Tag:What I learned
Posted on: October 2, 2011 4:22 am
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Posted on: October 2, 2011 1:32 am
 

What I Learned in the SEC, Week 5

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The gap between the Big Two and the Smaller Ten is even wider than we thought. Last week in this space, we wrote that Alabama and LSU were the top two teams in the SEC and that no one else was close. That's not exactly right; the Crimson Tide and Bayou Bengals are indeed the top two teams, but no one else is even within the same stratosphere.

After all, if there was ever a situation where one team or the other was going to be challenged, it was going to be Saturday night in Gainesville, right? The Tide were on the road, at an undefeated Florida team, in prime-time, in an atmosphere just about as hostile as it's possible to have in college football and they fell behind 7-0 in the first 20 seconds ... and casually laughed all of it off on their way to a 38-10 romp.

So who's going to challenge either of those Big Two? The Gators have already been crushed by one and may not have John Brantley for the other. Arkansas? Kudos for their resilience today, but they also looked overmatched in their one attempt and gave up 381 yards rushing (628 total) vs. Texas A&M. South Carolina looks totally lost (see below), but not so lost they couldn't beat Georgia in Athens. Tennessee? Lost to Florida. Auburn? Still the same team that needed a miracle to beat Utah State.

We don't want to write things that look silly later, so for now we'll hold off on declaring the potential college football Game of the Year Nov. 5 between the Tide and Tigers a mortal lock to decide the SEC champion. But it may not be long until it looks silly to write anything else.

The Sports Illustrated curse has its first victim, and that victim is South Carolina. Back in August, we detailed how teams that have a player or players appear on the Sports Illustrated college football preview cover wind up limping to disappointing seasons more often than not. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, Alshon Jeffery was one of those players this year.

And so surprise, surprise, guess who's well on their way to playing out exactly that disappointment. It's not just the loss to Auburn, either; after the big first-half deficit to East Carolina, the wheeze past Navy, the "putrid" offensive display against Vanderbilt, the only thing left to complete the Gamecock backslide was the nigh-inexplicable loss at home to a double-digit underdog coming off a 316-yard display against hapless FAU. Arguably the most surprising thing about the Tiger victory today was how unsurprising the rest of Carolina's season had already made it.

2011 was supposed to the confirmation of the lessons of 2010, that the old bait-and-switch Gamecocks were gone and the new East-winning, top-15, nationally-relevant Gamecocks were here to stay. Instead, 2011 has seemed to confirm that South Carolina is still South Carolina: talented, dangerous, capable of big things ... but always too erratic, too unfocused to accomplish them. It must particularly rankle to have that confirmed against Auburn, which beat Carolina twice last season. That the Tigers lost seemingly half their roster while the Gamecocks returned the likes of Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore, Devin Taylor and the incredible Melvin Ingram -- not to mention a senior quarterback coming off his best season yet -- should have turned the tables. But even at home, even with Auburn committing four turnovers, even with Barrett Trotter utterly unable to complete a pass longer than five yards downfield, the tables stayed unturned. 

There's still time to turn things around and get to Atlanta, thanks to John Brantley's injury potentially crippling the Florida offense and the tiebreak over Georgia. But if not? If we're a Carolina fan, we're blaming SI.

Mississippi State is in a similar, even-leakier boat. The Bulldogs were also looking to 2011 as the season they proved their old haunts at or near the SEC West cellar were behind them, thanks to an offense that returned nine starters and had another year of Dan Mullen's tutelage under it. But that offense hit its lowest point yet in what looks like another ho-hum season, going without an offensive touchdown at Georgia and scoring just three points in a dispirited (and dispiriting) 24-10 loss. Coming only a week after only putting up 20 regulation points against Lousiana Tech -- and given that Georgia's not exactly a defensive juggernaut just yet -- something appears to be seriously amiss with Mullen's unit. When the schedule still offers visits from Carolina and Alabama and a trip to Arkansas, he'd better have it fixed in a hurry--or his team could be one upset loss from missing the postseason entirely.

