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Tag:Sun Belt
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. 

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Posted on: September 19, 2011 11:18 am
Edited on: September 19, 2011 12:47 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 3

Posted by Bryan Fischer

A longtime Floridian told me Friday he couldn't remember the last time the state was the center of college football like it was this past weekend. Sure there have been big games and plenty of teams in championship contention, but it's hard to think of a time when each corner of the state had a big primetime match up. Equally surprising, he said, was that traditional rivalry Florida-Tennessee was only the third most interesting game on the docket.

The spotlight was indeed on the Sunshine State and things couldn't have gone better for the most part. At the northern end, number one Oklahoma rolled into Tallahassee to play Florida State and there were moments when you genuinely stopped and said, "FSU's back." A loss is a loss but the way the Noles played was encouraging.

The storyline coming out the game seems to be all about Big Game Bob Stoops' team getting their first non-conference road victory over a top-five team in over three decades. The Sooners were gritty, responding to scores like a top-ranked and championship team should. Quarterback Landry Jones had several clutch throws and it seemed like linebacker Tom Wort was making every other play on defense. Oklahoma looked the part and survived with a victory.

The key word being survived. Yes their road woes are well documented but the reason the game was close - closer than most thought - was that Florida State looked the part of a top five team as well. For three quarters at least, it was a knockdown, drag out fight between two high profile head coaches. After FSU freshman Rashad Greene caught a beautiful 56 yard touchdown pass to tie the game, Doak Campbell was rocking. As more than one writer said on Twitter, it was partying like it was 1999.

One wonders what might have been had quarterback E.J. Manuel not gotten hurt. Could he have pulled off the upset? Who knows? But the biggest take away was the defense held an explosive, veteran-laden OU offense to just 23 points and showed they are close to having the athletes at every position like they used too when things were rolling. They were kids last year in Norman and it took less than a year for them to grow up into men. The offense still needs some work - especially along the line - but the defense should help carry the Seminoles through ACC play.

Jimbo Fisher has Florida State making waves on the recruiting trail and there are plenty of signs that the on the field product is coming along as well. The next step is winning games like the one on Saturday but, by all indications, that's coming. Party like it's 1999 indeed.

A couple hours down the road in Gainesville, two teams showed they still need work if they're to take the next step. It looked like Florida was going to run away with the game up 30-7 late in the third but the defense seemed to take the foot off the accelerator. For the most part though, the defensive line was active and did a great job of shutting down the Vols' running game. Completely. Florida's defense held Tennessee to just -9 yards on the ground, the third best mark in the country so far. The offense took a hit once receiver Justin Hunter went down but it was the young offensive line that just couldn't handle the pressure Florida was generating.

All-purpose threat Chris Rainey was everywhere Saturday for the Gators' offense. He had 233 all-purpose yards and recorded his fifth career blocked punt. The Gators are still adjusting to Charlie Weis' offense and Will Muschamp's defense but Rainey is a constant playmaker that the team will have to lean on as they get into the thick of the SEC schedule. Is this team in the same class as Alabama or LSU? Not even close. But there's enough there on both sides of the ball to put up a fight with Georgia and South Carolina for the East title.

Further South, some observers would have had no issue with vacating the Ineligibowl. It just wasn't a pretty game. Ohio State was a step slow all night and Miami struggled on offense outside of their scoring drives to open and close the game. Both teams got back several players from NCAA suspension and Miami's certainly made the difference in the game: Jacory Harris was efficient outside of two boneheaded interceptions and linebacker Sean Spence truly transformed the defense into a much stouter unit that was able to apply pressure on nearly every snap.

Sophomore running back Lamar Miller set the tone early with a big run on the first play of the game en his way to a career night that made him the fourth leading rusher in the country at 151.5 yards per game. There's plenty of talent on this team to get nine or so wins but there's still moments when the Hurricanes revert to last year's form and make a boneheaded mistake. It will be curious to see how they use this game as a momentum builder going forward. At full strength and with some confidence, the Hurricanes have a little bit of swagger back.

On the other side, Ohio State is lacking an identity and has to figure out their quarterback position and do so soon. The Buckeyes have no clue about what kind of team they want to be and there could be some doubt amongst the players about head coach Luke Fickell if post game comments are to be believed.

"I felt like me and Jordan (Hall) were doing a great job in the run game, so I felt we should have just come out and ran at them," tailback Carlos Hyde told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "We should have manned up and ran straight at them, see if they could stop us."

Also, don't overlook the other game in Miami on Saturday: FIU following up it's big win over Louisville with a solid victory over in-state foe UCF to start 3-0 on the season. Many had pegged the Knights as a possible BCS buster at the beginning of the season so for FIU to knock them off does wonders for a program that was the definition of a rebuilding job just a few years ago. Yes it's a Sun Belt team but with the schedule like it is, don't be surprised if FIU keeps things rolling. The defense recorded six sacks against UCF and did a great job the week before against the Cardinals. Plus they did everything without all-everything star T.Y. Hilton, who missed most of the game with a hamstring injury. Take note, the program in the state with the most upside is the one that's not in a BCS conference.

The state of Florida won't be the center of the college football universe like it was this past weekend for some time. But while it was, it delivered.

