ADVERTISER INFO |
CONTACT US |
Friday, December 13, 2002
Iowa State is legit, Big Ten race is heating up
By Terry Bowden
Special to ABC Sports Online
We prognosticators have been saying since the beginning of the year that there may be no undefeated teams when the college football season is over, and with two of the games elder statesmen -- Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Penn State's Joe Paterno -- napping last this weekend we got even closer to seeing that prediction come true.
Here's what else I saw in some of the weekend's big games.
Cyclones are legit, Huskers in transition
Iowa State has shown over the last few seasons that it can win seven or eight games and get to a bowl game, but with Heisman Trophy candidate Seneca Wallace at quarterback the Cyclones are like the 1999 Virginia Tech team was with Michael Vick. Wallace gives them a chance against every team on the schedule because he is so difficult to defend.
ISU is now a legitimate contender for the Big 12 crown, and I have Wallace near the top of my Heisman Trophy list and I'm dying to give it to him. But, Iowa State needs to strike while the iron is hot because players like Wallace don't come along very often. If they Cyclones want to contend for any kind of championship they need to do it now.
Many people look at Nebraska's offense, or lack thereof, and blame it for the 36-14 loss to ISU, but the fact is Wallace kept the Cyclones on the field for most of the game and the Cornhuskers had little chance to keep up. That had as much to do with the outcome as Nebraska's struggles.
And the problems run deeper than just on-field issues for NU. It is typical for people to draw conclusions too early, and there is an old saying that there is nothing less important than the score at halftime, but it looks like Nebraska is a couple of recruiting classes from solving their problems. Since the blowout loss to Colorado at the end of last season, it has become apparent that the Cornhuskers cannot line up and match up athletically against the better teams on their schedule.
Frank Solich can coach these all he wants to, but a mule can't win a race with a thoroughbred. And this problem is not just on defense, it extends across the board. Nebraska needs to find better athletes on defense, a Seneca Wallace-type player at quarterback and tailbacks that can make 80-yard runs on Sundays as well as Saturdays.
I don't know if the recruiting issues include the offensive line because the Huskers have always built their big boys up once the got to Lincoln, but they do need to spend some more time in the weight room to get those guys back up to the old standards.
And regardless of whether any of this downturn at Nebraska can be attributed to coaching, it will be. That is a fact of life in college football. Frank Solich will now earn his paycheck, just like all coaches who face criticism when teams are not playing well. If he is going to survive at Nebraska, he cannot lose confidence and he cannot panic.
But don't forget that Solich was 11-2 last year and played for the national championship last year. No one is going to get rid of him this year, but how he handles the rest of this season and the upcoming offseason will tell the tale for him. And all the fans with itchy trigger fingers should know that no coach goes from the BCS championship game to the chopping block in one year.
Devil of a win for ASU
|Seneca Wallace is making a push for the Heisman Trophy.|
I was shocked at the outcome of this game. I thought it would be a high-scoring affair, but envisioned a 48-47 score rather than a 65-24 Arizona State win. I thought ASU would be able to move the ball but how much they moved it was the surprise. Defensive coordinator Buddy Teevens said his Stanford defense was young but athletic, and if those guys are athletic I shudder at the thought of their backups.
The Sun Devils had a prolific offense against cupcakes like Eastern Washington and Central Florida in previous games, but to put up well over 500 yards against the Cardinal makes you wonder two things: what direction is Stanford headed without Tyrone Willingham and can Arizona State get a little more recognition in the Pac-10. It will take some time for me to get the ugly picture of the Devils getting routed by Nebraska out of my mind, but after this showing I will keep my eye on them.
While the outcome of this game doesn't take any of the luster off the Cardinal's trip to Notre Dame to face its former coach, it does make you doubt whether Stanford can upset the Irish. I would have given Stanford a chance before this loss. Notre Dame now has a good chance to go to 5-0, though, and a large part of the college football world would be happy to see that.
Wolverines improving but still not great
Illinois is not a great football team and seems to have never recovered from the loss of quarterback Kurt Kittner to graduation, but a 45-28 win over the Illini was still a major step in the right direction for Michigan. John Navarre has gotten a bad rap for his 4-4 road record over the last two years leading up to this game and his four touchdown passes against Illinois made for an outstanding performance.
Don't get me wrong, this is not Michigan football at its best. The Wolverines do not run the ball with the authority they need and were outrushed by the Illini, and a Lloyd Carr-coached team does not operate at an optimal level without a superior running attack. Throw in the the fact that the Michigan defense gave up more than 500 yards to Illinois and you have a a good but not great U of M team.
That means that Navarre's improvement is not jut an added plus but a necessity. I'm not convinced that the overall passing attack will be that good in the end, but Michigan can still be up there with Ohio State and Wisconsin in challenging for the Big Ten title.
The surprising thing about Illinois, though, is that the quarterback change was supposed to be the problem yet Jon Beutjer has thrown for over 1,000 yards in the last three games. The people around him have let him down and I'm not sure the Illini is mature enough in terms of leadership to defend its title.
Big Ten race getting crowded
Iowa's 42-35 win over Penn State showed us two teams that are exactly where we thought.
The Nittany Lions are up-and-comers who are going to turn a losing season into a bowl. They are not talented enough yet, especially on defense, to win the Big Ten conference championship. With upcoming road games at Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State, there is another loss or two on the horizon for the Lions.
The problem for Joe Paterno is that Penn State does not have enough athletes in the secondary, which we saw earlier in the year against Central Florida and Louisiana Tech and again last weekend with Iowa's Brad Banks throwing four touchdown passes. So while this team has shown improved speed and schemes on offense it does not have the quickness and speed on the other side of the ball to beat some of the better teams on its schedule.
Iowa, on the other hand, has maybe the most explosive offense in the country. Banks is an outstanding passer and and Fred Russell may be the most underrated running back in the conference. One would have to say that Iowa has earned the right to be grouped with Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin as legitimate contenders in the Big Ten.
ABC Sports college football analyst Terry Bowden is a regular contributor to ABC Sports Online.