Posted on: September 26, 2011 2:02 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 3:21 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Each week, the CBSSports.com college football staff offer their choice for the week's Expert Picks. But before we make our selections for Week 5, this is your chance to tell us who you think will come out on top in this week's biggest games.
Check the poll below to pick an outcome for seven of the week's biggest games, including Air Force at Navy, Alabama at Florida (both of which you can watch on CBS), Nebraska at Wisconsin, and Arkansas vs. Texas A&M in Dallas. To see the results of the poll, tune in to Inside College Football on the CBS Sports Network, Tuesday night at 8 ET.
As a sneak peek of this week's Expert Picks, here's this blogger's early impressions of the week's slate:
USF at Pitt (Thursday night): The Panthers struggled badly on defense vs. Iowa, then badly on offense vs. Notre Dame. They're just not clicking well enough right now to beat a Bulls team that's finally learned not to beat itself under Skip Holtz.
Nebraska at Wisconsin: The Badger defense has looked as championship-caliber as their offense so far, but against questionable competition. If they're up to shutting down Taylor Martinez, though, Wisconsin should roll.
Alabama at Florida: If the Tide don't let down from their big win over the Razorbacks, they should be able to corral the Jeff Demps-Chrris Rainey tag team well enough to pull out a win. But that's a decent-sized "if," and the Swamp will no doubt be rocking.
Arkansas at Texas A&M: In a battle of two teams licking their wounds from last Saturday, we like the matchup of Tyler Wilson and his outstanding receivers against the same Aggie secondary that Brandon Weeden so thoroughly torched to tilt things in the Hogs' favor.
Michigan State at Ohio State: The Buckeyes looked revitalized with Braxton Miller under center, but the Spartans should offer a much stiffer challenge than Colorado. Still, at home in Columbus, the Buckeyes should have enough top-to-bottom talent to squeak out a victory.
Baylor at Kansas State: Two surprising unbeatens square off in Manhattan. The Wildcats haven't gotten credit they deserve for winning in Miami, but not sure they have the firepower to hang with new Heisman poll No. 1 Robert Griffin III, even at home.
Air Force at Navy: Both teams have played "up" in competition once, with the Midshipmen taking South Carolina to the wire but the Falcons thumped at home by TCU. With Air Force also traveling cross-country, we're giving the edge to the home team.
Tags: Air Force, Alabama, Arkansas, Baylor, Brandon Weeden, Braxton Miller, Chris Rainey, Colorado, Expert Picks, Florida, Iowa, Jeff Demps, Jerry Hinnen, Kansas State, Michigan State, Navy, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Pitt, poll, Robert Griffin III, Skip Holtz, South Carolina, Taylor Martinez, TCU, Texas A&M, USF, Wisconsin
Posted on: September 26, 2011 10:07 am
Edited on: September 26, 2011 2:20 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
As much as it frustrates the rest of the country, there's a reason why the SEC is continually touted as the nation's best conference. There's a reason why they've won five straight BCS championships.There's a reason why the league is so competitive. And it's not hard to figure out either.
Defense, and lots of it. S-E-C Speed, S-E-C D.
With nearly half the league ranked 75th or worse in total offense through four games, five ranked teams and a 25-4 non-conference record don't happen by accident. Six teams are in the top 30 in scoring defense, including Alabama and Florida in the top five.
For LSU, the fearsome part of their defense is the backend. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu repeated as Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week thanks to six tackles and two turnovers against West Virginia. A week earlier, his teammate Morris Claiborne was tabbed for the award after two interceptions against Mississippi State. If there's a better pair of corners in the country on one team, they're in the NFL. Mathieu's interception that he took down to the one right before halftime helped stretch the Tigers' lead to 20 and Claiborne's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown ended all hopes of a Mountaineers rally and kept momentum planted firmly on the LSU sideline.
"West Virginia did a very good job, but our defense showed up to play and we got off to a nice start," Les Miles said after the game. " Morris Claiborne’s return was right on time, and we were able to finish it off. We made some mistakes, but we overcame that adversity."
What was surprising Saturday was just how little pressure LSU's front seven were able to get on opposing quarterback Geno Smith. He finished with a school-record 468 yards of total offense as the Tigers game up more yards in a game than they had since 2005. Giving up chunks of yards to a Dana Holgorsen-led offense is nothing new, but what kept the game in LSU's favor was the big play ability of coordinator John Chavis' defense.
Ultimately, the Tigers don't win by scoring, they win by scoring on defense.
Mathieu, who wears Patrick Peterson's old number seven, is as ball-hawking as you can get. Peterson was a one-man island last season, often taking away half of the field by himself in zone coverage if he wasn't locking up his man one-on-one. While Mathieu isn't as good in coverage as the man he took over for, he has a great feel for the game and reads plays as well as anybody on the back half. When he roams or blitzes, things just happen - as they did in Morgantown on Saturday. Despite losing Peterson, this secondary is better and deeper than it was a year ago as Claiborne and others have elevated their game. As one NFL scout told CBSSports.com writer Gregg Doyel, there are actually more than four NFL players among this group.
Read more about Tyrann Mathieu in Bruce Feldman's Big Picture
"The offensive game plan was not a problem," Holgorsen said. "Turning the ball over four times is a problem, and they have something to do with that too. They have a pretty good defense."
LSU has scored first and led at halftime in each of the Tigers' games this year. It's all part of the plan: Score first, play defense, be opporunistic and win the fourth quarter.
Alabama uses a similar strategy. Before the season, one person inside the program said what many had been saying: this defense was better than 2009's championship squad and might be one of the most talented ever under Nick Saban. They might have an even faster secondary than LSU and use the speed to play everything in front of them, swarming to ball seconds after the snap.
