A year ago, on this same second Saturday night of the college football season, I sat down to write a column calling for a very nice guy to lose his job.
Looking back, the scary thing was that I didn’t feel bad or lazy while writing it. Clay Helton had plenty of time to prove to his preposterously patient bosses that he was the right man to lead USC football, and when the Trojans were embarrassed at the Coliseum at Stanford, his presence on the sidelines was evident. is only going to cause more. needless pain for legions of USC fans and alums.
Saturday night, after the Trojans easily handled the same Cardinal team in Palo Alto 41-28, I feel even better about it. USC is 2-0 and on the verge of being ranked among the top eight teams in the country. Lincoln Riley, the program’s new head coach, is an aggressive young man with a winning attitude. When I called for the Helton job, I couldn’t have predicted that USC athletic director Mike Bohn would be able to lure Riley away from Oklahoma, but he’s exactly the type of coach he should be leading. one of the largest programs in America. It is worth every penny spent on it.
So, I was already feeling good, free from my non-existent guilt. And then, just as Riley and USC quarterback Caleb Williams were doing their celebratory postgame interview on ABC, on another TV screen I saw the Georgia Southern Eagles threaten to score the game-winning touchdown over one-power Nebraska at Stadium Venerable memorials in Lincoln.
It was easy to laugh when Helton won last November at the Sun Belt Conference school located in Statesboro, Ga. I joked with friends that the nice people below were about to experience the “Statesboro Blues,” a reference to the Allman Brothers. Band song title. But, anything aside, Helton, who grew up in Florida and Texas and played college football at Auburn, seemed a better fit for the plucky Group of Five program located in the heart of the South. Certainly, he had plenty of head coaching experience to draw from, for better or worse.
On Saturday night, Helton coached the Eagles to their biggest win, 45-42 against Nebraska. His quarterback, Kyle Vantrease, a redshirt transfer from Buffalo nicknamed “Ginger General,” dove across the goal line for the winning score, driving the final stake in Scott Frost’s torturous tenure as the Cornhuskers’ head coach.
Nebraska will release its fans soon enough, and the Husker faithful can only hope and pray that their athletic director and president do as well in the coming months as Bohn and Carol Folt figure out how to lure Riley into something great. leave out something that could be there. even more.
A year ago, it would have been hard to imagine Clay Helton’s coaching prowess breaking another coach. It also seemed impossible for ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit to discuss USC, recovering from an ugly 4-8 campaign and just two games into a promising new era, as a legitimate College Football Playoff contender.
Sure, the Trojans are firmly in the mix, as I pointed out last week, but we have the rest of the season to chart their course to their first CFP semifinal appearance (it’s pretty simple – they should for them to go on and win all their games, and they will be favored in all but a possible one at Utah October 15).
I can’t convince USC fans to be rational, but I’m going to try anyway: please don’t ruin this moment of joy by thinking about the stinking playoff.
Enjoy beating Stanford on the road for the first time since 2014. Enjoy the buildup to what should be another competitive test next week against Fresno State. Enjoy Williams performing like the Trojans’ first serious Heisman Trophy candidate since the Pete Carroll era. Enjoy his new favorite wide receiver, Jordan Addison, playing with jaw-dropping friends who would be a Heisman candidate if not for Williams.
The last one: Dig deep to enjoy Helton’s big win over Nebraska and whatever success he finds in his new happy place.
This was one of those breakups that was right and perfectly timed for both sides. It was never Helton’s fault that Pat Haden hired him as head coach, or that Lynn Swann extended his contract prematurely, or that Bohn didn’t feel it was prudent to let Helton go before seeing him through two long seasons.
Saturday night presented one more glaring data point that suggests the Trojans have found someone better. Two games into the Riley era, I still can’t believe what I’m seeing, and I’m going to bet I’m not alone in feeling that anticipation for the new thing I’m going to see on every play .
A year after the night that changed everything for USC, that sensation – without getting around that result from Stanford – is the difference that affects the situation the most.
Respect the Belt
Helton’s big upset win at Nebraska was a distant third among Sun Belt headliners on Saturday.
Earlier in the day, Marshall traveled to South Bend and threw No. 8 Notre Dame 26-21. Not long after the Thundering Herd shocked the college football world, Appalachian State pulled off a 17-14 victory over No. 6 Texas A&M in front of 100,000 plus at Kyle Field.
To think, this was supposed to be a ho-hum slate of games. College football never disappoints, and I can’t help but think how timely these attacks were.
After USC and UCLA bolted for the Big Ten, the sport felt led by a “Power Two” structure with the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference perhaps able to continue placing big brands and creating their own postseason down the line. . Fortunately, the presidents at the top of the College Football Playoff stepped in and voted to allow expansion to 12 teams, with the field including the top six conference champions.
That means the Sun Belt champion — if the best of the Group Five league champions — would have the upper hand to win the national championship at the end of the year.
The inclusion of the Group of Five in the play-off makes me more likely to want to learn about the Photo teams beyond just expecting them to draw in at random. Many diehard fans are more likely to watch Marshall-App State if the winner was a playoff team.
It’s about time these highly competitive and fun teams start getting basic respect at the top of the sport.
After all, they did the dirty work for USC, clearing the Fighting Irish and Aggies from playoff contention. (Though the Trojans would probably benefit more from their final game against Notre Dame with more national hype than it has now).
Horns whiff hurt
Another thing that would be good for college football? Alabama is losing.
Texas should have been successful today, but quarterback Quinn Ewers suffered a clavicle injury in the first quarter, as well as a major official error (quarterback Bryce Young appeared to put the ball in the end zone for safety, right?) and a missed field goal at the end of the first half kept the Longhorns from taking advantage of one of Alabama’s worst games under Nick Saban.
The Crimson Tide pulled out a 20-19 victory on a last-minute field goal despite committing 15 penalties and not looking like the No. 1 team. 1.
Alabama looked so beatable that it would be easy to assume it would win a few times the rest of the way, but we’ve seen too many Crimson Tide teams improve over the course of the season and reach their potential.
A big reason we still have a chance to see Alabama in the playoffs, of course, is Young. It’s also why the Tide escaped from Austin. On Alabama’s game-winning drive, he came up with a blitz that would have taken away most quarterbacks and got away with a big gain.
He deserves all the credit for saving Alabama again, but he will have to do a lot more statistically going forward to hold off CJ Stroud Williams and Ohio State in the Heisman race.
Florida loss bad for Utah?
Last week, Utah lost a heartbreaker 29-26 at Florida. This week the Gators, who were vaulted to No. 12 in the country, 26-16 in the Swamp to No. 20 Kentucky. Does this make the Utes loss look worse or should it change how we feel about them going forward? No and no.
In my preseason picks, Utah was losing at Florida and then the Wildcats were beating the Gators. Kentucky is a good team that knows a ton more about Florida and its personnel as a conference rival, and the Gators spent all week hearing how great they are and that quarterback Anthony Richardson is a Heisman candidate.
I also picked Utah to win its next 12 games and make the playoff. USC might have something to say about that.
Week 2 Future Big Ten Power Ratings
1. Ohio State
4. Penn State
5. State of Michigan
6. Purdue (up 1)
7. Minnesota (up 1)
8. UCLA (up 2)
9. Wisconsin (down 3)
10. Maryland (up 1)
11. Rutgers (up 3)
12. Indiana (up 1)
13. Iowa (down 4)
14. Illinois (up 2)
15. North West (down 3)
16. Nebraska (down 1)