Before the first whistle blew, signifying the official beginning of Steve Sarkisian’s incumbency a false start has the Trojans scrambling. Maybe it’s the proximity to all those screenwriters in Hollywood, but weaving fictitious tales about physical maladies is nothing new for SoCal athletes.
Seven years ago, Lakers forward Vladamir Radmanovi returned from a vacation in Utah during the NBA All-Star break with a separated shoulder that would keep him out for eight weeks. Originally, Radmanovi attributed his injury to a clumsy fall on a patch of ice. Likely fearing that Kobe Bryant would peer into his soul and discover his deception, Radmanovi admitted the true nature of his injury—a snowboarding accident.
The Lakers considered voiding his five-year $30.2 million contract, but opted against the impalement for a punitive $500,000 fine. Fortunately, for Josh Shaw, he’s an amateur.
In film and television, the idiom “jumping the shark” is regularly used for a plot that reaches for absurd gimmicks to remain relevant. The term originated from Fonzie jumping over a shark on water skis during Happy Days' fifth season premiere and has been in common usage since.
For USC, Josh Shaw “jumping the balcony” was the moment when their program was knocked down to its latest nadir.
It’s been a disheartening descent for the Trojans since Vince Young darted right towards the corner of the endzone on 4th and 5. The probe into lavish gifts bestowed upon Reggie Bush and his family by an agent resulted in major sanctions for the USC football program.
For 24 hours, Shaw was so beloved that I was subconsciously calling Dodgers pitcher Clayton Shaw in honor of the USC cornerback.
The Trojans have been on a positive PR streak since cutting ties with Lane Kiffin, but the fan base was left crestfallen when Shaw’s gallant story was retracted.
In Shaw’s four years of football at USC, the backpedaling he did on Wednesday was the best technique scouts have ever seen from the Top 50 NFL Draft prospect.
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) August 28, 2014
To make matters worse, USC which published the story on their team site was forced to retract and wipe egg off their faces.
Ultimately, Shaw’s story conjures up a quote in my mind derived from Dave Eggers’ autobiographical Lost Boys of Sudan novel What Is The What.
“His lies were so exquisite I almost wept.”
It’s one thing for Shaw to have lied. However, his story went viral in part because of how noble he came across. He was also the involuntary mascot for the new USC.
He was being praised nationwide by reformed cynics for sacrificing his health to save a life. When it unraveled, he reinforced two prevalent stereotypes. That athletes are troublemakers and that deceit is systemic within USC’s program.
Kiffin was a habitual liar. He lied about frivolous matters such as voting USC No.1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
In the final season under the umbrella of NCAA sanctions, this was not how USC wanted its year and new regime to begin.
Deadspin’s revelation about the death of Manti Te’o’s girlfriend supposedly taught us a lesson. However, it was clearly a short lived one. Or maybe we lied about learning one at all.
LIES, DAMN LIES AND HEISMAN PREDICTIONS
I know Winston already has one, but who can’t imagine him accidentally walking out with a second Heisman even if he doesn’t finish first in voting and not realizing it until he gets home?
Hundley had trouble with making ill-advised throws last season, but entering his junior season, the Bruins are a dark horse pick to win the Pac-12. They’ll rely on Hundley being more disciplined throwing the football for that prognostication to become a reality.
Personally, I think he’s grossly overrated. But he thrives within Oregon’s system. Until Mariota can fix his dysfunctional performances against defenses of Stanford's ilk that force him to untether his robotic plug from the Oregon system, he’ll just be another charlatan with awesome measurables. Unlike previous Heisman winners such as Jameis Winston, RGIIII, Manziel or Matt Leinart, when the moment calls for Mariota to shine, he shrinks. He collects highlights, but there is no signature Mariota moment to point at. It’s time for this Duck to fly when the going gets tough.
With Aaron Murray graduating to the NFL, Gurley will be tasked with pushing the Georgia fruit cart up and down the hillside SEC mountain.
