Articles By David Fox
The College Football Playoff era has plenty of uncertainties, but here is one thing we can say for sure: East Carolina has the inside track on claiming a major bowl game.
The BCS busters are a thing of the past, which is just fine for East Carolina.
In the past, a team outside of the power conference would have to go undefeated to find its way to a major bowl game. Not anymore.
The Pirates just have to be the best-looking team outside of the Power 5, and East Carolina is putting on a convincing show.
The Pirates of the American Athletic Conference demolished North Carolina 70-41 for their second consecutive win over an ACC team. East Carolina defeated Virginia Tech 28-21 a week ago and suffered its only loss by 10 at South Carolina on Sept. 6.
The Playoff selection committee’s top-ranked team from the Group of 5 is guaranteed a berth in the Orange, Cotton, Peach or Fiesta Bowl.
East Carolina is the only team from the so-called Group of 5 (the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt) with a pair of wins over teams from power conferences.
These weren’t gimmes, either. Other teams in contention for the New Year's Six bowl slot will have trouble matching East Carolina's pair of wins against ACC Coastal contenders, one of which is two weeks removed from a win at Ohio State.
Against North Carolina, East Carolina put on offensive showcase. Former Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil has brought the Air Raid to his alma mater with help from 31-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, another Lubbock import.
The offense was at its best Saturday as veteran Shane Carden completed 30-of-48 passes for 438 yards for four touchdowns and an interception against the Tar Heels. Only one scoring drive — a fourth-quarter TD drive in 4:14 — exceeded three minutes.
Mind you, East Carolina’s quick strike offense was missing leading receiver Cam Worthy, who was suspended for two games for violating the school’s code of student conduct.
This comes a week after East Carolina had a rare 400-yard passing game against Virginia Tech as Carden went 23-of-47 for 427 yards with three touchdowns against the Hokies.
Numbers like that may make a decision easy on the committee determining the New Year’s Six games. Not only does East Carolina have the best case for one of those big-time bowls, the Pirates don’t have many true rivals for the spot.
BYU is ranked and outside of the Power 5 structure, but independence means the Cougars have no such guarantees in the postseason outside of the Miami Beach Bowl.
At the end of the day Saturday, only Marshall and Cincinnati likely will be the only undefeated teams in the Group of 5. East Carolina will face Cincinnati on Nov. 13. Marshall could flirt with an undefeated season given a weaker schedule and no games against the Power 5. It’s also worth noting Conference USA is 11-1 against the American, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt.
Perhaps East Carolina will be tripped up in a conference schedule that includes Cincinnati and UCF (but not Houston). A year ago, East Carolina lost in an upset to Tulane and then to Marshall to lose a spot in the C-USA title game.
For now, though, East Carolina is poised for its best season in school history.
|Group of 5 wins over Power 5|
East Carolina 28, Virginia Tech 21
East Carolina 70, North Carolina 41
Temple 37, Vanderbilt 7
Bowling Green 45, Indiana 42
Northern Illinois 23, Northwestern 15
Central Michigan 38, Purdue 17
Utah State 36, Wake Forest 34
Colorado State 31, Colorado 17
Nevada 24, Washington State 13
ULM 17, Wake Forest 10
Cracking any list of prolific Pittsburgh running backs deserves note, and James Conner is on his way to putting his name with a few greats.
Pittsburgh's sophomore back continued a hot start to surpass Heisman winner Tony Dorsett’s start in 1973 and Craig “Ironhead” Heyward for the best starts for a tailback in Pitt history. Conner rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries in the first half against Iowa.
His 643 rushing yards through four games is the hottest start in four games in Pittsburgh history. Entering Saturday, Conner already shattered the school record for the best three-game start in school history, outpacing Tony Dorsett’s 487 yards through three games as a freshman in 1973.
Through 3.5 games, Conner is averaging 183 rushing yards per game. Stretch that over 13 games (12 games, plus a bowl) and Conner would outpace Dorsett’s 2,150 yards from his Heisman-winning season in 1976.
Conner’s start to 2014 goes back to his career-best performance against Bowling Green in the bowl game last season.
|James Conner: Last Five Games|
|Dec. 26||Bowling Green||26||229||1|
|Sept. 5||Boston College||35||213||1|
*through first half
Resounding answers about Auburn’s ability to defend its SEC title will have to wait.
Perhaps that’s a strange statement given a 20-14 win on the road against a ranked Kansas State team, but the Tigers didn’t need to show a mastery of the passing game or overwhelming defense for this win.
Auburn did to Kansas State what it proved it could do a year ago — Gus Malzhan’s team won’t squander opportunities. And Kansas State gave Auburn plenty of time to atone for early third-down issues, a slow start in the passing game and an uncharacteristically quiet day on the ground.
Kansas State’s three missed field goals and three turnovers sealed Auburn’s win as much as Nick Marshall’s arm.
"We should have won that," Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters told the media. "There is no excuse. It almost hurts worse. It is frustrating because you work so hard to get in those situations and to play a great team like that."
The Wildcats followed a plan most SEC teams are sure to follow this season — shut down the run game and make Nick Marshall prove he’s improved as a passer. A year ago, Auburn backed off the passing attack and allowed Marshall’s legs and Tre Mason to carry the way.
Kansas State held Auburn to 128 rushing yards on 45 carries. Auburn accounted for more yards through the air (231) than on the ground for only the second time under Malzahn and the first time since a loss to Mississippi State on Sept. 14, 2013.
The Auburn passing game was far from consistent as drops from D’haquille Williams and Sammie Coates and tipped passes at the line prevented Auburn from extending drives and cost one probable touchdown. Marshall and his receivers eventually settled in, converting 10 of their final 13 third down attempts and delivering on a 39-yard pass on third-and-9 to seal the game.
"Nick is always level headed, and he keeps his spirits up no matter what," Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne told the media after the game. "Whether he completes three passes in a row or whether he gets ten drops in a row, he is our leader so we look to him."
And the Auburn defense? Holding Kansas State to 285 yards and 4.1 yards per play should be noted. Kansas State managed only 40 rushing yards.
At the same time, Kansas State managed fair amount of self-sabotage with missed field goals of 34, 42 and 22 yards and an interception from the 1-yard line. On its first six trips inside Auburn’s 40-yard line, Kansas State scored 7 points. An extra 13 points, certainly would make those yardage figures seem awfully hollow.
In other words, not a very Bill Snyder-like performance in terms of turnovers and efficiency.
For that, Auburn has to be thankful. The Tigers leave Manhattan with all playoff dreams intact even if the team remains a work in progress.
In just another example of the madness of a college football season, much of the most dramatic swings come down to players who weren’t recruited and may or may not be on scholarship.
As we learned this week, the coach might not even speak to such a pivotal piece of the puzzle.
The last week proved again how college kickers can surprise and infuriate — and also why they go through a different experience than the rest of college football players.
“No one really knows what a specialist goes through unless you’re another specialist at this level,” said Kentucky’s Austin MacGinnis, whose 51-yard attempt in the fourth quarter tied a game with Florida. “It’s such a different sport within itself.”
Let’s give that a try in a look back at what life’s like for a college kicker.
Adam Butler’s teammates saw the moment happen in real time. His coach, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, didn’t see it until he started breaking down film. His aunt saw it on TV.
Millions of others saw the moment on TV or on social media.
Pretty much everyone Adam Butler knows had one question after Vanderbilt escaped with a 34-31 win over UMass on Saturday:
Why did the Vanderbilt defensive lineman hug that kicker?
“I didn’t realize that we had two seconds left,” Butler told Athlon Sports. “I thought the game was over. I thought he was the first person I’d say ‘Good game’ to. I said good game and get us next time.”
It was also a sweet moment. The UMass kicker, Blake Lucas, had just missed a 22-yard chip shot that would have tied the game with two seconds to go. UMass had led the game by 11 in the second half and had a real chance to put together a signature win for the program.
Understandably, Lucas didn’t take the gesture the same way.
“He said ‘get off me,’” Butler told Athlon Sports. “That’s normal, though. He might have taken it as me being a jerk.
“It was our first win. I was excited. I didn’t know what I was doing in the moment. I felt for the guy.”
For the second time in two seasons, South Carolina kicker Elliott Fry was on the other side of an opponents’ missed kick that led to vitriol on Twitter.
A year ago, South Carolina defeated Missouri 27-24 in double overtime. The Tigers still won the SEC East but the loss at the time seemed to be a major blow.
And who was to blame? According to some Missouri fans, Andrew Baggett, who missed a 46-yarder in the fourth quarter and a 22-yarder in overtime. Some Missouri fans filled Baggett’s mentions with angry, profane tweets.
Proving that no one is immune from such reaction, Georgia’s Marshall Morgan took the brunt of frothing fans on social media. Never mind that Morgan set an SEC record with 20 consecutive made field goals thanks to two makes in the first half against South Carolina.
A missed 28-yarder that would have tied the game in the fourth, though, was enough to make a vocal segment of fans forget the 20 consecutive field goals.
Georgia lost 38-35, and Morgan’s Twitter mentions were filled with taunts of “You had one job” and blame for the Bulldogs’ defeat.
By now, most of Morgan’s mentions are those of support, starting with the kicker on the other sideline.
All this hatred towards @MarshallM13 is disgusting, he truly is one of the best kickers in college right now, every kicker misses....— Elliott fry (@elliott_fry22) September 14, 2014
Fry doesn’t know Morgan that well personally, but they’ve attended the same kicking camps and are part of an unofficial fraternity of specialists.
“Those situations, they can be tough,” Fry told Athlon Sports. “After that happens, a late field missed in a game, I’ve seen the tweets people say terrible things, talking about killing the guy.”
As Morgan may learn, fans can be fickle with kickers. Fry, for example, missed early field goals in games against Missouri and Florida only for South Carolina to win the game later in part due to Fry’s field goals.
“You look at your phone after and you can see how quickly fans change on you. You open twitter and it’s fun . You see ‘Fry sucks’ and other worse things. You see it go from complete hatred to praise.”
Then again, maybe it’s just nice to be acknowledged.
West Virginia picked up a key win with a 40-37 win over Maryland. And what did Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen say to Josh Lambert before his game-winning 47-yard kick on the road?
Nothing. Not then, not ever, apparently.
“I haven’t talked to Josh Lambert since he got on campus, and we’re going to keep in that way,” Holgorsen told the media after the game.
“He’s a guy we have complete confidence in when it comes to make that shot. I know his name and who he is, but other than that, I’d doing the hands-off approach.”
Lambert is a redshirt sophomore and has been West Virginia’s primary kicker for two years.
Kentucky fans might not have too much trouble remembering the name Austin MacGinnis after last week.
MacGinnis got both the highs and lows of the kicking experience in only his third game at Kentucky.
A redshirt freshman, MacGinnis kicked a 51-yard field goal with 3:26 remaining to tie the Gators at 20. Kentucky hasn't defeated Florida since 1986 and not at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium since 1979.
In other words, quite the pressure situation for a kid whose last field goal came two years ago in high school in Wedowee, Ala.
“It was loud there for sure, but you try to block it out as a soothing noise rather than a bad noise,” MacGinnis said.
MacGinnis missed a 41-yard attempt in the third OT, but even a make may not have stopped the Gators — they scored a touchdown on their possession to win 36-30.
MacGinnis said he didn’t any grief on Twitter for his overtime miss — not that it would have mattered given the final score — but he did see Fry backing up Morgan on Twitter from earlier in the evening.
The SEC kicking fraternity has one more member, and another one with a sense of humor at that.
MacGinnis’ bio for Kentucky says he picked No. 99 because — and this is not a lie — “it is the definition of kicker swag.”
“I don’t know really why I put that down, but everyone thinks of a kicker as the last number you can have, like the last guy on the team,” MacGinnis said. “Kickers always look like the little kid that doesn’t belong, so the number kind of matches.”
When a kick goes wrong, a fellow kicker may be the only ones with a sense of empathy — even moreso than defensive linemen offering free hugs after a shanked kick.
When UMass’ Lucas missed his 22-yarder, former Vanderbilt kicker Carey Spear watched from the sideline and winced.
He wanted his former team to win, for sure, but not like this. Not at the expense of another kicker.
The missed field goal was salt in the wound for Spear, who missed a 27-yard attempt in 2011 that would have tied a game against a top-10 Arkansas team. Spear didn’t attempt another field goal the rest of the season.
Spear returned for the next two seasons to go 35-of-43 on field goals the rest of his career.
“I definitely felt more for him,” Spear said. “I think it will make him a better kicker if he learns how to handle it. It’s a defining moment in some guys’ careers.”
Turn back the clock to the the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s. In fact, Nebraska and Miami might prefer that you do.