Against Arkansas, they also delivered shot, after shot, after shot on quarterback Tyler Wilson. The 3-4 the team runs allows Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart to mix in plenty of zone blitzes to create pressure on quarterbacks who rarely can tell where it's coming from before the snap. The Tide recruit athletes who can move well in they scheme more than anything and that's translated into a fearsome unit that is living up to their reputation as the best in the country. They play smart and play well.
"Well we set out to establish that we were going against the best offense in the SEC and a lot of people were labeling us as the best defense in the SEC, so we wanted to go out and show people what we were capable of with all cylinders turning," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said.
Though the highlight of the game with Arkansas was Marquis Maze's punt return for a touchdown, that was nearly the straw that broke the razorback's back. As Saban and others admitted it was a defensive play, DeQuan Menzie's interception, that shifted the momentum after the offense couldn't convert on the goal line.
"That was a big turning point in the game from a momentum stand point, and you know, we need to make more plays like that, get more turnovers," Saban said. "People are going to see what we do and figure out ways to deal with it. Our challenge is to get better every day."
That's a scary thought - for Alabama or for any SEC defense. Can't wait to see them match up with LSU on November 5 as much as the offensive coordinators do not.
Stat of the week
After wrapping up a 56-31 win over Rice, just about everybody was talking about Heisman candidate and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Look up the box score and it's easy to see why: he went a ho-hum 29-33 for 338 yards and five touchdowns as the Bears racked up 673 yards of offense. Even more eye-popping was the fact that he threw more touchdowns than incompletions for the second consecutive game. Griffin has also thrown more touchdowns (13) than incompletions (12) this season. He is completing 85% of his passes, hasn't thrown an interception and is throwing for nearly 12 yards per attempt. As one would expect, he tops the NCAA efficiency rankings, just ahead of Wisconsin's Russell Wilson.
Other stats of note
- Florida beat Kentucky for the 25th time in a row and by at least 34 points for the fourth straight year. The Wildcats are on the losing end of the two longest active losing streaks to one team, the other being the 26 game streak to Tennessee.
- Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz set a school record and tied the NCAA record by throwing seven touchdown passes against UC Davis over the weekend. He sat out the second half after the Warriors led 49-0 at half but not before he also passed for a school record 424 yards in a half.
- Notre Dame is dead last in the country in turnover margin at -2.50 a game. The Irish have given the ball away 15 times in four games, more than they did in all of 2009 and 2006. The defense has forced just five this year.
- Quarterback Denard Robinson is the nation's leading rusher at 168.7 yards per game, over 15 yards a game more than runner up LaMichael James. While that's pretty impressive, he wouldn't be in the top spot were it not for the NCAA not counting his stats from the game against Western Michigan - which was stopped early. Of course, who knows, he might have been able to pad his stats during that game and still be in the lead a few weeks later like he is now.
- Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray had his nine-game streak of at least 100 yards rushing broken. The Aggies really went away from the ground game in the second half and never did establish Gray against Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden set school records for completions (47) and passing yardage (438).
- James was back to putting up video game numbers for Oregon against Arizona this weekend. He rushed for a school record 288 yards and also set the all-purpose mark. His first quarter touchdown run also gave him the Ducks record for career touchdowns as well. His 288 yards were more than the Wildcats have rushed for all year (249).
- Florida Atlantic had just one first down against Michigan State but racked up 20 against Auburn's defense in a 30-14 loss. The Owls are dead last in the country in offense and have scored only 17 points all year. 62% of FAU's offensive yardage this year came against Auburn.
- South Carolina's defense allowed just 77 yards to Vanderbilt and only five first downs all game. Defensive stud Melvin Ingram scored yet another touchdown, his third in as many weeks. By reaching the end zone, Ingram is tied for third on the team for points scored with quarterback Stephen Garcia.
- A few miles away from Columbia, Clemson receiver and freshman sensation Sammy Watkins is leading the Tigers in scoring after 141 yards receiving and two touchdowns in a victory over Florida State. Through four games this year he has 433 yards receiving and six touchdowns, marks that would have placed him second and third on the team respectively in each category last year.
- Four teams topped the 400 yard rushing mark last Saturday, led by Air Force rolling up 595 yards against hapless Tennessee State. Oregon had 415 yards against Arizona, Florida rushed for 405 against Kentucky and Army pounded Ball State for 402 yards. A team has rushed for over 400 yards 10 times this year while a team has passed for over 400 yards 22 times through week four.
- According to SI.com's Stewart Mandel, Illinois is 4-0 for the first time since 1951. I'm with him, how is that possible?
- Georgia Tech has six plays of 70+ yards this year and seven one-play scoring drives.
- Hats off to Mike Gundy's halftime adjustments. After being held about 1,000 points below their average in the first half to trail by 17, the Cowboys offense exploded as Brandon Weeden started picking apart Texas A&M's secondary with intermediate passes on their way to a comeback win. The Aggies turned the ball over three times and anytime you give Weeden the ball on a short field, watch out. The most telling sign was the lack of panic on the OSU sidelines as they fell behind. Though they hadn't been in the position before, it was as if they knew what to do and went out and executed. The defense isn't quite as good as Oklahoma's but they'll be able to ride the offense quite far in Big 12 play.
- I'm not quite ready to say the Michigan defense is good but it's certainly much improved and solid enough in a weaker Big Ten for new coordinator Greg Mattison. After the much maligned unit struggled all of last year, they seemed to turn a corner against a very good offense in San Diego State. The Wolverines shutout talented running back Ronnie Hillman and the Aztecs in the first half, the first time they've pulled off the feat in the first half in over two years. Hillman hadn't fumbled since the first carry of his freshmen season last year and yet coughed it up twice. We've been in this position with the Wolverines before last year - a fast start, Denard Robinson being Denard Robinson - before fading badly at the end in Rich Rodriguez' last year as head coach. This year, though, might be different. The schedule is manageable and with the defense being more opportunistic than they have been in the past, Michigan could have a much different ending.
