Posted on: September 27, 2010 8:00 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2010 11:53 pm

For the Big Ten, the fight begins this weekend

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Big Ten Conference play begins this weekend*, and the race for the conference title is either already over (Ohio State) or wide open (the six other teams seemingly capable of winning the conference). We'll quickly find out whether many of the presumptive challengers to the Buckeyes' supremacy have what it takes to put together a great season. Considering the questions surrounding so many of them, the answer seems to be "maybe, but it's unlikely." In no particular order ...

Michigan (4-0): On one hand, Denard Robinson is a near-lock for Heisman candidacy this December; his stat lines are other-worldly, and there are few defenses in the conference that seem capable of containing this Michigan offense. But that defense. Ye gods, the defense. Michigan allowed 37 points to FCS stalwart UMass, and has given up more points thus far than every Big Ten team except Minnesota. Can Robinson and his teammates outscore enough conference opponents to justify the team's No. 19 ranking? They'll find out soon enough against Indiana this weekend; the Hoosiers have scored more than 40 points a game this season and have talent everywhere on offense.

Iowa (3-1): The good news: the Iowa Hawkeyes look materially better than last season, as wins that were close last year are blowouts now. Ricky Stanzi is far more efficient as a passer, and the only interception he's thrown all season came on a deflection. The bad news: the Hawkeyes have three kickers, which is to say they have none, and their cornerbacks are still rather suspect. And good heavens, that Arizona game. Iowa committed mistake after mistake in the first half, found themselves down 20 points at the break, then imploded on the offensive line with the game on the line. So what's there to make of the Arizona game? Was it an aberration, or is Iowa merely a bully of plainly inferior competition? Penn State comes to town this weekend, and intends to find out exactly how good the Hawkeyes actually are.

Wisconsin (4-0): No undefeated Big Ten team is more of an enigma than Wisconsin, who looks like it should be a Rose Bowl contender on paper -- and may very well be so -- but has underwhelmed against FBS competition. The Badgers needed a blocked extra point and a miraculous tackle at the 1-yard line at the end of the first half to help preserve a 20-19 win against Arizona State, and only beat an unimpressive San Jose State team 27-14. Yes, they won 70-3 over Austin Peay. Whatever. Wisconsin has the hogs up front and the stable of running backs (led by All-American candidate John Clay) to run over just about anybody in the conference, and Scott Tolzein is having another impressive and efficient season. Their defense isn't a weakness, and they get Ohio State (whom they've usually given fits) in Madison. But lo and behold, they face Michigan State in East Lansing this week, and it's basically a toss-up. Which Wisconsin will show up this Saturday -- and this season? 

Penn State (3-1): Joe Paterno made waves when he installed true freshman Rob Bolden at quarterback to begin the season, and for the most part, the decision has worked out; Bolden hasn't looked great, but he's playing with a maturity beyond his years, and he's certainly not a weak link in the offense. That weak link, however, would be the offensive line; Penn State hasn't blown anyone off the ball with any regularity yet this season, and that includes the likes of Youngstown State and Temple. That Penn State is still ranked after its somewhat underwhelming non-conference schedule demonstrates the deep level of trust voters have in JoePa to field a competitive team, and that's a trust that's rarely betrayed. Still, the Nittany Lions had better start playing like a quality team very soon, or they could find themselves in line for something like the Texas Bowl.

Northwestern (4-0): The Cardiac 'Cats have the inside track to a 6-0 record right now; they're two-thirds of the way there at 4-0, and their next two opponents are absolute doormats Minnesota and Purdue. Quarterback Dan Persa is one of the highest rated passers in the NCAA, and he's also Northwestern's leading rusher. That's sort of a bad thing. In fact, Persa and his stable of running backs all average less than 4 yards per carry, and they haven't even faced great rush defenses: of their three FBS opponents, only Central Michigan is in the top half of the nation's rush defenses. Let's face it: if you can't run on Vanderbilt (143 yards on 46 carries most certainly does not qualify), you can't run on most of the Big Ten. Can Persa keep up his efficient passing in the conference season, or is that 6-0 start going to turn into 8-4 and a mediocre December bowl bid?

