Week 7 Post-Amble: Resurrecting SMU, K-State Under Control, Coaches Out of Control


A few short years ago, SMU football resided in the abyss. The Death Penalty lived up to its billing about as much as possible without actually killing off the program, rendering it a complete non-factor for two decades. June Jones’ arrival almost immediately undid the futility of the previous 20 years, and Saturday his Mustangs made their most authoritative declaration yet.

SMU became the first team to score more than 21 points on a UCF defense in 10 games en route to a 38-17 victory. The Mustangs jumped ahead of the reigning Conference USA champion early and maintained their edge throughout. The win came just one week after knocking off the previous season’s Rose Bowl Game winner, TCU. Not a bad pair of wins for a program that just three years ago, won half as many games the entire season.

This season, SMU has won five straight and scored 30-plus in four of them. The Mustangs won’t replicate Jones’ feat of reaching a Bowl Championship Series game like his final Hawaii team, by virtue of a Week 1 loss at Texas A&M. Yet realistically, this SMU team could be better all around than Jones’ Sugar Bowl-qualifying Warriors of 2007. Although prolific, J.J. McDermott isn’t putting up numbers comparable with Colt Brennan’s, but the Mustang offense packs more of a running punch than that Hawaii team’s. Zach Line has 13 touchdowns and 665 rushing yards. That’s eight and nearly 300 more respectively than the Warriors’ top rusher accrued the entire 2007 campaign.

Jones’ commitment to a multifaceted offense has confouded opponents, including the TCU and UCF units that finished in the nation’s top five a season ago. UCF came into Dallas the country’s best overall defense, yet could do nothing to slow the Mustangs. While in the last two seasons SMU has won some big games including the 2009 Hawaii Bowl, and last year earning a place in the Conference USA championship, Saturday’s dismantling of the Golden Knight defense was the most declarative statement Jones has made yet.

The Mustangs’ aforementioned C-USA title game appearance was spoiled when UCF held SMU to just six points. Saturday’s 37 showed just much improved this team is from a season ago. A conference championship is the next milestone for this program to reach, and it’s very doable.

Indiana State’s rout of Western Illinois lifted the Sycamores to 4-2 on the season, and ISU running back Shakir Bell rushed for 213 yards to fortify his Walter Payton Award candidacy. The Sycamores’ season mirrors SMU’s in certain way. ISU was a program in the basement of the Championship Subdivision for many years. In fact, the four wins this year’s Sycamores have match the program’s complete win total from 2004 through 2009.

ISU snapped a nearly three-year losing skid two seasons ago when it defeated the same WIU program the Sycamores routed Saturday. After the win, I interviewed ISU head coach Trent Miles for NCAA.com. Miles said that a losing attitude had been the program’s hallmark when he came in, and turning that around was the greatest challenge.

Then-ISU quarterback Ryan Roberts said something to me for that same article that resonates each time the Sycamores win now: “Good things are happening here.”

A coach that assumes control of a long struggling program has the unenviable task of getting people to buy into what he’s trying to accomplish. That includes his players, the fan base and administrators/boosters. Patience isn’t a virtue many associated with football have, but it’s worth nothing that the combined record of Jones at SMU and Miles at ISU through their first three years combined is 3-32 (two seasons from Miles, one from Jones). It took some very painful growing pains to get where these programs are, but the struggle was worth it.

Kansas State hadn’t fallen to the levels of despair SMU and ISU have battled back from, but since its Fiesta Bowl season of 2003 K-State has ranged from meh to outright bad. The Ron Prince era bottomed out in a 5-7, 2008 that included a five-game losing streak and 2-6 Big 12 finish.

Now, Bill Snyder didn’t need to pull K-State from the depths he had upon his original tenure, taking over for Stan Parrish who won just twice in three seasons. But having turned 72 less than two weeks ago, Snyder certainly isn’t the spring chicken he was in 1989. Nevertheless, he’s coaching the resurgent Wildcats like a spry young man. K-State showed off its versatility by defeating Texas Tech in a shootout. The Wildcats came into Lubbock reliant on a slower, ball control-based style more akin to the football of Snyder’s youth than the explosive spreads en vogue in the Big 12.

Stat sheet stuffing Seth Doege went for big yards to lead Tech; Collin Klein went instead for big plays. He rushed for three touchdowns and was effective passing at 67 percent completions. It wasn’t so much that K-State beat Tech at its own game as the Wildcats perfected what they do well. KSU didn’t reach its national best 35 minutes of possession, but at 33:33 kept the ball away from the explosive Doege long enough to establish the tone. If the Wildcats can maintain that blueprint against other quick strike opponents like Oklahoma State and even Oklahoma, K-State could be on its way to something very special.

