2nd half of the Arkansas loss. These schools need to pick ONE man sooner rather than later to fulfill their lofty preseason aspirations. 

When Kyle Trask graduated and made his way to the NFL, people assumed Emory Jones would be the presumptive starter here in 2021. Coming into Florida as the fifth ranked Dual Threat QB recruit, many had high hopes for him before Trask ended up beating him out in a battle in 2019. Now this season, having the experience and knowledge of Mullens playbook along with the talent he possesses, the Junior should have been the guy. But enter Redshirt Freshman Anthony Richardson, the 9th ranked Dual Threat in his own class. The 6’4, 230 pounder gave Jones all he could handle in camp, extending the battle into the season. 

The Gators started off playing Florida native FAU, and Jones started that game off looking good before tossing two picks. He finished with 119 passing yards, 1 passing TD, and 74 rushing yards on 10 attempts. The passing numbers aren’t there sure, but the rushing yards would help pick him up right? Wrong. Richardson bested him in that area running for 160 yards and a TD on only 7 carries. If he didn’t go 3-8 and throw for 40 yards, the job might have been his. 

Another Florida team, the Gators were onto a tougher task in USF. The Bulls had to deal with both QBs again, and wow did Richardson pop. Throwing for 152 yards and 2 TDs on only 3 passes and adding in 115 yards and 1 TD on 4 carries, he showed his full potential to the nation on his 80 yard TD run. Jones held his own though, going 14-22 for 151 yards and 1 TD, but sadly again throwing 2 interceptions. He showed his dual threat ability just as Richardson, tallying 81 yards and a TD on 13 carries. That battle got closer and closer, which isn’t good with Alabama heading into The Swamp. 

Taking a different path than Florida, the Longhorns thought they had found their man for the season. Redshirt freshman Hudson Card was under center to start the game against the Ragin Cajuns and looked excellent, going 14-21 for 224 and 2 TDs. The former four-star recruit and number two dual threat did not necessarily show that ability but he got the job done very quickly gaining a big lead entering the 4th quarter. That’s where backup Redshirt Junior Casey Thompson entered the game, going 3-4 for 33 yards and finishing off the dub.

Thompson, another four-star recruit who was the fourteenth ranked dual threat, entered last year‘s bowl game against Colorado and after Sam Ehlinger‘s exit, and he impressed everyone going 8-10 for 170 adding in 4 TDs against the Buffalos. I expected him to enter the season as the starter after his performance, even more so considering he entered the game over Card. He has true athleticism and speed for the position, and that’s what he was known for before showing off his arm in the bowl game. That transitioned into Week 1 of 2021, and even though he didn’t start that game, he got his chance and showed just enough to get another shot. 

Following the win against Louisiana, Card was still the starter for the game against Arkansas, and let’s just say he didn’t look as sharp as week 1. Finishing only 8-15 for 61 yards, he was also sacked 3 times by the Razorback D. The Longhorn staff had seen enough in the third quarter and entered Thompson into the game. Just as he has done before, he showed out going 5-8 for 57 yards through the air. But it was his legs that dominated, as he ran for 2 TDs and 44 yards on 7 attempts. The game was far out of reach, but Thompson showed he is a spark plug and playmaker. 

As stated before, both of these teams need to figure out which one of these guys is THEIR guy, and let them get the train rolling. For Florida, protecting the ball should be key, and Jones has those four turnovers in two games and that just can’t happen again to lower level teams like that. Richardson may not have the passing ability right away that Jones does but you have to let him grow. Big plays are a big part of football, and Richardson surely provides that ability. I’m a Jones fan, and I hope he gets his chance, but I feel Richardson wins that job at some point. 

Texas is making the decision to start Thompson this week against Rice, and while I feel Card will get some run again, I think he needs some more growing and maturing. They may have both come out of high school as dual threat recruits, but only one provides that real ability in a college game, and that’s Casey Thompson. Thompson is the elder statesman, let him finish out his college career and let Card learn as a backup for next year, he is still young. 

CALIFORNIA LOVE

The University of Southern California, or better known as USC is college football royalty. Or were they? The past tense needs to be used here in the present as the Trojains have haven’t been able to be the national power they once were since Pete Carroll’s departure in 2009. Fired after Week 2, head coach Clay Helton was never qualified to be the coach of such a program. Just as Steve Sarkisian and Ed Orgeron before him, he wasn’t able to get the job done. With all the resources at their disposal, how is that possible?  What didn’t they do that Pete did? And who’s next in line?

Carroll turned the program into a Juggernaut, going 97-19 in 9 years (yes I counted the vacated wins, time to fix it NCAA) at the helm. Having stars such as Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and of course Reggie Bush in his years in Pasadena, it’s easy to see why they had success. But it goes deeper than that.  