Nebraska and Miami will play the rare in-season matchup, but the two teams played in five bowl games that helped define the era. The Cornhuskers and Hurricanes met in six bowl games from 1983-2001 with four of those meetings resulting in a national championship.
The Cornhuskers, despite the Big Ten’s struggles, still have all of their goals in play this season, but not if they can’t defeat Miami.
Big Ten Week 4 Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday, all times Eastern.
1. Miami at Nebraska
8 p.m., ESPN2
Hard to believe, but these two storied programs haven’t met since Miami’s 37-14 rout of an Eric Crouch-led Nebraska team for the 2001 national title. Moreover, this pair of teams that met in four classic Orange Bowl matchups hasn’t played during the regular season since 1976. This meeting will lack the luster of any of those bowl games, with Miami already 0-1 in the ACC and Nebraska carrying the flag for an otherwise embarrassed Big Ten. The Cornhuskers have defeated FBS opponents 110-26 this season with a 31-24 escape against McNeese State of the FCS the only real cause for concern for Nebraska’s outlook.
Nebraska’s defense is at full strength with the return of end Randy Gregory this week, who leads a rejuvenated Huskers pass rush (four sacks vs. Fresno State last week). Still, all eyes should be on running back Ameer Abdullah. This may be his opportunity to vault into the Heisman race. He has the numbers (second in the Big Ten in all-purpose and rushing yards, both to Indiana’s Tevin Coleman), he has the highlight against McNeese State and he has the creative award campaign. All he needs is a big game against a major opponent on a national stage.
Listen to the Week 4 preview podcast:
2. Utah at Michigan
Michigan’s tour of past embarrassing losses continues. After dispatching of Appalachian State 52-14 in a rematch of the 2007 loss, Michigan faces Utah. The Utes handed the Wolverines a 25-23 loss in Ann Arbor in the debut for Rich Rodriguez in 2008. Michigan, however, has more recent losses for which to atone — the 31-0 defeat to Notre Dame two weeks ago, for example. Michigan’s 34-10 win over Miami (Ohio) was a nice rebound from the Notre Dame loss, especially with the return of cornerback Jabrill Peppers and tight end Jake Butt. But Michigan is still a team with clear flaws. The Wolverines have recorded one takeaway and four sacks on defense and remains capable of turnovers in bunches on offense.
3. Iowa at Pittsburgh
Northern Iowa and Ball State couldn’t make Iowa pay for playing a subpar game. Iowa State finally did. Now, the Hawkeyes play their toughest opponent of the season in Pittsburgh. If there’s any consolation in this matchup, Iowa has yet to allow 100 yards rushing in a game this season. Iowa is one of eight teams not to allow a rushing touchdown this season and ranks eighth at 2.26 yards allowed per carry. The run game — specifically national rushing leader James Conner — is the cornerstone of the Pittsburgh offense. Iowa’s offense has no such identity after averaging a season-low 4.04 yards per play against Iowa State.
4. Maryland at Syracuse
12:30, ACC Network
Maryland continues its start to the Big Ten era with its third consecutive game against the old Big East (USF, West Virginia at Syracuse). The Terrapins will need to recover from allowing more yards against West Virginia (694) than they did in its first two games combined (559). Syracuse doesn’t run the Air Raid like WVU, but quarterback Terrel Hunt will be tough to contain. Meanwhile, Maryland’s offense continues its identity crisis. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs finally had his breakout game of the season in the shootout against West Virginia, but the tailbacks were virtually non-existent. Quarterback C.J. Brown ran the ball 18 times on a variety of scrambles, designed runs and read options. No one else on the Maryland offense had more than four carries.
5. Indiana at Missouri
4 p.m., SEC Network
A game with two high-powered spread offenses from the Big 12 school of thinking always has shootout potential. Perhaps Indiana will have the key player to neutralize Missouri’s once-again formidable pass rush led by ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray. Indiana running back Tevin Coleman has rushed for a touchdown in 11 consecutive games he’s played for 17 total. Coleman leads the nation with 437 rushing yards this year.
6. Bowling Green at Wisconsin
Wisconsin will find out if its off week came at a good time, especially Melvin Gordon. The bread-and-butter of the Wisconsin offense has been hobbled with a hip injury since the second half of the opener against LSU, contributing to 38 rushing yards on 17 carries against Western Illinois two weeks ago. Wisconsin’s defense also will be tested against a team that ran 113 plays in a 45-42 win over Indiana despite being down to a second-string quarterback.
7. Rutgers at Navy
3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
A road trip against Navy doesn’t set up well for a team that just suffered a 13-10 home loss to Penn State. Navy’s option already has proved plenty effective against one Big Ten team (370 yards, two touchdowns against Ohio State). Rutgers’ athletic defensive line will be on the spot.
8. UMass at Penn State
4 p.m., Big Ten Network
UMass may be the weakest opponent Penn State has faced so far, but even the 0-3 Minutemen might not be a pushover. UMass took both Colorado and Vanderbilt to the wire in losses by a combined a field goal each. Perhaps overlooked in Penn State’s season — which has included the debut of James Franklin, the lifting of NCAA sanctions and heroics from Christian Hackenberg and Sam Ficken — has been the play of the front seven. Penn State has picked up seven tackles for a loss in each game this season, led by defensive tackle Anthony Zettel’s seven.
9. San Jose State at Minnesota
4 p.m., Big Ten Network
Injuries are already starting to cut into the Minnesota offense with quarterback Mitch Leidner playing through turf toe. Left tackle Zac Epping and running back David Cobb are also battling ankle injuries. All of it — plus Minnesota’s limitations in the passing game — caught up with the Gophers in a 30-7 loss at TCU last week. Minnesota should be able to run the ball on a San Jose State team that has allowed 5.8 yards per carry and seven touchdowns in two games. What that means for Big Ten play is up for discussion.
10. Texas State at Illinois
4 p.m., ESPNews
Illinois got a wake-up call when it lost 44-19 to Washington, a score that’s not too surprising. Illinois will need to bounce back against Texas State, a program three years removed from FCS status, if the Illini are to have any shot at a bowl game.
11. Eastern Michigan at Michigan State
Noon, Big Ten Network
Michigan State is 21-3 all-time against the directional Michigans, with all three losses coming to Central Michigan. No reason for that trend to change.
12. Western Illinois at Northwestern
This would be a good time for Northwestern to end its 1-9 skid. Northwestern’s next seven games are: at Penn State, Wisconsin, at Minnesota, Nebraska, at Iowa, Michigan and at Notre Dame.
13. Southern Illinois at Purdue
Noon, Big Ten Network
Purdue played well in a 30-14 loss to Notre Dame, leading the game until the final 13 seconds of the first half. The Boilermakers can’t let that encouraging moment slip away against an FCS opponent.
Week 4 Big Ten Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Iowa at Pitt (-7)
|Pitt 27-10||Pitt 27-20||Pitt 27-20||Pitt 27-17|
Eastern Mich. at Michigan State (-45)
|MSU 52-7||MSU 45-0||MSU 48-3||MSU 41-0|
Western Ill. at Northwestern
|NW 35-21||NW 30-13||NW 40-10||NW 33-10|
Southern Ill. at Purdue
|Pur 28-10||Pur 34-17||Pur 34-20||Pur 27-7|
Bowling Green at Wisconsin (-27)
|Wisc 42-24||Wisc 42-24||Wisc 41-20||Wisc 44-20|
Maryland at Syracuse (-1)
|Cuse 27-24||Cuse 34-30||Md 27-24||Md 24-20|
Utah at Michigan (-5)
|Utah 27-21||Mich 28-27||Mich 27-24||Utah 30-27|
Rutgers at Navy (-6)
|Navy 31-28||Navy 34-30||Navy 31-27||Navy 27-20|
UMass at Penn State (-27)
|PSU 31-13||PSU 34-13||PSU 38-10||PSU 34-14|
San Jose St. at Minnesota (-9)
|Minn 35-17||Minn 35-27||Minn 31-20||Minn 28-14|
Texas State at Illinois (-14)
|Illinois 38-14||Illinois 38-30||Illinois 38-20||Illinois 34-10|
Indiana at Missouri (-14)
|Mizzou 48-28||Mizzou 42-17||Mizzou 35-24||Mizzou 40-17|
Miami at Nebraska (-8)
|Neb 38-14||Neb 41-31||Neb 31-24||Neb 27-21|
For the third year in a row, some of the top Big 12 coaches represent the best the University of Illinois has to offer.
It’s true: All three Illinois coaches from 1996-2012 have a home in the Big 12. In the combined 16 seasons from the three former Illini, only one didn’t end in the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, none has been more successful than Bill Self, who has won or shared a conference title every year since taking over at Kansas, but let’s not overlook the jobs Lon Kruger and Bruce Weber have done at Oklahoma and Kansas State, respectively.
Self gets the No. 1 spot in our Big 12 coach rankings, but Kruger isn’t far behind. Only Fred Hoiberg, who has turned around his alma mater in the last three seasons, stands in between Self and Kruger.
As usual, a handful of factors go into ranking the coaches — career accomplishments, career momentum, gameday acumen, player development, recruiting, conference records and postseason success.
1. Bill Self, Kansas
Record at Kansas: 325-69 (.825)
NCAA Tournament: 36-15, two Final Fours, one national championship
Number to note: Last season was the first time since 2005 that Kansas ranked outside of the top 11 in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.
Why he’s ranked here: Kansas lost 10 games last season, most for Self since 1998-99 at Tulsa. The Jayhawks still won (or shared) its 10th consecutive Big 12 title by two games.
2. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Record at Iowa State: 90-47 (.657)
NCAA Tournament: 4-3
Number to note: Iowa State’s 34 Big 12 wins during the last three seasons are one more than the Cyclones won during the previous seven seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: The Mayor has a formula that has returned Iowa State to national prominence: Owning the transfer market, high-powered offense and analytical savvy.
3. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma
Record at Oklahoma: 58-38 (.604)
NCAA Tournament: 14-15, one Final Four
Number to note: Oklahoma ranked 17th in tempo last season. Kruger didn’t have a top-100 team in that category since 2005.
Why he’s ranked here: Got a problem? Lon Kruger will solve it. He’s led clean-up jobs at Florida, UNLV, Kansas State and now Oklahoma and taken all of them (plus Illinois) to multiple NCAA Tournaments.
4. Rick Barnes, Texas
Record at Texas: 382-166 (.697)
NCAA Tournament: 21-21, one Final Four
Number to note: Since 1993-94, Barnes has missed the NCAA Tournament only twice.
Why he’s ranked here: Barnes reversed the slide of his tenure with a surprising 24-11 season and 11-7 finish in the Big 12. The Myles Turner arrival signaled he still has some Lone Star State recruiting clout.
5. Bob Huggins, West Virginia
Record at West Virginia: 150-91 (.622)
NCAA Tournament: 27-20, one Final Four
Number to note: Huggins averaged 8.3 losses per season in 21 years at Akron and Cincinnati. He’s averaged 12.9 since his return at Kansas State and West Virginia.
Why he’s ranked here: Though West Virginia missed the NCAA Tournament, the Mountaineers improved offensively by 11 points per game thanks to Huggins’ most up-tempo team in nearly a decade.
6. Scott Drew, Baylor
Record at Baylor: 206-150 (.579)
NCAA Tournament: 8-4
Number to note: Drew is 17-5 combined in the NCAA Tournament and NIT, claiming two Elite Eights, a Sweet 16 and an NIT title.
Why he’s ranked here: The even-year, odd-year trend for Baylor predicts a down year in 2014-15.
7. Tubby Smith, Texas Tech
Record at Texas Tech: 14-18 (.438)
NCAA Tournament: 30-16, one Final Four, one national championship
Number to note: Smith hasn’t led a team to a winning conference record since his final season at Kentucky.
Why he’s ranked here: In what seemed like questionable hire at first, Smith led Texas Tech to its best Big 12 record since 2007-08 with wins over Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas.
8. Bruce Weber, Kansas State
Record at Kansas State: 47-21 (.691)
NCAA Tournament: 11-10, one Final Four
Number to note: Weber is 2-6 in the NCAA Tournament since taking Illinois to the national title game in 2005.
Why he’s ranked here: Weber’s best seasons as a coach have come in Years 1-2 at Illinois and Kansas State. He’s entering Year 3 in Manhattan.
9. Travis Ford, Oklahoma State
Record at Oklahoma State: 125-77 (.619)
NCAA Tournament: 1-5
Number to note: Oklahoma State is 34-36 in the Big 12 the last four seasons. Ford was 18-14 in his first two seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: Ford’s burdensome contract will outlast Marcus Smart in Stillwater.
