Tag:Kentucky
Posted on: September 18, 2011 2:45 am
 

What I learned from the Big East (Sept. 17)

Posted by Chip Patterson

1. The Big East lost big time on Saturday, and never saw it coming. Big East commissioner John Marinatto sat down in Byrd Stadium on Saturday to watch West Virginia take on Maryland. When he made the arrangements to attend the game, I bet he didn't know that he would be in an ACC stadium while being informed of reports Pittsburgh and Syracuse are leaving for that very conference. When reached for comment about the reports, Marinatto had none. Based on reports from the stadium, the commissioner never saw it coming.

If true, it is incredibly embarrassing for the league office and not a great sign for the league members. TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte already expressed his concerns regarding the shifts in conference alignment, and the departure of two teams has led to league officials reaching out to current Big 12 members. It's possible that if Oklahoma and Texas leave the Big 12, the remaining members (likely that Oklahoma State would follow OU, possible Texas Tech follows Texas) could fold in with the remaining members of the Big East.

From a conference perspective, league officials needed to decide whether they wanted to play offense or defense in realignment. Texas A&M started the process, but the power move was made on Saturday when the Big East lost two more schools to the ACC - bringing the tally to five schools in a decade. Syracuse was a founding member of the conference, and Pittsburgh had become a perennial contender in football and basketball. The Big East only added TCU as their offensive move, and were completely unprepared for Saturday's news defensively. The conference only has a $5 million exit fee, as opposed to the recently approved $20 million exit fee for the ACC (unanimously voted on last week by the school presidents). The Big East lost two schools, and a lot of leverage in conference realignment. Now John Marinatto must scramble, and make efforts to secure TCU's interest in the conference as well as develop a plan to replace the departed universities. Ironically, the conference went 4-2 on Saturday. Only Pittsburgh and Syracuse picked up losses.

2. Give West Virginia the ball and flip a coin, if it's heads they'll score. The Mountaineers finally got a ground game going in the 37-31 win at Maryland on Saturday, with Andrew Buie, Vernard Roberts, and Shawne Alston combining for 107 yards on 25 attempts. The numbers aren't fantastic, but it is an upgrade from where the rushing attack was heading into College Park. Head coach Dana Holgorsen mentioned that teams were daring West Virginia's offense to run the ball, and if they couldn't make it a threat it would be a weakness moving forward.

Instead of the run setting up the pass, the pass sets up the run in Morgantown. The mere presence of a rushing threat completes an already efficient West Virginia offense. On the season the Mountaineers have scored on 17 of 31 drives uninterrupted by the end of a half. Give West Virginia the ball, there's more than a 50% chance that Geno Smith will methodically march down the field and turn the possession into points on the scoreboard. With West Virginia's secondary causing all kinds of trouble for 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O'Brien, you have to feel good about the state of West Virginia's offense. Of course, we reach this conclusion one week before the Mountaineers face LSU's defense. I believe they present just a little bit of a different threat than the Terps.

3. USF does not get caught "playing to their competition." - The Bulls' offense scored less than 20 points on five different occasions in 2010. I'm willing to bet it doesn't happen more than twice in 2011, if even that. South Florida refused to play down to their Sun Belt opponents on Saturday, lighting up the scoreboard in the 70-17 victory. The blowout comes on the heels of a 37-7 route of Ball State, where BJ Daniels really started to get the Bulls' offense clicking. Everything was moving in full gear against the Rattlers, with Daniels setting a career-high for the second week in a row tossing for 382 yards and four touchdowns. USF scored on eight of their first ten drives, and also featured the breakout of Colorado transfer Darrell Scott. Scott put up career numbers as well with 146 yards rushing, 84 yards receiving, and four total touchdowns. The Notre Dame win felt like it more of a Irish loss at the time, but the sloppy, rain-delayed victory might have been the spark to kick off a potentially memorable season for the young program.

4. Pittsburgh's defense has to improve second half performance. A huge red flag went up last weekend, when the Panthers allowed a blatantly inferior Maine squad climb back into the game in the fourth quarter. The Black Bears did score their final touchdown with three seconds remaining, resulting in a misleading six-point victory, but the it was concerning nonetheless. The trend of poor second half defense finally caught up with the Panthers against Iowa on Saturday, resulting in a 31-27 loss.

Kevin Harper's 24-yard field goal in the fourth quarter gave Pitt a seemingly safe 27-10 lead. Then this touted 3-4 defense sat back and allowed James Vandenberg to go to work on the secondary. Iowa's offense put up 201 of their 475 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter, sending the Panthers packing with no answers for their poor play. The Panthers will get one more non-conference game to fix these issues before kicking off the Big East schedule against South Florida at home. Unfortunately for the Panthers, next week's opponent is a much-improved Notre Dame squad fresh off a confidence-building victory against Michigan State.

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Posted on: September 18, 2011 1:44 am
 

What I Learned in the SEC, Week 3

Posted by Jerry Hinnen


Until proven otherwise, yes, Arkansas is a step behind LSU and Alabama. Thursday, the Bayou Bengals put together what we'd confidently call the most impressive defensive performance by any FBS team this season. Saturday, well, Alabama didn't do a whole lot in their 41-0 workout against North Texas. But we know what the Tide are capable of with that defense, as the previous week's throttling of Penn State proved.

But Arkansas? Their Saturday performance against Troy might be the first one by any of the consensus top three teams in the West you could legitimately describe as "disappointing." After scrimmages against FCS Missouri State and FBS-in-name-only New Mexico, the Trojans were the first Hog opponent of the year capable of doing much more than meekly rolling over ... and Troy did much more than that in Fayetteville, rolling to 457 total yards (three more than the Hogs) and cutting a 31-7 deficit to 31-21 midway through the third quarter. Bobby Petrino's teams made major mistakes on both sides of the ball, turning it over three times on offense -- including a pick-six from Tyler Wilson -- and allowing the Trojans seven plays of 20 yards or more.

