Tag:Kirk Cousins
Posted on: November 27, 2011 3:47 am
Edited on: November 27, 2011 6:19 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 13



Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: Wisconsin's lust for revenge

The two heart-breaking losses Wisconsin absorbed in the middle of what was supposed to be a special season have never really let the Badgers go. Oh, the Badgers got over them, to be sure; they won their next four Big Ten games by an average score of 44-14, and of those only the 28-17 win over Illinois was even halfway competitive. And yet, Wisconsin has struggled in vain to so much as crack the Top 15 of the polls, as its only win against a ranked opponent all year was a 48-17 dismantling of then-No. 8 Nebraska in Week 5. That's it.

Or, that was it until Saturday, anyway, when Wisconsin officially ended Penn State's conference title aspirations (and the Nittany Lions' stint in the Top 25) with a 45-7 shellacking. Wisconsin's now the (sigh) Leaders Division winner and all set for the Big Ten Championship Game next Saturday. And wouldn't you know it, Michigan State -- the team that dealt Wisconsin its first, most crushing loss will be waiting in Indianapolis for the Badgers.

And there's probably no team Bret Bielema and his Badgers would rather face.

The first meeting of the two teams was an outright classic, with Wisconsin going up 14-0 early before a Montee Ball injury derailed the Badgers' offense to the point that MSU was able to open up a 31-17 lead. But it wasn't until a deflected Hail Mary pass from Kirk Cousins found its way into the arms of Keith Nichol and Nichol twisted the ball across the plane while being tackled that the Spartans could sew up the victory. It was as slim a margin of victory could be in regulation, and it doomed Wisconsin's highest aspirations for the season. What more could you ask for after a game like that than a rematch? And if there must be a rematch, why not do it with everything in the Big Ten on the line? This week should be great.  

LOSER: The so, so, so fired Ron Zook

Ron Zook's Illinois squad just put the finishing touches on a 6-6 campaign, one that would probably be a little more palatable if it hadn't finished in six straight losses where a formerly formidable offense just plain cratered. The last effort that'll likely be on Ron Zook's resume is a 27-7 throttling at the hands of a Minnesota program that hadn't beaten a Big Ten opponent by that many points since it beat Indiana 63-26... in 2006, when Glen Mason was still at the helm. We'll have more on the Gopher revival in a bit, but suffice it to say that Zook is going to be fired very, very soon. 

There's no up side for this Illinois team's collapse. Nathan Scheelhaase has gone from a future first-team All-Big Ten quarterback to a potential second-team quarterback for the Illini in 2012. A.J. Jenkins scored zero touchdowns in the last six games after a scintillating first half of the season. The Illinois rush defense -- ranked second in the Big Ten -- ceded 248 yards to Minnesota, which was a season high for the Gophers. Whitney Mercilus was a terror all year long, racking up 9.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles, but now there's almost no chance he'll be back in 2012. So what is there to look forward to with this team in 2012 regardless of who's coach? And the fact that such a question is being asked in a coach's seventh year in a program probably means he won't be around for an eighth.

WINNER: Michigan Men (even when they're not)

Much was made about Brady Hoke's ties to the Michigan program when he was hired after the 2010 season, with the phrase "Michigan Man" bandied about liberally. And to be sure, that's exactly what Hoke is -- right down to his insistence on calling Ohio State "Ohio" and never wearing red.

But when it came to hiring coordinators, Hoke wasn't dumb enough to limit himself to fellow Michigan Men. Offensive coordinator Al Borges is, if anything, a "Chico State Man," graduating from there in 1981 and spending the next 30 years bouncing around various schools as offensive coordinator (usually on the west coast, and never at Michigan). Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison spent five years at Michigan back in the '90s, sure, but he also spent more time than that at Notre Dame. -- and did so more recently than his first Michigan stint. Is Mattison a Michigan Man? A Notre Dame Man? Both? He couldn't be both, could he? Anyway, all told, only three of Hoke's nine assistants have any prior ties to the program.

And yet, the difference in quality between last year's team and this year's is inestimable. The Michigan defense has gone from putrid to passable in just one season, and while it's not a championship-caliber unit just yet, it is good enough to get the Wolverines to 10-2 in the regular season and in immediate division contention -- back where the Big Ten figured Michigan would be when these division lines were drawn in the first place. And oh yes, there is that 40-34 victory over Ohio State that the Wolverines clawed for this year, their first over OSU in almost a decade.

LOSER: Will Hagerup

Welp, guess I'm just gonna punt this here ball away, just gonna do my job as punteWHAT AWWW HAMBURGERS OHHHHH NOOOOO

WINNER: Montee Ball's Heisman campaign

Montee Ball's probably not going to win the Heisman this year. That honor will probably go to someone in the trio of Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, or Trent Richardson. But at the very least, Ball probably bought* himself a ticket today with a 156-yard, four touchdown effort that pushed his season numbers to 248 carries, 1622 yards, 29 rushing touchdowns, 17 catches, 248 receiving yards, and five more receiving touchdowns. He also threw a 25-yard touchdown to Russell Wilson against Indiana (which doesn't count for Ball in total touchdowns, only Wilson), a sure sign that offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was very bored that day.

So that makes 34 total touchdowns on the season for Ball, a mark that only Barry Sanders has bested with his other-worldly 39 scores in 1988 (which doesn't even count his five touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl, as bowl games weren't counted in official statistics back then). And Ball isn't just pushing scores in from a yard out, either; nine of his 25 rushing touchdowns have come from more than five yards out, and his 6.75-yard rushing average was fourth in the FBS among 1000-yard rushers coming into Saturday's action. Ball isn't a touchdown machine, he's an everything machine, and now that it's been him front and center in Wisconsin's push to Indianapolis, voters are likely to take notice.

*Metaphorically speaking, NCAA! We never meant to imply that Ball or anybody around him has ever so much has handled a dollar bill. We understand that the sanctity of this game can only be achieved if everybody involved is dead broke and rejects capitalism outright, and we assure you that Ball has not been tainted by the immoral slime of legal tender. They're student-athletes, not money-recipient-athletes. We get it. 

LOSER: The "Heroes Game"


What seemed like an intriguing new rivalry -- Iowa vs. Nebraska, every year, with the Missouri River set to be the most hotly contested border waterway since the Rhine. Whereas the French had the mighty but tragically immobile Maginot Line to protect themselves, though, Iowa's line just plain couldn't stop anyone coming right up the middle, either on Saturday or all year long. Rex Burkhead set a Nebraska record with 38 carries, and his 160 yards and a touchdown wore down the Iowa defense to the point of surrender. 20-7 was the final, and it really wasn't that close.

