Articles By Mitch Light
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
We are only four games into his first season as the offensive coordinator at Florida, but the sample size is big enough to declare the hiring of Charlie Weis a success at Florida.
Weis, the former head coach at Notre Dame and most recently the offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, has breathed new life into a Florida offense that stagnated for much of Urban Meyer’s final season in Gainesville. Fresh off of a 48–10 win at Kentucky, the Gators rank 22nd in the nation in total offense (461.8 ypg), up from 82nd last season (350.9 ypg).
The 2011 Gators are getting it done with the big play. Last season, Florida had 180 plays from scrimmage that went for 10-plus yards (ranking 50th in the nation) and 49 plays that went for 20-plus yards (tied for 78th in the nation). This year, under Weis’ guidance, those numbers are way up — 75 plays of 10-plus yards in only four games (tied for fifth nationally) and 23 plays of 20-plus yards (12th in the nation).
Weis is putting the ball in the hands of his playmakers, which is why most of the Gators’ big plays are coming in the running game. Chris Rainey already has 17 runs of at least 10 yards — five more than he had all last season. And fellow running back Jeff Demps currently leads the nation with eight rushes of 20 yards or more.
Florida head coach Will Muschamp, a defensive coach, praised the way his offensive coordinator is using Rainey and Demps after the duo each topped 100 yards vs. Kentucky.
“The thing that concerns you (as a defensive coach) is that Charlie does a great job of creating space plays for them that creates a lot of one on ones,” says Muschamp. “One missed tackle against those two guys, and they can take it the distance. They are great guys, have great speed, great in the open field, catch the ball well, run the ball hard, they are competitive and tough. They have all the intangibles that good football players have.”
Now comes the hard part.
Rainey, Demps and the rest of the Florida offense are about to embark on as difficult of a two-week stretch as possible, with dates against No. 2 Alabama and No. 1 LSU looming in the next two weeks. A year ago, the Gators were swept by the two SEC West powers thanks largely to an offense that managed only 281 yards against Alabama and 243 against LSU.
Weis will have a chance to earn his reported $765,000 salary in the coming weeks.
Also Read: Our SEC Power Rankings for Week 4.
AROUND THE SEC
• Vanderbilt’s Trey Wilson leads the nation with 109 yards in interception returns, while fellow starting cornerback Casey Hayard is tied for third with 96 yards in returns. The Commodores as a team have intercepted 14 passes, five more than the No. 2 team in the nation, Ohio. One more stat: Vanderbilt has intercepted 11.5 percent of its opponents’ passes.
• Alabama has given up 15 points or less in 23 of its 31 games since the start of the 2009 season.
• Alabama is giving up 1.8 yards per rushing attempt to lead the league. Kentucky is last at 5.1 per attempt.
• Ole Miss quarterbacks Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt combined to complete 12-of-30 attempts in the Rebels’ loss to Georgia. In two SEC games, Mackey and Stoudt are 27-of-60 with seven interceptions.
• Georgia freshman Isaiah Crowell is living up to the hype. The Columbus, Ga., native is tied for fourth in the SEC in rushing with 411 yards, an average of 102.8 per game.
• SEC teams have combined to convert 33 of their 64 fourth down attempts. South Carolina and Kentucky lead the league with 10 fourth down tries each; the Gamecocks are 6-of-10, while the Cats are only 2-of-10.
but also allowed seven drives of at least 30 yards. In their first three games, the Tigers gave up a total of eight drives of at least 30 yards.
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Here's a look at every game of the Week 4 college football schedule.
No. 47 UCF at No. 65 BYU
The Cougars must regroup after last week’s shockingly one-sided — as in 54–10 — loss at home to hated rival Utah. BYU must find a way to run the ball if it hopes to have any success this season.
UCF 28, BYU 21
No. 13 Arkansas at No. 1 Alabama
We’ll find out if a great defense (Alabama) can stop a great offense (Arkansas) Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa. My guess: Go with defense.
Alabama 31, Arkansas 24
No. 32 Missouri at No. 2 Oklahoma
There could be some concern for a letdown by Oklahoma after last week’s huge win at Florida State, but the Sooners will be ready to play after losing at Missouri last October.
Oklahoma 31, Missouri 17
No. 3 LSU at No. 14 West Virginia
ESPN’s College GameDay will make its first-ever trip to West Virginia for what figures to be a wild night in Morgantown. This won’t be easy, but LSU should prevail as long as it doesn’t turn the ball over too many times.
LSU 24, West Virginia 17
No 58 Tulsa at No. 4 Boise State
After Saturday, Tulsa will have played three of the best offensive teams in the country — Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulsa. Brutal.
Boise State 44, Tulsa 20
No. 5 Oregon at No. 54 Arizona
This is Week 3 of a four-game gauntlet for Arizona that features road trips to Oklahoma State and USC sandwiched around home games against Stanford and Oregon. The Cats lost the first two by an average score of 37–12.
Oregon 37, Arizona 14
No. 6 Nebraska at No. 98 Wyoming
Wyoming is 3–0, but only one of its wins (at Bowling Green) has come against an FBS opponent. This should be nothing more than a tune-up for Nebraska before the Huskers’ big showdown at Wisconsin on Oct. 1.
Nebraska 41, Wyoming 3
No. 8 Oklahoma State at No. 7 Texas A&M
The winner of Saturday’s showdown between the Cowboys and Aggies will emerge as a serious threat to challenge Oklahoma for supremacy in the Big 12.
Texas A&M 44, Oklahoma State 37
No. 9 Florida State at No. 25 Clemson
It’s looking doubtful that EJ Manuel will be able to play after injuring his shoulder last week against Oklahoma. Still, I believe the Noles are good enough on defense to win in Death Valley without their starting quarterback.
Florida State 28, Clemson 21
No. 10 Virginia Tech at No. 89 Marshall
There is no shame in losing to Ohio. There is, however, shame in Marshall losing 44–7, especially after beating Southern Miss the week before.
Virginia Tech 38, Marshall 7
South Dakota at No. 12 Wisconsin
Wisconsin is probably ranked too low in our poll. The Badgers will have a chance to prove their worth next week when Nebraska comes to town.
Wisconsin 51, South Dakota 10
No. 15 Florida at No. 70 Kentucky
Kentucky is averaging only 274 yards of offense, and it’s not as though the Wildcats have faced a difficult schedule. Western Kentucky, their Week 1 opponent, lost at home last weekend to Indiana State, 44–16. Central Michigan, UK’s Week 2 foe, lost at Western Michigan, 44–14, last weekend. And Louisville, which beat Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday night, has a loss at home to FIU on its resume.
Florida 31, Kentucky 14
No. 51 Vanderbilt at No. 16 South Carolina
The key against South Carolina is trying to find a way to keep Marcus Lattimore in check. He has been a beast in 2011, with an average of 29 carries and 178 yards in the Gamecocks’ three wins. Vanderbilt’s run defense has been stout, but the Dores have yet to see a back like Lattimore.
South Carolina 28, Vanderbilt 13
No. 18 USC at No. 31 Arizona State
USC, the only team in the nation with three wins vs. BCS conference opponents, hits the road for the first time this season in a game that figures to go a long way in determining the winner of the first-ever Pac-12 South Division title. USC’s probation will prevent it from playing in the league title game, but you know Lane Kiffin’s club would still love to claim a division crown.
Arizona State 27, USC 24
No. 85 Rice at No. 19 Baylor
Rice will face its third BCS conference opponent in as many weeks, after splitting games with Texas (loss) and Purdue (win). Baylor has too many weapons. The Bears should win big.
Baylor 44, Rice 17
Portland State at No. 20 TCU
The Horned Frogs rank 103rd in the nation in total defense after three games. That is stunning.
TCU 38, Portland State 3
No. 104 UTEP at No. 21 South Florida
UTEP quarterback Jay Hall, filling in for the injured Nick Lamaison, has completed ony 17-of-48 passes for 254 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Not the type of efficiency Mike Price is looking for at the quarterback position.
South Florida 34, UTEP 10
No. 33 North Carolina at No. 22 Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets are 3–0 and putting up insane numbers on offense. They lead the nation in rushing offense, total offense and scoring offense, thanks in large part to their 66-point, 768-yard effort against Kansas last weekend.
Georgia Tech 31, North Carolina 24
No. 97 Western Michigan at No. 23 Illinois
Earlier this week I posed the following question: Can Illinois, with a relatively soft remaining schedule, run the table?
Illinois 33, Western Michigan 14
No. 60 San Diego State at No. 24 Michigan
Brady Hoke takes on his former team, and he left behind a very good quarterback in Ryan Lindley and a great tailback in Ronnie Hillman.
Michigan 35, San Diego State 24
No. 71 Kansas State at No. 26 Miami (Fla.)
Miami was one of the most impressive teams in the nation last weekend with its thorough beatdown of Ohio State. The Canes are playing with some swagger. That’s bad news for K-State.
Miami (Fla.) 27, Kansas State 14
No. 27 Notre Dame at No. 52 Pittsburgh
The Irish are 0–2 in games in which they have totaled over 500 yards of offense and 1–0 in games in which they have less than 300 yards. The key: Limiting turnovers. In the losses to South Florida and Michigan, the Irish had a combined 10 turnovers, several in the red zone and several at inopportune times.
Notre Dame 31, Pittsburgh 20
No. 120 Florida Atlantic at No. 28 Auburn
Florida Atlantic has scored a total of three points in two games and is averaging less than 100 yards of offense. Let’s see if Auburn, which is giving up well over 500 yards per game, can slow down the Owls.
Auburn 51, Florida Atlantic 7
No. 102 Louisiana Tech at No. 29 Mississippi State
Louisiana Tech led Houston 34–14 early in the fourth quarter last week before getting outscored 21–0 in the final 13 minutes. It will be interesting to see what kind of emotional state this team is in when it heads to Starkville.
Mississippi State 38, Louisiana Tech 13
No. 63 Temple at No. 30 Maryland
Temple had a 10–7 lead over Penn State deep into the fourth quarter last week. This is a good team with a great running back in Bernard Pierce. I smell an upset.
Temple 24, Maryland 21
No. 109 Central Michigan at No. 34 Michigan State
These aren’t great times for Central Michigan. The Chips have lost 10 of their last 11 games vs. FBS opponents and last week lost to rival Western Michigan, 44–14, for the first time since 2005.
Michigan State 38, Central Michigan 13
No. 75 Colorado at No. 35 Ohio State
Colorado receiver Paul Richardson followed up his 11-catch, 284-yard breakout performance vs. Cal by catching four passes for 27 yards against Colorado State. The Buffs will need a big day from Richardson to keep things interesting in Columbus.
Ohio State 24, Colorado 10
No. 114 Eastern Michigan at No. 36 Penn State
Penn State has scored a total of 25 points in its two games against FBS opponents. The Nittany Lions will need to show drastic improvement on offense to be a factor in the Big Ten.
Penn State 31, Eastern Michigan 0
No. 37 Georgia at No. 88 Ole Miss
Ole Miss has one touchdown — which came in garbage time of a 30–7 loss to Vanderbilt — in two games against FBS opponents. Georgia shouldn’t have too much trouble in Oxford.
Georgia 30, Ole Miss 13
No. 81 Nevada at No. 38 Texas Tech
The Wolf Pack are finding life without Colin Kaepernick to be quite difficult. They lost their opener at Oregon, 69–20, before struggling to beat San Jose State, 17–14, last week.
