Will college football learn its lesson?
The talk all week was all about how some once-proud programs were "back": Florida State, Miami and Washington. They all had great victories last weekend, but in the excitement over these wins many ignored the fact that there was a lot of football to be played. Not that any of those three took part in the excessive praise but Saturday marked a day in which all learned just how far they still had to go. Florida State kicked things off with a 17-7 loss to USF, a team hoping to at some point crack the "Big Three" within the state of Florida.
Redshirt freshman QB B.J. Daniels, a native of Tallahassee, didn't have the best game in regards to accuracy (8-for-21 passing) but he did account for more than 350 yards of offense and two passing touchdowns on the day. But he wasn't the most troubling aspect of the loss for the Seminoles despite their not recruiting him out of high school. That (dis)honor would go to the line play, where they were soundly whipped on both sides of the football by the Bulls. And this was just one week after dominating BYU up front to the tune of 313 yards rushing, so clearly there's more work to be done if they're to contend in the ACC and get back to being Florida State.
As for the Hurricanes all the talk leading up to their game in Blacksburg surrounded the idea that the "swagger" was back (how about we retire that word, by the way) and wins over the Hokies and Oklahoma was all that stood between them and a run at a national title. Well, Virginia Tech had their own motivation in the form of a note left in the locker of each defensive player by defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
The Hokies went into the weekend ranked 104th in rushing defense and they held the Hurricanes to just fifty-nine. QB Jacory Harris was harassed into a 9-for-25 afternoon, and Virginia Tech racked up 272 yards on the ground in the 31-7 beating. Two things learned from that game: Miami isn't all the way back just yet, and if you want to win the ACC you've got to go through Blacksburg. Now it's Frank Beamer's Hokies who have the inside track to Tampa; had Miami won the race would have been all but over.
Lastly there's Washington, who found themselves ranked going into their game at Stanford. Never mind the fact that Steve Sarkisian's Huskies were three games removed from a 0-12 season; they'd beaten USC so the rebuilding job was complete, right? Stanford had a resounding answer to the contrary in Palo Alto, whipping the Huskies by a 34-14 final. RB Toby Gerhart rushed for 200 yards and the Cardinal as a team racked up 321 yards on the ground. Washington simply couldn't get Stanford off the field and their three turnovers didn't help matters either.
So what's there to be learned from this weekend? Outside of the top three teams (Florida, Texas and Alabama) we really don't know who can do what on a weekly basis. So the kneejerk reactions, as in this program is "back" and this one is "down", probably aren't the best way to go. As each week passes, 2009 feels more and more like 2007.
ACC: Who's the best quarterback in the ACC?
Jacory Harris has gotten a lot of the publicity in the first month of the season and rightfully so. But don't forget about NC State's Russell Wilson, who hasn't thrown an interception in 364 pass attempts and threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns in the Wolfpack's 38-31 win over Pittsburgh in Raleigh. He also rushed for ninety-one yards, leading State to 530 yards of offense in the comeback.
Down 31-17, the Wolfpack scored the game's final twenty-one points to save some face for a league that would lose two games to Big East opponents. There are a number of good quarterbacks in the ACC but most have issues with consistency, so the race for First-Team All-ACC honors may come down to these two sophomores.
Big 12: Baylor's season took a serious blow with Robert Griffin III going down.
Griffin tore the ACL in his right knee in the first quarter of the Bears' 68-13 blowout of Northwestern State on Saturday yet still played the entire first half. He went 13-for-19 for 226 yards and three scores, a very good performance considering the circumstances. But the question for Art Briles' team is where do they go from here? Blake Szymanski, who has the most experience among the remaining quarterbacks, is day-to-day with a shoulder injury suffered on Saturday.
If he can't go the job falls into the hands of junior Tyler DeLoach, but the Bears will need both to get reps against Kent State next weekend with Oklahoma to follow on the 10th. Griffin III was the one trump card that Baylor had in their quest for bowl eligibility, and now with him out things get a lot tougher. But if we learned anything from USF it's that you can never count anyone out.
Big East: Pittsburgh had better figure out how to get their defense off the field.
