Wiedmer: Will both UTC and Alabama wind up disappointing their fans?

Wiedmer: Will both UTC and Alabama wind up disappointing their fans?

September 2nd, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

UTC Mocs logo

UTC Mocs logo

Alabama Crimson Tide logo

Alabama Crimson Tide logo

OK, it's just one week. The opening week, at that. So a little rust is to be expected from our college football heroes. But did Alabama seem much like a No. 1 team to you? Did reigning Heisman Trophy champ Johnny "Football" Manziel appear even the slightest bit contrite for the soap opera he's put his program through over the past eight months?

Much closer to home, did the UT-Chattanooga Mocs look remotely like the team they were supposed to be during Thursday night's loss to UT-Martin? And if not, can they still become the program everyone has been hoping to see?

Also, is Tennessee better than we thought or is Austin Peay so bad that any realistic assessment of the Vols can't possibly take place until after Saturday's visit from Western Kentucky and its evil genius of a coach -- Bobby Pinocchio, oops, Petrino?

And what of Georgia? Both the Bulldogs and Clemson Tigers are to be commended for playing a high-stakes game on the opening weekend of the season, but the Dawgs' 38-35 loss at the Paws' Death Valley leaves them almost no wiggle room going forward in the BCS title hunt.

Finally, even though they lost, did the Vanderbilt Commodores not stage a fourth quarter worthy of an ESPY in their 39-35 loss to Ole Miss on Thursday night in Nashville?

Let's start with Alabama's 35-10 win over Virginia Tech. The key word in previous sentence is "win." Plain and simple. You can't win them all unless you win the first one, and however pedestrian the Crimson Tide looked at times, it won with little trouble against a pretty fair football coach who'd had all summer to prepare for the two-time defending national champs.

But whatever Hokies coach Frank Beamer did -- "They threw some blitzes that we hadn't seen before," noted Bama quarterback A.J. McCarron -- the Tide is almost certain to see similar defenses throughout the rest of the season until it's capable of running over them.

And the 96 total rushing yards and 2.6 yards per carry that Bama turned in against VT would indicate that process may almost assuredly not be complete when the Red Elephants venture to College Station, Tex., on Sept. 14 to face Johnny Foolsball and the Aggies.

Not that everything is happy in Aggieland today, regardless of A&M's easy win over Rice and the conclusion of Manziel's silly half-game NCAA suspension. The quarterback's childish and reckless unsportsmanlike conduct penalty had no impact on the Aggies' victory, but as A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said afterward, "Individual penalties of any kind, particularly personal fouls, are things that keep you from winning games."

If Manziel continues playing the way he did in his brief time on the field against the Owls -- throwing three touchdown passes and generally proving to be as elusive as a year ago -- the Aggies will win plenty of games.

But one fact regarding Johnny Foolsball's leadership, or lack thereof, shouldn't be ignored. Despite being the first freshman, albeit a redshirt one, to ever win the Heisman last season, Manziel wasn't one of the 12 Aggies elected to the team's leadership council by the players. And that was before Saturday's embarrassing behavior.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones's behavior is never in question on or off the field. His Vols not only went the full 60 minutes without a penalty, more than one UT fan has told me the last 24 hours how proud they were of the coats and ties worn by the players at the Vol Walk and the lack of theatrics on the field. They just played the game the way it should be played.

A single story gleaned from Saturday night to underscore Jones's attention to detail: When Austin Peay athletic director Derek van de Merwe was in athletic administration at Central Michigan when Jones coached there. During a Chippewas game one night, Jones watched his first and second string long snappers go down, necessitating the need to play a walk-on.

"I got a call at halftime to come down to the locker room," van de Merwe recalled. "It was urgent. Butch wanted to make sure we weren't breaking any NCAA rules if we played this walk-on. A lot of coaches out there, it's just about Xs and Os. But with Butch, he's more of a CEO. He manages the entire program, not just how to win a game."

There is little question that the perception of the entire program has improved dramatically during Jones's nine short months on the job. But now the competition dramatically improves as well, beginning with this weekend's visit from Western Kentucky -- which topped Kentucky 35-26 in Nashville on Saturday -- then ratcheting up a few more notches with trips to Oregon (Sept. 14) and Florida (Sept. 21).

If Jones is still undefeated after four games, they should go ahead and commission a bronze statue of him in front of Neyland Stadium.

As for UTC's Mocs, the good news is that neither Georgia State inside the Georgia Dome this weekend nor Austin Peay the following week at home figure to be as good UT-Martin. The bad news is that last week's crowd of 11,000 may be twice the number likely to venture to Finley on the 14th, what with UTC disappointing so many of its fans, Bama seeking revenge against Johnny Football and UT visiting Oregon.

You get the sense that long-suffering Moc Maniacs filed into Finley last week humming Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" and filed out muttering the Who's classic "Won't Get Fooled Again."

Or as one UTC fan emailed me Friday morning, every year Mocs fans become Charlie Brown, full of hope and wonder, only to have Lucy snatch the football away, leaving Charlie flat on the ground, embarrassed and angry.

It's just one week. Vanderbilt and Georgia should both rebound. Alabama should improve. UTC must improve. But all that talk of the Crimson Tide and Mocs both reaching their game in Tuscaloosa in late November with perfect records is now a thing of the past. The bigger concern now is whether one of them will.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.