The SEC's roster of Heisman candidates goes much deeper than Marcus Lattimore. One less-than-overpowering performance from the big sophomore shouldn't douse his Heisman hopes too badly, but it did open up the floor for the rest of the league's stars to make their statements ... and they did. 

Trent Richardson put his slow 2011 start even further behind him with a punishing 181-yard, 2-touchdown performance. Tyrann Mathieu further cemented his status as the leading defensive candidate with another highlight-reel play -- a quarterback strip, fumble recovery, and touchdown return -- as well as keying another lockdown performance from the LSU secondary. Tyler Wilson isn't on anyone's shortlist yet, but a few more 510-yard passing days might change that. Melvin Ingram had an absurd game, collecting 3.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles-for-loss and an interception. And it seems unfair to mention Lattimore without also mentioning Michael Dyer, the Auburn running back who outrushed him 141-to-66 Saturday -- grinding out many of those yards in the face of poor blocking and a second-half ankle sprain -- and has now outrushed him 305-183 over their three head-to-head meetings.

For all that, if the Heisman vote were held today, Lattimore would still likely top the SEC's list. (As badly as his team is struggling, where on earth would it be without him?) But the SEC's roster of stars is deep enough that that could change as soon as next week.

Houston Nutt won't be fired this week. He still has a long way to go to guarantee himself a spot on the Ole Miss sideline in 2012. But flying cross-country to get a 10-point win over a likely bowl team in Fresno State isn't a bad first step.

Posted on: October 2, 2011 12:50 am
Edited on: October 2, 2011 12:51 am
 

What I learned from the Big 12 (Oct 1)



Posted by Tom Fornelli


1. Mike Sherman should be ashamed of himself. For the second consecutive week Texas A&M blew a large lead in the second half. Last week the Aggies allowed Oklahoma State to come back from a 20-3 deficit at halftime, and on Saturday in Jerry World, the Aggies blew a 35-17 lead over Arkansas at the break. While the blame for last week's collapse could be spread around, I have no doubt where the blame for Texas A&M's loss against Arkansas should be placed.

Right on the shoulders of Mike Sherman.

In the third quarter while holding onto a 35-20 lead, Texas A&M faced a 4th and 2 at the Arkansas 39-yard line. The Razorbacks called a timeout, and during that timeout, Mike Sherman decided that the best course of action his team should take -- the team that averaged 7.1 yards per carry on the day -- would be to take a delay of game and punt. That decision resulted in a 19-yard punt and a 75-yard drive by Arkansas to cut the lead to 35-27 and firmly plant the momentum in Arkansas' favor. Then, making matters worse, Sherman once again faced a 4th and 1 at the Texas A&M 49-yard line in the fourth quarter with A&M still clinging to a 35-27 lead.

Did the coach learn his lesson from the previous 4th and short situation? Of course not, he sent the punt team out once again and Arkansas thanked him by going 86 yards in 100 seconds to tie the game at 35-35. Texas A&M would retake the lead with a field goal later, but it would prove to be too little too late.

If Sherman's March to Atlanta helped seal the Civil War for the Union, then Sherman's Laydown in Arlington surely helped lead to Arkansas' victory in the Southwest Classic.

2. Bill Snyder is a wonderful coach. Snyder already beat the odds once in his first go-round in Manhattan, turning the Kansas State program into a Big 12 power, and now it looks like he's on his way to repeating the feat in his second stint with the Wildcats. Kansas State's thrilling 36-35 win over Baylor on Saturday was a huge win for the program, and it's starting to look like the Wildcats could be a problem for the rest of the teams in the Big 12.

I'm not sure there's any other coach in the country who could do what Snyder has done in Manhattan, let alone do it twice.

3. Robert Griffin is mortal. I'm not jumping off my Robert Griffin bandwagon just yet, as he threw for another 5 touchdowns and 346 yards in Baylor's loss against Kansas State, but it was his first interception of the season that proved to be fatal. It was the first real mistake Griffin had made this season, and it couldn't have come at a worse time. He'll recover, though, I promise.

