If you haven’t gotten a chance to read this weekend’s bonus column about UofA football’s troubles and my reaction, it’s worth a look. Thus far I’ve received nothing but positive reinforcement from the Arizona football community and I hope that members of the athletic department are taking note.
Before I get to the rest of the column, here’s my take on the President’s national anthem stance and the latest protests by NFL players on Sunday. First of all, Trump’s comments on Friday and Saturday were completely unnecessary. Despite that, while I understand the concept of freedom of speech, I would hope that players would stand and properly acknowledge our country’s anthem and what it stands for (i.e. freedom) even if they don’t like the president. The world is far from perfect but making a spectacle out of what is supposed to be national pride is embarrassing. While I’m all for unity, I believe there are other ways to express it rather than doing so during our country’s national anthem. I would also hope that our President has more dire priorities than speaking / tweeting and escalating the situation. Can we please restore some normalcy to the pregame ceremonies?
On to the games themselves…
FIRST DOWN: Are ASU’s troubles cured after the upset 37-35 victory over #24 Oregon?
I hate to admit this but I was really impressed with the Sun Devils on Saturday night. I attended the game with ASU fans and I’ll be honest, the in-stadium experience (regardless of the play on the field) is much better in Sun Devil Stadium than it is at Arizona Stadium for multiple reasons (pregame introductions and in-game entertainment among them).
But no…the Sun Devils’ issues are far from fixed.
To me, ASU CLEARLY outplayed Oregon for much of the four quarters and the Ducks were lucky to have the lead 35-34 for a brief time in the final quarter. But thanks to true freshman Brandon Ruiz’s late field goal and two Sun Devil defensive stops, the underdogs pulled off the upset of #24 Oregon, 37-35.
Sophomore WR N’Keal Harry was the best player on the field…and he simply carved up the Ducks secondary for 7 catches, 170 yards, and a TD. While Oregon’s team speed was evident, ASU simply played harder for longer stretches.
ASU’s offense is certainly talented…the defense, however, is below average at best, especially in the secondary.
So what does this mean for embattled Devils coach Todd Graham? Honestly, not much. The next four games for his team are: at Stanford (already a 16 point underdog in Vegas), home against #6 Washington, at #20 Utah, and home against #5 USC. Good. Luck. All four of those games are going to be much more difficult to win than Oregon at home…and the best case realistic scenario (1-3) leaves ASU at 3-5 at the end of October.
For one night though, many props to the Sun Devils for an inspired effort at home against a ranked and previously undefeated Ducks squad. Those of us UofA football fans are jealous of our rivals’ big win on Saturday night.
SECOND DOWN: Is the Heisman Trophy race down to only two?
Sorry to spoil the fun for my fellow college football junkies…but yes, I would bet you now (play money of course) that either Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield or Penn State RB Saquon Barkley (my preseason pick) wins it. I’ll give you every other player in college football…whether it be USC’s Sam Darnold, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, or last year’s winner, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.
In four games thus far, Mayfield is averaging 330+ yards passing and 3 TDs per game for a team ranked inside the top 5.
Barkley accounted for 305 rushing / receiving yards in Saturday night’s primetime last second win over Iowa. Penn State is really good (#3) with him…and simply wouldn’t be close to ranked that high without him. To me, he’s the MVP of college football.
But the Heisman Trophy goes to the best player…not necessarily a team’s MVP.
Oklahoma State’s Rudolph would’ve been squarely in the mix if not for his team’s giant home flop to TCU on Saturday. He could very well get an invite to the ceremony in New York in December but he won’t win.
So mark it down folks…Mayfield or Barkley…and place your bets wisely.
THIRD DOWN: What did we learn in the NFL on Sunday?
-Poor Detroit Lions fans. How the heck does a possible game-winning touchdown with 8 seconds left, get over-ruled, with time on the clock, and the team doesn’t get the chance to call another play? It’s a horrendous rule that needs to be corrected in the offseason. Meanwhile Atlanta dodged a major bullet on their way to 3-0. (And PS – my score prediction was Falcons 30-27 and it finished up 30-26).
-The Most Impressive Teams I saw: Jacksonville (44-7 win over Baltimore in London) and Washington (27-10 win over Oakland). Both teams were in control throughout and dominated each of their games despite being underdogs in Vegas.
-Runner up to those two in terms of an impressive showing: the previously 0-2 New Orleans Saints who put a 34-13 spanking on the 2-0 Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.
-Poor Chargers fans. You’re 0-3…and can’t even fill a 30,000-ish seat stadium. Please implore the Spanos family to move back to San Diego. The former Chargers fans will forgive you…trust me.
-Beware of the home underdog: Buffalo, Chicago, Indianapolis, New York Jets, and Washington all won their games outright!
-Even the big home favorites aren’t safe: New England and Green Bay, the two most favored teams this week BARELY found a way to win each of their games.
-The NFL’s rookie running backs are really, REALLY good. Kareem Hunt (Chiefs) has been the MVP of the league in his first three professional games while Dalvin Cook (Vikings), Leonard Fournette (Jaguars), and Christian McCaffery (Panthers) have also made a big impact. And I hesitate to leave out the Seahawks’ Chris Carson, who has beat out three other veterans for Seattle’s starting job.
FOURTH DOWN: No NFL team will finish undefeated or winless (whoops!)
I went on record earlier this season predicting the Patriots to finish 16-0 in the regular season with their division rival, New York Jets just the opposite, at 0-16. Through three weeks, that’s all…I’ve been proven WAY wrong.
New England of course got crushed at home in Week 1 against Kansas City and nearly lost in Foxboro to a Houston team with a rookie quarterback in Week 3.
The Jets STUNK in Weeks 1 and 2, yet DEMOLISHED the Dolphins, 20-6 (with Miami’s points coming on the game’s final play) on Sunday. For a team with a roster that I called the worst in the league’s last 25 years…guess I was WAY wrong!
The only remaining 3-0 teams are the Chiefs and Falcons…and I’m very confident that neither will win more than 13 (of their 16) games.
On the flip side, the Bengals, Browns, Chargers, Giants, and 49ers are all winless thus far. Cincinnati and Cleveland play each other in Week 4 so that will eliminate one from the losers list. Los Angeles and New York will win in the next 2 weeks or so…but the 49ers…well, they aren’t good. I’d be shocked if they won less than 2 games, however.
Next time I’ll be smarter than to make those drastically bold (and bad) predictions!