Michigan State (4-0): Here's what's scary: The relatively underhyped, unheralded Michigan State squad could end up being better than all the teams mentioned above. Kirk Cousins is 17th in passing efficiency in the FBS. True freshman Le'Veon Bell is a dynamo in the Spartans' backfield (and pancaked two defenders at once on MSU's game-winning fake field goal). Also, unlike Michigan, MSU doesn't have a giant honking RED ALERT attached to its defense. Oh, and the Spartans miss Ohio State on this year's schedule. Ten wins or more for Sparty? It's happened all of once (1999) since the NCAA went to 11-game regular seasons, but it could easily happen this year. Or MSU could revert to its usual self and drop four or five games in the conference. We'll start finding out when the Spartans and Badgers lock horns -- if, y'know, ancient Greek warriors and badgers had horns -- this Saturday.

So who's legit and who's not? To be honest, right now, nobody really knows. That's why this weekend's going to be vitally important for all the teams mentioned above. No more excuses, no hiding behind cupcake schedules; it's Big Ten season now.

*It's worth pointing out that the Big Ten is still something of a dinosaur in this respect; it's the only conference with an eight-game schedule that has yet to begin conference play. Sure, thanks to bye weeks, Indiana and Illinois each still have a non-con to squeeze in during the conference slate, but that's it; for the rest, it's the tried and true formula of out-of-conference, in-conference, bowl. A bit stale, to be sure, but it's somewhat nice to not have your conference title hopes completely ruined before it's even October; Georgia, after all, has already gone 0-3 in the SEC. Hopeless in September. That's no way for a fan to be, is it?

Posted on: September 25, 2010 7:02 pm

Penn State offense continues to struggle in win

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Penn State may have come away with a 22-13 victory over Temple on Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium, but the offensive struggles that have plagued the offense all season were still in full force.  The Nittany Lions needed five field goals from Colin Wagner to take the lead 15-13 in the third quarter before finally breaking the plain of the end zone in the fourth quarter to ice it.

On the day the Lions started five offensive possessions inside Temple territory.  Those five drives resulted in two field goals, a missed field goal and two turnovers on downs.

The inability of the Penn State offense to put the ball in the end zone is nothing new this season.  Of the team's 93 points through four games, 30 have come on 10 field goals from Wagner.  Penn State has managed only eight offensive touchdowns this season and four of them came in the season opener against Youngstown State.

A lot of this can be attributed to new starters on the offensive line along with a true freshman starting at quarterback in Robert Bolden , but if the Nittany Lions are going to make any noise in the Big Ten once conference play begins next week, they're going to need to see a marked improvement.  The good news is that some signs of it happening are already there.

Evan Royster had only 110 yards rushing through Penn State's first three games, but he had his best game of the season against Temple, finishing with 187 yards on 26 carries.  Royster is going to need a lot more games like the one he had on Saturday if Penn State harbors any hope of playing in Pasadena this January.
Posted on: September 25, 2010 5:01 pm
Edited on: September 25, 2010 5:02 pm

Temple leads Penn State 13-9 at halftime

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Looks like Penn State may want to reconsider that extension it agreed to with Temple earlier this week.

The Nittany Lions currently trail Temple 13-9 at halftime in not-so-Happy Valley in spite of the fact they've outgained the Owls by nearly a hundred yards and dominated time of possession in the first half.  Evan Royster has 101 yards on 14 carries and Penn State has had three impressive drives in the game but the problem is the Nittany Lions haven't been able to get the ball in the end zone.

Instead they've had to settle for three Colin Wagner field goals.

While the Temple offense hasn't lit the the world on fire, it has managed to score twice, both on runs from Bernard Pierce.   Vaughn Charlton missed the extra point on Temple's second touchdown.

Penn State will need to figure out a way to get the ball into the end zone in the second half, or they run the risk of being the second Big Ten team to fall victim to a MAC opponent today following Purdue's loss to Toledo.   Though Temple is a much better team than the Rockets, I doubt it would be much consolidation for the Nittany Lions.

Posted on: September 24, 2010 5:22 pm

Insane Predictions: Week 4

Posted by the College Football Blog staff

Every season, every month, every week, there are several outcomes and achievements that, frankly, nobody operating within reason would ever predict. Who could have predicted Nebraska would beat Florida for the title by 38 points, or that Boise State would pull off three late trick plays to knock off Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, or that Mike Pouncey would screw up a baker's dozen worth of snaps in one game? Nobody... until now. We're going to try capture that lightning in a bottle by making similarly absurd predictions every week. Are they at all likely to come true? No. Do we even believe the words we're writing? No. But if we make even one correct call on these, we will never stop gloating. Ever.