With the victory, K-State avoided the fate of other surprise unbeatens Georgia Tech and Michigan, both of which were stifled defensively en route to loss No. 1. Mike London used the bye week to game plan for the Wreck. His defense allowed the Ga. Tech offense to get the nickel-dime gains via its option, but stifled the big play. Conversely, the Virginia offense flipped the script on the Yellow Jackets, beating GT how it likes to hammer out foes: with a hearty helping of the rush to eat the clock and yards. Suddenly, the 4-2 Cavaliers are among the ACC’s many early surprises and on track for a bowl bid, and GTech is left to regroup.

Clemson was faced with a similar fate, getting down at Maryland by three scores before the Cats’ Kiddie Corps of Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington and Sammy Watkins erupted in the second half. That leads us to…

Heisman Hunt

Trent Richardson is ramping up his production, and as a result becoming the Heisman frontrunner most expected him to be. Alabama’s superb back devastated Ole Miss to the tune of 183 yards and four touchdowns. Seventy-four and one of those came on a highlight reel, possible award-defining rush reminiscent of the Roadrunner blazing past 11 Wile E. Coyotes.

Finalists from 2010 Andrew Luck and Kellen Moore did nothing to suggest they won’t return this season. Moore decimated Colorado State with a ridiculous 26-of-30 passing for 338 yards and four touchdowns. Luck overcame a slow start at Washington State to finish with 338 yards and four touchdowns as the Cardinal offense continued to roll. Stanford’s broken the 40-point barrier in five of its six games, and the one time it didn’t was just a field goal short.

Clemson’s Watkins had the kind of marquee performance a Heisman candidate typically needs against Maryland. His two receiving touchdowns give him eight, more than Robert Woods or Justin Blackmon. Granted Watkins has played one game more, but Watkins also returns kicks, which separates him from other upper echelon wideouts. His duties on special teams gave Watkins is definitive play, and the eventual game-winner in Saturday’s rally. A true freshman is at a decided disadvantage, but there’s no disputing all his contributions to the surprising Tigers. He’s averaging 104 yards per game, No. 8 in the FBS, and is returning kicks at a 30.8 yard per attempt clip (No. 6 nationally).

This week’s dark horse candidate is Washington’s Keith Price. We all know the Heisman is partially a team award, and by virtue of its double-digit loss at Nebraska, Price is likely eliminated. Nevertheless, Price is among the nation’s best quarterbacks statistically with 21 touchdowns to just four interceptions, the same touchdown:interception ratio as Moore. Only Robert Griffin III has more passing scores. Price gets a nationally televised opportunity to prove himself this next week against Stanford. However, the key to this game is out of Price’s hands — UW’s defense is giving up nearly 29 points per game and will struggle to slow Luck and the Cardinal.

Coaching Conduct

Jim Harbaugh’s exuberance after his San Francisco 49ers bested Jim Schwartz’s Detroit Lions must have caught Schwartz off-guard based on his reaction. Harbaugh’s excitement was nothing new for Pac-12 fans, though. In his years at Stanford, Harbaugh was never one to curb his emotions. Such is the norm on the West Coast.

Saturday night after defeating Arizona State, Oregon’s Chip Kelly did something most everyone who has watched a game from Autzen Stadium wishes he could: told some patrons to shut up.

Previous UO head coach Mike Bellotti angered the seemingly un-anger-able Pete Carroll a few years back, promption the below reaction.

Facts and Figures

  • Ryan Tannehill threw nearly as many touchdowns Saturday vs. Baylor (six) as he had passed for in Texas A&M’s previous six games combined (seven).
  • Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish rushed for 200 yards, passed for 213, and somehow scored not a one of the Huskies’ 56 points in their rout of Western Michigan.
  • His two rushing touchdowns against Buffalo give Temple’s Bernard Pierce 17 this season, most in the nation. He’s on pace for 29
  • Cincinnati drew 40,971 to Saturday’s win over Louisville in their rivalry match-up for the Keg Of Nails Trophy. That’s less than 200 fewer than the Bengals hosted at Paul Brown Stadium the previous week.
  • New Mexico’s 49-7 loss at Nevada brings the Lobos’ point disparity to 264-106, and 216-61 against Bowl Subdivision competition. UNM has given up no fewer than 42 points each of its last five outings.
  • San Jose State’s 28-27 victory over Hawaii included 12 combined turnovers, six per side.
  • Hawaii’s loss means that heading into Week 8, not a single WAC team is above .500. Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico State and San Jose State all have three wins overall. A sixth team, Louisiana Tech, joins the fray of teams within a game of Fresno State’s early lead. Of note is that by late October a season ago, both SJSU and NMSU were eliminated from bowl eligibility. This year, both will head into November still alive for the postseason.
  • Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden threw his fewest yards (218), completions (23) and worst completion percentage (56) this week against Texas. However, by scoring a touchdown Saturday and giving up no interceptions has scored eight TDs without a pick in his last three games.