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Tag:Conference Midseason Reports
Posted on: October 18, 2010 10:40 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2010 4:37 am
 

Midseason Report: Pac-10

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The Midseason Report separates the contenders from the pretenders in each conference race, and in the Pac-10, that means cleanly separating its top half from its bottom half ... and wondering if anyone can catch Oregon. Here's what's happened so far and what might happen down the stretch.

1. Oregon (6-0, 3-0) - Jeremiwho Masoli? The Ducks missed the memo that the offseason dismissal of their starting quarterback spelled the end of any national title hopes, blazing to six straight wins by an average margin of 38 points. That’s been good enough to make them the consensus No. 1 team in the polls entering the second half of the season, and for Chip Kelly to confirm (again) that no one has a better offensive mind or more talent for coaching dual-threat quarterbacks. First-year starter Darron Thomas has racked up more than 1,400 total yards in leading the Ducks to the current No. 1 ranking in total offense. But even Thomas can go overlooked next to tailback and Heisman candidate LaMichael James , the nation’s No. 1 rusher at 170 yards per-game. The Duck onslaught has overwhelmed every team unlucky enough to face it so far, including previously undefeated Stanford , who gave up 49 points in the final three quarters and lost by three full scores at Autzen. Don’t pencil the Ducks in for a national title bout just yet, though; they were outgained by 226 yards in their only serious road test to date, at Arizona State , and still have to visit three dangerous teams in USC , Cal , and Oregon State . Where the Pac-10 title is concerned, however, it’ll be a shocker if it winds up anywhere but Eugene.

2. Stanford (5-1, 2-1) - Not many coaches can claim to have done a better job over the past few seasons than Kelly, but Jim Harbaugh might be one of them. His stunning reclamation project in Palo Alto has only picked up speed in 2010 as behind potential No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck (1,538 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, 65.7 completion percentage), the Cardinal haven’t missed a beat without departed Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart. UCLA was embarrassed 35-0, Notre Dame bludgeoned 37-14. and USC out-shot 37-35. The 73rd-ranked rush defense could stand to find more consistency, but with Arizona and Oregon State both coming to Stanford Stadium, the Cardinal could nonetheless be favored in their final six games. 10 or even 11 wins are within reach ... though with Oregon holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, it'll take some major help to reach Pasadena.

3. Arizona (5-1, 2-1)
- The Pac-10 has the Wildcats to thank for the conference’s most impressive non-league win to-date, the wire-to-wire 34-27 win over otherwise-undefeated No. 13 Iowa . But Arizona hasn’t been nearly as impressive in conference play, escaping Cal 10-9 on a last-minute touchdown, losing at home to Oregon State 29-27, and sleepwalking past hapless Washington State 24-7. Quarterback Nick Foles has been outstanding, completing better than 75 percent of his passes and averaging 267 yards a game. But now Foles is due to miss three weeks with a knee injury, and the ‘Cats haven’t been able to get key senior running back Nic Grigsby (340 yards this season) on track. With road trips to Stanford and Oregon still to come, Mike Stoops will have to recapture the magic of the Iowa game in a hurry to keep the Wildcats a factor in the Pac-10 race.

4. Oregon State (3-3, 2-1) - Give the Beavers this: no one in the country has played a more difficult schedule. There’s no shame in losing competitive games on the road at top-5 outfits like TCU and Boise State, and not a whole lot in being a two-point conversion away from a thrilling win at Washington . But there’s not that much respect in being only .500, either, even with a big road win at Arizona. And with James Rodgers out for the season, it’s worth asking if the Beavers have enough offensive firepower to hang with anyone in their brutal USC-Stanford-Oregon closing stretch. Still, Mike Riley 's teams usually improve as the season progresses, and quarterback Ryan Katz has shown flashes of brilliance (most notably in the 390 yard upset in Tucson). The Beavers will still have their say in how the Pac-10 ultimately plays out. They always do.

5. USC (5-2, 2-2) - Maybe we should include Washington in this space. After all, the Huskies both beat the Trojans at the Coliseum and stand a half-game ahead of USC in the Pac-10 standings. But it’s hard to take a team that’s lost to a flatly terrible BYU squad and Arizona State (at home!) all that seriously. The Trojans, on the other hand, are two field goals -- one Washington’s, one Stanford’s, both on the final play of the game -- away from being undefeated. And the way Matt Barkley is throwing the ball these days (742 yards, 8 touchdowns, no interceptions the last two weeks) and freshman Robert Woods is catching it (19 receptions, 340 yards, 5 touchdowns those same two weeks), it’s safe to call Lane Kiffin ’s team the one in the Pac-10 that no one would want to play. Just ask Cal. Then again: how dangerous can the Trojans really be if Monte Kiffin ’s 90th-ranked defense doesn’t stop allowing the occasional 500-yard game? USC could upset Oregon in L.A. and enter the final week of the season in contention for a championship, or they could be mathematically eliminated in another two weeks. Anything is possible here.