10. Trent Johnson, TCU
Record at TCU: 20-43 (.317)
NCAA Tournament: 5-5
Number to note: Since leading LSU to a 27-8 in his first season in Baton Rogue, Johnson is 60-99 since.
Why he’s ranked here: Perhaps no coach could lead TCU to relevance in the Big 12. At 2-34 in conference play, TCU hasn’t even been competitive.
So much of the early portion of the schedule has to do with league’s jockeying for position. The Big Ten is down. The Pac-12 scored a key win. And no league seems to scream that it’s in charge.
Maybe the Big 12 should take that spot.
No non-conference win stands out from Week 3, but the Big 12 quietly picked up some key victories — Oklahoma over Tennessee, West Virginia over Maryland, TCU over Minnesota and Iowa State over Iowa.
If Texas finished the job against a weakened UCLA, maybe the Big 12 would be thumping its chest. Either way, the league has a chance to do so Thursday when Kansas State faces Auburn.
Before that, here’s what we learned out of the Big 12 in Week 3.
Key Takeaways from the Big 12 in Week 3
Oklahoma’s defense is championship-ready
Even if Tennessee has its flaws up front on offense, Oklahoma turned in an impressive performance against the Volunteers. The Sooners were relentless in the front seven, sacking Vols quarterback Justin Worley five times and intercepting him twice. Eight Oklahoma players recorded at least one tackle for a loss, and other than one 43-yard run after the game had been decided, the Sooners overwhelmed Tennessee up front. The Sooners haven’t faced a Playoff contender this season, but Oklahoma has a defense that looks ready to contend for a Big 12 title.
Listen to the Week 3 recap podcast:
Texas missed an opportunity for a name win
The game started with a blunder when a Texas captain elected to defend after UCLA won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, meaning UCLA started both halves on offense. That was only the start of Texas whiffing at an opportunity. UCLA star quarterback Brett Hundley left the game in the first quarter with an elbow injury, leaving the Bruins with untested backup Jerry Neuheisel. Texas is also down to a backup QB but one who has two games under his belt. The Longhorns led at half and led with with 5:45 to go. Texas didn’t have a turnover but a defensive breakdown gave Neuheisel the 33-yard game-winning TD. Texas could have used an extra offensive possession in a 20-17 loss.
West Virginia has turned a corner
The Mountaineers hinted at in a 33-23 loss to Alabama in Week 1. A 40-37 win at Maryland proved that West Virginia is a different team in 2014. A healthy Clint Trickett with a year in the system is only a piece of the transformation — a piece that completed 37-of-49 passes fro 511 yards with four touchdowns. After struggling in his first season from junior college, Kevin White has become an all-conference type receiver with 13 catches for 216 yards and a touchdown. Mario Alford added 11 catches for 131 yards and two scores. But most important, West Virginia learned to take a punch. The Mountaineers lost three games last season in which the led in the fourth quarter. This year’s team allowed Maryland to tie in the fourth but held for a game winning field goal in the final four seconds.
Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham Have transformed the TCU offense
Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson looked toward Texas Tech and Houston to add a spark to the TCU offense that had been lacking since Justin Fuente took a head coaching job at Memphis. Cumbie (from Texas Tech) and Meacham (from Houston) are making an impact. Nowhere is that more evident than with Trevone Boykin, who was moved to receiver at the end of last year and faced a challenge from Texas A&M quarterback Matt Joeckel before the season. Boykin completed 27-of-46 for 258 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 30-7 win over Minnesota. He also rushed for 92 yards on 12 carries. If TCU can put him numbers like that in Big 12 play the Horned Frogs will be poised for a turnaround year.
Coach Cool can’t stop the run
Bret Bielema has had few easy answers as coach at Arkansas. A game against Texas Tech, though, presented an easy gameplan. Run the ball because Texas Tech can’t stop it. Arkansas rushed for 438 yards and attempted only 12 passes in a 49-28 win. It was the most rushing yards allowed by Texas Tech since 2011 but part of an alarming trend. Opponents have rushed for 293.7 yards and four touchdowns per game in the last nine contests. Tech’s defense can’t get off the field, and the offense hasn’t helped. Texas Tech has been on the wrong side of the turnover margin for 11 consecutive games for a total of minus-18 since Oct. 12.
Big 12 Week 4 Power Rankings
|Rk||Team||Pvs||Record||Last Week||This Week|
|1||1||3-0||W, Tennessee 34-10||at West Virginia|
|2||2||3-0||W, Buffalo 63-21||Off|
|4||4||2-1||W, UTSA 43-13||Off|
|5||5||2-1||W, Maryland 40-37||Oklahoma|
|6||6||2-0||W, Minnesota 30-7||Off|
|7||7||1-2||L, UCLA 20-17||Off|
|8||9||1-2||W, Iowa 20-17||Off|
|9||8||2-1||L, Arkansas 49-28||Off|
|10||10||1-1||L, Duke 41-3||Central Michigan|
Congratulations, Nebraska and Penn State, you represent the Big Ten’s last hope.
A week after the Big Ten’s top Playoff contenders dropped key games, the league’s underbelly proved to be just as soft.
Minnesota, Maryland, Iowa and Indiana all took their turns with out-of-conference losses, leaving Nebraska and Penn State as the league’s last two unblemished team.
As Nebraska returned to form, Penn State had another close call that resulted in a win at Rutgers, the team that claims the Big Ten’s only win against a Power 5 program.
No, it wasn’t a pretty week in the Big Ten. Here’s what we learned:
The embarrassment continues
Entering Week 3, the Big Ten had no way to atone for a Week 2 that all but seemed to take the league out of the Playoff. All this week — with Maryland hosting West Virginia, Iowa State hosting Iowa and Minnesota visiting TCU — could do was keep the bottom from falling out. The Big Ten couldn’t even manage that. Big Ten teams lost to three Big 12 teams, lost in a rout in the Pacific Northwest and added a third loss this season to a MAC team. The Big Ten is 1-11 against the other Power 5 conferences and Notre Dame this season. The lone win, Rutgers over Washington State in Seattle — came from a team that lost a league game Saturday. Only Penn State and Nebraska, which hosts Miami next week, remain unscathed.
Listen to the Week 3 recap podcast:
Hackenberg’s two-minute magic strikes again
Penn State’s offense isn’t pretty to watch. The run game, again, was a liability at 1.9 yards per carry against Rutgers. Even quarterback Christian Hackenberg had a spotty game thanks to five sacks. The sophomore has a knack for pressure situations, though, as he spoiled what Rutgers hoped would be a signature win in its Big Ten debut. Hackenberg was 3-for-4 for 84 yards on the game-winning drive of a 13-10 win, the second time he’s marched Penn State down the field in the fourth quarter for a victory. These things are becoming commonplace for a quarterback who has played only 15 games.
Michigan, Ohio State bounced back
Let’s not say this is anything other than it is — which is Big Ten name teams beating up on MAC teams on hard times. And apparently in this league in 2014, MAC wins aren’t automatic. Michigan got a key contributor back at full strength in tight end Jake Butt, who caught three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown in the absence of Devin Funchess. Meanwhile, Ohio State got production out of its tailbacks after they were absent last week. Curtis Samuel, Ezekiel Elliott and Warren Ball combined for 206 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. Meanwhile, J.T. Barrett came back from his rough start against the Virginia Tech secondary to complete 23-of-30 passes with six touchdowns.
Iowa has gone from sleeper team to major disappointment
The schedule set up so nicely for Iowa. No Ohio State. No Michigan State. No Michigan. Wisconsin and Nebraska at home. That was enough to make Iowa a sneaky pick in the Big Ten West. No one really accounted for this Iowa team being lousy. A week after dodging a loss to Ball State (which turned around and lost to Indiana State), the Hawkeyes lost 20-17. All-America offensive tackle Brandon Scherff is playing hurt. The run game is dismal (3.6 yards per carry). And the offense is so conservative that a winless opponent needed only 337 total yards to win on the road. At this rate, the easy schedule may be what Iowa needs just to get to a bowl.
The McNeese State game was an aberration for Nebraska
That’s what the Big Ten has to hope, right? The league will grasp at all it can get, and a 55-19 rout at Fresno State has to count for something. Nebraska’s offense was back in its Week 1 form with 280 rushing, 282 passing and 8.5 yards per play. End Randy Gregory returned to the lineup, and although he didn’t record a sack, Nebraska doubled its season total with four sacks against the Bulldogs.
Big Ten Week 4 Power Rankings
|Rk||Team||Pvs||Record||Last Week||This Week|
|2||3||3-0||W, Fresno State 55-19||Miami|
|3||2||3-0||W, Rutgers 13-10||UMass|
|4||6||2-1||W, Kent State 66-0||Off|
|6||7||2-1||W, Miami (Ohio) 34-10||Utah|
|7||9||2-1||L, Penn State 13-10||at Navy|
|8||4||2-1||L, Iowa State 20-17||at Pittsburgh|
|9||8||2-1||L, West Virginia 40-37||at Syracuse|
|10||8||2-1||L, TCU 30-7||San Jose State|
|11||12||2-1||L, Washington 44-19||Texas State|
|12||11||1-1||L, Bowling Green 45-42||at Missouri|
|14||14||1-2||L, Notre Dame 30-14||Southern Illinois|
Saturday will bring the start of conference play in earnest as key games in the SEC, Big 12 and ACC dot our highlights for next week.
Before league play though, there’s one major heavyweight non-conference game, and it could be a critical momentum game for the SEC and Big 12.
Thursdays have quiet since the opening week of the season, but Auburn and Kansas State will bring us an anticipated midweek game to rival the NFL’s new presence on Thursday evenings.
Here’s a look at the top games for Week 4.
The Week Ahead: Sept. 18-20
All times Eastern. All games Saturday, unless noted.
Auburn at Kansas State
Where and when: ESPN, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
We’re watching because... we want to see how many times Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters can punch and counterpunch. Both are effective runners trying to prove their wares in the passing game. We’re not quite sure what Auburn is bringing to the table in the SEC this season as Marshall has played only one half of a meaningful game this season. A win for Kansas State puts the Wildcats into Big 12 contention with Oklahoma and Baylor.
Vegas says: Auburn by 9 1/2
Florida at Alabama
Where and when: CBS, 3:30 p.m.
We’re watching because... neither team has found its footing. No one expected Blake Sims to start Alabama’s SEC opener over Jake Coker, but Sims has done enough to hold onto the job. Will Sims’ short passing game and Alabama’s ample skill position talent be enough to win in the SEC? Meanwhile, Florida’s offense reverted to its 2013 form in a triple overtime home win over Kentucky. The Gators averaged 5.7 yards per play and just 2.9 points per trip inside the 40 in regulation (two touchdowns, two field goals, two missed field goals and a turnover).
Vegas says: Alabama by 14 1/2
Mississippi State at LSU
Where and when: ESPN, 7 p.m.
We’re watching because... Mississippi State will try to join the conversation in the SEC West. The Bulldogs have plateaued under Dan Mullen, not that regular bowl games are a bad thing for Mississippi State. But this is still a team riding a 15-game losing streak against ranked teams. The Bulldogs believe Dak Prescott is the quarterback to get Mississippi State over the hump, but LSU is outscoring opponents 108-0 since falling behind 24-7 to Wisconsin in the opener.
Vegas says: LSU by 10
Oklahoma at West Virginia
Where and when: FOX, 7:30 p.m.
We’re watching because... this will be strength against strength. West Virginia’s offense has returned to form with Clint Trickett and a pair of standout receivers in Kevin White and Mario Alford. The Mountaineers have improved each week on offense, impressive considering the starting point was 393 yards against Alabama. Will the Mountaineers’ passing game be able to move the ball against a speedy Oklahoma offense? The Sooners have looked the part of Big 12 favorite and Playoff contender all year, but this will be the toughest test of the year.
Vegas says: Oklahoma by 11
Clemson at Florida State
Where and when: ABC, 8 p.m.
We’re watching because... we’re expecting to see different teams than the ones that showed up in Week 1. Clemson was dreadful in the second half against Georgia, and Florida State hardly looked like a dominant title contender against Oklahoma State. Since the, both teams dispatched an FCS opponent and had a bye week. It’s the fourth week of the season, and Jameis Winston has been awfully quiet.
Vegas says: Florida State by 19
Crooked passing numbers are the hallmark of Big 12 teams. In that way, West Virginia is starting to fit in again.
After a one-year bowl absence and a rotating cast of injured and ineffective quarterbacks, West Virginia is starting to look like a real Big 12 offense after a one-year absence.
Quarterback Clint Trickett completed 37-of-47 passes for 511 yards with four touchdowns and an interception in a 40-37 win on the road over Maryland, earning Athlon Sports National Player of the Week.