- Michigan's archival Ohio State doesn't have the kind of stability that the Wolverines have but they had to be encouraged with the solid first start for quarterback Braxton Miller. He didn't cause anybody to label him the "next" anything after going 5-13 for 83 yards and rushing for 83 yards but it looks like he's the future after a disastrous passing game for the Buckeyes I saw firsthand against Miami. What's funny is the last time I saw Ohio State play on the road was a couple of years ago at USC. The offense struggled and the next game a talented true freshman by the name of Terrelle Pryor started for the first time. Pryor tossed four touchdowns in that game and led the Buckeyes to an 8-1 record as a starter. While Miller didn't come anywhere close to looking like his predecessor, he looked comfortable running the offense and playing with what the defense was giving him. No one's saying he'll be able to replicate what Pryor did on the field but it looks like yet again the Buckeyes have another true freshman ready to lead them into Big Ten play this year.
"I slept pretty good," he said of his first start. "I really didn't have any jitters at all."
With improved play from Miller and the rest of the offense, head coach Luke Fickell might sleep better too.
- There's no offense quite like Georgia Tech's. It's an option attack but one that has a dangerous passing game that is part of the reason the Yellow Jackets are leading the nation in yards per game. They piled up 496 yards on Saturday in a nice win over North Carolina. Quarterback Tevin Washington is the triggerman but unlike previous players at the position under Paul Johnson, he looks like he can legitimately get the ball down the field accurately. Of course, it helps to throw the ball to 6-foot-5 receiver Steven Hill. There were times where he looked just like Calvin Johnson while making one-handed catches on his way to 151 yards and a touchdown. Hill might be the best receiver no one's really talking about but with Washington throwing the ball and running back Orwin Smith helping out on the ground, expect to hear more about Georgia Tech going forward.
- Poor N.C. State fans. As if it weren't enough to see former quarterback Russell Wilson at the helm for a top 10 team, Thursday's blowout loss to Cincinnati couldn't have given anybody any confidence in what's to come this season. The offensive line gave up six sacks to go on top of three turnovers, two of which were interceptions thrown by Wilson's replacement Mike Glennon without much thought. There's some talent on the team but clearly not enough in a much tougher ACC this year. It's going to be a long season until North Carolina's Committee on Infractions hearing for Wolfpack fans.
- I thought the Clemson game would be a bit of a letdown game for Florida State and while they made it close, the execution just was not there for the Seminoles. Of course they wanted to win and definitely were without some key players, but they invested so much into the game against Oklahoma one would have to think that they spent a little too much time watching film from last week instead of film of the Tigers. Just when it seemed like the defense was ready to make a stop or the offense get going, there'd be a penalty (they finished with 11 for 124 yards). On the other side, it finally appears that Clemson is getting the hang of offensive coordinator Chad Morris' new hurry-up system. Tajh Boyd still has moments that must make Morris rip out some hair but he is looking much more comfortable behind center. With electric freshman Sammy Watkins making plays every time you tune in, it's easy to see why there's plenty of optimism in Death Valley.
"I'm super excited about how our players keep growing this offense and executing. And we're only four games into this offense," Morris said. "It's crazy."
- Penn State beat Eastern Michigan 34-6 as part of the Big Ten's weekend of home games against directional schools to raise money for themselves. The Nittany Lions might have come out with a victory but it was a costly one - starting outside linebacker Mike Mauti will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Considered to be the team's best backer, this is needless to say a big blow to a team that already has struggled some on both sides of the ball. Mauti missed the 2009 season with an ACL injury to his other knee and was limited at times last year due to a shoulder injury. Senior corner D'Anton Lynn was also hurt and had to be transported to the hospital to have his head and neck examined after a hit.
- Speaking of Penn State, the team that almost beat them last week, Temple, ended up routing Maryland 38-7. Steve Addazio has quietly taken what Al Golden left him and turned the Owls in a forced to be reckoned with. Junior back Bernard Pierce is the Northeast's best kept secret, as he rushed for five touchdowns and 149 yards to power Temple's first road win over a BCS foe in nine years.
- How bad is Oregon State? The Beavers lost 27-19 to a UCLA team that is not without their own issues on both sides of the ball. Many expected them to get a boost - they were favored at home - with the return of all-purpose threat James Rodgers and tight end Joe Halahuni but it was to no avail. It's the worst start of the Mike Riley era and unlike many of his previous teams, there's just no execution. There's been issues behind the scenes and at quarterback on offense while the defense is still breaking in plenty of new players. As Pac-12 play continues, don't expect things to get any easier until the Beavers get back to their roots of playing smart football and keeping the turnovers to a minimum. For UCLA, it was a game they just had to have if they're to sneak into a bowl game this year. According to the LA Daily News , a joyous Rick Neuheisel told a group of fans after the game "Anybody have fun on the flight here? Not as much as you'll have on the flight home!" Of course, he also added that the Bruins haven't been 1-0 in the conference, "in a long time."
"Big 12! Big 12! Big 12!" - Oklahoma State fans after their victory at Kyle Field. Perhaps it was also fitting that Texas A&M had two 12th man penalties on defense early in the game.
Quote of the week, part II
"The speed of the game, it's kind of lighting struck the outhouse and we were in it." - Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter after the Wildcats' 48-10 loss to Florida.