Texas Tech 49, Nevada 14
No. 40 California at No. 44 Washington
California will look to attack a Washington defense that has really struggled in ’11. The Huskies rank 108th in total defense and 107th in scoring defense after giving up 27 points to Eastern Washington, 32 to Hawaii and 51 to Nebraska. The UW pass defense has been especially bad, allowing well over 300 yards per game.
California 31, Washington 27
No. 110 Louisiana-Monroe at No. 42 Iowa
ULM has actually played relatively well so far in 2011. The Warhawks “held” Florida State to 372 yards and 34 points in Week 1 and actually led TCU 17–14 after the first quarter last week (before losing 38–17).
Iowa 37, Louisiana-Monroe 10
No. 107 Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 46 FIU
The Golden Panthers are emerging as one of the top stories of the 2011 season. Mario Cristobal’s club is 3–0 with a pair of impressive wins — at Louisville and vs. UCF. FIU simply needs to take care of business in its first Sun Belt game of the year.
FIU 34, Louisiana-Lafayette 14
Georgia State at No. 48 Houston
Houston is riding high after last week’s thrilling comeback win over Louisiana Tech. Case Keenum leads the nation in total offense (382.7 ypg) and will have an opportunity to pad those numbers against Bill Curry’s Georgia State Panthers.
Houston 51, Georgia State 0
Tennessee State at No. 53 Air Force
Here’s the good news for Tennessee State: The Tigers held Murray State to 77 yards rushing last week. The bad news: Murray State thew for 630 yards en route to a 58–27 win.
Air Force 51, Tennessee State 14
No. 57 SMU at No. 119 Memphis
Memphis remains in a heated battle with FAU for team No. 120 in our weekly college football rankings. A bad performance this week against SMU — which is almost a given — could vault the Tigers over the Owls to 120.
SMU 51, Memphis 7
No. 78 Southern Miss at No. 59 Virginia
This is a big swing game for both teams. Virginia has been solid so far in Mike London’s second season, with wins over William & Mary and at Indiana and a loss at North Carolina. This is the type of game the Cavs needs to win to show they are making progress as a program.
Virginia 27, Southern Miss 21
No. 62 Toledo at No. 61 Syracuse
Syracuse is 2–1, but the Orange haven’t played all that well this season. Toledo is 1–2, but the two losses have come against Ohio State (27–22) and vs. Boise State (40–15). The Rockets have a ton of talent on offense.
Toledo 31, Syracuse 28
No. 64 Ohio at No. 67 Rutgers
Ohio has been very solid so far in 2011, with convincing wins over New Mexico State, Gardner-Webb and Marshall. We’re still not sure about Rutgers; the Knights took care of business vs. NC Central and then played relatively well in a loss at North Carolina.
Ohio 21, Rutgers 20
No. 69 UCLA at No. 100 Oregon State
This is an absolute must-win for two programs who have struggled in non-conference play. Oregon State freshman tailback Marcus Agnew, who rushed for 223 yards in the opener but didn’t play in Week 2, is likely out again with a hamstring injury. Still, I like the Beavers to break through for their first win.
Oregon State 28, UCLA 21
Cal Poly at No. 72 Northern Illinois
After averaging 45.5 points in their first two games — a win over Army and a loss at Kansas — the Huskies were held to seven points and 237 yards of offense in a humbling 49–7 setback to Wisconsin. It’s time to get back in the win column.
Northern Illinois 41, Cal Poly 10
No. 99 Colorado State at No. 73 Utah State
Utah State has put up some gaudy numbers in its two games (split with Auburn and Weber State). The Aggies, led by true freshman quarterback Chuckie Keeton and junior tailback Robert Turbin, rank fifth in the nation in total offense. Colorado State looks to be improved in 2011, but Utah State is the better team.
Utah State 30, Colorado State 17
UC Davis at No. 74 Hawaii
Hawaii’s 40–20 loss at UNLV last week was one of the most surprising results in the first three weeks of the season. The Warriors should bounce back in fine fashion against UC Davis, but you have to wonder about this team going forward.
Hawaii 41, UC Davis 10
No. 103 UAB at No. 76 East Carolina
Neil Callaway entered the season on the hot seat. It’s now scorching, after the Blazers lost their home opener to Tulane, 49–10.
East Carolina 47, UAB 14
Central Arkansas at No. 79 Arkansas State
Arkansas State has been pretty good this season despite its 1–2 record. The Red Wolves blew out Memphis, 47–3, and played competitive games against Illinois (33–15) and Virginia Tech (26–7).
Arkansas State 48, Central Arkansas 10
No. 80 Army at No. 90 Ball State
Army is fresh off a huge 21–14 win over Northwestern. Ball State is 2–1 after beating Buffalo, 28–25, in Muncie. This is an important game for two teams who will scratch and claw to reach bowl eligibility.
Ball State 28, Army 24
No. 82 Connecticut at No. 108 Buffalo
Connecticut has lost its last two games — at Vanderbilt and vs. Iowa State — by a total of seven points. The Huskies have been solid on defense, but the offense, most notably the quarterback position, has been brutal.
Connecticut 24, Buffalo 10
No. 91 Tulane at No. 83 Duke
Duke atoned for its loss at home in Week 1 to Richmond by winning at Boston College last weekend. Sean Renfree was outstanding throwing the ball, but the Blue Devils continue to struggle in the running game. Tulane is feeling good about itself after winning convincingly, 49–10, at UAB last week. This is a game Duke simply has to win.
Duke 30, Tulane 24
Massachusetts at No. 84 Boston College
Boston College is 0–3 for the first time since 1991, Tom Coughlin’s first season as the boss in Chestnut Hill. Losing to UMass isn’t an option at this point.
Boston College 31, Massachusetts 14
No. 87 Fresno State at No. 111 Idaho
Fresno State played relatively well in losses to California and Nebraska but struggled in a win over North Dakota. Idaho beat the same North Dakota team soundly two weeks ago, but comparative scores are also dangerous. Fresno State is the better team.
Fresno State 31, Idaho 21
No. 92 Middle Tennessee at No. 93 Troy
Rick Stockstill has done a solid job at Middle Tennessee but has yet to beat Troy in five tries.
Troy 31, Middle Tennessee 24
North Dakota State at No. 94 Minnesota
The Golden Gophers picked up the first victory of the Jerry Kill era, but this is no time to let up. North Dakota State beat Minnesota in 2007 and lost 10–9 in ‘06 when a field goal attempt was blocked in the closing seconds.
Minnesota 28, North Dakota State 17
No. 101 Bowling Green at No. 95 Miami (Ohio)
It’s a key MAC East showdown between two teams planning on staying in the race all season long. Miami has been impressive in its two losses at BCS conference opponents, losing at Missouri, 17–6, and Minnesota, 29–23.
Miami (Ohio) 31, Bowling Green 20
No. 96 Indiana at No. 116 North Texas
Indiana is playing its second game away from home vs. a non-BCS conference foe. The Hoosiers lost their opener to Ball State in Indianapolis, but should have a more favorable result in Denton this weekend. The Mean Green have played a tough schedule, losing to FIU, Houston and Alabama, but they are in major rebuilding mode.
Indiana 31, North Texas 14
Southern Utah at No. 105 UNLV
Credit Bobby Hauck and his staff for keeping this team together. After two alarmingly lopsided losses at Wisconsin and Washington State by a combined score of 110–24, the Runnin’ Rebs shocked Hawaii last week with a thorough 40–20 win in Vegas. They should improve to 2–2 this week, but things are rarely easy for UNLV football.
UNLV 41, Southern Utah 27
No. 106 New Mexico State at No. 112 San Jose State
San Jose State is 0–3, but the Spartans are clearly an improved team. They lost two weeks ago by 10 points at UCLA and lost last week by three to Nevada. This week, Mike MacIntyre should record his first win over a FBS opponent as the head coach at SJSU.
San Jose State 27, New Mexico State 17
South Alabama at No. 113 Kent State
It’s been a rough first three weeks for Darrell Hazell, who is 0–3 as a head coach with the three losses coming by a combined score of 105–19. South Alabama gave NC State some problems last week in a 35–13 loss.
South Alabama 21, Kent State 20
VMI at No. 117 Akron
Akron has scored a total of 17 points in three games, but the Zips should make their way into the win column this week against a VMI club that is 0–3 in the FBS ranks.
Akron 21, VMI 7
Sam Houston State at No. 118 New Mexico
This will not be easy for New Mexico. Sam Houston Sate is 2–0 with convincing wins over Western Illinois and Central Arkansas.
New Mexico 27, Sam Houston State 21
Last week: 56-13
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Here are previews and predictions for the 10 best college football games this weekend.
Oklahoma State (+4) at Texas A&M
The winner of Saturday’s showdown between the Cowboys and Aggies will emerge as serious threat to challenge Oklahoma for supremacy in the Big 12. Oklahoma State, which edged A&M last season, 38–35, in Stillwater, has been nearly unstoppable on offense. The Pokes rank first in the nation in passing offense, second in total offense and third in scoring offense. Texas A&M’s numbers aren’t quite as gaudy through two games, but this team is also loaded on the offensive side of the ball, with a veteran quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) and a deep set of skill position players. The key to game will be on defense: The team that comes up with a key stop in the fourth quarter will have a great chance to win. This could be one of the most entertaining games of the 2011 season.
Texas A&M 44, Oklahoma State 37
LSU (-5.5) at West Virginia
ESPN’s College GameDay will make its first-ever trip to West Virginia for what figures to be a wild night in Morgantown. Both teams are 3–0 and both are coming off impressive wins; WVU held on to beat Maryland, 37–31, on the road, while LSU was dominant on the defensive end in its 19–6 win over Mississippi State in Starkville. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is putting up outstanding numbers operating Dana Holgorsen’s Texas Tech-inspired attack, but he will be facing by far his stiffest test. LSU boasts a ferocious defensive line and arguably the best set of cornerbacks in the nation in Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne. This won’t be easy, but LSU should prevail as long as it doesn’t turn the ball over too many times.
LSU 24, West Virginia 17
Arkansas (+11.5) at Alabama
We’ll find out if a great defense (Alabama) can stop a great offense (Arkansas) Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa. Last year, the Razorbacks threw for 357 yards vs. Bama in Fayetteville but lost the game, 24–20, due to two fourth quarter Ryan Mallet interceptions. Taking care of the ball will be of paramount importance for Bobby Petrino’s club. Alabama, as expected, is putting up great numbers on defense and has allowed only two touchdowns in three games. Offensively, Bama is leaning on its one-two punch at tailback of Trent Richardson (105.0 ypg) and Eddie Lacy (101.3 ypg). To beat Arkansas, however, the Tide will have to make some plays in the passing game. AJ McCarron was solid in his only true test this season, completing 19-of-31 for 163 yards without an interception at Penn State in Week 2. If he can duplicate that performance, Alabama should win the game.
Alabama 31, Arkansas 24
Florida State (+2) at Clemson
It’s always dangerous to jump on the Clemson bandwagon, but the Tigers looked very good against Auburn Saturday afternoon (though who hasn’t looked good against Auburn?). The offense is loaded with speed, and sophomore Tajh Boyd looks to be an ideal triggerman for Chad Morris’ attack. Florida State must regroup after the 23–13 loss to Oklahoma. The Seminoles still have a lot to play for — they remain the team to beat in the ACC — but their national title hopes took a huge hit. Quarterback EJ Manuel is questionable this weekend after being forced out of the OU game with a shoulder injury. If he is able to play, the Seminoles should get back on the winning track.
