Nothing is spicier in sports than a good college-football soap opera, unless you have three or four swirling at once. At least that many exploded in Week 2, and, shockingly, none involved Johnny Manziel, unless you count his curious comment about the impending Alabama assignment: “It feels like another game.” By his Twitter-trending standards, that’s a minus-2 on a scale of 10.
No, he can watch with the rest of us as: (1) Jadeveon Clowney criticizes his defensive coaches at South Carolina, two of whom were tussling on the sideline while the Head Ball Coach sort of stood around like a CEO who plays golf all week; (2) Lane Kiffin loses 10-7 at home to Washington State, a job-killer that inspired boos and “Fire Kiffin!” chants at the Coliseum; (3) Mack Brown is blown out at BYU, which prompts similar doubts about his future at resources-rich Texas and makes some ask why they didn’t hire his one-time successor-in-waiting; (4) that is, until they realize Will Muschamp doesn’t have an offense in football’s creative age and isn’t going to last long at Florida; and (5) Oklahoma State is the latest program that the NCAA may or may not penalize, this time for allegations including payments to players from coaches and boosters, academic fraud, a bonus program operated by a former assistant coach, drug use and sexual favors from recruiting hostesses.
Oh, and while Brian Kelly chicken-dances out of Ann Arbor, will someone tell him Michigan carries a little more magnitude than “a big regional game” and that he should avoid incendiary comments when a collegiate-record 115,109 fans are waiting to remind him?
The upbeat stories in Week 2 included Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, who survived two blunders — first describing coach Brady Hoke as a “Fred Flintstone” lookalike, then fluttering a grotesque pick-six to a defensive end in his own end zone — to deiiver a signature performance for a program that needed it. And the Oregon offense, highlighted by turbo twins Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, which continues to purr without Chip Kelly. And Mark Richt, who shook the hounds off his back for another week at Georgia with a resounding victory over the mysteriously invisible Clowney and South Carolina. And Teddy Bridgewater, who will stick in the Heisman Trophy race all season even if you hate Louisville’s schedule. And BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, who rushed for 259 yards in the read-option offense as the Cougars gained 550 yards on the ground, most ever allowed by a Texas defense. And, I suppose, Manziel, who threw for 403 yards and three touchdowns in Texas A&M’s 65-28 blowout of Sam Houston State 65-28 and didn’t once make a money gesture.
But money is still everything in college football, which is why early-season breakdowns involving players and coaches turn into full-scale dramas. The discussions will be hot this week about …
1. Clowney — Heisman Trophy? That talk officially is shelved after the gifted pass-rusher, who was gassed and took plays off in the season opener, publicly pointed fingers at his team’s defensive coaches after South Carolina’s 41-30 loss at Georgia. What, the coaching braintrust didn’t know opposing teams would make major offseason adjustments, such as double- and triple-teaming Clowney in blocking schemes and staying the hell away from him? He had one measly sack against Georgia, and according to ESPN.com, the Gamecocks relinquished three times more yardage when Clowney was on the field.
“Very frustrating,” Clowney told reporters. “I told the coaches you got to put me somewhere else — in the middle if you want to — somewhere I can make some plays (to) help my team get in position to win. But (Georgia) took me right out of the game.
“It’s hard out there trying to chase from the backside, and they just took me right out of the game. They want to move me around — that’s up to them. I’m going to keep playing my assignments. I set the edge most of the night, (but) the ball went away from me on the backside chasing. That’s just how the game went.”
I believe the coach at South Carolina is Steve Spurrier. After the opener, a victory over North Carolina, he said Clowney and other Gamecocks lacked conditioning in the sweltering Columbia heat. Now, after his star defensive end questioned how he is being used, Spurrier takes a little shot at defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. “Those three-and-out days, I’m hoping they come back some time before the season’s over,” Spurrier said. “That would be helpful for our team. We’ve got to be a little more creative. We can’t just sit there and never disguise and say, `Come on.’ ” I realize Spurrier never has been hands-on in the manner of, say Nick Saban, but at some point, the delegator might want to assume accountability for his team’s problems, which he seemed to realize in saying, “We’re going to change our defense a little bit. We’re not going to just stand there like we did today. I’ll give Coach Ward some suggestions.”
It’s probably too late. If Spurrier harbored hopes of completing his amazing mission at South Carolina, toppling Alabama and winning a national title, he’s already one loss in the SEC hole. This after a weekend when a national audience witnessed a third-quarter shoving match between defensive line coach Deke Adams and linebackers coach Kirk Botkin. “Well, at least they care,” Spurrier said. “When you’re getting your butt kicked pretty royally one of them probably said, `Your guy needs to make a play,’ and the other probably said, `No, your guy needs to make a play.’ So that’s OK, we’ll get that handled.”
