One of the things about living in Las Vegas is that you sometimes miss out on the seasons changing.
If I still lived back east or in the Midwest where I went to school, October is the time of year you definitely start to break out the long sleeved t-shirts, sweatshirts and jackets—maybe even wear a fleece vest a few days during the month.
Yesterday in Las Vegas, it was 83 degrees during the day.
Yeah, I do miss the leaves falling. But I’ll take the lack of fall and the hot summer for the relatively mild winter.
What does this have to do with college football?
Well, as the calendar page turns from September to October, it is time to start focusing on those traditional rivalries, think about homecoming opponents and count the magic number as your team reaches bowl eligibility—or is eliminated from postseason contention.
With that in mind, let’s look at four newsworthy stories from this past week in Four Downs:
1) Injuries Pile Up
It all started before the season even began, when Oklahoma lost tight-end Jermaine Gresham to a knee injury.
The OU lost Sam Bradford in the season opening loss to BYU.
It’s all gone downhill from there for lots of teams.
It came to a head last weekend when Oregon lost cornerback Walter Thurmond for the season with a knee injury.
Baylor has lost dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin for possibly the rest of the year with a knee injury.
Tim Tebow suffered what looked like a severe concussion against Kentucky.
Hawaii just lost quarterback Greg Alexander on Wednesday night to a knee injury against Louisiana Tech.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I know, I know: Injuries are a part of the game.
It just certainly seems like we’ve lost a lot of big names this season already.
2) Mike Leach bans Twitter, suspends one of his players
After a gut-wrenching loss to Houston last Saturday, apparently there is discord in Red Raider nation.
Mike Leach stripped offensive guard Brandon Carter of his captaincy and suspended him indefinitely for violating team rules (an always nebulous suspension).
Leach also banned the use of Twitter by Red Raiders players after linebacker Marlon Williams asked, according to sources, why he was still in a meeting room when, “the head coach can’t even be on time.”
Williams' Twitter account was closed and the post deleted soon afterwards.
Carter had also expressed frustration with how the season was going on his Twitter page after the game, although I do not think that the suspension had anything to do with the tweet.
It seems to me that Coach Leach, who is nothing if not loquacious, might be overreacting a bit to the fact that the team has lost two straight games.
It’s not like they’ve lost to awful teams; Texas is a national title contender and Houston is a pretty good team, having already taken down Oklahoma State.
Tech gets a chance to right the ship this week facing New Mexico at home. New Mexico is also dealing with their own internal problems right now, since an investigation is ongoing involving Mike Locksley punching one of his assistant coaches in the face during a staff meeting last week.
3) LeGarrette Blount—Returning to a field near you soon?
While it is not definite yet, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly has left the door open for running back LeGarrette Blount’s possible return to the Ducks this season, although the reinstatement could not happen before November 7th.
Blount was suspended after losing his composure after the Ducks were defeated by the Boise State Broncos on September 3rd.
After the loss, Blount punched Boise State linebacker Byron Hout in the face after Hout taunted Blount during the post-game celebration. Blount also had to be physically restrained by coaches and security as he was escorted back to the Oregon locker room.
The educator in me says that this can be a good thing: Blount only gets reinstated if he meets certain conditions laid out in a contract that Kelly drew up and Blount signed last week. The onus is on Blount to demonstrate that he belongs back on the field by what he does academically, behaviorally and in a football capacity.
This situation has provided Blount with a second chance, provided that he achieves the goals laid out before him. It is a teachable moment.
The cynical, sports writer side of me looks at this and says: Oregon just thumped Cal 42-3, leaving a bit of an opening for the Ducks to claim the Pac-10 title. Oregon’s biggest hurdle on the road to Pasadena is the home game against USC on Halloween. USC has struggled recently in the state of Oregon, losing their last three games played in the state.
If the Ducks get past the Trojans on Halloween, it might be smooth sailing to the Rose Bowl. A trip made even smoother by having a fully committed LeGarrette Blount as a fresh battering ram late in the season.
Is this actually the line of thinking being employed by Oregon? I don’t know. Like I said, this is the cynical side of me talking.
But it’s not completely implausible, is it?
4) New Bowl Game at Yankee Stadium
In the House that the taxpayers of New York City built, someone has thought that it is a good idea to play a bowl game matching up the fourth place team from the Big East and the seventh place team from the Big 12…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Or actually, considering what the weather can be like in my hometown that time of year: brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
I mean, I know that these new stadiums cost a lot of money, and that you’ve got to get revenue in somehow, this matchup makes almost no sense.
