Some answers, and many questions, as college football inches forward


North Carolina State’s loss is Wisconsin’s huge gain: quarterback Russell Wilson. (Andy Manis/AP)
John Feinstein
Columnist October 2, 2011

The college football regular season inched past the one-third mark on Saturday — five weeks down, nine to go before the Bogus Championship Series announces its matchups — and, while a number of questions have been answered, there are many more that no doubt will keep people glued to their seats or their TV sets between now and Dec. 4.

Here are some of the questions and answers, although many of the answers are still incomplete.

John Feinstein is a sports columnist for The Washington Post and also provides commentary for the Golf Channel and National Public Radio. View Archive

Question: Can Virginia Tech backdoor its way into the so-called national championship game courtesy of a soft nonconference schedule and being part of the ACC — which, if it were a baseball player, would have been nicknamed “Mr. August” by the late George M. Steinbrenner because that’s when ACC football traditionally has its best moments.

Answer: No. You don’t just replace a quarterback like Tyrod Taylor without some hiccups, and the Hokies’ offense was exposed by Clemson on Saturday. The special teams mistakes were surprising, but the biggest issue was the complete inability of the offense to get anything done. The Hokies might still end up in the ACC championship game but that’s a little bit like making the NBA or NHL playoffs for them. Yawn.

Question: Will North Carolina State Coach Tom O’Brien be at the very top of Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema’s Christmas card list?

Answer: He should be. To be fair to O’Brien, he was in a tough position last spring when quarterback Russell Wilson told him he planned to skip spring practice to play baseball and was not sure he would return to football in the fall if he had a good summer playing in the Colorado Rockies’ farm system. O’Brien was caught in the middle because his other experienced quarterback, Mike Glennon, had told him he probably wouldn’t return to be Wilson’s backup.

O’Brien named Glennon his starter and Wilson left. He hit .228 in the low minors and landed at Wisconsin, where he was eligible right away because he had his undergraduate degree. Voila!—the Badgers are legitimate national contenders and Wilson is a Heisman Trophy candidate. Their toughest remaining game in the regular season should be at Ohio State, but the Buckeyes aren’t exactly the Buckeyes this year. They’ve already been tattooed with losses twice. (Sorry.)

Question: Which is worse right now in college football, the quality of officiating or the quality of TV announcers?

Answer: Very tough call, but let’s give it to the officiating because it is far more important. The number of missed calls, overzealous flags and overruled calls by the replay officials — who seem to be called in on about half the plays — is out of control.

It’s clear that officials have been ordered to throw a flag at anything that even looks like a late hit or unsportsmanlike conduct. Navy got burned by that approach when quarterback Kriss Proctor scored to put the Mids up 34-28 in overtime and took a step toward an Air Force player, clearly jawing with him. That was a mistake but it was also an emotional moment in a tense game. No matter. The flag flew and Navy’s extra point from 35 yards was partially blocked. Air Force scored, kicked the extra point and won, 35-34. That said, Navy lost the game by falling behind 21-3 and 28-10, not because of an overzealous official.

A far worse call — or non-call — also didn’t affect an outcome but was absolutely baffling. Late in the first half of Alabama’s 38-10 rout of Florida, Gators quarterback John Brantley was sacked and fumbled. Brantley and an Alabama lineman wrestled for the ball and the Alabama player finally came up with it. The minute Brantley fumbled, the referee tossed his beanbag to mark the spot of the fumble. When the Alabama player picked the ball up, he began backpedaling, clearly because the play was still in progress.

The Alabama player, confused at first, finally ran into the end zone. By then, another official had (apparently) told the referee he thought Brantley was down before the fumble. The play should at least have been reviewed. The referee nodded and then told the crowd: “Timeout Florida,” explaining nothing. Even CBS’s Verne Lundquist said, “Well, that doesn’t tell us much, does it?”

It didn’t. As it turned out, Florida suffered the most as a result of the mystery call because Brantley was sacked again and injured on the next play.

The announcing doesn’t affect outcomes, thankfully, but can someone explain this one from ESPN’s Mark Jones: “It took great courage on the part of [Clemson Coach] Dabo Swinney to hire Chad Morris, didn’t it?” (Morris only had one year of college experience when Swinney hired him as offensive coordinator.) Courage? It takes courage to hire an assistant football coach?

Question: Did the Old Ball Coach (a.k.a. Steve Spurrier) prove himself a genius once again by giving quarterback Stephen Garcia more lives at South Carolina than a cat, suspending and reinstating him about every 15 minutes for five years?

Answer: Absolutely not. Saturday was Garcia’s chance to pay Spurrier back for all those last chances. Down 16-13 to Auburn with 1 minute 41 seconds and two timeouts left, Garcia had every opportunity to lead a memorable drive to at least tie the score. He didn’t, and only a very questionable roughing-the-passer call (see “officials are awful” reference above) even made it close. Garcia is no Steve Spurrier.

Final question (please, hold your applause): Can Ralph Friedgen fit under a bus?

Answer: Amazingly, he can. After declaring on Tuesday that, “I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus,” Randy Edsall, Friedgen’s successor at Maryland, threw Friedgen so far under the bus that he actually fit underneath with room to spare. Tire marks on his face and all, Friedgen found time to burn his Maryland diploma. Lucky for Edsall, the schedule produced Towson as Saturday’s opponent.

For more by the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.

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