The win is critical not only for helping to establish West Virginia as a factor in the Big 12 but also for the shaky tenure of third-year coach Dana Holgorsen.
Trickett had the help of two receivers who topped the 10-catch mark in Kevin White (216 yards, one touchdown) and Mario Alford (131 yards, two TDs) and Josh Lambert’s 47-yard field goal as time expired.
“I barely even did anything,” Trickett said. “I’m throwing it two yards and then they take it 90 and make me look good.”
That may be true, but Trickett also told Athlon Sports earlier in the week that he’s finally a complete quarterback for West Virginia. Trickett rose to the starting job last season without firm grasp of the offense, and by the time he was comfortable in the scheme, he was battling a shoulder injury.
“The only healthy guy these guys saw last year was a guy who had no clue what he was doing in the offense,” Trickett said earlier in the week. “Now they see a guy who is healthy and has a good understanding of what’s going on.”
National Defensive Player of the Week: Shaq Thompson, Washington
Washington finally got the lopsided win expected of the Huskies this season after close calls with Hawaii and Eastern Washington. As Shaq Thompson continues to see reps at running back, the linebacker was the focal point on defense with a pair of touchdowns in the first half in a 44-19 win over Illinois. Thompson returned an interception 36 yards for a score and a fumble 52 yards in the win.
National Freshman of the Week: Shaun Wilson, Duke
If there’s any concern Duke is more than a one-year wonder in the ACC, Blue Devils freshman Shan Wilson tried to ease it. Wilson entered the game as a freshman at No. 3 on the depth chart and left with a school rushing record. Wilson rushed for 245 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-3 win over Kansas, averaging an astounding 20.4 yards per carry.
National Coordinator of the Week: Lincoln Riley, East Carolina
Riley is already one of the top coaches under 40 and an assistant who will be in demand thanks to East Carolina’s prolific Air Raid in Conference USA last season. This, however, might end up as the breakout game for the 30-year-old.
East Carolina defeated a ranked team for the first time since 2009 and did so against a pass rush and secondary that just demolished Ohio State in Columbus last week. East Carolina passed for 427 yards against Virginia Tech, the third most yards the Hokies have allowed an opposing quarterback.
Conference Players of the Week
ACC: Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy rushed for 190 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in a 37-31 win over USC. Murphy completed 5-of-13 passes for 55 yards with an interception.
Big Ten: Penn State defensive tackle Anthony Zettel and four tackles and three tackles for a loss in a 13-10 win over Rutgers.
Pac-12: UCLA quarterback Jerry Neuheisel was 23-of-30 for 178 yards with two touchdowns in relief of an injured Brett Hundley in a 20-17 win over Texas.
SEC: Arkansas running back Alex Collins rushed for 223 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries in a 49-28 win over Texas Tech.
American: East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden completed 23-of-47 passes for 427 yards with three touchdowns in a 28-21 win over Virginia Tech. He also rushed for a touchdown.
Conference USA: Middle Tennessee quarterback Austin Grammer completed 17-of-28 passes for 218 yards with a touchdown in a 50-47 win over Western Kentucky in triple overtime. He also rushed for 125 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries.
MAC: Bowling Green quarterback James Knapke completed 46-of-73 passes for 385 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in a 45-42 win over Indiana. The former backup also rushed for 37 yards on eight carries.
Mountain West: Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo completed 29-of-39 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-28 loss to Arizona.
Sun Belt: Georgia State quarterback Nick Arbuckle completed 26-of-42 passes for 414 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 48-38 loss to Air Force.
Independents: BYU quarterback Taysom Hill completed 21-of-34 passes for 200 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in a 33-25 win over Houston. He also rushed for 160 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.
Week 3 offered only one game between two ranked teams, so the notion of Heisman moments was in short supply this week.
There was one great play by the current frontrunner for the award, but that play came against Wyoming. It will live in Marcus Mariota’s highlight package, but there will be more to come in bigger games.
Instead, this was probably a more notable weekend for those who showed up in the sleeper category of all those preseason lists.
The Heisman race is the only sports award that determines its field of contenders before the season actually starts. As such, we’ll keep track of all the contenders (and pretenders) for the award here.
Knight completed 20-of-33 passes for 308 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 34-10 win over Tennessee. That gives him a pair of 300-yard passing games against SEC teams, though the gulf between Alabama and the Volunteers may be wide.
First off: Nothing Gurley did should be counted against him. He was magnificent as usual with 131 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Georgia’s decision to pass on first-and-goal from the 4 resulting in an intentional grounding denied Gurley a chance for a potential game-winning touchdown in a road game against South Carolina. Those plays are the bedrock of a Heisman campaign, but Georgia opted for another, less successful, direction.
Petty played his first game at full strength this season and looked like the Petty of 2013. He completed 23-of-34 passes for 416 yards with four touchdowns in a 63-21 win over Buffalo on Friday. Petty missed the last game and was in visible pain in the SMU opener due to cracked bones in his back.
Ho-hum, the Huskies linebacker is only Washington’s third-leading scorer with 18 points. The two-way star did it the old-fashioned way in a 44-19 rout of Illinois with an interception and a fumble returned for touchdowns. Reminder: a defensive player has as many touchdowns as Rice and South Alabama and more than Southern Miss and SMU.
Is the Pittsburgh tailback the 2014 version of Andre Williams? Perhaps so. He rushed for 177 yards on 31 carries in a 42-25 win over FIU. He added three touchdowns for a nation’s-best eight this season. Conner probably deserves another nod a week late after watching what Boston College’s run defense did to USC. Conner rushed for 213 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles.
Under the circumstances, UCLA has nothing but good news surrounding its star quarterback. The Bruins found a way to beat Texas under backup Jerry Neuheisel for more than three quarters, and Hundley is expected back for UCLA’s next game at Arizona State on Sept. 25 after he mends a hyperextended elbow. He was off to a perfect start (4-for-4) against the Longhorns before his injury.
Kelly completed 13-of-21 passes for 195 yards and rushed for 70 and a touchdown in the 38-24 win over Colorado, but his status is in question. Kelly left the game in the third quarter and returned to the sideline on crutches and with his right foot in a boot.
History and Geno Smith remind us not to get too excited about West Virginia quarterbacks in September, but Trickett is one of the most improved QBs in the nation. He completed 37-of-49 passes for 511 yards with four touchdowns in a 40-37 win over Maryland and is in the top five nationally in yards (1,224) and completion percentage (75.4).
As long as Texas Tech’s run defense is abysmal, the Red Raiders will need 400 yards out of Webb. The sophomore completed 27-of-45 passes for 252 and offered up his second two-interception game of the season.
To the extend a Minnesota running back was a viable Heisman contender, Cobb rushed for 41 yards on 15 carries in a 30-7 loss to TCU.
The ramifications of a South Carolina-Georgia game remain as unpredictable as ever. At least we know the SEC East matchup can still deliver the goods.
South Carolina defeated Georgia 38-35 to keep the Gamecocks in the SEC East race following the Week 1 blowout against Texas A&M.
What does the win mean? The winner of this game doesn’t necessarily win the East, more often than not in recent years, the opposite has been true. And in the new Playoff era, we don’t know yet if this is a game that pushes South Carolina in the conversation or pulls Georgia out of the running.
For sure, though, South Carolina couldn’t afford to fall to 0-2 in the league. The SEC East as a result, literally and figuratively, is separated by the slimmest of margins.
Read and React: South Carolina 38, Georgia 35
The SEC East is as wild as ever
One picture tells it all. As South Carolina ran a quarterback sneak at midfield. One chain link kept South Carolina’s possession and clinched the game. Preseason favorites Georgia and South Carolina now have one league loss apiece while defending division champion Missouri still looms.
UNREAL pic.twitter.com/rmdwaF5PMb— The SEC Logo (@SEC_Logo) September 14, 2014
If you gave up on South Carolina, you shouldn’t have
Texas A&M gouged South Carolina’s defense in the opener, and the Gamecocks needed a long drive in the fourth quarter to put East Carolina away last week. South Carolina looked more like the team we expected against Georgia. No, the defense wasn’t great as Georgia amassed 406 total yards and 6.8 yards per play. But the Gamecocks had an answer for everything Georgia brought on defense. Dylan Thompson flourished early in the passing game, completing 21-of-30 attempts for 271 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. As the rain started to fall, South Carolina rode its offensive line as Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis combined for 159 yards on 31 carries.
Georgia’s coaches staff are going to hear about this one
Georgia has the top running back in the country and perhaps the deepest group of backs, but Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo may have been too cute in using Todd Gurley as a decoy. Fullback runs paid of in a scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Other gambles didn’t. Most egregious was a first-and-goal after a turnover. The call for a pass play resulted in an intentional grounding penalty. A missed field goal meant Georgia went from four yards to a lead in the final five minutes to South Carolina preserving a three-point edge. It's worth worth noting all of Georgia's top three tailbacks averaged at least 6.6 yards per carry.
Kicking is not fun
Maybe kickers deserve more credit. After all, no reasonable person would sign up for this. Georgia’s Marshall Morgan made an SEC record 20 consecutive field goals, including his first two attempts. Morgan missed a 44-yarder in the second quarter and then a 28-yard attempt that would have tied the game on Georgia’s final possession. He may escape scorn because of questionable play calling, but this is an unenviable position nonetheless.
The top of the American Athletic Conference coaches brings two coaches who reached the pinnacle of the college game 26 years apart.
One is in the twilight of a 35-year career that has included titles in the NBA and college. The other is just getting started.
Oddly enough, Larry Brown and Kevin Ollie also coach at two programs that couldn’t differ more in status, though Brown is coaching the upstart while Ollie is at the established power.
Brown and Ollie aren't the name coaches to watch in the ever-changing AAC. Mick Cronin, Josh Pastern and Fran Dunphy have all led successful programs while Frank Haith and Kelvin Sampson are veteran newcomers to the league.
As usual, a handful of factors go into ranking the coaches — career accomplishments, career momentum, gameday acumen, player development, recruiting, conference records and postseason success.
Want to tell us how wrong we are? Tweet us at @AthlonSports or talk to us on Facebook.
1. Larry Brown, SMU
Record at SMU: 42-27 (.609)
NCAA Tournament: 19-6, three Final Fours, one championship
Number to note: The Mustangs missed the NCAA Tournament but went 2-0 against eventual national champion Connecticut.
Why he’s ranked here: After only two seasons, the 73-year-old Brown has done what no SMU coach has done since Doc Hayes — make the Mustangs relevant.
2. Kevin Ollie, UConn
Record at UConn: 52-18 (.743)
NCAA Tournament: 6-0, one Final Four, one championship
Number to note: Ollie won a national title only four years into coaching career — two seasons as an assistant and two seasons as a head coach.
Why he’s ranked here: The future is limitless for a 42-year-old who took over for a legendary coach (Jim Calhoun) and recovered from NCAA sanctions a year earlier to win a title.
3. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Record at Cincinnati: 162-107 (.602)
NCAA Tournament: 3-6
Number to note: Cincinnati has ranked in the top 25 in adjusted defense on KenPom in each of the last four seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: With 101 wins and four NCAA Tournament appearances in the last four seasons, Cronin brought Cincinnati back from hitting the reset button 10 years ago.
4. Kelvin Sampson, Houston
Record at Houston: First season
NCAA Tournament: 12-14, one Final Four
Number to note: Sampson’s teams have reached the NCAA Tournament in 14 of his last 15 seasons in college coaching at Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana.
Why he’s ranked here: He may be a risk to ignore NCAA rules, but he’s proven he can thrive in adverse situations at OU and Wazzu.
5. Fran Dunphy, Temple
Record at Temple: 167-97 (.633)
NCAA Tournament: 3-15
Number to note: Before the bottom fell out in Temple’s first season (9-22) in the AAC, the Owls averaged 24.3 overall wins and 12.3 wins in the Atlantic 10 the previous six seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: Only Temple predecessor John Chaney (516) has more wins in Philadelphia Big 5 history than Dunphy at Temple and Penn (477).
6. Josh Pastner, Memphis
Record at Memphis: 130-44 (.747)
NCAA Tournament: 2-4
Number to note: Pastner ended a 12-game losing streak against ranked teams last season by going 5-5 against top 25 teams after an Oklahoma State loss in November.
Why he’s ranked here: Pastner’s not John Calipari, but he’s come into his own as a head coach the last two seasons.
7. Frank Haith, Tulsa
Record at Tulsa: First season
NCAA Tournament: 1-3
Number to note: Since winning the Big 12 Tournament in 2012, Missouri under Haith lost to a No. 15 seed and a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament before missing the Big Dance altogether.
Why he’s ranked here: Haith escaped Missouri ahead of the hot seat talk to start fresh at Tulsa.