Meanwhile, Georgia is one-up in the SEC after its opening letdown against ACC power Clemson. Aaron Murray, off the radar now in Heisman talk, threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns and is now 2-6 against Top 10 opponents. “What a war,” said Richt, the most embattled coach in college football. “You hate to so early in the season feel the pressure of all your goals being on the line. It was Game 2. It’s just no fun to be 0-2 and 0-1 in the league and hoping somebody gets beat and looking at the gauntlet ahead of you. It was good medicine to get a victory.”
2. Kiffin. I don’t think Pat Haden, the USC athletic director, will be taping any videos reiterating his faith in his football coach. You can put a nail in the Kiffin, as Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote, after the Trojans hit rock bottom in their post-Pete Carroll, post-probation era by losing at home to Mike Leach and Washington State. Seven points? Last decade, USC used to score seven points during the pre-game pep talk. But Kiffin is calling the plays, hasn’t developed a serious quarterback and doesn’t have much of an offensive line — a devil’s triangle that wastes receiver Marqise Lee, who should be a playmaking force.
“You can’t worry about that,” said Kiffin, referring to the boos. “It is what it is. I think heard those before the game started, in warmups actually. So I’m getting used to it.”
He’s lucky the fans werent hurling more than catcalls. Air Kiffin produced 54 passing yards. “When your offense only passes for 50 yards, that’s just embarrassing,” quarterback Cody Kessler told the Times.
Cracked Leach: “These are high-profile players at USC, for goodness sakes. They have their Twitter handle next to their name on their two-deep roster.”
The hashtags now drop the name Chris Petersen. He’s the coach at Boise State, and Haden should friend him on Facebook. Now.
3. Texas. This is the program doing the least with the most, and that includes USC. Down yonder in Austin, Mack Brown has big-money boosters, his own ESPN-funded Longhorn Network, a cool culture in a hip town, everything he needs to challenge every year for national championships. But blessed as he is with talent, Brown looks lost, as if the sport has passed him by. Which is the better job, Texas or USC?
“We didn’t get done what we needed to do on either side of the ball,” Brown said. “They’re smart. They get it. They understand that we didn’t get our job done as players or coaches.”
Shouldn’t be long before someone spots Jon Gruden buying property near Lake Travis.
4. Oklahoma State. It seemed inevitable that this program, built from fair-to-middling status into a national player with the money of oil magnate T. Boone Pickens, would find its way into a scandal. According to Sports Illustrated, corruption oozed out of the place between 2001 and 2007. While we can expect a former assistant coach — Joe DeForest, now at West Virginia — to take most of the public hits, keep in mind that Les Miles coached the program from 2001-04 and Mike Gundy has been there since then.
Said Miles, now a coaching superstar at LSU: “I don’t know of any improprieties while I was the coach there. I can tell you this: We have always done things right. I really enjoyed my time at Oklahoma State. I felt like I met a lot of wonderful people and we made our football team better. We worked hard. It has never been a place where you needed to cheat to have success.”
Oh, really? With Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12? When Mack Brown sells Austin and you’re selling Stillwater?
Said Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis: “Oklahoma State University is deeply troubled by these claims. We will investigate the accuracy of the allegations and take all appropriate action. We do not condone or tolerate improper conduct in our athletic programs. OSU requires everyone affiliated with the university to follow the rules and adhere to the highest ethical standards.”
Said vice president of athletics Mike Holder: “We are shocked by the allegations raised about our football program. We take the allegations seriously. Whether they have merit or not, we don’t know. But we will find out. Our athletic department understands the high expectations OSU President Burns Hargis and the OSU Board of Regents have set for us. Our coaches and staff understand we will not tolerate any violations that compromise our pursuit of excellence, the highest of ethical standards, and full compliance with NCAA rules and regulations.”
DeForest is alleged to have operated a pay-for-big-plays bonus program at Oklahoma State, even as recently as two years ago. He was brought to West Virignia by Dana Holgorsen, who once was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State.
Connect the dots.
Do they lead to T. Boone?
5. Notre Dumb. If Brian Kelly restored the echoes by earning a place in the national title game, he hasn’t been very smart in the 2013 calendar year. First, Notre Dame was manhandled by Alabama and didn’t look ready in a dreadful performance. Then, it had to deal with the bizarre ramifications of Manti Te’o’s pretend girlfriend. Now, Kelly angers the Michigan faithful by saying the legendary rivalry — which Notre Dame is ending in the latest unfortunate fallout of the sport’s politics-and-money-driven era — has been merely “a big regional game.” Sure didn’t seem that way with ESPN’s “College GameDay” production in Ann Arbor and Brent Musburger barking out the call Saturday night.
When Gardner was finished carving up the Irish while wearing Tom Harmon’s old No. 98, they played the “Chicken Dance” over the Big House speakers. That was a nod to a comment by Michigan’s hugely popular coach, Brady Hoke, that Notre Dame was “chickening out” of the rivalry.
I’d say Notre Dame is back to being a big regional program.