SALT LAKE CITY - What we learned - both locally and nationally - from college football this past weekend.
Utah’s Big 10 blueprint. The Utes would be looking good in the Big 10 Conference … maybe not competition-wise, but the style would fit there better than in the Pac-12. The blueprint the Utes have to use with Jon Hays at quarterback is similar to almost every Big 10 team: run the ball well, stop the run and take care of the ball. The Utes did that against Oregon State and dominated. Granted, Oregon State is not a good team, but the Utes took care of business against the Beavers.
If Utah executes that blueprint for the rest of the season like they did against Oregon State, they could finish 8-4 and should at least finish 7-5. The problem, however, is that blueprint is very narrow. If the Utes either don’t run the ball well (as we saw at Cal), stop the run (as we saw against Washington) or don’t take care of the ball (as we saw against Arizona State and all of the above), then they stand no chance.
Since when does “good” have to mean “pretty” on the football field? If you ask Vince Lombardi, arguably the greatest coach in the history of football, what he thought of Utah’s win over Oregon State on Saturday, he would have thought it was beautiful. John White IV ran for 205 yards, the Utes dominated in the trenches and the defense was more than dominant.
DON’T GET ME WRONG, however: the Utes have a long way to go and did not look good at times on Saturday night, not to mention (or reiterate) that Oregon State is a terrible team. However, in the age of the spread offense (thanks, Urban), fans are confusing pretty games with good games. If we would stop text messaging or playing Angry Birds on our iPods, we would be able to recall the days when the best teams in the country were the ones who played defense.
All you have to do is watch one Sunday of NFL football. This last one included only one team that scored 40-plus points and only five teams that scored 30-plus points. I’m not saying the Utes are a great football team, but we need to be careful not to forget that a 27-8 win can be a good win even if it’s not a pretty one.
Riley Nelson is a catch-22. What makes Riley Nelson so good is also what makes him bad at points. He makes plays out of what seems like nothing, but when there is actually nothing, his efforts lead to turnovers. Former Ute quarterback Brian Johnson was similar early in his Utah career. Johnson would try to make plays he couldn’t and would end up throwing interceptions or fumbling after a second or third effort to get two or three more yards. Johnson really took a step forward when he got smarter about the chances he took, and Nelson will likely do the same if given the same opportunities.BYU will not play another meaningful snap the rest of the year, at least from a fan standpoint. Sure, the coaches will tell you that the Cougars have an opportunity to get better as a team with more experience over the past three games of the year, but the fans will check out. The last meaningful snap of the season may have been the worst one, when Reed Hornung and Riley Stephenson failed to get together on a punt snap … the second time in the game.
Games against Idaho, New Mexico State and Hawaii, plus a bad bowl game against Southern Miss or Southern Methodist, aren’t going to get fans caring again. The Cougars may grow and get better, but the fans won’t care. Even the players are going to have a hard time with the rest of the season. Bronco Mendenhall said that at the end of the game against TCU the players wanted to keep playing. Yeah, no kidding: they know they aren’t going to play anymore the rest of the season.
Officials have to get on the same page with the helmet-to-helmet rule. Some BYU fans are blaming the loss to TCU on the poor helmet-to-helmet call late in the game. Although it was a terrible call, the Cougars still would have had to make plays to win the game. That said, all across the country, referees are not on the same planet, never mind the same page, with the helmet-to-helmet calls.
The call in the BYU game was sad. In the Utah-Oregon State game, Brian Blechen got called for the same penalty after a solid form tackle. Meanwhile, when the Utes played in Provo, BYU’s Travis Uale led with his helmet on a hit on Ute receiver DeVonte Christopher in what former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira called possibly the “most egregious” hit of the day. Although Pereira said the hit possibly warranted a suspension, there wasn’t even a flag on the play.
Football is a physical sport and, although a defenseless player needs to be protected, there’s a difference between “targeting” as the rules state and a good old-fashioned hard hit. Right now college football officials are taking away hard hits while letting “egregious” hits go unpunished.
The game of the century. The LSU-Alabama game in Tuscaloosa this week will likely be the most anticipated regular-season game of the past decade. In the AP poll, LSU ranks No. 1 in the country and Alabama comes in second. Expert prognosticators are split 50-50 on this one. LSU may have the better overall talent, but Alabama is less mistake-prone, and the team executes better thanks to better coaching. I’m going with Alabama, 28-27.… until December. As great of a game as the LSU-Alabama may end up being, the more entertaining game may occur on Dec. 3 when Oklahoma goes to Stillwater to play archrival Oklahoma State. This game is setting up to be one of the best offensive battles in recent memory. The Cowboys are second in the nation in points scored per game (49.9) and the Sooners rank fifth in the same category (46). For those who love defense, the SEC bout in Tuscaloosa this weekend is for you, but for most of humanity who love to see points on the board, Bedlam is the place for you next month.
Luck’s Heisman moment? Was the Stanford overtime win at USC this weekend Andrew Luck’s Heisman moment? It certainly had all the pomp and circumstance, and Luck’s numbers finally matched the hype coming from all the NFL scouts. Luck showed that when he needs to put the ball in the air, he can. The Cardinals tend to try to run all over teams, and they haven’t really had to rely on Luck’s arm this season … until Saturday. When his team needed him, Luck came through and kept Stanford’s national championship hopes alive.
Meanwhile, where is the hype surrounding Brandon Weeden? When the dust settles on Saturday, Oklahoma State should sit at number two in the BCS standings. Its quarterback, meanwhile, has been getting no publicity. Brandon Weeden throws for 338.8 yards per game, good for seventh in the country, while leading his team to an undefeated record thus far. Yet he is getting no Heisman talk.
Case Keenum of Houston, Kellen Moore of Boise State, Trent Richardson of Alabama, Andrew Luck of Stanford, Russell Wilson of Wisconsin and Tajh Boyd of Clemson are all getting more hype than Weeden. If that doesn’t change after the Cowboys slide into the number two slot this weekend, the Heisman Trophy competition has officially turned into a popularity contest fueled by media bias.
Trevor Amicone is the sports director at 88.1 Weber FM "Ogden's Radio Station" and host of the sports talk radio show, "Fully Loaded Sports with Trevor Amicone." Find more of his blogs at TrevorsTopTens.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TrevorAmicone