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) August 24, 2014
The only logical step forward for Gurley would be an increase in his activity as a receiver. Gurley’s rushing statistics weren’t gaudy, but how he got them is what was most remarkable. Quietly, Gurley was nearly a 500-yard receiver last season. Keep track of how much more often he’s targeted by Hutson Mason this season.
THE HEISMAN SLEEPERS
Wake up people. We’ll know this weekend whether Keeton’s fully recovered from a torn ACL when Utah State embarks on an upset bid against Tennessee in Neylnd Stadium. Keeton is an unknown on the national stage, but was well on his way to going mainstream. This season, Keeton will attempt to extrapolate on a 2013 campaign that began with him throwing for 1,399 yards, 18 touchdowns against just two interceptions while posting a 69 percent completion percentage. He was also mobile enough to gain 241 yards and two touchdowns. If he can lead Utah State to an undefeated record, Keeton may vault himself into the Heisman convo.
Spartans quarterback Connor Cook isn’t anything to write home about. However, his running back took a sledgehammer to defenses all last season and should only improve in his third year at the position. There are more high profile backs, but if the Spartans passing attack remains modest, he’ll be the primary offensive spark for a College Football Playoff contender.
Fournette’s ceiling is Jameis Winston at running back. His floor is freshman Adrian Peterson. No pressure though. For reference, AD finished second in Heisman voting 10 years ago to Matt Leinart. Fournette is sculpted like he was cast to portray Peterson in a movie and clips opposing defenses like a razor over a 5 o’clock shadow. This right here is the prototype.
Wilson’s being shifted from running back to the slot for his sophomore season, but he’s still expected to play a hybrid role where he’ll get carries from the backfield. Don’t be surprised if he becomes the primary breadwinner for the Buckeyes offense now that Braxton Miller is on disability.
Wilson was used sparingly as a freshman, but his senior year statline at Desoto High School should give you an idea about the type of flexibility he offers offensive coordinator Tom Herman. In 15 games, Wilson reeled in 37 catches for 750 yards, nine touchdowns, rushed for 1,895 and reached paydirt 37 times. This is the Heisman sedative pick.
A PEEK AT THE REGULAR SEASON FORMERLY KNOWN AS A DE FACTO PLAYOFF
For years, we heard the same line from college football traditionalists who opposed a playoff who considered its regular season to be the real playoff. However, that’s no longer the case. Now the regular season is just a regular season.
No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 9 South Carolina
Currently, there’s a movement going to get Dylan Thompson’s predecessor Connor Shaw a fair shake in the Browns quarterback competition. The quarterback he’s competing against is Johnny Football. There’s no chance of him supplanting Manziel, but the Gamecocks are the favorite to throttle the Aggies on Thursday. At least that would give Shaw a little solace going into the Browns preseason finale.
Kevin Sumlin is as renowned for rearing quarterbacks as Steve Spurrier was in the ‘90s and while I have no doubt Kenny Hill will have a resplendent debut, I have my doubts about who can stop Mike Davis from busting holes in the Aggie helium-filled defense.
South Carolina wins
No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU
LSU and Wisconsin do not know 0-1 very well.
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) August 27, 2014
Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon will be in the Badger backfield toting the rock along with former safety/debuting mobile quarterback Tanner McEvoy. Wisconsin will be unveiling a new quarterback while LSU will be procrastinating on selecting a starting quarterback. The competition has seemingly been one-sided in freshman Brandon Harris’ favor from the beginning, but Miles wants to give them a look under the lights of a live game.
There’s too much indecision in LSU’s offense. Wisconsin has gameplan revolving around Gordon and McEvoy while the Tigers are confused.
No. 7 UCLA at Virginia
Here’s the lowdown on why you should keep your eyes peeled for an upset here. UCLA will be playing an east coast season opener at noon or to put it into proper context, 9 am in the Pacific time zone. If Brett Hundley gets sacked early on, don’t be surprised if Hundley stays down asking for just a little more sleep. Mike London’s is on the line, but UCLA’s formidable on both sides of the ball and is a 21.5 point fave. UCLA should be able to sleepwalk to victory. But keep your eyes peeled in case they appear groggy in the first half.