8. Ed Conroy, Tulane
Record at Tulane: 65-65 (.500)
NCAA Tournament: None
Number to note: Progress has been incremental at a tough job: Conroy went 3-13 in Conference USA his first two years, followed by 6-10 then 8-8.
Why he’s ranked here: Conroy also supervised major improvement at The Citadel, but his Tulane program has been dinged by transfers (Josh Davis to San Diego State, Ricky Tarrant to Alabama).
9. Orlando Antigua, USF
Record at USF: First season
NCAA Tournament: None
Number to note: A top recruiter for Kentucky the last six seasons where no class ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the 247Sports Composite.
Why he’s ranked here: Though he’ll be associated with Kentucky and Calipari, Antigua helped Jamie Dixon establish his program at Pittsburgh with a five-year stint with the Panthers.
10. Jeff Lebo, East Carolina
Record at East Carolina: 73-61 (.545)
NCAA Tournament: None
Number to note: Lebo brought East Carolina its first 20-win season in school history at 23-12 in 2012-13.
Why he’s ranked here: At four stops (Tennessee Tech, Chattanooga, Auburn and East Carolina), Lebo has coached 501 games without an NCAA Tournament appearance.
11. Donnie Jones, UCF
Record at UCF: 76-52 (.594)
NCAA Tournament: None
Number to note: NCAA sanctions hit Jones with a show cause and stalled momentum for the program. UCF won 20 games in three consecutive seasons before falling to 13-18.
Why he’s ranked here: The former Florida assistant has never finished higher than fourth in the conference in his seven years at UCF and Marshall.
If Virginia Tech gets back to the ACC Championship Game, the Hokies should thank Clemson.
More specifically, the Hokies will need to thank Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris for tipping them off to his high school quarterback.
Virginia Tech went into 2014 knowing it needed a quarterback to replace the departed Logan Thomas. The Hokies were going to enter the season with a veteran backup, a sophomore who hadn’t attempted a pass and three freshmen on an inexperienced offense.
A meeting between associate head coach Shane Beamer and Morris at the Senior Bowl provided the answer.
Morris noted that his former quarterback at Austin (Texas) Lake Travis, where Morris coached two state champions in two years, had just received his release from Texas Tech.
The quarterback had run nothing but no-huddle spread since high school and never lived outside of the state of Texas, but he was a quick study, Morris said. Beamer and quarterback coach Scot Loeffler called the QB, Michael Brewer, visited him Austin and brought him to Blacksburg, Va., for an official visit.
By March, Michael Brewer signed with Virginia Tech. By September, he gave the Hokies a signature win to establish the Hokies’ ACC title credentials.
Brewer completed 23-of-36 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in Columbus, giving Brewer the kind of moment he’d been seeking for three years.
“The whole time I’ve been in college football I’ve been waiting for that one chance,” Brewer said. “It was one of those deals where I’ve waited for so long for one chance, I wasn’t about to let anyone take it away from me.”
Brewer signed with Texas Tech and coach Tommy Tuberville in 2011, redshirting his first season and seeing minimal playing time his second year behind veteran Seth Doege. Tuberville then left for Cincinnati, but Brewer seemed appeared ready to take the starting job under new coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Brewer, though, suffered a fractured vertebra in his lower back that derailed his season. By the time he was healthy, Baker Mayfield and then Davis Webb eventually supplanted him as Texas Tech’s quarterback. Mayfield also transferred.
With a degree in hand, though, Brewer was eligible to play immediately upon his transfer, but Texas Tech blocked him from going to his first-choice destinations of Texas or TCU.
Virginia Tech, with help from Morris, eventually stepped up — and with little time to spare for the Hokies. Six weeks after Brewer announced his transfer to Virginia Tech, Clemson dismissed quarterback Chad Kelly, freeing up a roster spot that could have been claimed by Brewer.
“The numbers weren’t there for them at the time,” Brewer said. “We joke about that, that I could have ended up there, but he’s really happy that I’m here.”
Ending up at Virginia Tech and in an offense not steeped in the spread may be a positive for Brewer as well.
Instead, Brewer joins Loeffler, who had moved from a pro-style offense at Michigan to the spread at Florida and Auburn.
“I think this is good for Michael’s development, just like when I had the opportunity to go to Florida with coach (Urban) Meyer,” Loeffler said. “It was completely different from what I did at Michigan. It was the best experience I had in coaching. It was out of my comfort zone.”
That’s not to say it’s easy.
Brewer had only June and July to prepare in the offense before training camp, during that time NCAA restrictions limited him to an hour or two of film study with coaches during the week.
In other words, not a ton of time for a quarterback to unlearn a style of offense that Brewer has run since high school.
“We use a lot of pro terminology, pro protections and pro concepts,” Loeffler said. “We asked all the questions if he can handle it, and (Chad Morris) said he can learn.”
This has been a two-way street, though, as Virginia Tech has adopted elements of the spread to use in the shotgun so the offense isn’t completely foreign.
“They did a good job of bringing it along easy for me and doing things that I’m comfortable with in the shotgun and making things similar to what I was used to do,” Brewer said. “That’s a credit to them.”
At the same time, the offense isn’t a finished product. Brewer threw the two interceptions against Ohio State, not the best sign for a team whose last starting quarterback had 39 career picks. Brewer averaged a pedestrian 5.5 yards per play, and the offense averaged 4.2 yards per snap.
The numbers weren’t overwhelming, but he did enough for the upset in Columbus.
“His escapability was really good I thought,” Meyer said. “We had him bottled up a couple of times, and he got out of there and extended drives. He’s an accurate thrower, but the best thing he did was escape pressure.”
The bright side is that Virginia Tech’s offense is full of new faces — two freshman tailbacks, a freshman starting receiver and a highly touted tight end, Ryan Malleck, who didn’t play last season due to a shoulder injury.
The presence of a veteran quarterback with experience running no-huddle spread and an Air Raid combined with the possibilities of personnel groupings could lead to an interesting season for the Virginia Tech offense, as noted by SB Nation’s Ian Boyd in a breakdown of Loeffler’s no-huddle spread attack with pro personnel.
Virginia Tech had a feeling Brewer would be ready to tackle such a task in a short period of time. The question was if he could lead and take a hit.
The Hokies learned about both against Ohio State as Brewer was knocked around several times against the Buckeyes only to get back up.
“You learned everything you needed to learn in that Ohio State game,” Loeffler said. “Those quarterbacks take a beating in that game, and he took a beating. He came back and never flinched and never put his eyes on the rush. He learned a lot.
“Any time you’ve got a good person who’s smart and tough you’ve got a chance.”
After two weeks, the top of the Big Ten has lost to Oregon, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and LSU. At the same time, the bottom of the league has lost to Central Michigan and Northern Illinois.
Seven teams are 2-0, but only one was in the AP preseason top 25 (Nebraska). This is a league grasping for solutions before third week of the season. Simply put, many of the coaches are at a loss.
“Keep recruiting,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “There’s no easy answer.”
The Big Ten won’t be able to repair all the damage to its Playoff hopes in one week, but it can save face. Even without a game against an Oregon, Notre Dame or LSU this week, Big Ten teams have key non-conference games that may be must-win territory just to avoid complete embarrassment.
Conference newcomer Maryland draws a West Virginia team that put pressure on Alabama in the passing game. After narrow wins over Northern Iowa and Ball State, Iowa faces its in-state rival. And Minnesota takes its stout running game to Fort Worth to face a formidable TCU defense.
At the same time, one Big Ten program has reason for optimism after Penn State learned the NCAA and Big Ten lifted postseason restrictions just in time for its league opener against Rutgers.
Week 3 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
Week 3 Big Ten Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday. All times Eastern
1. West Virginia at Maryland
Noon, Big Ten Network
With a group of healthy playmakers, Maryland hoped its offense would be the most dynamic of the Randy Edsall era. That hasn’t happened quite yet. Edsall says quarterback C.J. Brown last is trying to be perfect and wide receiver Stefon Diggs is navigating “unfair expectations,” as Edsall says. Brown turned the ball over three times against USF last week, and Diggs is averaging just 8.6 yards per catch. Maryland probably can’t afford another six-turnover game as the Terrapins had against USF last week. West Virginia will test a veteran Maryland defense that has allowed 3.6 yards per play against overmatched competition.
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2. Penn State at Rutgers
8 p.m., Big Ten Network
Few games have become more intriguing thanks to the last two weeks — Penn State now has the possibility of a bowl game and conference championship game this season, and Rutgers proved it has a pulse with a win over Washington State in Seattle in Week 1. In a wild turn of events, Penn State may have the best Playoff profile of any team in the Big Ten with wins over UCF and Akron. The Nittany Lions, though, have yet to put together a complete game on offense, averaging 2.8 yards per carry this season. This could be an important series in the Big Ten as Penn State aims to recruit New Jersey with regularity, but the two programs haven’t faced each other since 1995. Penn State is 22-2 all time agains the Scarlet Knights.
3. Iowa State at Iowa
3:30 p.m., ESPN
After two weeks, Kirk Ferentz probably didn’t envision quarterback Jake Rudock leading his team in rushing (53 yards) and needing 93 pass attempts to beat Northern Iowa and Ball State. The Hawkeyes offense is a major concern against rival Iowa State, especially with uncertainty surrounding star offensive tackle Brandon Scherff. Asked directly if Scherff had knee surgery as reported by KCRG in Cedar Rapids, Ferentz did not offer a definitive answer. Scherff returned to play and spoke during postgame interviews. Defensive end Drew Ott, who had 13 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss against Ball State, was involved in a scooter accident but is expected to play against the 0-2 Cyclones.
4. Minnesota at TCU
4 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Who would have thought the odd Minnesota-TCU game would have storylines besides the namesake of two individual postseason awards (Bronko Nagurski of Minnesota vs. Davey O’Brien of TCU)? Minnesota coach Jerry Kill was TCU coach Gary Patterson’s best man, and Gophers defensive coaches routinely visit with the Horned Frogs during the offseason. “I didn’t want to play it.” Kill said. “No question about that and I think he had the same feeling. ... But I’m not the boss. I’m the football coach.” From an on-field standpoint, this will be an intriguing matchup of running back David Cobb (291 rushing yards in two games) against a traditionally stout TCU defense.
5. Nebraska at Fresno State
10:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Nebraska heads West after a close call with McNeese State in which the Cornhuskers needed a wild catch-and-run by Ameer Abdullah to seal the win. Where to start? Nebraska’s defense gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns on a pair of extended drives. The Cornhuskers need defensive end Randy Gregory to return from a knee injury to improve a pass rush that has recorded two sacks this season. Nebraska will try to get its other star player, Abdullah, more involved. Before his game-winning TD, Abdullah had accounted for 92 yards from scrimmage on 19 touches. Fresno State might not be a vintage Bulldogs squad — they’ve been outscored 111-40 in two games this season.
6. Indiana at Bowling Green
Is this a new era for the Indiana defense or the product of a weak opponent in Week 1? Probably the latter, but the Hoosiers have to be encouraged by holding Indiana State to 3.0 yards per play and recording four sacks. Indiana also attempted only 18 passes, the fewest of the Kevin Wilson era, while rushing for 455 yards. Meanwhile, preseason MAC favorite Bowling Green is playing without starting quarterback Matt Johnson, who is out for the season.
7. Illinois at Washington
4 p.m., Fox
For the third week in a row, a Big Ten team goes to the Pacific Northwest where Rutgers defeated Washington State and Michigan State lost to Oregon. The seasons for Illinois and Washington have played out in similar fashion, each with a close win over an FCS and a non-Power 5 opponent. That probably says more about Washington, a team picked third in the Pac-12 North, compared to Illinois, picked near the bottom of the Big 12. Illinois will hope for a shootout, putting in the game in the hands of Wes Lunt. The Oklahoma State transfer has passed for 741 yards and seven touchdowns while completing 67 percent of his passes. Washington’s may be happy to oblige after giving up 52 points in a win over Eastern Washington last week.
8. Kent State at Ohio State
Ohio State’s start against Kent State will be worth watching after the Buckeyes have come up empty on opening drives in the first two games of the season. Ohio State went four-and-out against Navy and three-and-out against Virginia Tech, contributing to a 28-13 combined deficit at halftime this season. “Maybe it’s the way we practice,” Meyer said. “I’m looking at everything. Maybe it’s the play calling. Maybe I’ve conservative with who we have in there right now, but we’re beyond that now.” Ohio State also expects Noah Spence back after he was suspended for three games dating back to the Orange Bowl due to a positive drug test.
