Tony's Top 10: Murray looks for 'big' win; rivalries nearing their end
Can Aaron Murray get a break from the Palmetto State? Georgia plays host to South Carolina, and the pressure's on the Dawgs' QB to avoid another 0-2 start.
OK, we're off to a good start and actually got some of our questions answered last week. But all the start of the season does is raise even more questions. We have a bunch for Week 2.
1. Can Georgia's Aaron Murray finally win a big one? It is a silly question but one that persists for the Bulldogs' senior quarterback in light of last week's 38-35 heartbreaker at No. 8 Clemson.
Murray, the only quarterback in SEC history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in three consecutive years, has a résumé that includes the following since the start of the 2011 season:
•A record of 22-7, 14-4 against SEC competition.
•Two straight trips to the SEC Championship Game, losing to No. 1 LSU in 2011 and No. 2 Alabama in 2012.
•In last season's SEC title game, Murray drove his team to within 5 yards of beating Alabama, which means the Bulldogs were within 5 yards of winning the BCS national championship (sorry, Notre Dame).
•Murray is 0-3 against South Carolina, Saturday's opponent in Athens. But when it comes to Georgia's other rivals Murray is 3-0 vs. Georgia Tech, 3-0 vs. Tennessee, 2-1 vs. Florida and 2-1 vs. Auburn (the only loss being to the 2010 national champions).
I guess none of those 22 wins were big games because the line of questioning arose again this week after Murray committed two crucial turnovers at Clemson.
He has not had his finest moments against South Carolina. In his three games vs. the Gamecocks he has completed barely 50 percent of his passes with two interceptions, one fumble and seven sacks.
"This is a big game, especially for the senior class," Murray told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We have to put what happened the last three years behind us."
If Georgia loses, the Bulldogs will start 0-2 for the second time in three years. In 2011 Georgia lost to Boise State and South Carolina, but won 10 straight to reach the SEC Championship Game.
2. Can Michigan put together a running game vs. Notre Dame? We can talk about the demise of the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry next year, when the two teams play their final game (for the foreseeable future) in South Bend. I want to talk about the big uglies up front.
A year ago Notre Dame had one of the best run defenses in the country, giving up only 105.7 yards per game. In fact, the Irish didn't give up a rushing touchdown last season until they got hammered in the BCS title game by Alabama.
With eight starters returning, including nose Louis Nix III and defensive end Stephon Tuitt (watch the matchup with superb Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan), Notre Dame will again be good against the run.
Michigan ran for 242 yards last week against Central Michigan. But the Wolverines have three new starters on the offensive line and lost redshirt freshman running back Drake Johnson to injury last week against the Chippewas.
I picked Michigan to win this game, but why is that starting to feel shaky?
3. Will this be the last Florida-Miami game? Enjoy this one down in South Florida in whatever they are calling that stadium now (it will always be Joe Robbie to me) because you might not see it again for a long time. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley told reporters this week he didn't envision a future home-and-home with the Hurricanes given some of the realities of scheduling in the SEC.
"You never say never but it's really, really difficult," Foley said.
State rival Florida State is already fixed on the Florida schedule each year. And in 2016 the SEC is going to consider a number of adjustments that could include a nine-game SEC schedule. There won't be room for the Hurricanes.
4. Can Bobby Petrino start 2-0 against the SEC? Four SEC schools hired head coaches in the offseason and all took a pass on Petrino, who built Arkansas into a top-10 team and was then let go for some off-field indiscretions.
Western Kentucky , needing a replacement for Willie Taggart, said yes and Petrino made his debut as head coach with 35-26 win over Kentucky, one of the schools that passed on him. It should be noted that the Wildcats were 0-8 in the SEC last season and are starting over under Mark Stoops. Some in the Big Blue Nation wanted to hire Petrino instead.
This week Petrino gets another shot at an SEC school that didn't want him with a trip to Tennessee, which got off to a good start under Butch Jones against overmatched Austin Peay.
But Western Kentucky has some SEC-caliber weapons in quarterback Brandon Doughty (27 of 34 last week) and running back Antonio Andrews. And when Petrino has weapons he can cause some trouble.
