College Football: Week 7 Recap

October 19th, 2009
Normally this space would be occupied by one of the college football weekend’s biggest stories in regards to the happenings on the field. Sadly, tragic news out of Connecticut overshadows a weekend in which the first BCS standings will be unveiled.

A family and campus mourns the death of UConn cornerback Jasper Howard, whose life was taken in a fatal stabbing early Sunday morning following an on-campus dance. Howard, 20, was a native of Miami who led the Big East in punt return average last season and had just hours before posted eleven tackles and a forced fumble in the Huskies’ 38-25 win over Louisville.

According to the Connecticut State Police a fire alarm was pulled at 12:26 AM, and an altercation between two groups happened shortly thereafter. Two people were stabbed, and while one (who remains unidentified) was treated at and later released from Windham Community Memorial Hospital Howard wasn’t as fortunate. He was transferred to St. Francis Hospital in Hartford via Life Star, where he eventually passed (information courtesy of the Hartford Courant).

Howard is survived by his mother and two younger sisters. His girlfriend was also expecting the couple’s first child, news that makes this that much more heartbreaking. Condolences go out to Jasper’s family and the University of Connecticut community.

WAC: Idaho continues their improbable resurgence.

The Vandals haven’t taken part in the postseason since 1999, but there will be an update to that bit of history thanks to their 35-23 win over Hawaii on Saturday. Idaho (6-1, 3-0) got the job done on the ground, rushing for 194 yards and going an excellent 8-for-10 on third downs. Nathan Enderle was efficient, throwing for 226 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions, and the running back tandem of DeMaundray Woolridge and Princeton McCarty will be a handful for teams going forward. But things get tougher in the coming weeks for Idaho. Next up is a hot Nevada team in Reno, followed by home games against Louisiana Tech and Fresno State.

Sun Belt: It looks like one of three teams will win the conference this year.

It certainly isn’t a surprise that the Trojans lead the Sun Belt with a 3-0 record; the surprise lies within the fact that the other two teams undefeated in conference play were projected to be middle of the pack teams in the preseason. UL Monroe has won three straight, most recently beating Arkansas State 16-10 on Tuesday despite losing starting QB Trey Revell to injury. The Red Wolves were quite charitable in the rain, turning the ball over three times and getting whistled for sixteen penalties in the loss, but that’s not the fault of the opportunistic Warhawks. 

In-state rival UL Lafayette also remained undefeated in conference play thanks to a 30-22 win at Western Kentucky. The Ragin’ Cajuns put up 434 yards of offense in the win, including a solid performance from QB Chris Masson. There’s always the possibility of FAU making some noise but more than likely one of the aforementioned three will represent the conference in the New Orleans Bowl.

SEC: Take your pick: Alabama or Florida.

Two things are obvious at the halfway point of the season in the SEC: defending champion Florida and Alabama are the two best teams in the league, but they’re going to have to earn their way back to Atlanta. Florida survived a game bunch of Razorbacks in Gainesville, needing a field goal with nine seconds remaining to pull out the 23-20 win. The first half was an ugly one for the Gators, who went into the locker room trailing 10-3 after what head coach Urban Meyer referred to as the worst half they’d played since he arrived on campus. But thanks to Tim Tebow and pass catchers Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez Florida was able to survive the upset threat. Alabama had a fight on its hands as well, but the difference maker was sophomore running back Mark Ingram in the 20-6 victory.

Ingram rushed for 246 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, catapulting himself into the Heisman discussion. So who should be the top-ranked team? The coaches and BCS polls have the Gators on top while Alabama leads in the AP. In terms of consistency it may be the Crimson Tide right now, but if that’s to be the case at the end of the season Greg McElroy will need to perform better (10-20, 92 yards 2 INT) against stout defenses.

Pac-10: Nick Foles continues to impress for the Wildcats.