Next year's game might be more competitive simply because it's in Iowa City, but the 2012 Hawkeyes probably won't be any better than this year's iteration, and if this rivalry starts off lopsided it'll be hard to get the fanbases worked into the lather necessary for a lasting rivalry. Nebraska's never going to get tired of 13-point wins that are more one-sided than the final score indicates, of course, but the Huskers aren't really going to care about beating Iowa until they can't take it for granted anymore.

WINNER: Jerry Kill, eh?

It looks like everything Jerry Kill's been telling his team since he inherited it last December might yet be sinking in. After a 1-6 (0-3) start to the season where none of the Gophers' conference losses were even competitive, Minnesota turned the boat around in a big way with a 22-21 comeback win over Iowa. After that, Minnesota looked like a different team, hanging tough with Michigan State and Northwestern in losses and at the very least losing to Wisconsin by a smaller margin than Penn State just did. And now, the Gophers have closed the season out with the aforementioned 27-7 drubbing of listless Illinois. MarQueis Gray rushed for 167 yards, threw for 85 more, and accounted for all three of the Gopher's touchdowns in the victory without turning the ball over.

This Gopher team has a long way to go in order to start hanging with its Legends Division rivals on a weekly basis. The lines are a mess, there's a dearth of experience on both sides of the ball, and Kill isn't drawing high-quality recruits yet. He's got a complete overhaul on his hands, and those don't happen in a year at a school like Minnesota. But there's two ways to overhaul a program: spend four years recruiting "your" players into the system, or change the program's culture so substantially that the old coach's players buy in and become "your" players. Kill seems to be on that path, and that bodes well. Doesn't seem like something we thought we'd be saying just a couple months ago, when Kill was talking about needing to "babysit" his players and losing every game by 30 or so, but here we are.

LOSER: Michigan's classless fans

Look at them, rushing the field and celebrating after Michigan beats a 6-6 team. Act like you've been there, guys, right? The nerve of it all!

We're kidding, of course, because the cathartic value of a win like that, erasing eight years of misery and futility hard-wired into to Michigan's identity as a football program, would be off the charts even if Ohio State were coming into the game 0-11. But we're still talking about a bowl team here in OSU, and one that gave Michigan all sorts of fits over the course of the game. You have our full blessing on this field-storming, Michigan. And if anyone says otherwise, well, haters gonna hate. Feels nice to have haters again, doesn't it?



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Posted on: November 13, 2011 5:15 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 11



Posted by Adam Jacobi


A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNERS: Nebraska and Penn State

It's hard to know what to say about the Nebraska-Penn State game. It was obviously important strictly from a football sense, as it might well be the exact same matchup that we'll see for the inaugural Big Ten Championship in December. It proved that Penn State's defense couldn't just plain win every game by itself if the Nittany Lion offense was struggling. It even marked a decent enough debut performance for Tom Bradley as a D-I head coach, even though his team eventually fell short.

It's just that today, nobody believed what happened on that field was the most important thing going on. Not with the headlines bringing terrible news about the victims of Jerry Sandusky on a daily basis (today being no exception, sadly). Not with the scandal costing Joe Paterno his job after an unbelievable 46 years atop the program. 

The reminders that this was about more than football came even on gameday, with the constant reminders from announcers, the blue-out engineered by the Penn State fans, and the remarkable scene of both teams meeting each other at midfield for a pregame prayer (shown above). Even when the game was on the line late in the fourth quarter, Penn State fans exhorted their team to victory by chanting the name of the coach wasn't there anymore -- Joe Paterno.

The chants did not propel Penn State to the comeback win, of course -- chants rarely do -- but they did underscore just how deeply intertwined Paterno is with the program. If a man embodies a football program as completely as Paterno did with PSU, then his bosses inform everybody that he doesn't anymore, how are fans supposed to react? Take some time to answer that. Take a few days. Everyone in Happy Valley's had at least that long, and nobody seems to have a good answer yet. Is there even one to be found?

LOSERS: Michigan State, Purdue, and Northwestern

Michigan State whipped Iowa at Kinnick. Purdue managed a huge overtime win against Ohio State. Northwestern fried Rice (sorry) (not actually sorry). All three wins were immensely consequential as the postseason goes (more on all that later) ... and just about nobody watched, thanks to the Nebraska-Penn State game dominating the common fan's attention. To be sure, that's where most eyes should have been trained, but fans of these three squads have the right to feel a little ignored and annoyed all the same; again, this was a big win for all three teams!

WINNER: Michigan State's division title chances
LOSERS: Iowa and Michigan's division title chances

With this win, Michigan State has effectively dispatched two of the three teams it was competing with for the Legends Division crown. At three losses, Iowa's out of the running; the division's competitive, but it's not that competitive, and Iowa cannot surpass MSU now. Michigan can pass MSU in the standings, technically -- it's just going to take Spartan losses to Indiana and Northwestern in the coming weeks. We're prepared to assume MSU wins at least one of the two.

That just leaves Nebraska as a potential spoiler to the Sparty Party, and aside from one game, the Huskers are playing what's easily their best football of the season. But that one game, the terrible, terrible home loss to Northwestern last week, is likely going to doom Nebraska unless the 'Cats (hey, them again) want to play spoiler one more time. It's not out of the question; Northwestern is typically a beast in November under Pat Fitzgerald. But considering what MSU did to the Iowa secondary this week and what Northwestern's secondary has suffered through, it might be too much to ask the Wildcats to pull one more upset.

WINNER: The Michigan State ground game

Coming into the week, the Spartans were the worst rushing team in the Big Ten. There are plenty of factors going into that: a retooling offensive line, a brand new offensive coordinator and system, and a schedule full of tough defenses, for three examples. But still, no matter how valid the explanations are, at the end of the day you need an effective running game if you're going to keep the ball on the ground 30+ times a game, otherwise those sticks just aren't moving very often.

So it was heartening to see the Spartans rush for 155 yards -- 25 yards above their season average, and 35 yards above their conference average -- in Saturday's 37-21 win at Iowa. Le'Veon Bell in particular was a beast between the tackles, running for 112 yards with one particularly demoralizing 25-yard score late in the first half (shown above at right). No, it's not like MSU put up 250 yards or otherwise let Kirk Cousins take the day off or anything -- it wasn't that big of a day on the ground -- but after three straight games of scarecely topping 100 yards for the day, 155 yards on 39 carries is a message that Sparty's rushing attack might be living up to its potential at the most important part of the season.