Tweets of the week
"Arizona will always be a basketball school.. So Child please!" and "If one more person EVER tells me Arizona is turning into a "football" school .. Can kiss the baby"
- Former Arizona forward Derrick Williams during his football team's blowout loss to Oregon. Ouch.
4. Boise State
7. Oklahoma State
9. Virginia Tech
Where we'll be this week
The big CBS primetime matchup between Alabama and Florida from the Swamp will have Mr. College Football himself, Tony Barnhart, in attendance. Dennis Dodd will be at Camp Randall for Nebraska's first Big Ten conference game against Wisconsin while Brett McMurphy will be listening to 'Enter Sandman' as Clemson plays at Virginia Tech. I've got early duty as I'll be at Texas A&M's first SEC conference game (well, first unofficial one anyway) against Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium.
Leaning this way
Alabama at Florida (8 p.m. ET, CBS)
The past three meetings has featured one of two teams ranked number one overall and while neither will be in the top spot in the polls this year, a top 12 matchup awaits down in the Swamp. Both the Gators and Tide have tough defenses that are ranked in the top five nationally in the three big defensive categories (total/rushing/scoring defense) so each offense figures to have a little more trouble moving the ball than they have so far this year. Alabama's speed will be the difference as they bottle up Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps to come out with a victory.
Nebraska at Wisconsin
Welcome to the Big Ten Nebraska. Camp Randall should be jumping around as they welcome in the Cornhuskers and Taylor Martinez. Look for Russell Wilson to continue to be sharp and not turn the ball over and the Badgers' defense to make just enough plays to win. Martinez should be able to move the ball though, Wisconsin's defense hasn't really been tested - much less by an offense like Nebraska's.
Clemson at Virginia Tech
The first big test for both teams as Clemson goes on the road to take on Frank Beamer's squad. Clemson made several key mistakes that kept Florida State in the game last week and if they turn the ball over, that plays right into the Hokies game plan. Virginia Tech should win but don't be surprised if this is a close ACC battle.
Tags: ACC, Air Force, Al Golden, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Army, Ball State, Baylor, BCS, Bernard Pierce, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Boise State, Brandon Weeden, Braxton Miller, Brett McMurphy, Bruce Feldman, Bryan Fischer, Bryant Moniz, Calvin Johnson, Camp Randall, Chad Morris, Chris Rainey, Cincinnati, Clemson, Cowboys Stadium, Cyrus Gray, D'Anton Lynn, Dana Holgorsen, Denard Robinson, Dennis Dodd, DeQuan Menzie, Derrick Williams, Dont'a Hightower, Eastern Michigan, FAU, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida State, Frank Beamer, Geno Smith, Georgia Tech, Greg Mattison, Gregg Doyel, Hawaii, Heisman, Illinois, James Rodgers, Jeff Demps, Joe Halahuni, John Chavis, Kentucky, Kirby Smart, Kyle Field, LaMichael James, Les Miles, LSU, Luke Fickell, Marquis Maze, Maryland, Melvin Inrgam, Michigan, Michigan State, Mike Gundy, Mike Mauti, Mike Riley, Mississippi State, Morris Claiborne, N.C. State, NCAA, Nebraska, NFL, Nick Saban, Non-BCS, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Oregon State, Orwin Smith, Pac-12, Patrick Peterson, Paul Johnson, Penn State, Rice, Rich Rodriguez, Rick Minter, Rick Neuheisel, Robert Griffin III, Ronnie Hillman, Russell Wilson, Sammy Watkins, San Diego State, SEC, SEC, South Carolina, Stanford, Stephen Garcia, Steve Addazio, Steven Hill, Stewart Mandel, Tajh Boyd, Taylor Martinez, Temple, Tennessee, Terrelle Pryor, Tevin Washington, Texas A&M, Tony Barnhart, UC Davis, UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Western Michigan, Wisconsin
Posted on: September 25, 2011 4:19 am
Edited on: September 25, 2011 12:19 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
1. The Big Ten can't even get cheap wins correctly. There's no nice way to put this: this was possibly the worst week in Big Ten history in terms of opponent quality. The total amount of AP and coaches poll votes held by the Big Ten's Week 4 opponents? 22, received by Michigan opponent San Diego State, who will likely see that number fall to zero on Sunday after the Wolverines prevailed 28-7. Handfuls of undeserved votes aside, the best team anybody in the Big Ten faced today was Western Michigan, who took Illinois to the limit in Champaign. Again: Western Michigan, a MAC team with no AP or coaches poll votes, looked like the most talented opponent of Week 4 for anybody in the Big Ten. And being that there were no riots on any of the Big Ten campuses, apparently fans are willing to allow this scheduling practice to continue.
So it would stand to reason that the Big Ten went 10-0 this week (Purdue and Northwestern are on bye weeks) then, correct? Well, no. Indiana couldn't overcome a 24-point deficit in a 24-21 home road loss to North Texas, and Minnesota increased its losing streak against North Dakota State to two games (also lost to Bison in 2007) by dropping Saturday's game, 37-24. As for how such a shocking loss could have possibly happened to a Big Ten team, well, look at the picture above. It's Minnesota. There were blowouts everywhere else in the conference, which is the way it ought to be, but 8-2 against a slate of cupcakes? Shame on the Big Ten for that.
2. Speaking of which, Indiana and Minnesota may be worse than we thought. It was obvious already that Indiana and Minnesota were going to be taking up residence in the basements of their respective divisions, what with the Hoosiers losing to Ball State in Week 1 and Minnesota dropping one to New Mexico State already this year. But both teams' losses to low-level competition this Saturday were even worse, because for most of the game, they weren't even close. North Texas was 0-3 on the year coming into the game, and built a 24-0 lead while moving the ball at will on the Hoosier defense, while NDSU held a 31-14 advantage in the second half before holding on for the win. We're talking about a previously winless Sun Belt team and an FCS school who both looked like they belonged in the Big Ten more than the Hoosiers or Gophers. That? That's not good.