Highly Unlikely

The Michigan State Spartans lose Kirk Cousins to an injury during the first quarter of their game against Northern Colorado.  His replacement, freshman Andrew Maxwell is dealt the same fate early in the second quarter and the Spartans go into the half trailing 21-10.  After quarterback-turned-WR-turned-back-i
-scenario Keith Nichol succumbs to a horrible stomach virus in the locker room, interim head coach Don Treadwill calls on punter Aaron Bates to lead the team in the second half.  Bates comes out and throws for 300 yards three touchdowns and kicks another three field goals as the Spartans roll to a 40-21 victory. -- Tom Fornelli

Temple upsets Penn State in Happy Valley. There's really no excuse for this happening; even with Temple starting out 3-0 and PSU looking average with true freshman Robert Bolden at QB, Penn State is still highly favored in this contest. But the Temple front seven (led by returning MAC Defensive Player of the Year DE Adrian Robinson) gives the Nittany Lions' enough fits that Temple goes into halftime leading by 10, Bolden gets benched, Kevin Newsome performs worse in relief, and the Owls shock Happy Valley, 27-20. -- Adam Jacobi

Marcus Lattimore is held to less than 70 yards rushing by the Auburn defense. Lattimore only ran for 57 yards against Southern Miss, but when the Gamecocks have really needed yards this season, they turn to number 21.  He will likely get at least 18 carries, and the Tigers did give up 140 yards to Clemson's Andre Ellington, but look for the defensive line to step up and shut down Lattimore at home in primetime. -- Chip Patterson

Severely Unlikely

Mike Leach makes it through the entire broadcast of the Houston - Tulane game without some reference to "symptoms of concussion" followed by awkward silence that lasts as long as an equipment shed is wide. -- Chip Patterson

With his team trailing 24-21 late in the fourth quarter against Arkansas, Nick Saban calls a timeout as his team is marching down the field looking for the go-ahead touchdown.  "I've had an epiphany, gentleman.  I'm not here to win football games, I'm here to make you all better men and better human beings.  Sometimes being the bigger man means letting the other man have his moment in the spotlight."  Saban then forces Greg McElroy to kneel four straight times to end the game. -- Tom Fornelli

Boise State sets the post-WW2 single-game record for most team yardage (pre-WW2 may be a touch out of reach) in their victory over Oregon State, 94-0. Kellen Moore and the rest of the Broncos' starters play every snap, even after Oregon State puts in their second stringers in the 4th quarter. Following the game, Chris Peterson then throws his headset at the press box and yells, "Are you not entertained?!" Boise does not budge in the polls. --Adam Jacobi

Completely Insane

During the third quarter of a listless win at Washington State, USC head coach Lane Kiffin will disappear from the sideline for several minutes, and television cameras will catch him talking on his cell phone. He will claim to have been speaking with old college friends since the game was "boring," but anonymous sources with knowledge of Kiffin's cell phone records will later tell reporters that Kiffin was trying to negotiate a deal to rejoin Pete Carroll in Seattle as an assistant with the Seattle Seahawks. The deal falls through when Kiffin asks for $17.5 million a year. -- Adam Jacobi

Oregon State takes Boise State to overtime on the legendary Smurf Turf.  In overtime, Chris Peterson calls a trick play that finishes with Kellen Moore crossing into the end zone to win the game.  Upon crossing the goal line, Moore rushes over to the cheerleaders and drops to one knee... where he proposes to Buster Bronco.  The horse says "neigh." -- Chip Patterson

With the USC Trojans up 14-0 on Washington State in the first quarter, Matt Barkley finds Ronald Johnson for a 67-yard touchdown to make the score 20-0.  Lane Kiffin then decides to just kick the extra point. -- Tom Fornelli

Posted on: September 22, 2010 12:11 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2010 12:12 pm

The MAC looking to expand?

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The game of musical chairs that conference affiliation has become over the last 12 months seems to be taking a break at the moment, but that doesn't mean that nobody is going to get the music going again at some point in the future.  The WAC is already looking to rebuild whatever is left of their conference and it seems that they're not the only non-AQ conference looking to expand these days.

Eastern Michigan athletic director Derrick Gragg says that the MAC may be looking to expand in the near future as well.
Eastern Michigan University athletic director Derrick Gragg wouldn’t be surprised if the Mid-American Conference issues invitations to one or two institutions to join the MAC in the near future.

“I think the MAC is going to try to extend invitations to one or two institutions in the next year or two,” he said.