Prediction: Sorry, Ducks fans: the guess here is that Oregon won't become the first Pac-10 team other than USC to advance to the BCS championship game. Even the best offenses can have off-games on the road, and that defense -- which was gouged for 600 yards in Tempe and another 518 against Stanford -- isn't going to be able to take up the slack. Whether at Los Angeles, Berkeley, or Corvallis, Oregon is due to trip up somewhere.

But they won't trip up twice, which means that they'll still be able to settle for a second straight Pac-10 championship and Rose Bowl berth. Stanford will crack double-digit wins, but it won't be enough, and perhaps maybe not even enough to push the race into the season's final week.

Everyone else? Three conference losses at the minimum, though USC will end the season with a ton of momentum and the consensus honor of being the league's third-best team.



Posted on: October 18, 2010 8:10 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2010 9:12 pm
 

Midseason Report: Big East

Posted by Chip Patterson

The Midseason Report separates the contenders from the pretenders in each conference race.  The Big East has been openly criticized for their weakness in the 2010 season, but they still hold on to a BCS Bowl berth.  Someone has to win it, ranked or not.  West Virginia has carried the banner for the conference thus far, but with a backlogged conference schedule, there is a lot of football left.

West Virginia (1-0)(5-1) - The race for the Big East is pretty much the Mountaineers' to lose at this point.  They appear to be a far superior team to their conference counterparts on both sides of the ball.  While there is some concern for running back Noel Devine's health and recent decline in production, quarterback Geno Smith has emerged as the center of the West Virginia offense.  Smith has thrown for 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and has done a good job spreading the receptions around the field, keeping the defense from stacking the box against Devine.  Head coach Bill Stewart said that Devine is "close to 100 percent" finally after injuring his foot against LSU.  Devine has not missed much time, but has been noticeably limited on the field.  The defense has also been a pleasant surprise for West Virginia fans in 2010.  Allowing only 12.3 points per game, the Mountaineers are rank 3rd in the nation in scoring defense.  Their greatest challenge left on the schedule is a late season matchup at Pittsburgh November 26.  But even that game looks very winnable at this point.
         
Rutgers (1-0)(4-2) - The most significant event of the Scarlet Knights' season unfortunately is also one of the saddest.  Defensive tackle Eric LeGrand still is in the hospital, paralyzed after making a special teams tackle in the 23-20 overtime win against Army.  But if you are looking for good things to take from the game, the most impressive was the performance of quarterback Chas Dodd.  Dodd appears to have the starting job locked up for now, after throwing for 251 yards and two touchdowns to help Rutgers rally back from a 17-3 third quarter deficit.  Unfortunately, the Scarlet Knights have one of the most difficult remaining schedules in the conference.  Road trips to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and West Virginia make a daunting order for Greg Schiano's squad.  
      
Cincinnati (1-0)(3-3) -  The Bearcats have shown flashes of greatness in 2010, they have just failed to carry it for an entire game.  However with a schedule full of conference foes, the slate might as well be clean for Cincinnati.  Quarterback Zach Collaros continues to sling the ball all over the field, with four straight games of at least 200 yards and three touchdowns.  His most recent five touchdown outing helped the Bearcats lock up that first road conference victory.  They still will have to face the other three teams on this list of contenders, but only have to leave home to travel to Morgantown.  Their failure to put a complete game does not give me confidence they will take the conference, but it does not make the feat impossible. 

Pittsburgh (1-0)(3-3) - Pittsburgh's season has been painfully inconsistent.  Not only have they failed to string together back-to-back wins, but their "Jekyll and Hyde" routine has kept them from climbing back into the national scene.  Ever since the season opening loss at Utah it has been a season of head scratching for Panther fans.  The good news is there are six conference games left on the schedule, and regardless of overall record they are currently tied for first.  Additionally, they also picked up their victory on the road, leaving only one significant test away from home: a season finale showdown with Cincinnati.  Both teams will be fighting for postseason postion (or maybe eligibility) and should the Panthers string some wins together and upset the Mountaineers, could have conference title implications.  Having said that, I'm not holding my breath on the Panthers running the table. 


Posted on: October 18, 2010 6:41 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2010 6:59 pm
 

Midseason Report: ACC

Posted by Chip Patterson

The Midseason Report separates the contenders from the pretenders in each conference race.  The Seminoles and Hokies are leading the way in the ACC for now, but the conference race is wide open should one of them drop a game.  Quite frankly, with the way the ACC has been this year, we're counting on that happening at least once.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Florida State (4-0)(6-1) - The Seminoles are back in their familiar place atop the ACC, but their inconsistent gives reason for concern in Tallahassee. While their 45-17 rout of the Hurricanes in Coral Gables showed off a stellar defense and smash-mouth running game, they followed that by squeaking out a 24-19 win at home against Boston College.  Florida State, particularly quarterback Christian Ponder, could not seem to take care of the ball against the Eagles.  Ponder's three interceptions nearly equaled his total for the season coming into the game, and for the first time this year there were murmurs from FSU fans about benching the preseason ACC POY candidate.  Regardless, the Seminoles are undefeated in conference play, and they really have one big hurdle left on the schedule.  A win against N.C. State on Thursday night in Raleigh could give the kind of separation in the division to lock up the division barring a complete meltdown.  Of course, we can never rule that out.