3. Braxton Miller is not on Terrelle Pryor's level... yet. Ohio State cruised to a 37-17 victory over visiting Pac-12 doormat Colorado, but the big story here was Braxton Miller's debut as a starting quarterback for the Buckeyes. Miller was a force on the ground, registering 83 yards on 17 carries, and he also threw for two touchdowns. That's the good part. The bad part is that Miller was just 5-13 for 83 yards through the air, and he just doesn't have a very good read progression at this point. Really, he wasn't even supposed to be playing this year, much less starting, but then Terrelle Pryor's eligibility walked out the door and now here we are with a true freshman under center in Columbus.
Miller's going to improve over the course of the year, one would imagine, and that's good because don't let the touchdowns fool you: he's got a ways to go yet before he's as reliable as Luke Fickell is going to need him to be in conference play. Miller did show flashes of the athleticism and play-making ability that made him such a sought-after prospect on Saturday, but the consistency is going to be the key, and that comes mainly with time -- time that, with Michigan State coming to town next Saturday, Ohio State doesn't really have.
4. Michael Mauti's luck is just wretched. Penn State beat Eastern Michigan 34-6, but the real story for PSU is the injuries suffered on the defensive side of the ball. CB D'Anton Lynn was carted off the field in the second half with an apparent neck injury, but he's expected to be fine. The real problem for the Nittany Lions is the absence of All-American candidate Michael Mauti, who suffered a torn ACL on a non-contact injury in the first quarter and will miss the rest of the year. Mauti was forced to redshirt in 2009, his second year with Penn State, after tearing his right ACL; Saturday's injury happened to Mauti's left. It's early enough in the year that he'll likely be able to apply for a sixth year of eligibility in 2013 if he wants it.
This marks the third season marred by injury for the talented linebacker; in addition to the 2009 ACL injury mentioned earlier, Mauti was plagued by ankle and shoulder issues in 2010 and never seemed to be at 100% during Big Ten play even when he was healthy enough to be on the field (not always the case). Mauti had looked great in early play this season, and although Nate Stupar is no slouch in relief, losing a high-caliber player like Mauti is tough for a team that's going to be leaning heavily on its defense this season with the continuing difficulties at quarterback.
We hope Mauti's recovery is swift and complete, and that he finally gets at least one healthy season to put it all together for Penn State. Anything less, frankly, would be unfair.
5. There are going to be a lot of quarterbacks getting All-Big Ten honorable mention recognition. The best quarterback in the Big Ten is probably Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, and if it's not, it's Mr. Michigan, Denard Robinson.(seen at left, rushing for one of his three scores Saturday). Short of injury, there's basically no way these two dynamos cede the All-Big Ten first team and second team honors at the end of this season.
That means honorable mention is going to have to accommodate a lot of Big Ten quarterbacks who are off to great starts this season in their own right. Nathan Scheelhaase is basically a job-saver for Ron Zook at Illinois, epitomizing the "dual threat" label with a high option IQ and an accurate arm. James Vandenberg is probably the best pure passer Kirk Ferentz has ever had at Iowa, and the junior has nearly 1100 yards, 10 TDs, and only one interception in his first four games this year. MSU's Kirk Cousins was my preseason pick as 2011's top QB in the Big Ten, and he still may be so when the dust settles. Nebraska's option man Taylor Martinez would be the most dynamic rushing quarterback in the Big Ten since Antwaan Randle-El if it weren't for that Denard fellow in Ann Arbor. And oh yes, Dan Persa is coming back next week for Northwestern; if he can replicate his pre-Achilles injury form, Northwestern's going to be in great shape. That's a lot of very, very good quarterbacks for just one conference, and the scary part is that only Wilson and Cousins are seniors. Meanwhile, Indiana brings in top prospect Dusty Kiel next season and Braxton Miller will be the unquestioned starter in Columbus with a full year of experience under his belt in 2012. The high-profile quarterback isn't going anywhere soon in the Big Ten.
One school that's conspicuously absent in this discussion is Penn State, who struggled again with quarterback play in the Rob Bolden/Matt McGloin quarterback platoon that seemed to hit a stride of sorts this week... against EMU, who isn't even good by MAC standards. How the Penn State quarterback situation got so dire is a question that gets beaten past any semblance of sense on a weekly basis in Happy Valley, but it doesn't change the fact that Penn State's in a quarterback-heavy league without a true No. 1 quarterback, and it's probably going to cost the Nittany Lions this year. It would be false to ascribe this to an institutional weakness on the part of Joe Paterno, since his last full-time starting quarterback was Daryll Clark, who was only the Big Ten OPOTY in 2008. It would also be false to think this problem will fix itself, though, because if there were a legitimate, game-ready quarterback on Penn State's roster, well, we would have seen him by now.
6. Well, at least that's all done. There are only two non-conference games left for anybody in the Big Ten; Purdue faces Notre Dame next week, and Northwestern has a date with Rice in November. For everyone else, it's nothing but Big Ten play from here on out. No more FCS patsies, no more MACrifices, and no more cupcakes showing up for a paycheck. It's the way the Big Ten was meant to be played. Let's go.