Stat of the week

Auburn's win streak was snapped at 17 games by Clemson on Saturday, which was the longest in the nation. It was the 10th longest streak in the past decade and amazingly, 10 of the 17 games were decided by eight points or less. Stanford now has the longest win streak in the country with 11, just two seasons removed from a losing record and five seasons away from the school's 1-11 mark.

Biggest reason why the Tigers' streak ended? They're 117th in total defense, 100th in pass defense, 116th in rush defense, 107th in scoring defense and dead last in the country in third down stops. Yikes.

Other stats of note

- Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege broke the NCAA record for highest completion percentage for 40 or more completions in a game. He completed 40 of 44 against New Mexico for a healthy 90.1 percent clip. He also hit 15 passes in a row at one point, tying a school record on his way to a 401 yard and five touchdown day.

- Kellen Moore's 457 yards of offense against Toledo was third most in the country this year and he averaged nearly 10.39 yards a play. His completion percentage on the season is at a remarkable 78.9 percent.

- With the loss to LSU on Thursday, Dan Mullen fell to 2-10 versus the SEC West as head coach at Mississippi State. Both wins are over rival Ole Miss. While the Bulldogs have been much more competitive under Mullen, they still haven't quite gotten over the hump just yet. He was 8-6 against the West while an assistant at Florida.

- There are beat downs and there's what Missouri did against Western Illinois. The Tigers defense allowed just one first down and 44 total yards on the day while the offense rolled up 744 total yards to set a school record that had been set just after World War II. Tailback Henry Josey ran for 263 yards and three touchdowns, the most in a game this season. The mark was also good enough to move him into sixth place on the national rushing list.

- Of the five players to top 200 yards rushing in a game so far this year, three did so on Saturday (Josey, Marcus Lattimore and LaMichael James).

- Georgia Tech's game against Kansas was pretty amazing to take a look at after the fact. The game delivered the longest run from scrimmage of the season (Orwin Smith went 95 yards for a touchdown), featured two 100 yard rushers and had five players with over 70 yards on the ground. The Yellow Jackets also piled up a school-record 768 total yards, 604 of them via the running game. The 12.1 yards per rush also set an NCAA record for highest in a game.

- Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly has games with 18, 17 and 23 tackles to lead the nation in that category. His 58 total tackles are 19 more than the next player.

- Jeff Fuller became Texas A&M's all-time receptions leader against Idaho while Cyrus Gray topped the 100 yard mark rushing for the ninth time in a row.

- Via senior writer Bruce Feldman, Baylor's Robert Griffin III has eight touchdowns and just eight incompletions.

Yard-by-yard

- Impressive, impressive comeback by Iowa from down 24-3 in the 3rd quarter to Pitt. James Vanderberg has been a little underrated early in the season in the face of replacing a longtime starter and doing so with plenty of fresh faces around him. The junior quarterback is 31st in the country in passing efficiency and 25th in total offense after Saturday's game in which he had several impressive throws in the second half in route to a 399 yard and three touchdown day. The lack of a running game has to be concerning if you're Kirk Ferentz, especially as the begin Big Ten play in two weeks with a trip to Penn State. A heck of a comeback but it's apparent there's plenty of flaws in the Hawkeyes.

- Why hello there Sammy Watkins. While it has taken some time for the Clemson offense to adjust to Chad Morris' new system, Watkins has been an explosive playmaker for the Tigers they really haven't had since C.J. Spiller left for the NFL. Yes it was against a porous Auburn defense, but this week was Watkins' coming out party to the nation with 10 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns. He shows an explosiveness you just can't teach whenever he gets the ball in his hands and was the spark that allowed Clemson to turn things around. A former five-star recruit, he was ranked behind fellow Tiger frosh Charone Peake coming out of high school by Maxpreps which should give you some indication what kind of young nucleus Dabo Swinney has assembled when you add in running back Mike Bellamy and quarterback Tajh Boyd. Speaking of Swinney, he channeled his inner-Howard Dean in his post game remarks on television.

- Al Golden didn't leave the cupboard bare at Temple as the Owls almost beat Penn State for the first time since Joe Paterno started coaching in Happy Valley. Despite giving up the lead late, Steve Addazio's club showed they can play with bigger and stronger team and should have no problem contending for a MAC championship this year.

- Kudos to James Franklin and what he's been able to do with Vanderbilt. After a close, 4th quarter win against defending Big East champ UConn, the Commodores embarrassed Ole Miss on Saturday 30-7. Franklin has really gotten the team and the rest of the community to buy into what he's building there and it's starting to pay off with the team's 3-0 start. Quarterback Larry Smith isn't sharp enough in the passing game yet but the offense is moving the chains on the ground and playing good defense - they're currently 10th in the country in total D. Things will get much tougher as they head on the road to face South Carolina and Alabama but with home games against Army and Kentucky and a date with Wake Forest, bowl eligibility is possible in Franklin's first year.    
 
- It looked like West Virginia finally started to get their rushing attack going against Maryland this weekend. Geno Smith is putting up great numbers from the quarterback position but head coach Dana Holgorsen knows that if the team wants to win the Big East - or beat LSU this week - they're going to have to be able to run the ball. Whether the answer at tailback is Vernard Roberts or Andrew Buie still remains to be seen but it can't just be all Smith, all the time. Tavon Austin is a dynamic threat who adds a few wrinkles but there still needs to be a consistent rushing attack so the defense can't play nickel the entire game. The Mountaineers did have an impressive three players top the 100 yard receiving mark last Saturday though.

