College football doesn’t have any logical break. There are games every weekend, and if you want to look backward or forward you just pick a time, sit back in your La-Z-Boy, tap your imaginary pipe on the side table, and analyze away.
Last week, Mizzou finished its non-conference schedule with a 4-0 record. This is a bye week, followed by the opening, on October 4th, of the Big XII conference schedule. Seems a perfect time to draw some early observations, musings that’ll morph into firm denials later.
OBSERVATION 1: Chase Daniel is the leading Heisman Trophy candidate.
Ballsy, I know. But I’m not sticking my neck out here, given the prima facie evidence. The media agree that Daniel’s the man to beat, and the media vote on the Heisman Trophy--therefore, the kid from Southlake, Texas stands as the frontrunner. Who are these faceless media? Or, as they say in Oklahoma, mediuhs?
Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune called Daniel the “Heisman Trophy frontrunner.” Too local? ESPN.com called him, in a more clever turn of phrase, the “Heisman Trophy frontrunner.” Gene Menez of SI.com lists Daniel #1 on “Heisman Watch.” Heismanpundit.com, the internet bible of Heisman punditry, lists him #1.
Daniel came in fourth in the Heisman voting last year. So what happened?
Two of the players finishing in front of him graduated. Tim Tebow, last year’s winner, is putting up far less gaudy numbers—probably because the offense surrounding him decided to suit up. Concurrently, Daniel improved. He’s thrown 12 touchdowns for every interception. He led the offense to scores on 13 consecutive possessions—12 of them for touchdowns. He saved a nun falling from the upper deck. On top of all that, he enjoys name recognition from his invite to New York for the Heisman ceremony last year. Chase stood there, smiled, and looked, basically, like a nice young man in a suit—a perfect strategy for a 2008 run.
If the Tigers win the Big XII championship, Daniel wins the Heisman in a landslide. That's a big if.
OBSERVATION #2: Scheduling 20-point underdogs is a double-edged cream puff.
I blame this one on former Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. He pioneered scheduling non-conference throw pillows to pad his team’s victory total. Just look at KSU's first four opponents of 1995:
Guys we Found Sleeping in the Park University
Hey, it worked. K-State went to eleven straight bowl games.
Mizzou took on a bona fide BCS Bowl team in week one, followed by three teams they were favored to put in intensive care. They swept all 4 games, but in struggling just a bit against the 34-point underdog Buffalo last weekend, Mizzou watched its ranking fall from 5th to 6th in the AP poll. Conclusion: choose your poison. Schedule a vicious non-conference slate and lose a game or two, or schedule grandma’s quilting bee and lose the respect of bitter, sedentary sportswriters.
OBSERVATION 3: Oklahoma is scary.
There’s a scene in the Coen Brothers film Raising Arizona, in which the hero, H.I. McDunnough, describes a nightmare about a villain he’d soon meet:
“I drifted off thinking about happiness, birth and new life, But now I was haunted by a vision of... He was horrible. The lone biker of the apocalypse. A man with all the powers of hell at his command. He could turn the day into night and lay to waste everything in his path. He was especially hard on little things-the helpless and the gentle creatures. He left a scorched earth in his wake, befouling even the sweet desert breeze that whipped across his brow. I didn't know where he came from or why. I didn't know if he was dream or vision. But I feared that I myself had unleashed him…”
That, in a nutshell, describes the Oklahoma Sooners. No team beat the Missouri Tigers in 2007—no team came especially close—except for Oklahoma, who did it twice.
Once again, the Sooners are destroying everything in their path. The Sooner offense looks every bit as good as the Tigers’. Their defense flies around like the ’85 Bears. And their quarterback has put up numbers that rival Chase Daniel.
Oklahoma plays in the Big XII South. The Tigers won’t play them this year unless they meet in the Big XII Championship. After four games, the two teams look like they’re on a collision course.
If there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s that Oklahoma looks frightening almost every year, and they usually manage to lose a game or two, probably due to the fact that they are, at their core, arrogant rumps. This attitude, embodied in their Nixonian coach Bob Stoops, might be their Achilles ass.
H.I. McDunnough beat his nemesis using the cinematic equivalent of a hail mary pass. Will the Tigers manage to exorcise their nightmare as well? At this point in the season, the only reason to think that they might is a) the Tigers may be better than they were in 2007, and b) the Big XII Championship will be played in Kansas City.
OBSERVATION #4: When everybody talks about your offense, you’d better work on your defense.
On Tuesday of the off week, Gary Pinkel traveled to Briston, CT to appear on several ESPN programs. The shows’ hosts gushed over him, and Pinkel did his turn on the catwalk it in a natty blazer and mock turtleneck (no visor, somewhat shockingly). The fawning consisted almost exclusively of questions about the offense.
That makes sense, since the Missouri offense leads the nation. But their defensive secondary has performed erratically. Much of that can be attributed to the Illinois game. Some can be explained by the absence of William Moore, Mizzou’s best defensive player. Nonetheless, out of the top ten NCAA quarterbacks in terms of passing efficiency, six play in the Big XII. The Tigers will either fix the problem or find themselves trying to outscore conference opponents all year.
Other earth-shattering events occuring at this time
With 49 days to go before the presidential election, Wall Street imploded. Merrill Lynch got sold in a fire sale for a markedly un-bullish price. Lehman Brothers collapsed. The housing market teetered on disaster, causing the U.S. government to stage the largest scale fiscal intervention since the Great Depression. In a blink, the economy became the central theme of both presidential campaigns. Barack Obama and John McCain squared off in Oxford, Mississippi, a debate which McCain tried to postpone because of the economic crisis (his campaign's view) or because he was a scairdy cat (the Democrats’ view). In a stunning debate development, both sides claimed victory. The highlight of the evening occurred when McCain became annoyed and muttered under his breath, according to different sources, either "horseshit," "'course not," or "I buried Paul."
Amidst the economic meltdown, pennant races raged and footballs were kicked off. And on a warm Thursday night in Corvalis, Oregon, the unranked Oregon State Beavers poked a hole in the USC Trojans, the number one team in the country. Prior to the game, Southern Cal possessed a clear path to the National Championship. Afterward, about 10 teams did.