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Tags: Adam Jacobi, Antwaan Randle-El, Ball State, Big Ten, Braxton Miller, Colorado, D'Anton Lynn, Dan Persa, Daryll Clark, Denard Robinson, Dusty Kiel, Eastern Michigan, FCS, Illinois, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, James Vandenberg, Joe Paterno, Kirk Cousins, Kirk Ferentz, Luke Fickell, Matt McGloin, Michael Mauti, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nate Stupar, Nathan Scheelhaase, Nebraska, New Mexico State, Non-BCS, North Dakota State, North Texas, Northwestern, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rice, Rob Bolden, Ron Zook, Russell Wilson, San Diego State, Sun Belt, Taylor Martinez, Terrelle Pryor, Western Michigan, What I Learned, Wisconsin
Posted on: September 25, 2011 4:06 am
Edited on: September 25, 2011 4:11 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
1. LSU and Alabama are the SEC's No. 1 and No. 2, or No. 2 and No. 1, and no one else is close. Yes: Arkansas could recover from today's beatdown in Tuscaloosa and still head to Baton Rouge at the end of the year with a chance to sneak off with the West title. Yes: South Carolina has the league's best player in Marcus Lattimore and more than enough weapons on both sides of the ball to beat anyone, LSU and 'Bama included, if Stephen Garcia's head is screwed on correctly. Yes: with Charlie Weis rediscovering the Gators' lost running attack behind Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, Florida looks like the most dangerous team in the East and could do anything in the Atlanta one-off.
But until one of those teams actually beats one of the two Goliaths currently standing atop the conference, we're going to assume the gap between LSU and Alabama and the rest of the conference is even wider than it was purported to be at season's beginning. In fact, this blogger would argue these are the two teams that belong atop the polls as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation.
Why? LSU has the best overall body of work of any team in the FBS, having beaten three ranked teams away from the friendly confines of Death Valley. And if Mississippi State doesn't look like they're going to live up to their preseason ranking, beating Oregon and West Virginia by a combined 39 points (and largely throttling a Duck offense that's rolled in its usual fashion ever since) should only look better as the season progresses.
But if LSU has the best body of work, it's Alabama that after Saturday has the single most impressive performance of the season. Not many SEC fans have doubts about Arkansas's offensive personnel (running back excepted), and even fewer would question Bobby Petrino's offensive scheming. But the Tide made the Hog attack look utterly ordinary, all while showing off the kind of explosiveness in the offensive backfield (hi, Trent Richardson!) and special teams (hey, Marquis Maze!) that should give them all the scoring firepower they'll need. If Arkansas goes on to be the top-15 team they've been supposed to be this offseason -- and we don't see any reason to doubt them yet -- then drubbing that top-15 team by 24 points that felt like 44 makes for the best single-game showing of the year so far.
So ... which do you choose? The team that's flashed the highest ceiling, or the team with the best scalps on the wall? We don't know. And fortunately, we don't have to choose--their meeting on Nov. 5 (barring an upset between now and then) will choose for us. We just know that choosing any other SEC team at this point is denying the obvious.
2. Florida is the East favorite, and Stephen Garcia is the reason. It's not that the Gators wiped the floor with Kentucky, though their willingness to keep the pedal to the proverbial metal was impressive. (They do wipe the floor with the 'Cats every year, after all.) It's not that the Gamecocks' issues in the secondary can't be overcome -- after collecting a pair of key sack-and-strips against Vanderbilt, Jadeveon Clowney can apparently do a lot of the overcoming by himself -- or that the slow start for Alshon Jeffery can't become a fast finish if he gets better quarterbacking.
What it is is, well, that quarterbacking. Garcia didn't just throw four interceptions Saturday against the 'Dores; he threw four awful, braindead, hilarious, Steve Spurrier aneurysm-inducing interceptions. Vandy has an outstanding secondary, but when you run straight backwards on 3rd-and-15 and blindly launch a pass so aimless and floated even the Wounded Duck Association of America immediately asks to be disassociated from it (as Garcia did for his first), an outstanding secondary isn't necessary. Garcia was terrible, plain-and-simple, and frankly lucky he hadn't already been pulled by the time Connor Shaw entered in the fourth quarter.
South Carolina can do a lot of things even when Garcia is terrible. They can do even more if he's hovering around "passable." (Like beat Georgia, for instance.) But they can't win the East if he's not playing somewhere near the top of his game, and judging by Saturday's performance, the top of his game is far, far away from him.
3. The SEC West might not be quite that brutal. Is it still the roughest, toughest division in college football? Probably. But part of its preseason reputation was due to the presence of both Auburn and Mississippi State in the preseason polls, and right now neither squad is playing like they deserve so much as a spot at the bottom of the "Also Receiving Votes" barrel.
The Bulldogs were supposed to lick their wounds this week against Louisiana Tech after crushing losses to Auburn and LSU. But the Bulldogs from Ruston nearly inflicted the biggest wound yet, tying the game at 20 on a late field goal and driving to the State 20 with under four minutes to play before a Garciaesque interception from true freshman QB Nick Isham ended the threat. Another pick would help MSU escape in overtime, despite Tech's 359-340 yardage advantage.
But at least hard-luck Tech had already taken Southern Miss and Houston to the wire. FAU hadn't scored a touchdown in their two games, losing to Florida and Michigan State by a combined score of 85-3. And yet the Owls found themselves down just 10-6 to Auburn at halftime and finished the game with just eight fewer yards. While most of the frustration from Auburn fans has been centered on the Tiger defense, this time it was the offense doing most of the struggling, as they finished with just 315 total yards (the second-lowest total of Gus Malzahn's tenure) and two offensive touchdowns.
Both teams will no doubt play much better games against competition they take more seriously, in weeks where they're not recovering from emotional losses. But even if they do, neither the Bulldogs nor Tigers currently look like a threat to any of the five teams at the top of either division.