9. Miami (Ohio) at Michigan
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Miami (Ohio) may be just the opponent Michigan needs to see for a confidence boost after a 31-0 loss to Notre Dame. The RedHawks have lost 18 in a row, the longest active losing streak in the country. Michigan’s roster is in flux. Raymon Taylor left the Notre Dame loss with injuries, so did star receiver Devin Funchess, who tried to re-enter the game for a series after a leg injury. Five-star freshman cornerback Jabrill Peppers was on the sideline in uniform but did not play. Michigan also is working tight end Jake Butt back into the lineup after a torn ACL ended his 2013 season. He should be a boost to an offense that didn’t reach the red zone against the Irish. Starting linebacker Desmond Morgan has also been sidelined.
10. Purdue at Notre Dame
7:30 p.m., NBC
Purdue coach Darell Hazell re-opened the quarterback competition after Danny Etling went 17-of-32 for 126 yards with two interceptions in a 38-17 loss to Central Michigan. Sophomore Austin Appleby could get an extended look, but it might not make a major difference against a Notre Dame team that has won eight of the last nine meetings.
Off: Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Week 3 Big Ten Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|West Va. at Maryland (-4)||WVU 35-24||Md 34-31||WVU 34-31|
|Indiana (-7) at Bowling Green||IU 35-17||IU 38-31||IU 48-24||IU 41-33|
|Kent State at Ohio State (-32)||OSU 28-10||OSU 38-17||OSU 45-7||OSU 30-10|
|Miami U at Michigan (-31)||Mich 35-7||Mich 41-10||Mich 41-13||Mich 34-10|
|Iowa State at Iowa (-10)||Iowa 21-17||Iowa 31-21||Iowa 27-17||Iowa 21-10|
|Minnesota at TCU (-15)||TCU 17-10||TCU 27-20||TCU 30-20||Minn 24-21|
Illinois at Washington (-12)
|Wash 42-28||Wash 44-24||Wash 45-31||Wash 33-27|
|Purdue at Notre Dame (-29)||ND 42-7||ND 44-13||ND 45-10||ND 34-13|
|Penn State at Rutgers (-4)||PSU 28-17||PSU 34-31||PSU 27-24||PSU 23-20|
|Nebraska at Fresno State (-11)||Neb 31-10||Neb 44-24||Neb 45-20||Neb 44-20|
Clint Trickett is a new quarterback, his West Virginia teammates say.
The redshirt senior doesn’t necessarily agree. Instead, he says they’re just seeing someone who is finally of sound mind and body.
Just as Trickett ascended to the starting quarterback job last season after his transfer from Florida State, he sustained a shoulder injury in his first start of the season.
That start, a 30-21 win over a ranked Oklahoma State team, was memorable, but the injury ensured West Virginia would never see a complete picture of Trickett. West Virginia won the game thanks to two late scoring drives by Trickett, but he also completed only 24-of-50 passes and threw two interceptions.
He left the game with a lead and a shoulder injury.
As the season went on, Trickett learned how to run West Virginia’s up-tempo Air Raid, but the lingering shoulder injury meant his arm couldn’t catch up to his knowledge of the offense.
“The only healthy guy these guys saw last year was a guy who had no clue what he was doing in the offense,” Trickett said. “Now they see a guy who is healthy and has a good understanding of what’s going on.”
If West Virginia is going to be more competitive in the Big 12 than it has been the last two seasons, the Mountaineers need Trickett’s shoulder and knowledge of the offense to close the gap.
West Virginia challenged Alabama in a 33-23 loss in the opener in Atlanta, and the Mountaineers will get another barometer of where they stand against Maryland in College Park on Saturday.
West Virginia moved the ball consistently against Alabama for three quarters as Trickett finished 29-of-45 for 356 yards with a touchdown. Was the game the product of lapses by the Alabama defense? The Crimson Tide had trouble communicating on defense with linebacker Trey DePriest out, and a spring injury to starter Eddie Jackson left Alabama exposed at cornerback.
Or is the West Virginia offense ready to bounce back after a forgettable 2013?
“We left some plays out there on the field,” Trickett said. “The outsider view of it was these guys showed they could compete, but we kind of knew that. We had a sense that we have something going right here. We were able to prove that we can compete with those guys. Now we have to be able to show we can beat those guys. That’s the next challenge.”
Beating a team like Alabama may be a long way off. Avenging a 31-0 loss to Maryland from last season, though, might be more attainable thanks to the improvement by Trickett.
“He continued to learn what we wanted to do,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He’s communicating well and understands what to do with the ball. He’s running the offense the way we want him to run the offense.”
Squeezed out of the Florida State quarterback position by eventual Heisman winner Jameis Winston and Jacob Coker, Trickett transferred to West Virginia, where his father was formerly the offensive line coach, before the 2013 season.
Trickett graduated from Florida State in three years and took a redshirt, making him eligible immediately at West Virginia for two seasons. Now a fifth-year senior, Trickett realizes that sitting out a year would have had its benefits.
“It’s tough pick up an offense just in the summer,” Trickett said. “It’s damn near impossible.”
A year ago, Trickett had trouble getting signals from the sideline, forcing coach Dana Holgorsen to call in plays verbally or calling timeouts on mixups. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson has praised Trickett’s mental makeup, but also referred to working with the new quarterback as “programming.”
Spread offenses have become very common at the high school and college levels, but Trickett spent the last three years in the pro-style attack under Jimbo Fisher in Tallahassee.
Trickett said he didn’t understand the “whys” of the offense early on. By the time he started to figure it out, his balky shoulder wasn’t his only issue. He was knocked out of the Texas game Nov. 9 after a possible head injury. He missed the Kansas game a week later before returning for the season-ending loss to Iowa State.
The spring was a chance to reset everything. He had surgery to repair his shoulder in January. The recovery kept him out of spring, allowing him to catch up mentally.
“The spring I was able to find out why (Holgorsen) wanted certain things, certain plays and certain looks, why he wanted to push tempo,” Trickett said. “It kind of got down to why, and that’s a very big part of it. You can understand what he wants, but then (understanding) the why is when you get the whole grasp of it.”
The offense, though, has been more than just Trickett through two games. Wide receiver Kevin White, who had a disappointing season after his transfer from junior college, is already more than halfway to his catch total from 2013.
A solidified offensive line may help Trickett achieve one of his other directives from Holgorsen: Stay healthy. Trickett has proven willing to take contact. Offensive line protection or not, the quarterback needs to keep himself from suffering another injury that may derail his and West Virginia’s season.
“He has to make sure he doesn’t put his body in harm’s way,” Holgorsen said. “He’s got to continue to get the ball out of his hands and to the skill guys around him. That’s part of what his job is.”
Perhaps by the end of the season, part of Trickett’s job will be to help West Virginia achieve its first winning record in Big 12 play. The Mountaineers are 6-12 in the league, first due to a struggling defense in 2012 and then to an offense that sputtered almost all season in 2013.
“It’s his first opportunity and his last opportunity in the same breath,” Holgorsen said. “He didn’t get in until game (five) last year and got hurt in the same game he started in. His sense of urgency has been big.”
Even in years before conference realignment, the charter members of the ACC more often than not could boast the best roster of coaches in the country.
Now that the league has ballooned to 15 basketball members, this is almost an unfair contest.
The ACC coaching roster includes four Hall of Fame coaches, two 900-win coaches, 31 Final Four appearances and nine national championships. When Buzz Williams, arguably the top coach in last year’s version of the Big East, comes in at No. 8 in this league, that should be a startling reminder of the coaching power in the ACC.
In that case, it’s fitting Athlon Sports will begin its series counting down the top basketball coaches of 2014-15 with the ACC.
As usual, a handful of factors go into ranking the coaches — career accomplishments, career momentum, gameday acumen, player development, recruiting, conference records and postseason success.
Want to tell us how wrong we are? Tweet us at @AthlonSports or talk to us on Facebook.
1. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
Record at Duke: 910-247 (.787)
NCAA Tournament: 82-26, 11 Final Fours, four championships
Number to note: The Blue Devils ended a streak of 121 consecutive weeks in the AP top 10 last season.
Why he’s ranked here: Forget about a loss to Mercer in the NCAA Tournament, Krzyzewski will reach 1,000 career wins this season.
2. Rick Pitino, Louisville
Record at Louisville: 341-117 (.745)
NCAA Tournament: 50-17, seven Final Fours, two championships
Number to note: The Cardinals are 22-2 in conference and NCAA Tournament games the last three years.
Why he’s ranked here: Pitino’s teams are consistently among the toughest defensive squads in the country.
3. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Record at Syracuse: 948-320 (.748)
NCAA Tournament: 53-30, four Final Fours, one championship
Number to note: Syracuse has declined in adjusted tempo in each of the last seven seasons. The Orange were the ninth-slowest team in the country in KenPom last season.
Why he’s ranked here: Syracuse has six 30-win seasons all time. Half have come in the last five seasons.
4. Tony Bennett, Virginia
Record at Virginia: 106-60 (.639)
NCAA Tournament: 5-4
Number to note: Bennett led Virginia to its first sweep of the ACC regular season and tournament titles in 2013-14.
Why he’s ranked here: In eight seasons as a head coach, Bennett ended a 19-year Sweet 16 drought at Virginia and gave Washington State its deepest Tourney run in 67 years.
5. Roy Williams, North Carolina
Record at North Carolina: 306-89 (.775)
NCAA Tournament: 63-22, seven Final Fours, two championships
Number to note: The Tar Heels are 25-11 in the ACC, 12-11 on the road and 1-3 against Duke in the last two seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: The career achievements may demand a higher ranking, but schools like Virginia and Miami have been closer to Carolina territory than Carolina during the last two seasons.
6. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
Record at Pittsburgh: 288-96 (.750)
NCAA Tournament: 12-10
Number to note: Pitt has never ranked lower than 45th in adjusted offensive efficeincy on KenPom in 11 seasons under Dixon. The Panthers have been ranked in the top 20 in that category six times in the last eight years.
Why he’s ranked here: The 2011-12 season marked the only time in Dixon’s career he failed to reach the NCAA Tournament or win 10 conference games.
7. Jim Larranaga, Miami
Record at Miami: 66-36 (.647)
NCAA Tournament: 7-6, one Final Four
Number to note: Masterful coaching job in 2013-14 preserved a streak of 16 consecutive winning seasons. At Bowling Green, George Mason and Miami, he’s had one losing season since 1993.
Why he’s ranked here: Larranaga had a nice career by the time he was 55. Then he took George Mason to the Final Four and swept the ACC regular season and tournament titles at Miami.
8. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Record at Virginia Tech: First season
NCAA Tournament: 8-5
Number to note: From 2011-13, Marquette reached the Sweet 16 twice and the Elite Eight once.
Why he’s ranked here: Williams proved he could go toe to toe with Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh. Can he compete against those three, plus Duke and North Carolina, at Virginia Tech?
9. Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Record at Notre Dame: 300-159 (.654)
NCAA Tournament: 6-11
Number to note: Notre Dame has one NCAA win since 2008.
Why he's ranked here: Notre Dame averaged 11.6 conference wins from 2006 through 2013 before falling to 6-12 in its first season in the ACC.
10. Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
Record at Florida State: 241-157 (.606)
NCAA Tournament: 6-7
Number to note: Florida State hasn’t had a losing ACC record since 2006-07, though the Seminoles went 9-9 the last two years.
Why he’s ranked here: The Seminoles have reached the NCAA Tournament four times and the NIT five times in the last nine seasons. Not a bad stretch for FSU.
11. Mark Gottfried, NC State
Record at NC State: 70-38 (.648)
NCAA Tournament: 8-10
Number to note: Gottfried’s first three seasons (70-38, 29-23 ACC) have been remarkably similar to Herb Sendek’s final three (64-34, 28-20 ACC).
Why he’s ranked here: Talented offensive teams have topped out at 11-7 in the league.
12. Brad Brownell, Clemson
Record at Clemson: 74-58 (.561)
NCAA Tournament: 1-4
Number to note: Brownell has had only one losing ACC season in four at Clemson.
Why he’s ranked here: The Tigers quietly improved from 5-13 to 10-8 in the league last season.
13. Danny Manning, Wake Forest
Record at Wake Forest: First season
NCAA Tournament: 0-1
Number to note: Manning ended an 11-year NCAA Tournament drought for a proud Tulsa program.
Why he’s ranked here: After two seasons as a head coach, the former Kansas star gets an ACC job with potential.
14. Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech
Record at Georgia Tech: 43-52 (.454)
NCAA Tournament: 1-2
Number to note: The Yellow Jackets are 16-36 in the ACC under Gregory.
Why he’s ranked here: Gregory’s teams have been capable on defensive end of the court, but struggled to score.