It might be just a one-week fluke; it might be the Hogs looking ahead to next week's showdown against the Tide; it might be something more serious. Whatever it is, it's the kind of sloppiness we haven't seen yet from the Tide or Tigers--and reason enough to doubt the Hogs can upset the LSU-Alabama apple cart until they do.

Florida is a frightening, frightening football team. The old adage says that to win in the SEC, you have to run and stop the run, and everything else will take care of itself. So maybe it's time to start taking the Gators as a serious conference contender--and not just on the East divisional side of things. Defensively, Will Muschamp's team held Tennessee to minus-9 yards on the ground and their tailbacks to less than two yards a carry; offensively, they netted 134 themselves with Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey averaging 5 yards an attempt.

No doubt there will be stronger running games to shut down and stronger front sevens to run against down the road. But as long as Florida stays anywhere near this productive on the ground, their hat will remain in the ring.

Houston Nutt is on the hottest seat in the SEC. It's one thing to lose to Vanderbilt; the Commodores don't do it often, but occasionally they do leap up like those crocodiles in a Discovery Channel documentary about African water holes and drag some unsuspecting SEC wildebeest into the mud. And with James Franklin having instilled a stunning amount of confidence in the downtrodden 'Dores and NFL-bound corner Casey Hayward leading one of the league's best secondaries (one that now has three pick-sixes in three weeks), that's an occurrence you can expect to happen more often.

But to lose to Vandy 30-7? To go without a single point against Vandy for 57 minutes? To be outgained by the 'Dores by 153 yards? There's no other word for it than "embarrassment," one that without question ranks along the very lowest points of the Ed Orgeron era. Nutt's biggest misstep has been his butchering of the Rebel quarterback situation; after waffling all offseason between Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti, Nutt seemed to settle on JUCO Zack Stoudt against BYU on little more than a whim. Stoudt responded by fumbling away that game, then topping himself with five interceptions Saturday in Nashville.

With the Rebel offense in total disarray and what seems like the team's only potential SEC win on the road (at Kentucky in November), an Oregeron-esque 0-8 mark in the conference -- and a 2-10 or 3-9 overall record -- is entirely in play. And as much support as Nutt earned in his back-to-back Cotton Bowl seasons, last year's loss to Jacksonville State and Saturday's horrorshow has burned through virtually all of it with the Rebel fanbase ... and maybe even Nutt's boss. When Georgia comes to Oxford next week, Mark Richt will clearly need a win in almost the worst possible way. But we'd argue Nutt will, somehow, need one even more badly.

Auburn's defense is even worse than it should be. Yes, the Tigers are ridiculously, fatally young. Yes, Clemson is loaded with explosive playmakers that will give more veteran units fits, too. Yes, the up-tempo nature of Gus Malzahn's offense --particularly when it struggles, as it did for the final two-and-a-half quarters Saturday -- puts a hefty portion of extra pressure on that defense.

But that's still no excuse for numbers like Clemson's 14-of-18 mark on third-down conversions or 624 total yards, numbers far beyond what Dabo Swinney's squad managed against either Troy or Wofford. While Ted Roof is public enemy No. 1 among Auburn fans right now, Gene Chizik also has some questions to answer. As many, many positive things as he's done at Auburn (for which he's rarely received enough credit), Chizik also has yet to translate the acumen that made him such a successful assistant into any kind of defensive consistency on the Plains.

South Carolina hasn't put it together yet. A week after edging Georgia as much on Georgia's fatal mistakes as the Gamecocks' own play, Carolina needed a last-minute stop to hold off Navy. The talent in Columbia demands that the Gamecocks remain the SEC East favorites, but they haven't played like it yet.

Kentucky's bowl streak is in serious, serious jeopardy. With the Wildcats unable to overcome an inexperienced Louisville team in Lexington, it's a difficult, difficult thing to find four more wins on the UK schedule. Jacksonville State, you'd hope. Home to Ole Miss, sure. And after that? Best of luck, Joker Phillips.

Posted on: September 16, 2011 3:28 pm
 

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 3

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom.

We're in the third week of the regular season which means that we're finishing up with the appetizers of the college football menu and getting to the main courses. This week we've got plenty of entrees guaranteed to keep your cardiologist's savings account healthy, as plenty of BCS schools clash and conferences like the SEC continue to delve into conference play. So prepare yourself for an endless bounty taste and bold flavors, and for the love of Bear Bryant, make sure you wear pants with an elastic waistband.

BREAKFAST

Maryland vs. #18 West Virginia - ESPNU 12pm ET

The Terps will be donning their all black uniform combination for their first outing since taking down Miami on Labor Day evening. West Virginia's potent offense has been scoring on nearly 70% of their drives, so it will be on sophomore Danny O'Brien to keep up with the high-powered Mountaineers. Unfortunately, he lost two of his top weapons when Ronnie Tyler and Quinton McCree were suspended indefinitely on Thursday. - Chip Patterson

Clemson vs. #21 Auburn - ABC 12pm ET

There won't be much in the way of offensive surprises for either defense this game: Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris learned his offensive schemes from Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn when both were high school coaches, and both vaulted to their current jobs after operating that same scheme at Tulsa. If that would seem to favor Malzahn's Tigers (who have three years of familiarity with the offense over Clemson's one), remember that this is also the exceptionally green Auburn lineup's first game away from the Plains. Can the Tiger cubs handle Death Valley? - Jerry Hinnen

Iowa vs. Pitt - ESPN2 - 12pm ET

This should be quite the interesting game. Both teams are coming off subpar Week 2 performances, with Iowa dropping a 44-41 thriller to Iowa State in 3OT, and Pitt holding off a late Maine rally to win 35-29. Iowa would appear to hold the advantage here, being that the game is at Kinnick Stadium, but since neither team is playing at a high level, no result would be a shocker. Plus, if anything, Michigan and Notre Dame just demonstrated how fun games can be when both teams are trying to lose. - Adam Jacobi

