Well "Gut-Check Saturday" was focused on some major battles that would stand to have a major impact on conference and national title races. And while we learned some important things about some of the nation's best, as well as some who hadn't been tested yet, did anyone expect USC's 35-game home winning streak to end against...Stanford? Well, the team that Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh opined could end up being one of the best college football teams ever" at Pac-10 Media Day, fell 24-23 thanks to four turnovers and an outstanding performance from backup QB Tavita Pritchard. For the experts who expected the Trojans to fall in one of their three road games in the latter stages of the season (Cal, Oregon and Arizona State), you were off by about a month. The Trojans fell to 10th in the AP Poll, and Coach Harbaugh has his first Pac-10 win after three blowout losses within the league, making this one that much more of a surprise.
Now is this win more of an upset than Appalachian State's win at Michigan? I, for one, say yes for two reasons. One, App State, winners of two straight national titles at the Championship Subdivision level, knew "how to win" heading into the Big House. Not to say that the Cardinal didn't, but they went into the Coliseum with a 1-3 record on the heels of a 1-11 effort in 2006. Secondly, I think its safe to say that aside from Mike Hart, the Trojans are much more talented across the board than the Wolverines. Now, we get to see how Stanford goes about building momentum. But TCU coming to town won't be an easy task. As for the Trojans, if they come out with the attitude that I expect them to (P.O'd), Arizona had better look out next weekend. Now here are some other observations from Week 6.
1. Georgia at #12...overrated.
I think many pollsters overlooked just how important line play is for good football teams. The Dawgs were flat-out whipped on both sides of the football in their 35-14 loss at Tennessee. For those fans placing blame at the feet of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, I ask you this: with a line that's both inexperienced and apparently incapable of blocking with consistency, how varied can his play selection really be? On defense, the line that was supposed to be a strength of this unit gave up 190 yards on the ground, and the unit couldn't make that one play to get off the field in the first quarter blitzkrieg that ended up 28-0 Vols after fifteen minutes. Normally, Vanderbilt week would mean a chance to shore some things up while paying minimal attention to the Commodores, but Vandy did win "Between the Hedges" last year.
2. You can forget that talk about the "Blackshirts" at Nebraska. The current defense doesn't deserve that distinction.
Well, the showdown in Columbia between Missouri and Nebraska was supposed to be the back and forth affair that would solve the mystery of the Big 12 North. Well, it gave a definitive answer on both team's chances to win the division (buy Mizzou, sell Nebraska), but one very important question remains. Where on Earth has the Nebraska defense disappeared to? 41-6...two games after giving up 40 to Ball State and surviving a missed 55 yard field goal, and one week after trailing Iowa State by 10 heading into the fourth quarter. Given the storied history of the "Blackshirt", Coach Bill Callahan and defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove need to nix that label for the current unit until they how marked improvement.
3. Three schizophrenic football teams: UCLA, Clemson and Georgia Tech.
First off, UCLA's 20-6 loss to previously winless Notre Dame was embarassing. Of course it didn't help that QB Ben Olson was lost to a knee injury in the first half. But when you turn the ball over seven times, you could have Troy Aikman (a former Bruin) under center and you'll still lose. There's no in-between for this team, as they either look like one of the best teams in the country or one of the worst depending on the week. Walk-on quarterback or not, the way UCLA lost is a joke.
As for Clemson, those "special" teams reared their ugly head yet again in a 41-23 home loss to Virginia Tech. For all the success Frank Beamer's program has enjoyed in the kicking game during his tenure, the Hokies had never returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in the same game. Until they visited Clemson last night. Eddie Royal (punt) and Macho Harris (kickoff) both reached the endzone in a game that also featured a Tech defensive score. Clemson running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller ran for 12 yards combined last night. Of course, falling behind 17-0 seemingly before the team makes it down the hill after touching "Howard's Rock" makes it hard for Rob Spence to stick to his offensive gameplan.
