College Football Nation: Don't give up on Georgia and Notre Dame
Don't be fooled by their records.
Just because Georgia is 0-2, and Notre Dame is 0-2, doesn't mean they're lousy teams, destined to struggle week in and week out from now through the start of December.
Just two weeks into the season, there remain a mere seven winless teams from the 67 schools - the six major conferences plus Notre Dame - which make up the BCS. Some of them, like Duke, Indiana and Colorado, are indeed in trouble, headed for beatings on a regular basis.
But that's not the case for the Bulldogs and Fighting Irish. Both are good teams that are among the very few to have played good opposition both weeks of the season to date.
Win or lose, they should be commended for that simple fact. But they have lost, so the gut reaction is to think they're lousy. They're not.
Georgia, in particular, has played good teams.
The Bulldogs opened with Boise State, which yet again has a team that can compete with just about anyone and is currently ranked fourth in both the AP and USA Today polls. They hung with the Broncos for a half before fading in a 35-21 loss.
Last Saturday they hosted South Carolina, which won the SEC East last year and is the favorite to do so again this autumn. Georgia was right there with the Gamecocks until the very end, finally losing 45-42 despite giving up two defensive touchdowns and one on special teams.
"When we look at the film, there will probably be some things that cause us to slam the projectors against the wall," Georgia coach Mark Richt said in the aftermath on Saturday night. "There's so many things we can't afford to do. But just as many times, we'll probably say, "That was awesome. That was awesome execution.'
"We did a lot of great things too. I think we have all the ingredients to be a really fine team, ultimately."
Georgia will get its first win this Saturday when Coastal Carolina visits. After that, the SEC schedule kicks in with a trip to Ole Miss before Mississippi State visits. Few games will be easy, but there's also a chance the Bulldogs will be favored in every one the rest of the way, even Oct 29 against Florida.
The Bulldogs have weapons, with experienced quarterback Aaron Murray leading the offense. And even though he's rumored to be in trouble if Georgia struggles this year, after going 6-7 last year, Richt is a superb coach.
He was the architect of the great Florida State offenses of the early 1990s while offensive coordinator, and he has the best winning percentage of any coach in Georgia history.
The Dawgs may be 0-2, but this season still has plenty of promise.
"There's a lot of games left to play," Richt said on Saturday. "There's no question we're still in the SEC race."
Notre Dame, meanwhile, is an independent and has no conference race to fight, but it too should be fine despite losing twice.
The Fighting Irish started with a loss to South Florida, which is a good team that might win the Big East. They went in with Dayne Crist at quarterback, and he underperformed. Coach Brian Kelly replaced Crist with Tommy Rees and Notre Dame nearly pulled off a comeback win, losing 23-20.
And last Saturday night the Irish simply lost one of the wildest and improbable games there's ever been. The offense dominated Michigan early before the Wolverine defense started to play better in the second half. And then there was Denard Robinson, the Michigan quarterback who struggled through the first three quarters but then morphed into what he can be, which is the most dynamic player in college football.
Robinson led the Wolverines to two touchdowns in the final 1:12, while Rees only had one chance in that time and led the Fighting Irish to a touchdown of its own. Another minute or two and it might have been Notre Dame that emerged victorious.
The next two weeks bring two more tough opponents - the Irish host Michigan State on Saturday and travel to Pitt next week. Both are winnable, but as with the games against South Florida and Michigan, they're losable as well. After that, the schedule eases with only USC and Stanford standing out from a slate that includes Purdue, Navy and Wake Forest.
Notre Dame needs to take better care of the ball after nine turnovers proved crucial in its losses. But that's correctable. And while the two losses can't be erased, they can be overcome. The Fighting Irish are 0-2, but could easily be 2-0. They have potential at quarterback in Rees, and stars in wideout Michael Floyd and linebacker Manti Te'o.
"I think when we came out of preseason camp, we felt like we had the chance to be a good team," Kelly said on Sunday. "So when you put that modifier in front, ‘chance to be a good team,' I can see those things in practice, I can see those things in the development of our players, but ... it's those turnovers, it's the little detail things. And until we can clean up those detail things, we can't be a good team.
"I still believe in this team. I still believe we're going to be a good football team."
Don't be fooled. Notre Dame and Georgia are 0-2. They're each down, but they're far from out.
What We Learned
Denard Robinson is the most exciting player in college football.
The Michigan quarterback is not the best player in the land, but when it comes to pure electricity, no one can match him. And what he did late Saturday night in Ann Arbor, engineering a comeback from a 24-7 fourth-quarter deficit that ended with a 35-31 win over Notre Dame, is the stuff of legend.
Robinson thrived last year as a sophomore in coach Rich Rodriguez's spread option, but when Rodriguez was fired after the Wolverines were obliterated by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl - and after three tumultuous seasons - Robinson's future at Michigan was in doubt.