15. Jim Christian, Boston College
Record at Boston College: First season
NCAA Tournament: 0-2
Number to note: Christian went 186-81 at Kent State and Ohio, 56-73 at TCU.
Why he’s ranked here: Christian is a perfectly capable MAC coach. Boston College is not in the MAC.
The period from National Signing Day through the preseason may as well be the season of optimism in college football.
After two weeks of the season, no doubt Big Ten fans would like to revisit those happier times of late August.
The Big Ten’s hopes for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff are faint after a disastrous second week of the season. We’ve already detailed those reasons.
The question now is what’s next and what’s the payoff. Perhaps there’s a slim chance a Big Ten team finds its way back into contention, but either way, the old carrot of the Rose Bowl, this year a Playoff semifinal, is gone.
The Big Ten title is still out there, and few teams look ready to claim it. Here’s what we learned out of the Big Ten after a dismal Week 3:
Few Big Ten teams will be able to challenge Michigan State like Oregon did
It’s been said several times since Michigan State lost 46-27 to Oregon: The Spartans still feel like the Big Ten favorite. Part of that is the lackluster showing by most of the powers in the league. But there are also few reasons to think the Big Ten will be able to threaten the Michigan State defense the way Oregon did, especially as the Spartans have a bye week, Eastern Michigan and Wyoming to adjust. The Spartans had their breakdowns in the secondary, and Shilique Calhoun was quiet Saturday. Nebraska and Indiana may be the only major tests of the Michigan State defense between now and November, especially if Michigan and Ohio State remain as dysfunctional as they were this week.
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
The problem at Ohio State isn’t the redshirt freshman backup QB
J.T. Barrett’s final line is dismal. He finished 9-of-29 for 219 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in the loss to Virginia Tech. He accounted for 289 yards of Ohio State’s 327 yards and 53 of the Buckeyes’ 69 plays. That’s way too much for a player in his situation. The receivers were dismal against Virginia Tech’s secondary, allowing the Hokies to crowd the box. That contributed to seven sacks and 53 yards on 15 carries for Ohio State tailbacks.
Michigan’s offense is moving backward
The Wolverines had their most futile offensive day of the Brady Hoke era, which is saying something considering last year’s issues. Michigan never advanced further than Notre Dame’s 29-yard line and never got into field goal range after the second possession of the game. The line still looks like the weak link, but Devin Gardner hasn’t helped the cause with three picks.
Where’s the offense in this league?
Sensing a theme here? Ohio State and Michigan aren’t aberrations. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (2.2 yards per carry against Western Illinois) continues to struggle with a hip injury. Iowa’s run game is mystifyingly stagnant. Northwestern has scored one first-half touchdown in two games. Maryland’s passing game is limping along against James Madison and USF despite two stud receivers. Turnovers and a limited run game hindered Penn State against Akron. Give credit to teams like Minnesota and Illinois, who at least have an established identity on offense thanks to running back David Cobb and quarterback Wes Lunt, respectively.
It’s too early for panic at Nebraska
Nebraska escaped with a win thanks to Ameer Abdullah’s 58-yard catch. Other Big Ten teams would only like to be so lucky. Receivers Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner both left the game with injuries and defensive end Randy Gregory sat out the entire game. Now, even a shorthanded Nebraska shouldn’t need late-game heroics to beat McNeese State, but a road trip to Fresno State should give the Huskers a good chance to rebound.
Big Ten Week 3 Power Rankings
|Rank||Team||Pvs||Record||Last Week||This Week|
|1||1||1-1||L, Oregon 46-27||Off|
|2||4||2-0||W, Akron 21-3||at Rutgers|
|3||3||2-0||W, McNeese State 31-24||at Fresno State|
|4||6||2-0||W, Ball State 17-13||Iowa State|
|5||7||1-1||W, Western Ill. 37-3||Off|
|6||2||1-1||L, Virginia Tech 35-21||Kent State|
|7||5||1-1||L, Notre Dame 31-0||Miami (Ohio)|
|8||8||2-0||W, Middle Tenn. 35-24||at TCU|
|9||10||2-0||W, Howard 38-25||Penn State|
|10||9||2-0||W, USF 24-17||West Virginia|
|11||11||1-0||Off||at Bowling Green|
|12||13||2-0||W, Western Ky. 42-34||at Washington|
|13||12||0-2||L, Northern Ill. 23-15||Off|
|14||14||0-2||L, Central Mich. 38-17||at Notre Dame|
The third week of the season will either be a good chance to finish some chores or a chance to see some major upsets.
After the excitement of Week 1 and the overload of primetime games in Week 2, the third week of the season brings lighter fare.
For most teams, conference seasons have yet to start, and for others the major non-conference tests are in the rearview mirror, for better or worse.
Thankfully, Georgia and South Carolina lead the way in a classic SEC showdown, provided the Gamecocks look nothing like the team that opened against Texas A&M.
The Week Ahead: Sept. 13
All times Eastern. All games Saturday.
Georgia at South Carolina
When and where: 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... this game always seems like it determines the SEC East, even though it really doesn’t. Seriously, the last time the winner of Georgia-South Carolina played in the SEC championship game was 2010. Twice in the last three years the loser won the East. South Carolina bounced back from its embarrassing loss to Texas A&M to beat East Carolina, but the Gamecocks are settling for field goals. Georgia had a week to rest Todd Gurley. Be afraid.
Vegas says: Georgia by 2 1/2
UCF at Missouri
When and where: Noon, SEC Network
We’re watching because... a Fiesta Bowl winner against the defending SEC East champ should be compelling, right? Missouri again two things well, no matter the changing personnel — pass the ball and rush the passer. UCF is starting Justin Holman, who quarterbacked the Knights to a 21-16 edge in the second half against Penn State in the opener.
Vegas says: Missouri by 9
Tennessee at Oklahoma
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... we want to see just how improved Tennessee actually is. The Volunteers have taken care of Utah State and Arkansas State. Faring well in Norman is a different story. Oklahoma hasn’t been tested much, either, but Trevor Knight has been solid in routs of Louisiana Tech and Tulsa.
Vegas says: Oklahoma by 21
UCLA vs. Texas (Arlington)
When and where: 8 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... we have no idea what to make of this game. In an ideal world, this would be a matchup between ascendant powers in the Pac-12 and Big 12. Instead, both are searching for answers. UCLA’s defense went dormant in a close call against Memphis only a week after the D had to bail out Brett Hundley and Co. at Virginia. Charlie Strong is trying to clean house in Year 1 at Texas, but results like a 41-7 loss to BYU will rankle fans.
Vegas says: UCLA by 6
West Virginia at Maryland
When and where: Noon, Big Ten Network
We’re watching because... one of these teams is on the way up, but we’re not sure which one. Clint Trickett is looking the part of a Big 12 gunslinger, completing 64-of-85 passes for 713 yards with three touchdowns in two games this season. Maryland could have one of the better passing attacks in the Big Ten with its two star receivers, but quarterback C.J. Brown has yet to deliver a complete game, even against the likes of James Madison and USF.
Vegas says: Maryland by 4 1/2
College football has become so infatuated with new that sometimes it takes an effort to put in perspective the greatness of a familiar name.
Marcus Mariota has been in the college game longer than Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, so it’s too easy to gloss over another 300-yard passing game in a three-score win for the Ducks.
Mariota, though, did more than just add another notch to ridiculous numbers for Oregon. He did it against one of the top defensive programs and coaches in the country during the last four years.
In completing 17-of-28 passes for 318 yards with three touchdowns, Mariota led a comeback against a stout Michigan State defense and earned Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.
“I should have to pay to watch that guy play,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told reporters. “It’s just unbelievable to watch him train, to watch him prepare, and then to see him come to fruition in this game.”
Not only did Mariota lead the Ducks to 28 unanswered second-half points in 46-27 win, he led arguably the best passing performance against a Pat Narduzzi-coached defense since 2010.
He’s only the second quarterback to top 300 yards against Michigan State during the last five seasons. At the same time, the third-highest efficiency rating against the Ducks the last five seasons.
Opposing passers vs. Michigan State since 2010
|Most Passing Yards|
|369||Dayne Crist, Notre Dame||Sept. 18, 2010 (OT)|
|318||Marcus Mariota, Oregon||Sept. 6, 2014|
|295||MarQueis Gray, Minnesota||Nov. 5, 2011|
|292||Chase Coffman, Indiana||Oct. 13, 2012|
|288||Aaron Murray, Georgia||Jan. 2, 2012 (3OT)|
|Best efficiency rating|
|230.38||Ricky Stanzi, Iowa||Oct. 30, 2010|
|195.94||McElroy/McCarron, Alabama||Jan. 1, 2011|
|191.47||Marcus Mariota, Oregon||Sept. 6, 2014|
|185.18||Russell Wilson, Wisconsin||Dec. 3, 2011|
|168.28||Russell Wilson, Wisconsin||Oct, 22, 2011|
National Defensive Player of the Week: Brian Walker, North Carolina
Cornerback Brian Walker helped North Carolina avoid a home upset with a pair of interceptions in a 31-27 win over San Diego State. Walker started the game with a 100-yard pick six of Quinn Kaehler in the first quarter. He added an interception in the final 5:44 to set up Carolina field goal — a three points that came in handy as San Diego State drove to the Tar Heels’ 3 before a turnover on the Aztecs’ final play.
National Freshmen of the Week: Royce Freeman/Devon Allen, Oregon
Oregon needed playmakers beyond Mariota to beat Michigan State, especially with a quiet day from running back Byron Marshall. Royce Freeman rushed for 89 yards and the final two touchdowns on 13 carries while receiver Devon Hall caught three passes for 110 yards and two scores.
National Coordinator of the Week: Bud Foster, Virginia Tech
The Hokies turned in a vintage performance against the passing game in a 35-21 win over Ohio State in Columbus. Boosted by a dominant fourth quarter, Foster’s defense made J.T. Barrett’s second career start a nightmare. The Hokies had seven sacks, two interception and held Ohio State to 9-of-29 passing.
Conference Players of the Week
ACC: Pittsburgh running back James Conner rushed for 213 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in a 30-20 win over Boston College.
Big 12: Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters completed 16-of-29 passes for 239 yards and rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in a 32-28 win over Iowa State.
Big Ten: Minnesota running back David Cobb rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries in a 35-24 win over Middle Tennessee.
SEC: Missouri wide receiver Bud Sasser caught five passes for 121 yards with two touchdowns and forced a fumble on an interception return in a 49-24 win over Toledo.
American: Memphis linebacker Tank Jakes had 12 tackles, four tackles for a loss and two sacks in a 42-35 loss to UCLA.
Conference USA: Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries in a 48-20 win over UL Lafayette.
MAC: Central Michigan running back Thomas Rawls rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries in a 38-17 win over Purdue. He also caught three passes for 50 yards.
Mountain West: Boise State running back Jay Ajayi rushed for 219 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in a 37-24 win over Colorado State.
Sun Belt: South Alabama running back Jay Jones rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries in a 23-13 win over Kent State.
Independents: Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson completed 23-of-34 passes for 226 yards with three touchdowns in a 31-0 win over Michigan.
The Heisman race is the only sports award that determines its field of contenders before the season actually starts. As such, we’ll keep track of all the contenders (and pretenders) for the award here.
In Week 2, the potential frontrunner Marcus Mariota had perhaps the most impressive game against the Michigan State defense in four seasons, but he wasn’t the only one to make noise on the big state.
Here’s how the field performed in the second week of the year:
Mariota had the best passing day against a Michigan State defense since 2010. His 318 yards was the most since Penn State’s Matt McGloin’s 312 and his efficiency rating (191.5) and yards per attempt (11.4) were the best against Sparty since Alabama in the Capital One Bowl that year.
Hill picked up a nice highlight with this hurdling of a Texas defender. More important, the Cougars quarterback has become much more sound a passer, completing 73 percent of his passes this season. He’s also rushed for 196 yards and five touchdowns in a pair of road games.
Welcome back, Everett. The Notre Dame quarterback continued to show command of the Irish offense by completing 23-of-34 passes for 226 yards with three touchdowns in a rout of Michigan. He’s completing 66.1 percent of his passes this season compared to 58.8 in 2012.
|Bryce Petty||Rest assured, Petty would have done awful, horrible things to Northwestern State if he were healthy. Instead, he sat out to rest his back. That may turn out to be a boost for his season, but for now it’s a very minor setback. Seth Russell completed 16-of-25 passes for 438 yards with five touchdowns in Petty’s absence.|
|Jake Waters||Waters turned in a Collin Klein-like effort against Iowa State, especially running the ball on third downs. He was 16-of-29 for 238 yards passing while rushing for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in a second-half comeback against Iowa State.|
|Shaq Thompson||Playing on a defense that allowed 52 points and 573 yards to Eastern Washington should sting, but Chris Petersen lived up to his promise to play Thompson on offense. He rushed for a 57-yard touchdown for one of his three carries. He also finished with 14 tackles and a sack.|
|Christian Hackenberg||Shouldering the load for Penn State is tough. A week after setting a school record with 454 passing yards against UCF, Hackenberg threw two interceptions against Akron. He finished with 319 yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn’t pretty.|
In two weeks, the Big Ten is doing its part to make sure the College Football Playoff selection committee doesn’t have to address one of its fundamental issues.
