Originally Published: September 4, 2011

Week 1 overshadowed by upheaval

By Pat Forde
ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Kickoff had come at last.

They were going to play a game in Cowboys Stadium Saturday night, with blocking and tackling and cheerleaders and marching bands and face-painted fans -- all the things that make college football such a joy to behold. LSU and Oregon, two top-five teams, were going to spend three hours slobberknocking each other for our viewing pleasure. And the worst offseason ever -- a grim slog through the sport's sausage factory of deceit, greed and mercenary behavior -- would be shoved aside at long last.

Oh, but wait. There was this story breaking about Oklahoma zeroing in on leaving the Big 12 for the Pac-12, and the Sooners might be doing it sooner than later. And they might have company from Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech, sinking the league they'd be leaving. And Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott happened to be there at Cowboys Stadium, where he would drop by the press box smiling like the guy with the biggest pile of chips in his corner of the table.

"Schools have reached out to us," he said, and it's almost certain that the right overtures will be met with the right answers.

And there went the big picture slipping off the wall and crashing down on our heads again.

A typically exhilarating opening weekend of games -- thrillers, upsets, dramatic plays, bold calls, startling gaffes, extreme weather, new faces, old heroes -- has been overshadowed by the constant upheaval. Nationwide realignment seems more real today, more imminent than ever. We may be mere days away from the beginning of the end of college sports as we know it.

The Big 12 will be sun-bleached bones on the prairie soon enough. Its surviving members will be approached by any number of leagues seeking to solidify their place in the new world order. Another round of corporate raiding could yield the result many have foreseen: four 16-team conferences at the top of the food chain.

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Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe on-the-field action at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday was overshadowed by talk of even more nationwide realignment.

It is the craziest thing. When working on a story on the six major conference commissioners this summer, I didn't find a great appetite among those men for that ultimate consolidation. A month later, it seems inevitable.

Few of the men who control the most powerful football fiefdoms seem truly convinced that evolving into a select group of mega-conferences is a good thing for the national collective. Yet under the pretense of doing what's best for them, they're taking us in that direction anyway.

Does the Southeastern Conference desperately need Texas A&M? Of course not. The league has won five straight national titles and has been the model of 12-school perfection.

Does A&M desperately need the SEC? No. It will be at a competitive disadvantage and will be leaving rivalries and relationships established decades ago.

Yet it looks as if the two will wed in the near future. Then the SEC eventually goes after at least one more member, at the expense of some other league.

Did Texas get the entire chain reaction started by being a heavy-handed Big 12 partner, alienating its peers? Certainly. And now its reach may finally have exceeded its grasp. The Longhorns might be boxed into a choice between accepting what the Pac-12's membership dictates or going it alone as an independent -- the latter a risky proposition for a broad-based athletic powerhouse.

In the ego-driven quest for power and dollars in "amateur" athletics, everything else is expendable. Tradition, geographic sense, non-revenue sports, collegiality, regional flavor, and scheduling sanity -- they're all just for lip service now. None of the feudal lords believe in those quaint concepts anymore, no matter what they say.

The conference commissioners, university presidents and athletic directors have sold the entire enterprise out to the highest bidder. "At the end of the day, everyone's competing like hell on the field and for TV dollars," Scott said.

If there is such a thing as a big winner in all this, Scott might be it. Last year the aggressive commissioner came close to pulling off the Pac-16, but Texas balked at the last minute and expansion went from only 10 schools to 12. Now Scott could get the Longhorns after all, and on his terms -- equal revenue sharing among all league members, and an adaptation of Texas' Longhorn Network partnership with ESPN to fit under the Pac-12's existing television umbrella.

"Anyone who's a member of our conference is going to be part of our network model," Scott said.

Then Scott left the press box to join more than 87,000 others in watching LSU smoke Oregon. While the game lacked the riveting plot of TCU-Baylor or Utah State-Auburn, the fans who traveled to Dallas certainly seemed to enjoy themselves and get their money's worth.

And that is the ultimate reality here: College football is idiot-proof.

We still love it, no matter how poorly it is administered. The postseason is an unsatisfying, outdated mess that resists fixing. The makeup of the conferences is shifting toward gigantism that will only serve to make the most powerful bigger, not better. The have-nots are further behind than ever. The scandals are more pervasive than ever.

Yet the game is booming with the public. We still pay big bucks for tickets, no matter the disappointment with where we have been and where we're going. We still watched it in massive numbers on TV, no matter how cynical we've become about how it all works.

A lot of greedy men have done their best to damage the sport, but they can't kill it. They can't drive the fans away. The games are too good, the competition too compelling.

You just can't screw this thing up. No matter how hard some people are trying.