LUNCH

#11 Nebraska vs. Washington - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

Incredibly, this will be the third meeting between Nebraska and Washington in the last year; the two teams met on September 18 last year, then held a rematch in the Holiday Bowl. The rubber match here should tell us plenty about where both teams stand as we near conference play -- does Washington have what it takes to hang with a ranked foe this year? Will the Cornhuskers finally live up to their preseason hype and No. 11 ranking? Let's find out. - AJ

#16 Florida vs. Tennessee - CBS 3:30pm ET

Don't expect Week 2's trend of high-scoring shootouts in the SEC's highest-profile games to change in Gainesville. The Vols are banged-up and inexperienced in the front seven, and seem like little match for a Gator ground game featuring Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps; the Gators start two true freshmen in their secondary and could be lit up by quarterback Tyler Bray and explosive receiving duo Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. First team to 40 wins. - JH

UCLA vs. #23 Texas - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

Much like the city of Los Angeles itself, Rick Neuheisel forever finds himself standing on shaky ground at UCLA. The Bruins haven't quite become Los Angeles' team like the program boasted it would when Rick came to town, but a second straight win over the Texas Longhorns could go a long way toward making it a reality. Meanwhile the Longhorns will unleash the quarterbacking duo of Case McCoy and David Ash this weekend, so tune in to see what the Texas offense might look like when it isn't tossing out interceptions like Tootsie Rolls on Halloween. - Tom Fornelli

Notre Dame vs. #15 Michigan State - NBC 3:30pm ET

The first two weeks of the season have been a nightmare for Notre Dame. Ten turnovers and two losses are not the way the Irish had planned on starting the return to glory, and things may get even worse before they get better. Michigan State has yet to be truly tested so far in 2011 but if Sparty can go into South Bend and get a win then Brian Kelly will have some pretty big fires to put out. - TF

DINNER

Kentucky vs. Louisville - ESPNU 7pm ET

While this game might fall short of marquee status, it still pits two hated rivals against each other early in the year. Louisville needs to bounce back from a home loss to FIU, and Kentucky needed a 4th quarter comeback to defeat Central Michigan. I expect a lot of passion, and possible hilarity to ensue as both the Cardinals and Wildcats will be starting true freshman on the offensive line. Though, as Morgan Newton has proven this year, you don't need defensive linemen for a sack. - CP

Illinois vs. #22 Arizona State - Big Ten Network 7pm ET

Fresh off an overtime win, Arizona State heads on the road for the first time of the year to take on undefeated Illinois. This game features an underrated quarterback match up between 6-foot-8 signal-caller Brock Osweiler and dual-threat Nathan Scheelhaase. Of course you'll also want to tune in for one of the best linebackers in college football in Vontaze Burfict trying to stop the Illini. - Bryan Fischer

Miami vs. #17 Ohio State - ESPN 7:30pm ET

One team prefers to trade memorabilia for tattoos and cash, the other has enjoyed cover charges and open bars at adult entertainment nightclubs.  What better idea than to get them all together in South Beach on a Saturday night?  Al Golden and Luke Fickell navigate two programs under NCAA investigation into a primetime heavyweight bout with both teams needing a strong performance to live up to expectations. Get your "LAST" button greased up so you can bounce between this game and OU-FSU. - CP

#5 Florida State vs. #1 Oklahoma - ABC 8pm ET

In a weekend full of wonderful games, this one is the marquee matchup. Two top five teams clash in Tallahassee as Florida State tries to show the world that it is indeed back and a national title contender, while Oklahoma looks to prove to the world that it is the best team in the country. This one should be an exciting battle, and one of the key areas to watch will be how Florida State's offensive line handles the Sooners' defensive line. - TF

LATE NIGHT SNACK

Arizona vs. #6 Stanford - ESPN 10:45pm ET

Do you like quarterbacks? Do you like offense? If so, the Stanford-Arizona game will offer plenty of both as Andrew Luck roles into the desert to take on Nick Foles.  While the Cardinal are not quite as explosive as the Wildcats' opponent last week (Oklahoma State), they bring in a trio of tight ends to watch out for and running back Stepfan Taylor to pound away in the running game. - BF
Posted on: September 15, 2011 2:24 pm
 

SEC Interrogation, Week 3

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Each Thursday we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:




Mississippi State: can you finally avoid losing an SEC West game with turnovers and/or special teams breakdowns? More than a few wags skeptical of Dan Mullen's burgeoning reputation in Starkville have noted that he has yet to beat any division opponent other than downtrodden in-state rival Ole Miss, dropping to 0-9 after last week's loss in Auburn. But that agonizing defeat wasn't the first time Mullen has come tantalizingly close to making the breakthrough, and never has he been closer than LSU's last visit to Starkville.

In that 2009 meeting, the Bulldogs outgained the Bayou Bengals 374-263, held LSU to one (1!) yard per their 31 carries, and enjoyed a first-and-goal at the Tiger 2, down six, with under three minutes to play. But that possession ended with quarterback Tyson Lee tackled at the 1 on a botched option play (sound familiar?) and the Bulldogs fell 30-26. While much of the postgame chatter focused on that late goal-line failure, the larger story was State's four critical turnovers (one of them an interception returned for a touchdown) and a punt that bounced inside the 10 and was somehow still returned by LSU's Chad Jones for a backbreaking touchdown.

Those kinds of breakdowns have been a recurring theme for the Bulldogs, as last week's performance proved again. Chris Relf maybe could have scored on the game's final play, but the Bulldogs wouldn't have even been in that situation if Relf hadn't bounced a first-quarter pass off a defender's helmet (a pass eventually picked and housed), or if the Bulldogs hadn't allowed Auburn kick returner Tre Mason to repeatedly set his team up in excellent field position. Even in last year's 29-7 loss to LSU, the Bulldogs played the Tigers to a dead heat in the box score ... except for the 5-to-1 negative turnover margin that broke the game open.