Florida State 28, Clemson 21
USC (+2.5) at Arizona State
USC, the only team in the nation with three wins vs. BCS conference opponents, hits the road for the first time this season in a game that figures to go a long way in determining the winner of the first-ever Pac-12 South Division title. USC’s probation will prevent it from playing in the league title game, but you know Lane Kiffin’s club would still love to claim a division crown. Arizona State let a great opportunity slip away Saturday night at Illinois, losing a tough 17–14 game to the Illini despite giving up only 240 yards of offense. The Sun Devils, who beat Missouri in overtime the previous week, must now turn their attention to league play; this date with USC begins a string of nine straight Pac-12 games. The key for ASU will be to slow down the Trojans’ outstanding pass-catch duo of Matt Barkley and Robert Woods, the nation’s leader with 11 receptions per game.
Arizona State 27, USC 24
North Carolina (+6) at Georgia Tech
It’s only been three games, but Georgia Tech has been one of the more impressive teams in the nation in 2011. The Yellow Jackets are 3–0 and are putting up insane numbers on offense. They lead the nation in rushing offense, total offense and scoring offense, thanks in large part to their 66-point, 768-yard effort against Kansas last weekend. Georgia Tech’s option attack worked to near perfection, producing 604 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 50 carries. North Carolina, too, is 3–0, with wins at home over James Madison, Rutgers and Virginia. Bryn Renner, the Tar Heels’ first-year starter at quarterback, is completing an amazing 81.4 percent of his passes, but his TD-to-INT ratio of 5-to-4 must improve. UNC’s rushing defense, as usual, is stout, but Tech’s option will be very tough to slow down.
Georgia Tech 31, North Carolina 24
Notre Dame (-6.5) at Pittsburgh
The Irish are 0–2 in games in which they have totaled over 500 yards of offense and 1–0 in games in which they have less than 300 yards. The key: Limiting turnovers. In the losses to South Florida and Michigan, the Irish had a combined 10 turnovers, several in the red zone and several at inopportune times. They still turned it over three times in the win against Michigan State, but two of three were around midfield and the third was in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand. Pittsburgh is in a fragile state emotionally after collapsing last week at Iowa. The Panthers led 27–10 in the fourth quarter but Iowa scored three times in the final 10 minutes to claim a 31–27 win.
Notre Dame 31, Pittsburgh 20
Vanderbilt (+16) at South Carolina
Vanderbilt’s 3–0 start has been fueled by its defense. Neither UConn nor Ole Miss — Vanderbilt’s last two victims — are very skilled on offense, but the Dores were downright dominant in both games. Those two teams averaged only 213.5 yards of offense and combined to score one offensive touchdown against Vanderbilt. The Commodores lead the nation with 10 interceptions and have scored on a pick-six in each of their first three games. The key against South Carolina is trying to find a way to keep Marcus Lattimore in check. He has been a beast in 2011, with an average of 29 carries and 178 yards in the Gamecocks’ three wins. Vanderbilt’s run defense has been stout, but the Dores have yet to see a back like Lattimore.
South Carolina 28, Vanderbilt 13
California (+1.5) at Washington
The Golden Bears are quietly off to a nice start in 2011, with wins over Fresno State, Colorado (on the road) and Presbyterian. Cal is getting solid play from quarterback Zach Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, and the Bears feature one of the best unknown big-play threats in the nation in sophomore receiver Keenan Allen. Jeff Tedford’s club will look to attack a Washington defense that has really struggled in ’11. The Huskies rank 108th in total defense and 107th in scoring defense after giving up 27 points to Eastern Washington, 32 to Hawaii and 51 to Nebraska. The UW pass defense has been especially bad, allowing well over 300 yards per game. Look for Maynard and Allen to shine.
California 31, Washington 27
NC State (+7.5) at Cincinnati (Thu)
These two teams are both 2–1, with three of the four victims coming from the FCS ranks and the fourth, Akron, among the worst teams in the FBS. Both teams failed their only test, with Cincinnati losing at Tennessee, 45–23, and NC State losing at Wake Forest, 34–27. There is still a lot of football to be played, but with NC State struggling and Russell Wilson thriving at Wisconsin, Tom O’Brien’s decision to let Wilson walk isn’t going to sit well with most of the Wolfpack faithful.
Cincinnati 30, NC State 20
Last week — 5–5 (5–5 vs. spread)
Season — 18–12 (14–15–1 vs. spread)
By Mitch Light
Take a look at Illinois’ remaining schedule in 2011 and tell me if I’m crazy for believing this football team can win 11 games. The Illini, already 3–0, still have five more home games, and three of their four road games are against the three weakest teams in the Big Ten — Indiana, Purdue and Minnesota. The other road game is at Penn State, a team that escaped Philadelphia with a 14–10 win over Temple last weekend. The home games are against Western Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. My guess is that Illinois will be favored in all but one remaining game, vs. Wisconsin.
So there you have it: The Illini, who don’t play Nebraska or Michigan State, could be playing for the inaugural Big Ten Leaders Division title when the Badgers visit Champaign on Nov. 19.
It’s always a bit dangerous to put too much faith in a Ron Zook-coached team, but this is a solid club that has a lot of key pieces in the right places. It all starts with Nathan Scheelhaase, the dual-threat quarterback who is off to a very strong start to his sophomore season. And as always, the Illini have a strong running game. The main man this year is senior Jason Ford, who is running behind a veteran offensive line. Defensively, the Illini lost some serious star power in tackle Corey Liuget and linebacker Martez Wilson, but this is still a very strong group that held Arizona State to 14 points in last week’s thrilling three-point win in Champaign.
So what happens if my not-so-outlandish scenario comes to fruition and Illinois takes advantage of a relatively soft Big Ten schedule? Could this be a top-10 team? Let’s take it one step further. What happens if Illinois wins all the games it’s capable of winning — including beating Ohio State at home and winning at Penn State — and then somehow knocks off Wisconsin at home in late November? Could the Zooker actually be 13–0 and headed to the BCS National Championship Game in a season in which he was mentioned on the Hot Seat in our preseason annual?
It’s possible. Dare to dream Illini.
AROUND THE BIG TEN
• Nebraska has nine plays from scrimmage of at least 40 yards, the most in the Big Ten. The Huskers also lead the league in plays of 20-plus yards (18) and 30-plus yards (12).
• The three leading rushers in the Big Ten are quarterbacks — Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez (128.0 ypg), Michigan’s Denard Robinson (117.3 ypg) and Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray (109.3 ypg).
• Wisconsin has only forced one turnover in three games. Three other teams have only forced one and two teams (Kansas and UAB) have yet to force a turnover.
• Northwestern only ran 57 plays from scrimmage in a 21–14 loss at Army after averaging 80.5 plays in wins over Boston College and Eastern Illinois.
• Michigan ranks seventh in the league in total offense (403.7 ypg) but leads the Big Ten in yards per play (7.7).
• Michigan State has now lost two straight games to Notre Dame in South Bend after winning six straight at Notre Dame Stadium.
By Mitch Light
There are two things you need to know about Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz.
The first: He might have the most normal name in his family. Jantz’ father is named Foxx, who has a twin brother named Wolf and another brother named Stig. Steele has brothers named Truk and Brogan.
The second, and far more important to Cyclone fans: He is a winner.
Jantz, a transfer from junior college who won the job in preseason camp, has led Iowa State to a 3–0 start by making the right plays at the right time. The Cyclones have won their three games — over Northern Iowa, Iowa and UConn — by a total of eight points and have trailed in those three games a combined 10 times.
Jantz recovered from a slow start against UConn — he was intercepted three times in the first quarter — to rally Iowa State from a 10–0 deficit in the first half and a 20–17 deficit in the fourth quarter. The week before, ISU trailed Iowa on five different occasions, including twice in overtime, before winning 41–38 on the final possession of the third extra session.
Jantz, a native of Agoura Hills, Calif., has made plays with his legs as well as his arm. In the first two games, he combined to rush for 122 yards and two touchdowns. He was bottled up against UConn (negative-10 yards rushing on three attempt due in part to a leg injury suffered just before the half), but his ability to tuck the ball and run will cause problems for opposing defenses all season.
Iowa State is 3–0 for the first time since 2005 and one of only five 3–0 teams in 2011 that already has two wins over BCS conference opponents.
“The confidence continues to build as we find a way to win football games,” says Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads. “I have a confident group of young men to begin with. They have to focus on improving and moving forward.”
Moving forward, Iowa State’s schedule will become far more difficult. After a week off, the Cyclones begin a five-game gauntlet that features home games with Texas and Texas A&M and road dates against Baylor, Missouri and Texas Tech. In addition, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma await in the month of November.
AROUND THE BIG 12
• Kansas has allowed 45 points or more in six of its last nine games vs. BCS conference opponents. The 2011 Jayhawks rank 119th in the nation in rushing defense and total defense.
• Of the five quarterbacks who have not yet thrown an interception on the list of top 25 leaders in passing efficiency, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Texas Tech’s Seth Doege have the most touchdowns — eight each.
• Western Illinois had 44 total yards against Missouri last week and only one of the Leathernecks possessions lasted for more than three plays.
• Last Saturday against UCLA, Texas true freshman Malcolm Brown had what figures to be the first of many 100-yard games in a Longhorn uniform. Brown carried the ball a season-high 22 times for 1110 yards and scored the first touchdown of his career in Texas’ 49–20 win over the Bruins.
• Oklahoma State leads the Big 12 with 24 plays from scrimmage that have gone for at least 20 yards.
• Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones attempted only 27 passes in the Sooners’ win at Florida State. It was the fewest he has thrown since becoming the starter at OU early in the 2009 season.
• Texas A&M will not play a game outside College Station in the month of September for the first time since 1984.
By Mitch Light
Vanderbilt’s hot start has made national news. The Commodores, fresh off a dominating 30–7 win over Ole Miss, are 3–0 under first-year head coach James Franklin.
But despite the epic struggles this program has endured over the past five decades, this is not uncharted territory for Vanderbilt football. In fact, this is the third time in the past seven years the Commodores have opened a season with a 3–0 mark — something that only 31 of the other 119 FBS programs can claim.
The key for the 2011 Commodores is to avoid the late-season collapse that derailed the two previous Vanderbilt teams that opened with (at least) a 3–0 record. In 2005, Jay Cutler and the Dores won their first four games, including three over BCS conference opponents, before a home loss to Middle Tennessee (0–5 at the time) started a six-game losing streak. That Vanderbilt team did end the season with a win at Tennessee — the school’s first over the Vols since 1982 — but the final record was 5–6.
Then, in 2008, the Dores raced out to a 5–0 start, highlighted by a 14–13 win over Auburn on a day when ESPN’s College GameDay broadcasted live from campus. That Vanderbilt team proceeded to lose six of its last seven regular-season games but did manage to qualify for a bowl game — the first since ’82 — with a 6–6 record.
Vanderbilt’s combined record after its two recent fast starts (4–0 in ’05 and 5–0 in ’08) is a combined 3–12.
So what’s in store for Franklin and the ’11 Commodores? Can this team, predicted unanimously to finish in last place in the SEC East, maintain this pace and remain relevant throughout the season? Or are the Dores simply of a product of a soft early schedule that has featured home games against Elon, UConn and Ole Miss?
We obviously won’t know the answer to these questions for a few months, but the best guess is that Vanderbilt has what it takes to win at least six games. The schedule gets much more difficult in the short term — road dates at South Carolina and Alabama are on the horizon — but the Dores still have games remaining vs. Army, Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest.