Arizona went into the season not really knowing who the right man for the quarterback job was; Matt Scott got the call early on due to his ability to make plays with his feet. But looking back on this season, people may want to consider what the loss of All-American TE Rob Gronkowski did to the offense. Once his back injury became a season-ender the Wildcats were without playmakers in the passing game (at the time); there was even more of a need for an accurate passer. Enter Michigan State transfer Nick Foles, who has thrown seven touchdown passes to two interceptions since being named starter following Arizona’s loss at Iowa.

He was on from the start in Arizona’s wild 43-38 win over Stanford on Saturday, completing forty of fifty-one passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns (no picks). But even with Foles lighting it up through the air, the key for Arizona challenging for their best finish in the Pac-10 since 1998 will be the running game. There’s plenty of talent in Nic Grigsby and Greg Nwoko but they haven’t been as productive as they were late last season thanks to Grigsby and Keola Antolin. And with a schedule that’s back loaded with their toughest conference challenges, more balance is a necessity.

Mountain West: The stage is set for TCU’s visit to Provo.

Both teams took care of business on Saturday with the Horned Frogs whipping Colorado State while the Cougars won at San Diego State. Now comes the rematch of a game that got out of hand in Fort Worth last season. TCU blitzed BYU to the tune of 32-7, giving teams the blueprint on how to slow down the vaunted BYU offense. Gary Patterson’s defense pressured Max Hall all night long, forcing the quarterback into a pair of interceptions while also forcing a pair of fumbles.

In their four losses over the past two seasons, BYU has turned the ball over an astonishing eighteen times, resulting in a turnover margin of minus-14. You can’t win big games like that. If Hall and company can’t deal with the pressure that DE Jerry Hughes and the rest of the TCU defense can (and will) bring the undefeated Horned Frogs could leave Provo with the win. Expect a hard-nosed, physical football game next weekend.

MAC: Central Michigan looks poised to run away with the MAC West.

Combining the Chippewas’ 34-23 win over Western Michigan with Northern Illinois losing at Toledo 20-19 and you’ve suddenly got a race that lacks a serious challenger to Dan LeFevour and company. WMU lost despite twenty-seven first downs and nearly 500 yards of offense, but the defense was unable to contain the versatile LeFevour. As for Northern Illinois, the Huskies were done in by the fact that the offense still has issues putting points on the board. You’ve got to have balance and it’s become quite apparent that Butch Jones’ team is best equipped to win games in a variety of ways. The schedule also works in Central’s favor, with Toledo and Northern Illinois both having to visit Mount Pleasant. After a one-year hiatus it looks like the Chips could find themselves back in the MAC Championship Game.

Independents: Closer, but still no cigar for the Fighting Irish.

The talk all week was about how much Notre Dame had improved going into their matchup with USC, and they could not only challenge but beat the Trojans. That talked seemed to ring hollow when the score reached 34-14 early in the fourth quarter, but there was a noticeable difference from that point forward. Prior editions of the Irish would have folded the tent, hoping to be spared embarrassment by the superior Trojans, but this group stood up and fought, eventually getting three shots at the end zone to tie the game before falling 34-27. Ultimately Matt Barkley was too much for Notre Dame, but Jimmy Clausen also played well in defeat. So while their hopes of getting into a BCS game may be dashed, there’s at least some tangible evidence that the Fighting Irish can compete with high-level competition.

Conference USA: Could the East Carolina offense be ready to awaken from its season-long slumber?

The Pirates went into their game with Rice not scoring more than 29 points in a game this season, with QB Patrick Pinkney struggling to make plays in the passing game and the running game lacking consistency. But the sight of the Rice Owls may have been the catalyst for improvement, with ECU scoring forty-nine points in their 49-13 win over the winless Owls. Make no mistake about it; ECU will see much tougher competition when they take on the final four games of the season (Virginia Tech, Tulsa, UAB and Southern Miss) but this may be a good start. Just one caveat: they must take better care of the football. Three more turnovers on Saturday make thirteen on the season, but while they do rank fourth in the conference in turnover margin the Pirates can ill afford to put their defense behind the eight ball too often as the stakes get higher.  

Big Ten: People continue to doubt Iowa, yet the Hawkeyes keep on winning.