Well, okay, the Big East makes some sense, between Rutgers and Syracuse (assuming Doug Marrone can get the ‘Cuse turned around soon).
But the Big 12?
I mean, really?
Look, if the Yankee Bowl (such an original name) needed a Midwestern conference to play the Big East, they overlooked the most obvious one:
The Big Ten.
Penn State is a four hour drive from New York City. There are lots of New Yorkers that are alumni of Big Ten schools (Northwestern, Ohio State, Michigan).
That conference seems like a more natural fit for that game than the Big 12.
I fear that this bowl game will be short lived.
Besides, we really—really!—don’t need any more bowl games between 6-6 teams.
Speaking of .500 records, I went 3-3 last week in my picks, bringing my season total to 16-8. This week’s Pick Six:
LSU 27, Georgia 24: Georgia’s defense has been suspect in its two conference games, although the Bulldogs have won both of them. LSU’s scoring defense has been very good, but the offense needs to run the ball better.
Georgia quarterback Joe Cox has been inconsistent this season but has played well when the defense has struggled. LSU will probably give him fits, and a late interception will set LSU up for a game winning field goal to score a road victory for the Tigers.
Penn State 31, Illinois 6: Penn State got flat out embarrassed by Iowa in prime time last week. After a great first pass by quarterback Darryl Clark, the Hawkeyes kept him off balance the rest of the game.
Illinois, however, does not have Iowa’s defense. Take that fact and couple it with a struggling offense and this game has the makings of a blowout. Look for the Nittany Lions to use this game to try and get their offense back on track and the Illini are the right team at the right time for the boys from State College.
UNLV 31, Nevada 27: These two schools plain don’t like each other. Nevada’s season started with a lot of promise, but they have struggled mightily on offense, turning the ball over with surprising frequency. Oh, and Nevada’s defense still struggles against the pass, as quarterbacks Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame and Blaine Gabbert of Missouri riddled Nevada’s secondary for huge numbers.
UNLV can throw the ball with the best of them, but their defense has struggled to make plays at times, and could not contain Nevada quarterback Colin Kapernick at all in last season’s game in Las Vegas. The Rebels have only won two road games during Mike Sanford’s tenure, but look for them to make it three and reclaim the cannon due to a late Nevada fumble.
Michigan 38, Michigan State 27: Yet another team struggling under the weight of increased expectations appears to be Michigan State. Their season is probably hanging in the balance heading into this game, as a potential dark horse candidate for the conference title will look to avoid going 1-4 and keep their season from spiraling out of control.
Michigan looks to be right on track, if not a bit ahead of schedule. True freshman quarterback Tate Forcier continues to make plays when it counts, showing a maturity that is not normally expected from true freshman. A well balanced running game that is averaging 240 yards a game helps immensely.
The defense is a little suspect for the Wolverines, though, giving up 33.5 points per game against non-MAC schools. I don’t expect this contest to be as close as the games against Indiana or Notre Dame, but it will be contested well into the third quarter.
USC 21, Cal 16: USC’s defense is playing excellent against the run. The strength of Cal is running back Jahvid Best. The immovable object will meet the unstoppable force in this game on Saturday night.
Cal’s defense got lit up to the tune of 524 yards of offense in a 42-3 devastation at Oregon last Saturday. While the Trojans have sputtered on offense at times this year, and Cal’s defense will surely turn in a more inspired effort at home in this game, I think the rumors of USC’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated. Much like the Ohio State game, it won’t be pretty. But the Men of Troy will get the job done.
Oklahoma 27, Miami 21: In a unique scheduling quirk, the University of Miami will step out of conference play for the first time this season.
Their opponent? Oklahoma, who will be without Sam Bradford yet again after there was some speculation that he might be ready to go for this big game.
Oklahoma has rebounded nicely since the loss to BYU, pitching two straight shutouts. Okay, one game was against Idaho State, but holding Tulsa’s offense scoreless quite a feat, indeed. Landry Jones has filled in valiantly in Bradford’s stead, exhibiting a quick release and some good instincts.
The “U,” on the other hand, struggled mightily in inclement weather in Blacksburg last week, getting easily handled 31-7. Quarterback Jacory Harris went 9-for-25 passing last week for 150 yards, and lost 28 yards rushing as well. It was an all around brutal game for the Hurricanes.
This game will serve to put a spotlight on the ‘Canes for the second week in a row. I think that they will be better prepared this time around and will execute better in the friendlyish confines of Land Shark Stadium. But I think OU has slightly better talent (even with their green quarterback) and will come out ahead in the end.