Take what you want out of this weekend's games, but don't read too much into any of them. Opportunities may have been lost and new goals may have been found, but after all is said and done, the national championship game will feature one team - and maybe two - with at least one loss.
One of the most important things in football is how you respond to adversity - how do you respond to an interception, a fumble and, most important, a loss. Most coaches go their entire careers without an undefeated season. My old man is the winningest coach in major-college football history (now tied with Joe Paterno), has been a head coach for six decades, and he has had only one undefeated season.
So the key to being successful is how you respond to those one or two losses you're almost always going to have. How do you handle it? Can you put it behind you and come back stronger, or do you dwell on it and lose your confidence? By the end of the season, almost every team will have one loss.
Great teams win all of their games. Great coaches find a way to win the rest of them after a devastating loss.
Bear Bryant once said, "I made a ton of coaching mistakes in my life, but I tried to never make the same one twice. After a while, there just weren't any more left to make."
Here are some of good and bad decisions from this past weekend that stand out in my mind:
Frank Beamer's decision to redshirt quarterback Tyrod Taylor
Virginia Tech was upset 27-22 by East Carolina. The Pirates blocked a punt with 1:52 left in the game to score the winning touchdown and pull off one of the biggest upsets of the weekend. Although most people will say the blocked punt was the deciding factor in the game, I have to wonder if Frank Beamer's decision to redshirt Tyrod Taylor contributed to the Hokies being in such a precarious position in the first place.
In an offense that operates best with a mobile, dual-threat quarterback, Taylor clearly has the greatest upside. Although fifth-year senior Sean Glennon has proven to be a solid quarterback and has even shown flashes of brilliance, he still needs a strong supporting cast around him to be successful. I don't believe this season's Tech team is as strong as last season's, and there is going to be another game or two where a playmaker under center would have a chance to bail Tech out. By relegating Taylor to the bench for the 2008 season, that opportunity cannot happen.
It's kind of hard to worry about '09 when you just got your fanny handed to you by East Carolina in the opener of '08.
Pete Carroll's preparation for a worthy opponent
On a weekend that saw elite teams come away with mostly lopsided victories over outmanned opponents, USC took advantage of an opportunity by waxing Virginia 52-7 in the most impressive showing of the day.
Among the top four teams in the country, No. 1 Georgia beat Division I-AA Georgia Southern, No. 2 Ohio State beat I-AA Youngstown State and No. 4 Oklahoma beat I-AA Chattanooga. But No. 3 USC traveled all the way across the country to play a "Big Six" conference team that went 9-4 and played in a bowl last season. USC beat the heck out of the Cavaliers in every way possible. USC had the guts to schedule a worthy opponent and Pete Carroll had the know-how to get his team ready to play. If the ranking system is a fluid process that constantly re-evaluates teams based on their latest performance, you have to move USC to the top of the board.
A blown opportunity for Tommy Bowden
Speaking of opening the season with a statement game, no one had a better opportunity than Tommy Bowden and the Clemson Tigers. After nine seasons of "coulda, woulda, shoulda," this was going to be the year of the Tiger. But after getting humiliated 34-10 by Alabama on Saturday night, things already look similar to every other season for Bowden at Clemson.
Clemson headed into the weekend ranked ninth in the nation and, for the first time in Bowden's tenure, favored to win the ACC. The Tigers were said to have the best quarterback in the league, the best tailback tandem in the country and a top-10-caliber defense.
Opening up with a good-but-not-great Alabama team on national TV was the perfect chance for the Tigers to prove that they were the best the ACC had to offer and that they were a sleeper candidate for the national-title game. It also was a chance for Bowden to show his doubters that he could take this program to the next level.
Unfortunately, not only did the Tigers fail to win, they failed to show up. Alabama's players looked hungry and eager to prove themselves while the Tigers seemed lethargic and uninspired. Alabama's offense lined up and rammed the ball down Clemson's throat while the Tide's defense held the Tigers to zero rushing yards. It was one of Clemson's most embarrassing losses in years.
If the Tigers had played tough and the score had been close, this loss would have been digestible for die-hard Clemson fans. But the way in which the team was manhandled made the loss almost too hard to swallow. Even if you were able to choke it down, it still made you sick to your stomach.
Bowden did not have his team ready to play. And now only a conference championship will be able to get this bitter taste out of their mouths. Of course, with the way the ACC is looking, that isn't entirely out of the question.