The key for Vanderbilt will be to maintain its high level of play on the defensive side of the ball. Neither UConn nor Ole Miss are very skilled on offense, but the Dores were downright dominant in both games. Those two teams averaged only 213.5 yards of offense and combined to score one offensive touchdown against Vanderbilt. The Commodores lead the nation with 10 interceptions and have scored on a pick-six in each of their first three games.
The offense has struggled to move the ball with consistency but has been able to come through with some big plays at key times. Vanderbilt ranks 10th in the SEC in total offense but is tied for the league lead with nine plays of 30-plus yards. Against Ole Miss, Zac Stacy scored on a 77-yard touchdown run and also scampered 34 yards on a nifty Statue of Liberty play that set up another score.
“We’re going to have to be creative and aggressive and put our kids in situations to be successful,” Franklin said after the game. “Everyone has to buy into it. To get to where we need to be, we’re going to have to take some risks and take some chances.”
So far, those risks have paid off.
AROUND THE SEC
• Of Tennessee’s 69 offensive snaps vs. Florida, only 14 were running plays involving the Vols’ tailbacks. Tauren Poole and Marlin Lane combined for only 27 yards on those 14 attempts.
• Kentucky is averaging only 274 yards of offense, and it’s not as though the Wildcats have faced a difficult schedule. Western Kentucky, their Week 1 opponent, lost at home last weekend to Indiana State, 44–16. Central Michigan, UK’s Week 2 foe, lost at Western Michigan, 44–14, last weekend. And Louisville, which beat Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday night, has a loss at home to FIU on its resume.
• LSU has not lost a game by more than 10 points since November 2008, when the Tigers were pounded at home by Ole Miss, 31–13. Since that game, LSU has lost seven games by an average of 5.6 points.
• South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore leads the nation in both rushing (178.0 ypg) and rushing attempts (87). Robbie Rouse of Fresno State is second in attempts with 80. In the SEC, Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf is second with 56. Lattimore has 16 carries of 10 yards or more and five of 20 yards or more.
• Florida has only punted six times in three games.
• Alabama is the only team in the nation with two players averaging at least 100 yards rushing — Trent Richardson (105.0 ypg) and Eddie Lacy (101.3 ypg).
• The Auburn defense has been on the field for 273 plays, the most in the nation. Tulsa, at 265, is next on the list nationally. Mississippi State, at 211, is next in the SEC.
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Here's a look at every game of the Week 3 college football schedule.
No. 115 North Texas at No. 1 Alabama
Dan McCarney will do a very good job as the coach at North Texas, but his tenure in Denton is off to a rough start, with lopsided losses to FIU and Houston. An 0–3 record is an almost certainty.
Alabama 44, North Texas 6
No. 2 Oklahoma at No. 4 Florida State
There’s a school of thought — which we at Athlon Sports subscribe to — that the winner of this early season non-conference clash will end up playing Alabama in the national championship game.
Florida State 31, Oklahoma 27
No. 5 Boise State at No. 62 Toledo (Fri)
Boise State will need to play well to beat Toledo on the road. The Rockets are very good at the skill positions, and they gave Ohio State a legitimate scare in Columbus last weekend. I was tempted to pull the trigger on the upset.
Boise State 34, Toledo 24
Missouri State at No. 6 Oregon
Missouri State gained a total of 163 yards in a 51–7 loss at Arkansas in Week 1. Oregon is fresh off of a 69–20 win over Nevada. On paper, this is the biggest mismatch of the week.
Oregon 55, Missouri State 0
No. 89 Arkansas State at No. 7 Virginia Tech
Arkansas State made Illinois sweat (33–15) in Week 1 and blew out Memphis (47–3) last Saturday. This is a solid team, but Virginia Tech should be able to dominate at the line of scrimmage.
Virginia Tech 31, Arkansas State 20
No. 43 Washington at No. 8 Nebraska
This is the third meeting between these two clubs in the past 13 months. Nebraska won in Seattle last September but lost to the Huskies 19–7 in the Holiday Bowl. The rubber match will go to the Huskers.
Nebraska 31, Washington 20
No. 110 Idaho at No. 9 Texas A&M
The Aggies were quite impressive in an easier-than-expected 46–14 win over SMU in Week 1. This one is expected to be easy — and it will be.
Texas A&M 44, Idaho 10
No. 10 Oklahoma State at No. 58 Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane gave up 663 yards to Oklahoma in a 47–14 loss two weeks ago. The Cowboys’ offense is just as potent.
Oklahoma State 41, Tulsa 24
No. 11 Stanford at No. 55 Arizona
The Cardinal have given up one offensive touchdown in two games. Arizona’s rebuilt offensive line is in for a rough evening.
Stanford 31, Arizona 14
No. 12 Wisconsin at No. 73 Northern Illinois (Soldier Field)
Northern Illinois is very good on offense, but the Huskies have really struggled on the defensive end in 2011. They are giving up an average of 278 yards rushing. Not a good stat when you are about to face the Badgers.
Wisconsin 44, Northern Illinois 14
No. 92 Troy at No. 13 Arkansas
Troy led at Clemson at the half before getting outscored 30¬–3 in the final two quarters. The Trojans are good, but not good enough to pose too much of a threat to Arkansas.
Arkansas 41, Troy 17
No. 54 Navy at No. 14 South Carolina
Navy’s option attack will give South Carolina some problems, but the Gamecocks should be able to move the ball with relative ease.
South Carolina 31, Navy 17
No. 15 West Virginia at No. 23 Maryland
Maryland looked very good, especially on offense, in a Week 1 win over Miami (Fla.). Florida State is clearly the team to beat in the ACC Atlantic Division, but don’t be surprised if the Terps remain in the race all season.
Maryland 31, West Virginia 27
No. 37 Tennessee at No. 16 Florida
Florida has been dominant in wins over FAU (41–3) and UAB (39–0), but the new-look offense is about to face a different caliber of athletes this week. We’ll know far more about the Will Muschamp/Charlie Weis era at Florida by Saturday evening.
Florida 34, Tennessee 24
No. 17 Ohio State at No. 30 Miami (Fla.)
Expect a lot of the focus to be on each school’s respective off-the-field issues with the NCAA — and rightfully so.
Ohio State 20, Miami 17
No. 44 Syracuse at No. 18 USC
Syracuse is 2–0, but the Orange needed to rally from 15 down in the fourth quarter to beat Wake Forest in overtime and only defeated Rhode Island 21–14 last weekend. This team is a work in progress.
USC 28, Syracuse 10
No. 19 Texas at No. 67 UCLA
The Bruins rushed for 264 yards in a shocking 34–12 in Austin last season. Texas is ready for some payback.
Texas 30, UCLA 14
Stephen F. Austin at No. 20 Baylor
The Bears haven’t played since their thrilling 50–48 win over TCU on Sept. 1. Don’t expect any rust.
Baylor 48, Stephen F. Austin 13
No. 108 Louisiana-Monroe at No. 21 TCU
The Horned Frogs bounced back nicely from the loss at Baylor with an impressive 35–19 win at Air Force. TCU led 21–0 midway through the second quarter and 35–9 late in the third.
TCU 41, Louisiana-Monroe 3
No. 22 Michigan State at No. 29 Notre Dame
I still maintain that Notre Dame is a pretty good football team despite its 0–2 record. But it’s time for the Irish to overcome adversity and win a game.
Notre Dame 28, Michigan State 21
Florida A&M at No. 24 South Florida
The Bulls should be 4–0 when they hit the road for a huge showdown at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29.
South Florida 38, Florida A&M 3
No. 25 Arizona State at No. 33 Illinois
This has the chance to be one of the best games of the day, and it features two of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks — Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler and Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase.
Illinois 21, Arizona State 14
No. 26 Auburn at No. 45 Clemson
I think it’s safe to say that no defending national champion has ever been an underdog in two of its first three games in the ensuing season.
Auburn 34, Clemson 28
No. 113 Eastern Michigan at No. 27 Michigan
With wins over Howard and Alabama State, Eastern Michigan is 2–0 for the first time since 1989. The Eagles will not be 3–0.
Michigan 51, Eastern Michigan 10
Western Illinois at No. 31 Missouri
Missouri lost in overtime at Arizona State last Friday night, but the Tigers got a huge performance from sophomore quarterback James Franklin. He completed 26-of-42 for 319 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and added 84 yards on the ground. That is a very good sign for Gary Pinkel’s club.
Missouri 38, Western Illinois 0
No. 32 Penn State at No 81 Temple
It’s either a compliment to Temple or an indictment of Penn State that the Nittany Lions are only a 7.5-point favorite. Owl tailback Bernard Pierce (148.5 ypg) will be the best skill position player on the field.
Penn State 21, Temple 14
No. 34 UCF at No. 65 FIU
This is an underrated showdown between two very good teams that are coming off solid wins over BCS conference opponents. UCF dominated Boston College 30–3 in Orlando, while FIU upset Louisville 24–17 on the road. UCF’s defense has given up a total of three points.
UCF 28, FIU 10
Coastal Carolina at No. 35 Georgia
The Bulldogs need a win — any win. And they will get it against Coastal Carolina, and its entertaining head coach, David Bennett.
Georgia 38, Coastal Carolina 10
No. 66 Virginia at No. 36 North Carolina
Virginia survived a second half collapse at Indiana (the Cavs led 23–3 at one point — to beat the Hoosiers 34–31 on a field goal on the final play of the game. Mike London’s team must have success running the ball to have a chance to knock off UNC in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina 27, Virginia 17
No. 38 Northwestern at No. 86 Army
Army’s stats are predictable: No. 2 in the nation in rushing (353.0 ypg) and No. 118 in passing (74.5 ypg). To beat a solid team from a BCS conference, the Black Knights will have to find some balance on offense.
Northwestern 30, Army 17
No. 69 Kansas at No. 39 Georgia Tech
Kansas’ 28¬–25 win over Georgia Tech last September was one of the head-scratchers of the 2010 season. Both teams have looked very good on offense in ’11 against inferior competition.
Georgia Tech 38, Kansas 28
No. 40 Texas Tech at No. 116 New Mexico
New Mexico has scored one touchdown in two games this season. The Lobos will need about eight touchdowns to beat Texas Tech.
Texas Tech 56, New Mexico 10
No. 41 Iowa State at No. 74 Connecticut
The boys in Vegas know what they are doing, but I was a bit surprised that Iowa State, which beat Iowa last week, is a 4-point underdog to a UConn team that had less than 200 total yards in a loss at Vanderbilt.
Iowa State 24, Connecticut 14
No. 48 Pittsburgh at No. 42 Iowa
Pittsburgh is a rather soft 2–0 under first-year coach Todd Graham, with a 35–16 win over Buffalo and a 35–29 win over FCS opponent Maine.
Iowa 31, Pittsburgh 24
Gardner-Webb at No. 46 Wake Forest
Wake Forest has been one of the most improved teams in the nation in 2011. The Deacs are getting great play from quarterback Tanner Price (when healthy).
Wake Forest 41, Gardner-Webb 10
No. 50 Utah at No. 47 BYU
The road team hasn’t won in this series since 2006, when BYU edged Utah 33–31 in Salt Lake City. BYU has only scored one offensive touchdown this season, but the Cougs have played at Ole Miss and at Texas.