- It was not pretty at the Rose Bowl as critics briefly turned their attention from overrating Texas to remarking on how hot UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel's seat is. He's an alum who probably cares more about the program winning than anyone there yet there's been hardly any progress to show for it. The defense was supposed to be much better this year and strength of the team but it was anything but in the blowout loss to the Longhorns. Case McCoy (with a little David Ash mixed in) appears to be the answer for UT at quarterback and freshman tailback Malcolm Brown showed flashes on his way to a 110 yard day.

- I am not a believer in Nebraska's defense after playing Washington last week but they'll still do just enough to make it to the title game in their first year in the Big Ten. Still, the effort against the Huskies had a lot to be desired of a top 10 team.

- After returning from Sun Life Stadium late in the Miami night, I was surprised to find out there was not one, but two football games on and I managed to stay up for Oklahoma State-Tulsa late, late, late into the night. I couldn't believe they kicked off after midnight local time, much less that Brandon Weeden was still throwing to Justin Blackmon late in the fourth quarter - and well past 3 AM Central - with the game well in hand. Mike Gundy is not only a man, he's all in on this Cowboys team it appears. All or nothing, this is the most talented squad since Barry Sanders was in Stillwater and everybody is onboard. Why Gundy still had his stars on the field that late in the game for a blowout continues to baffle me however.

- I thought Navy's offense in the middle of the season always spelled trouble for teams that weren't ready for it - especially those coming off an emotional victory like South Carolina. The Midshipmen had a chance late but ultimately the Gamecocks ended up winning 24-21 thanks to a last minute interception. As one head coach told me, you schedule option offenses early or play them in a bowl game or else you'll end up upset. South Carolina wasn't upset but they nearly were with the way they played.

- I couldn't believe the score when I first saw it but here it was, Utah 54, BYU 10. A week ago in the Coliseum, I saw the dejected faces on the Utes sideline as their rally came up short against USC. I thought it would be another tough battle in the Holy War but the Utes smacked everybody around Saturday. Don't count out Utah as representing the Pac-12 South with USC ineligible for the title game and Arizona State still Arizona State.

- Kudos also go out to Wyoming, who blocked Bowling Green's extra point to win 28-27. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat…

Quote of the week

Craig James during LSU-Mississippi State: "You play four quarters in the SEC."

Tweet of the week

Myself following the second ESPN account to feature the word Genocide in place of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. Not a bad nickname if he keeps putting up passing numbers in Dana Holgorsen's offense however.

"Company-wide memo about Geno & autocorrect on Monday. RT @McShay13: WVU QB Genocide Smith off to a fast start."

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Fisch's Finest

My top 10 after week 2:

1. Oklahoma

2. LSU

3. Alabama

4. Boise State

5. Stanford

6. Wisconsin

7. Texas A&M

8. Oklahoma State

9. Florida State

10. Oregon

Where we'll be this week

Tony Barnhart will be at the big Arkansas-Alabama game, Dennis Dodd will be in College Station for the top 10 matchup between Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Brett McMurphy gets another great game this weekend, showing up at LSU-West Virginia Saturday night.

Leaning this way

Arkansas-Alabama: The secondary for Alabama will be flying around and turnovers will doom an explosive Arkansas offense.

Oklahoma State-Texas A&M: The Aggies defense is underrated but this game will still be a shootout. The home crowd will give them the edge in a close one.

LSU vs. West Virginia: LSU's defense is just too much late in the game for Dana Holgorsen's offense to break through.

Across the goal line

I was going to write about conference expansion in this space but figured things would change by the time I finished writing the final paragraph. 


Category: NCAAF
Tags: ACC, Al Golden, Alabama, Andrew Buie, Arizona State, Arkansas, Army, Auburn, Barry Sanders, Baylor, BCS, Big 12, Big East, Big East, Big Ten, Big Ten, Bob Stoops, Boise State, Boston College, Bowling Green, Brandon Weeden, Brett McMurphy, Bruce Feldman, Bryan Fischer, BYU, C.J. Spiller, Carlos Hyde, Case McCoy, Chad Morris, Charlie Weis, Charone Peake, Chris Rainey, Clemson, Craig James, Cyrus Gray, Dabo Swinney, Dan Mullen, Dana Holgorsen, David Ash, Dennis Dodd, Doak Campbell, EJ Manuel, FIU, Florida, Florida State, Geno Smith, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Henry Josey, Idaho, Iowa, Jacory Harris, James Franklin, James Vanderberg, Jeff Fuller, Jimbo Fisher, Joe Paterno, Justin Blackmon, Kansas, Kellen Moore, Kentucky, Kirk Ferentz, Lamar Miller, LaMichael James, Landry Jones, Larry Smith, Louisville, LSU, Luke Fickell, Luke Kuechly, MAC, Malcolm Brown, Marcus Lattimore, Maryland, Miami, Mike Bellamy, Mike Gundy, Mississippi State, Missorui, Navy, NCAA, Nebraksa, New Mexico, NFL, Non-BCS, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Orwin Smith, Pac-12, Penn State, Pitt, Rashad Greene, Rick Neuheisel, Robert Griffin III, Rose Bowl, Sammy Watkins, Sean Spence, SEC, Seth Doege, South Carolina, Stanford, Steve Addazio, Sun Belt, Sun Life Stadium, Surveying the Field, T.Y. Hilton, Tajh Boyd, Temple, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Toldeo, Tom Wort, Tony Barnhart, Travon Austin, Tulsa, UCF, UCLA, UConn, USC, Utah, Vanderbilt, Vernard Roberts, Wake Forest, Washington, West Virginia, Will Muschamp, Wisconsin, Wyoming
 