With LSU's offense again unimpressive statistically in their week 1 win against Oregon (273 yards total, 3.9 yards per-play), Jarrett Lee unlikely to make major headway against a veteran Bulldog secondary, and State getting a boost from what should be a rabid Thursday night home crowd, the Bulldogs seem a good bet to once again play an SEC West opponent to a statistical stalemate ... or better. But if they once again lose the turnover and special teams battle that Les Miles's team specializes in winning, it's not going to matter any more than it did the first nine times.


Tyler Bray: can you do to the Gators anything like what you did to Cincinnati?
Let's be up front about this: Florida is going to score points against Tennessee Saturday. The injury-ridden, inexperienced Vol front seven gave up an incredible 6.4 yards per-carry against Cincinnati, and the combination of a revitalized-looking Gator offensive line and the Jeff Demps-Chris Rainey tag-team is far more fearsome than anything the Bearcats had to offer. And the Vols likely won't be able to answer with a strong ground game of their own; despite having faced Cincy and FCS Montana their first two weeks, Tennessee ranks dead-last in the SEC in yards-per-carry. Facing the Gators' loaded defensive front -- now including the newly-reinstated Sharrif Floyd -- is hardly going to be the cure for those issues.

Which means whatever hope the Vols have of keeping pace rests firmly on the shoulders of Bray. But to look at his remarkable performance last week -- 34-of-41, 405 yards, 4 TDs, no INTs -- he might be capable of fulfilling that hope all the same. It won't hurt that the matchup of dynamic sophomore duo of Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers against a Gator secondary starting two true freshman is one that overwhelmingly favors the Vols.

Attempting to win a shootout on the road with a one-dimensional offense isn't the typical recipe for victory in the SEC. But if Bray comes out as on fire as he has been the first two weeks of this season, we're not going to put it past him.



Auburn's defense: are you actually improving? Ask any Auburn fan (or coach, or maybe even player) about the team's defense before the season, and they'd have told you that with just two starters back and underclassmen all over the two-deep, it was going to be a work-in-progress. But no one expected it to be quite as much "in progress" as it's been through two weeks; the Tiger D ranks last in the SEC in yards allowed per-game by nearly 100 yards over next-to-last-place Georgia.

Some of that is the quick pace of the Auburn offense, but much more of it is the Tiger defense's near-total inability to get off the field. Utah State converted a mind-boggling 13-of-20 third- and fourth-downs, and Mississippi State wasn't far behind after going 12-of-21. The result? Auburn's D has been on the field for 181 plays already this season, the highest total in the nation. Until the Tigers start getting some stops on third down -- despite the presence of pass-rushers Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae, Auburn has just two sacks on nearly 70 opponents' dropbacks -- the defense isn't going to get legitimately better, and eventually an opponent is going to make the Tigers pay for that weakness.

Clemson may or may not be that opponent; the South Carolina-bred Tigers have flashed issues of their own in sluggish wins over Troy and Wofford. But Chad Morris's Gus Malzahn-like offense should provide a good measuring stick regardless.

Also worth asking: Is Ole Miss, Vanderbilt or Kentucky the SEC's worst team? (With the Rebels and Commodores battling in Nashville and the Wildcats taking on a reeling Louisville team, someone is going to be a definitive No. 12 by the weekend's end.) What does Arkansas look like against an opponent that almost-sorta has a pulse? (Troy isn't great, but they're better than Missouri State or New Mexico. The Hogs should break a sweat, at least. Anything more could spell trouble down the road.) What on earth is Georgia going to do at inside linebacker? (Coastal Carolina won't be anything more than cannon fodder, but the Dawgs have to figure out what they have at their injury-gutted ILB positions.)

Posted on: September 12, 2011 9:41 am
Edited on: September 12, 2011 10:03 am
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 2

Posted by Bryan Fischer

College football's encore weekend not only lived up to expectations, but beat them.

It also caused at least few hearts to skip a beat or two around the country. It seemed like every channel you were on, there was a game coming down to the wire or ready to head to overtime. From the noon games to the night games, last Saturday was one big, drama-filled day.

Notre Dame-Michigan, USC-Utah, Cal-Colorado, Washington-Hawaii, North Carolina-Rutgers, Auburn-Mississippi State, Ohio State-Toledo, Texas-BYU, Iowa State-Iowa, Vanderbilt-UConn and several others left everyone on the edge of their seats. There weren't a ton of great defenses among the group but that didn't hamper the fun as teams either came back or fell just short. Heck, the first night game in Ann Arbor had as much drama as any of them in just 72 seconds.

One game I was really looking forward to going into Saturday was between the Hedges and that game more than lived up to expectations and put one coach in even hotter water.

The game seemed to be South Carolina personified. It's why everybody's hand trembled writing them in to win the SEC East this year. Not only was it the Gamecocks' history but they had a quarterback who frustrated fans and Old Ball Coaches alike in Stephen Garcia. When he threw his first interception of the game, it was simply Garcia being Garcia. The ESPN director, as if he understood perfectly, cut to a shot of Garcia with his hands on his hips, staring down his mistake while clinching his lips and a coach yelling at him. Later in the game he rolled out of the pocket and threw a beautiful pass that reminded everybody of his talent. Again, just Garcia being Garcia.

This is a good and very talented Gamecocks team that can beat anybody on any given Saturday if they don't wind up beating themselves first.

“Georgia outplayed us, give them credit, they outplayed us but somehow or another we won the game,” Steve Spurrier said post game. “Somehow it happens like that. Somebody was looking out for us tonight.”

