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Monday Musings: College football just raised its own bar; a perfect night at the Rock; App State is scary

A few game week thoughts and random sports-related inanity.

Hope y’all had a good holiday weekend with friends and family. Without further ado.....

1. College football gave us the sports weekend of the year.

I need a cigar and a cold shower after this weekend’s slate of games.

I mean…..I’m sitting here staring at my computer screen, trying to find any group of words that could do justice to – and adequately describe – the plethora of awe-inspiring matchups that lived up to the hype and gave us a number of upsets of teams many had penciled into the playoff 4. As my rambling, erased sentences show: I really can’t do it justice.

What college football effectively did is create a standard that it will be hard to duplicate. It was, in essence, college football’s version of March Madness. If the NCAA had its druthers as to who played and when they played, it would be remiss if it didn’t feature season-opening matchups of marquee names, one jammed in right after the next.

Rather, the schools and conferences determine the opponents, and when they play. Thus, we can only hope that the stars align and give us anything close to what we all just witnessed.

Bravo, college football. Bravo.

2. A perfect night at the Rock.

I’m a father of two young children, so the time and length of football I get to watch is directly related to who is screaming, tugging, trashing the house, or otherwise occupying my moment’s time.

As such – in addition to being out of town with family – I didn’t get to see as much of the Canes’ game as I would have liked.

That being said, in looking back at the game, the single most impressive thing to me about Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium was not on the field…..which may seem like a rather stupid thing to say after a 70-3 defanging of Florida A&M.

Fans came in droves to see the start of the Mark Richt era. An announced attendance of 60,703 looked every bit the part of it. From the legion of tailgaters to the deep Hurricane Walk to a stadium that looked like there was a butt in every bucket of the Canes’ newly-renovated home.

It was an electric, memorable night to the start of the Mark Richt era.

Oh, and there was a game, too.

For the first time since Randy Shannon’s days (or so it felt – I’m too uninspired to look up the actual stats), Miami was the less penalized team. 6 for 54 yards compared to 9 for 84. There wasn’t an overall sloppy, sluggish demeanor from the team. Long plays called back for penalties. False starts and a lack of attention to detail.

No, sir. This was a team that came out ready to play. Disciplined. Blocks held, with UM’s three-headed rushing monster each going over 100 yards. Constant pressure from an attacking defense, and a young one at that. Obviously McCloud, Quarterman, and Pinckney are going to make mistakes and go through their growing pains, but Richt had to love the first impression his young linebacking corps made Saturday. Kaaya, though a little bit off on his deeper throws, had a solid start.

And 70 points is more than any of Richt’s Georgia teams mustered. Onions.

3. App State is downright terrifying.

As I’ve mentioned more than once on here, I’m a faithful alumnus and staunch fan of both Tennessee and Miami. And I was all but convinced that the Appy State Mountaineers were going to cut the Vols’ season off at the knees, before it even began. Had it not been for the shaky leg and confidence of their freshman kicker, it might have happened.

Folks, this is an 11-2 Mountaineer squad that returned 18 of its starters. It features a read-option offense, but with a quarterback more than capable of making plays with his arms and legs.

But what impressed me the most was the strength, athleticism, and overall dog in their undersized defensive front. UT’s offensive line outweighed the App State D-line by an average of 50 pounds per player. And it was the Mountaineer defensive linemen who were beating the Vols’ offensive linemen off the ball, holding their run fits, and limiting all-SEC candidate RB Jalen Hurd to less than 4 yards per carry. They swarmed, gang-tackled. They created so much pressure that Tennessee couldn’t protect Dobbs well enough to take many shots deep down the field.

Folks, don’t sleep on this App State team. I was already worried going to Boone, that this could be a rude awakening. 70-3 Saturday, whatever our guys do this weekend, it doesn’t really matter. Miami will have to bring its A-game on 9/17, because they’ll be facing a scrappy foe in a hostile environment.

4. OU, LSU, Notre Dame still have playoff life.

Another good thing about the big-name anarchy at the start of the season is that the fallen still have a chance to regroup, run the table, and make the playoff 4.

OU and LSU were trendy favorites (OU more than LSU) to make the playoff this year, and both have legitimate, big-name Heisman Trophy candidates in Baker Mayfield and Leonard Fournette.

Both Mayfield and Fournette had decent, but far from great performances. Obviously neither are done in the Heisman race, nor are the Sooners and Tigers done themselves. Both have the marquee opponents that can leap them back up the standings.

OU lost to a legitimate playoff contender in Houston, a team that Tom Herman seems to have humming at the level where they finished last year. Not a bad loss by any means. And in less than 2 weeks, ESPN/ABC favorite son Ohio State comes to Norman. A win there would go light years towards bringing Oklahoma back into the playoff picture, and quickly.

LSU’s ineptitude at the forward pass – and inability to recruit a halfway competent quarterback (one of the biggest mysteries in all of college football, to me) – left them in a vulnerable position Saturday afternoon. On first down at the end of field goal range, Brandon Harris threw one of the worst passes I’ve seen in years – straight to safety D’Cote Dixon to seal the Tigers’ fate.

(And for the record, the cheap shot on Dixon by LSU OL Josh Boutte had damned well better result in some kind of suspension, either by Miles or the SEC. If the worst rule in the history of college football – targeting – results in a player getting the boot for making a legit football play, then taking a player’s head off when the play is clearly over had better result in more than a meaningless 57-second suspension. One is hard-pressed to find a more low-class play in recent memory in college football.)

Yet, LSU will host Alabama on Nov. 5th, possibly with a trip to Atlanta on the line. Given the reputation Nick Saban’s team carries, a win over the Tide could give the Tigers a massive boost up the rankings. Of course, that is predicated on the Tigers getting past Ole Miss on 10/22.

And the Irish, who showed serious stones coming back and taking the lead after trailing 31-14, shouldn’t take too hard of a hit for losing in double-overtime in a true road game in a nasty environment. Opportunities remain against Sparty, Stanford, and the Canes. If they can get past Miami, the schedule is favorable for a late season winning streak and a possible run up the polls.

5. Pick of the week.

Last week, I took Bama -10.5, and the Tide didn’t disappoint, blowing the Trojans of the field 52-6. Seems lame and easy, but hey, I’m going to do it again. It’s hard to do anything but pick them again this week against Western Kentucky. The line opened at a mere -24, so if you jumped on it early, kudos. It’s swelled up to -28, according to Still, this might be one of Saban’s best defensive units, and they’ve got a quarterback in Hurts who made plays with his arm and legs last week. That’s hard to plan for, especially when the talent disparity is as wide as the Mississippi River. Alabama (-28) 45, WKU 7.

Bonus pick: Duke (-5) 27, Wake Forest 20.