As of Sept. 6, the dilemma of picking potential representatives of five power conferences for four playoff spots seems to be a moot point. After only two weeks, Big Ten teams will have trouble making a compelling argument for Playoff inclusion.
Among the only teams still undefeated in the Big Ten are the two new arrivals (Maryland and Rutgers), a team serving a postseason ban (Penn State) and Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana. In other words, none of the programs the Big Ten expected to carry the banner for the league in the first year of the Playoff.
In some ways, a team that lost by 19 still looks like the top team in the league.
That’s how bad the Big Ten’s most critical weekend in years transpired.
In a week when Big Ten teams lost to Northern Illinois and Central Michigan, went toe-to-toe with Ball State and McNeese State, and lost in a historic rout to Notre Dame, Michigan State’s back-and-forth against Oregon at Autzen is respectable by comparison.
The narrative of a potential Big Ten bounce-back year, starting with Wisconsin’s 24-7 lead over LSU in the third quarter a week ago, has dissipated into another season of limited relevance for the league on a national scale.
Here’s a step-by-step look at how the Big Ten has bigger problems than missing out on the Playoff:
Wisconsin’s moment evaporates
LSU came back from a 17-point deficit in the top game of Week 1 to defeat Wisconsin 28-24. Wisconsin’s Heisman contender Melvin Gordon was limited by a hip injury, and quarterback Tanner McEvoy proves incapable of moving the ball in the passing game. A week later, Wisconsin led Western Illinois 9-3 in the first half before rallying for 28 unanswered points in the second.
Pelini’s blood pressure is not improving
With defensive end Randy Gregory sidelined for the entire game and receiver Kenny Bell out for the second half, Nebraska needed running back Ameer Abdullah to save the day with a late touchdown catch in a 31-24 win. Even considering Nebraska’s 55-7 win over FAU in the opener, this isn’t the look of a potential top-10 team.
Not the easiest 2-0, but it will do
Limited by scholarship sanctions and banned from the postseason, Penn State pulled away away from Akron to win 21-3 after a 14-point second half, a week after a game-winning field goal as time expired against UCF in Dublin. Three turnovers and a lackluster running game don’t inspire confidence for Penn State.
Hey, at least Illinois saved face
Two weeks and two big fourth quarters saved Illinois from a winless start. Illinois trailed Youngstown State 9-7 going into the fourth and trailed Western Kentucky 27-21 before pulling away for a pair of wins. Quarterback transfer Wes Lunt is helping Illinois save face.
Iowa’s gonna Iowa
After missing three field goals and turning the ball over twice, Iowa overcame a 10-point deficit against Ball State in the fourth quarter to win 17-13. A week earlier, Iowa needed the fourth quarter to pull away from Northern Iowa for a 31-23 win.
The MAC strikes back
A week after losing to Cal, a team that went 1-11 in 2013, Northwestern lost 23-15 to Northern Illinois. Northwestern lost 2.5 yards per carry in two games. The Wildcats, whose top running back transferred and top receiver was injured shortly before the season, have lost nine of their last 10 games. At Northwestern was competitive against a MAC foe. After dodging a home loss to Western Michigan, Purdue lost 38-17 to Central Michigan.
The Big Ten’s moment slips away
For a time, a Big Ten looked to be on the verge of a headlining win for the conference as the Spartans take a 27-18 win at Autzen Stadium against Oregon. The Ducks adjusted on defense while Marcus Mariota led four scoring drives against a stout Michigan State defense. The Spartans lost 46-27. No Big Ten team will have a better opportunity to impress the selection committee this season.
Michigan embarrasses itself
It’s one thing to lose a rivalry game on the road to a ranked team. What happened to Michigan was humiliating — a 31-0 loss to Notre Dame in a game that featured four turnovers and two missed field goals. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, hired to fix Michigan’s run game and consistency issues, has now presided over the Wolverines’ first shutout since 1984.
The Big Ten's last hope loses the fourth quarter
The final team in action Saturday, Ohio State clung to a chance to salvage the day for the Big Ten with a 21-21 fourth quarter with Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ pressure, though, was relentless with seven sacks and three interceptions of redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. The offensive line was leaky, and Ohio State tailbacks contributed 53 rushing yards on 15 carries. The question, then, is if even Braxton Miller could have saved this team.
After Saturday night, Notre Dame and Michigan both should have good reason to want to continue a rivalry that ended with a 31-0 Irish win.
Notre Dame certainly would want to continue to embarrass Michigan in perpetuity. Michigan would likely want to play this one again.
Instead, the Wolverines will have to deal with the trash talking until a bowl game or resumption of the series brings the two programs together. In the long history of the series between college football’s two winningest program, no game between the two has featured a Wolverines shutout.
The win is one that gives us a new perspective on a shorthanded Notre Dame and its quarterback while giving Michigan coach Brady Hoke a new host of problems just two weeks into the season.
Read and React: Notre Dame 31, Michigan 0
This Notre Dame Team Can’t Be Ignored
After an academic fraud issue cost Notre Dame its best corner, defensive lineman and receiver, Notre Dame seemed destined for a mediocre season. That’s not going to happen, it seems. The Irish have defeated their first two opponents by a combined score of 79-17 and should be 4-0 when they face Stanford on Oct. 4. And if Stanford continues to play the way it did against USC, Notre Dame may be favored by the time the Cardinal plays in South Bend.
Everett Golson has Blossomed
Golson’s return from a year-long absence has been nothing short of triumphant. He was 23-of-34 for 226 yards with three touchdowns against Michigan. Compare his performance Saturday to the last time we saw Golson in 2012. Could Golson as a redshirt freshman have won a game without his top receiver and a run game that managed just 1.7 yards per carry? Not likely. Golson as a junior led that team to a 31-0 rout.
The Michigan Offense Hasn’t Changed
Sure, the scheme is different and the coordinator is new, but the results are painfully similar. The run game was ineffective at 35 carries for 100 yards (2.9 yards per carry). And Devin Gardner was as mistake-prone as he was a year ago with three interceptions. Take away receiver Devin Funchess, and Michigan had only 82 yards through the air.
Brady Hoke is in for a Long Season
Hoke seemed to have the same uncomfortable expression for most of the second half, which isn’t surprising since the game was out of reach in the second quarter. For a coach who has put a premium on rivalry games, this one will haunt the rest of the year. He’s replaced his offensive coordinator and brought in two top 10 signing classes in the last three seasons. Michigan is running short on answers If the honeymoon wasn’t over before, it is now.
Oregon has done many things since it became the leading program in the country for the hurry-up spread offense.
Saturday, though, may be one of its finest moments.
The Ducks scored 46 points against a Michigan State/Pat Narduzzi defense. Consider this: Ohio State and Stanford didn’t put up 46 points combined against the Spartans at the end of last season. No team since Alabama in a 2010 bowl game scored this much against the Spartans.
Yet, offense is so commonplace for Oregon, sometimes it seems the big takeaway for the Ducks was the defense. Either way, even though the weekend wasn’t the prettiest for the Pac-12, Oregon is right where it needs to be.
Read and React: Oregon 46, Michigan State 27
Mark Helfrich Gets Much-Needed Validation
Perhaps it never was fair to doubt Oregon simply because second-year coach Mark Helfrich is not Chip Kelly — especially after Oregon won 11 games last season. Helfrich and his staff, including first-year defensive coordinator Don Pellum, can’t be doubted anymore. Oregon took Michigan State’s best shot, falling behind by nine in the third quarter before outscoring the Spartans 28-0 in the final 19:33. In many ways, this looked like a Chip Kelly effort — close for a stretch before Oregon turned on the jets in the second half for a lopsided win. And that's the best compliment we can offer Helfrich.
Oregon Rallied on Defense
Speaking of major coaching developments, Oregon won on the strength of its defense in the second half after key adjustments from the first year coordinator Pellum. Oregon ramped up the pressure on Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook in the second half. The Spartans moved the ball 10 total yards on 12 plays on three possessions after taking a 28-17 lead — and that was before a fourth-down stop and this interception from All-America cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Marcus Mariota Made His Statement
Mariota almost made it look routine even if there was nothing routine about his second half against Michigan State. He went 7-of-12 for 128 yards with a pair of touchdowns and was finally able to break loose in the run game with 27 rushing yards. As Oregon plays without a full roster on offense — no Bralon Addison, no Tyler Johnstone, and only five carries for nine yards from Byron Marshall — Mariota moved the offense almost single handedly. And he did it against one of the most formidible defenses in the country.
Michigan State May Still be the Class of the Big Ten
That’s the kind of day it was for the Big Ten. A team that lost by 19 may still be the favorite in the league. Based on what we’ve seen so far, how many other Big Ten teams lead Oregon by 9 in the second half in Autzen? Certainly not Michigan, Ohio State or Wisconsin. Michigan State held Oregon’s run game in check for most of the first three quarters. Michigan State held Oregon to 3.4 yards per carry. Since 2011, only Stanford and LSU have done better. And while Michigan State’s offense couldn’t move late in the game, Connor Cook still finished 29-of-47 for 343 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
USC’s upset of Stanford may have not been convincing enough to reset all of our expectations of the Pac-12, but it was a statement.
USC proved a week ago it can win with a dominating performance. Saturday proved the Trojans can win ugly.
Meanwhile, Stanford played an out-of-character game as the Cardinal missed scoring chance after scoring chance in a mistake-filled game from beginning to end.
Here’s what we learned from Sark’s signature win:
Read and React: USC 13, Stanford 10
USC Found a Way
Stanford spent much of the game self-destructing, but USC didn’t play a clean game, either. A week after running 105 plays against Fresno State, the Trojans were on the field for a mere 59 against Stanford. Stanford was able to keep the USC passing game in check as Cody Kessler went 15-of-23 for 135 yards with a touchdown. This wasn’t exactly a dominant effort by any means — particularly as the USC defense allowed Stanford to penetrate on every possession — but it’s tough to argue against a road win over the defending Pac-12 champion.
Still, Steve Sarkisian Gets an Early Signature Win
USC has established itself as a realistic Pac-12 South contender, and its credentials could improve even more over the next month. The Trojans visit Boston College next week and face Oregon State at home on Sept. 27. After that, USC gets the Arizona schools back to back with the Wildcats on the road. Navigate that stretch and stay healthy, and USC could play for the South against UCLA to finish this season. Considering the way the season started with the Josh Shaw fiasco, the ugly departure of Anthony Brown and a roster whittled to 57 scholarship players in Palo Alto, and Sarkisian has to be thankful to be 2-0.
Stanford Can’t Win the Pac-12 North with this Offense
Look at that drive chart for Stanford, nine trips inside the USC 40-yard line and 10 points. That’s 1.1 points per trip inside the 40, a metric considered to be more telling that red zone offense. Stanford averaged 4.1 points per trip inside the 40 last season. The Stanford offense moved the ball at will at times, but collapsed on USC’s side of the field. A team spending that much time in its opponents’ territory should have won easily, but Stanford walked away with three fumbles (two lost), two missed field goals and a loss. There were penalties, including two pre-snap penalties out of a time out, but Stanford playcalling with two punts inside the 35 didn't inspire confidence, either.
|QTR||Best Field Position||Drive Ended||Result|
|1||Second down, USC 21||USC 32||Missed FG (49 yards)|
|2||First down, USC 17||USC 29||Punt|
|2||Third down, USC 2||--||Touchdown|
|2||Third down, USC 7||USC 16||Made FG (33 yards)|
|3||Fourth down, USC 9||USC 9||Missed FG (26 yards)|
|3||Fourth down, USC 3||USC 3||Failed fourth down|
|3||First down, USC 32||USC 28||Fumble lost|
|4||Third down, USC 23||USC 32||Punt|
|4||Second down, USC 22||USC 25||Fumble lost|
Andre Heidari is USC’s MVP against Stanford ... Again
USC’s kicker is a senior. That’s the good news for Stanford. The bad news for the Caridnal is that he’ll leave with two long game-winning kicks against Stanford. Heidari kicked a 47-yarder in the final 19 seconds to beat Stanford last year and topped that with a 5e-yarder Saturday. He’s the BMOC in LA.