Senior College Football Columnist

The Big Picture: On day of defenses, Sooners stand out


For most fans outside the Deep South, the next month may feel like one annoying, overhyped, obnoxious countdown to the LSU-Alabama game. But the reality is when you play in a league that has won an astounding five BCS titles in a row, you are going to get the benefit of the doubt. OK, a lot of the benefit of the doubt. People, especially in Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 country don't like it -- and it doesn't mean that the winner of that game in Tuscaloosa is a lock to win the BCS or even actually make it there. But this is what recent history does in a sport set up the way college football is.

The common denominator of 'Bama and LSU are ferocious defenses. Florida is probably most qualified to dissect which team is best. Gator QB/RB/TE Trey Burton wasn't shy about saying 'Bama is tougher on D -- even though LSU had just held UF to a season-low 213 yards -- and called out the Tigers secondary.

"They're not as good as advertised," Burton told reporters late Saturday. "I think the D-linemen and front seven is really, really good. ... Alabama's hands down a lot better. A lot more physical, just tougher guys. If I had to pick one to not go against, it'd definitely be Alabama."

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I suspect the physicality part stems in large part from the Tide's large linebackers, who are much bigger than LSUs. I'm still not sure 'Bama is actually better or playing better. On Saturday, Alabama shut out Vandy 34-0, meaning the Tide has held its first six opponents to 14 points or fewer. Business as usual it seems.

But the defensive unit that stepped up in a big way Saturday on the national stage doesn't play in the SEC. It was Oklahoma. The Sooners made a statement in the Cotton Bowl against No. 11 Texas, dominating 55-17 in a game that didn't feel that close.

Sure, the Longhorns' lack of experience and quality wins were exposed in the Red River Rivalry, but if you're the Sooners, you need to dominate your archrival in that setting. This is a style-points game with multiple potential unbeatens out there, especially after the way Wisconsin thumped Nebraska last week. The Sooners' previous biggest win this season, a 23-13 victory at FSU, looks less impressive as the 'Noles plummet from the national radar (going 2-3 with your wins coming against ULM and Charleston Southern will do that).

OU looked like a powerhouse Saturday. And with so much of this stuff with the BCS formula being subjective, that's significant. Landry Jones carved up the Texas defense, but the most impressive part of the Sooner rout was the way Brent Venables' D swarmed. Defensive ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis were relentless getting into the backfield, teaming for five sacks and seven TFLs. Inside, the Sooner tackles were pushing the pocket and creating havoc. As a group, OU piled up eight sacks and 17 tackles for loss, while limited Texas to 36 yards rushing on 45 attempts.

The win also improved Bob Stoops to 43-17 career against ranked opponents, underscoring the whole "Big Game Bob" rep. His team still has four ranked teams remaining on the schedule (K-State, A&M, Baylor and Oklahoma State). Of course, some of those opponents -- actually all but Oklahoma State -- could slip from the polls by the time they meet OU, so that's why looking so strong in front of so many people against Texas mattered so much.

Random stuff

 Through six quarters of Big Ten football, Nebraska had been outscored 68-23, and the barbs were coming. Bo Pelini's team was getting whipped by an Ohio State team that hadn't exactly looked a BCS contender. But then the Huskers offense woke up and began to flex its muscle in the second half as it has several other times this year while OSU imploded. The young NU O-line seemed to wear down a banged up Buckeyes defense. Nebraska, which had been held under 100 yards rushing for the first three quarters (88 yards on a 3.0-yard per carry average) responded with 144 fourth-quarter rushing yards and a 6.5-ypc average (as noted by the Omaha World Herald).

Ohio State certainly did their part to aid the 21-point rally, the largest in NU history. The Buckeyes went to the pass more than the run after QB Braxton Miller left because of a leg injury. OSU, which gained 178 rushing yards in the first half, only managed 65 in the second. Joe Bauserman again struggled mightily on the road, going 1 for 10, making him 3 for 24 for 26 yards and an INT in two road games. Defensively, OSU has given up an uncharacteristic number of big plays. The Buckeyes also have now given up more than 20 points in three of their six games. In the previous five seasons, they had never allowed more than three opponents to score 20 or more in the regular season.

 Back to Florida State for a second: The Seminoles continue to be plagued by mental mistakes. In the loss to Wake Forest, FSU committed five turnovers and had 13 penalties for 109 yards. The 'Noles have been, by far, the biggest disappointment of the first half of the season. They are 114th in turnover margin, 100th in sacks allowed and 112th in rushing. All from a team that was preseason No. 6. I will have more on the biggest disappointments of the first half of the season later in the week in the blog.

 Many people had Michigan on Upset Alert this weekend, but after some shaky Denard Robinson moments, the Wolverines took care of business on the road, beating Northwestern to go to 6-0. That is quite a threshold for the Wolverines historically. They are 6-0 for the sixth time since 1976, and all the previous 6-0 teams (1976, 1977, 1986, 1997, 2006) made it to the Rose Bowl.

I don't think people should be shocked that the Wolverines are off to such a strong start. The new staff did have almost every starter back on both sides of the ball, and many of those guys have now played a lot of football and aren't green as they were in 2009 and 2010. Brady Hoke also inherited one of the real difference-makers in college football in Denard Robinson and an experienced O-line. Those two things alone will get you to a bowl game. Hoke's best move was hiring Greg Mattison to try to help fix the D, and Mattison is doing that. Would they be 6-0 if the Michigan brass didn't give up on Rich Rodriguez after just three years? We'll never know. My hunch is they might have been had Rodriguez found a new DC.

