Opening weekend full of surprises
September 1, 2003
Many musings on a Monday morning while wondering whatever happened to Harmon Wages …
Now that was interesting.
Saturday's first full day of college football promised a lot of drama much-hyped Auburn was hosting Southern California; Eli Manning was launching his Heisman campaign on the field in Nashville; Southern Mississippi was playing a Pac-10 team for the first time; Mike Shula was making his Alabama head coaching debut; Mississippi State was desperately trying to get its season off to a positive start; and Ohio State was opening defense of its NCAA National Championship without all-everything running back Maurice Clarett.
By the time the last ball had been kicked that promise had certainly been well kept. And then some.
The question is not what to write about, but where to start?
Well, what better place that right here in Mississippi?
I wonder what was going through the minds of die-hard Mississippi State fans as their Bulldogs fell behind the Ducks of Oregon 28-0 at the end of the first quarter?
Were they really believing that the Bulldogs could fight back and make a game out of it at the end or were they daydreaming of Jackie Sherrill's retirement party?
It's hard to say.
Going into this season I have wondered aloud about State's chances of improving upon the three-win seasons they have had the last two years. When Oregon scored that fourth touchdown I began to wonder whether or not the Dogs would even get three wins in 2003.
But before you bury the Bulldogs just one game into the season, take this into consideration had the teams of the last two years fallen behind 28-0, the final would have looked a whole lot more like 63-7 than 42-34. MSU's comeback was truly impressive.
And what made it even more impressive was that State did it twice.
Ole Miss fans would have loved to have seen Manning pass for 450 yards and five touchdowns as the Rebels rolled to a 49-0 win on Saturday against Vanderbilt, but it didn't happen.
But, Rebel fans shouldn't be alarmed. Vandy always seems to be tough on Ole Miss and the Commodores are tough on a lot of folks early in the season.
The bottom line is that the Rebels are 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference and no other team is. Manning may have not been spectacular, but he was solid and delivered when it was needed in the Rebs' 24-21 victory.
California belted USM, 34-2.
There's not much to say positive about this game other than the Southern Miss defense made several goal line stands early in the game before poor field position just finally wore them down.
Thursday's trip to Birmingham's Legion Field to play the University of Alabama-Birmingham is a big one for the Golden Eagles.
The Blazers are coming off a road win over Baylor University and always play USM tough. The Golden Eagles lead the series 3-0, but have won by just three points twice and took a tough 20-13 win in Birmingham last season.
Just for a minute there, or should I say for 25 minutes, it looked like Shula's first game as head coach of Alabama was going to be more of a nightmare than a dream.
The University of South Florida, which is quietly building a strong program in the Tampa area, jumped out to a 17-7 lead and looked on the verge of taking control of the game.
But the superior talent of the Crimson Tide finally began to click and Bama rolled to a 40-17 win.
I don't know whether or not Shula will be a good head coach or not, but he is the first selection that the UA top brass has made out of the last three that made any sense to me at all.
When Dennis Franchione was hired, I never thought it would last. I was stunned by the hiring of Mike Price. Shula makes sense. Let's just see if he can coach.
Was Auburn overrated?
But it's just as likely that USC was underrated. The Trojans looked very strong on offense, and especially on defense.
Is Auburn's shot at a National Championship over. Nope, not really. If the Tigers bounce back and the run the table the rest of the way I will guarantee you that Auburn will be playing for the title when the BCS bids are handed out.
In fact, the Trojans may have done Auburn a favor by opening some wounds and exposing some weaknesses. If the Tigers can fix those problems look for AU to make a run at the SEC title, despite the early season setback.
Are you as tired of hearing about Maurice Clarett as I am?
Ohio State seems to have a solid team without him and it seems to me that the Buckeyes will eventually have to decide what they are going to do with Clarett.
On Saturday, it didn't matter as OSU took a solid win over the Washington Huskies.