Running back Marcus Lattimore broke out for 176 yards and a touchdown as the team rode him for 27 carries. USC will have to be wearing of overusing Lattimore because he's the key to their success but at least he had 10 fewer carries than he did against the Bulldogs a year ago. His ability to find just a little hole and take off is special and he certainly can run very hard between the tackles.

On the other side of the ball, how scary is the Gamecocks' defensive line? We knew it was going to be good but maybe not quite this nasty. Melvin Ingram was superb, taking a fake punt 68 yards for a touchdown and scooping up a fumble for a touchdown after fellow end Jadeveon Clowney nearly took off the head of UGA quarterback Aaron Murray. Only in the SEC do 275-pound defensive ends score twice in a game and run 68 yards while doing so.

The thing about Clowney, the nation's consensus number one recruit out of high school, is how he stands out on every snap just due to his size. Then, as soon as the ball is snapped, he stands out for his explosiveness and physicality - making you drop your job and say 'Wow' a couple of times a game. Heck, Murray might want to leave school early just to get away from him. Clowney still isn't up to speed mentally but it's coming and coming quickly. If you're an SEC quarterback with South Carolina on the schedule, prepare your ice bath in advance.

For Mark Richt, he might have to go bang his head against the wall a few times after every game. He's had injuries and suspensions and even NCAA issues thrown his way but there's still no getting around the fact that this is a good group of players who haven't lived up to expectations. Just when it seemed like Georgia was about to break through, they'd commit a big error. The good news is it looked like freshman running back Isaiah Crowell got going, rushing for 118 yards and a touchdown after breaking a few nice runs into the open field. But even as he took two steps forward, his fumble at midfield that Stephon Gilmore returned to the red zone was a step back. He's still a little behind in pass protection but the flashes he showed reminded everybody, coaches included, why he was so highly recruited out of high school.

The biggest thing that Richt can do next week is get his team to have fun against Coastal Carolina. There will be no avoiding hearing about his job status as the heat was turned up even higher after the loss - he has to get his team refocused before starting the heart of their SEC schedule. Get everybody involved, call some trick plays, something - anything - to get his team focused on having fun playing football instead of worrying about him. He can't eliminate all the distractions but he can get his team to buy back in week-by-week. The schedule is manageable enough that they could conceivably go 10-2 this year - more than enough to quiet critics for a few more months. The Bulldogs are talented but lost to two teams they should have to fall to 0-2 for the first time since 1996.

Now the trick is winning out using their own talented roster. No easy task but one that can certainly happen.

Stat of the week

If I had to take someone to Vegas with me, I just might select Gene Chizik. All he seems to do is give heart attack to the Auburn faithful and win last second games. The Tigers pulled off the upset this week against Mississippi State thanks to a goal line stand that kept quarterback Chris Relf out of the end zone by inches to preserve a 41-34 win at home.

"We'd prefer to win football games a lot different than we are, but there's something to be said when you can fight down to the end when it doesn't look good and still win the game," Chizik said after the game.

While the head coach certainly would prefer a less stressful ending to games, he might need to get used to them if his team is to keep winning. After taking nearly two hours just to play the first half against the Bulldogs, I was digging around looking for the total game time but managed to find an even more eye-popping stat.

Auburn's offense has averaged 56.5 plays during their first two games while the defense has averaged 90.5 snaps per game. Yes, the defense is almost literally on the field twice as long the offense. For a young team with issues on both sides of the ball, that's an uh-oh.

For comparison's sake, Arkansas has averaged 74.5 plays on offense and 57.5 on defense during their light non-conference schedule. Only two SEC teams have average more than 70 snaps on defense, and just six teams nationally have their defense on the field for more than 80 plays a game. No one even approaches 90 defensive plays a game. The national average for number of plays on defense is 67.3 and 68.8 on offense.

Up against that little issue, it's almost shocking Auburn's 2-0 but they are thanks to some late game heroics. Whether this is a serious flaw of just the byproduct of two crazy games remains to be seen but, bottom-line, Chizik needs to make some adjustments.

Other stats of note

- Michigan's Denard Robinson thrilled the country against Notre Dame and became the first UM quarterback to beat the Irish twice since Jim Harbaugh did so back in the late 1980's. He also has accounted for an astounding 96% of the offense the last two games between the schools.

- Texas has outscored its opponents 35-6 in the second half while USC outscored their opponent in the 4th quarter for just the fourth time in 15 games this weekend.

- Tyler Bray's 405 yards are the most for a Tennessee quarterback since the legend himself, Peyton Manning, wore orange. Bray finished 34-of-41 and tossed four touchdowns. Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers both had 10 catches for over 100 yards and the pair combined for three TD receptions.

- In the last 11 years, the Georgia-South Carolina series has only been decided by nine points or less eight times. Since 2004, the winner has had fewer than 20 points every year but 2009 and 2011.

- Alabama has not allowed a touchdown in the first quarter for seven straight games.

- Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine once again this year. He has a nation's-best 35 total tackles while the next closest player has 27.

Yard-by-yard

- What an impressive, almost surgical attack led by Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden. The Cowboys' offense came out and pretty much blew away the Arizona secondary on Thursday en route to a 37-14 win in Stillwater. Weeden connected on his 13 passes and finished up with a ho-hum 397 yards after slowing down in the second half. He's flown under the radar a little bit (even in his own state) but in 15 starts, he has only two losses by a total of 16 points. It's sometime easy to say a lot of his success is due to receiver Justin Blackmon but Weeden is the triggerman for what the team does. This team can also run the ball pretty well - Joseph Randle is 15th in the country in rushing - and should make for a fun Big 12 regular season when they play fellow top 15 teams Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

- Senior writer Bruce Feldman touched on FIU in his Sunday column but what a win for Mario Cristobal's program. Their win over Louisville was the first win ever for the program over BCS team and showed that the Golden Panthers are more than just the dynamic all-purpose superstar T.Y. Hilton. They take on another rising in-state program in UCF this week and if they can pull off the upset, a run at going undefeated isn't out of the question. It will be tough to stop the Knights but FIU has the athletes and coaches to make it a game.

