Twining’s Take on the week in sports: college football’s five-course meal

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Labor Day Weekend, traditionally the last weekend of the summer, marks the beginning of the college football season. This year, opening weekend was chock-full of intriguing storylines including great games, more realignment discussion and spectacular jersey combinations.

Before I dive into the non-game-related college football topics, I want to begin this edition of Twining’s Take with a discussion of the five-course meal that was Labor Day Weekend college football.

Oklahoma Stadium

A Five-Day Feast

Labor Day Weekend is the perfect meal to satisfy college football fans’ hunger. Five straight days of football, from Thursday to Monday night, quells the hunger pangs of even the most ardent college football fans. Looking back, each day could be considered part of a five-course meal: cocktail-hour, appetizers, main course, post-meal coffee and dessert.

Cocktail Hour featured Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson’s Heisman coming-out party. Wilson’s Badgers, No. 11 in the Associated Press’ preseason top-25, hosted UNLV Thursday night on ESPN. In a game that provided little suspense, Wilson showed he was clearly the best player on the field. He completed only 10 passes, but totaled 255 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air. He added two carries for 62 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown scamper.

Interestingly enough, without a certain NCAA transfer rule of which I approve, Wilson might not even be playing for Wisconsin this year.

Thanks to the NCAA’s one-time graduate transfer rule, Wilson can pursue a graduate degree at Wisconsin after graduating from NC State and still play out his final year of eligibility. Usually, NCAA transfers must sit out a year after transferring from one Division I school to another.

Friday’s appetizers were small in portion but heavy in taste. The matchup between No. 17 Michigan State and FCS-opponent Youngstown State was meaningless and thus all eyes were on the Texas Christian – Baylor showdown in Waco, Texas. TCU, now 3-10 in Waco since 1975, featured one of the nation’s top defenses while unranked Baylor boasted a Heisman-candidate quarterback of its own in Robert Griffin III.

A year ago, TCU finished the season as Rose Bowl champions, ranked No. 3 and undefeated at 13-0. But, during the off-season, they lost starting quarterback Andy Dalton, starting wide receiver Jeremy Kerley and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon all to the NFL. This year, the school’s final year in the Mountain West conference, TCU’s defense was again expected to be one of the best in the country while the offense was expected to struggle initially.

When the dust settled Friday night, Baylor, led by Griffin’s stellar play, shocked TCU by first jumping out to a huge lead, then giving up 25 points and the lead in the fourth quarter, only to complete the comeback and upset the Horned Frogs 50-48. Griffin completed 21-of-27 passes for 359 yards and five touchdowns, did not throw an interception and was only sacked once. He rushed 10 times for 38 yards and even caught one pass for 15 yards.

Both thecocktail hour and appetizers featured two potential Heisman finalists, but the main course, which included the top matchups of the weekend, was still to come.

There were 58 games Saturday. The first that captivated fans’ attentions was defending champion Auburn hosting unranked and heavy-underdog Utah State. Utah State, having a full off-season to prepare for this one game, came out hot and took an early 21-7 lead. As the game progressed, the Aggies continued to give Auburn fits. Late in the fourth quarter, Utah State faced a crucial fourth-and-one inside the Tigers’ five yard-line.

Initially, the Aggies took a five-yard delay of game penalty to give the kicker a better angle at a chip-shot field goal. At least that’s what everybody expected. Instead, most likely taking advantage of the assumption they were setting up a field goal Utah State faked the field goal and completed a pass to the three yard-line for the first down.

Following the catch that was upheld by a booth review, I jumped on Facebook and declared it the biggest catch of the weekend, given the enormous upset it supposedly foreshadowed. Instead, after the Aggies scored a touchdown to take a 10-point lead with just over two minutes to play, Auburn came storming back and showed why they are defending champs.

Clearly boasting the better coaching staff, Auburn scored a quick touchdown and then recovered an onside kick. Now, only needing a field goal to tie, Auburn picked apart the timid Aggie defense, marched down the field and scored the winning touchdown. It was a heartbreaking loss for the underdog Aggies but also a disappointing win for the defending champs. For football fans, though, it was a great was to start the day.

Ryan Lindley

In one of the nightcaps, San Diego State hosted and handily beat the Cal Poly Mustangs 49-21 in Rocky Long’s SDSU head coaching debut. During the rout, Aztec senior quarterback Ryan Lindley, considered a top NFL quarterback prospect, tossed four touchdowns and became SDSU’s all-time career leader in touchdown passes. Lindely’s 71st touchdown, thrown to Colin Lockett late in the third quarter, put him just ahead of Todd Santos who threw 70 between 1984-1987. By season’s end, Lindley could very well approach 100 career touchdowns.