Posted on: September 17, 2011 11:03 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 2 Alabama 41, North Texas 0

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

ALABAMA WON: 
It amounted to little more than a light scrimmage for the Tide, but Nick Saban's team handled its business in its typically professional manner, outgaining the Mean Green 586-169 and holding them without a point. And in the weekly "how good is AJ McCarron?" watch, the Tide starter under center went a solid 15-of-21 for 190 yards and -- most importantly -- no interceptions.

WHY ALABAMA WON: We'll go with the decades of winning tradition yielding the kind of multi-million dollar budget and five-star-packed roster that teams like North Texas can only dream of, first and foremost. But as for specific on-field advantages tonight, nowhere was the Tide more dominant than at the running back position. No matter who you play, two tailbacks collecting 328 yards on just 20 carries -- an average of 16.4 yards per-attempt -- is mighty impressive.

Those were the numbers for Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy, with both players breaking loose for emphatic long scores; Richardson went to the house from 58 and 71 yards, Lacy from 43 and 67. Richardson's 167 yards, 3 touchdownss, and 15.2 yard average would do a lot of good for his Heisman campaign ... but he likely could have done even more for it if Lacy's strong play didn't continue to demand a chunk of carries that might otherwise go to the starter.

WHEN ALABAMA WON: When Jeremy Shelley kicked a short field goal with 9:56 left in the first quarter. North Texas could have played for the better part of a month against the Tide starters without scoring.

WHAT ALABAMA WON: A healthy portion of rest for the starters, and only a week before the Tide open their SEC schedule against highly dangerous Arkansas. And maybe just that extra ounce of preparation and confidence for McCarron as he gets ready for the biggest game of his young career.


Posted on: September 17, 2011 5:25 am
Edited on: September 17, 2011 5:28 am
 

Game day weather updates, Week 3

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Pretty chilly this morning, eh? Yep -- that's football weather. We've got a lot of games on today's schedule of Top 25 teams. A LOT of games. Almost seems like it practically doesn't matter whether a program schedules a tough opponent or a cupcake in the non-conference, doesn't it? At any rate, not much bad weather on the horizon today, but summer's sure not sticking around this year. Happy tailgating/game-going!

Noon kickoffs

No. 21 Auburn at Clemson, 12:00, Clemson, SC: Mid 60s, overcast

No. 18 West Virginia at Maryland, 12:00, College Park, MD: Mid 60s, mostly cloudy

Afternoon kickoffs

Louisiana-Monroe at No. 23 TCU, 2:00, Fort Worth, TX: Mid 80s, mostly cloudy

Tennessee at No. 16 Florida, 3:30, Gainesville, FL: Upper 80s, partly cloudy, storms

Washington at No. 11 Nebraska, 3:30, Lincoln, NE: Lower 60s, cloudy, storms

No. 7 Wisconsin at Northern Illinois, 3:30, DeKalb, IL: Mid 60s, partly cloudy

Missouri State at No. 12 Oregon, 3:30, Eugene, OR: Mid 60s, partly cloudy

No. 23 Texas at UCLA, 3:30, Los Angeles, CA: Lower 70s, clear

No. 15 Michigan State at Notre Dame, 3:30, South Bend, IL: Mid 60s, partly cloudy

Arkansas State at No. 13 Virginia Tech, 4:00, Blacksburg, VA: Lower 60s, mostly cloudy

Evening kickoffs

Navy at No. 10 South Carolina, 6:00, Columbia, SC: Lower 60s, cloudy, light rain

Florida A&M at No. 20 South Florida, 7:00, Tampa, FL: Mid 80s, partly cloudy, storms

No. 22 Arizona State at Illinois, 7:00, Champaign, IL: Mid 60s, partly cloudy

Stephen F. Austin at No. 19 Baylor, 7:00, Waco, TX: Lower 90s, mostly cloudy

Idaho at No. 9 Texas A&M, 7:00, College Station, TX: Upper 80s, partly cloudy

No. 17 Ohio State at Miami, 7:30, Miami Gardens, FL: Mid 80s, partly cloudy, rain

North Texas at No. 2 Alabama, 7:30, Tuscaloosa, AL: Mid 70s, partly cloudy

Troy at No. 14 Arkansas, 7:30, Fayetteville, AR: Lower 70s, cloudy, storms

No. 1 Oklahoma at No. 5 Florida State, 8:00, Tallahassee, FL: Mid 70s, partly cloudy

Late night kickoffs 

No. 8 Oklahoma State at Tulsa, 10:00, Tulsa, OK: Lower 70s, mostly cloudy, storms

No. 6 Stanford at Arizona, 10:45, Tucson, AZ: Lower 70s, clear

Posted on: September 14, 2011 2:34 pm
Edited on: September 14, 2011 4:09 pm
 

WWE's Lawler wants Memphis HC Porter fired

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Somewhat suddenly, Memphis has become the kind of football team that's capable of garnering national attention. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of attention the Tigers would like; after being on the receiving end of out-and-out hammerings from Mississippi State (understandable) and the Sun Belt's Arkansas State (dramatically less so), Larry Porter's team is the clear leader in the race to be named the Worst Team in the FBS.

