The question all week long was would Florida QB Tim Tebow play and the amount of speculation approached (and may have even surpassed) the talk of Brett Favre's first game against the Green Bay Packers. Once cleared early Saturday afternoon it was obvious that the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner would start against 4th-ranked LSU in Baton Rouge. But while Tebow was solid as a "game manager" he wasn't the biggest reason as to why the Gators left town with a 13-3 win.
The defense, which returned all eleven starters and thought by some to potentially be the best in school history, was dominant on Saturday night. LSU could manage no more than 162 yards of offense, being held to 2.2 yards per carry (66 yards on 30 attempts), and they were a putrid 1-for-9 on third down. Jordan Jefferson struggled to establish anything of consequence in the passing game but when you're harassed all night by a front four that was dominant (five sacks) throughout it's going to be tough sledding.
Linebackers Brandon Spikes (11 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and A.J. Jones (ten tackles) were two of the many standout performers defensively for the Gators, who look to be on a collision course with Alabama on December 5th in the SEC Championship Game. As for the Tigers the inconsistency on offense has been an issue throughout the season and it's one that needs to be solved if they want to challenge Alabama for the SEC West title.
Here are some of the other key happenings in college football.
WAC: Nevada's non-conference struggles may prove to be just a thing of the past.
The Wolf Pack didn't have the best start to their season, going 0-3 due in large part to their inability to take care of the football. But the blowout win over UNLV last week may have served as a revival of sorts for Chris Ault's team, who won their second consecutive game on Friday night (37-14 over Louisiana Tech) and look like a possible threat to Boise State going undefeated. Colin Kaepernick accounted for 255 yards and five total touchdowns against the Bulldogs, and a previously-maligned defense held Louisiana Tech to 256 yards of offense and ten first downs.
The 200th career win for Coach Ault provided the blueprint of what the Wolf Pack will need to do if they want to entertain any thoughts of challenging at the top of the WAC. It was a very good start to conference play for Nevada and it could also be a sign of things to come. Also keep in mind that they have to visit Boise State in the regular season finale for both on November 27th.
Sun Belt: Troy not ready to hand over the crown just yet.
The Trojans' game against Middle Tennessee State was supposed to be a showdown that would shape the conference race; if the result is any indication of what's to come then Troy supporters may want to look into hotel rooms in New Orleans. Larry Blakeney's team scored the game's first twenty-four points, eventually winning 31-7 at Movie Gallery Stadium. The Trojans rushed for 264 yards on the night while defensively forcing QB Dwight Dasher to beat them by himself.
The Blue Raiders went 4-for-17 on third down and of their 354 yards of offense Dasher accounted for 298 and the lone touchdown. The Trojans had many more options offensively and that made all the difference. While the race for the Sun Belt title and requisite trip to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl could still end up being a wide-open affair the defending champs have taken the first step.
SEC: Georgia could be in serious trouble following their embarrassing loss to Tennessee.
Georgia's trip to Knoxville was expected to be a tossup, with the odds makers making the Bulldogs a one-point favorite. But the beating that ensued was one that could have long-lasting effects on both programs. Tennessee, who was told by head coach Lane Kiffin that they wouldn't lose to Georgia as long as he was there, did whatever they wanted offensively in a dominant 45-19 win. Jonathan Crompton had the best game of his career, throwing for 310 yards and four touchdowns, and the defense held Georgia to just eighty-nine yards rushing and forced three turnovers.
The offense hasn't moved the ball consistently for Mark Richt and the defense was sieve-like against one of the SEC's worst offenses. Is this a case of "mutual fatigue" between the coaching staff and the fans? Or is this simply a matter of making a few changes to the staff in advance of the 2010 season? This is a young football team so many thought of them as being a year away. But to go down in the manner that they did on Saturday is something that many fans will be unwilling to ignore.
Pac-10: An unbelievable turn of events leaves the conference with just one undefeated team.
