Senior College Football Columnist

The Big Picture: At first glance, Pac-12 seems lacking


It appears the game of college football is more and more about style points these days, and it's not just rooted in BCS metrics, but also in the ever-spinning business of conference realignment. And so against our better judgment, here we are trying not to overreact too much to Week 1 action, both on and off the field.

The on-the-field business certainly did not reflect well for the revamped Pac-12. The conference's resident heavyweight, Oregon, faced a team that had even more distractions this offseason than they had, and Phil Knight's favorite team was short-circuited on a big national stage once again.

Chip Kelly has a dynamic offense, but it is seeming more and more like the frenetic Ducks attack that looks so, well, awesome in league play wilts when it goes up against power teams from other leagues, or at least teams with added prep time. (See: the 2009 opener at Boise; the 2010 Rose Bowl vs. Ohio State; the 2011 BCS title game against Auburn; and now Saturday night's game against an LSU team that still had to replace an All-American DT [Drake Nevis] and the best defensive back in college football [Patrick Peterson]).

Kelly's star, running back LaMichael James, who was held to just 54 yards rushing and 3.8 yards per carry against Auburn, managed 57 yards and fewer than 3.2 yards per rush against LSU. The most telling stats for the night, though, were these: Oregon had 28 carries and none went longer than 13 yards; and on 82 plays, the Ducks didn't have any go for more than 18. That sounds so anti-Oregon. In fairness, we should note that the Ducks did travel into SEC country last year and blow out Tennessee, but those Vols were one of the worst teams in the SEC in 2010.

Kelly pointed out before the game that those teams that handled Oregon are great ones, well-coached and stocked with outstanding athlete. He echoed that point, again, after losing to LSU: "They've got a little bit different athlete running around out there right now," he told Ted Miller. "Looking at their D-line, standing next to them, walking off the field, they don't look like the kind of guys we see. That's the common trait, the trait you saw in the Auburn game."

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As blunt as that is, that's still not the kind of talk you'd expect to hear from the coach of a powerhouse program.

Beyond Oregon, there were plenty of other underwhelming performances around the league. UCLA didn't do anything to help Rick Neuheisel's hot-seat status by losing at Conference-USA Houston 38-34. I think the Cougars are really underrated by a lot of folks coming into this season. They have the great Case Keenum back and a terrific group of skill guys. I could see them going 12-0. Still, the Bruins defense, which is expected to be the team strength, looked overmatched, especially early, and UCLA couldn't recover. New defensive coordinator Joe Tresey won't face many QBs anywhere near as good as Keenum -- well, except for Andrew Luck. His team had all sorts of problems tackling. The Bruins need to get things sorted out fast or they could be starting at a 1-4 start, with only next week's game against San Jose State seeming like a solid W.

Then there was Oregon State, losing in OT to a FCS team (Sacramento State) that was barely over .500 last year. In a less surprising outcome, Colorado, one of the league's two newcomers, lost on the road to WAC team Hawaii 34-17.

Even some of the league's wins felt like losses. USC, which everyone close to the program believes is going to be much better in 2011, looked really shaky, barely surviving a scare from one of the worst teams in the Big Ten, Minnesota, 19-17. The Gophers shut out the Trojans in the second half. If there was a bright side for USC beyond Matt Barkley to Robert Woods, it was that the team that had such big problems in the final few minutes of games last season made a defensive play to win courtesy of Torin Harris' interception with 53 seconds remaining. Of course, they never should've needed to get to that point.

Washington only beat FCS Eastern Washington by three, 30-27. The Huskies also needed a late INT by Desmond Trufant to preserve a waaaay-too-close win against an inferior opponent. U-Dub gave up 473 yards passing and has Hawaii and Bryant Moniz on deck.

Washington State, which hammered Idaho State 64-21, lost its gifted QB Jeff Tuel to a fractured clavicle that figures to shelve him for months, which is potentially disastrous news for coach Paul Wulff, whose seat is steamy hot already.

The good news for the Pac-12: Stanford, not surprisingly, had no trouble with San Jose State. Andrew Luck opened the game 7 of 10, connecting with seven different receivers. Cal also had handled Fresno impressively, and neither Arizona school struggled with non-FBS programs.

The better news, potentially, for the Pac-12: If commish Larry Scott reels in Texas and Oklahoma, it would still feel like a heckuva start to the 2011 season, at least off the field.