Lost in the mastery of Russell Wilson in Raleigh was the fact that the Panthers haven't done too well defensively. They did enough to beat the likes of Youngstown State, Buffalo and Navy, but a unit that was supposed to be among the best in the Big East ranks seventh in the conference in total defense (351.8 yards) and pass efficiency defense (139.6), and sixth in pass defense (239.3 yards per game). The Panthers do lead the conference in sacks per game, but the secondary has had its fair share of issues this season. And given how well defending champion Cincinnati is throwing the football that's an area that needs to be rectified if the preseason favorites to win the conference.
Big Ten: Kirk Ferentz once again bests Joe Paterno.
For the seventh time in the last eight meetings the Hawkeyes knocked off Penn State, this time forcing four turnovers in the 21-10 win. Iowa scored the last sixteen points of the game, all in the fourth quarter, harassing Daryll Clark into a 12-for-32 performance with three interceptions. Neither team was great offensively but the turnovers and special teams (Iowa blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown) made the difference in the Hawkeye victory.
Running backs Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher combined to rush for 161 yards, and if they can produce similar results the rest of the way this becomes a true conference title contender. As for Penn State their hopes of a Rose Bowl aren't done but if they can't take better care of the football it's hard to see them making a return trip to Pasadena.
Conference USA: Houston keeps their BCS hopes alive at home.
The Cougars took care of business late, with Case Keenum running for a four-yard score in the game's final minute, in beating Texas Tech 29-28. In what was a thrilling contest Kevin Sumlin's Cougars posted 579 yards of offense, 435 of which came thanks to the arm of Keenum. The game featured sixty first downs and more than eleven hundred yards of offense, a game in which the saying that "whoever has the ball last wins" rang true.
The question now is can the Cougars get through a conference that's traditionally wild unscathed. Next up are three consecutive road games beginning with UTEP next week. They've got the offense to score with anyone but in order for them to accomplish that the defense, which currently ranks 97th in total defense, must improve in all phases of the game. But after taking care of Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, Houston is on its way.
Independents: Notre Dame survives thanks to Jimmy Clausen...and an interesting decision on the other sideline.
Things didn't look too good for the Fighting Irish in the second half; Jimmy Clausen's turf toe had relegated him to the sidelines and Purdue was able to reel off two fourth-quarter touchdowns to move ahead 21-17. Dayne Crist had done a serviceable job in getting Notre Dame out to a 17-7 lead but it was obvious who had to lead the offense once the Purdue defense figured things out. Clausen led the Irish seventy-two yards in 3:17, finishing the drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to TE Kyle Rudolph. But it would be unfair to ignore the role that the Boilermakers played in the comeback.
You can start with Danny Hope's decision to use a timeout following second and goal when the Purdue defense sacked Clausen. Notre Dame was looking to kill the clock on third down, which would have left them with one shot at the end zone. The timeout bailed the Irish out. Then there was QB Joey Elliott doing the one thing that you can't do in a two-minute drill: he took a sack. But on this play, and the one that followed, some blame should also go to the offensive line. But to point out these two plays alone would be to ignore the lack of discipline shown by the home team. Thirteen penalties for 103 yards combined with two turnovers will cost you in a close game, and that's exactly what happened to Purdue.
MAC: How do you explain what happened in Philadelphia?
Temple didn't look too good in either of their first two games, being overwhelmed at Penn State and not taking care of the football in a bad loss to Villanova. But on Saturday they proceeded to whip defending champion Buffalo 37-13, scoring twenty-seven unanswered points. The Bulls were out of character, turning the ball over five times with QB Zach Maynard tossing four picks. Vaughn Charlton didn't have the best of days at quarterback (6-for-17, 95 yards) but he at least avoided the catastrophic mistake. The Owls scored on both defense (95-yard interception return by Elijah Joseph) and special teams (James Nixon 92-yard kickoff return) in a win that throws the MAC East race for a loop. A race that was expected by many to be wide-open is now just that, with no clear favorite to get to Detroit.
Mountain West: It wasn't impressive by TCU did enough to leave Clemson with the win.
The $1 million game (TCU was given that as a guarantee) kept the Horned Frogs alive for a significantly larger payday should they keep winning and get some help (someone knocking off Boise State) along the way. The offensive star on Saturday was QB Andy Dalton, who accounted for 312 yards of offense and two passing touchdowns on the afternoon. But when discussing Gary Patterson's team the conversation inevitably returns to a defense that annually ranks among the nation's best.