- Speaking of Louisville, their game against Kentucky might be downright unwatchable. Louisville is a mess offensively and their defense is suspect. Luckily for Charlie Strong, they'll face a Kentucky team that has serious issues with both lines. It's going to really be rough once the Wildcats get into SEC play this year if they continue to play as sloppy as they have been during their first two games. Fans from both schools are probably counting down the days until basketball season already.

- If there's one thing that might be different under Luke Fickell at Ohio State, it's the offense is involving the tight end more. Senior Jake Stoneburner came into the season with 22 catches for 252 yards and two touchdowns. Through two games this season he has eight catches for 93 yards and four TD's and seems to be one of quarterback Joe Bauserman's favorite targets. The Buckeyes haven't look completely in rhythm on offense but that's not Stoneburner's fault.

- Not sure what to make of Texas' win over BYU other than it's a baby step back to respectability. Garrett Gilbert's not who Mack Brown wanted him to be coming out of camp, looking shaky again with some bad decisions before being pulled for David Ash and Case McCoy. Using Ash in some zone read situations was a good change of pace and was a productive play with their speed at running back - a group that finally got going, including freshman Malcolm Brown. The defense still is a concern, as BYU seemed to pick apart the middle of the field. Might take awhile for everybody to get comfortable with Manny Diaz' system but there's some talent on the team. Baby steps.

- Two quarterbacks in the Northwest were rolling this weekend. In Oregon, Darron Thomas and the Ducks offense seemed to be back in their normal sixth-gear against Nevada. Thomas had just 13 attempts - after throwing for 54 against LSU - but six of them were for touchdowns on Saturday. Freshman De'Anthony Thomas had over 200 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns. He's a small but tough back who has speed to burn, should be fun to see what Chip Kelly does with him as he learns more of the playbook.

At Washington, Keith Price got the Huskies off to a 2-0 start by throwing for 315 yards and four touchdowns. He connected on his first eight throws and has spread the ball around to a good receiving group well. Things got a little tight against Hawaii but Price and running back Chris Polk kept the Huskies moving. This team may not be a top 15-caliber squad but they're certainly going to give others fits if they can stop playing down to their competition at times.

- I was a bit shocked to see that Clemson opened up as a favorite against Auburn this week, their own issues aside. Dabo Swinney's club struggled against Wafford and things are not going to get any easier. The offense is productive in the stat sheet but in they're still struggling to adjust to Chad Morris' system. The rush defense in particular is very concerning, ranking 107th in the country after two games against a Sun Belt and an FCS opponent.

- Several people in the Alabama program told me that the Crimson Tide defense might be the best ever under Nick Saban. After watching two games, I think they're close to being right. The score was a bit closer than expected against Penn State at 27-11 but this is a very good group. They look faster and deeper than the national championship squad a couple of years ago and are not the opposing quarterback's best friend, to say the least.

Pulling Rank

My top 10 after week 2:

1. Oklahoma

2. LSU

3. Alabama

4. Boise State

5. Texas A&M

6. Stanford

7. Wisconsin

8. Florida State

9. Oklahoma State

10. South Carolina

Where we'll be this week

I'll be out at the Ineligible Bowl, Ohio State at Miami on Saturday. Senior writer Brett McMurphy is in Tallahassee for the top five showdown of Oklahoma and Florida State.

Across the goal line

There were a series of firsts in the USC-Utah game I was at this weekend. Trojans kicker Andre Heidari recorded the first points in Pac-12 conference history while teammate Marc Tyler will be in the record books for scoring the first touchdown. Thanks to their 17-14 win over the Utes, USC won the final Pac-10 game and the very first Pac-12 game.

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Wait, excuse me, thanks to their 23-14 victory.

In many ways, the first ever Pac-12 conference game - which wasn't really true because Colorado and Cal played earlier that day in an overtime "non-conference" game - featured many of the same elements of its Pac-10 predecessors. There were big plays on offense, a close game, USC on national (cable) television at night and, oh yeah, an officiating controversy.

As I walked down the steps of the Coliseum toward the field right before their drive, I kept thinking this was a welcome to the conference moment for Utah. Boy was it ever.

I was about 10 yards away when, on 4th down, DeVonte Christopher caught an in-route that seemed to fall just short of the first down marker. It seemed like a bad spot but the refs said it was a turnover on downs. Then they reviewed it, remarked the spot and gave Utah a first down. Saved by Pac-10… er, -12 replay officials.

Then there was the pass interference call on the next play. That set up the Utes' field goal attempt. I couldn't quite see the holder but was looking at the middle of the line in case the kick was blocked. Next thing I know the ball is bouncing right into the hands of USC corner Torin Harris and he's off to the end zone. The crowd and sidelines were going crazy as he raced to the end zone. I turned to talk to a colleague and saw a few players run out to get a better angle on the return. Seconds later I saw the flag, then the announcement that the game was over. The touchdown didn't count, but the game was over.

What just happened I wondered. Duty, however, called as I tried to grab a few players to talk about the win (or, in the case of the Utes, loss). I kept thinking how close Utah had gotten and, in their first conference game, they had played like they belonged despite coming up short in the win column. They came into a storied venue and almost knocked off the conference's most storied program. Utah is a good team that was well coached but wasn't quite good enough on a beautiful Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Then there was a tweet that popped up as I got back to the press box to begin transcribing. Hold your horses, the score was in question. The Pac-12 was reviewing what happened at the end of the game. As Michael Lev of the O.C. Register noted down on the field, the touchdown had huge implications for bettors across the country with USC favored by 8-8.5 points.

That's when the story changed from Utah being not quite good enough to, apparently, the Pac-12 officials "miss-communicating" and they were actually nine points from being good enough.

