Penn State vs. Utah debate

November, 6, 2008
I started getting some e-mails from some Utah fans who are already in spin mode. Truth be told, there MIGHT be some validity to what they're saying about a potential Penn State vs. Utah debate.

I think, as I suspect most people outside of the state of Utah do, that Penn State is better than Utah, and that the Big Ten is stronger than the Mountain West. I've come around on the Nittany Lions, who are a very balanced team. That said, if you're a Mountain West fan and the Utes look impressive over the next few weeks and finish the season undefeated while unbeaten Penn State plays for the BCS title, you have reason to be frustrated.

Thursday night, the 9-0 Utes get a chance to make a big statement against a tough No. 12 TCU team that has lost only at Oklahoma. Two weeks from now, Utah faces No. 15 BYU, which might be ranked closer to No. 12 by the time that game kicks off. Win both, and you'd have two top 15 victories. That should be comparable to the Nittany Lions' best two wins: at No. 9 Ohio State and later this season against No. 18 Michigan State. (In fairness, Penn State holds a win over another ranked team -- they beat Illinois in late September, when the Illini were No. 22. Then again, Ron Zook's team is struggling to become bowl-eligible.)

Both Utah and Penn State have wins over Oregon State, which USC obviously doesn't. Penn State hammered the Beavers early. Utah snuck by them the week after they upset USC. As I said before, I feel that the Big Ten is tougher than the MWC, but it is hard to knock the Mountain West this year. The league's teams have really stepped up and produced.

The MWC is at the 8-5 mark in games against BCS-conference opponents this season (including Notre Dame), with five different teams chalking up victories. Only the ACC (11-6) has a better record against such opponents.

A quick aside: It's interesting in that in many ways these records are almost the opposite of what you might expect. The Big East is third (8-7), followed by the Big 12 (7-8), then the Big Ten (6-7), and then the SEC (5-6). The Pac-10 is even further behind at 5-8. Still, I think so much damage was done to the non-BCS-conference image by Hawaii's getting blown out by Georgia in a major bowl game last season. It also doesn't help that Utah still hasn't really beaten anybody yet, and Penn State has, which means the Nittany Lions' impression to some extent has already been shaped in many people's minds, whereas Utah's best win to most folks is a squeaker at Michigan. Maybe they can begin to change that Thursday night, but I'm not so sure. They'd probably like to beat TCU worse than Oklahoma did in its 35-10 victory.

For more on the match up of the TCU-Utah game, check out Graham Watson's blog.


• Can't say I was surprised that Ron Prince is out at K-State. Taking over that program will not be easy. In August, I wrote about the risks involved in Prince's signing a recruiting class with 19 JC transfers:

"The risks involved to me are twofold: First, you're bringing in a bunch of guys who haven't been developed through your system and more often than not were in junior college because they struggled academically in high school. Monitoring that will require plenty of work, and it's a potential APR fiasco.

"The other part of it is that other schools will tout that you're in a "win now or else" mode to the players you target this recruiting season. Then again, if you don't win now, you probably won't need to worry about high school recruiting anyhow. The thing that surprised me about this is that Prince was fortunate his administration let him sign as many as JCs as he did. If you're a coach in your third season with a sub-.500 record, you know time's ticking. You might not get a fourth year if you don't get to a bowl game. You won't have time to see most of these other freshmen develop. You need guys who physically are able to help you now. If this experiment doesn't work, whoever replaces Prince could have quite a mess to clean up."

I know Bill Snyder's name has come up a lot in the last day. He did a great job there over a decade ago. However, if I'm K-State's AD, I'm calling Oklahoma DC Brent Venables first. Venables is a Kansas native. He played and coached at K-State during the Wildcats' resurgence in the 1990s. He's also regarded as one of the most energetic guys in coaching and a superb recruiter. I've talked to people inside that program who say players love him. True, he hasn't been a head coach and his defense has given up a lot of points this season. Then again, what defensive coordinator in the Big 12 isn't giving up a ton of points this season? Right now K-State is going to be a major rebuilding job. The team might be OK in 2009, but it will be horrible in 2010 and incredibly young in 2011. You need an energetic guy who can work to get new blood in there. I think that's Venables.

• Hopefully you got a chance to watch Ball State last night. QB Nate Davis looked superb. You could see why former Michigan assistant Stan Parrish has been raving about his latest protégé's skills. Davis unloads the ball so fast and is very accurate. He had as many touchdown passes as he had incompletions, going 18 of 22 for 300 yards and four touchdowns.

For more on Davis' story off the field, check out this piece from Ryan Wood that I found Thursday morning.

• Luther Davis always has been a pretty good talker, and comments the Alabama D-lineman made the other day have stirred things up a bit more in the LSU-Bama game by saying LSU coach Les Miles once called Nick Saban "the devil."

"Oh, my gosh, no," Miles said during the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference. "Are you kidding me? No, in any way."

Later, at Miles' post-practice news conference, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate, he said: "Unbelievable. I promise it's not my language. It's certainly not what I think. I really don't worry about opponent's [sic] coaches. I have way too much going on in my life to concern myself with those things."

• Should there be a Whiteout for Pat White's last home game at WVU, Dave Hickman asks.

• Never heard of Tony Pike? Honestly, neither had I until about a month ago, but Cincy coach Brian Kelly says he "could be the best player in the Big East." Pretty heady stuff for a guy who used to be called "the seven-on-seven king." Bill Koch has more on Pike here.

"Kelly believes that Pike, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound junior, could be that player for UC next year, not with the same combination of passing and running ability that [Pat] White displays, but with a powerful, accurate arm and enough maneuverability to keep defenses honest."

My three cents: When I heard the "seven-on-seven king" reference, I thought back to a buddy of mine out here who used to be a big-time QB. He would always talk about how so-and-so was just "a drills guy," meaning he looks great until it's a real game. He said it's amazing how many coaches get sucked in by drills guys and keep hoping the light comes on before realizing there really isn't a light switch. Hopefully for Kelly, Pike is different.

• One of the things that always get mangled this time of year is the list of guys who supposedly have turned down jobs. David Cutcliffe didn't turn down Tennessee. He just announced that he wouldn't be interested in it. Other coaches will appease their ADs by publicly saying they're not interested in such and such a job, so let's nix all this speculation around my team. Then there's always a few other coaches who seem to chime in with their own grandstanding 'Thanks, but no thanks!" This is akin to your buddy who is 20 pounds overweight saying he isn't really interested in the stunning blonde across the bar, who probably wouldn't look at him even if his shirt was on fire.

• I spoke to Ian Johnson the other day for a magazine story. Man, is he an impressive guy. He's one of the best interview subjects I've had in a long time. He comes across as incredibly mature and polished. Boise State fans should be very proud of him and how he represents that program.

• I can't believe Urijah Faber lost last night in the WEC event to Mike Brown. That whole WEC card was pretty bizarre. I think it might've been one ill-fated spinning back-fist away from three big upsets.



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