So embarrassing have the losses been that Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson was compelled this week to offer Porter an emphatic vote of confidence--just two weeks into Porter's second season at the helm. But unfortunately for Porter, the support from Johnson (himself a not-entirely-popular figure among many Memphis fans these days) won't do much to win over a Tiger fanbase that just saw the Tigers outgained 611-169 by the Red Wolves. (That former Memphis-area high school coach Hugh Freeze -- Michael Oher's coach in The Blind Side -- is now in charge at Arkansas State only adds insult to injury.)

For one high-profile example of how badly Porter needs a popularity boost, look to famous former wrestler, current WWE personality and Memphis legend Jerry "The King" Lawler, who this week e-mailed local Commercial-Appeal columnist Geoff Calkins his opinion on Porter and Johnson. That opinion is not one that's going to do either of them any favors:
Hi Geoff,

This is just a quick note to commend you for ... tell[ing] it exactly like it is concerning the sorry state of the University of Memphis football program ... Memphis football is a laughing stock to the rest of the nation and an embarrassment to anyone from this city.  Stick to your guns, keep shouting the truth...Memphis football will never improve until both Porter and Johnson are gone!
If Lawler's assessment is one shared by the majority of Memphis supporters -- and after these breutal first two weeks, we'd be surprised if it wasn't -- Porter's seat may only get hotter from here. If there's any coach that needs a victory worse that Porter does this week at home against FCS Austin Peay (likely the Tigers' best opportunity at a win this season), we certainly haven't seen him.

UPDATE: It's not Johnson or Porter just yet, but heads at Memphis have started to roll; with the Tigers mired at dead last in the country in total defense, defensive coordinator Jay Hopson has been fired. Per the Commercial-Appeal's Kyle Veazey, Hopson will be replaced by co-coordinators Galen Scott and Mike Dubose, the latter famous for his tenure as head coach at Alabama.

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Posted on: September 12, 2011 9:41 am
Edited on: September 12, 2011 10:03 am
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 2

Posted by Bryan Fischer

College football's encore weekend not only lived up to expectations, but beat them.

It also caused at least few hearts to skip a beat or two around the country. It seemed like every channel you were on, there was a game coming down to the wire or ready to head to overtime. From the noon games to the night games, last Saturday was one big, drama-filled day.

Notre Dame-Michigan, USC-Utah, Cal-Colorado, Washington-Hawaii, North Carolina-Rutgers, Auburn-Mississippi State, Ohio State-Toledo, Texas-BYU, Iowa State-Iowa, Vanderbilt-UConn and several others left everyone on the edge of their seats. There weren't a ton of great defenses among the group but that didn't hamper the fun as teams either came back or fell just short. Heck, the first night game in Ann Arbor had as much drama as any of them in just 72 seconds.

One game I was really looking forward to going into Saturday was between the Hedges and that game more than lived up to expectations and put one coach in even hotter water.

The game seemed to be South Carolina personified. It's why everybody's hand trembled writing them in to win the SEC East this year. Not only was it the Gamecocks' history but they had a quarterback who frustrated fans and Old Ball Coaches alike in Stephen Garcia. When he threw his first interception of the game, it was simply Garcia being Garcia. The ESPN director, as if he understood perfectly, cut to a shot of Garcia with his hands on his hips, staring down his mistake while clinching his lips and a coach yelling at him. Later in the game he rolled out of the pocket and threw a beautiful pass that reminded everybody of his talent. Again, just Garcia being Garcia.

This is a good and very talented Gamecocks team that can beat anybody on any given Saturday if they don't wind up beating themselves first.

“Georgia outplayed us, give them credit, they outplayed us but somehow or another we won the game,” Steve Spurrier said post game. “Somehow it happens like that. Somebody was looking out for us tonight.”

Running back Marcus Lattimore broke out for 176 yards and a touchdown as the team rode him for 27 carries. USC will have to be wearing of overusing Lattimore because he's the key to their success but at least he had 10 fewer carries than he did against the Bulldogs a year ago. His ability to find just a little hole and take off is special and he certainly can run very hard between the tackles.

On the other side of the ball, how scary is the Gamecocks' defensive line? We knew it was going to be good but maybe not quite this nasty. Melvin Ingram was superb, taking a fake punt 68 yards for a touchdown and scooping up a fumble for a touchdown after fellow end Jadeveon Clowney nearly took off the head of UGA quarterback Aaron Murray. Only in the SEC do 275-pound defensive ends score twice in a game and run 68 yards while doing so.