5. Can Tommy Tuberville start 2-0 vs. the Big Ten? We thought Cincinnati certainly had a shot against Purdue in Tubs' debut as Bearcats head coach. But Cincinnati simply overwhelmed the Boilermakers 42-7. Now Cincy can start 2-0 and establish itself as the primary challenger to Louisville (Rutgers also figures into the mix) in the American Athletic Conference by beating Illinois, which was less than impressive in beating Southern Illinois 42-34 last week.
Tuberville is keeping his quarterback competition going between Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux, who both had their moments against Purdue. Keep your eye on that.
6. Can Virginia slow down Oregon to merely warp speed? Virginia (1-0) is convinced that it knows a little something about up-tempo offense. The Cavaliers couldn't keep pace with Larry Fedora's track team from North Carolina last season, losing 37-13.
Last week BYU ran 93 plays but could only score 16 points and the Cavaliers prevailed 19-16. So Virginia thinks it has a clue.
It doesn't. Virginia hasn't seen anything like the Oregon Ducks, who come to Charlottesville on Saturday. I don't know if it's possible, but Oregon actually looked like it was playing faster in its first game with Mark Helfrich as head coach as the Ducks rolled up 772 yards (with three backs over 100) in destroying Nicholls State. The Ducks ran 71 plays in just 19:42 of possession. That's breathless.
7. Can South Carolina State hold Clemson to under 100 plays? Tajh Boyd played perhaps his best overall game as Clemson's quarterback in last week's win over Georgia. But offensive coordinator Chad Morris was not satisfied. He wants the offense to go faster after running "only" 76 plays against the Bulldogs.
"I'm convinced we should have gotten in at least 10-12 more plays," said Morris when we talked on Tuesday. "Tajh knows that as soon as the play is over he needs to be looking at me and we need to get to the line. We're on the same page and we'll be better this week." Poor SC State.
8. Who is Charles Sims and does he give West Virginia a chance against Oklahoma? Sims and West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen go way back. Holgorsen was Houston's offensive coordinator when Sims arrived in 2009. Holgorsen moved on and Sims became a very good back for the Cougars. In fact, if Sims had returned for his senior season in 2013, he would have been the leading returning rusher in Conference USA (851 yards in 2012).
But Sims earned his degree and decided to use his final year of eligibility with Holgorsen, now the head coach at West Virginia. Sims had 120 yards on 23 carries last week as the Moutaineers struggled with William & Mary before winning 24-17. With Geno Smith and Tavon Austin gone to the NFL, Sims is the best offensive weapon Holgorsen has as the Mountaineers go to Oklahoma.
9. Can David Ash get it done on the road? Mack Brown consistently said this summer that he had confidence in his junior quarterback and that Ash's third year in the program would be the charm. He had even more confidence in the collection of players his coaches have put around Ash.
After a slow start last week, Ash became only the fifth player in Texas history to record over 400 yards of total offense in a 56-7 win over New Mexico State.
Now we see how Ash's act plays away from home as the Longhorns go to BYU, which allowed only 274 yards of offense last week but still lost at Virginia 19-16. BYU was 5-1 at home last season.
BYU had the No. 3 defense in the country last season and returns one of my favorite players, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, among the better impact players in the college game.
10. So what kind of numbers does Teddy Bridgewater put up this week vs. Eastern Kentucky? When you watch the Louisville quarterback play, don't focus on the sheer numbers. Watch his mechanics. Watch his total command and flawless execution. The guy looks like an NFL-ready quarterback.
He completed 23 of 28 passes for 355 yards against Ohio last week and could have doubled that if he wanted to. Just take that performance and put it in a box because against this Louisville schedule Bridgewater is going to do it week after week. Louisville will be 11-0 when it plays at Cincinnati on Dec. 5 in a game that will likely decide the first American Athletic Conference championship.
But we may as well ask this now: Will it be good enough for Bridgewater to win the Heisman Trophy? It's a question that we'll ask every week.
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