It was an unusual ending that I'm still trying to get my head around because the score itself changed after the fact - regardless what the conference says. The Caesars, MGM and Wynn sports books apparently stayed with the 17-14 result. The Hilton, Cantor, South Point sports books switched to 23-14. Some honored both. If you threw away a winning ticket, that is a bad beat that will be with you for a long time.

A finish that was wild, unbelievable and involved money. In a roundabout way, the first ever Pac-12 game got me very prepared for the Ineligible Bowl next week.

I knew you were good Larry Scott, didn't know you were this good.

Posted on: September 8, 2011 3:58 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 5:44 pm
 

SEC Interrogation, Week 2

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Each Thursday we demand the SEC give us answers to its most pressing questions. Here those are:




Mike Bobo: do you know what you're doing with an up-tempo shotgun offense?  After rumblings from fall camp that Georgia would unveil a no-huddle spread offense gainst Boise State, the Bulldogs didn't quite go the full Dana Holgorsen ... but they definitely flirted with it, breaking away from their traditional pro-style I-formation look for a multitude of quick snaps, multi-receiver sets, and shotgun handoffs. The results were occasionally spectacular (see Brandon Boykin's 80-yard touchdown run) but more frequently sputterrific (see the other 25 rushes for all of 57 yards, or Boise's six sacks).

So why the change? "We wanted to get more plays, which we didn’t do on Saturday,” Bulldog coordinator Bobo said. “But we’re committed to doing it, and more plays equals more opportunities, and more chances to score.”

This is true, technically speaking. A faster tempo does lead to more possessions and plays packed into a game, and more scoring chances. But that's true for both teams, not just the one running the no-huddle; barring onside kick shenanigans or the occasional odd break at the end of a half, possessions in football are always going to be equal. For seasoned practitioners of the no-huddle like Holgorsen or Gus Malzahn, tempo is partially about giving their offense as many opportunities as possible, but it's also about making it more efficient by keeping an opposing defense off-balance and wearing it down over the course of 60 minutes.

Bobo is not one of those seasoned practitioners. As the Athens Banner-Herald points out, in 2010 Georgia ran fewer plays than any other team in the SEC. Suddenly lurching into a part-time, only-half-committed shotgun spread outfit seems from here to be a good way to neither execute that plan well nor the Bulldogs' traditional power-running and play-action bread-and-butter. One Georgia blogger has cleverly referred to Bobo's plan as the Cheesecake Factory offense--one that attempts to do everything, and in the end does none of it well enough to win.

Mark Richt, for what it's worth, is firmly on board with Bobo's approach. But if it doesn't pay far more dividends against South Carolina than it did against Boise (and if there's a bigger red flag than giving up six sacks to the Broncos the week before facing Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney, we haven't seen it), Richt may pay for that support with an 0-2 start and the hottest seat in the country.



Auburn's defensive line: what can you do with Mississippi State? The surprising thing about Utah State's 84-play slice-and-dice job on the Tiger defense wasn't the 22-of-31 passing from true freshman Chuckie Keeton, or the resulting 13-of-20 mark for the Aggies on third- and fourth-down conversions; Ted Roof's Tiger teams have always had issues with a tight, controlled passing game like USU's. But they've also usually been stout enough against the run to make up for that Achilles heel -- Auburn led the SEC in rush defense last year -- making the true stunner the Aggies' 227 yards on the ground.

Unfortunately for Roof and the Tigers, things only get tougher this week. State boasts the league's best dual-threat quarterback in Chris Relf, a veteran line featuring three senior starters, Dan Mullen's tried-and-true option schemes, and one of the nation's most underrated tailbacks in Vick Ballard. Even Auburn is obviously a far cry from Memphis, but the 309 rushing yards and 8.1 yard per-carry average racked up by the Bulldogs in Week 1 still make for a hell of a warning shot across the bow of the Tiger front seven.

That front seven should get a boost with the return of suspended senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, and Roof's long track record of run-stuffing success suggests some level of improvement is due. But the Tiger front remains so young -- all four starting defensive linemen are sophomores -- that it will take a major, major leap forward for Auburn to avoid getting steamrolled. Are they up to it?



Alabama: is your offense good enough to stake a claim to No. 1? Maybe we'll be proven wrong about this. But the guess here is that despite the change of venue to Happy Valley, there won't be any more competitive drama in Saturday's Alabama-Penn State clash than there was in last year's 24-3 Tide throttling in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban's loaded roster of future pros dominated the Nittany Lions physically in nearly every aspect of the 2010 meeting, and that's not a problem we see Joe Paterno repairing in the space of one offseason.

Which means the burning question is one of degree: does the Tide offense have the chops to go on the road and put together a performance worthy of putting the team in the top-of-the-polls discussion? Underrated though Kent State's defense may be (10th in FBS total defense in 2010), the Tide still looked surprisingly sloppy on attack, despite the 48-7 final. The quarterbacks threw four interceptions; the offensive line missed a handful of assignments; the Tide receivers and quarterbacks put the ball on the ground four times.

Were those opening-week jitters ... or something more serious that might deprive the Tide of championships once the 2011 season is finished? A dominant performance against a Lion team with plenty of questions of its own in the front seven would go a long way towards affirming it was the former.