BYU 24, Utah 20
Presbyterian at No. 48 California
The Golden Bears are off to a nice start, with wins vs. Fresno State and at Colorado (ot). The pass-catch combo of Zach Maynard and Keenan Allen, who happen to be half-brothers, has been highly successful.
California 44, Presbyterian 0
No. 51 Houston at No. 102 Louisiana Tech
Shouldn’t these two teams be in the same conference?
Houston 41, Louisiana Tech 21
South Alabama at No. 53 NC State
NC State’s season has already taken a wrong turn, with a surprising loss at home to Wake Forest in the ACC opener.
NC State 41, South Alabama 3
No. 117 Akron at No. 56 Cincinnati
Akron has scored a total of three points this season, losing 42–0 at Ohio State and 41–3 at home vs. Temple. The Bearcats should hit 50 with ease.
Cincinnati 55, Akron 10
Northwestern State at No. 57 SMU
SMU has been a bit of a disappointment this season, losing 46–14 at Texas A&M and struggling at home vs. UTEP. J.J. McDermott gets his second straight start at quarterback.
SMU 45, Northwestern State 10
No. 95 Louisville at No. 59 Kentucky
Neither team has played well through the first two weeks of the season. Points will be at a premium. Look for UK true freshman Josh Clemons to have a big day carrying the ball with Raymond Sanders out with an injury.
Kentucky 17, Louisville 7
No. 61 Hawaii at No. 118 UNLV
UNLV is in the conversation as the worst team in the nation after its 59–7 loss at Washington State last week.
Hawaii 47, UNLV 13
No. 63 Ole Miss at No. 64 Vanderbilt
The Commodores have won four of the past six in this East vs. West battle. Both teams are struggling on offense. Whoever wins the turnover battle will likely win the game.
Vanderbilt 20, Ole Miss 17
No. 70 Washington State at No. 66 San Diego State
Washington State appears to be vastly improved, but the Cougars have yet to play a quality opponent. We’ll find out just how much progress Paul Wulff’s club has made after Saturday’s trip to San Diego.
San Diego State 27, Washington State 14
No. 87 Duke at No. 68 Boston College
The usually rock-solid Boston College program is on shaky ground. The Eagles managed only 137 yards of offense in a 31–3 loss at UCF last week. A loss at home to Duke isn’t possible, is it? Yes.
Duke 28, Boston College 20
No. 71 Marshall at No. 84 Ohio
Marshall very quietly recorded a huge win last weekend, knocking off C-USA East power Southern Miss 26–20. Now, the Herd step out of conference play to face a very solid Ohio team.
Ohio 23, Marshall 21
No. 112 Kent State at No. 75 Kansas State
The Wildcats trailed Eastern Kentucky 7–0 heading into the fourth quarter before rallying for a 10–7 win in the opener two weeks ago. Not good.
Kansas State 27, Kent State 10
No. 78 Colorado vs. No. 96 Colorado State (at Denver)
CU receiver Paul Richardson caught nine passes for 284 yards and two scores in last week’s overtime loss to California.
Colorado 28, Colorado State 17
No. 79 Nevada at No. 111 San Jose State
I thought Nevada would hang with Oregon last weekend. I was wrong. The Pack trailed 31–7 at the half en route to a 69–20 loss. This week, the competition gets easier — much easier.
Nevada 41, San Jose State 20
SE Louisiana at No. 80 Southern Miss
The Golden Eagles have been a disappointment so far, struggling to beat Louisiana Tech at home and then losing at Marshall. The usually high-octane USM offense has averaged only 19.5 points.
Southern Miss 31, SE Louisiana 14
North Dakota at No. 83 Fresno State
Fresno State returns home after difficult matchups at California and at Nebraska. This one shouldn’t be too much trouble.
Fresno State 37, North Dakota 7
SE Missouri State at No. 85 Purdue
Purdue has been in two games that ended with a blocked field goal; the Boilers were on the blocking end against Middle Tennessee and the got-blocked end at Rice. This one better not come down to a field goal attempt.
Purdue 38, SE Missouri State 10
No. 109 Tulane at No. 88 UAB
UAB might be without standout tailback Pat Shed due to a sports hernia. It shouldn’t matter.
UAB 31, Tulane 10
No. 107 Buffalo at No. 90 Ball State
This is a key MAC game for two teams that appear to be improved in 2011. Ball State already has a win over Indiana on its resume, while Buffalo played well in a season-opening loss at Pitt before beating Stony Brook last week.
Ball State 27, Buffalo 21
No. 93 Miami (Ohio) at No. 101 Minnesota
It was a rough week for Minnesota. The Gophers lost at home to New Mexico State in a game that was overshadowed by head coach Jerry Kill’s sideline seizure. Kill appears to be fine. We’re not sure about his team.
Minnesota 27, Miami (Ohio) 24
South Carolina State at No. 94 Indiana
Kevin Wilson is still searching for his first win as the head coach at Indiana. The search should end Saturday.
Indiana 41, South Carolina State 14
No. 104 Central Michigan at No. 97 Western Michigan
Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit is 0–5 vs. hated rival Central Michigan. He might not be around next season if his record dips to 0–6.
Western Michigan 28, Central Michigan 24
No. 103 Wyoming at No. 98 Bowling Green
The competition hasn’t been strong — Idaho and Morgan State — but Bowling Green looks to be much improved on offense. The Flacons are averaging 45.0 points and 525 yards per game.
Bowling Green 38, Wyoming 20
No. 114 UTEP and No. 100 New Mexico State
I’m still shocked that New Mexico State won at Minnesota last week. Quarterback Andrew Manley threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Aztecs, a three-touchdown underdog, to a 28–21 win.
New Mexico State 28, UTEP 20
Nicholls State at No. 105 Louisiana-Lafayette
The Rajin’ Cajuns are showing some fight under first-year coach Mark Hudspeth. Their win at Kent State last week was the school’s first non-conference road win (vs. an FBS foe) since 2006, when Ricky Bustle’s club won at Houston 31–28.
Louisiana-Lafayette 31, Nicholls State 10
Indiana State at No. 106 Western Kentucky
One week after giving up 190 yards of offense in a loss to Kentucky, the Hilltoppers were torched for 510 yards in a 40–14 home loss to Navy.
Western Kentucky 28, Indiana State 17
Austin Peay at No. 119 Memphis
It’s difficult to describe how much of a train wreck Memphis football is right now. Still, don’t be tempted to pick Austin Peay in this one; the Govs lost at Cincinnati 72–10 two weeks ago.
Memphis 30, Austin Peay 14
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Here are previews and predictions for the 10 best college football games this weekend.
Oklahoma (-3.5) at Florida State
There’s a school of thought — which we at Athlon Sports subscribe to — that the winner of this early season non-conference clash will end up playing Alabama in the national championship game. Both teams have looked sharp in the early going, but it must be noted that Florida State has played arguably the softest schedule of any top-25 team, beating Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern by a combined score of 96–10. The key for Florida State will be its ability to move the all on the ground on an OU defense that was mediocre against the run last year and showed some vulnerability in its season-opening win against Tulsa. Oklahoma has tremendous weapons on offense, and has the ability to be dominant through the air and on the ground. This should be a classic.
Florida State 31, Oklahoma 27
LSU (-3) at Mississippi State (Thu)
A bit of the shine was removed from this Thursday night showdown with Mississippi State’s loss at Auburn, but it’s still a huge game in the SEC West. The Bulldogs can’t afford an 0–2 start in league play if they plan on being a factor in the division race. LSU took care of business on Saturday against FCS foe Northwestern State, cruising to a 49–3 win its home-opener. Expect the Tigers to lean heavily on their running game, especially after Auburn gashed Mississippi State for 235 yards on 36 carries Saturday afternoon.
LSU 24, Mississippi State 17
Tennessee (+9.5) at Florida
You can make a strong case that Tennessee boasts the nation’s best quarterback/two-receiver combo, with Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers — all sophomores. Through two games, Bray has completed 78.5 percent of his passes for 698 yards with seven touchdowns and no INTs. Hunter and Rogers have combined for 502 yards and five touchdowns on 31 receptions. Florida has been dominant in wins over FAU (41–3) and UAB (39–0), but the new-look offense is about to face a different caliber of athletes this week. Tennessee has some issues on the front seven — mainly a lack of depth — but the Vols’ secondary is solid. We’ll know far more about the Will Muschamp/Charlie Weis era at Florida by Saturday evening.
Florida 34, Tennessee 24
Arizona State (+1.5) at Illinois
This has the chance to be one of the best games of the day, and it features two of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks — Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler and Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase. Arizona State is fresh off of an emotional, nationally televised overtime win over Missouri on Friday night. Now, the Sun Devils have another opportunity to make a statement, this time against a team that could surprise in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Illinois is very solid at the quarterback position and features a veteran offensive line that will open plenty of holes for senior tailback Jason Ford. This game won’t impact either team’s chances in their respective leagues, but it will go a long way in determining their postseason destinations.
Illinois 21, Arizona State 14
Ohio State (+2.5) at Miami (Fla.)
Expect a lot of the focus to be on each school’s respective off-the-field issues with the NCAA — and rightfully so. Ohio State is playing with an interim head coach (Luke Fickell) and a lineup that is lacking some of its best playmakers due to suspension. We are still in the early stages of the mess at Miami, but the Canes do have one thing working in their favor — the return of starting quarterback Jacory Harris (though some UM fans might argue that is not such a good thing). Harris was picked off four times in last season’s 36–24 loss to Ohio State in Columbus. He is capable of being a brilliant playmaker — but he’s also capable of making some very bad decisions. He will have to be at his best for the Canes to win.
Ohio State 20, Miami 17
Michigan State (+4.5) at Notre Dame
Notre Dame is 0–2 despite rolling up over 500 yards of offense in each of its first two games. The Irish have yet to win due to their inability to protect the ball (10 turnovers in two games) and because their defense allowed Michigan to march 58 yards and 80 yards for touchdowns in the final 2:16 of Saturday night’s epic game in Ann Arbor. Michigan State is coming off an astoundingly lopsided 44–0 win over a very bad Florida Atlantic team. The Spartans allowed only 48 yards of total offense and gave up only one first down — for the entire game. MSU, now 2–0, will be tested for the first time this season when it heads to South Bend. The Spartans had won six straight at ND before losing, 33–30, two years ago. This one is tough to call, but at some point the ball has to bounce Notre Dame’s way.
Notre Dame 28, Michigan State 21
Auburn (+3) at Clemson
I think it’s safe to say that no defending national champion has ever been an underdog in two of its first three games in the ensuing season. Auburn edged Mississippi State last week, 41–34, despite giving up 198 yards in the air and 333 yards on the ground. Through two games — both at home — the Tigers rank 111th in the nation in total defense and 118th in rushing defense. Now, they hit the road for the first time against a Clemson team that struggled with — but still beat — Troy (CU trailed 16-13 at the half before pulling away) and Wofford (35–27). Expect Clemson to lean heavily on tailback Andre Ellington, who is averaging 127 yards rushing. It’s always dangerous to pick against Auburn — so I won't.
Auburn 34, Clemson 28
West Virginia (+1.5) at Maryland
West Virginia has been a slow starter in 2011, with a total of three points in the first quarter of wins over Marshall and Norfolk State. Dana Holgorsen needs to find a way to get his team going a bit earlier now that the schedule is more difficult, starting with this week’s trip to Maryland. The Terps looked very good, especially on offense, in a Week 1 win over Miami (Fla.). Danny O’Brien was terrific at quarterback, completing 31-of-44 attempts for 348 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Florida State is clearly the team to beat in the ACC Atlantic Division, but don’t be surprised if Maryland remains in the race all season.