Clemson was held to just 117 yards and no points in the second half, setting the stage for the game-winning pass from Dalton to Antoine Hicks early in the fourth quarter. DE Jerry Hughes gets the lion's share of the attention nationally, but this is an outstanding unit that can get after quarterbacks. Many may like BYU for the fact that they host both TCU and Utah, but are they equipped to deal with the pressure that the Horned Frogs can put on them? We'll find out on October 24th.
Pac-10: Oregon? They're doing just fine these days.
Similar to Virginia Tech the Ducks had to deal with the visitors getting the publicity last week; many saw this as the first of two games Cal needed to clinch their first trip to Pasadena since 1959. Oregon simply went about their business, and on Saturday they unleashed a lot more on the Golden Bears than those retro (circa 1996) uniforms. Simply put, Oregon beat Cal like they stole something in Eugene, racking up 524 yards and twenty-six first downs in the 42-3 win. And those numbers were with three lost fumbles; Chip Kelly's offense was to the point where those mistakes didn't mean much and the defense did its job as well.
Jeremiah Masoli was on fire through the air, completing twenty-one of twenty-five passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns, all of which were caught by TE Ed Dickson. Oregon also rushed for 236 yards on the day and the defense limited Heisman candidate Jahvid Best to just fifty-five yards on sixteen carries. Cal was also 3-of-15 on third down and Kevin Riley was harassed into a 12-for-31 day. What did Saturday prove in the Pac-10? Oregon is too explosive to be ignored, and this league is much deeper than many give it credit for.
SEC: How good can Florida be without Tim Tebow?
Luckily for Urban Meyer's team they have a bye week this week; the hit that put the senior out of the 41-7 win at Kentucky could have put him on the bench had there been a game scheduled for this week. So much of the offense goes through Tebow that it would definitely take a little adjusting if John Brantley were to take the reigns. Brantley would fit the mold of an Alex Smith, who was utilized more as a passer by Meyer when coaching at Utah. As a team on Saturday the Gators rushed for 362 yards with Tebow leading the way with 123 and a pair of scores and Jeff Demps added ninety-seven.
Offensively the options are plentiful and the defense, which held Kentucky to less than three yards per carry, is among the nation's best and arguably the deepest unit around. But to lose a player the caliber of a Tebow? That would be tough for any team to overcome, but Florida may be the best equipped to deal with such a loss. They just hope to not have to test that theory out.
Sun Belt: If Saturday is a harbinger of things to come this will be an entertaining race.
You could make the argument that Troy and Florida Atlantic were at the head of the class in the Sun Belt before the season began but that wouldn't hold much weight right now. Both were pushed to the limit on Saturday with the Trojans surviving while the Owls fell at home. Despite outgaining Arkansas State 507-305 Troy needed a fourth quarter touchdown pass from Levi Brown to Cornelius Williams to win the game thanks to a combined six turnovers and eighteen penalties.
FAU, on the other hand, outgained UL Monroe by 134 yards yet fell 27-25 in a game that featured a combined nineteen turnovers. Rusty Smith threw for 347 yards and a touchdown for the home team but they simply ran out of time. And you can't forget a Middle Tennessee team that forced five turnovers in a 37-21 win at North Texas. Can anyone win this league? Not exactly with Western Kentucky and North Texas looking to be the teams on the outside looking in, but don't be surprised if the winner of this conference finishes with two league losses. The teams look to be that close after the first month of the season.
WAC: Don't underestimate how important Idaho's win at Northern Illinois is.
The Vandals, traditionally a national doormat, are now 3-1 due to their 34-31 win in DeKalb. Rob Akey has done quite a job in his second season in Moscow, with the Vandals off to their best start since 1994. Nathan Enderle finished the game 18-for-23 for 270 yards and three touchdowns, and as a team Idaho posted 477 yards of offense and twenty-four first downs. RB DeMaundray Woolridge rushed for 144 yards and a score on Saturday, and an offense that ranked 97th in total offense (314.3 yards) last season currently ranks 42nd (405.8 yards).
Another key for Idaho: they're taking better care of the football. Tied for 96th in turnover margin in 2008, Idaho goes into their nationally televised game with Colorado State tied for 18th in that category. It would be a little much to suggest that Idaho is the biggest threat to Boise State, but you can't ignore the progress being made by Coach Akey and his staff.