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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

These Teams Have Life; These Don’t

Minnesota's year started with a win over the Blue Raiders.

A few teams’ demise has been greatly exaggerated, in this space and others. A few teams have been written off for dead, whether because of a perceived lack of talent, coaching, or both; or because of an opening weekend disaster. Quite a few teams fit into both categories. On the other hand, a few teams have been sorely disappointing either because of a perceived high level of talent, coaching, or both; or because of a week two disaster on the heels of a solid performance on the year’s opening weekend. A mea culpa is in order for a few teams on the former list. A few unkind words are in place for those teams unable to match their preseason expectations.

The Good

Let’s begin with East Carolina, a team I believed would take a significant step back in Ruffin McNeill’s debut season. Now, the year’s still young — this holds for each team on the rest of this list, for that matter. Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by how quickly E.C.U. has taken to Lincoln Riley’s spread offense: the Pirates followed up a 51-point performance against Tulsa with a 49-27 win over Memphis on Saturday. So perhaps the Pirates are not headed for a 4-8 rebuilding season, as I suspected over the summer. We’ll know more over the next three weeks, when E.C.U. travels to Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Southern Mississippi.

Another plug is due for Turner Gill and Kansas, who followed up a horrific loss to North Dakota State on the season’s first weekend with an upset win over Georgia Tech. Another mea culpa is in order: though I didn’t write Kansas off for dead on Friday, I suggested that things could get worse before they get better:

If K.U. doesn’t watch out, the season might rapidly spiral out of control. There’s only one way to reverse a tailspin: win. With the way things are looking in Lawrence, it might be some time before the Jayhawks find their stride.

A win over Georgia Tech changes all that. Kansas should, if yesterday is any indication, enter Big 12 play at 3-1.

How about Maryland? I’m not so much looking at yesterday’s win over Morgan State, which while one-sided doesn’t mean anything. It’s more about the season-opening win over Navy, a favored opponent despite the perceived dichotomy in talent level. That win, along with yesterday’s, have given Maryland plenty of confidence as it enters Saturday’s game against West Virginia. If last week taught us anything, it’s that West Virginia is very beatable.

Arizona has shown no lingering effects from Sonny Dykes’ departure for Louisiana Tech. In all honesty, I was concerned that the offense would take a step back without its well-regarded coordinator. That hasn’t been the case through two weeks. The Wildcats have scored 94 points in wins over Toledo and The Citadel — not big-time opponents, but a solid start nonetheless. While the Pac-10 is loaded, it’s clear that Arizona is right there in the mix. It’s also clear that, barring an unforeseen decline, I underrated Arizona heading into the year.

Even at 1-1, I like what I’ve seen from Virginia. The Cavaliers played U.S.C. very tight last night, though only a late touchdown — with four second left — drew them within the final three-point margin. I was impressed with the defense, especially with Ras-I Dowling sidelined with an injury. Virginia also took care of business against Richmond, a good F.C.S. team, on the year’s opening weekend. Most importantly, it’s been nice to see some fire from the Virginia sidelines; Mike London is no Al Groh, though his detractors said otherwise following his hiring.

The Bad

My goodness, U.C.L.A.: your offense — not good. The change to a Pistol-heavy attack has been nothing short of a disaster, beginning at Kansas State and continuing last night at home against Stanford. The passing game? Inept. Beyond inept. Cringe-worthy. The running game wasn’t terrible last night, to be fair. Next? Put them both together. Only Washington State is keeping U.C.L.A. from being considered the worst team in the Pac-10. This is a far cry from my preseason expectations, as well as the expectations of others. Rick Neuheisel needs to get things turned around.

West Virginia needed all it could get against Marshall, including a fortuitous Thundering Herd fumble near the goal line and a pair of herculean drives from its sophomore quarterback. This isn’t that bad, after all, as W.V.U. is still 2-0. That counts for something. Yet I keep coming back to the fact that Bill Stewart does not seem to get his Mountaineers ready to go come kickoff; they came out flat against Marshall. His inability to make meaningful in-game adjustments is also a concern.

