football-fbs flag | September 10, 2014

Lessons learned

Third-and-long-640-360 Jameis Winston (left) and Kenny Hill (right)

Each week there are a plethora of hot topics that fans discuss, argue over and agree to disagree about -- including within our staff. This week, these are the three questions our panel has gone back and-forth over as Week 2 approaches.

1. What was the biggest takeaway from Week 1?

 ♦ Texas A&M will win the national title. No wait, it will be Georgia. I’m sorry I mean it will be Auburn. Check that I wanted to say it will be Oregon. I know one thing for sure – Florida State won’t repeat after that mediocre display against the Pokes. There is no sweet ‘16’ in the cards for Bama fans, not after barely getting by the unranked ‘Neers. Are the sons and daughters of the Roll Tide calling for Lane Kiffen’s head yet? Have people talked the Bucknuts off the ledge after Ohio State’s less-then-stellar performance against America’s global force for good? What I’m trying to say -- in all seriousness -- is that everyone is overreacting after Week 1. One week is not a trend. If your team won but didn’t look like the 1972 USC team while doing it? Don’t worry about -- it is a long, long season. All the teams that lost -- and that will happen every week to one of the team’s playing in the game -- they have this week. 

 ♦ My biggest takeaway is the fact that there is no clear best team, or not even a clear top two or three. Florida State lost 11 first-place votes in the AP poll, and the non-Florida State first-place votes are split between six other teams. This tells me that there are a lot of different ways people are interpreting Week 1. Especially in this first year of the College Football Playoff, with the pool of contenders bigger than ever, there are so many possible playoff teams to keep an eye on. Yes, Florida State and Alabama won, but with far less conviction than we would expect from a No. 1 or 2. I think if there is a perfect season to start a playoff in, it is this one, because right now, I don't see any team that will soar above the rest too easily.

 ♦ College football is back. Everyone is talking about Todd Gurley and Kenny "Trill" Hill as Heisman candidates, Florida State is temporarily dismissed as a legitimate title contender and we've already had an improbable comeback by LSU against Wisconsin. These wild swings week to week are the fun of college football and while Craig's right -- it all evens out eventually -- it's this up-and-down nature of the game and reactions to it that we've missed.  Nobody knows anything even if we pretend to after Week 1. However, that’s not going to stop us from trying. Most interestingly is how the way we discuss team’s fortunes and if they’ll ‘make’ the College Football Playoff; we’re a little more forgiving now and don’t condescend nearly as much. But this might be because the Southeastern Conference's vice grip on college football has oh-so-slightly loosened. (Told you we were going to pretend like we know everything about college football already.)

Craig Thomas: Football is supposed to fun. College football is the best way one can spend a Saturday.

Eric Vander Voort: Exactly, Brendan. We always expect games to answer our questions, but the early weeks usually just present more questions.

Brendan Bures: Yes, many questions reveal themselves after Week 1.

2. Florida State and Alabama withstood challenges from unranked teams in Week 1. With that in mind, is there too much stock put into preseason polls?

Eric Vander Voort: Yes, absolutely too much stock is put in preseason polls. As I alluded to in the previous question, there is not much of a difference right now between No. 1 and No. 6. In a perfect world, I would think there shouldn't be polls until at least October. We simply don't know enough right now. But people love polls (read: people love to argue about polls), and they aren't going anywhere.

Brendan Bures: Nah. We need to put more stock into them. Without these grand expectations before the season, it's not nearly as fun when Texas A&M dominates South Carolina if both teams didn't believe they'd win. Seriously, what's the point of watching unless hoping against better judgment this year is the year for your team?

South CarolinaQuarterback Dylan Thompson (center) and South Carolina struggled against Texas A&M.
Craig Thomas: Last year, Alabama and Ohio State were going to play each other in the national title game. People were saying that since July. Something happened to Alabama -- I can't remember what it was -- maybe someone from Auburn knows. So yeah -- something always happens. But if we didn't have preseason polls people wouldn't have anything to yap about. We love yapping. It's as American as college football.

Brendan Bures: But look how close that prediction came to reality! If not for some flukes and some Spartan upsets, that likely wouldn't have happened. College football tests us in this way; it's why it's so much fun.

Craig Thomas: Eric -- you want people to wait until October!?

