Just For Argument's Sake ...

From the best -- and loneliest job -- in the country to Houston Nutt's future to a cautionary tale to Heisman hype, Ivan Maisel tackles all the hot topics.

Originally Published: September 21, 2005
By Ivan Maisel |

From nagging questions to soapbox moments to Heisman hype, Ivan Maisel tackles the hottest topics in college football.

1.What's the biggest matchup of the weekend?
That's easy. It's not LSU-Tennessee, USC-Oregon or even Notre Dame-Washington. It's the matchup of a pair of preseason All-Americans, sophomore wide receiver Calvin Johnson of No. 15 Georgia Tech vs. senior cornerback Jimmy Williams of No. 4 Virginia Tech.

Johnson burst onto the scene a year ago as a big, sure-handed receiver. At 6-4, 225, has the size to post up cornerbacks. Most college corners, anyway -- at 6-3, 212, Williams has size that only a few NFL corners possess. He is a fixture on the Hokies' boundary corner, which means that most quarterbacks have learned to look toward the field.

Both players, as you can imagine, are looking forward to the challenge of facing each other Saturday.

"It's going to be fun," Johnson said. "It will be good competition. I can't say how much I'll be matched up against him. I'm pretty sure I'll see him a lot."

You think? Williams thinks so, too.

"I watched about an hour of film today," Williams said Monday night. "He has great hands. Most of the passes around him, he catches. They tend to lay it up there and try to have him go get it. He's a great receiver, a great playmaker. It will be a a good opportunity to check him throughout the game."

Both players were vague on what may happen. Williams said he didn't know how much the coaches would want him to man up on Johnson and how much he would stick to the boundary.

Johnson said he had studied video to check out Williams' technique, but was coy about revealing what he learned.

"I'm not going to talk about his technique," Johnson said. "He's a big corner who makes plays. He's in the right place at the right time. It's very unusual to play against a corner that size. Most are 5-10, 5-11. I look forward to playing him. It's going to be tough, but I can do it because I've done that before."

Johnson recalled that he only saw Williams on a couple of plays last year, when Virginia Tech came back in the fourth quarter to win, 34-20. Johnson caught four passes for 51 yards, including a 27-yarder.

Both of them look forward to the typical Lane Stadium craziness on Saturday. It's a major ACC game and a big game for two ranked teams. The Williams vs. Johnson matchup will get their attention, too.

2. Can Houston Nutt survive at Arkansas?
Houston Nutt
Houston Nutt's recent flirtations with other schools coupled with a slow start have him on the hot seat.
The Razorbacks' coach assessed the damage of the 70-17 loss at No. 1 USC earlier this week.

"Losing creates doubt and that's the toughest thing we have to face," Nutt said. "You've got to get confidence and keep believing in what you're doing. I really believe we still have a good football team."

Arkansas has suffered its toughest back-to-back losses since Nutt's first season, 1998, when an 8-0 start dissolved in a 28-24 loss to No. 1 Tennessee on quarterback Clint Stoerner's hand-of-God fumble late in the game that gave the ball to the Vols. The disheartened Hogs lost the SEC West title the following week in a 22-21 game at Mississippi State.

Disappointment is one thing. Embarrassment is another. First, Vanderbilt won at Razorback Stadium, 28-24, two weeks ago. No matter how good the Commodores turn out to be, the SEC faithful doesn't like losing to them. Remember the apoplexy in the Big Ten in 1995 when Northwestern made its way to the Rose Bowl?

Then came the deluge at Memorial Coliseum. Thousands of Hog fans made their way west. Unfortunately, they may never forget what they saw.

Nutt has gotten his teams to dig themselves out of holes before. In 2001, Arkansas began the season 1-3 and finished it in the Cotton Bowl. In 2003, the Razorbacks began 4-0, lost three straight, and rallied to finish 9-4.

This feels different. Arkansas lost five of its last seven last season, missing a bowl for the first time in Nutt's tenure. Three of the next four games are against ranked opponents: at No. 20 Alabama on Saturday, Auburn on Oct. 15, and at No. 7 Georgia on Oct. 22.

More important, Nutt used up a lot of goodwill over the last two seasons. He flirted with Nebraska in a very public way after the 2003 season before deciding to stay home. He made a brief run at the LSU job a year ago. That proved to be enough for the Hog in Winter, 80-year-old athletic director Frank Broyles, who didn't like Nutt making eyes at others.

And now this. Broyles has never been a patient man with his football coaches. In this day and age, six consecutive bowl games are old news. There's never a good time to have the school's worst loss since World War II. But Nutt has backed himself into a third-and-20. He is one of the most positive, optimistic coaches in the game. He'll have to rely on that in the weeks ahead.

"Now is when you find out about character and we'll really call on our seniors," Nutt said. "We've got to somehow bury that one and you have to go."

3. How good is Florida State?
FSUAfter an unsightly 3-0 start, even coach Bobby Bowden said his No. 6 Seminoles could just as easily be 1-2. But a comment made by Boston College coach Tom O'Brien in the wake of the Eagles' 28-17 loss to the Seminoles on Saturday night is worth dissecting.

"They won the first five and the last five minutes of the game," O'Brien said. "We had the other 50."

O'Brien meant that as a building block for his Eagles, who must rebound from an emotional loss in their first Atlantic Coast Conference home game and play at Clemson, one of the toughest venues in the league. But O'Brien's comment also says that Florida State, as young as it is, won at crunch time. That's a quality that most young players can't even define, much less display.

The Florida State defense won that crunch time. In the opening minutes, linebacker A.J. Nicholson intercepted one pass and returned it for a touchdown, and intercepted a second to set up a second touchdown. In the final minutes, Boston College ran off seven snaps inside the Seminoles 2-yard-line and failed to score.

That's a veteran-like performance by a team using more freshmen than any of Bowden's previous 29 Seminole squads.

"We're trying to get mystique back," Bowden said. "It's what I talked to my kids about. People say -- and rightfully so -- that Florida State has lost their mystique. Whatever that is, I'd like to get it back. It requires winning. So what do these young guys mean? It might mean you're getting that quality back that helped you dominate during the '90s."

Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka might have made a highlight for the ages when he chased down tailback Lorenzo Booker and swatted the ball out of Booker's grasp as he was about to score in the final minute of the third quarter, but the Seminoles persevered. That's another quality for which young players aren't well known.

Quarterback Drew Weatherford, the freshman who looked so out of his element against Miami and in the first half against the Eagles finished 20-of-38 for 243 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

In the fourth quarter, Weatherford completed 10-of-12 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.

It won't be all pretty from here. But it will be prettier.

"[Kenny] O'Neal is one of the most dangerous receivers we've got," Bowden said. "And we threw him about as simple a pass to him as we could throw. He stood there and our quarterback stuck it right in his numbers and he dropped it. That's not like him. He's not supposed to do that. But that's a freshman in a tight ball game. He'll learn from that. That's what happens when you put in all these freshmen. We started rotating them in there the other night and just took a chance that they didn't freeze. Some of them did and some of them didn't."

This is probably as good a week as any for the Seminoles to be off. There's a lot of teaching going on.

"So far so good," Bowden said. "We know we have to get better because the people we are going to play are going to get better."

Ivan Maisel | email

ESPN Senior Writer