By Jonathan Lowe
September 15, 2017
For the first time in almost twelve years, we get to relive one of the greatest games college football has ever seen. Sure, Texas ain’t what it used to be. Yes, USC had to go through a rough patch of its own. But you would think that all this pomp and circumstance surrounding the 2005 national championship game would guarantee us a stirring revival, right? Eh, maybe. There are some big, brand-name matchups this week. However, this may also be the best week of the season for “Major v. Mid-Major” games. For example:
The Service Academies vs. The Midwest Titans: Please indulge me for a moment. I’d like to bring up two games that will probably be blowouts, but may provide some intrigue on this Saturday in September. The Service Academy schools have all had their flirtations with success. Sure, this isn’t the same type of success that surrounded these programs from the late 1960s backward. However, there is winning football taking place among those ready to serve the country. Navy has had the most success recently. Air Force has been consistently solid since the early-1980s. Now, even Army appears to be getting in on the fun. With last season’s Heart of Dallas Bowl bid, they made just their second postseason appearance since 1996.
All of the above success is well and good, but it pales in comparison to the rung Michigan and Ohio State are on. Yes, comparatively speaking, the bitter rivals are the best football factories of the Midwest. There are academic standards that do stand above many. However, where the Academies may be taking an upperclassmen course in Pigskin Dynamics, these two institutions are expected to deliver their doctoral theses around Thanksgiving…when they play each other. When schools from these differing groups meet, the sophistication levels aren’t supposed to be close, so to speak.
This weekend, two of those Academies (Air Force and Army) will visit the two football behemoths (Michigan and Ohio State). Of course, the home schools are heavy favorites going into these contests. But how will they handle those triple option attacks that the Academies are so known for? Could either of the visiting teams keep it close at the half? Maybe going into the 4th quarter? Whatever happens, it’s a good time for Academy football. And it could get even better on Saturday.
Illinois at South Florida (Friday): Is the Lovie Smith era showing a bit of progress? The Illini needed a late touchdown to beat Ball State in its opener. The defense shut down Western Kentucky last week. Now, it’s to the road to see where they stand ahead of the conference season. Getting halfway to bowl eligibility would be a big boost this early in the season. For South Florida, it’s a hopeful return to normalcy.
Hurricane Irma left a trail of tragedy and devastation across the state. Football is one of the lowest rungs on the totem pole of importance, but this sport was effected as well. The Bulls did not travel to Connecticut for a conference matchup against the Huskies. This week, they’ll get back on the field, despite the news of more games involving teams across the state being cancelled or postponed. Will this event provide inspiration? Will it show the signs of fatigue and disruption? In any case, let’s hope that it brings a bit of relief.
Oregon at Wyoming: The Ducks have started well in the first year under Willie Taggert. They’ve taken care of business at home. Now, this team heads to unfamiliar territory. But this isn’t the first time this program traveled inland to take on a smaller-branded school. In 2009, the program played on the Blue Turf of Boise. A lot of swagger fell short as the Ducks lost that night, 19-8 to Boise State. Oh yeah, that was the time LeGarrette Blount socked a Bronco player after the game. Ah, memories. I’d be stunned if anything that bizarre happens this time around. The Ducks better be on their guard, though.
Josh Allen had a bad effort in his showcase at Iowa City. The Cowboys couldn’t muster any offense against the Hawkeyes. Allen was smothered by the Iowa defense (23-40, 174 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs). The team got to gain some confidence with a 27-0 win over Gardner-Webb. Allen led the way with 328 passing yards and 2 TD tosses. So, with a chance to host a Power 5 opponent, can momentum filter through from last Saturday? One apparent theme? Allen can’t beat the Ducks on his own (the Cowboys are only rushing for 62.0 ypg).
Wisconsin at BYU: With their status as an Independent, the Cougars can design the schedule they like. That includes matchups that will keep them on a national stage. Sometimes, it turns out great. Sometimes, it may bite you. The latter seems to be happening right now. Yes, they beat Portland State to begin the year. That, though, has been followed up by being shutout/routed by LSU and falling at the hands of bitter rival Utah. On the heels of all that, in steps Bucky Badger.
Personally, I give kudos to Wisconsin. BYU isn’t as strong of a program as their heyday, but Provo isn’t an easy place to swipe a victory. And this situation isn’t exactly win-win for the Badgers. If the Cougars came into this game with a 3-0, the stakes would be quite better. However, the way things have developed so far, a win for the visitors doesn’t provide a lot of juice. A loss? That would probably slide them way down in the pack of contenders for the national semifinals. It’s a risk that, I believe, more colleges are actually taking (playing true road games against Mid-Majors). In that same vein…
UCLA at Memphis: When was the last time the Bruins made a trip to the Liberty Bowl? The answer (thanks to the UCLA football website) is 1976. This will be the first time that they’ve played in this venue as a true visitor. Last weekend was rather subdued for guys from Westwood. Of course, most any game is hushed after the epic comeback they had against Texas A&M. Josh Rosen put himself back in front of the nation, and hopes to continue that rebound through a Saturday morning kickoff.
We’re not completely sure about the Tigers, yet. They did hold on to beat Louisiana-Monroe two weeks ago. They didn’t play last weekend (game at UCF was cancelled due to Irma). So, they are rested for what could be a huge opportunity. In a division that features Navy, a seemingly improved SMU, and a Houston squad that won at Arizona, there could be a lot of showdowns over the conference run. A win over a storied program with a pro-“stuff” QB would keep them up with the Joneses. Again, I give kudos to the visitors for taking on the matchup. Don’t expect the scoreboard to provide any favors, though.
Clemson at Louisville: Last season, Lamar Jackson came into Week 3 looking to prove that he was worthy of the early accolades. See, rolling up big numbers against Charlotte and a rebuilding Syracuse was one thing. If he could do the same to Florida State, the second-ranked team in the country, then things might get serious. Jackson took the sport by storm after the first two performances of 2016. He had the world in his hands after leading the Cardinals to a 63-20 drubbing of the Seminoles. By the end of December, the sophomore won the most coveted individual prize in the game…the Heisman trophy. Now, less than a year later, he has a shot at even more.
Clemson is the defending national champions. They had to battle to return to the title game. They had to figure out a way to beat mighty Alabama. And, along the way, they had to hold off a game Lamar Jackson. The 42-36 thriller not only kept the Tigers alive in the playoff chase. It, for all intents and purposes, shut off the Cardinals’ path to the same goal. This win made sure that Clemson could slip up once (which they did) and still keep a hold of the lead in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. That meant a berth in the league title game, which led to a spot in the national semifinals, which led to…well, you know the rest.
Getting back to the present, the Louisville quarterback again has the opportunity to show he’s worthy. This time around, it’s not just the Heisman race that’s peaking his interests. If he can knock off a defending champ, while achieving some “get back” in the process, then we may be following him much closer through the Fall.