Brady Hoke was hired as head coach, and Hoke figured to scrap the spread and run a more traditional offense, one not suited to Robinson's running ability and small stature. But as Hoke and the Wolverines showed on Saturday night, there's an ability to adapt coaching to the talent at hand.
There's more of an attempt to establish a traditional running game with the quarterback under center and the running back six or seven yards back, but when the offense struggled in the first half Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges lined Robinson up in the shotgun for much of the second half and the results were scintillating.
Robinson wound up with 446 total yards, 338 passing and 108 running. He threw for four touchdowns and ran for another.
If all that good were the whole story, Robinson wouldn't just be the most exciting player in the country, he'd be the best. But Robinson is not a good enough passer to be a top contender for the Heisman Trophy, or the Davey O'Brien Award given to the nation's top quarterback.
Along with four touchdown passes, he threw three interceptions, including one in the end zone in the fourth quarter that temporarily halted Michigan's comeback. And frankly, he got lucky on a lot of his completions. He threw the ball up for grabs more than once, and his receivers outfought the Notre Dame defense to make the catch.
He also underthrew his receivers repeatedly, counting on his receivers to break back better than the Fighting Irish cornerbacks, which they did save for that one almost devastating pick that cost the Wolverines at least three points.
"I think a little of both," Hoke said on Monday when asked whether Robinson had a good game against Notre Dame or a bad game. "He made some plays when we needed to get some plays made, which a guy of his capability and caliber can do, but also we need to make better decisions at times. He was the first one to come off the field on one and say, 'My footwork was bad.' So that's good to see.
"So the whole thing is a process to some degree, but we are learning every day."
The bad along with the good, however, is part of the excitement. It adds mystery. There's the expectation of brilliance, but also the fear of maddening failure.
Michigan beat Notre Dame in a classic on Saturday night. The Wolverines are 2-0 under Hoke and look a lot more sound than they ever did under Rodriguez, which bodes well for the future. This season will have its down moments because Michigan is still in recovery mode after falling hard a few years ago.
But one thing that can be counted upon week after week is the electricity brought by Denard Robinson, the most exciting player in college football.
Game of the Week
The sun will set, allowing floodlights to illuminate Doak Campbell Stadium. A man riding a horse named Renegade, dressed like a member of the Seminole Tribe, will head toward the middle of the field brandishing a flaming spear, and fire it into the grass at the 50-yard line.
The crowd will sound insane.
Oklahoma will be in Tallahassee, facing Florida State. It will be the biggest game for the Noles in years, since 2004 when they started 5-0 before losing to Miami.
The Sooners are good, potentially great and ranked No. 1 in both the AP and USA Today polls. They are expected to play for the national championship. Florida State, on the other hand, might be good. The Noles, ranked fifth in both polls, are expected to be better than they've been in close to a decade, a title contender again after years of malaise.
But that's a story that's been told before. Florida State has been hyped since that loss to the Hurricanes seven years ago, but hasn't delivered.
Oklahoma at Florida State, simply, is a referendum on the Noles.
If they win, they finally legitimize expectations. If they lose - as they did last year, 47-17, at Oklahoma - this FSU team is merely like a lot of others in recent years, an over-hyped product of past reputation.
"We're not running away," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said on Wednesday, "understanding there's a great opportunity here in front of us."
Beyond, of course, what the game means for Florida State's progress as it rises from years of mediocrity, Saturday night represents an elimination game in the chase for the national championship.
The loser is likely out, relegated to pursuing a conference crown. Because neither plays in a deep league, the loser will be unable to measure up against a potential one-loss team from the SEC or Big Ten when the selections for the BCS Championship game are made. The winner, meanwhile, becomes a front-runner for one of those two spots having survived the toughest opponent they'll play.
"We both want to remain in contention to be a champion," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said on Tuesday. "This is what you have to do. Hopefully someone gives you credit for winning these type of games. If all things are equal than at the end of the season and you've played a tougher schedule, you will get the nod."
My Top 10
1. Alabama (2-0): The Tide took care of business in Happy Valley.
2. Oklahoma (1-0): Saturday night could make or break the Sooners' title hopes.
3. LSU (2-0): Depending on what happened last night at Mississippi State (the game ended after this column was filed), the Tigers could soon be No. 1.
4. Boise State (2-0): Interesting game at Toledo Saturday night.
5. Stanford (2-0): At Arizona Saturday night is no gimme.
6. Florida State (2-0): Saturday night will make or break the Noles' title hopes.
7. Wisconsin (2-0): The offense again was eye-popping.
8. Texas A&M (1-0): One more warmup (vs. Idaho) before Oklahoma State.
Oregon (1-1): Nice recovery from the loss to LSU.
Oklahoma State (2-0): The Cowboys looked good against Arizona, real good.
Contact Eric Avidon at 508-626-3809 or firstname.lastname@example.org.