LOSER: The Ron Zook Experience

Remember when Ron Zook was proving everybody wrong about Illinois and, by extension, himself? Remember thinking that if you give any coach (Zook included) a dynamic quarterback, a top-level receiver, and a world-crushing defense, you'd get 9-10 wins, and that Zook was over halfway there? Remember? Those sure were nice days.

Then the losses started piling up, and they've shown no signs of abating -- quite the opposite, really. And now one can't help but think that this monumental collapse is going to mean the end for Zook. In all likelihood, Wisconsin's going to push the Illini's losing streak to five games next Saturday, and now even a road trip to Minnesota doesn't seem like a sure thing. No, the Gophers aren't good yet, despite beating Iowa and hanging with MSU. But they're at the least interested in playing well, and that's a sentiment that seems hard to come by in Champaign these days. 

WINNER: Bowl eligibility

Two teams we didn't expect to see on the brink of bowl eligibility are Northwestern and Purdue, two teams that struggled mightily in the early conference season but that have logged important upset victories in recent weeks -- Northwestern over Nebraska last week, and now Purdue salvaging a regulation tie with OSU by blocking a last-minute extra point, then finishing the Buckeyes off in overtime.

So assuming that Northwestern can beat Minnesota at home and Purdue can win at Indiana, there'll be an astonishing 10 bowl-eligible teams out of 12 in the B1G. If that's the case, it would be appropriate that the conference is based out of Chicago, because Oprah Winfrey is too, and she says you get bowl eligibility! You get bowl eligibility! Everybody gets bowl eligibility! And if the Big Ten had 10 bowl tie-ins, well, that would automatically make 10 bowls very happy hosts and 10 teams very happy guests, would it not? 

LOSER: Well, probably Northwestern or Purdue

Of course, the Big Ten does not have 10 bowl tie-ins, so if the conference has that many bowl-eligible teams this season, someone's going to be left out of the Big Ten bowl lineup. Even assuming two BCS teams come from the Big Ten (a travesty if ever there was one, this year), the most teams the conference can assuredly accommodate is nine. So depending on which bowls take which schools, we're going to be looking at one or two Big Ten teams stuck at six wins and hoping a mid-major bowl has a spot free.

Knowing how bowls make their selections, and thinking about how the standings are likely to shake out by the end of the season, it seems rather clear that Northwestern and Purdue are not only the most likely six-win teams in the conference, they're also the two least desirable potential bowl teams for a committee making its selection. Neither travels particularly well or grabs great ratings, and with Dan Persa still not 100%, both teams are badly lacking a high-profile player that casual fans would make time to watch.

We hope both teams can find their way into bowls, and not just because we're bitter Big Ten partisans to the very end -- it's that it'd be great to see them both make one last push for a bowl victory and a happy ending to the season. Dan Persa has obviously not had the senior campaign he or anybody else wanted, but considering his issues are related to rehab and chronic injuries, it seems like a late December Persa would probably be the best-healed Persa we've seen all season. Considering what he was doing on a football season pre-injury, the closest he can come to that, the pre-injury form, would be nice to see one last time.

Meanwhile, Purdue has scrapped and clawed hard to get to .500 on the season at this point. It was easy to dismiss the Boilermakers after they dropped a game at Rice early on, and the 62-17 whipping Wisconsin handed them seemed to underscore how far away they is from respectability. And yet, Purdue held off a furious rally to beat Illinois back when that still meant something, and a home game against Iowa might be an opportunity for a tone-setting win. Purdue didn't lose to Rice or Penn State by very much -- both games went down to the final possession -- so it's really not far from a 7-3 record right now. If the Boilers can get to a bowl game and come away with a win, it'll be a welcome end to a season that looked bleak at numerous times. How can you not want that? 
Posted on: November 12, 2011 5:35 pm
Edited on: November 12, 2011 6:18 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Michigan State 37, Iowa 21

Posted by Adam Jacobi

MICHIGAN STATE WON. 13th-ranked Michigan State won at Iowa for the first time in over 20 years, weathering a second-half rally to close out a 37-21 victory. Kirk Cousins was stellar in the victory, throwing for 260 yards and three touchdowns to zero interceptions.

WHY MICHIGAN STATE WON: There were two basic factors that MSU took care of and Iowa didn't: line play and turnovers. The Spartans had struggled all year to establish a ground game, but Le'Veon Bell gashed Iowa for 112 yards and a score as the Spartans rushed for 155 yards altogether. Meanwhile, Iowa committed three turnovers to none for MSU; the Spartans turned the first two into first-half touchdowns, while the last was important in its own right (more on that in a bit). All in all, Michigan State played like a division champion, and it's en route to fulfilling that destiny in just two weeks.

WHEN MICHIGAN STATE WON: When Iowa TE Zach Derby fumbled inside the 10-yard line, Iowa's third turnover of the game. Derby had just converted a 3rd and 5 on the play and Iowa was close to scoring and had a chance to make it a one-possession ballgame, but there would be no chance for victory after that last turnover.

WHAT MICHIGAN STATE WON: The Spartans took care of their biggest hurdle to a division title this week, as only games against Indiana and Northwestern remain. Northwestern is feisty in November, so it's not time for Spartan fans to start buying hotel rooms in Indianapolis just yet... but it is probably time to start figuring out a budget for that trip.

WHAT IOWA LOST: The notion of Iowa as a Legends Division contender is now, mercifully, over; the Hawkeyes had been in control of their own destiny with the MSU and Nebraska games yet to play, but any team that loses to Minnesota and Iowa State in the same season probably isn't a worthy contender for a conference championship. So that's done. More than that, with the fourth loss on the books, Iowa probably lost a shot at most of the big-name bowls; don't cry, Hawkeye fans, but this might be a Pizza Pizza Bowl kind of season.