Also worth asking: Can Tennessee's Janzen Jackson-less secondary hold up against Cincinnati's lively passing game? (The league's most underrated Week 2 matchup could be decided here.) Can Vanderbilt  look like a real team another real team? (Despite their 45-14 win over FCS Elon, the 'Dores were outgained by 14 yards. Jury's well out.) Will Kentucky or Ole Miss show any signs of life on offense? (If the 'Cats and Rebels can't get better against Central Michigan and Southern Illinois, respectively, it's going to be a long season.)
Posted on: September 6, 2011 5:25 pm
 

A Big 10 team in SEC country is not quite as rare

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Yesterday, my colleague Bryan Fischer posted the last time each of the SEC teams had made a trip to Big Ten country for a road game. The results, while not surprising, were still pretty brutal: six had never faced a Big Ten team as an active member of the SEC, and of the three programs that had made the trip in the last 30 years, two are perennial doormats Vanderbilt and Kentucky, and the last is LSU -- a 36-33 loser to Ohio State in 1988. Not a good look for the mighty SEC powerhouses, but such is their strategy, and it's hard to argue with results: avoiding the Big Ten hasn't stopped the SEC from winning championship after championship, so who's the real sucker here?

Still, some fans wanted to know the other side of the story, namely, whether the Big Ten was also filled with scaredy-cats who are afraid to face the SEC on its own turf. Clearly, this hypothesis is false, as the Big Ten plays multiple bowl games a year against the SEC in the SEC footprint, and has done so for decades. On the other hand, the SEC does not go to any bowl games within the Big Ten footprint, though I've lived in the Midwest for 30 winters now, and I do not blame the SEC for staying down there come December and January. It sucks up here.

However, there is still the question of regular season scheduling and whether the Big Ten does any of that, since we're talking about true road games in the regular season. So here's the breakdown, and while it's more ambitious than the SEC's m.o., that's not saying a whole lot.

 Illinois

at Florida, September 23, 1967, lost 14-0

 Indiana

at Kentucky, September 18, 2004, lost 32-51

 Iowa

Never played at an SEC school.

 Michigan

Never played at an SEC school (did play at Kentucky, Vanderbilt and South Carolina prior to each's SEC affiliation).

 Michigan State

at Kentucky, November 2, 1946, lost 14-39 (Michigan State did not join the Big Ten until 1953)

 Minnesota

Never played at an SEC school.

 Nebraska

at Auburn, October 2, 1982, won 41-7 (Nebraska did not join the Big Ten until this year, obviously)

 Northwestern

at Vanderbilt, September 4, 2010, won 23-21

 Ohio State

at LSU, September 26, 1987, tied 13-13

 Penn State

at Alabama, September 11, 2010, lost 3-24

 Purdue

at Vanderbilt, October 3, 1942, lost 26-0

 Wisconsin

at LSU, September 30, 1972, lost 27-7

Obviously Iowa and Minnesota have some 'splainin' to do, but by and large we see a somewhat greater -- or at least more recent -- willingness from the Big Ten to travel down south for a non-conference game. The average year of the SEC's last games at Big Ten schools is 1963 (not including Tennessee), while the Big Ten's is 1980 (again, not including nonparticipants Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota). That's still an average layoff of 31 years, which is way too long -- or at least it would be without the several bowl games between the two conferences -- but the SEC is the clear conference of wimps and shrinking violets when it comes to scheduling.

But again, that all said, it doesn't matter. the SEC doesn't need road games with the Big Ten to win championships; if anything, the elite of the conference have figured out that it's not worth their time to risk early losses in the non-conference schedule. Voters don't really care about strength of schedule next to good old wins and losses -- if they did, LSU wouldn't still be ranked behind Alabama (victors over Kent State) and Oklahoma (who really took it to Tulsa, which, yeah) even after pantsing Oregon as badly as it did. See? Huge win, barely made a difference. Win go up, lose go down. That's all polling boils down to, the SEC knows it, and the SEC gets its wins however it can. They know the system. You can't blame them for that.

Of course, it's nothing to be really proud of either, you wimps, but as long as the SEC keeps winning championships, the means are secondary to the ends. 
Posted on: September 5, 2011 7:09 pm
Edited on: September 5, 2011 7:25 pm
 

An SEC team in Big 10 country is pretty rare

Posted by Bryan Fischer

The SEC has, perhaps rightfully so, taken flak over the years for their non-conference scheduling philosophy. Yes, the league is tough but there are only so many directional schools a team can play. That's what makes this week's match up between Penn State and Alabama so rare. Two power conference teams playing each other and, perhaps most notably, the SEC team traveling to Big Ten country.

This will be the 15th meeting between the two schools but the first time ever the Crimson Tide will travel to Happy Valley when Penn State is a member of the Big Ten conference, previous trips north were when the Nittany Lions were a football independent. Even more interesting due is the fact that this is the first time Alabama has played at a Big Ten team while a member of the SEC. Yes, the first time ever.

That got me to thinking (and researching), when was the last time the rest of the SEC teams played at a Big Ten opponent? Turns out, only Kentucky and Vanderbilt have been willing to play up north during the regular season. The pair are actually the only SEC teams to play at a Big Ten school in the last 23 years until the Tide take the field on Saturday.

Here's the full list of when every current SEC team last played at a Big Ten team during the regular season:

Alabama

at Wisconsin, Nov. 3, 1928, lost 15-0. (Alabama did not join the SEC until 1932)

Arkansas

at Iowa, Oct. 3, 1925, lost 28-0. (Arkansas did not join the SEC until 1991)

Auburn

at Wisconsin, Oct. 10, 1931, tied 7-7.  (Auburn did not join the SEC until 1932)

Florida

at Northwestern, Sep. 18, 1965, won 24-14.

Georgia

at Michigan, Oct. 2, 1965, won 15-7.

Kentucky

at Indiana, Sep. 19, 2005, lost 38-14.

LSU

at Ohio State, Sep. 24, 1988, lost 36-33.

Ole Miss

at Minnesota, Nov. 5, 1932, lost 26-0. (Ole Miss did not join the SEC until 1932)

Mississippi State

at Illinois, Oct. 4, 1980, won 28-21.

South Carolina

at Michigan, Sep. 27, 1980, won 17-4 (South Carolina did not join the SEC until 1991)

Tennessee

Never played at a Big Ten school.

Vanderbilt

at Michigan, Sep. 2, 2006, lost 27-7.



 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com