The thing about Clowney, the nation's consensus number one recruit out of high school, is how he stands out on every snap just due to his size. Then, as soon as the ball is snapped, he stands out for his explosiveness and physicality - making you drop your job and say 'Wow' a couple of times a game. Heck, Murray might want to leave school early just to get away from him. Clowney still isn't up to speed mentally but it's coming and coming quickly. If you're an SEC quarterback with South Carolina on the schedule, prepare your ice bath in advance.

For Mark Richt, he might have to go bang his head against the wall a few times after every game. He's had injuries and suspensions and even NCAA issues thrown his way but there's still no getting around the fact that this is a good group of players who haven't lived up to expectations. Just when it seemed like Georgia was about to break through, they'd commit a big error. The good news is it looked like freshman running back Isaiah Crowell got going, rushing for 118 yards and a touchdown after breaking a few nice runs into the open field. But even as he took two steps forward, his fumble at midfield that Stephon Gilmore returned to the red zone was a step back. He's still a little behind in pass protection but the flashes he showed reminded everybody, coaches included, why he was so highly recruited out of high school.

The biggest thing that Richt can do next week is get his team to have fun against Coastal Carolina. There will be no avoiding hearing about his job status as the heat was turned up even higher after the loss - he has to get his team refocused before starting the heart of their SEC schedule. Get everybody involved, call some trick plays, something - anything - to get his team focused on having fun playing football instead of worrying about him. He can't eliminate all the distractions but he can get his team to buy back in week-by-week. The schedule is manageable enough that they could conceivably go 10-2 this year - more than enough to quiet critics for a few more months. The Bulldogs are talented but lost to two teams they should have to fall to 0-2 for the first time since 1996.

Now the trick is winning out using their own talented roster. No easy task but one that can certainly happen.

Stat of the week

If I had to take someone to Vegas with me, I just might select Gene Chizik. All he seems to do is give heart attack to the Auburn faithful and win last second games. The Tigers pulled off the upset this week against Mississippi State thanks to a goal line stand that kept quarterback Chris Relf out of the end zone by inches to preserve a 41-34 win at home.

"We'd prefer to win football games a lot different than we are, but there's something to be said when you can fight down to the end when it doesn't look good and still win the game," Chizik said after the game.

While the head coach certainly would prefer a less stressful ending to games, he might need to get used to them if his team is to keep winning. After taking nearly two hours just to play the first half against the Bulldogs, I was digging around looking for the total game time but managed to find an even more eye-popping stat.

Auburn's offense has averaged 56.5 plays during their first two games while the defense has averaged 90.5 snaps per game. Yes, the defense is almost literally on the field twice as long the offense. For a young team with issues on both sides of the ball, that's an uh-oh.

For comparison's sake, Arkansas has averaged 74.5 plays on offense and 57.5 on defense during their light non-conference schedule. Only two SEC teams have average more than 70 snaps on defense, and just six teams nationally have their defense on the field for more than 80 plays a game. No one even approaches 90 defensive plays a game. The national average for number of plays on defense is 67.3 and 68.8 on offense.

Up against that little issue, it's almost shocking Auburn's 2-0 but they are thanks to some late game heroics. Whether this is a serious flaw of just the byproduct of two crazy games remains to be seen but, bottom-line, Chizik needs to make some adjustments.

Other stats of note

- Michigan's Denard Robinson thrilled the country against Notre Dame and became the first UM quarterback to beat the Irish twice since Jim Harbaugh did so back in the late 1980's. He also has accounted for an astounding 96% of the offense the last two games between the schools.

- Texas has outscored its opponents 35-6 in the second half while USC outscored their opponent in the 4th quarter for just the fourth time in 15 games this weekend.

- Tyler Bray's 405 yards are the most for a Tennessee quarterback since the legend himself, Peyton Manning, wore orange. Bray finished 34-of-41 and tossed four touchdowns. Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers both had 10 catches for over 100 yards and the pair combined for three TD receptions.

- In the last 11 years, the Georgia-South Carolina series has only been decided by nine points or less eight times. Since 2004, the winner has had fewer than 20 points every year but 2009 and 2011.

- Alabama has not allowed a touchdown in the first quarter for seven straight games.

- Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine once again this year. He has a nation's-best 35 total tackles while the next closest player has 27.

Yard-by-yard

- What an impressive, almost surgical attack led by Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden. The Cowboys' offense came out and pretty much blew away the Arizona secondary on Thursday en route to a 37-14 win in Stillwater. Weeden connected on his 13 passes and finished up with a ho-hum 397 yards after slowing down in the second half. He's flown under the radar a little bit (even in his own state) but in 15 starts, he has only two losses by a total of 16 points. It's sometime easy to say a lot of his success is due to receiver Justin Blackmon but Weeden is the triggerman for what the team does. This team can also run the ball pretty well - Joseph Randle is 15th in the country in rushing - and should make for a fun Big 12 regular season when they play fellow top 15 teams Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

- Senior writer Bruce Feldman touched on FIU in his Sunday column but what a win for Mario Cristobal's program. Their win over Louisville was the first win ever for the program over BCS team and showed that the Golden Panthers are more than just the dynamic all-purpose superstar T.Y. Hilton. They take on another rising in-state program in UCF this week and if they can pull off the upset, a run at going undefeated isn't out of the question. It will be tough to stop the Knights but FIU has the athletes and coaches to make it a game.

