If Ballard is comparable in usage to James, quarterback Chris Relf is similar to Darron Thomas as well. He produces both through the air and on the ground, but Mullen and staff don't trust Relf quite as much as Chip Kelly and company trust Thomas. They attempt to protect Relf as much as possible, throwing quite a bit on standard downs but keeping things on the ground and close to the vest on passing downs.
As a result, you see a pretty good passing line -- 397 yards, 7.4 per pass, 61% completion rate, 3 TD, 1 INT in two games -- that probably gives a misleading view of the passing game's actual quality. Relf will get his numbers, but they won't necessarily come against good defenses. In this sense, Mississippi State's is sort of a Dinosaur Jr. offense: good at what they're good at (be it running the ball or unleashing killer J Mascis guitar solos), but pretty limited elsewhere (passing when they have to pass, writing intelligible lyrics). They can go from gorgeous to iffy in a heartbeat, but when they're good, they're phenomenal.
Total yards gained by East Carolina against Virginia Tech on Saturday. Prolific Pirates passer Dominique Davis averaged just 2.0 yards per pass attempt. The Tech offense struggled a bit -- Logan Thomas completed just eight of 20 passes for 91 yards -- but wow, has the Hokies' defense come to play so far this year. A reminder: the Pirates gained 345 yards and scored 37 points against South Carolina one week earlier.
Length, in yards, of T.Y. Hilton's first two receptions in Florida International's 24-17 upset (?) of Louisville Friday night. The guy has had an underground (i.e. blogger) following for a while now, but this performance (seven catches for 201 yards, two kickoff returns for 67 more) on national television gave him what will inevitably be some short-lived Heisman darkhorse bugs. Why short-lived? Because, unfortunately, the entire country will forget about him when he's roasting Sun Belt defenders soon. If he wants to make it to New York, he'll need to catch 26 passes for 585 yards against Central Florida this coming weekend. Not that he can't...
Length, in yards, of Joe Bauserman's, uh, shake-'n'-bake touchdown keeper against Akron, a run that should have resulted in automatic demotion to FCS for the Zips.
So what exactly is the reward for playing the tough schedule we say we all desire? Oregon State got a pat on the back for taking on TCU and Boise instead of UTEP and Idaho (which would have netted them a 7-5 record and a bowl bid), but they also became a national afterthought, written off as mediocre and forgotten. With the power that human polls still carry in college football, and the general homogenous treatment of wins and losses -- if you win, you move up; if you lose, you move down; opponent matters little -- the respect you earn from building challenging schedules does not equally offset the risk of losing games against those schedules. What we desire and what we reward are very different. The money involved in scheduling home cupcakes and advancing to quality bowls is too good to pass up for most teams, and Oregon State's tale is as cautionary as it is respectable.
By the way, this year the Beavers' non-conference schedule lightens up. They only have to host BYU and visit Wisconsin. Slackers.
If Utah doesn't win the inaugural South race, it won't be because they were too small or got manhandled; it will be old-fashioned reasons like "Their quarterback's shoulder is made of papier mache," or "They lost too much in the run game," or "Their secondary is so new that the safeties still have some new car smell." But with the best defensive line in the South and multiple big-play weapons in the passing game, they're going to give themselves a fighting chance.
Texas Tech's 2010 season was ... odd. The better the offense performed, the worse the defense performed, and vice versa. Neither unit seemed capable of stringing together consecutive strong performances. The defense looked strong against Texas and atrocious against Iowa State, great against Missouri and shaky against Weber State. The offense was much the same. This makes sense, of course. The defense was breaking in a 3-4 alignment with a mismatched, injury-riddled line and a terribly young secondary. The offense was simply learning to live life without Leach. It was like an American moving to Taiwan for 10 years, then coming back to the States and learning English all over again. There were extended fits and starts. In the end, there was no trend, only survival. After a 4-5 start, the Red Raiders took care of business against two lesser teams to clinch their 11th consecutive bowl game and Boston College-esque 16th consecutive winning season. That it included two identical 45-38 wins in the Cotton Bowl (against both Baylor and Northwestern) was just a quirky bonus.
Nebraska in the Big Ten. It still seems odd. For a sport so grounded in history, so dependent on legacy, this truly is a historical development in college football. Only with Arkansas' switch from the SWC to the SEC did a program with a similar legacy in one conference switch to another, and after 20 years it still almost seems as if Arkansas should be paired with Texas and Texas A&M as much as LSU and Ole Miss. Though last year's conference realignment drama have have hinted at even larger change, the shifts we did get (Nebraska to Big Ten, Colorado and Utah to Pac-12) were still rather tectonic for this sport. And the feeling-out process has only begun.
I think USF's a year away. In this year's publication, Phil Steele picked the Bulls to surprise and finish tied for first in the Big East, but I just can't really see it. They had some fumbles luck, and their YPP margin suggests they were a bit lucky in regard to efficiency. They do not return a lofty level of experience, especially on offense, and ... I just don't see it. I see a young offense lacking in receiving threats and a confusing front seven on defense, but I see a seventh consecutive bowl game, seven or eight wins and a wonderfully experienced team that heads into 2012 with big expectations.
The schedule is, to say the least, trying. The 'Canes open on Labor Day at Maryland, then host Ohio State and Kansas State before the ACC schedule truly gets rolling. Their divisional fate will be decided by trips to Virginia Tech and North Carolina in mid-October, and by the time they reach the @FlaSt-USF-BC portion of their schedule, they could be anywhere between about 8-1 and 3-6. I've talked myself into this team to a certain degree, and I see them winning at least eight games when all is said and done, but 'potential' is the watchword. If we're still talking about potential, and not production, in November, then something went awry.