Random stuff

 Speaking of LSU, is there any college coach out there who handles distractions better than Les Miles? There is the police investigation of the bar fight that has sidelined starting QB Jordan Jefferson (arrested on a felony battery charge). There is the suspension of do-everything WR/KR Russell Shepard by the NCAA; the health issues that forced new OC Steve Kragthorpe to turn over his play-calling duties, and all of it leading into a matchup with a team that had just played in the BCS title game. And, of course, Les Miles' team responded beautifully. People can talk about his decisions and antics and maddeningly entertaining explanations, but his presence can't be overstated. His team responds. I once asked LSU running backs coach Frank Wilson what is it about the Miles Magic and he said, "It's just Les, and the players really play hard for him and they really don't get caught up in all of the other stuff."

Sounds simple. It's not. We'll have more on this later in the week.

 I traded texts with South Florida defensive coordinator Mark Snyder early Saturday morning and asking him who he expected to come up big for the Bulls in South Bend. He mentioned sophomore LB DeDe Lattimore. Good call. Turns out, Lattimore had a huge first half as USF jumped out to a big lead that Notre Dame couldn't overcome. Lattimore made seven first-half tackles and had an interception in the end zone to snuff out an Irish drive. Another stud for USF was Jerrell Young, the free safety who made the strip near their own goal line that was returned for a Bulls TD and then closed out the game with an INT.

Kellen Moore was sensational even without his prime passing targets. (US Presswire)  
Kellen Moore was sensational even without his prime passing targets. (US Presswire)  
 I know Boise State is one of the most polarizing subjects in college football, but even their harshest critics have to acknowledge two big factors about this team: QB Kellen Moore is a fantastic college QB, and their D-line has talent that would thrive in the SEC.

Moore is extremely accurate, and incredibly poised and savvy, knowing exactly how to attack an opponent. In this case, it was Moore eviscerating Georgia's zone. At one point against the Bulldogs, he hit on 28 of 32 passes, which included three TDs. And remember, this was all without his two standout WRs, Austin Pettis and Titus Young, now in the NFL and the guy they expected to be their big playmaker, Geraldo Boldewijn (suspended before the game). This offense's ability to work decisively attacking what they get is truly impressive.

The Broncos more than held their own against the big Dawgs O-line, which many thought would handle BSU. DT Billy Winn and DE Shea McClellin (2.5 sacks vs. UGA) are stars. The Broncos pounded Aaron Murray, sacking him six times and bottled up the Dawgs' running game for most of the night, save for the one big run by Brandon Boykin.

Expect a season-long argument about Boise's scheduling merits, especially after the most noteworthy team on their schedule, TCU, was exposed on defense Friday night by Baylor.

As for the Dawgs, no one needs a win more in Week 2 than Mark Richt when South Carolina comes to Athens.

 Alabama's D is downright nasty. It dominated from the start, forcing six three-and-outs on the opening six drives. That's how you play an inferior opponent, removing any hope early, letting them know it's going to be a very long, painful day.

The Tide O-line is almost as impressive as the D. Are there two more impressive looking young linemen in the game than D.J. Fluker and Cyrus Kouandijo?

 Liked what I saw from Ohio State. Granted, like 'Bama and many others, the competition wasn't strong. But both QBs -- Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller -- had their moments, and tight end Jake Stoneburner is obviously going to be a factor in the Luke Fickell Era, catching three TD passes, one more than he had in all of 2010.

 Props to two ACC guys: North Carolina QB Bryn Renner was nearly perfect hitting on 22 of 23 passes in his first career start. Renner set an ACC record for highest single-game completion percentage at 95.7 percent. Virginia Tech RB David Wilson, who is poised I think for a monster season, ran wild on Appalachian State, going for 172 yards and three TDs on 16 carries.

 Cam Newton's former teammate at Blinn JC, Darrin Moore, a 6-4, 214-pound WR, caught 12 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown for Texas Tech against Texas State, which is over 100 yards more than he totaled in all of last season.

 On the set of our TV show on CBS Sports Network, we discussed just how many games Auburn will win in 2011. Despite their preseason ranking, there is a lot of skepticism about the Tigers prospects given all of the talent they've had to replace and their loaded schedule. I've heard people say they won't win more than five. I suspect they'll get seven. Yeah, they barely survived Utah State at home, but as the year moves along, look for this team to take big strides as all of these newcomers mature and settle in.

 Friday, I blogged about what a test the TCU game was for Baylor QB Robert Griffin. Yeah, he aced that. He was The Star of Week One. Thing you had to be most impressed with was his development as a quarterback. Yes, he has world class speed, but that's the bonus now. Not his identity as a QB. He's a very accurate and confident passer, who looks to beat a team with his arm -- and his impressive WRs -- not relying mostly on his legs.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.

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