Maryland 31, West Virginia 27
Pittsburgh (+3) at Iowa
Pittsburgh is a rather soft 2–0 under first-year coach Todd Graham, with a 35–16 win over Buffalo and a 35–29 win over FCS opponent Maine. Graham’s teams at Tulsa were among the most explosive in the nation, but that has yet to translate at Pittsburgh — despite the inferior competition. Iowa must bounce back from a heartbreaking 44–41 triple-overtime loss at rival Iowa State. The Hawkeyes led five different times during the game but couldn’t stop ISU when it mattered. This is still a solid team that should be balanced on offense with James Vanderberg at quarterback and Marcus Coker at tailback.
Iowa 31, Pittsburgh 24
Utah (+3.5) at BYU
The road team hasn’t won in this series since 2006, when BYU edged Utah 33–31 in Salt Lake City. BYU has only scored one offensive touchdown this season, but the Cougs have played at Ole Miss and at Texas. Utah, too, has been sluggish on offense, scoring 27 points in the opener against Montana State and 14 last week at USC. The Utes will need a big game from junior college transfer John White, who is emerging as their primary ball-carrier.
BYU 24, Utah 20
Last week — 6–4 (2–7–1 vs. spread)
Season — 13–7 (9–10–1 vs. spread)
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Take a quick look at Pittsburgh’s stats and you will notice that running back Ray Graham leads the nation in rushing with a 161.0-yard average. That, however, is one of the few bright spots.
Yes, the Panthers are 2–0, but it is a very soft 2–0, with a 35–16 win over Buffalo and a 35–29 win over FCS opponent Maine. Todd Graham’s teams at Tulsa were among the most explosive in college football, but that has yet to translate at Pittsburgh — despite the inferior competition. The Panthers rank 62nd in the nation in total offense (395.5 ypg) and are tied for 45th in scoring (35.0 ppg). Those numbers aren’t bad, but we expected to see much more production from Pitt after home games against a team that went 1–7 in the MAC last year (Buffalo) and team that went 4–6 against FCS opponents in 2010 (Maine).
Graham is remaining upbeat, but he admits the offense has been a disappointment.
“Offensively it’s just decision-making,” he says. “We’re really close. We sit there and watch the film but we’re not executing the system. Somebody asked me, ‘Are you where you thought you would be?’ No, I thought we would be doing better than how we are executing what we’re doing. In this offense you can’t ad-lib. You’ve got to be extremely disciplined every play to read your key and distribute the ball and this offense is a timing offense.”
Graham has placed some of the blame on the offensive line — “We’ve got two new guys playing up front on the offensive line that have made some errors which are not surprising,” he says — but Pittsburgh must get better play from quarterback Tino Sunseri. The junior has completed 58 percent of his attempts but only has one touchdown pass in 63 attempts. This offense simply needs gaudier numbers from the quarterback position. And Graham believes Sunseri can deliver — even though he temporarily pulled his quarterback in favor of Trey Anderson against Maine.
“Tino Sunseri is our quarterback,” he said earlier this week. “We’ve got confidence that he’s going to get it done. Has he played well? No, he hasn’t played well. He’s made some good plays, but he’s got to play better and execute our system, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. I’ve seen him do it in practice, I’ve seen him do it in games, and in this system there’s no question I think he can be successful and he’s a guy that has come a long way in his work ethic and all those things.”
Sunseri and the Panthers now dive into a very difficult part of the schedule. This weekend, they head to Iowa and then return home for dates with Notre Dame and South Florida. Despite the early season struggles, this is still a quality football team, one that should be in the hunt for the Big East title.
AROUND THE BIG EAST
• Connecticut has struggled offensively, but the Huskies appear to have found their next big-time running back. With expected starter D.J. Shoemate out with an injury, redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs, a lightly recruited 2-star prospect, has rushed for 259 yards on 51 carries through two games. Against Vanderbilt, McCombs accounted for 123 of the Huskies’ 193 total yards of offense.
• Louisville has scored a total of seven points in the second half of its games against Murray State (a win) and FIU (a loss).
• Rutgers’ four running backs netted 18 yards on 20 carries in a 24–22 loss to North Carolina. Through two games, prized freshman Savon Huggins has 32 yards on 17 carries.
• Cincinnati has given up at least 27 points in 13 straight games against BCS conference opponents.
• The West Virginia defense has yet to allow a touchdown this season.
• South Florida’s B.J. Daniels threw for a career-high 359 yards in the Bulls’ 37–7 win over Ball State. Daniels’ previous best was 286 yards in a win over Cincinnati last season.
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
We knew what Oregon State was missing. We were aware that the Beavers would be without arguably the most exciting offensive player in school history (Jacquizz Rodgers) and without a player considered by many to be the top defensive lineman in the Pac-10 in 2010 (Stephen Paea). And we understood that James Rodgers, one of the most versatile playmakers in college football over the past few years, would be out indefinitely while recovering from a knee injury.
Still, we expected Oregon State to be good. Not great. But pretty good — as in fourth in the very tough Pac-12 North, with a predicted conference record of 4–5 and an overall mark of 6–6.
Why the optimism? Mike Riley. The Beavers’ veteran head coach always seems to do more with less, somehow getting his team to remain a factor in the league race.
So when it was time to make our predictions, we simply gave Riley and the Beavers the benefit of the doubt, assuming they would find a way to thrive despite the loss of some great players.
Well, look who’s 0–2. It’s still early, but the signs aren’t good for Oregon State, which opened the season with a stunning loss to FCS foe Sacramento State (which lost the following week to Southern Utah) and a 35–0 defeat at Wisconsin.
It might not be time to panic in Corvallis — after all, the 2008 Beavers recovered from an 0–2 start to finish 9–4 — but it’s hard to find many expected wins when you take a look at the final 10 games on the Beavers’ slate.
So what’s the problem? Well, the offense has struggled to get going, even with the emergence of true freshman Malcolm Agnew, who rushed for 223 yards against Sacramento State before missing the Wisconsin game with a hamstring injury. And the quarterback situation is a mess. Strong-armed Ryan Katz, the 2010 starter, was pulled in favor of Sean Mannion during the Wisconsin game. On Tuesday afternoon, Riley announced that Mannion will start against UCLA, but both quarterbacks will likely play.
The numbers aren’t horrible defensively, but the Badgers did give up 29 points to an FCS school and have really struggled against the pass. Opposing quarterbacks are 40-of-57 for 485 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Those numbers have resulted in a national ranking of 116th in passing efficiency defense. It hasn’t helped that senior cornerback Brandon Hardin, one of only three returning starters on defense, has yet to play due to a shoulder injury.
Riley, to his credit, isn’t panicking. He, better than most, understands that there is plenty of time to get his team turned in the right direction. Oregon State has had a winning record in six of eight seasons since Riley returned to Corvallis despite having a combined record of 15–17 in the month of September. Clearly, his teams have a knack for improving as the season progresses.
“I really have hopes for this team,” the coach said after his team was shut out by Wisconsin. “I think there was a lot of stuff today, particularly defensively that was better. So we can build on that. Offensively, I know we can do better.”
They better do better, or Oregon State could be headed for back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the late 1990s.
AROUND THE PAC-12
• Washington State is 2–0 for the first time since 2005 after rolling to wins of 64–21 over Idaho State and 59–7 over UNLV. The level of competition has been very poor, but it’s clear that Paul Wulff’s program is making some progress. The Cougars went 2–10 last season, but ended the year with a shocking 31–14 win at Oregon State and a competitive 35–28 loss to rival Washington in the Apple Cup. The win over UNLV was especially noteworthy because Washington State had to play without quarterback Jeff Tuel, who is out 4-6 weeks with a broken collarbone. Senior Marshall Lobbestael, who had three starts as a redshirt freshman and three as a sophomore, stepped in and completed 24-of-32 for 361 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
• Colorado has already given up 13 plays of 20-plus yards, the most in the Pac-12.
• Washington’s Keith Price has attempted 25 passes in each of his first two games. He completed 17 for 102 yards against Eastern Washington and 18 for 315 yards against Hawaii. His yards per attempt jumped from 4.1 to 12.6 in one week.
• Not much went well for Arizona in last Thursday’s trip to Oklahoma State, but the Wildcats, who played without Juron Criner, did get some production from junior Dan Buckner. A transfer from Texas and former big-time recruit, Buckner caught 10 passes for 142 yards and scored a touchdown.
• Stanford has given up one offensive touchdown in two games, and it came in the final minute of a 44–14 win at Duke. The Cardinal’s opponents have converted only 6-of-30 third down attempts.
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
This might sound a bit obvious, but beating Georgia is a very good sign for South Carolina football. Consider the following: The Gamecocks are a combined 25–23 in the SEC in the six seasons in which they have defeated Georgia. On the other hand, they are 36–67–1 in conference games in the 13 seasons in which they have lost to the Bulldogs, and only once, in 2005, has South Carolina had a winning SEC record without beating Georgia.
So it’s clear that the Georgia game serves as a pretty accurate barometer for South Carolina. When the Gamecocks are good enough to beat Georgia, they are usually good enough to be a factor in the SEC East.
This season, Carolina will be more than a factor — I think at this point it’s clear to call Steve Spurrier’s club the favorite (despite what you might have read in Athlon Sports’ 2011 preview). Until we see what Florida looks like against a quality opponent, it’s hard to make the argument that South Carolina isn’t the best team in the SEC East.
Sure, the defense has been shaky, but Steve Spurrier’s club boasts some serious star power on both sides of the ball. South Carolina might have the best running back (Marcus Lattimore) and best wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) in the SEC — and maybe the nation. Defensively, true freshman Jadeveon Clowney is already showing signs why he was one of the most hyped recruits of the past decade, and junior Stephon Gilmore is one of the elite cornerbacks in college football. And we can’t forget about Melvin Ingram, a 271-pound defensive end who recorded nine sacks last season and scored two touchdowns, one on a 68-yard fake punt, in the win over Georgia.
“I think Melvin Ingram deserves a lot of credit for making some huge plays,” Spurrier said after the game. “He’s a heck of an athlete.”
Lattimore, however, is the key to this team. The sophomore tailback carried the ball 27 times for 176 yards against Georgia, with 94 of his yards coming in the decisive fourth quarter. I’d estimate that a team that has its tailback rush for 90-plus yards in the fourth quarter has about a 99 percent chance of winning that game.
Lattimore’s heroics allowed South Carolina to win despite a subpar game from quarterback Stephen Garcia. In his first start of his senior season, Garcia completed only 11-of-25 passes for 142 yards, and he was intercepted two times. The Gamecocks will need Garcia to play well to win an SEC championship, but they don’t need him to be the best quarterback in the league. His supporting cast is good enough — especially at the skill positions — for his team to win without 300-yard, four-touchdown games each week.
With the Georgia hurdle behind them — and successfully cleared — the Gamecocks now return to Columbia for a four-game home stand against Navy, Vanderbilt, Auburn and Kentucky. It will be a surprise if South Carolina is not 6–0 (and 4–0 in the SEC) when it hits the road for dates with Mississippi State, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Around the SEC
• Tennessee ranks fourth in the nation with a 66.7 percent success rate on third down, having converted 20 of 30 opportunities through two games. Last season, the Vols ranked 88th in the nation on third downs (36.5 percent).