Not to ignore Oregon's impressive second half at UCLA on Saturday afternoon but without a crazy ending in Seattle they wouldn't be alone atop the conference standings. Up 33-21 with 4:22 remaining Arizona looked to be well on their way to a 2-0 start in conference play. But a Washington touchdown drive was followed by one of the more bizarre interceptions you'll ever see with Mason Foster taking a pass that caromed off of the foot of Delashaun Dean 37 yards for the game-winning score.
Arizona went to their bread-and-butter play, the wide receiver screen, and it had worked all night.
But Nick Holt's defense read the play, sending two into the sight line of QB Nick Foles. Foles threw low and what happened is something that no one ever expects. The Wildcats ultimately cost themselves the game with penalties (eight for 81 yards) and a running game that managed just seventy-seven yards on the night. Oregon is atop the conference as a result and if the finish in Seattle is any indication of what's to come then we're in for a wild race out west.
Mountain West: The Horned Frogs escape Colorado Springs with their unblemished record in tact despite three turnovers.
#10 TCU won the battle in first downs (23-14), yards (393-287) and time of possession (33:55-26:05) yet still had their fair share of issues with Air Force due to a minus-3 turnover margin. But as usual Gary Patterson's defense rose to the occasion, limiting the Falcons to five yards per carry and 5-for-16 on third down in the 20-17 win. The score was a bit deceiving due to the fact that Air Force scored a touchdown in the game's final minute, but it did serve as a reminder of what's possible if TCU takes their foot off of the gas (they led 14-0 with 3:44 left in the first half). Look for the Horned Frogs to exhibit more of a killer instinct as the season wears on.
MAC: Western Michigan isn't out of the MAC West race just yet.
Simply put the Broncos were outclassed last weekend by Northern Illinois, falling 38-3 in DeKalb. Their showing last week was a major reason why I picked the Rockets to win on Saturday. In short: I'm sorry. WMU took Toledo out behind the woodshed at the Glass Bowl, scoring twenty points in the game's first 5:06 on their way to a 58-26 victory. Tim Hiller threw three touchdown passes with no interceptions and Brandon West accounted for 153 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Just one week after struggling to put up 251 yards (with four turnovers) the Broncos racked up 534 yards, showing that there's more than enough talent to put points on the board. And if they remain this explosive offensively maybe Central Michigan won't run away with the division.
Independents: Army could be on their way to a bowl game.
The job that Rich Ellerson has done at West Point may be surpassed by only Idaho's Robb Akey when it comes to first-half turnarounds. In his first season at Army Coach Ellerson has Army sitting at 3-3 after their thrilling 16-13 overtime win on Saturday against Vanderbilt. Things got interesting when Vanderbilt's Ryan Fowler had the game-tying field goal carom in off of the upright with less than a minute remaining in the game.
The Commodores looked to be on their way to a touchdown on the opening possession of overtime but Andrew Rodriguez stripped Vandy RB Warren Norman just short of the goal line and the Black Knights recovered. A couple of plays later Alex Carlton had his 42-yarder carom in off of the upright, giving Army their first win over an SEC opponent since 1990 (Vanderbilt). If Army can reach bowl eligibility they've got a deal with the EagleBank Bowl, and looking at their final six games three more wins isn't out of the realm of possibility. You have to admire what Coach Ellerson and his staff have managed to do in their first year on the job.
Conference USA: One team suffered a hangover from last week's result and it wasn't Houston.
After Houston lost their undefeated record and Top 25 ranking following their 58-41 loss at UTEP it would be easy to expect them to lose focus and fall to Mississippi State this week. But that didn't happen on Saturday as the Cougars took advantage of four Bulldog turnovers in winning 31-24 in Starkville. QB Case Keenum threw for 434 yards and four touchdown passes as the Cougars posted 534 yards of offense. Mississippi State was done in by turnovers at the worst times and eight penalties (some of which the home folks would have beef with the Conference USA crew over).