The Hawkeyes didn’t get off to the best start in Madison, falling behind 10-0 halfway through the second quarter. But from there the Iowa defense took over and the offense posted twenty unanswered points to give the Hawkeyes the 20-10 victory. Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien threw three interceptions and a running game that usually batters opponents accounted for just eighty-seven yards (2.6 yards per rush) on the afternoon. Iowa’s running game didn’t do much either but they had Ricky Stanzi (17-23, 218 yards 1 TD), who was efficient and didn’t throw an interception. If Iowa can take care of the football they’ll find ways to win. Whether or not those wins merit style points isn’t important, and Kirk Ferentz’s team could care less.  

Big East: If you want to win the Big East you’d better have a capable backup quarterback.

Interesting stat: seven of the eight teams in the Big East have gone to their backup quarterback at some point this season. On Thursday night Cincinnati backup Zach Collaros had to step to the plate when Tony Pike went down with an injured left wrist. Collaros stepped up in grand fashion, taking a quarterback draw seventy-five yards for a touchdown that gave the Bearcats a 24-10 lead in what eventually would be a 34-17 victory. Pike may be able to play next weekend when Cincinnati plays Louisville for the “Keg of Nails” at home, but if he isn’t at least Brian Kelly knows that he’s got a guy who can step in and make a few plays himself in Collaros.

Also of note is the concussion suffered by West Virginia’s Jarrett Brown in the Mountaineers’ 24-7 win over Marshall. Geno Smith did enough to deliver the win over the Thundering Herd and it remains to be seen if Brown will be ready to go when WVU hosts Connecticut on Saturday. If not, Smith needs to be ready to take over the offense. By the way, the only team yet to replace their starter in a game is Pittsburgh (Bill Stull), who currently leads the conference with a 3-0 mark.  

Big 12: Is there anyone in the conference that can knock off Texas?

The Longhorns certainly didn’t look like world beaters in their 16-13 win over Oklahoma, but given what happened to the likely challengers from the Big 12 North all that may sit between Mack Brown’s team and an appearance in the BCS Championship Game are road trips to Missouri and Oklahoma State the next two weeks. And given the drop in offensive production from the Tigers when faced with challengers that can match up athlete for athlete (Nebraska and Oklahoma State the last two weeks) it’s tough to see Gary Pinkel’s team knocking off Colt McCoy and company. But if Texas wants to be a serious threat to win the national title McCoy is going to need some help from the running game. But it’s a good problem to have when you’ve averaging nearly 170 yards per game on the ground and people have questions about your ability to run the football.

ACC: Feeling left out of the chaos, the ACC Coastal decided to complicate things this weekend.

It only took one result to accomplish this: Georgia Tech 28, Virginia Tech 23. Now they both have one conference loss, as does Miami, leaving Virginia (yes, Virginia) alone atop the division with a 2-0 league mark. Things haven’t gotten as bad as the Atlantic Division (Boston College leads that division with a 3-2 mark; 0-3 Florida State is still in contention too) but if Al Groh can continue his seemingly annual rise from the chopping block who knows what the ACC is capable of. Next weekend the Cavaliers host the Yellow Jackets, who they beat on the road 24-17 last year so it’s definitely not out of the realm of possibility. At this point, it’s better to expect chaos yet hope for clarity when watching the ACC. And you won’t be cheated in the entertainment department either.

BCS Standings

1 Florida 6-0
2 Alabama 7-0
3 Texas 6-0
4 Boise State 6-0
5 Cincinnati 6-0
6 Iowa 7-0
7 USC 5-1
8 TCU 6-0
9 LSU 5-1
10 Miami (FL) 5-1
11 Oregon 5-1
12 Georgia Tech 6-1
13 Penn State 6-1
14 Virginia Tech 5-2
15 Oklahoma State 5-1
16 Brigham Young 6-1
17 Houston 5-1
18 Utah 5-1
19 Ohio State 5-2
20 Pittsburgh 6-1
21 Wisconsin 5-2
22 Arizona 4-2
23 West Virginia 5-1
24 South Carolina 5-2
25 Kansas 5-1