Lastly, Georgia Tech got off to yet another slow start, falling behind Maryland 21-3 before a Darrell Robertson fumble return for a score just before halftime made it 21-10. The offense got the job done, putting up nearly 500 yards of offense, but the defense proved to be little more than a speed bump on the Terps' scoring drives. The play length for each Maryland touchdown series in the first half: 3 plays, 4 plays, 5 plays. The final scoring drive, in the third quarter, took eleven plays to complete. When the defense shows up looking to dominate, like last week's win over Clemson, Tech is tough to beat. But when they play like they did in the first half on Saturday (or the game two weeks ago against Boston College), the Jackets will have a tough time.
4. Two of the toughest players in the country: Florida QB Tim Tebow and LSU running back Jacob Hester.
The talk all week heading into the showdown in Baton Rouge was that if Tebow ran the ball 15 or more times, he wouldn't have the luxury of finishing the game. Well, 16 carries for 67 yards to go along with 158 yards passing later, and Tebow was on the field throwing a Hail Mary that LSU knocked down for the 28-24 win. The Gators played well throughout the game, but the tide seemed to turn on Demetrius Byrd's touchdown catch to make it 24-21 Florida. This score, along with the stadium announcement that USC had lost, supplied the Tiger and their faithful with a second wind. The epitome of LSU's heart on display: hybrid back Hester, who ran for a career-high 106 yards on 23 carries. Hester, who I see as a "poor man's Brian Leonard", fought for each and every yard on a charge down the field for the game-winning score. Also, going 5-for-5 on fourth downs doesn't hurt your chances either. A great game that neither team deserved to lose in the end, but them's the breaks.
5. Meanwhile, Ohio State left no doubt as to who the best team in the Big Ten is.
Some wondered if the Buckeyes could survive a shootout with Purdue, especially on the road. But when you've got one of the best defenses in the country, you don't need to worry about that. For as explosive as their offense can be, the Boilermakers didn't score until there were ten seconds left...in the game. OSU won on the strength of their defense and the two-pronged running attack of Chris Wells (he's the one with the "Caesar" hairstyle) and Maurice Wells (he's got the dreads). QB Todd Boeckman threw three interceptions, but the defense stepped up to make sure there was no damage inflicted. As long as Boeckman can manage the game effectively, this could look a lot like 2002 for Ohio State when it's all said and done.
6. Kansas and Cincinnati are legit threats to make some noise this year.
I, like many, had questions about a Kansas team that played a weak schedule to this point in the year. Their trip to Manhattan was to be their first test, and if the 30-24 win over Kansas State is any indication, Mark Mangino's program may be turning the corner. QB Todd Reesing threw three interceptions, but he also had three touchdown passes on the afternoon. Running backs Brandon McAnderson and Joe Sharp both ran for more than 70 yards, and the unit put up 437 yards of offense. The key heading into the remainder of the year for the Jayhawks will be turnover margin, a category in which they finished even on Saturday.
Speaking of turnover margin, the Bearcats of Cincinnati are the best in America in that category. With 21 forced going into their game at Rutgers, Cincy forced four more turnovers in their 28-23 win. QB Ben Mauk threw for 257 yards and three scores, but the key to their 6-0 start has been their ability to take the ball away and convert the opportunities into points. As long as the Bearcats can continue this trend, look for them to compete for the Big East title. Also, they get West Virginia at home.
7. My Top 5:
1. LSU: no reason to drop the Tigers after they outlasted Florida
2. Ohio State: no disrespect to Cal, but for all intents and purposes
the Bucks shut out one of the nation's best offenses
3. California: the Golden Bears head north to take on an unpredictable
Oregon State team next weekend
4. Boston College: while all you-know-what breaks out beneath them in
the ACC, the Eagles are clearly the class of the league so far
5. South Florida: the Bulls managed to hang on against a feisty FAU team,
adding a window-dressing score at the end of the game
8. My Top 5 Heisman candidates as of right now:
1. Mike Hart, Michigan: without this senior running back, Michigan's
season would be over
2. Andre Woodson, Kentucky: despite the loss to South Carolina, the
senior is still the nation's best QB
3. DeSean Jackson, Cal: took this weekend off, but his performance at
Oregon still stands out as one of the season's best so far
4. Tim Tebow, Florida: No sophomore has ever won the award, which will
likely be the case again this year, but look out for the Gator QB
5. Colt Brennan, Hawaii: the strength of schedule, along with his being
banged up, may hurt Brennan's chances when the voting concludes
Thanks for reading. Take care.