The Bulldogs were marching in late down just 24-17 but a block in the back call negated a touchdown and two plays later a fumble gave the ball back to Houston. It would be easy for a team that saw its BCS dreams crushed the week before to suffer from a hangover but Kevin Sumlin didn't allow his team to do that. As for the Miners, is there any way other than "they read their press clippings too much" to explain losing convincingly (35-20) to a bad Memphis team? Performances like this (allowing 270 yards on the ground; going 2-for-12 on third down) are exactly why UTEP has been a mediocre Conference USA program.
Big Ten: Ohio State may have beaten Wisconsin but they need to get that offense going.
Normally when you're outgained 368-184 you don't win football games. But when the defense can score two touchdowns and special teams another things tend to shift, which is exactly what happened in the Buckeyes' 31-13 win over Wisconsin in Columbus. The Badgers ran 89 offensive plays to Ohio State's 40 but neither that nor the disparity in time of possession (more than twenty-five minutes) was enough to negate the three scores on defense and special teams.
It also didn't help Bret Bielema's team that they were 6-for-19 on third down, and the errors essentially bailed out the below-par offense. But can they do that against the likes of Penn State (November 7th) and Iowa (November 14th)? What about Minnesota next week? Knowing what Jim Tressel is capable of the Buckeyes could end up doing enough to win the Big Ten but they'd be better served to solve these problems as opposed to hoping that things work out.
Big East: Louisville picks up a huge victory over Southern Miss.
While the Cardinals' last-minute 25-23 win over the Golden Eagles won't make waves nationally it did give Louisville their first win over an FBS opponent since a victory over USF last October. The good news for Steve Kragthorpe on Saturday night was that the running game got going, accounting for 180 yards on the evening. Victor Anderson rushed for ninety yards and a touchdown; while those are great numbers he went into the game averaging around seventy-three yards per game.
Adam Froman was decent through the air, leading an offense that has struggled with continuity to 439 yards of offense. In light of the turmoil that surrounded the program in the days leading up to the game Louisville fought to the bitter end, and they were rewarded with a victory.
Big 12: What is the true definition of the Heisman Trophy?
According to the Heisman Trust the "Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity." Nowhere in that statement does it say that the winner must be a quarterback, running back or wide receiver; however that's the way the voting usually works out with Charles Woodson being the most recent exception. If the Heisman is to go to the "most outstanding college football player in the United States", then it's time that more people listen to Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples and consider Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh.
The senior, widely regarded as a Top 5 pick in April's NFL Draft, accounted for six tackles (1 TFL), a sack, one forced fumble, one interception and one pass breakup in the Huskers' 27-12 come from behind win at Missouri. But those numbers don't measure the total impact of his presence on the field; without him leading the Blackshirts the Tigers likely post their third consecutive blowout of Nebraska. For the season Suh leads Nebraska with thirty-two tackles (7 TFL), three sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and seven pass breakups. Not saying that he's the frontrunner for the Heisman, but is there any harm in thinking outside of the box in regards to who gets the award?
ACC: On Saturday it became even more obvious that the strength lies in the Coastal Division.
There were three meetings on Saturday of Atlantic and Coastal Division teams and all three were won by the Coastal. Things kicked off with Virginia Tech slaughtering Boston College 48-14 in Blacksburg as the Eagles were limited to 163 yards and 1-for-10 on third down. The Hokies were dominant in all phases of the game in a meeting of division leaders and the same rang true in Duke's 49-28 win at NC State. Thaddeus Lewis threw for 459 yards and five touchdowns in the beating and the defense forced four Wolfpack turnovers.
The win was the Blue Devils' first conference road victory since 2003, and considering the fact that many thought State had a chance to win the Atlantic before the season began this is a stunning result. And then there's Florida State, who put up a fight against Georgia Tech yet fell 49-44 because they couldn't stop the run. Tech rushed for 401 yards in a wild game marked with poor tackling, five combined turnovers and a lightning delay. Neither defense showed up yet of the three Atlantic Division teams the Seminoles put up the best effort. That may not be a good sign of what's to come in the ACC Championship Game on December 5th.