THAT WAS CRAZY: One of the worst-kept secrets in the Big Ten is the disdain Kirk Ferentz and Mark Dantonio have for each other, despite basically being the same exact person. Ferentz calling a reverse pass with a 30-point lead last year has something to do with that. So with a routine field goal cued up and Michigan State leading 31-7 in the third quarter, Dantonio tried to exact revenge, and called a fake field goal of his own. It worked, but MSU would still only get three points out of the drive, and the insult seemed to wake up the Hawkeyes. Iowa responded with two quick touchdowns and a drive into Spartan territory immediately afterwards, and even though Iowa's rally fell short, it was still a reminder that midway through the third quarter is just a little bit early to start calling the proverbial "middle-finger" plays.
Posted on: October 31, 2011 12:19 pm
Edited on: October 31, 2011 1:01 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 9



Posted by Bryan Fischer


As much as Saturday's classic battle between Stanford and USC was about Andrew Luck's Heisman hopes and the Cardinal's national title dreams, it was hugely important for the man pacing the home sideline with a laminated playcard.

Yes, USC lost, there's no denying what really matters and what the game will represent in the media guide years for now. But, when combined with the way the Trojans beat Notre Dame last week and their inspired-but-not-quite-good-enough play against Stanford, I think we can finally come to one conclusion about Lane Kiffin that we couldn't beforehand: he can coach. We're still not sure if he can win quite yet, but the question marks about his coaching abilities have been answered.

Given his record, 12-21 with the Oakland Raiders and at Tennessee, it was easy to be skeptical about Kiffin. His resume had an impressive collection of jobs before he turned 34 but he still couldn't shake the label that he was riding on the coattails of his father Monte and Pete Carroll. The NCAA violations and brash nature while with the Vols only enhanced negativity. Last season's 8-5, 5-4 in the Pac-10, record didn't answer any questions. He was blown out by Oregon at home and lost to a lowly Oregon State team in Corvallis on top of three losses by seven points. His offensive unit was good but struggled at times. Jokes about him firing his father for the Trojans' defensive woes had some truth behind them.

2011 wasn't a make or break year but it was important to Kiffin and the USC program as a whole to take another step back to where they were under Carroll despite being under the cloud of NCAA sanctions. The disrespect was evident when the Trojans were a nine point underdog in South Bend despite the Irish's penchant for turning the ball over in big games.

As celebrated as Brian Kelly was in his first season, he came into the game with a 12-7 record while Kiffin was one game better at 13-6 at USC. The tone was set early last week with an impressive opening drive to quiet the Notre Dame crowd and the Irish were never really back in the game after that.

Afterward, Kiffin was elated in the locker room and was extra happy to ruin a game Kelly had built up to be the Super Bowl for his team. He acknowledged it was the biggest win since he arrived in Los Angeles and he was right, in his second season he finally had a marquee victory.

Coaches and players vehemently dislike the term 'moral victory' because they understand the bottom line: you still lost. Still, there are plenty of positives in defeat and we learned a few about USC this week after the three overtime loss to Luck and the Cardinal.

The defense is not terrible like we thought it was. It's not great by any stretch but the defensive line can put pressure on the quarterback, the linebackers are quick enough to make plays in space and the secondary is young but rounding into form. On offense, Matt Barkley and Robert Woods have something special going on, the offensive line has exceeded expectations and the running game has come into its own the past few weeks.

USC didn't win on Saturday but they came close and that counts for something against a team that had reeled off 10 straight wins by 25 or more points. Luck, the best quarterback in the country by far, looked human at times and the USC offense looked like it was on the cusp of being great.

Lane Kiffin will still be thought of negatively, especially in the South, but he's answered a few of his critics' questions this season. He can coach and he can coach offenses that put up points. Now is the time to win the big, big game that his predecessor was known for. Kiffin's insistence after the game about calling out the referees for the final play of regulation - "They lied to me," he said Sunday - knowing that a reprimand from the Pac-12 was coming was taken by some to be whiny but I saw what some of his players did - that he'd fight for them until the battle could no longer be won, and even a little more. Even in retrospect, his play call of a tunnel screen to Woods doesn't look as terrible as it was when you consider he had two timeouts and the play was designed to go up field.

The last time USC lost a triple overtime game to a Bay area team they went on a historic run. No one is saying the same will happen under Kiffin, especially as the program begins scholarship reductions this season, but it's a good omen.

Last Saturday the Coliseum was rocking, the team was playing well and the coach wasn't a question mark. Kiffin can coach, now it's time to see if he can win big games.

Stat of the week

Via the Associated Press, Texas Tech is second team since 1989 (when the AP Poll expanded to 25), to go from no votes to ranked to no votes in three weeks. The other was Washington after they beat USC in 2009.

Stats of the week

- Five Big 12 teams are ranked 90th or worse in total defense, complete with Kansas being the worst in the country giving up 555 yards and 49.5 points per game. That might explain why three of the top five passers in the country are from the conference. The Jayhawks also only had 46 yards of total offense this week.

- Two candidates for most disappointing team of they year, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, are 110th and 118th respectively in turnover margin.

- Despite running so much, Georgia Tech is a third-down machine. They have the fifth-most third down attempts in the country yet are converting on 57.6% of them, best mark in the country by nearly 2%.

- The much maligned Michigan defense has taken a leap in several categories under Greg Matison but perhaps the most important: they lead the country in red zone defense. The Wolverines have only allowed 13 scores all year from inside the 20.

- If you had to guess who leads the country in time of possession, you'd probably start with a Georgia Tech or an Army. It's actually Texas, who holds onto the ball for over 35 minutes per game.

- After facing Oklahoma State, Baylor's defense dropped from 97th in total defense and 101st in scoring defense to 108th and 115th. Missouri went from 29th and 25th in the two categories to 51st and 46th. Texas went from 24th and 47th to 30th and 56th. Bottom line, your defense won't look too good in the stats after facing the Cowboys.

- Auburn is 289-4 all time when scoring 30-plus points. One reason why Gus Malzahn is being paid $1.3 million a year.

- This is the first time Georgia has beaten Florida and Tennessee in the same year since 1988. There are only three players on the Bulldogs' roster that were born before then. The Gators' four game skid is the first of any kind at the school since 1988 and first in the SEC since 1979, when head coach Will Muschamp was eight.

Yard-by-yard

- It was only a matter of time before the Manhattan Miracle came to an end. Oklahoma had been shocked the week before by Texas Tech and Kansas State was the unwitting opponent they took it out on. Landry Jones threw for a school-record 505 yards and five touchdowns, impressive considering the quarterbacks that have been churned out under Bob Stoops recently. His favorite target, Ryan Broyles, also moved into first place on the Big 12 career receiving list. Not all was crimson Saturday however, as running back Dominique Whaley fractured his ankle on the very first play of the game. Though overwhelmingly a passing team, the balance that the running game had with Whaley will be missed unless the Sooners find someone to step up. Kansas State will have to regroup after the Big 12's previously top-ranked defense was shredded by Jones. They rallied in the second quarter but that was about the only time the Wildcats could get something going.