Is Mike Locksley in over his head at New Mexico? It’s hard to argue otherwise. After opening up with a 1-11 mark in his debut season — complete with a fight with an assistant coach — Locksley’s Lobos are 0-2 thus far in 2010, outscored in two games by the combined score of 124-17. That the Lobos scored 17 is cause for celebration, in fact. Lest we forget, New Mexico won nine games as recently as in 2007. Now, U.N.M. looks like the clear bottom team in the Land of Enchantment — and that’s saying something, if we take into account a weak New Mexico State squad.

The Ugly

Please, Minnesota. Please rid all of us — rid yourselves — of Tim Brewster. Three years ago, I wrote that Brewster couldn’t “coach his way out of a cardboard box,” though he could recruit with the best of them. I changed my tune a bit after the 2008 season, when the Gophers started strong, but have reverted to my earlier train of thought after his team lost at home to South Dakota — giving up 41 points in the process. Perhaps, in hindsight, it wasn’t such a grand idea to bring in Kevin Cosgrove to help run the defense. Yesterday’s loss will end up being Brewster’s downfall; barring a miraculous turnaround, it will be the beginning of the end. At least he’s consistent: in his first year, Brewster lost to North Dakota State; in what should be his last, he lost to South Dakota.

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  1. timmy says:

    Navy outgained MD by more than 200 yards, UMD’s offense couldn’t do anything after the first 2 drives, and UMD relied on Navy failing to execute FIVE times inside the 10 yard line. Not much hope there unless the other 10 teams on their schedule all decide to crap the bed too when they play the terps

    Paul: I’m with you about Navy. Love the Mids in 2010, even if they’ve been sour so far. I just like what I’ve seen from Maryland, even if it’s just the team’s mental fortitude.

  2. TG says:

    “Yet I keep coming back to the fact that Bill Stewart does not seem to get his Mountaineers ready to go come kickoff; they came out flat against Marshall. His inability to make meaningful in-game adjustments is also a concern.”

    I would argue the exact opposite regarding the last part. If anything, he, and D coordinator Jeff Casteel, have made a living off of second half changes. Watch the games, you’ll see.

    Paul: Ted, I suppose you’re right when considering the two 90-yard drives that ended up bringing the game to overtime. In a perfect world, however, we’d see West Virginia take advantage of its talent level by identifying mismatches with their speed against the opposition. I just don’t see that enough to think Stewart has a real handle on game-planning and decisions. It’s something Rich Rodriguez did wonderfully.

  3. BFahey says:

    Cosgrove’s defensive genius does it again!

  4. Burnt Orange says:

    BFahey- perhaps the Cornhuskers would consider rehiring Cosgrove before the Texas game next month. I thought he was treated very unfairly in Lincoln the last time around. We all have bad days plus I thought NU giving up 76 to KU was more a reflection of Mangino’s brilliance than any perceived shortcoming on the part of Coach Cosgrove. ( I do miss the witty repartee of Coach Mangino )

  5. BFahey says:

    I’ll fax his resume to Bo.

  6. Matt Rob says:

    I think a nice addition to the “Ugly” column should be the Atlantic Coast Conference in general – the annual collapse in the postseason is expected, but to follow that in the next season with all of your preseason ranked teams sitting at 1-1 (or worse) after two weeks?


  7. Burnt Orange says:

    On the West. Va. debate, I do not watch enough Mountaineer football to know whether the staff makes good adjustments during the game or not. What I do know is what bailed them out Friday had little to do with Stewart or adjustments by his staff. A game turning turover was a gift and then, after dogging the QB all night long , Marshall inexplicably goes back to a four man rush during much of the final two drives in regulation. Marshall also has a kicker with a 37 yd career long ? You cannot go to a suburban Texas high school game on a Friday and not see at least one and often two high school kickers who are better than that.

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