The two marquee matchups of the weekend took place Saturday night; Boise State vs. Georgia in the Chick-fil-a Classic in Atlanta and Oregon vs. Louisiana State at Cowboys Satdium in Arlington, Texas. Unfortunately, neither game lived up to the hype. Oregon looked sloppy on offense and Georgia couldn’t quite compete with the high-powered Boise State offense

Boise solidified itself as a serious national title contender after the 35-21 victory. The Broncos have thrived on the big scale recently and it seems a lesser foe often provides each season’s hiccup. This year, Boise will have a more difficult time going through the Mountain West Conference but should still come out unscathed and playing for the BCS championship.

It’s very likely that if Boise does make it to the title game their opponent will be LSU. Playing without starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson or linebacker Joshua Johns had little effect for the Tigers. After recovering four Oregon fumbles and winning 40-27, LSU received 17 first place votes in the AP Top 25 and jumped two spots in the rankings to No. 2. Oregon, formerly No. 3, fell out of the top-10 to No. 13.

We’ve seen in the past that a week one loss can completely eliminate a team from BCS title contention. Last year, with two undefeated team ahead of it, TCU was the odd team out. This year, Boise State started strong, but now needs to keep winning and hope Oklahoma, LSU or Alabama lose at some point this season.

Sunday and Monday were what you’d expect from post-meal coffee and dessert following Saturday’s enormous main course. The last Sunday before the NFL takes over featured only three games, none of which provided much excitement. No. 24 West Virginia beat Marshall 34-13 and No. 8 Texas A&M dismantled Southern Methodist 46-14.

On Monday evening, dessert was a surprising treat when Maryland, featuring the debut of head coach Randy Edsall and some of the most-talked-about uniforms recently donned by a college football team, against scandal-ridden Miami, playing without eight projected starts following NCAA suspensions.

Played in a torrential downpour, Maryland looked like a serious challenger for the ACC title while Miami played much better than expected given its tumultuous offseason. As neither a fan of Maryland or Miami, all I was looking for was a competitive game that wasn’t decided until the final minute. A day later, though, and most people aren’t even talking about what Maryland was able to do on the field, instead talk centers around how Maryland looked on the field. That brings me to my second topic.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Taking a page out of Oregon’s book, Maryland showed off its newest jersey designs which utilized two different elements from Maryland’s state flag, black and yellow checkers and a red and white floral design. Oregon, with Nike in its back pocket thanks to alum Phil Knight, became the first school to unveil mutiple outlandish jersey/helmet combinations. Now, Under Armour CEO and Maryland alum Kevin Plank, a former Terrapin football player, is following Oregon’s lead and producing unique, some-might-say outlandish, jerseys.

A lot of people criticized Maryland’s jerseys. Those same people continue to bash on Oregon’s jersey combinations and anything else teams try that is new or unique. Frankly, who really cares. This idea that jerseys have to be uniform and boring and anything that breaks the mold, particularly if it is visually unappealing, is ludicrous. Teams should, at times, be able to wear any unique jersey combination they want. It’s really about appealing to the fans and the players. As a former player and current fan, I can’t get enough of the “ugly” jerseys. I think teams should be able to wear multiple jersey combos throughout the year if they choose and throw-back jerseys should be always be available.

We have no idea what Maryland is going to wear the rest of the year, but it it’s anything like what we saw on Monday, I can’t wait. Yea, you might now like them, but remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Post-realignment Realignment

In the age of social media and internet dominance, sports reporting has become more about who said something first, than who said it best. Ever watch Jeopardy with a friend who gets mad when you don’t say “what is” prior to blurting out the correct answer?

Yea, I’m pretty sure proper Jeopardy-answering protocol isn’t required in the living room setting and your friend is most likely just mad because you said the right answer first.

The same scenario continues to play itself out on the national scale and it causes rumors to become “facts” and then later fallacies. But a week later the same rumor crops up again. See, the desire to break news has become so important that reporters can utilize social media to break stories the moment they hear the news; that is, if it is even true.

Texas A&M

A couple weeks ago it was reported that Texas A&M had informed the Big-12 that it planned to leave for the SEC. Naturally, Texas A&M officials claimed this was untrue and the SEC went as far as saying they would not be adding the Aggies as the conferences 11th team. A week later, it was reported, once again, that A&M had sent a letter to the Big-12 formally requesting a release. The only problem is that A&M officials denied a letter had been sent to the conference and the SEC had not relented on its decision to not add a 11th team.

This begs the question: why is A&M so intent on leaving the Big-12? T. Boone Pickens, Oklahoma State’s biggest booster, claims the Cowboys are eventually headed to the Pac-12. Bob Stoops, coach at Oklahoma, says he already envisions college football without the Red River Rivalry. It appears some of the biggest college football programs are still intent on building a super-conference. But what is the point?

By combining schools into 16-team conferences, it is just going to push the middle-of-the-pack teams further to the bottom and make it more difficult for teams outside the big conferences to challenge for a title. Unless this results in a full-scale college football playoff, similar to FCS, than I am against all this conference realignment.

Photos courtesy John Flinn and SD Dirk via Flickr and StockExchange.

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