- Say what you want about Oklahoma State's 111th ranked defense but they bottled up Robert Griffin III, shutting Baylor out in the first half and allowing just one score in the red zone all game. The 622 yards allowed is concerning but they allowed a good chuck of the yards when the game was well out of hand. It seemed like the Cowboys were going to be locked in a tough one once the Bears drove down to the one-yard line on their first drive but the defense held and the offense drove 99-yards for a touchdown to set the tone early. After that, it was like Mike Gundy's squad was shot out of a cannon. Particularly impressive was running back Joseph Randle, who had 152 yards and four touchdowns to lead a rushing attack that rolled up over 300 yards for the first time in over two years. It's hard to look at the Cowboys and see anybody but Oklahoma stopping them from booking a trip to New Orleans.

- It seems to happen every game but it does seem concerning that Oregon led Washington State by only five points before taking care of business in the second half in a 43-28 win. The big news was the return of LaMichael James and Darron Thomas, who both started. James ran for 53 yards and wore a brace after dislocating his elbow a few weeks ago. Thomas was a little shakier, tossing two interceptions before being pulled for backup Bryan Bennett. Was it rust? Hard to say but you can't say it wasn't a factor after being limited in practices the week before. There's likely not much of a quarterback controversy but there's no question the Ducks need Thomas at 100% if they want to beat Washington, Stanford or USC. Freshman De'Anthony Thomas was a bright spot, perhaps extra bright in Oregon's yellow "bumblebee" uniforms, taking a kickoff 93-yards for a touchdown and scoring on a 45-yard pass.

- People joke about Case Keenum putting up video game numbers in Houston's offense but that's exactly what he did Thursday, throwing NINE touchdown passes as the Cougars routed Rice 73-34 despite the rainy conditions. It wasn't the start Keenum and the offense wanted, with an interception and having a fumble returned for a touchdown to put themselves in an early hole. But then the rain seemed to lighten up and the record-setting quarterback took over from there. His fifth touchdown toss moved him past former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell to set the FBS-record for career TD passes and he proceeded to throw four more just for good measure. "Those are video game numbers, something we couldn't get stopped," Rice linebacker Justin Allen said. "The rain slowed down a little bit ... I wished it would have rained all game. It stopped, and they got things cranked up. There was no looking back for them." Keenum should set another record next week with 267 yards to become the FBS leader in career passing yards. Undefeated and somewhat untested, it looks like Houston is on their way to a special season. They have serious issues on defense but the offense will continue to put up eye-popping numbers.

- Tom O'Brien's hot seat status is fiery hot right now after losing to Florida State 34-0. The Wolfpack managed only 166 yards on offense and were shutout for the first time in three years. They weren't just beat by FSU, they were pushed around like they were Duke. T.J. Graham, one of the few bright spots for N.C. State this year, was bottled up and held to just 116 all-purpose yards. Given the way he handled the Russell Wilson situation and the way the season has gone, don't be surprised when there's a second coaching search going on in the triangle during the offseason (UNC being the other).

- It's time to give JoePa props for coaching Penn State to an 8-1 record. The defense, of course, is the story and the backbone of the team, shutting out Illinois for three quarters but the Nittany Lions had just enough on offense to get by with a 10-7 win. It was a sloppy affair for both teams but Joe Paterno picked up win No. 409 to move become the winningest coach in Division I. They are the ultimate Rodney Dangerfield "No respect" team right now.

- Is there a team more bipolar than Syracuse? A week after throttling West Virginia at home, the Orangemen looked terrible against Louisville, losing 27-10. They beat Toledo thanks to an officiating error, barely lost to Rutgers and barely beat Tulane, then have alternated between great and horrible the last two weeks. They certainly look like they're going to another bowl game this year but if you're Doug Marrone, you have to be concerned with the lack of consistency. On the other side, Louisville posted back-to-back Big East wins for the first time since 2006 and are still in the thick of things in the muddled conference race. Teddy Bridgewater continues to progress and this young team is making steady progress.

- As a few people joked on Twitter, Missouri proved that an SEC East team can beat an SEC West team with the Tigers 38-31 overtime win against Texas A&M. Any joy Aggie fans have over the move to a new conference is being ruined by their team's play on the field, blowing a 14 point lead at home this time around after doing the same against Arkansas and Oklahoma State. Missouri is better than their .500 record suggests and Henry Josey has been a revelation at the running back spot - so much so that he looks like the all-Big 12 pick at his position. James Franklin still makes a bone-headed play from time to time but the offense is still better than expected with the first-time starter running the show. Still, what once was a season of promise for Texas A&M has been anything but and doesn't get better with a trip to Norman.

- Impressive game by the Blackshirts as Nebraska muzzled Michigan State's offense in a 24-3 win in Lincoln. NU defensive backs turned in their best game of the season, being physical off of the line and forcing Kirk Cousins into missing all but four of his first 16 passes. He finished the day with just 86 yards a week after a 290 yard, three TD performance. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead paced the Cornhuskers' offense and looked like they are finally earning their ranking with a dominating win.

- Iowa, really? Minnesota is one of the worst teams in the country and you lose 22-21? There's not much to explain really. The same goes for Texas Tech, getting trounced at home by Iowa State. CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman was in a state of disbelief everytime he checked the score of either game and that pretty much sums up what everybody else was thinking.

- Late in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (which the politically correct will know is Georgia-Florida), SI.com's Andy Staples and I both turned to each other and said that the Bulldog's four point lead would be insurmountable for the Gators offense to overcome. Special teams was another story but the offense? It just couldn't move the ball for their life. The personnel just isn't there to give them any schematic advantage. Hats off to Mark Richt though, who has won six straight and certainly helped his cause.

- Was shocked to see that Texas ended a FIVE game losing streak at home against Kansas this week. It's not saying much against that Jayhawks defense but the Longhorns still rushed for an impressive 441 yards in a game that few people saw on the Longhorn Network.

- Welcome to the Pac-12 win column Utah, who beat Oregon State at home 27-8.