• UConn marched 72 yards on 13 plays in its first drive (ending in a field goal) against Vanderbilt, but the Commodores only gave up 121 total yards on 52 plays the rest of the game.
• The LSU defense has only given up one play of 20-plus yards this season — even more impressive when you consider that the Tigers opened up against Oregon.
• It’s not all bad news at Georgia. Freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell looks like he will be a major contributor this season. He rushed for 118 yards on 16 carries against South Carolina and has a healthy 5.7-yard average in two games against quality competition.
• Auburn is 2–0 but ranks 111th in the nation in total defense (489.5 ypg) and 118th in rushing defense (280.0 ypg). It’s still too early to put too much stock in national rankings, but defensive coordinator Ted Roof can’t be pleased with those numbers.
• Ole Miss will have to tighten up its run defense, as well, after Southern Illinois rushed for 223 yards on 38 carries in last week’s 42–24 Rebel victory.
• Alabama has allowed a total of three points in the first half of its two games this season.
• Kentucky coach Joker Phillips raved about Josh Clemons in preseason camp, and the true freshman came through with a 14-carry, 128-yard effort against Central Michigan on Saturday. Clemons gave Kentucky its first lead of the game late in the third quarter when he broke free for an 87-yard touchdown. In two games, he has 165 yards on 25 carries.
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Thursday, Sept. 8
No. 54 Arizona at No. 10 Oklahoma State
The Cowboys rolled up 666 yards of total offense under first-year coordinator Todd Monken en route to a 61–34 Week 1 win over Louisiana-Lafayette in Stillwater. The test will be more difficult this Thursday night when Arizona comes calling.
Oklahoma State 37, Arizona 24
Friday, Sept. 9
No. 28 Missouri at No. 31 Arizona State
James Franklin was a bit shaky in his first start at quarterback for Missouri. He will have to be much better this week against at very solid Arizona State defense.
Arizona State 21, Missouri 17
No. 90 FIU at No. 75 Louisville
The boys in Vegas have only made Louisville a four-point favorite. Not a huge surprise after the Cards only put 21 points on Murray State in the opener.
Louisville 20, FIU 14
Saturday, Sept. 10
No. 1 Alabama at No. 32 Penn State
Last year, Alabama handled Penn State with relative ease, cruising to a 24–3 in Tuscaloosa. The venue will be different this time around — Beaver Stadium in State College — but the result should be similar.
Alabama 27, Penn State 10
Northwestern State at No. 3 LSU
Northwestern State is a decent FCS program. LSU is a dominant FBS program. This figures to be one of the biggest mismatches of the week.
LSU 50, Northwestern State 3
Charleston Southern at No. 4 Florida State
This has to be the most lopsided matchup of the season. Charleston Southern is fresh off of a 62–0 loss at UCF in a game in which it managed only 119 yards of offense.
Florida State 61, Charleston Southern 0
No. 6 Virginia Tech at No. 79 East Carolina
Dating back to last October, East Carolina has given up 40 points or more in seven straight games. That streak might not end until Oct. 15, when the Pirates visit Memphis.
Virginia Tech 49, East Carolina 22
No. 81 Fresno State at No. 7 Nebraska
The locals aren’t pleased with Pat Hill after the Bulldogs managed only 218 total yards in a 36–21 loss to Cal last week. They can’t expect much this week against a Nebraska defense that figures to be among the best in the nation.
Nebraska 34, Fresno State 10
No. 65 Nevada at No. 9 Oregon
The boys in Vegas don’t seem to think Nevada can keep this game close — Nevada is a 27-point underdog. I disagree. The Colin Kaepernick-less Pack still has talent.
Oregon 40, Nevada 27
No. 11 Stanford at No. 86 Duke
Duke is still smarting after losing at home to Richmond last weekend. Stanford is feeling pretty good after a 57–3 win vs. San Jose State. It would be a surprise if the Blue Devils kept this close — even at home.
Stanford 38, Duke 13
No. 98 Oregon State at No. 12 Wisconsin
There was only one positive to come out of Oregon State’s 29–28 overtimes loss to Sacramento State last weekend: True freshman Malcolm Agnew rushed for 223 yards. Agnew, however, is out this week with a hamstring injury. Not good for the Beavers.
Wisconsin 38, Oregon State 14
No. 116 New Mexico at No. 13 Arkansas
The Lobos actually led Colorado State midway through the fourth quarter before falling 14–10 last Saturday. They won’t lead in the fourth quarter this week.
Arkansas 51, New Mexico 10
Norfolk State at No. 14 West Virginia
Dana Holgorsen’s offense has one more tune-up before back-to-back dates with Maryland and LSU.
West Virginia 47, Norfolk State 10
No. 88 UAB at No. 15 Florida
UAB was one of only two teams that did not play in Week 1 (Nevada was the other). The Blazers have a solid quarterback in Bryan Ellis and an outstanding running back in Pat Shed (questionable with a sports hernia). Keep in mind that UAB lost its two games to SEC teams last season by a combined eight points — by three to Tennessee in OT and by five at Mississippi State.
Florida 38, UAB 14
No. 67 Toledo at No. 16 Ohio State
Ohio State dismantled a team from the MAC (Akron) in the opener. Toledo, however, is far more talented than Akron. The Rockets will play two solid quarterbacks (Terrance Owens and Austin Dantin), and they have weapons at running back and receiver.
Ohio State 36, Toledo 20
No. 17 Notre Dame at No. 41 Michigan
Brian Kelly’s second season at Notre Dame didn’t exactly begin as planned, with a 23–20 loss at home to South Florida. But please be advised: Don’t jump off the Irish bandwagon just yet.
Notre Dame 31, Michigan 24
No. 48 Utah at No. 18 USC
Utah makes its debut in its new conference with a trip to the L.A. Coliseum. Both teams need to play well after lackluster wins in Week 1 — USC over Minnesota and Utah over Montana State.
USC 27, Utah 17
No. 19 South Carolina at No. 26 Georgia
It’s the biggest game in the history of Georgia football. Well, that’s what many Bulldogs fans will tell you after their team was outclassed at the Georgia Dome by Boise State last Saturday night. Georgia didn’t do much to give us reason to believe it can beat a good team, but it’s a bit too early to give up on Mark Richt and his Bulldogs.
Georgia 24, South Carolina 21
No. 20 Mississippi State at No. 47 Auburn
The defending national champs are a 6.5-point underdog at home to a team that went 4–4 in the SEC last year. Not a surprise, if you watched both Auburn and Mississippi State play last week.
Mississippi State 37, Auburn 24
No. 35 BYU at No. 21 Texas
Right now, one of these teams is an Independent and the other is in the Big 12. Next year? Who knows? Both teams could be in the Big 12 or the Pac-16, or possibly both could be in the Independent ranks.
Texas 24, BYU 16
No. 23 TCU at No. 36 Air Force
He’s not Robert Griffin III, but Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson is very good. It wouldn’t be a huge shock if TCU is 0–2 after this week’s action. That said, I’m picking the Frogs to bounce back.
TCU 28, Air Force 24
No. 120 Florida Atlantic at No. 24 Michigan State
Michigan State posted a workmanlike 28–6 win over Youngstown State last Friday. This week, the level of competition won’t be much, if any, better. Florida Atlantic is arguably the worst team in the FCS ranks.
Michigan State 41, Florida Atlantic 0
No. 84 Ball State at No. 27 South Florida
The Pete Lembo era got off to a great start at Ball State, as the Cardinals upset in-state rival Indiana in Indianapolis in Week 1. South Florida is also feeling pretty good about itself after a huge win at Notre Dame.
South Florida 27, Ball State 14
No. 29 Iowa at No. 64 Iowa State
The Hawkeyes have won six of the past eight in this series, including the past three by an average score of 29–5. Expect more of the same.
Iowa 24, Iowa State 10
No. 33 NC State at No. 61 Wake Forest
It will be very interesting to see how Wake Forest bounces back from last week’s crushing overtime loss at Syracuse.
NC State 34, Wake Forest 27
South Dakota State at No. 34 Illinois
Illinois handled a pretty solid Arkansas State team in Week 1, churning out over 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing en route to a 33–15 victory. This one shouldn’t be as close.
Illinois 41, South Dakota State 13
No. 70 Rutgers at No. 37 North Carolina
It was quite the debut for North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner, who completed 22-of-23 passes for 277 yards in the Heels’ 42–10 win over James Madison. Rutgers will provide a bigger test, but Renner is a big-time talent.
North Carolina 24, Rutgers 14
No. 56 Cincinnati at No. 38 Tennessee
Cincinnati rolled up 72 points in its Week 1 win over Austin Peay. Eight different Bearcats scored a touchdown and 10 different UC players rushed for at least 10 yards. Now, Butch Jones’ club must see what it can do against another, far more talented, team from the state of Tennessee.
Tennessee 30, Cincinnati 27
Wofford at No. 39 Clemson
New offensive coordinator Chad Morris was not happy with the Clemson attack in last week’s win over Troy. The Tigers have one more dress rehearsal before Auburn comes to town.
Clemson 44, Wofford 10
Maine at No. 42 Pittsburgh
I passed on Ray Graham in my fantasy draft because I was worried that former Wisconsin Badger Zach Brown would take away some his carries. I was wrong. Graham rushed for 209 yards on 29 carries against Buffalo last week. Brown? Two carries.
Pittsburgh 34, Maine 3
Eastern Illinois at No. 43 Northwestern
Northwestern recorded one of the more impressive victories of Week 1, topping Boston College, 24–17, on the road with starting quarterback Dan Persa on the bench. Persa is reportedly almost ready to return (Achilles), but the Cats won’t need him this week.
Northwestern 34, Eastern Illinois 10
Rhode Island at No. 44 Syracuse
Syracuse is very, very fortunate to be 1–0. The Orange trailed Wake Forest 29–14 midway through the fourth quarter before rallying to send the game into overtime. It better not be as stressful this week.
Syracuse 30, Rhode Island 10
No. 60 Hawaii at No. 45 Washington
Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt has been a busy man this week after watching Eastern Washington torch his boys for 473 yards passing. It doesn’t get any easier — in fact, it gets harder — with Bryant Moniz and Hawaii coming to town.
Washington 31, Hawaii 30
No. 46 Georgia Tech at No. 87 Middle Tennessee
MTSU hung tough with Georgia Tech into the third quarter last year in Atlanta — it was 14–7 at the half — before the Jackets pulled away on their way to a 42–14 win. The Blue Raiders had no answer for the Tech option attack, allowing 329 yards on the ground. This one is in Murfreesboro — quite a coup for MTSU — but Georgia Tech is still the better team.
Georgia Tech 34, Middle Tennessee 17
No. 117 UTEP at No. 49 SMU
SMU is eager to bounce back after a disappointing showing on a national stage vs. Texas A&M. J.J. McDermott will get the start at quarterback, but Kyle Padron will also play. It won’t matter.
SMU 49, UTEP 17
No. 50 California at No. 80 Colorado
Scheduled before Colorado switched conferences, this is a game between Pac-12 teams that is not a Pac-12 game. It’s also a game that California should win.
California 34, Colorado 14
No. 51 Houston at No. 113 North Texas
Case Keenum’s return was quite successful. The sixth-year senior completed 30-of-40 passes for 310 yards in the Cougars’ 38–34 win over UCLA. This one could get ugly early.
Houston 48, North Texas 10
No. 52 Boston College at No. 53 UCF
In week 1 vs. Northwestern, Boston College rolled up 455 yards of offense and did not turn the ball over — yet only scored 17 points. That is hard to do.
