Letdowns and Lookaheads Spur a Wild Weekend of College Football

Perusing the college football schedule this weekend, I was disappointed.  It seemed there weren't many good games.  In fact, only one game featured a matchup of ranked teams!  The Noon game on ESPN was Wisconsin against Fresno State.  The 3PM games featured unranked Tennessee hosting unranked UCLA, and Michigan hosting Notre Dame.  After an amazing opening weekend of college football, I couldn't help but to think about what the 3rd week would hold, featuring matchups of Georgia Tech @ Miami, Tennessee @ Florida, Texas Tech @ Texas, Florida State @ BYU, and Nebraska @ Virginia Tech.

You could say that this weekend was a bit of a letdown after the high of the opening week, and that I was looking ahead to the next week.  It seems that most of college football was as well.  

It started with Colorado on Friday night.  After losing their rivalry game in crushing fashion to Colorado State, the Buffaloes went to Toledo as favorites, and were houses by the rockets 30-3 before the end of the 3rd quarter.  The announcers remarked how Colorado was not ready to play that game.  Teams should have watched that game and seen a favored Big12 team losing to a MAC team as a wakeup call for Saturday.  They didn't.  

Saturday started with some early scares.  Northwestern needed a 50+ yard field goal to escape Eastern Michigan at home!  Wisconsin needed Overtime to rid themselves of Fresno State.  Indiana barely held off Western Michigan.  But not everyone escaped in the early games.  Michigan State hosted Central Michigan as two-touchdown favorites and were soundly outplayed, finally losing on a field goal.  To whom might the spartans have been looking ahead?  Why Notre Dame, of course, on the road next week.   

To the afternoon set, where teams still hadn't figured out that this was the weekend for average or bad teams to rise up.  West Virginia fooled around with East Carolina for a half before finally dispatching the pirates.  Could WVU have been distracted by their trip next week to a much improved Auburn team?  Texas traveled to Wyoming in a very strange circumstance (seriously, when does Texas agree to go to Wyoming?), and the #2 team in the country, a 34 point favorite, led lowly Wyoming by only 3 at half, 13-10, before finally coming to their senses.  The sloppiness they showed in the first half, however, leads me to believe they might have been thinking about revenge on Texas Tech next week, who last year dashed the Horns' title hopes.  Over on ESPN, Tennessee hosted an unranked UCLA squad in Rocky Top.  The Volunteers were a 10 point favorite over a UCLA team which had to travel cross country to play the game.  But Tennessee had 4 turnovers on 4 consecutive drives and failed to recover UCLA's 6 fumbles.  UT had only 2 drives over 60 yards, and managed only 3 yards per play.  Not surprisingly, they fell to UCLA at home, 19-15, in a game they easily could have won.  Could Tennessee have been looking ahead to something?  A quick look at the week three schedule reveals that Tennessee travels to play the National Champions in Gainesville next week in their SEC opener.  And everyone knows how much smack new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin talked about the Gators, and there is no doubt Tennessee was looking ahead to the showdown in the swamp.  

Elsewhere in the afternoon slate, Colorado State, fresh off their huge win against rival Colorado, had to mount a furious comeback just to beat Division I-AA (okay, "FCS") Weber State.  Seems the Rams were still coming off a huge game last week, but they also could have been looking ahead to their showdown with conference elite Nevada.  Favored by 12 and playing at home, UAB hosted Southern Methodist, and promptly found themselves down 28-7.  Could they have been looking ahead to their matchup with Conference Champion Troy?  Maybe so, but after being very sloppy in the opening, they tried to come back, and couldn't, falling short, 35-33.  Up in College Park, MD, Maryland hosted DI-AA James Madison.  Fresh off a blowout loss to Cal, the Terrapins probably thought they'd get a nice win easy win against James Madison, but it was anything but as Maryland needed overtime to beat the D1-AA squad.  In Tallahassee, the Noles probably had the worst set of situational factors of them all.  They lost a heartbreaker in their biggest rivalry against Miami on Monday night, then had to turn around and play after only two days of practice.  Next week they have to travel several thousand miles to the mountains to play a top 8 team in BYU who knocked off Oklahoma just a week prior.  The team they played , Jacksonville State, was easy to overlook, handled by Georgia Tech just a week before, though the DI-AA squad had  more 5* players (due to transfers from Division 1 schools) than most SEC squads.  The mother nature dumped 3" of rain on the stadium and sucked the life out.  FSU was extra sloppy, negating much of their performance.   The Noles missed a field goal, two extra points, had a turnover on downs, fumbled twice in Jacksonville State territory (including one on the 2-yard line after a 30 yard run), had a muffed punt allowing Jacksonville State to resume their only scoring drive, and also had a roughing the punter penalty to extend a Jacksonville State drive.  After trailing for 58 minutes, the Noles pulled the game out.  

"I guess you could say that [FSU took Jax State lightly.] We had two days to prepare for this team, and I think we thought that they were just going to come in and lay down and that's where."  _FSU Outside Linebacker Nigel Bradham.

But not everyone was so lucky.  Fresh off arguably the biggest win in program history over Georgia, #5 Oklahoma State started sluggish as more than two touchdown favorites, at home, against the Houston cougars.  They made the cover of Sports Illustrated, but Oklahoma State fumbled on their first drive and missed a field goal on their second.  Houston was on their game, scoring 4 TD's and a field goal in their first half drives.  Down 24-7 at the half, Oklahoma State came all the way back to take the lead at 28-24, but they were gassed, and Houston stayed sharp, beating the Cowboys 45-35 in a game where Houston just had a lot more motivation.

If that wouldn't wake up those expected to win , nothing would.  Kansas State travels to UCLA next week for their big non-conference game, but first they had to play a game this weekend.  In Lafayette Louisiana, the Rajun Cajuns were ready for the Wildcats, jumping out to an early 14-2 lead as Kansas State lumbered through three quarters of football.  A frenzied comeback gave them the lead 15-14, but like Oklahoma State, they were spent and Lafayette hit the field goal for the 17-15 win.  Can Kansas State seriously say they were focused on this game with their contest in Los Angeles next weekend?  Meanwhile, this had to be Lafayette's game of the year, as not many Sun Belt conference teams get to play and beat a Big 12 game.  

Off their huge win against border-rival Illinois, Missouri hosted Bowling Green and seemed to be enjoying last week's blowout victory juuust a bit too much, ad Bowling Green led the #25 tigers 20-7 before Missouri had to fight  back for the 27-20 lead in the 4th quarter.  A failed 4th down play would seal the win, but what's the excuse for coming out so flat in the home opener?  it seems that maybe the Tigers were riding too high on themselves.  Yet another example of a team vastly underrating their opponent, while that same opponent considered the game their Super Bowl.  

Motivation matters.  Physically, teams are typically able to turn it on when the game demands, but that's not when it matters.  It is the lack of preparation during the week due to underestimating an opponent or being unable to give that effort during the week's practice after a huge game that leads to results like these.  The need for perfection means the need to get up and prepare for every game.  Forget college teams, most pro teams struggle to prepare week in and week out.  And it's what makes college football the game we love. 

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