- Clemson finally pulled a Clemson against Georgia Tech. Tevin Washington, after a string of bad games, rushed for 176 yards and was the triggerman for the option offense that jumped out to a 24-3 lead thanks to several Tigers turnovers. It was an impressive showing by Georgia Tech's defense against the explosive Clemson offense, which had come into the game scoring points at will. Considering how shaky the Yellow Jackets had looked on that side of the ball coming in, only a few believed they could pull off the upset which ended any hope of the ACC putting a team in the BCS championship game.

- Go ahead Braxton Miller, take a bow. The true freshman sparked a last-second win that gives Ohio State some life after upsetting Wisconsin. According to reporters after the game, Miller apparently winked at head coach Luke Fickell before the final drive and said "We're all right." That's special. Coming out of high school, Miller showed he had enough talent and moxie that many people compared him to former Heisman winner Troy Smith. The 40 yard pass to Devin Smith with 20 seconds left had to be the play of the year for a Buckeyes team that had been through so much. One has to wonder if they had held on against Nebraska what our view of this team would be.

Tweet of the week

"How impressive was Texas vs. KU? UT had more total yards (590) than current subscribers to Longhorn Network."

- CBSSports.com Senior Writer Brett McMurphy.

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Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma State

4. Stanford

5. Boise State

6. Oklahoma

7. Oregon

8. Clemson

9. Arkansas

10. Nebraska

Where we'll be this week

Brett McMurphy will be in Stillwater to see BCS contender Oklahoma State host previously undefeated Kansas State. Dennis Dodd and Bruce Feldman will both be in Tuscaloosa for the game of the season, LSU-Alabama.

Leaning this way

Kansas State at Oklahoma State

It's almost unfair for one of the great stories in the first half of the season, Bill Snyder's Wildcats, to face the Big 12's two best teams on back-to-back weeks so all we'll say is good luck trying to stop the Cowboys offense. We have a feeling that Kansas State, which dropped 31 spots in total defense after facing Oklahoma, will struggle unless the offense plays keep away and doesn't turn the ball over.

South Carolina at Arkansas

On paper this is a top 10 match up but in reality both teams a bit overrated. Arkansas' defensive issues, especially in the first half, have contributed to closer than expected wins over Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. South Carolina has a good defense but the offense has struggled to score for six week outside of the Kentucky game. It's at home so the edge goes to the Hogs unless Alshon Jeffrey (finally) has a breakout game.

LSU at Alabama (CBS, 8 PM ET)

The showdown of the season is what everybody will have their eyes on Saturday night. The strength of both teams is clearly their defenses so this will come down to who can break open a big play on offense or special teams. There are more home run threats on the Tide and it's in Tuscaloosa but anybody picking against LSU has to know that doing so means going against Les Miles. Should be a great one.

Posted on: October 30, 2011 3:35 pm
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 9



Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: Beavis and Burkhead - It's impossible to discuss either Taylor Martinez or Rex Burkhead without mentioning the effect they've had on each other and Nebraska's success. They're like a buddy comedy, bringing out the best in each other while highlighting their differences; Martinez is often erratic through the air but almost always hits Burkhead in stride, while the slower Burkhead can be an effective decoy on options to spring Martinez for big gains on keepers. They work in tandem, and it would be jarring to see either of them try to replicate their success this year alone.

This week, Nebraska managed just 270 yards against Michigan State, but 233 of those yards (and all three touchdowns) came from either Martinez or Burkhead. Against the statistically best defense in the Big Ten, that's no small task. If the Huskers intend to continue toward the Big Ten Championship, it will be on the backs of their maddening quarterback and devastating tailback, ever inseparable.

LOSER: Michigan State's rushing game, again - Coming into Saturday's action, Michigan State was ranked dead last in the Big Ten in rushing yardage per game. Now, afterwards, nothing has changed. Facing a middling Nebraska defense that continues to miss All-American DT Jared Crick, the Spartans as a team managed only 101 yards on 30 carries. The passing game was even worse (11-27, 86 yards), but still: this was supposed to be a rushing attack that could take over games -- or at the very least reliably keep the chains moving. Instead, thanks to some lackluster blocking, these guys aren't even able to solve a defense with seven men in the box. If this serial failure to rush the ball effectively continues, MSU's not going to hold onto its claim for the division title.

WINNER: Braxton Miller - Yes, Ohio State is running the ball almost exclusively. But that offensive approach isn't possible if Joe Bauserman is the starter, because a diet of nothing but rushes is easy for a defense to figure out if there's only one potential ball-carrier in the backfield. That's not the case with Braxton Miller running the show, though; if Miller drops back in the pocket, he's got the opportunity to look for rushing lanes as well as open receivers. That's extremely stressful for defenders who have to decide whether to stay in coverage or crash the line once Miller takes off. That's what got Devin Smith so wide open for the game-winning score on Saturday, and it's exactly how other mobile quarterbacks like Terrelle Pryor and Denard Robinson find guys free in the secondary so often. 

LOSER: The Big Ten bandwagon - Anyone still feel like Wisconsin is a Rose Bowl-quality team? Anyone? With Wisconsin on a two-game slide and the defense looking like a liability (which it always was, it just didn't matter when the Badgers were scoring at will), the Big Ten now looks like it has zero elite teams, not one. Whoever goes to the Rose Bowl -- probably Michigan State, Michigan, or Penn State -- is due for a shellacking at the hands of whoever the Pac-12 puts forth (Stanford and Oregon being the key contenders here).  

WINNER: Whoever's starting at quarterback against Iowa - Consider the list of Indiana's Tre Roberson, Iowa State's Steele Jantz, Minnesota's MarQueis Gray, Northwestern's Dan Persa, and Penn State's Matt McGloin. What do they all have in common? They've all spent extensive time this season not being their team's starting quarterback, usually splitting time if not outright benched for poor play. They've all also lit the Iowa defense up, combining for a 149.95 passer rating and a 69.3% completion rate, numbers far higher than each QB's season rates. These are quarterbacks that a good defense feasts on; instead, Iowa lets them run wild.

The news gets worse for the Hawkeyes, as Kirk Cousins and Denard Robinson are both looming in the upcoming schedule. If Iowa can make the since-benched Steele Jantz look like a one-week Heisman candidate, imagine the devastation Robinson will rain down upon the Hawkeye defense.

LOSER: The 3:30 slate of games and anyone unlucky enough to witness them - In the strongest evidence yet that close games are not automatically good games, Illinois-Penn State and Iowa-Minnesota were decided by a grand total of four points, featured lead changes in the last three minutes, and were enough to set college football back decades. Illinois-PSU was scoreless through the first 41 minutes of play, and featured as many punts as points (17) -- a stat made even more horrifying when combined with the seven turnovers the game also featured.