Here we go again

By Matt Fortuna
ESPN.com

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- There was nothing to prepare Tommy Rees to wait 2 hours, 53 minutes during a game that no one else thought he had any stake in.

At least not in the 12 days since coach Brian Kelly sat down with him and Dayne Crist and delivered the decision that would keep the sophomore on the sidelines when the Notre Dame offense took the field for the first time Saturday, a day that ended with a 23-20 loss to South Florida.

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AP Photo/Michael ConroyFormer Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist will reunite with coach Charlie Weis at Kansas.

"Dayne will be the starter and I expect him to be the starter for 13 weeks," Kelly told reporters a day after making his choice. "We have great confidence in his ability to lead us to a championship."

Eleven days, five turnovers and a 5-hour, 59-minute game later, Kelly, Reese and Crist find themselves at the same crossroads they entered preseason practices with. A fork in the road that was only supposed to arise had one of Crist's two surgically repaired knees not withstood the challenge of live-game action.

Crist looked fine health-wise, and everyone can be thankful for that. But nearly 11 months without game action and an inability to generate any momentum on an offense that looked so good so early has re-opened the battle for the No. 1 quarterback spot.

Distraction, Tommy?

"We have no choice," the sophomore said. "As the quarterback you're the leader, and you can't have a distraction like that take over the team. It's a long season and we can't let that get a hold of us."

To read the rest of Matt Fortuna's blog, click here.

Bring on the Florida buzz

By Edward Aschoff
ESPN.com

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The scene outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium two hours before Florida's season opener with Florida Atlantic wasn't exactly electrifying.

Sure, you could tell it was game day, but there wasn't much buzz. You weren't consumed by the anticipation of the start of the season.

It was even more evident when only 88,708 showed up inside the stadium, ending Florida's streak of 137 consecutive sellouts.

But with a team such as Florida that has so many question marks, it's expected for fans to be a little hesitant and skeptical about a new year and a new coach.

Will Muschamp made his head-coaching debut inside The Swamp and his team generated all the buzz he needed in a 41-3 win over the Owls.

Muschamp, who grew up going to Gators games with his family, was the man in charge of his childhood team and while he was asked about his feelings concerning his move from coordinator to head coach, Muschamp made it all about his team.

To read the rest of Edward Aschoff's story, click here.

Michigan's work in progress

By Adam Rittenberg
ESPN.com

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There were some very good moments for Michigan's defense Saturday against Western Michigan. Linebacker Brandon Herron became the first defender in team history to record two touchdown returns in a game (and the first Michigan player to do so since Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon in 1940).

Herron's second score, a 28-yard fumble return, came after safety Jordan Kovacs leveled quarterback Alex Carder on a perfectly timed blitz. Coordinator Greg Mattison turned up the heat after halftime, and Kovacs recorded two sacks.

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Rick Osentoski/US PresswireMichigan LB Brandon Herron became the first defender in school history to record two touchdown returns in a game.

"It's a completely different scheme," Kovacs said. "We've got some more blitz packages that give me the opportunity to come down in the box and try to make a play."

The offense started off looking much like its 2010 form. Denard Robinson took off on a designed run on the first play of scrimmage, and spread elements surfaced throughout a 76-yard scoring drive. But the new scheme, outfitted with power elements, began to take root.

The fact Robinson provided only 46 of Michigan's 190 rush yards is significant. Midway through the third quarter, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint raced through a truck-sized hole for 43 yards. On the next play, Michael Shaw found a seam and raced 44 yards to the end zone.

"On the long run by Fitz, he lowered himself to go through a guy, and if you watch, you see [wide receiver] Junior Hemingway launching himself to try to get a block over the top," coach Brady Hoke said. "That was exciting to me. That was good football to me."

To read the rest of Adam Rittenberg's story, click here.

Oklahoma's surprise party

By Jake Trotter
SoonerNation

NORMAN, Okla. -- Dominique Whaley's photo is nowhere to be found in Oklahoma's media guide. Before enrolling at OU, Whaley was an NAIA benchwarmer.

Some replacement for DeMarco Murray. Some replacement indeed.

Rising out of complete obscurity, Whaley rushed right into OU history Saturday night as the top-ranked Sooners crushed Tulsa 47-14 to open the season. Consider what Whaley accomplished against the Golden Hurricane:

• The most rushing touchdowns by an OU walk-on in a single game.

• The first 100-yard game by an OU walk-on in 36 years.

• Became the second Sooners player to run for four touchdowns in his debut, with Murray being the other.

Whaley ran for 131 yards and four touchdowns on a game-high 18 carries, the final score coming on a gorgeous 32-yard scamper through Tulsa's defense.

To read the rest of Jake Trotter's story, click here.

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