4. Ryan Broyles is a prolific receiver. Oklahoma didn't have a lot of trouble with Ball State in a 62-6 victory, and Ryan Broyles put himself into the record books on Saturday night. Broyles caught 4 passes to give him 304 receptions in his career, which is more than any other player in the history of the Big 12. He is also only 12 catches away from passing former Purdue receiver Taylor Stubblefield and becoming the NCAA's all-time leader in receptions. I have a strong feeling he breaks that record before the year is done.
Posted on: October 2, 2011 12:29 am
 

What I learned from the ACC (Oct. 1)



Posted by Chip Patterson

1. Clemson is a contender, Virginia Tech is a pretender - The Tigers made ACC history on Saturday, being the first team to defeat three ranked opponents in consecutive weeks. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech (well huh) have both accomplished the feat once in program history, but neither school was a member of the ACC at the time. Their win against one of the highest ranked team ended up being their most impressive, with Clemson holding Virginia Tech from the end zone at home for the first time since 1995. But as much attention as Chad Morris' offense has gotten under Tajh Boyd's direction, the Tigers had not gotten a performance like that from their defense yet this season. It all seems to be coming together for Clemson, and just at the right time. With the victory over Florida State, the Tigers are in the driver's seat for the Atlantic Division title. If they take care of business, they will find themselves back in the ACC Championship Game.

The Hokies, on the other hand, might not be back in the conference title game. The Coastal Division is much more difficult to project, but Georgia Tech has arguably replaced Virginia Tech as the frontrunner. The Yellow Jackets did allow a relentless N.C. State team to climb back into the contest twice, but you cannot expect any conference road game to be a breeze.

Frank Beamer's squad will have a chance to bounce back immediately, with a divisional showdown against Miami in Blacksburg. The Hurricanes' also have one conference loss, and some consistency issues of their own. A lot more to learn about the Coastal in the week ahead.

2. Georgia Tech is still very impressive, but not unstoppable - With N.C. State missing their leading rusher and severely depleted on defense, the Yellow Jackets were predicted to roll over the Wolfpack in Raleigh. But after jumping out to a quick 21-0 lead, N.C. State's defense clamped down on quarterback Tevin Washington. Middle linebacker Audie Cole directed the defense as they filled the gaps and cut the Georgia Tech lead to one touchdown in the third quarter. Georgia Tech then scored three more touchdowns in under three minutes of game time in the fourth quarter, which was followed by three more touchdowns from N.C. State. The entire period was sloppy on both sides, but the first comeback might provide some helpful insight for the rest of the conference.

3. Giovani Bernard is the real deal. North Carolina has not been known as a program that produces star running backs recently, but they may have one with redshirt freshman Giovani Bernard. Bernard continued his impressive rookie campaign in North Carolina's 35-20 win at East Carolina, picking up 146 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Bernard's numbers on the season rank among the nation's best for freshmen, but they are already good enough to earn him a spot in program history. On Saturday Bernard became the first North Carolina running back to rush for 100+ yards since Pro Bowler Natrone Means did it in 1992. His seven touchdowns on the season already match the count for last year's team leader, Johnny White - now with the Buffalo Bills.

4. Florida State and Virginia Tech should not overlook Wake Forest. Nowhere close to putting either team on "upset alert," but Wake Forest has continued their play that is significantly improved from 2010. Both Florida State and Virginia Tech will travel to Winston-Salem to face Jim Grobe's squad at home in the next two weeks. Few teams returned more starters than the Demon Deacons, and some assumed that would lead to similar results. But Grobe has once again lived up his "player development" reputation, taking basically the same lineup that went 1-7 in ACC play and already doubling that win count in 2011. Hitting the meat of their schedule at 3-1, the Deacons will need to find four more victories on the schedule in order to return to the postseason for the first time since 2008.