No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 UGA
Clemson and UGA will both begin the season starting bridge quarterbacks. Seniors Cole Stoudt and Hutson Mason have just one season to squeeze their names into their respective program’s lore.
Stoudt is a caretaker holding back Deshaun Watson, but Mason is playing for more. UGA is a sleeper to sweep the SEC’s leg and slip into the College Football Playoff. However, Mason’s first obstacle will be Clemson’s marvelous four man front led by All-American defensive end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett.
No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State
Florida State hopes Jerry’s World is Jameis World for their both season opener and season finale. However, FSU can’t get caught looking ahead to the national title played in Arlington on Jan. 12. Florida State’s thinking big and Jimbo Fisher isn’t afraid to inflate already ballooning expectations.
However, just as I’ve bloviated without mentioning their opening week opponents, FSU can’t afford to overlook them either. The Cowboys defense will be rebuilding, but the offense has the potency of gunpowder near a flame.
Ultimately, the only Cowboy team that could beat the Seminoles in Jerry World is probably Jerry’s Team.
Florida State rolls OK State
We took Josh Shaw’s story at face value and ran with it like Reggie Bush launching up the sidelines without verifying it and ran off with the story. There are a few more assumptions being bounced around the college football world that must be explored.
Jacob Coker is the chosen one at Bama.
Even before Coker left Florida State, it was a foregone conclusion that the fifth-year senior Blake Sims would be holding a clipboard this season behind Cooper Bateman, Alec Morris or super high school senior David Cornwell. Coker’s exploits at Florida State were limited to anecdotes about his proximity to greatness. Supposedly, Coker was entrenched in a tight position battle that the then-freshman barely pulled ahead in.
The assumption was for Coker to swoop in and make this team his. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case. There have been rumblings all month that Sims had made thins competitive. Blake Sims will start in the Georgia Dome Saturday with a chance to pour cement on Coker’s dreams of starting.
Oklahoma’s defeat of Bama is a precursor to Oklahoma’s Big 12
Not only is Oklahoma the most dysfunctional college football team in 2014, but Trevor Knight’s streaky. True freshman Joe Mixon was recently suspended for the season, Dorial Green-Beckham’s waiver to play right away was denied and leading tackler Frank Shannon is appealing a suspension by the university panel, which found him guilty of sexual misconduct.
JT Barrett dooms Ohio State’s national title hopes.
Like Denard Robinson who before him, Miller was a tad overrated and injury prone. He’s a streaky passer, gifted as a runner and last fall everyone thought his backup Kenny Guiton was more proficient guiding the offense.
Besides the last two times Ohio State played in a national title game their quarterbacks were Craig Krenzel and Todd Boeckman. The questions lie with their defense.
The hot seat will consume Will Muschamp
I kid about how the former UGA walk-on is a sleeper agent, but this season I expect the Gators to awake from their 2013 slumber. Injuries ravaged the roster en route to their 4-8 collapse, but while a Muschamp defense is tenacious, the meek, conservative offense needed an overhaul. Injuries or not, for a fan base that watched Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer offenses run circles around the SEC Muschamp’s 112th ranked offense was a sickening sight. More importantly, I expect the offense to awaken.
For the first time under Muschamp, Florida has installed an offense that will suit Jeff Driskel’s skill set. During his first three years in Gainesville, the 2011 U.S. Army All-American looked more uncomfortable than Josh Shaw during a lie detector test.
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was hired and handed the offensive reigns this spring, then immediately created a hurry-up, shotgun plan of attack that mimics what Meyer ran for Tebow. The pressure is on, but something tells me that with Roper's help, Will Muschamp is about to nominate his own hot seat for the Ice Bucket Challenge.