Finally here

 

Never in my lifetime has an offseason of any sport – be it at the collegiate or professional level – dragged on for so long and in such a painful fashion. In fact, college football has been bogged down in the last several years by controversial off-the-field attention.

Prestigious programs such as Ohio State and USC were slapped with sanctions that included postseason bans, the resignation of Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino after an affair with a young woman who worked in the program, the best defensive player in the country – LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu – was kicked off the team for multiple drug incidents and, worst of all were the heinous details that emerged about the Penn State cover up.

All of this occurred as the very landscape of division-one collegiate athletics was being broken up and pieced back together in the form of massive conference realignment.

That’s why when the season officially kicked off Aug. 30 everyone took a deep sigh of relief as all of the distractions, controversy, and sad facts of the Penn State scandal took a back seat to America’s greatest game. The national discourse that surrounds collegiate football has officially shifted back to where it belongs.

Here are a few thoughts from week 1:

 

USC is back and it is great for the sport

For the last two years USC has played virtually meaningless games as they were sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations. After quarterback Matt Barkley surprisingly decided to come back for his senior season, the talk about a potential USC national title exploded, much so that many began questioning if the hype was exaggerated.

But on the first play from scrimmage in USC’s opener against Hawaii, Barkley connected with Marqise Lee for a 75-yard touchdown pass – the tone for the season had seemingly been set. The energy at the Coliseum was undeniable and it was back for the first time since the Pete Carol era. USC is alive and well and they should be in the national title picture this year and many years beyond. There are certain schools that need to be good in order for college football to be at its best; USC is one of them.

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More bad news for Penn State

New head coach Bill O’Brien has been as graceful as possible in handling the transition from the Paterno era at Penn State. He has earned major accolades for balancing the respect for the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s tragic crimes and for promoting the Penn State brand.

The Penn State program has projected a sense of unity and togetherness that has frankly been overwhelming and emotional. Let’s not forget these players and the new coaches had nothing to do with past transgressions.

Despite the positivity that O’Brien and others have successfully projected, this program has suffered a crippling blow in terms of talent and it will take years to recover. In losing their first game of the season – to a quality Ohio team – we were reminded about the effects a four-year postseason ban can have. Penn State will have difficulty recruiting and retaining talent for years to come.

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Heisman Hopefuls

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1. Matt Barkley – Quarterback, USC

The preseason favorite, Barkley threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns in the Trojans’ 49-10 blowout of Hawaii.

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2. Le’Veon Bell – Running back Michigan State

The 6-foot-2-inch, 244 pound junior racked up 210 rushing yards and two touchdowns on a whopping 44 carries in the Spartans’ 17-13 win against Boise State.

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3. Geno Smith – Quarterback West Virginia

The dark horse candidate for this year’s Heisman, Smith shined up West Virginia’s Big 12 debut with a monster performance. He completed 32 of 36 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns, and added 65 yards on the ground with another score. That’s nearly 400 yards of total offense with five touchdowns.