Wake Forest's success has been due to noticeable improvement on both sides of the ball. The defense, particularly the back seven, is communicating better and swarming to the ball in space. Tanner Price finally is leading an offensive scheme that fits the personnel with Josh Harris, Chris Givens, and Michael Campanaro all emerging as dynamic playmakers. The one weakness Wake Forest has displayed has been the inability to hold a lead late in the game. It cost them the season opening win at Syracuse, and nearly got them in trouble against N.C. State and Saturday at Boston College. But as far as the visits from the Seminoles and Hokies go, I wouldn't imagine a quick Deacs lead would be in the cards anyway.

5. Miami has consistency issues. Miami's consistency issues aren't just game-to-game, they seem to be half-to-half and even quarter-to-quarter at times this season. The dominant performance against Ohio State is sandwiched between frustrating losses to Maryland and Kansas State, while the first 22 minutes of Saturday's matchup with Bethune-Cookman was vastly different to the 45-3 blowout in the final 30+ minutes of play.

You could put some of the blame on the shifting personnel or distractions from the NCAA investigation. You could look at the new coaching staff, as they try to implement a new culture on a roster that is loaded with talented upperclassmen. But whatever the issues are, the Hurricanes need to get them straightened out quickly. The ACC Coastal is now wide open, and despite the rocky 2-2 start the Canes can still salvage their season with strong conference play.

Unfortunately for Al Golden's staff, those tests are coming now. Miami travels to Virginia Tech and North Carolina in the next two weeks before hosting Georgia Tech on October 22 in the comfy confines of Sun Life Stadium. In the next month Miami's season will be defined. The time to tighten up is now.

6. Duke to bowl game? Three straight wins is a start. Okay, maybe a bit of a stretch there. But the Blue Devils have won three straight games since starting the season 0-2. Most importantly, those three victories have all been against FBS opponents. Duke has nothing but conference games left, so three wins is the magic number to make David Cutcliffe's squad bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Virginia is winnable, but on the road. Wake Forest is looking less winnable, but will be played at home. Steal both of those and one upset victory against Florida State, Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech or North Carolina and the Blue Devils are golden. Doesn't sound probable, but they've at least go the momentum to make it seem possible.

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Posted on: September 25, 2011 4:19 am
Edited on: September 25, 2011 12:19 pm
 

What I learned from the Big Ten (Sep. 24)



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. MichiganDenard 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. 

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview
Posted on: September 25, 2011 3:34 am
Edited on: September 25, 2011 3:36 am
 

What I learned from the Pac-12 (Sept. 24)



Posted by Bryan Fischer

1. Oregon is still really, really good. The Ducks will take some heat from other parts of the country but there's no denying that they're still a great team and one that admirably lost to an LSU squad that could be the best in the country. The defense isn't quite there yet but the offense is starting to hit its groove as both Darron Thomas and LaMichael James are looking better than they did last year at times. This isn't a team that has put everything together - yet - but it's getting there. A notice to the rest of the Pac-12: the Ducks are running right at you.

2. So long USC, hello Arizona State. Just when it looked like the Trojans might be able to win the South division (without really winning the South division thanks to sanctions), Matt Barkley turned the ball over three times himself and USC collapsed under the weight of the Sun Devils' defense. Everybody thought this would be Dennis Erickson's year and it looked like the team was easily a top 25 team after beating Missouri. But they regressed when they went on the road for the first time and lost to Illinois. Now though, despite all the injuries, it looks like things are clicking on both sides of the ball. They may not be as flashy as Oregon nor can they execute as well as Stanford, but ASU looks like they're definitely the best team in the South.

3. Oregon State is really, really bad. Sure, the Beavers lost to lowly Sacramento State to open the season and got rolled by Wisconsin. But that was without their do everything-threat James Rodgers and tight end Joe Halahuni. Even against a team like UCLA, with plenty of issues themselves, adding both players wasn't close to enough as the Beavers fell to 0-3 for the first time since 1996. It's still unclear if they have a quarterback after redshirt freshman Sean Mannion went 24-40 passes for 287 yards but was intercepted and had a costly fumble returned for a score. There's little to no consistency and execution one would expect from a Mike Riley coached team is just not there.

