Jim McBride’s four items of interest on this week’s college football landscape:
Whether you love Notre Dame or hate Notre Dame (and let’s face it, there’s no gray area), you had to be inspired by Manti Te’o’s story last week. The senior linebacker had an extraordinarily emotional week, first losing his grandmother and a day later, losing his girlfriend, who had been battling leukemia. Given the opportunity to go home to Hawaii to grieve, Te’o instead told school officials he needed to be with his teammates. “What I need is to be with my guys,’’ he said. Te’o was immense in the Irish’s 20-3 upset at Michigan State. He had 12 tackles and a fumble recovery. “It’s a great escape,’’ Te’o said. “Football allowed me to be . . . in a world where I know I can honor them by the way I play.’’ The support from the ND community was expected. What was truly impressive was the support Te’o received from the Spartans players and fans.
Test is scheduled
It’s not easy to stay out of the limelight when you wear screaming-orange uniforms, have a coach named Dabo, play in a place affectionately known as “Death Valley,’’ and your offense is run by a Heisman Trophy candidate (Tajh Boyd), but that’s precisely what the Clemson Tigers have done this season. Dabo Swinney’ s group is averaging nearly 40 points per game, but after back-to-back cakewalks over Ball State and Furman, the Tigers face a daunting task Saturday against Florida State in a huge ACC showdown. Boyd (249 passing yards per game) and Andre Ellington (109 rushing yards per game) face a fierce Seminole defense that leads the nation in points allowed per game at 1. That’s right, 1. FSU has outscored opponents, 176-3, and will be playing its fourth straight game in Tallahassee — now that’s pretty sweet scheduling.
Bulldogs are growling
So there’s a ranked team in the mighty Southeastern Conference off to an undefeated start, huh? No shock there. What’s shocking is that we’re not referring to Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, or Florida, though we could be, because all four are 3-0 out of the gate. Instead, our attention has turned to the 23d-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs, off to their first 3-0 start since 1999. Dan Mullen’s club has a solid shot to go 7-0 before it hits a Murderers Row stretch of Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, and Arkansas beginning Oct. 27. The Bulldogs offense is propelled by QB Tyler Russell (651 yards, 8 TDs, 0 INTs) and RB LaDarius Perkins (106.7 yards per game). As for the defense, Mullen’s squad needs to tighten up — the Dawgs yielded an unfathomable 572 yards to Troy last week — if it hopes to be competitive when the big boys come calling.
Big thing in Storrs
It had to feel pretty good for the boys from UConn to go down to College Park, Md., and hand their former mentor, Randy Edsall, a loss. Edsall’s departure from Storrs left a bad taste in a lot of mouths (his former players found out about his job change via text after Edsall didn’t accompany them on their flight back from the Fiesta Bowl in 2011) . So this victory tasted pretty sweet. Leading the charge for the Huskies in their win over the Terps was Yawin Smallwood. The sophomore linebacker hit everything in sight (OK, he never touched Edsall), collecting 14 tackles, including 3.5 for losses. The 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound Smallwood, a former standout at Worcester’s Doherty Memorial High, is averaging 3 tackles for losses and 1.3 sacks per game. He received a plethora of honors for his efforts, including Big East Defensive Player of the Week. Keep your eye on him.