4. Houston Nutt's odds of coaching in 2012 are now less than 50/50. A 27-13 home loss to Georgia isn't great no matter how you slice it. But the Rebels' performance was even more deflating than the scoreline suggests. The Dawgs outgained their hosts by nearly 300 yards (475 to 183), held them without a second-half point, and only kept them in the game via Blair Walsh's uncharacteristic three missed field goals. The Rebel passing game continued to be the sorest of sore spots, as Zack Stoudt and Randall Mackey combined to complete just 12 of their 30 passes for just 149 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. If not for an 82-yard punt return reverse for a touchdown pulled out of Nutt's bag, the Rebels likely would have finished in the single digits in scoring for a second straight week.
So maybe it looked better on the scoreboard than the 30-7 defeat at Vandy. But Ole Miss still didn't offer any reason to think they're not on their way to 1-7 (or worse) in the SEC.
Tags: Alabama, Alshon Jeffery, Arkansas, Auburn, Blair Walsh, Bobby Petrino, Charlie Weis, Chris Rainey, Connor Shaw, FAU, Florida, Georgia, Gus Malzahn, Houston, Houston Nutt, Jadeveon Clowney, Jeff Demps, Jerry Hinnen, Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, LSU, Marcus Lattimore, Marquis Maze, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Nick Isham, Ole Miss, Oregon, Randall Mackey, SEC, South Carolina, Southern Miss, Stephen Garcia, Steve Spurrier, Trent Richardson, Vanderbilt, West Virginia, Zack Stoudt
Posted on: September 25, 2011 4:05 am
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Posted on: September 25, 2011 4:02 am
Edited on: September 25, 2011 4:15 am
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Posted on: September 23, 2011 2:03 pm
Edited on: September 23, 2011 4:57 pm
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.
Finally, we've reached the point of the season where conferences that aren't the Big Ten begin to offer actual meals rather than boring appetizers that add nothing. The SEC and ACC have delved into conference play a bit this season, but now the Big 12 and Pac-12 are diving in as well, which means we've got quite an impressive slate of games to sample from this weekend.
#22 Michigan vs. San Diego State - Big Ten Network 12pm ET
Brady Hoke is San Diego State's old coach (haven't you heard?), so that's all anybody's going to talk about during the game. Don't focus on that fact too much, though, otherwise you're liable to stop paying attention to Denard Robinson, and that's a terrible idea. If Shoelace plays four quarters Saturday, he'll put up mammoth numbers on the Aztec defense. - Adam Jacobi
#25 Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina - ESPN 12pm ET
The Yellow Jackets kick off conference play with one of their most formidable Coastal Division opponents in the Tar Heels. Georgia Tech leads the nation (yes, United States) in total offense right now, averaging just over 675 yards per game. The numbers have been inflated thanks to a schedule, but the potency of Paul Johnson's option offense cannot be underestimated. North Carolina's front seven is one of the ACC's best on paper, and Saturday is their chance for them to live up to the hype. - Chip Patterson
Pitt vs. Notre Dame - ABC 12pm ET
With so few must-see games going on in the morning, this matchup could prove to be quite entertaining. Notre Dame finally put a full 60 minutes together without driving off a cliff last week to pick up a win against Michigan State, and Pitt did quite the Notre Dame impression last Saturday while blowing a 27-10 lead over Iowa in the fourth quarter. Tune in for the future ACC follies! - Tom Fornelli
#3 Alabama vs. #14 Arkansas - CBS 3:30pm ET
The first clash of legitimate SEC heavyweights offers a compelling contrast in offensive styles: Arkansas's aerial circus of nationally-elite receivers and precision Tyler Wilson passes against a Tide attack that (thanks to the humdrum nature of AJ McCarron's performances to date) is likely to pound away with Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy, pound away some more, and when that fails? More pounding. Winner becomes heavy favorite to land at BCS bowl berth--at minimum. - Jerry Hinnen
#8 Texas A&M vs. #7 Oklahoma State - ABC/ESPN2 3:30pm ET
The Big 12 no longer has a championship game, but this one could serve as a mini-playoff. The winner of this contest between two teams ranked in the top ten moves on to face Oklahoma later this season in a game that will likely decide the Big 12 title. Aside from the BCS implications, however, this matchup should be incredibly entertaining for all involved, as the Oklahoma State offense faces its toughest test of the season so far. - TF
#21 Clemson vs. #11 Florida State - ESPN 3:30pm ET
The Seminoles enter Death Valley banged and bruised after their 23-13 loss to top-ranked Oklahoma. The most popular word in the pre game notes for Florida State is QUESTIONABLE, and thus so is the outcome of this game. Clemson finally got their offense going against Auburn thanks to Tajh Boyd and breakout freshman Sammy Watkins, and the Tigers have a lot of momentum with their Atlantic Division rivals coming to town. Last season this game was decided by a 55-yard walk-off field goal by Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins. Saturday's tilt could be just as close. - CP
Ohio State vs. Colorado - ABC/ESPN2 3:30pm ET
What looked like sort of a throwaway game in August now has some intrigue. Colorado's not very good at all, but Ohio State has its own quarterback issues to work out after last week's disastrous showing in a 24-6 loss at Miami. The game's in Columbus, so it's unlikely that all hell breaks loose, but if Colorado hangs around, you never know... - AJ
#12 South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt - ESPN2 7pm ET
The upstart Commodores move up about three or four classes from their featherweight bout against Ole Miss when they travel to Columbia to take on Marcus Lattimore and Co. Knowing that Lattimore will get his and that the terrors on the Carolina defensive front will hamper any effort to run, any chance of Vandy springing the upset rests in the passing game--in Larry Smith taking advantage of the soft Gamecock secondary, and the ballhawking Vandy defensive backs wringing a couple of game-changing turnovers out of Stephen Garcia. - JH