Meanwhile, in Iowa's 22-21 loss, the Hawkeyes drove into Minnesota territory on their first four possessions and got a grand total of zero points on those drives; they would add a lost fumble inside Minnesota's 30 in the third quarter. Minnesota, meanwhile, was incinerated by Marcus Coker on the ground, giving up over 250 yards and eight yards a pop to the Iowa sophomore -- and Minnesota won. It was just a bad, shoddily-executed game all around, and nobody needs to see that unless they've got a vested rooting interest. 

WINNER: Quietly, Michigan's title hopes - During the Michigan State-Nebraska game, ESPN erroneously showed a graphic of Iowa at 6-1 (2-1) on the year, presupposing that the Hawkeyes' 44-41 loss to Iowa State didn't happen. This gaffe went unnoticed in the booth, as Urban Meyer twice made mention of Iowa being a "quiet 6-1" and a challenger for the Legends Division crown.

We bring that up not to nitpick ESPN, but to point out that if even Iowa was getting division title mention as of Saturday morning (NOTE: all that talk is obviously done now), then Michigan's gone straight past "darkhorse" and into "invisihorse" territory, even though the Wolverines are still a one-loss team. Yes, MSU still holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Michigan, but if all it takes is another loss out of the team that just got worked by Nebraska for Michigan to be in the driver's seat here, that's not exactly asking much.

LOSER: For once, not Ron Zook - No, we're clearly not declaring Ron Zook a winner this week, not when his players just dropped their third straight game and are on the brink of pure freefall after a 6-0 start. No no, he is no winner. But at the very least, this week, Illinois did not look outcoached -- just outplayed. Gone were the howlers of game management and terrible playcalls, although that's scant consolation when the alternative is four turnovers and two missed field goals. At the very least, though, those are execution problems (it's not as if Zook called "the fumble play"), and even with those problems Illinois wins this game if it weren't for PSU's 80-yard touchdown drive on its last possession of the game. So chins up, Illinois fans: your coach didn't blow this one.

Posted on: October 29, 2011 3:57 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 4:45 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Nebraska 24, Michigan State 3

Posted by Adam Jacobi

NEBRASKA WON. The Nebraska defense was stout in victory on Saturday, holding No. 11 Michigan State to just 187 yards and 12 first downs in an easy 24-3 victory at Memorial Stadium. Kirk Cousins was especially ineffective for MSU, going 11/27 for 86 yards and one interception. Meanwhile, Rex Burkhead was an absolute monster for the Huskers, with 35 carries for 130 yards and two scores, and a 27-yard touchdown reception on top of it.

WHY NEBRASKA WON: It would be wrong to take anything away from Nebraska's effort on Saturday, which was both exemplary and the best of the Huskers' season. Having said that, there was only one team that came ready to play in this game. Nebraska routinely converted 3rd and long on what was supposed to be the best defense in the Big Ten, and the toll of those physical drives on the MSU defense became readily evident down the stretch.

WHEN NEBRASKA WON: The game was still well within reach for MSU with the game at 17-3 midway through the third quarter. Rex Burkhead had just left the field with an injury and Nebraska faced a 3rd and 11 near midfield. Unfortunately, Taylor Martinez found Kenny Bell for a 20-yard first down, Burkhead came back in the game on the next snap, and Martinez found Burkhead out of the backfield for an easy 27-yard touchdown on the next play. That pushed the score to 24-3, where it would remain for the rest of the game, and MSU never threatened to score after that.

WHAT NEBRASKA WON: Nebraska's not only tied for the division lead now, it's got a tiebreaker lead on the Spartans. Road games at Michigan and PSU also loom for the Huskers, but still: this was a huge win. The Husker defense, which had long been a weak spot of this season's team (even before Jared Crick was lost for the year), was dominant against the Spartan offense. For once, Nebraska looked like it belonged in the Top 15, and it's got its biggest win of the season to show for it.

WHAT MICHIGAN STATE LOST: Gone for Michigan State is its perfect conference record, which is the biggie here; the Spartans are now in a four-team tie with one loss in the Legends Division (pending Iowa's game at Minnesota). But this is the second time that Michigan State has been utterly stifled on offense this season, which is shocking given the amount of talent at every portion of the MSU offense. The Spartans are still in decent shape in the division race, but their offensive production on road games has been disturbingly absent. That can't continue. 

THAT WAS CRAZY: Kirk Cousins threw an interception. Just one. It should have been more, but on 3rd and goal near the end of the first half, an errant Cousins throw found its way into the waiting arms of Nebraska DB Daimion Stafford, who was off to the races for what was about to be a 95-yard pick-six. Unfortunately, Stafford was so eager to take the interception to the house that he never secured possession, and he dropped the ball to the field for a harmless incompletion. MSU took the field goal instead to make the score 10-3. So yes, a 24-3 loss is bad enough, but this could have easily been a 31-0 win for Nebraska.

Posted on: October 24, 2011 3:23 pm
Edited on: October 24, 2011 3:52 pm
 

Davey O'Brien Award semifinalists announced

Posted by Tom Fornelli

We've reached the point of the college football season where those preseason watch lists we all remember from a few months ago start to whittle down to lists of semifinalists, and today we've got the 16 remaining contenders for the Davey O'Brien Award. The Davey O'Brien Award is given out annually by the Davey O'Brien Foundation to the best quarterback in the nation, and with all the great quarterbacks we've seen so far this season, it's not easy to cut this group down.

Though when you see the 16 names who made the cut below, you'll have a hard time arguing against any of them.

Matt Barkley, USC
Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Kirk Cousins, Michigan State
Seth Doege, Texas Tech
Robert Griffin III, Baylor
Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Case Keenum, Houston
Andrew Luck, Stanford
Kellen Moore, Boise State
Keith Price, Washington
Denard Robinson, Michigan
Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M
Darron Thomas, Oregon
Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
Russell Wilson, Wisconsin
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

It's a pretty nice group, and there isn't anybody in it who I'd argue should be taken out.
Posted on: October 23, 2011 6:57 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 8



Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: The fans at Spartan Stadium

The scene in East Lansing Saturday night was Big Ten football at its best: a packed house under the lights, a national audience, and two highly-ranked programs duking it out for all 60 minutes. The end of the Wisconsin-Michigan State game was phenomenal beyond comparison, of course, but even without the miracle touchdown from Kirk Cousins to Keith Nichol to finish the game off it was still probably the best of the year in the Big Ten. This time, there was no collapse, no widespread ineptitude, nothing but a mighty good football game.