 I'm not ready to say Georgia can run the table and become a Top 10 team this year, but the Dawgs' defense is much improved despite some attrition, and they look like they could save Mark Richt's job. UGA is doing exactly what it needs to do after the 0-2 start. They handled Tennessee on the road, completely making UT one-dimensional, and the adjustment to Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense seems to be progressing well. The Vols ended up with minus-20 rushing yards.

On the other side of things, sooner rather than later, Derek Dooley needs to start winning some games with Tennessee that aren't against bottom-feeders and inferior programs. I know Dooley inherited a mess, but remember, he has only had one winning season in his four years as a head coach. Georgia came to Knoxville unranked and without some key starters on defense, and the Vols' offense sputtered.

UT scored 40 plus in three games against overmatched opponents, but against the kinds of teams the Vols need to beat if you're going to be a Top 25 program, they've been outscored 53-35. And now is when the schedule gets tough. They have back-to-back games against LSU and Alabama. That 3-1 start looks like it's about to turn to 3-4 in a hurry. If former UT AD Mike Hamilton hadn't backed out of a game against UNC and replaced it with Buffalo, things would look even worse.

Is it the unis? Whatever it is, Maryland's Danny O'Brien is struggling. (Getty Images)  
Is it the unis? Whatever it is, Maryland's Danny O'Brien is struggling. (Getty Images)  
 Coming into this season Maryland's Danny O'Brien looked like one of the best young QBs in college football. Who knows if it's the "sophomore jinx" or the adjustment to the new coaching staff, but something is off with the Terps' quarterback. He has been shaky all season and was brutal against Ga. Tech, where he went 1 for 6 before getting benched. O'Brien, who had a glossy 22-8 TD-INT ratio last season, has a 4-6 TD-INT mark this year, and Maryland, which was 29th in scoring last season, is currently 91st.

 Good for Kevin Prince, who responded to the boos he received when he entered the game after UCLA starter Richard Brehaut was injured. Prince rallied the Bruins late in the fourth quarter to give UCLA (3-3) a win over Washington State. The win was as close to a "Can't Lose" game as Rick Neuheisel may get.

 Short, but remarkably efficient day for Brandon Weeden. The Oklahoma State QB goes 24 for 28 for 288 yards and five TDs in about the first 25 minutes and is given the rest of the day off as the Cowboys drilled Kansas.

 In the mailbag Friday, I wrote about Penn State no longer being a national power. The Nittany Lions shutting down unranked Iowa isn't going to change that perception, but it was a nice win and another strong performance by a good defense.

 Logan Thomas had been very shaky as Virginia Tech's new starter. I suspect too many people saw his frame and athletic skills and made the leap to Cam Newton and left out a few key components -- the biggest being composure and savvy. Thomas only had four TD passes in his first four games, but he was extremely sharp Saturday against Miami, accounting for five TDs (three passing) completing 23 of 25 passes, with one of the two incompletes coming from a drop. Still, Thomas may not have been the best player on the field. Lamar Miller, Miami's RB, continues to be the biggest bright spot in another down year for the 'Canes. Miller is spectacular and has proven to be much more than just a speed guy. He has now gone over 100 yards rushing in five consecutive games, tied with Trent Richardson for the longest streak in FBS football.

Miami falls to 2-3 and 0-2 in the ACC, but I don't think you can put that on QB Jacory Harris. He has played well, especially in the past 10 quarters, where he has thrown seven TDs and zero INTs. The defense though has been dreadful. Miami is 97th in run defense.

 Just what Nick Saban needed, another star to emerge. The only thing more impressive than the plays WR DeAndrew White was making Saturday night for Alabama was the fact that he's listed at only 6-0, 181; you'd think he was 6-3, 215, the way he goes up for the ball.

 After Austin Davis and Southern Miss lit up the Navy defense, going 21 for 23 for three TDs along with 75 yards rushing, Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green had some lofty praise for the USM QB:

"Davis is a great quarterback. He reminds me a lot of Brett Favre," Green told Bill Wagner of The Capital. "He can throw the ball on a rope and he can also run it. He's the total package."

 The Zooker is 6-0 and no one ever questioned his ability to find talent. Illinois has playmakers all over the field. A.J. Jenkins has emerged as one of the country's elite receivers, not only one of the Big Ten's best. Defensively, the Illini have developed another stud defender in Whitney Mercilus, who had three sacks, four TFLS and two forced fumbles Saturday. Mercilus now has 8.5 sacks, most in the country (although he ranks No. 2 in the NCAA stats, which are done on a per-game basis, and CSU's Nordly Capi has played one less game.)

 Interesting stat I saw from colleague Brett McMurphy: Under Bill Stewart, West Virginia scored 40 or more twice in three years. Under Dana Holgorsen, WVU already has topped 40 three times this year.

 Stats of the Day: Kentucky had six first downs against South Carolina, the same number of turnovers the Wildcats committed. Worse still, UK QBs went 4 for 26 for 17 passing yards and four INTs.

UK has been outscored 137-20 in three SEC games. Fortunately, UK has Jacksonville State up next. Joker Phillips' team desperately needs a break. They are the worst offensive team in major college football. I'm not sure any player is missed more than Randall Cobb.

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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