Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, September 10, 2011 at 8:24 AM
It's interesting that the four teams playing in Saturday Night's TV showcase games are in very similar situations. We don't have any "returning powers" from 2010 who are focused on taking care of business as they try to put together a national championship season. Nobody like Oklahoma, Alabama, Stanford or even Boise State. All four showcase teams have something to prove...doubts about whether or not they can prove it...and the knowledge that the whole college football world is going to be watching.
We're talking about:
BYU at Texas on ESPN
Notre Dame at Michigan on ABC
Let's look at what these teams have in common:
Coming off disappointing stretches...though Notre Dame did close well last year under first year coach Brian Kelly.
Drifting away from relevance...as we're looking at four programs that were historically in discussions of the sport's powers but found themselves falling off the radar. In fact, these teams are on television tonight BECAUSE of past glory rather than recent form. Here are the stat rankings on offense and defense for these four teams last year.
73rd on offense, 24th on defense
61st on offense, 50th on defense
58th on offense, 6th on defense
8th on offense, 110th on defense
The only balanced team had average rankings in the mid 50's (Notre Dame). The best offensive team had a horrible defense (should be easy for you to guess that was Michigan). The best defensive team had a mediocre offense...and that defense seemed overrated because they didn't look like the 6th best in the nation in their biggest games (Texas, who didn't even play in a bowl). The final team averaged about 50th best with their rankings even though they didn't play a tough schedule (BYU).
Tell Brent Musburger to do a promo about that! A lousy offense travels to Austin to play a non-bowl team! Midwestern mediocrity hopes they don't get delayed by another thunderstorm! It's college football on ESPN and ABC!
These are showcase games because of past history, and the compelling quest to return to a glory that these programs once had.
Concerns at the quarterback position...with both Texas and Notre Dame having well-publicized "battles" for the starting position in the offseason...BYU trying to win with the guy who didn't impress much last year (and didn't lead a TD drive last week until late vs. Ole Miss)...and Michigan trying to see if talented but erratic Denard Robinson can fit into new coach Brady Hoke's preferred offensive style. Robinson is the most lethal of the bunch because of his legs. But, asking a quarterback to win with his legs virtually guarantees injuries.
Texas, Notre Dame, and BYU are legitimately concerned about being able to find the end zone consistently against quality competition. Michigan is more concerned about making the pieces fit together while keeping a key weapon healthy.
What's most important to us at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK is that this is a very important night for grading the teams. What we learn this evening will help us pick winners over the rest of the month and the rest of the season. Any breakout performance is going to lead to value the rest of the way...and probably one or two great underdog or small favorite spots in big games down the road. Somebody lays an egg, and the rest of the season is likely to be a downward spiral.
Here's what we learned last week about these four teams:
Notre Dame can move the ball up and down the field, but isn't smart enough yet to avoid turnovers. We ran those numbers for you back in the Tuesday edition of the NOTEBOOK. So, we won't rehash it all here. There's definitely potential for the Irish to get good quick once whoever's at quarterback can make that final push toward making proper decisions. Coach Kelly got things done in the Big East. Notre Dame is basically a Big East team these days anyway.
Michigan has responded well to new coach Brady Hoke. There's enthusiasm about the program. And, playing the first night game ever in Ann Arbor is going to have the home state rocking. They did win a weather shortened game vs. Western Michigan last week 34-10. Be careful assuming they were on their way to some kind of 48-17 rout though. Two of their touchdowns were defensive (one on an interception return, and one on a fumble return). It was more like a 20-10 game late in the third quarter in terms of the basics of moving the ball up and down the field. That's a win...but that's just matching par vs. somebody like Western Michigan. Michigan only led total yardage 288-279 when the game was called.
BYU still doesn't have much of an offense. They were held scoreless into the fourth quarter by Ole Miss last week. That's the Ole Miss defense that returned only three starters after ranking 81st in the country last year! The winning points for BYU in their 14-13 conquest came on a defensive fumble return late in the game. The defense sure was rock solid though. Ole Miss ALSO had a defensive score. BYU basically won a 7-6 game...with an impressive yardage edge of 316-208. The big question this week for the Cougars is whether or not they're physically up to the task of playing two straight physical wrestling matches in the hot and humid south.
Texas beat Rice 34-9, which probably wasn't as good as it sounds but you never know. The first drive of the "exciting" new season with Boise State's offensive coordinator, a new emphasis on the running game, and a quarterback who's supposedly ready to fulfill his destiny...went like this:
First half drives for the bounce back Horns with a "new attitude" and "a chip on their shoulders" went like this:
20-Yard TD Drive after a punt return
The Rice defense ranked 107th in the nation last year. Texas had fewer than 200 total yards at halftime. There were some nice plays. But, the Horns had to settle for field goals when they did drive the ball. The touchdown was cheap.
When Texas finally ended a long drive with a TD midway through the third quarter...it came on a gadget pass off a reverse. So...the Boise State creativity came through. But, Garrett Gilbert wasn't sparkling at quarterback. And, the running game wasn't as scary as it was supposed to be.
In the fourth quarter, undersized Rice wore down...and Texas did overpower them for legitimate long drives that turned a 20-9 lead into a 34-9 win. That allowed the Horns to finish with over 500 yards, and a full game boxscore that was over-inflated by what happened when the Owls ran out of gas.
You know who's not going to run out of gas? Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, to name a few. What about BYU? That's arguably the key to handicapping this game. If BYU doesn't run out of gas, this is going to be a defensive nailbiter much like BYU/Ole Miss. If BYU is suffering a travel/heat hangover, then Texas may have a surprisingly easy time covering the touchdown pointspread.
The two prime time battles may or may not be part of this week's TV Triple Play.. Last week Boise State and LSU were part of a 2-1 performance (Notre Dame let us down with all of their turnovers). So, we did go with the high profile TV games last week. This time around...we could also be involved in games like Alabama-Penn State, South Carolina-Georgia, Utah-USC, BYU-Air Force, Cincinnati-Tennessee, or even Oregon State-Wisconsin.
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If you have any questions, call our office at 1-800-323-4453. Back with you tomorrow to talk NFL (with a preview of Dallas-NY Jets in the Sunday Night game). It's going to be a big Saturday in the colleges. Link up with JIM HURLEY NOW to get all the BIG JUICY WINNERS!