Sep 1, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide receiver Amari Cooper (9) is interfered with by Michigan Wolverines cornerback J.T. Floyd (8) in the fourth quarter at Cowboys Stadium. Alabama beat Michigan 41-14. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
A conversation about everything important (and some not so important) things that happened in the first weekend of the college football season.
Tjarks: Well you weren't kidding about Alabama humbling Michigan this weekend, that was about as competitive as one of their games against a Sun Belt team. The Crimson Tide were bigger and faster at pretty much every position on the field. TJ Yeldon looks like he'll be an absolute superstar; it doesn't hurt that he's running behind an O-line with a 6'6 310+ five-star at each tackle and a former Outland Trophy winner at center. What was the most impressive part of the win to you?
Funk: I can't say it was particularly surprising, even at 41-14. Honestly, the most impressive part of the whole ordeal is how over-hyped Michigan was coming into this year. But in all seriousness, the thing that stood out most was the talent disparity between the two teams. I'm a little reluctant to expand that to an SEC vs. Big Ten generality, but that will probably be the conversation the shellacking inspires. The big, powerhouse programs at the top of college football are just playing a different game than everyone else -- from the coaching on down to the talent. I think that's a theme we'll see going forward -- that divide between the very top programs and everyone else, regardless of conference.
Tjarks: I think this is where you see the effect of oversigning. The stats are kind of incredible: from 2006-2010, Alabama signed 113 players and LSU signed 105. That's a lot more than 85. That's why those schools have such extraordinary depth: they don't let non productive players stay on scholarship. I used to have a real problem with that, but you don't go to a program like that with any illusions about what's going on. Does John Calipari over sign at Kentucky? No, he's just selling the chance to hone your game in an NBA factory. If you would like a more conventional collegiate experience, there are plenty of schools who can offer you that.
Funk: While the hard-lined way of thinking is probably fair, those figures still aren't acceptable in my view. Maybe that is the way it is, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's something that should be allowed. Really the ugly side of college football, mortgaging futures and what not. But moving away from that debate, the scholarship thing is huge. Interestingly, USC has scholarship restrictions and still came in at number 1 in some preseason polls. Granted they'll be one of two legitimate football teams in the whole conference, but strength of schedule alone doesn't a preseason number one make. I'd be interested to know their signing numbers.
Tjarks: Lane Kiffin clearly knows how to recruit, in all aspects of his life. He must be a charming dude in person. That's why I'm curious about Tennessee this year. Since their state is pretty talent poor, the bit they run is they draw a circle of 600 miles through Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama and Mississippi and call it "their state" of recruiting. There are a lot of athletes in that fake state. They've also got a 6'6 QB with a cannon for an arm in Tyler Bray. That's the key to beating Alabama: you need the athletes to field a physical defense that can stop their run as well an excellent passing attack that can beat them vertically. Very rarely do you see college teams with both.
Funk: I don't know how much of that "state" is theirs under Derek Dooley. Not buying him as a leader of a big-time program. However, he did lose one of the most talented receivers in college football and still have another one left, so they've done something right in recruiting. Bray was a much needed revelation after the Vols struggled at the position for several years. Plus with the way they handled a decent North Carolina State team shows they may be ready to play. My perception of Dooley as a rigid football ignorant might be wrong after all ... but probably not. I just don't see them being on the level of Alabama, LSU or even Georgia.
Tjarks: Yea you do have to figure that Alabama and LSU come into that Nov. 3 game undefeated. Winning in Baton Rouge at night is ... not going to be easy. Two other teams I'm going to keep an eye on are Clemson and Michigan State. They're both big and athletic on defense and they've both got some very entertaining offensive playmakers -- Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins (once he returns from suspension) and Andre Ellington on Clemson and Le'Veon Bell (6'2 245) and Dionte Sims (6'5 285) at Michigan State. You almost never see with Bell's size who also have his quickness and burst with the ball in his hands. He's a guy who could make a run at a Heisman if a few games bounce their way.
Funk: I'm high on Zack Mettenberger, the Georgia transfer who lost an extended battle to Aaron Murray before getting kicked off the team for groping at a bar. That's definitely the biggest game of the year, and it could be as much about gameplan as talent. Clemson and Michigan State were impressive this weekend, especially Bell - he had some shake even at his size. If the quarterback play is there, watch out for them as a darkhorse in the Big Ten. If that happens, he could wind up being this year's Montee Ball. Clemson is a team I really want to like, but can't get all the way there. The offense is as good as anyone's in the country, but the defense has to show up this year. The main problem, though, is their conference. There's not a lot of other super-high level teams, but there are a lot of deceivingly good teams -- North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, etc. -- and there's bound to be at least a couple slip-ups. It's not the SEC, but some very intriguing teams that could be more than road bumps.
Tjarks: I can't say I know all that much about the vagaries of the ACC football schedule, I'll just have to lean on an expert on such topics like yourself for that. In general, I think people overrate the chance that teams will go undefeated in the season, usually there's at least one 1-loss team in the title game. I don't think there are going to be any such teams from the Big 12 this year though. There are questions around every top team in the conference and they're all going to have to play each other, which should have the effect of knocking each other out of the national title race.
Funk: I'm inclined to agree with you, especially after OU struggled to put away UTEP and the fact that UT starts David Ash at quarterback. A lot of questions around the league, and unless OU can pull it together, there's not another candidate to get to the title game -- even though Geno Smith and the Mountaineers were impressive in their first game as a Big 12 team. The teams in the area all have holes, just not quite as many as Dallas' own SMU Mustangs.
Tjarks: I'd hesitate to call SMU "Dallas' own" in any real sense of the word beyond location. In terms of being shameless frontrunners, I'd put Dallas fans up there with anyone. How many players do the Mustangs get out of local high school powers like Cedar Hill and Southlake? They may actually get a lot; I'm too lazy to check. The point is, if someone like Matt Stafford had committed to SMU coming out of Highland Park (a five minute drive at most), people would be incredulous. If they would like to be relevant again, I'd suggest having a few boosters hire some community outreach directors for their law firms/real estate brokerages/natural gas concerns. The Pony Express can ride again!
For more clean thoughts on college football, stay tuned to this SB Nation Dallas thread throughout the 2012 season.