4. Cal and Washington will be two tough outs, especially the Huskies. The non-conference slate for both teams didn't really give us a chance to figure out how each would be this season but after the two squared off in Seattle, it's clear neither will be a push over in league play. That's not to say they won't be blown out a few times but both are good on offense and ok enough on defense to get into some shootouts. Keith Price has had no problem running things, nearly hitting the 300 yard passing mark while tossing three touchdowns on Saturday to lead the Huskies to their best start since 2006. Cal still has to work on late game execution but the Zach Maynard to Keenan Allen connection will be something every defensive coordinator will have to game plan for.

5. Still a long way to go for Colorado. Head coach Jon Embree earned his first win last week but getting his second will be a much more difficult task. The Buffaloes had not won a road game since Oct. 27, 2007 and while it was unlikely they were going to break the streak at the Horseshoe, they hardly looked competitive. Tyler Hansen was solid and didn't throw any picks but the offense still lost two fumbles in the first half and had nine penalties to go on top of a host of other gaffes. If they can't improve on their execution, it will be a long, long season in Boulder.


Posted on: September 25, 2011 3:01 am
Edited on: September 25, 2011 3:22 am
 

What I learned from the ACC (Sept. 24)



Posted by Chip Patterson

1. After stealing headlines in Week 3, the ACC (and future ACC) struggled in Week 4. A week ago, I was writing praises for commissioner John Swofford for taking action to ensure the ACC had a place in the uncertain future landscape of college football. The ACC was gathering praise for their off-field transactions and on-field victories over Auburn and Ohio State. In a fashion typical of this fluid college football world we live in - things have changed in seven days. Florida State was so beaten emotionally and banged up physically after their 23-13 loss to Oklahoma they could not play to their potential against Clemson in Death Valley. Maryland got embarrassed 38-7 by Temple at home, Virginia lost to Southern Miss at home, and Miami followed their defeat of the Buckeyes with a home loss to Kansas State.

Making the perception even worse, incoming members Pittsburgh and Syracuse both embarrassed the conference on Saturday. The Panthers could not muster a single fourth quarter score in their 15-12 loss to Notre Dame at home while Syracuse beat Toledo in an overtime that should have never happened. The week wasn't all bad - the games certainly revealed new legitimate conference contenders in Atlanta and Death Valley - but in comparison to the praises showered on the conference a week ago this was a pretty weak encore.

2. Georgia Tech ready to challenge Virginia Tech for Coastal Division. After gaudy victories against Western Carolina and Middle Tennessee, we were intrigued by Georgia Tech. After decisive victories against Kansas and a talented North Carolina team, we know Paul Johnson's team is back and ready to compete for an ACC title. When Josh Nesbitt broke his arm last season, Tevin Washington took over and the offense struggled to maintain the level of production due to a rough adjustment period and an unhealthy habit of turning the ball over. The changes in the offense which the coaching staff has discussed all offseason have been clearly visible in the Yellow Jackets' 4-0 start. Not only is the triple option sharper with less turnovers, but Tevin Washington has gotten comfortable throwing the ball as well. With the physical Stephen Hill as his favorite target, Washington actually leads the nation in passing plays of more than 50 yards.

The Yellow Jackets dominated the Tar Heels on Saturday, much more than the 35-28 victory would suggest. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, has not faced any opponents of note for comparison and has not looked particularly impressive offensively. While the Hokies defense seems to have found their grit back, holding teams basically no yards on the ground, Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson are still getting used to their new full-time starting positions. Virginia Tech is still the favorite to win the division thanks to a favorable draw, but the Yellow Jackets are right up there with a more convincing resume at this point for the strongest team in the Coastal Division.

