Rocky’s V: An exciting Week 4 in the books

09/26/2012

I. Don’t schedule the MAC in Week 1… or any other week

Week 2 of Rocky’s V had me talking about the dangers of opening the season against the Mid-American Conference after a variety of MAC schools gave the big boys a run for their money. Well, Week 4 of this year may go down as one of the best in the history of MAC football. The conference finished 6-3 on the day with four of those wins coming against “automatic qualifier” teams. The MAC beat up on the Big 10 (Central Michigan stunned Iowa 32-31), the Big 12 (Northern Illinois beat Kansas 30-23), and TWO teams from the ACC (Western Michigan beat UConn 30-24 and Ball State beat South Florida 31-27.)  The big winners in all of this are college football fans: the parity of college football this year is starting to resemble that of the NFL, which engages and excites multiple fan bases across the country because those fan bases all believe it could be their team’s year.

II.  FSU is back

Yes, the ‘Noles are back among college football’s elite and I saw it with my own eyes. FSU was stunned early by a Clemson offense that threw everything but the kitchen sink at them: handoffs to wide receiver Sammy Watkins in I-formation, double reverses and WR screen throwback passes. It all added up to a 31-21 Tigers lead in the second half. But credit this mature FSU team for not panicking and instead allowing their superior talent to eventually taker over late in the 3rd quarter. The Seminole offense put up an astounding 667 total yards on the night and at one point had scored 28 straight unanswered points before eventually winning the game 49-37. The most impressive part about FSU is that they took a good team’s best shot, shook it off, then rallied for a convincing win. To me, that’s the mark of a championship-caliber team. It’s not always going to be pretty or easy, but a good team remains composed when things are down and finds their inner strength to persevere. I have to believe that a Florida State team of four or five years ago would have folded under such adversity, which makes this year’s team – combined with a favorable schedule from here on out – a potential contender for a spot in this year’s BCS Championship game.

III. EJ Manuel emerged

I was on the record being very critical of EJ Manuel before this game. I saw him as a project quarterback, a “potential-guy” – someone with all the God-given physical ability, but lacking the intangibles of the great ones. In the first three games of this year I saw him incapable of going through pass progressions and void of good decision-making with the football. Well, Saturday against Clemson, he silenced my critiques. His poise when FSU’s back was against the wall was phenomenal. A lesser quarterback would have reverted to backyard “hero ball,” trying to do too much to get his team back in the game and in doing so, sinking them further towards defeat. Manuel rallied his team at halftime and went on to lead the Seminoles to 35 second-half points. His accuracy was of particular note, as he completed 27 of 35 passes for a career high 380 yards. Watching his body language out there, he emerged from this game with the Cam Newton-style moxie that, with further improvement, can make him a Heisman finalist this year.

IV. The Joker may be out in Kentucky

In 2010, his inaugural year as the head football coach at Kentucky, Joker Phillips led the Wildcats to their first win over SEC foe Tennessee since 1984. But since then Kentucky has steadily sunk back into the doldrums of the conference. Phillips always found a way to breathe an air of confidence into his program, but after a crushing opening-week loss to Louisville this year and then being utterly outgunned and overmatched against Florida last weekend by a final count of 38-0, it’s looking like this may be his last year in Lexington. Phillips’ task at Kentucky in unenviable: to try to make people care about football at a powerhouse basketball school, while trying to recruit the talent necessary to compete in the football super-conference called the SEC. But people only seem to notice when things go bad and Kentucky just can’t compete. They have speed, but they just don’t have size and speed. But the question begs to be asked: if Joker Phillips, a UK alum who has 23 years of experience as a player and coach with the Wildcats, can’t get it done there, can anyone?

V. College football fans, meet Taylor Heinicke

Out of relative obscurity, a quarterback named Taylor Heinicke this past week inserted his name into the college football picture and also into the record books. Heinicke threw for a Division I-record 730 yards in leading his Old Dominion team back from a 23-point deficit in the third quarter to win 64-61 over New Hampshire. To date, this kid has 1,921 passing yards on the season which gives him a shot of nearing 6,000 passing yards this year. To me the most amazing part about this is that until 2008 Old Dominion was a club team! In 2009, the Monarchs’ football program joined the NCAA, had its first recruiting class, and two years later convinced the passing machine Taylor Heinicke to be part of its fledgling program. Well, Heinicke has put Old Dominion on the FCS map and at 4-0 the people in Norfolk are starting to talk about a spot in the FCS playoffs. You can expect the ODU football program to only grow by leaps and bounds from here.

— Rocky Boiman

Rocky Boiman is an analyst for Westwood One’s coverage of NCAA Football. Each week in “Rocky’s V,” the former Notre Dame captain and Super Bowl champion writes about five topics that have captured his interest from around college football. You can also follow Rocky on Twitter.

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