California is one of America’s most popular states, partly due to its amazing year round weather, but also its size with it being the 3rd largest state. Being located right in Los Angeles, where the stars are always the brightest, it should be no different with the football team. Palmer, Leinart, and Bush all won Heismans in their time in the maroon and gold, so star is a bit of an understatement for these three men in college. 

Those are the names we know right away because of that award, but what about Clay Matthews, Rey Maualuga, Troy Polamalu, or Mark Sanchez, just to name a few? They were also stars and high draft picks, but they also have something else in common with the 3 Heisman winners, they are all California kids. Every. Single. One. Carroll knew how to build a program and recruit, and it was all pretty simple, recruit your own backyard. He dominated the state.

It’s not possible to get every California kid to come to play for you obviously, hell it’s not even possible to get all of the LA recruits because UCLA is right next door. But that’s not what people are asking for. They are asking for W’s, and key players in the state that would help make that happen are getting away. 

  • In 2020 they lost out on the top three QBs. They were Bryce Young of Alabama, Dj Uiagalelei of Clemson, and CJ Stroud of Ohio State…
  • In 2019 they missed out on star DE Kayvon Thibodeaux of Oregon, QB Jayden Daniels of Arizona State, and RB Zach Charbonnet, who bolted to Michigan before returning home… to UCLA. 
  • In 2018 they did amazing, getting 5 of the top 6 California recruits, but ultimately choosing JT Daniels over nearby Long Beach Poly QB Matt Carroll, who is now starting at Ole Miss and in the Heisman hunt, is a failure. 
  • In 2017 they missed out on the number 1 and 2 overall recruits, both from California. DE Jaelen Phillips went to UCLA, yet again losing to the town rival, and RB Najee Harris to Alabama. No big deal, they were just both 1st round NFL draft picks this year. 

So you get the point…

They cannot have that. You need to not only recruit the state, you need to own it. You need the stars. Their new coach needs to be a California guy or an absolutely huge name that will grab recruits attention. They need to be able to understand and be able to reach the California kids, they need to use Los Angeles to their advantage, and get the right culture established there. Sometimes it doesn’t come down to the talent on the field believe it or not, but the guys who will fight for eachother and go to war every week for each other.

Schools like Miami when they were on their runs in the 80s, and even when they were back to relevance in the early 2000s, they were mainly Florida kids. They all knew each other, they helped recruit each other there and they formed super teams. In this day and age why doesn’t that happen again? 

In the NBA, super teams are the new normal and that is what our generation is seeing and learning to do, so why not in College Football? Why wouldn’t a group of Cali kids team up, help recruit each other, and go dominate at a school like USC? Use that to your advantage, get the school back to the top, the sport is simply better when a big name brand like USC is great. 

Who will the new coach be now? That’s a great question, and I feel AD Mike Bohn is going to take his time making this decision. This is a hire he cannot mess up, or his own job will be in jeopardy and I highly doubt he wants that. He has named DB coach Donte Williams his interim head coach for the time being until he can interview candidates.  

Williams, who is a Los Angeles native, was put in place so the coordinators could keep handling their own individual jobs. He can stay on the recruiting trail as he has already made relationships with the recruits and their families, which is an advantage for the school. Odds are a new man will be hired, but this is an important transition for the team. 

Look for the names like Urban Meyer to be tossed out there, but I don’t feel that will happen. Same as Dabo Swinney, Lincoln Riley, and Ryan Day, they are already at great schools and already paid handsomely, but with a job like USC, you definitely need to reach out to them. 

More realistic names for the position are James Franklin from Penn State, Matt Campbell from Iowa State, and one of my favorites, PJ Fleck from Minnesota. Franklin is the hottest name on the rumor mill currently for the job, and for valid reason as he has done an excellent job turning around a team like the Nittany Lions. Campbell was a hot hot name last offseason, but returned to Iowa State to lead a veteran squad. Is it possible he bails now after a Cyclone loss? Now to Fleck, he is a culture changer who turned Western Michigan around before heading to the Gophers and turning them into a Big 10 power. He is an intriguing name that I would love to see there.  

Retired names like Bob Stoops from Oklahoma and Chris Pederson from Washington have been mentioned as possible names. Someone like Pederson, who never had the same resources and funds at Washington as USC does, is an interesting name and one that makes sense. Already being a face people know out west, he could tap into old recruiting friends to turn the Trojans around quickly. 

NFL names such as Eric Bieniemy, the OC for the Chiefs, and Joe Brady, the OC for the Panthers and most notably the OC for LSUs national championship team, have been rumored and are great offensive minds for college football, but idk how serious they would be about leaving the NFL for college. Bieniemy has been in the running for numerous head coaching gigs in the NFL the last 2 off seasons, so why would he go the college route when he is that close to landing one in the NFL? Or Brady, why would he leave Carolina when he is entering his 2nd season calling plays and getting a talent like Christian McCaffery back from injury? 

A lot of names for this job, definitely interested in seeing who is hired and If they can turn the once storied program around!! Keep your eyes out west and on all the big names in the sport

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