So being that the fans at Spartan stadium were nice and loud (and probably, ahem, well-lubricated by the time of the late kickoff) and they got to see such a stellar effort by both sides, the myriad big plays by MSU -- including the blocked punt for a touchdown being celebrated above -- and the astonishing game-winning play, yes, they are all the winners here. I've personally been part of a home crowd who saw a game anywhere close to that once: Purdue at Iowa, 2002. That was an incredible, euphoric experience, and Saturday's MSU win hit those notes of amazement even better than the 2002 game did. Sparty fans, you don't need to be told this, but you just witnessed a game for the ages. Treasure it.  

LOSER: Russell Wilson's Heisman campaign

For the first half of the season, Russell Wilson looked like a great quarterback making fools of bad defenses (Nebraska included). His yards per throw not only led the NCAA, it was a full yard ahead of the pace to set a new FBS record, at 12.16. Wilson was a legitimate Heisman contender, and hey, with what Wisconsin was doing to everybody on its schedule, why not?

Unfortunately, on Saturday, Wilson looked like a quarterback who hadn't played a good defense all year, playing a good defense. The end result was several ill-advised throws, two picks, an intentional grounding call for a safety, and easily the worst start of his brief Badger career: 14-21, 223 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs (Yes, that is his worst start. Like we said, bad defenses). Now, Wilson did engineer four touchdown drives, so it's not as if he was beaten into submission all night, but the offense completely fell apart when Montee Bell was on the sidelines, leading one to wonder if the key to keeping the Badger offense rolling has never actually been Wilson to begin with. 

WINNER: Keith Nichol

Keith Nichol, seen at right with a very good reason to smile, hasn't had very many opportunities to be a hero in his college career, though it seemed at the start that he'd have chances at every turn; he was originally recruited by Bob Stoops to be a quarterback for Oklahoma, and he only went to MSU because of the emergence of one Sam Bradford down there. Once Nichol transferred to Michigan State, he split time in a QB platoon with Kirk Cousins at the beginning of 2009 before Cousins was named the full-time starter.

Now, there are plenty of quarterbacks who would have simply transferred to an FCS school in search of immediate playing time at that point, and nobody would have begrudged Nichol if that was the path he had chosen. Instead, a spate of WR suspensions going into the 2009 Alamo Bowl against Texas Tech prompted Nichol to switch to wideout, and while he hasn't set the world on fire there, he has at least remained a productive 4th option for Cousins -- and a loyal teammate to the rest of the program. It takes a lot of maturity to catch passes from the guy who beat you out for a starting role at QB, and if that doesn't sound true, try beign forced into a different job at work and taking orders from the person who took the job you wanted. Right. Not fun.

So, seeing Nichol go through the first 59 minutes and 59 seconds of the game without a catch, only to become the hero on the last play like that? That's not only a joy, it's a testament to program stability. Does a hypothetical freshman backup wideout in Nichol's stead know to be in that position to look for a deflection? Does that hypothetical WR also have the will to push the ball across the plane against multiple tacklers? Neither is a given, but we do know the answer is yes for Nichol. The phrase "couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy" is trite to the point that it's usually used sarcastically, but it absolutely applies here.

LOSER: Ron Zook, again

Forget the 21-14 final score of the Illinois-Purdue game, please, because it paints a very inaccurate picture of how close the contest really was. The Boilermakers ran out to a 21-0 lead in the first half, and Illinois never touched the ball again after bringing the game to 21-14. Despite the large lead Purdue rang up in the win, we'll refrain from saying the game "didn't feel like an upset," because it absolutely did; Illinois had scoring chances but blew them, while Caleb TerBush and the rest of the Purdue offense just flailed ineffectually in the second half and got a win to show for it anyway. 

Illinois should not have been so mentally flat coming into the game, though, especially coming right off a loss to Ohio State (who, like Michigan, was off this week) where the Illini handed the anemic OSU offense scoring chances in the second half time and time again. The mental errors need to be corrected coming off a game like that, not magnified. That is on Ron Zook and his coaching staff, 100%. And so even with Illinois at 6-2, it's that "2" that looms larger at this point in the season, and that threatens to balloon in a hurry if Zook doesn't get the team back on track. Otherwise, there's really no telling how much more patience the Illinois brass will have for him. 

WINNER: Marvin McNutt

Coming into this week's action against Indiana, Iowa WR Marvin McNutt just needed one TD to break the all-time Hawkeye receiving touchdown record of 21 that he shared with Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes. McNutt got that touchdown on Saturday. Then he got two more. In the first half. In related news, the Hawkeyes-Hoosiers game was not very close.

McNutt now has 41 catches for 757 yards and eight TDs in seven games thus far, all of which lead the team by substantial margins. If he keeps that pace up for the rest of the year, he would shatter Iowa single-season receiving records in both yardage and scoring -- and he would also set Iowa career marks in receptions and receiving yardage to go with his touchdown mark. So keep your eyes on No. 7, Iowa fans; he's probably the best wide receiver in school history.

LOSER:  PersaStrength

It would be inappropriate to lay the struggles of Northwestern at the feet of Dan Persa, since he's hardly the worst performer on the Wildcats; for one, Persa isn't responsible for the defense, which currently gives up about 250 yards of passing per game and can't crack the top 100 in FBS in pass efficiency defense.

That said, though, Persa is at least the most visible of the Wildcats, and is so by the direct actions of an athletic department that hyped him as "PersaStrong," even as he (understandably) struggled to recover from a severe Achilles injury. And the fact is, Persa's just not at the level he played at last season. His mobility is hampered to the point that he doesn't run designed rushes, and he doesn't have the same timing down with his receivers that he did last year. He also doesn't seem entirely recovered from that injury, though he's at least at the point in the process where it's going to take play on the field to get back to the "100%" of 2010 and not more time with team doctors.

All in all, though, Persa's barely even beating out Kain Colter for the starting QB role, and while we expect Persa to at least continue that mastery of the starting lineup, the fact that Colter's still getting snaps there every week demonstrates that even the Northwestern coaches don't fully trust Dan Persa's leg yet. And given that, it seems more than a little silly that he was the focus of a Heisman campaign coming into the season, doesn't it? 
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com