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Rich Rants: Thoughts On Week 2

Mizzou might not win the SEC East a second straight year, but it’ll be a factor in the race. The Tigers are regrouping on the fly, evidenced by an underrated showing at Toledo on Saturday afternoon. The defense is nasty up front, with linemen Markus Golden, Matt Hoch and Shane Ray, and QB Maty Mauk is in complete control of the potent offense. In other words, Gary Pinkel’s coaching revival is going to continue in 2014. Remember, Georgia must visit Columbia on Oct. 11 in a game that’s a lot thornier for the Dawgs than was assumed just 10 days ago. 

There’s no way to sugarcoat or spin it—the Big Ten is the worst of the Power Five conferences after crashing and burning in Week 2. And the lack of depth and marquee non-conference wins will severely hamper the league’s quest to represent in the inaugural College Football Playoff. No one, save for maybe Minnesota, showed well, and four of the most prominent programs already have losses. Cranky commish Jim Delany stated a year ago that the Big Ten would consider dropping to Division III if paying athletes became a mandate. Well, that’d be one way to reverse the league’s recent football struggles. 

The Big Ten is dreadful. But Michigan State belongs under its own separate heading, apart from the rest of its brethren. The Spartans are not only the clear-cut class of the conference, but they also maintain a legitimate top 10 ceiling. They played very well in spurts against Oregon, well enough to believe that another one-loss season is not only possible, but likely. Connor Cook will start in the NFL, and the defense will rally now that the toughest game on the schedule is over. Would a 12-1 red-hot, 12-1 Michigan State nab one of the four playoff bids? A lot of lobbying will be needed, but don’t dismiss the possibility out of hand. 

Stanford achieved a first on Saturday. For the first time since David Shaw succeeded Jim Harbaugh in 2011, the Cardinal played as if it was poorly-coached. Stanford had the necessary talent and tempo to defeat USC at home, but it repeatedly failed to execute, which must fall on Shaw and his revamped staff. The spate of self-inflicted wounds on offense was never-ending, particularly when the Cardinal entered Trojan territory. Stanford is still going to be a factor in the Pac-12 race, but only if the team grows up and resumes playing with the polish that’s become the norm around Palo Alto. 

Mark me down as being bullish on the Florida offense. Okay, cautiously bullish. Yeah, yeah, Eastern Michigan was in the other locker room, but when was the last time the Gators scored 65 points? It was six years ago. This is the program that managed 24 points against Toledo and 20 versus Georgia Southern in 2013. Considering it was the first game in a new system, Florida exhibited some pop, especially on the ground with Kelvin Taylor, Mack Brown and Matt Jones. I believe in new offensive coordinator. And I’ve got to believe that QB Jeff Driskel has too much raw ability and too much at stake to not capitalize in his senior year. It’s t-minus two weeks before traveling to Tuscaloosa, but the Gators finally have a whiff of momentum on offense. 

Wasn’t it just last month that speculation was running rampant that Brian Kelly could be in trouble at Notre Dame? The academic scandal appeared as if it would derail more than just the 2014 season. Careers were in jeopardy. But the bleeding has stopped and the healing has already begun. The Irish have been outstanding through two weeks, handling Rice and Michigan by a combined score of 79-17. Everett Golson is in control of the offense, Brian VanGorder’s D is growing up at warp speed and the blanking of the hated Wolverines has put an unmistakable bounce in ND’s step. 

Do your best to resist the temptation to vilify Charlie Strong for Texas’ lopsided loss to BYU. The coach lost his starting quarterback and center to injury prior to the game, and a steady flow of dismissals and suspensions has thinned the two-deep, especially on the O-line. With the future in mind, Strong is reshaping his roster by purging those players who don’t fit his blueprint. It’s a natural process when one coach replaces another. Strong will be fine over time, provided fans exhibit patience, and he can attract and develop young quarterbacks better than his predecessor did. 

UCLA is in trouble. After struggling to escape Virginia in the opener, you know that Jim Mora laid into his kids throughout practice this week, challenging them to act like a top 10 program. Their response? A 42-35 win over lowly Memphis, which arrived at the Rose Bowl as a 24-point underdog. The Tigers didn’t score 35 points on anyone last season, yet they went up and down the field on the Bruin D, which is considered the strength of the team. If UCLA doesn’t get the message immediately, and start playing to its talent, it’s going to lose two or three times this fall. 

How are you going to keep two SEC West teams out of the playoff, let alone the entire Southeastern Conference? The West might be as deep as ever, and with so much youth dotting the rosters of the seven members, the division is going to be sensational by the time it’s November. Bama and Auburn are national contenders. Texas A&M is off to a sizzling start. LSU is just getting started. And the Mississippi teams are talented wild cards in the race. Of course, Georgia in the East could win the league this year, but it’d criminal if the best of the jam-packed West doesn’t end up somewhere in the top 4. 

From afar, it looks as if June Jones is just cashing SMU paychecks these days. How do you operate the Run ‘N Shoot offense, yet fail to score points? It defies all X’s and O’s logic. The Mustangs came within a 33-yard heave at the end of regulation from being blanked for a second straight game. And that’s despite playing Baylor’s backup in the second half a week ago, and rebuilding North Texas this past Saturday. At a minimum, a Jones-led team ought to be piling up offensive numbers and pressing opposing defenses in all directions. An impotent SMU is an indication that the coach’s messages just aren’t resonating any longer. 

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