- Speaking of Louisville, their game against Kentucky might be downright unwatchable. Louisville is a mess offensively and their defense is suspect. Luckily for Charlie Strong, they'll face a Kentucky team that has serious issues with both lines. It's going to really be rough once the Wildcats get into SEC play this year if they continue to play as sloppy as they have been during their first two games. Fans from both schools are probably counting down the days until basketball season already.

- If there's one thing that might be different under Luke Fickell at Ohio State, it's the offense is involving the tight end more. Senior Jake Stoneburner came into the season with 22 catches for 252 yards and two touchdowns. Through two games this season he has eight catches for 93 yards and four TD's and seems to be one of quarterback Joe Bauserman's favorite targets. The Buckeyes haven't look completely in rhythm on offense but that's not Stoneburner's fault.

- Not sure what to make of Texas' win over BYU other than it's a baby step back to respectability. Garrett Gilbert's not who Mack Brown wanted him to be coming out of camp, looking shaky again with some bad decisions before being pulled for David Ash and Case McCoy. Using Ash in some zone read situations was a good change of pace and was a productive play with their speed at running back - a group that finally got going, including freshman Malcolm Brown. The defense still is a concern, as BYU seemed to pick apart the middle of the field. Might take awhile for everybody to get comfortable with Manny Diaz' system but there's some talent on the team. Baby steps.

- Two quarterbacks in the Northwest were rolling this weekend. In Oregon, Darron Thomas and the Ducks offense seemed to be back in their normal sixth-gear against Nevada. Thomas had just 13 attempts - after throwing for 54 against LSU - but six of them were for touchdowns on Saturday. Freshman De'Anthony Thomas had over 200 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns. He's a small but tough back who has speed to burn, should be fun to see what Chip Kelly does with him as he learns more of the playbook.

At Washington, Keith Price got the Huskies off to a 2-0 start by throwing for 315 yards and four touchdowns. He connected on his first eight throws and has spread the ball around to a good receiving group well. Things got a little tight against Hawaii but Price and running back Chris Polk kept the Huskies moving. This team may not be a top 15-caliber squad but they're certainly going to give others fits if they can stop playing down to their competition at times.

- I was a bit shocked to see that Clemson opened up as a favorite against Auburn this week, their own issues aside. Dabo Swinney's club struggled against Wafford and things are not going to get any easier. The offense is productive in the stat sheet but in they're still struggling to adjust to Chad Morris' system. The rush defense in particular is very concerning, ranking 107th in the country after two games against a Sun Belt and an FCS opponent.

- Several people in the Alabama program told me that the Crimson Tide defense might be the best ever under Nick Saban. After watching two games, I think they're close to being right. The score was a bit closer than expected against Penn State at 27-11 but this is a very good group. They look faster and deeper than the national championship squad a couple of years ago and are not the opposing quarterback's best friend, to say the least.

Pulling Rank

My top 10 after week 2:

1. Oklahoma

2. LSU

3. Alabama

4. Boise State

5. Texas A&M

6. Stanford

7. Wisconsin

8. Florida State

9. Oklahoma State

10. South Carolina

Where we'll be this week

I'll be out at the Ineligible Bowl, Ohio State at Miami on Saturday. Senior writer Brett McMurphy is in Tallahassee for the top five showdown of Oklahoma and Florida State.

Across the goal line

There were a series of firsts in the USC-Utah game I was at this weekend. Trojans kicker Andre Heidari recorded the first points in Pac-12 conference history while teammate Marc Tyler will be in the record books for scoring the first touchdown. Thanks to their 17-14 win over the Utes, USC won the final Pac-10 game and the very first Pac-12 game.

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Wait, excuse me, thanks to their 23-14 victory.

In many ways, the first ever Pac-12 conference game - which wasn't really true because Colorado and Cal played earlier that day in an overtime "non-conference" game - featured many of the same elements of its Pac-10 predecessors. There were big plays on offense, a close game, USC on national (cable) television at night and, oh yeah, an officiating controversy.

As I walked down the steps of the Coliseum toward the field right before their drive, I kept thinking this was a welcome to the conference moment for Utah. Boy was it ever.

I was about 10 yards away when, on 4th down, DeVonte Christopher caught an in-route that seemed to fall just short of the first down marker. It seemed like a bad spot but the refs said it was a turnover on downs. Then they reviewed it, remarked the spot and gave Utah a first down. Saved by Pac-10… er, -12 replay officials.

Then there was the pass interference call on the next play. That set up the Utes' field goal attempt. I couldn't quite see the holder but was looking at the middle of the line in case the kick was blocked. Next thing I know the ball is bouncing right into the hands of USC corner Torin Harris and he's off to the end zone. The crowd and sidelines were going crazy as he raced to the end zone. I turned to talk to a colleague and saw a few players run out to get a better angle on the return. Seconds later I saw the flag, then the announcement that the game was over. The touchdown didn't count, but the game was over.