3. Clemson's win does not put them in the driver's seat yet. Clemson's victory over Florida State in Death Valley was reaffirming. It was reaffirming to Dabo Swinney that his efforts to recruit players like sophomore Tajh Boyd and freshman Sammy Watkins would pay off for the program. It was reaffirming to offensive coordinator Chad Morris that his newly installed system could roll against the best defensive units in the nation when executed properly. It was reaffirming to a fan base who doubted their team's ability to beat two ranked opponents in a row, that the 2011 Tigers could compete for an ACC title.

But this "driver's seat" talk that is being tossed around? That's a little much.

Two wins over ranked opponents do not automatically erase several seasons of inconsistency within Clemson football in recent history. A 1-0 conference record with a win over Atlantic Division favorite Florida State does not pencil you in to the ACC Championship Game, but it does eliminate one of the most difficult obstacles on the schedule.

The Tigers faced Florida State at THE most opportune time. EJ Manuel out with a shoulder strain. Greg Reid and Bert Reed both out with injuries. The entire team coming down after losing the biggest game of the regular season 23-13 on the biggest stage. But those intangibles are not the sole reason the Tigers put up 455 yards of total offense on Florida State, in fact they are likely a small fraction. The Clemson defense, which has received very little attention so far this season, dropped back against a suddenly one-dimensional Florida State offense while the front four applied pressure to redshirt freshman quarterback Clint Trickett. They were able to come up with just enough stops to secure the 35-30 win and set up the Tigers with an incredible opportunity to jump ahead in the ACC Atlantic Division race.

Are the Tigers in the "driver's seat?" No. But if they can do it again at Virginia Tech, we might have a different conversation on our hands.

4. Jury is still out on Miami and Maryland. Maybe it is because they played a memorable season opener against each other on Labor Day, but Miami and Maryland both have started the season in different yet equally confusing fashions. Miami bounced back from the loss to the Terps with a defensive showcase against Ohio State with four of their suspended players back in the lineup. Maryland has come back from making headlines with the Miami win and shockingly memorable jerseys with two straight losses to West Virginia and Temple. As we saw on Saturday night, West Virginia is a formidable opponent and far from an embarrassing loss. Temple, on the other hand, should be a cause for concern for Terps' fans.

Additionally, Miami's win over Ohio State was supposed to be a signature win for Al Golden and this new attitude in the Miami football program. But the defense that looked so sharp against Ohio State gave up 265 rushing yards to the Wildcats, and forced the Hurricanes offense to scramble just to get back in the game. On paper both of these teams should be among the best in the conference. But their performances have been inconsistent and difficult to interpret, making it tough for any fan to judge exactly how good these teams could be come November.

5. Gio Bernard is ready to be the feature back in Chapel Hill. Entering the season, it was expected that redshirt senior Ryan Houston would be the starting running back. A big bruiser with an ability to withstand the first and second hit, Houston was going to be featured with sophomore Giovani Bernard as the change-of-pace back. It only took two games before interim coach Everett Withers started splitting the workload more evenly, and when the Tar Heels faced Georgia Tech in their first road test of the season it was Bernard who was the featured running back in the offense.

The 5-foot-10 shifty back from Florida answered the call with an impressive performance that basically kept the Tar Heels competitive for our quarters against the high powered Georgia Tech offense. Bernard rushed 17 times for a career high 155 yard and two touchdowns. He was also a threat in the screen game, with 5 receptions for 47 yards. As sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner has become more conservative against tougher defenses, Bernard's role has increased. If he can replicate Saturday's performance on a weekly basis, it would make life much easier for the first-year starter under center.

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Posted on: September 25, 2011 1:43 am
 

What I learned from the Big East (Sept. 24)

Posted by Chip Patterson

1. Resetting the conference order - Saturday was the last week of non-conference match ups for the Big East, with the conference schedule kicking off on Thursday night with South Florida's visit to Pittsburgh. Every team has played three or four games, and there are things we've learned about these teams that have changed my view of the conference landscape.