Kentucky vs. #15 Florida - ESPN 7pm ET
You there, good sir (or madam): do you enjoy the spectacle of wholesale slaughter? Do you take pleasure in the most savage of horse-whippings? Then may we please direct your attention this-a-way to yonder annual meeting between the Wildcats and Gators, won by the Floridians by an average of 42 points these past three years. And with these unfortunate Wildcats having had their offensive teeth removed this offseason just hence -- from cuspid to canine! -- this sideshow could be the bloodiest yet! - JH
#1 Oklahoma vs. Missouri - FX 8pm ET
Last year on a Saturday night in Columbia, the Oklahoma Sooners came into town sporting a new spot atop the rankings. They would not return home with that #1 next to their name. This season it's the Tigers who come to Oklahoma to once again face the top-ranked team in the land. Can Missouri destroy Oklahoma's national title chances two years in a row? Tune in to find out. - TF
#16 West Virginia vs. #2 LSU - ABC 8pm ET
Anticipation for this game has had Morgantown buzzing since Monday, and I suggest you are settled into your spot on the couch (if city officials haven't removed it yet) by kickoff. Dana Holgorsen's offense has been among the most efficient in the nation, and LSU's defense has worn down and broken every challenger they have faced. I expect the Mountaineers to feed off the home crowd and get a fast start, the question will be how long they can keep it up against the tenacious Bayou Bengals defense. It's the heavyweight match up of the evening - no reason to miss this one. - CP
LATE NIGHT SNACKS
Arizona vs. #10 Oregon - ESPN2 10:15pm ET
Oregon begins conference play this weekend and is looking for their 13th-straight league victory against Arizona. The Ducks have bounced back from their opening loss against LSU to blow out a pair of opponents and get the offense cranked up again. Arizona is in the middle of a rough stretch to open the season but they do have an excellent quarterback in Nick Foles, the third best passer in the country, who has yet to throw an interception. - Bryan Fischer
Arizona State vs. #23 USC - ESPN 10:15pm ET
Though USC is ineligible for the Pac-12 South title, they will essentially be settling it on the field as the Trojans head to Tempe to take on Arizona State. Dennis Erickson's team fell to Illinois in a close game last week but are hoping to get things going again. ASU has lost 11 straight to USC so this game is about more than winning a game, it's about ending a long streak with the best team the Sun Devils have had. This game is worth watching just to see linebacker Vontaze Burfict take on Matt Barkley and Robert Woods. - BF
Tags: A.J. McCarron, ACC, Adam Jacobi, Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Brady Hoke, Bryan Fischer, Chip Patterson, Clemson, Colorado, Dana Holgorsen, Denard Robinson, Dennis Erickson, Dustin Hopkins, Eddie Lacy, Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Iowa, Jerry Hinnen, Kentucky, Larry Smith, LSU, Marcus Lattimore, Matt Barkley, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Mountain West, Nick Foles, Non-BCS, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Pac-12, Paul Johnson, Pitt, Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, San Diego State, Saturday Meal Plan, SEC, South Carolina, Stephen Garcia, Tajh Boyd, Texas A&M, Tom Fornelli, Trent Richardson, Tyler Wilson, USC, Vanderbilt, Vontaze Burfict, West Virginia
Posted on: September 19, 2011 6:01 pm
Edited on: September 19, 2011 6:35 pm
Wisconsin stays moving up, and for this I'm happy; the Badgers have looked like a Top 5 or 6 program every step of the way thus far, and now they're only 5 voter points away from overtaking Oklahoma State in the coaches poll. Of course, some voters might have a problem with the Wisconsin schedule thus far, and that's a valid thing to take into account (especially at this point in the season). So no howls of outrage here by any stretch -- especially when there's the rest of the poll to take umbrage with.
Needless to say, if I didn't agree with Nebraska's ranking last week, I'm not going to agree with it this week -- they're No. 16 in my Top 25, because I don't do the straight win-go-up, lose-go-down polling thing. The Huskers don't look like a Top 10 team at all so far -- not when it takes so long for the Huskers to put away the likes of Fresno State and Washington in Lincoln. They also don't look like a .500 team either, because this year's crop of teams drops off pretty precipitously after the first two tiers, and Nebraska looks to be on that third tier. Don't get me wrong -- they're still the team to beat in the Legends division. But 9th in the nation? No. Nooo no no no. Not yet. Not like this.
I personally still don't have Michigan in my Top 25 yet -- they're mighty close -- but I understand this ranking and I don't have much of a problem with it -- as of right now. Denard Robinson still terrifies me throwing the ball, though, and I still think this all crashes down in the last half of the season in a big way, but if Michigan takes care of SDSU this weekend and handles its first road test at Northwestern (who should have a healthy Dan Persa by then), it'll have earned a Top 20 spot.
UR/23. Michigan State
Yes, Michigan State is still ranked in the coaches poll and Illinois is not. The coaches poll is a joke. The real coaches don't even participate. I don't want to cover it like a serious thing anymore, but it just so happens to be a third of the BCS calculations so here we are every week, going through with this. Ugh.
With the Saturday win over then-No. 22 Arizona State, Illinois catapulted itself into the national conversation for the time being, and good for the Illini; they've got a legit quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase, a productive defense with a mean streak, and a schedule that lends itself to maybe as many as 10 regular season wins. They could -- nay, should be 6-0 heading into a home date with Ohio State on October 15. Giddyup!
Also receiving votes: Illinois (90 coaches votes), Michigan State (42 AP votes), Ohio State (16 AP votes, 92 coaches votes), Penn State (19 coaches votes), Northwestern (1 coaches vote)