Talking to the EMU Board of Regents Athletic Affairs Committee this afternoon, Gragg said current MAC members will be attending a retreat Oct. 11 to 13 to discuss various issues, including the shifting national collegiate sports landscape and what moves the MAC needs to make.
Gragg did not say which schools the conference may have its eye on, but did say that after seeing what happened to the WAC, expansion is something the conference needs to undertake just to ensure survival. 

Now is probably the best time to do it, too.  While the power conferences are momentarily content with their latest acquisitions, now is the time to strike just in case the Big Tens of the world wake up and realize they're still hungry.  Plus there's the fact that Temple -- a program on the rise in the MAC -- is only in the conference on a two-year contract that is football only.

Once that contract ends it's likely that Temple will look to move up in the world.  In fact, Gragg says he wouldn't be surprised if Temple did leave.  That would leave the MAC with 12 teams, but should the Big Ten expand further and maybe snag a few teams from the Big East or any other conference, those conferences may turn around and raid the MAC.

The MAC would just like to be prepared for it, which is the right strategy to have.

Posted on: September 20, 2010 7:26 pm

Big East has one more week to justify existence

Posted by Adam Jacobi

The Big East is an automatic BCS-qualifying conference, and as one of the six "power" conference, they are afforded a certain amount of respect. Thus, we owe it to the conference and its members to begin this entry with a compliment. So here it goes: The Big East is three games over .500 against all competition this year.

And that's about it. Because even that lackluster 12-9 record among the eight Big East teams is misleading. For one, every single team is 1-0 against FCS competition. So, good news, Big East: if the conference as a whole were to be relegated tomorrow (unlikely as that may be), they'd be very good all of a sudden. Against the FBS, though, not so much; the Big East is 4-9 overall, which includes a 3-3 record against teams that aren't even in automatic-qualifier conferences. For example, Connecticut lost to Temple last week. By 14 points.

That brings us to the meat of the Big East's resume, and that's play against quality competition. It almost couldn't possibly be worse. The conference is 1-8 against BCS conference teams. Only West Virginia -- who beat a truly miserable Maryland team last Saturday -- has such a win under its belt. That, friends, is poor performance nonpareil.

If that's all going to change in the Big East's favor at all this season, it's going to have to be this weekend; Miami visits Pitt on Thursday, Oklahoma travels to Cincinnati, West Virginia is at LSU, and Rutgers hosts North Carolina. Four difficult -- but winnable -- games against high-profile competition. Among the four listed games, WhatIfSports.com only gives Pitt better than even odds to come away with a victory, so don't be terribly surprised if the conference can't break even against its "real" competition this weekend.

If there's one saving grace to all of this, it's that a conference is usually judged by its highest achievers. The SEC has always been able to rest its laurels on the members who would run through the conference undefeated, for example, because those teams almost always win their national championship games that await. Nobody would demean a conference that could produce a 14-0 Alabama team if that Crimson Tide runs through 14-0 Texas as happened last year, after all. So, West Virginia now has a similar opportunity. While we're not positive that even an undefeated Mountaineers team is guaranteed a BCS Championship berth, they will certainly face high competition during bowl season when that time comes (even if they drop a game between now and then). Win that matchup, and people will pay less and less attention to the cupcakes littering the Mountaineers' conference path.

Posted on: September 20, 2010 3:43 pm
Edited on: September 20, 2010 3:44 pm

Penn State and Temple extend series

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Penn State and Temple are set to square off this Saturday in Happy Valley and it appears that the two Pennsylvania schools are enjoying the current arrangement they have.  Already scheduled to play in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons, the two schools announced today that they've extended their series for another three years.

“Temple is pleased to announce our new agreement with the Nittany Lions, one of the truly great football programs in the history of college football,” said Temple Athletic Director Bill Bradshaw in a release. “This assures that the series will continue six of the next seven years.”

The three newest dates come in 2014, 2015 and 2016, with Penn State visiting Temple in 2015 and the other two contests being held at Beaver Stadium.

While the Nittany Lions have dominated the series against Temple so far, holding a record of 35-3-1, the Temple team they'll be facing in the future may not be such an easy win.  The Owls have been turned around since Al Golden took over the program and the school joined the MAC.  After going 9-4 last season in Golden's fourth season, the Owls are off to a 3-0 start this season, including wins over current Big East member UConn and future Big East member Villanova.

Makes you wonder if the Big East is starting to regret kicking them out of the conference back in 2004.

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