Eric Vander Voort: Since the AP preseason poll started in 1950, only two teams have gone as the wire-to-wire No. 1. Things change. Sure, Texas A&M may feel good about "beating a top-10 team" now, but what if South Carolina gets nowhere close to the top 10 the rest of the season?

Craig Thomas: Do you hate puppies as well? I don't care about your "facts."

Brendan Bures: Then South Carolina didn't play up to expectations. It doesn't mean those expectations were wrong, it means something happened along the way that nobody predicted. If we don't feed into the hype, college football would be an experiment in simulation. And who cares about that?

Eric Vander Voort: I think it does mean those expectations were possibly wrong.

Craig Thomas: I feel there is limited hype in college football.

Blake SimsLane Kiffin (left) and Blake Sims (right)
Brendan Bures: I guess we should just live in Eric's expectation-less world where everything is...meh.

Eric Vander Voort: We don't have much to go on before a season -- which players are returning, what coaches say about them in practice -- but once they start playing against teams, that's when we know what a team is really made of. I'd rather let a team make an impression on me than have preconceived notions that turn out to be wrong. Florida State and Alabama are very good teams, but what have they done this year to deserve being No. 1 and No. 2? Nothing.

3. Which games will have your attention this weekend?

Craig Thomas: My head tells me to watch USC/Stanford and Michigan State/Oregon. But my love of the game tells me I have to watch Michigan and Notre Dame. Because there are no two teams on the face of the planet that say "We are college football" more then the Maize and Blue and the Golden Domers. I love everything about them. The bands, the fans, Touchdown Jesus.

Brendan Bures: Outside of the obvious Michigan State/Oregon, I think USC/Stanford and Va Tech at Ohio State. Va Tech at Ohio State has a chance to be a legitimate upset, considering the Hokies' stingy defense led by their top secondary unit going against a Buckeyes offense led by J.T. Barrett. He looked good, not great, against Navy, which doesn't have the athleticism to capitalize on Barrett's mistakes, but Va Tech does.

Eric Vander Voort: I'll talk about the obvious. Oregon-Michigan State is easily the game I'm most excited for this weekend. This is a huge chance for Michigan State to make a statement -- not just about for itself, but about its conference. The Big Ten has taken some (deserved) criticism for its performances against other conferences in recent years. But I think this Spartan team has a strong enough defense to slow the Ducks down, and they'll go into Eugene and come out with a win. This is the highest-ranked team Michigan State has played since 1996. If it can pull out a win against Oregon, the playoff becomes a real possibility. If not, with Braxton Miller out and Wisconsin's loss to LSU, the Big Ten could end up out of a spot.

Craig Thomas: Back to the game people are going to pay attention to: This is the last time Michigan will play Notre Dame. Back to Eric's point -- Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has had like six months to plan for this game. The Spatans defense will be nasty on Saturday.

Eric Vander Voort: This isn't the last time Michigan will play Notre Dame. It's the last time for the forseeable future, but I would think a bowl would jump at a chance at that matchup if they can pull it off. Still, that game will be a fun watch. Two entertaining quarterbacks.

Brendan Bures: Eric's right. If Michigan State loses, they're likely out of the College Football Playoff. If Oregon loses, they might be able to make it back by winning out the gauntlet that is the Pac-12 and the Ducks' schedule.

Craig Thomas: There you go showing your East Coast bias. What about USC and Stanford? Everyone always sleeps on Stanford. David Shaw is probably the most underrated coach in big time college football.

Brendan Bures: And Stanford always ends some Pac-12 team (Oregon) who would otherwise (Oregon) be playing in the title game (Oregon). Yet the Cardinal shoots itself in the foot sleeping on some middle-of-the-pack team. Can't give Shaw too much credit there. Gotta get up for the duds as much as the big games.

Eric Vander Voort: Those two teams rolled in Week 1, and it seems like a magnet for classic games when they have gotten together recently. I think a win for USC there could be huge for the program, signifying that the Steve Sarkisian era brings reason for confidence among USC fans. One more I want to mention -- Eastern Washington at Washington. The Eagles are a serious threat to challenge North Dakota State for the FCS title this season, and Washington didn't beat Hawaii too convincingly last week. Eastern Washington beat Oregon State last year -- can they pull off another FBS upset?

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