What just happened I wondered. Duty, however, called as I tried to grab a few players to talk about the win (or, in the case of the Utes, loss). I kept thinking how close Utah had gotten and, in their first conference game, they had played like they belonged despite coming up short in the win column. They came into a storied venue and almost knocked off the conference's most storied program. Utah is a good team that was well coached but wasn't quite good enough on a beautiful Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Then there was a tweet that popped up as I got back to the press box to begin transcribing. Hold your horses, the score was in question. The Pac-12 was reviewing what happened at the end of the game. As Michael Lev of the O.C. Register noted down on the field, the touchdown had huge implications for bettors across the country with USC favored by 8-8.5 points.

That's when the story changed from Utah being not quite good enough to, apparently, the Pac-12 officials "miss-communicating" and they were actually nine points from being good enough.

It was an unusual ending that I'm still trying to get my head around because the score itself changed after the fact - regardless what the conference says. The Caesars, MGM and Wynn sports books apparently stayed with the 17-14 result. The Hilton, Cantor, South Point sports books switched to 23-14. Some honored both. If you threw away a winning ticket, that is a bad beat that will be with you for a long time.

A finish that was wild, unbelievable and involved money. In a roundabout way, the first ever Pac-12 game got me very prepared for the Ineligible Bowl next week.

I knew you were good Larry Scott, didn't know you were this good.

Posted on: September 9, 2011 10:19 pm
Edited on: September 10, 2011 12:11 am
 

QUICK HITS: FIU 24, Louisville 17

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

FIU WON: There was no question which team had the best player on the field, and in the end, that player left no doubt about which was the best team on the field. Golden Panther All-American candidate T.Y. Hilton dominated the game, finishing with a school record 201 yards receiving (on just 7 receptions, a 28.7-yard average) and 268 all-purpose yards. His touchdown receptions of 74 and 83 yards broke open the game in the first half and the FIU defense held the Cards to just seven second-half points.

WHY FIU WON: Aside from Hilton's game-defining explosiveness, the Golden Panthers also benefited from Louisville's total inability to finish drives. The Cardinals outgained FIU 498-293 for the game but time and again crossed midfield only to come away empty-handed ... or worse, as was the case when Will Stein ended the Cards' first possession (and a 10-play drive) with a 74-yard pick-six that put FIU up 7-0 early. 

From there Louisville put together drives of 29, 53, 25, and (in the fourth quarter) a backbreaking 76 yards -- with FIU stuffing runs on both 3rd- and 4th-and 1 after those 76 yards -- that resulted in a grand total of three points. The game was summed up by the Cards' follow-up drive to that failure, which began at midfield and featured an incredible scramble and completion by Stein to convert 3rd-and-13, setting his team up first-and-10 at the FIU 33 ... only for the Panthers' Tourek Williams to come up with a 13-yard sack on the very next play.

WHEN FIU WON: Three plays after that sack, Stein's desperation deep ball to Josh Chichester was broken up, and FIU took over up 14 points with just under 6 minutes to play. (At that point, Louisville had spent two drives running 21 plays, covering 84 yards, and eating up 10 minutes of clock ... and producing zero points.) Though not officially done until FIU recovered an onsides kick and forced the Cards to start their last-gasp drive inside their own 3, after that turnover on downs anything short of an Auburn-style miracle would result in an FIU win.

WHAT FIU WON: An impressive 2-0 start and the program's first-ever win over a BCS-conference program, for starters. But the unquestioned status of 2011 Sun Belt favorite, too, and for Hilton, maybe even some honest-to-goodness Heisman candidacy buzz.

WHAT LOUISVILLE LOST: Just about all the 2011 optimism lingering from Charlie Strong's encouraging 2010 debut. No doubt Strong's effective recruiting and solid defensive coaching will have the Cards competitive throughout the season and Big East title contenders in future campaigns. But this year's edition is too young on the offensive line and too shaky in the secondary to expect anything more than a low-level bowl appearance--a modest goal that after tonight's loss might still prove to be out of reach.


Posted on: September 7, 2011 11:40 am
Edited on: September 7, 2011 11:42 am
 

Louisville will use 3 quarterbacks against FIU

Posted by Chip Patterson

Louisville's offensive performance, particularly in the second half, was less than spectacular in their debut against Murray State on Thursday. Head coach Charlie Strong acknowledged that his team, while victorious, still had plenty of things to improve on heading into their matchup on Friday with Florida International.

"It's great to get a win. But we didn't play well in the second half, it was like a tale of two halves," Strong said in this week's Big East teleconference. "The first half we scored three out of first four drives, second half we couldn't move the ball at all. You know if's your first game, but you have to finish."

Not only did the Cardinals struggle moving the ball, they also turned it over to the Racers four times. Two of those turnovers came from quarterbacks Will Stein (fumble) and Teddy Bridgewater (interception). But Strong has not changed his stance on the quarterback position at all, and he will plan to use three different players under center on Friday.

Stein will once again get the start, with the touted-freshman Bridgewater seeing some action and Dominique Brown running the specialized "Wildcard" package. Stein's success came mostly in the first half, but he finished with 226 yards passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Bridgewater's college debut was short lived, and the freshman did not attempt another pass after his interception.

There is a lot of excitement about Bridgewater's ability, but Thursday confirmed many suspicions that the Miami-native still has some adjusting to do before stepping in as the leader of the offense. Luckily, Stein has proven he can be a productive starter for the Cardinals while their prized recruit gets acclimated to the college game.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com