North Carolina State (2-1)(5-2) - Two losses in the last three games have calmed some of the buzz around the Wolfpack, but they are still just as much in the ACC title hunt as they have been all season.  Russell Wilson has looked far more human than usual, throwing eight interceptions in those three games, but that will likely change when the Seminoles visit on Thursday night next week.  Wilson has a history of stepping up in big games, and none will be bigger than Florida State.  Not only would a win close the gap, but it would give the Wolfpack the advantage in the event of a tiebreaker.  Additionally, it would only leave trips to Clemson and North Carolina as their greatest challenges.  While those are both far from guaranteed, they are winnable games for this year's squad.
 
Maryland (1-1)(4-2)/Clemson (1-2)(3-3) - For the most part, the ACC Atlantic is a two-headed race for now.  But should either/both of the teams slip, the Terrapins and Tigers will be hoping for a chance to contend.  Clemson faces an issue of already picking up their second conference loss with N.C. State and Florida State still left on the schedule.  Their best chance to make it interesting is for the Seminoles to lose in Raleigh, and for the Tigers to run the table in the conference.  The problem with the Terrapins is that they are not a very good football team.  "Fluke" does not accurately describe a scenario that puts them in the conference championship game.  "Anomaly" is more appropriate.  

COASTAL DIVISION

Virginia Tech (3-0)(5-2) - The nation may have forgotten about the Hokies after Week 2, but head coach Frank Beamer clearly did not.  Since the upset loss to James Madison, the Hokies have gone 5-0 and are averaging a 21.4 point margin of victory in those games.  Sophomore David Wilson has exploded in Ryan Williams' absence, and Tyrod Taylor has been given the keys to the offense with at least 240 yards of total offense in the last four games.  Their road to Charlotte is not obstacle free, but no one in the Coastal has an easy ride from here.  The Hokies still have trips to North Carolina and Miami, but get the Yellow Jackets at home on a Thursday night.  With "Enter Sandman" blaring and Lane Stadium on their feet for the primetime showdown, I have a hard time seeing the Jackets pulling the upset.

Georgia Tech (3-1)(5-2) - Georgia Tech has not looked as dominant as the conference champions from a year ago, but they find themselves in a familiar spot at the season's midpoint.  Georgia Tech has not been winning pretty, but they are finding a way.  That may not last for long with their conference schedule getting significantly more difficult in the coming weeks.  Road games at Clemson and the aforementioned showdown with Virginia Tech stand in the way between Georgia Tech and a return to the ACC Championship game.  If they do happen to pull the upset in Blacksburg, there will still be a home date with Miami that could decide the division.  Georgia Tech has the tools and opportunity to defend their division, but it will all come down to execution on the field.
     
Miami (2-1)(4-1) - Similar to Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes may be considered a "bust" in the national scene, but still are very much in contention to win the ACC Championship.  Unfortunately for Miami fans, the team has not looked the same since their 30-21 victory at Clemson.  After getting embarrassed at home by Florida State, Miami needed 7 forced turnovers from their defense to beat Duke 28-13.  However, there is not a better chance to get back on track than with a pivotal division victory, and they will get that chance on Saturday against North Carolina.  A win over the Tar Heels at home could put them back on track to challenge Virginia Tech for the division crown.  The Hurricanes and Hokies have a showdown in Coral Gables on November 20 that should carry huge conference championship implications, so go ahead and circle your calendar.  

North Carolina (2-1)(4-2) - After a depleted roster started the season 0-2, the Tar Heels have rattled off four straight wins and become relevant in the ACC again.  They suffered a huge loss in the victory against Clemson, losing Zach Pianalto for the season with a broken leg.  Pianalto was the Tar Heels' leading receiver and favorite target of quarterback T.J. Yates.  Yates has put up phenomenal numbers so far, averaging 249 yards per game and throwing for 11 touchdowns and only 1 interception.  If the rest of the North Carolina receivers can step up in Pianalto's absence, the Tar Heels have a chance at making a run.  It won't be easy, but it is still a chance.  North Carolina still has road games against Miami and Florida State, and have to host Virginia Tech and N.C. State at home.  Butch Davis is 0-3 against the Wolfpack, and there is a good chance that the late season showdown between in-state rivals will carry serious weight for both teams.
 
 
 
 
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