In August, my projected order of finish looked like this:

1. West Virginia
2. Pittsburgh
3. South Florida
4. Cincinnati
4. Syracuse
6. Connecticut
7. Louisville
8. Rutgers

After four weeks of non-conference competition, my new re-shuffle looks a little like this:

1. West Virginia
2. South Florida
3. Cincinnati
4. Pittsburgh
5. Rutgers
6. Syracuse
7. Louisville
8. Connecticut

2. West Virginia's team got pushed, and they showed fight. The Mountaineers played LSU much closer than the 47-21 score indicates. Turnovers and impossible field position made it difficult for West Virginia to translate their 533 yards of total offense into the points needed to keep up the Bayou Bengals for four quarters. But West Virginia did not back down from the challenge, showing an impressive amount of resilience after trailing LSU by 20 at halftime. The two unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter took a gritty tenacity from both the offense and defense. Unfortunately that third unit, special teams, was caught off guard with Morris Claiborne's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. With that special teams play, LSU swung the momentum and the game back in their direction.

But the Mountaineers kept fighting, which is a good sign with conference play staring Oct. 8. The key for Dana Holgorsen's squad will be maintaining this high level of play for the rest of the season. The way the Big East title race has sorted out in recent years, the only way to control your destiny is to avoid two conference losses. At their best, West Virginia should beat four opponents. The final stretch of the Mountaineers' schedule includes Cincinnati, the Backyard Brawl against Pittsburgh, and a Thursday night showdown with South Florida on Dec. 1. It is very possible that matchup with the Bulls could be an unofficial Big East title game. But they must maintain their high level of play in order to get there.

3. Pittsburgh has not lived up to their expectations on either side of the ball. Todd Graham's arrival in Pittsburgh was supposedly going to issue in a new ear of offense that would be defined by high tempo, high scores, and lots of excitement for Panther fans. There was absolutely none of those things present at Heinz Field on Saturday in Notre Dame's 15-12 defeat of Pittsburgh. For the second week in a row, Pittsburgh failed to close out an opponent despite being handed several opportunities in the form of turnovers and poorly executed possessions by their opponents. It seemed like Notre Dame was begging Pittsburgh to put them back into their misery, and the Panthers did not display the offensive firepower or defensive intensity to create the points or stops necessary for a single field goal or touchdown in the fourth quarter. The frustrating finish comes just a week after blowing a 17-point fourth quarter lead to Iowa. Maybe I'm in the wrong gear, but nothing about Pittsburgh's team seems high-octane right now.

4. Butch Jones appears to have things turned around. During fall camp, the Cincinnati players made several comments about there being a different feeling around the program in Butch Jones' second year at the helm. Normally, phrases like "buying in" throw up huge red-flags for coach-speak and I try to take them with a grain of salt. Cincinnati's defense was criticized as the weak link holding the team back in 2010, and this year the entire unit is back and leading the nation in forced turnovers. The offense hasn't skipped a beat, ranking first in the Big East in points scored with 49.5 points per game. The Bearcats defense still got shredded by Tyler Bray and Tennessee, but it is clear there is a different feeling and focus around the program. In August the players claimed they were buying in to second-year coach Butch Jones. By the end of September I'm buying their story.

5. Syracuse got some help from the stripes on Saturday. Toledo just can't catch any breaks. Two weeks after falling 27-22 against Ohio State, the Rockets took Syracuse to overtime in the Carrier Dome only to lose 33-30.

But the game should have never gone to overtime.

Video evidence shows that Orange kicker Ross Krautman actually MISSED the extra point that tied the game at 30 and caused overtime. The kick was ruled good on the field, and there was not substantial video evidence in the official's review to overturn the call. Some enhanced views of the kick reveal the hooking kick passing in front of left upright, therefore leaving no possibility of it sailing through. The mistake was noticeable enough for the league office to issue a statement on the ruling, and Syracuse should feel damn lucky for getting a much-needed win before conference play begins.

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