UCF 21, Boston College 17
No. 55 Southern Miss at No. 97 Marshall
The Southern Miss offense only put up 19 points on Louisiana Tech in a Week 1 victory, but Larry Fedora had to be pleased with his team’s defense. The Golden Eagles held Tech’s spread offense to only 244 yards and 17 points. This week, the USM defense will try to make life difficult for Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato, a true freshman making his second start.
Southern Miss 24, Marshall 10
No. 119 New Mexico State at No. 57 Minnesota
It was a rough start for New Mexico State. The Aggies lost at home to Ohio by 20 points and netted six yards rushing. Not good. Minnesota returns home after its near miss at USC. This one is almost a gimme.
Minnesota 40, New Mexico State 10
No. 58 Navy at No. 103 Western Kentucky
In classic Navy fashion, the Middies scored 40 points while completing only four passes in their Week 1 win over Delaware. Western Kentucky gave up only 190 total yards to Kentucky last week. This could be tricky for Navy.
Navy 24, Western Kentucky 17
No. 59 Connecticut at No. 74 Vanderbilt
For those interested in this sort of thing, UConn opened (in some places) as a one-point favorite. Vanderbilt is now a two-point favorite. Interesting.
Vanderbilt 17, Connecticut 14
No. 62 Tulsa at No. 107 Tulane
Tulane struggled to stop the pass last week (295 yards allowed) in a 47–33 win over SE Louisiana. Good luck slowing down the Golden Hurricane.
Tulsa 44, Tulane 20
No. 104 Central Michigan at No. 63 Kentucky
Both of these teams won in Week 1, but both struggled mightily on offense against teams they should have overmatched. Kentucky managed only 190 yards, including 58 on one play (a late scramble by quarterback Morgan Newton) in a 14–3 win over Western Kentucky, while CMU had 256 yards in a 21–6 win over South Carolina State.
Kentucky 17, Central Michigan 3
No. 66 San Diego State at No. 85 Army
Army was a bit of a disappointment in Week 1, falling behind Northern Illinois 49–6 heading into the fourth quarter before rallying for 20 meaningless points. The Black Knights gave up 289 yards on the ground. Good luck stopping San Diego State sophomore Ronnie Hillman.
San Diego State 38, Army 24
No. 68 Purdue at No. 99 Rice
It wasn’t always pretty, but Purdue gutted out a Week 1 win at home vs. Middle Tennessee. The trip to Rice is a key barometer for Purdue: It’s a game Danny Hope’s club simply must win if it wants to be a good team this season.
Purdue 21, Rice 17
No. 122 San Jose State at No. 69 UCLA
Rick Neuheisel isn’t exactly thrilled with his team’s effort of late. The Bruins can beat San Jose State by simply showing up, but it would be a bit alarming if UCLA doesn’t play with passion after being called out by the head coach.
UCLA 41, San Jose State 0
No. 71 Northern Illinois at No. 77 Kansas
Fresh off a dominating win vs. Army, Northern Illinois finds itself as a favorite on the road vs. a BCS conference opponent. That’s impressive.
Northern Illinois 31, Kansas 21
No. 72 Virginia at No. 89 Indiana
The Kevin Wilson era began with on a sour note — a neutral site 27–20 loss to in-state rival Ball State. Virginia rolled past William & Mary with ease, 40–3. This should be a more difficult test.
Virginia 27, Indiana 17
Southern Illinois at No. 73 Ole Miss
This might not be as easy as some Ole Miss fans would like. Southern Illinois is a quality FCS program that opened its season with a 38–10 win at SE Missouri State. One thing is for sure: Ole Miss will be ready to play, after losing last year’s opener to an FCS school, Jacksonville State.
Ole Miss 24, Southern Illinois 14
Weber State at No. 78 Utah State
Utah State came oh-so-close to a program-changing win at Auburn last Saturday. Gary Andersen needs to keep his team focused this week — Weber State is good enough to make the Aggies sweat.
Utah State 31, Weber State 17
No. 109 UNLV at No. 82 Washington State
It’s not a good sign for UNLV football that the Runnin’ Rebels are a 14-point underdog to a Washington State team that will be without its quarterback (who is arguably its best player).
Washington State 28, UNLV 17
Gardner-Webb at No. 83 Ohio
With Tyler Tettleton (son of former major leaguer Mickey Tettleton) at quarterback, Ohio beat New Mexico State on the road with ease last week.
Ohio 37, Gardner-Webb 14
Northern Colorado at No. 91 Colorado State
It’s not a good sign that Colorado State compiled only 260 total yards against New Mexico and had to rally in the fourth quarter to escape with a 14–10 win.
Colorado State 28, Northern Colorado 14
No. 94 Temple at No. 114 Akron
Temple was very impressive in a 42–7 win over Villanova. Bernard Pierce led the way with 147 yards and three touchdowns. Owls in a route.
Temple 38, Akron 10
Nicholls State at No. 95 Western Michigan
Western Michigan returns home for a two-game homestand after losing in a weather-shortened game at Michigan last weekend.
Western Michigan 31, Nicholls State 13
Central Arkansas at No. 96 Louisiana Tech
Louisiana Tech was held to 244 total yards in last week’s 19–17 loss at Southern Miss. That couldn’t have made head coach Sonny Dykes too pleased.
No. 96 Louisiana Tech 34, Central Arkansas
Morgan State at No. 100 Bowling Green
Bowling Green was one of only six FBS teams that won a true road game in Week 1. The Falcons cruised to a surprisingly easy 32–15 win at Idaho.
Bowling Green 41, Morgan State 12
No. 118 Memphis at No. 101 Arkansas State
Arkansas State is my sleeper in the Sun Belt. Memphis is headed toward another last-place finish in the C-USA East. Go with the Red Wolves. Big.
Arkansas State 37, Memphis 17
Texas State at No. 102 Wyoming
The Pokes’ victory over Weber State in Week 1 was far from easy. They gave up 463 total yards and trailed deep into the fourth quarter.
Wyoming 24, Texas State 14
No. 115 UL Lafayette at No. 105 Kent State
These two punching bags were defeated by a combined score of 111–41 and gave up by a total of 1,148 yards in their respective Week 1 games — UL Lafayette to Oklahoma State and Kent State to Alabama.
Kent State 13, UL Lafayette 10
Grambling State at No. 106 Louisiana-Monroe
The ULM offense had one thing going for it in last week’s 34–0 loss to Florida State — it was balanced, with 92 yards passing and 99 yards rushing.
No. 106 Louisiana-Monroe 17, Grambling State 3
North Dakota at No. 108 Idaho
Idaho was one of the Week 1 disappointments, losing at home to Bowling Green, 32–15. North Dakota shut out Drake 16–0 in its opener. Going with the first FCS over FBS prediction of the year.
North Dakota 21, Idaho 20
Stony Brook at No. 110 Buffalo
Buffalo played very well in a 35–16 loss at Pitt. The Bulls trailed 21–16 early in the fourth quarter before fading down the stretch. Stony Brook took UTEP to overtime last weekend.
Buffalo 28, Stony Brook 14
Alabama State at No. 111 Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan hasn’t started a season 2–0 since 1989, when Jim Harkema’s club jumped out to a 3–0 mark (and 5–0–1) en route to a 7–3 record. This is no gimme, however; Alabama State is 1–0 after a 41–9 win over Mississippi Valley State.
Eastern Michigan 21, Alabama State 17
By Mitch Light
Notre Dame (-3.5) at Michigan
Brian Kelly’s second season at Notre Dame didn’t exactly begin as planned, with a 23–20 loss at home to South Florida. But please be advised: Don’t jump off the Irish bandwagon just yet. Notre Dame outgained USF 508 to 254 and was the victim of some bad luck (Jonas Gray was stripped at the 1-yard line and USF brought it back 96 yards for a touchdown) and some questionable officiating (borderline pass interference call in the end zone on third down early in the fourth quarter). The Irish were far from perfect — they did lose the turnover battle 5-to-0 — but this is still a very good team that will win a lot of games. Michigan took care of business in the first game of the Brady Hoke era, rolling past Western Michigan, 34–10, in a weather-shortened game in Ann Arbor.
Notre Dame 31, Michigan 24
Arizona (+14.5) at Oklahoma State (Thu)
It was only one game — and the opponent was not very good (Louisiana-Lafayette) — but the high-powered Oklahoma State offense was as good as advertised in Week 1. The Cowboys rolled up 666 yards of total offense under first-year coordinator Todd Monken en route to a 61–34 win in Stillwater. The test will be more difficult this Thursday night when Arizona comes calling. The Wildcats struggled a bit in the first half against FCS Northern Arizona before flexing their muscles in the second half of a 41–10 victory. Their brand new offensive line paved the way for 487 total yards. We’ll find out this week if this group can get it done against Bill Young’s O-State defense. A player to watch for Arizona is Ka’Deem Carey. The gem of the Cats’ recruiting class rushed for 59 yards on nine carries in the opener.
Oklahoma State 37, Arizona 24
Missouri (+7.5) at Arizona State (Fri)
Arizona State, a popular pick to play in the first-ever Pac-12 title game, has a huge non-conference test on a national stage Friday night. The Sun Devils are 15–21 overall in the last three seasons and need to make a statement that the ’11 club is, as many expect, good enough to be relevant on the national scene. Missouri was a bit lethargic in its 17–6 win over Miami (Ohio) last weekend. James Franklin, making his first career start, completed 17-of-26 for 129 yards and added 67 yards on the ground. He is a dynamic playmaker who can put pressure on the Arizona State defense with both his arm and his legs. It’s dangerous to put too much emphasis on one game, but we will find out a lot about both teams Friday night in Tempe.
Arizona State 21, Missouri 17
Alabama (-10) at Penn State
This was one of the great intersectional rivalries of the 1980s, with the Tide and the Lions meeting every year in the regular season from 1981-90. Last year, Alabama handled Penn State with relative ease, cruising to a 24–3 in Tuscaloosa. The venue will be different this time around — Beaver Stadium in State College — but the result should be similar. Alabama, our pick at Athlon Sports to win the 2011 national title, boasts a dominant defense and a devastating running attack. We still aren’t sure about the quarterback position — it looks like AJ McCarron will get the start over Phillip Sims — but Alabama has proven it doesn’t need outstanding quarterback play to be an elite team. Penn State is solid, but not good enough to beat Alabama.
Alabama 27, Penn State 10
South Carolina (-3) at Georgia
It’s the biggest game in the history of Georgia football. Well, that’s what many Bulldogs fans will tell you after their team was outclassed at the Georgia Dome by Boise State last Saturday night. It’s imperative that the Dawgs show marked improved in Week 2. Against Boise, the offensive line was suspect and none of the veteran wide receivers stepped up and made big plays. South Carolina fell behind East Carolina 17–0 in Charlotte before rallying for a 56–37 win in a game that was marred by nine turnovers. Stephen Garcia came off the bench for an ineffective Connor Shaw and led the comeback with his arm (one touchdown) and legs (two TDs). It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this game for both teams. Georgia didn’t do much in Week 1 to give us reason to believe they can beat a good team, but it’s a bit too early to give up on Mark Richt and his Bulldogs.
Georgia 24, South Carolina 21
BYU (+7) at Texas
Right now, one of these teams is an Independent and the other is in the Big 12. Next year? Who knows? Both teams could be in the Big 12 or the Pac-16, or possibly both could be in the Independent ranks. BYU has to be feeling pretty good after stealing a win in Oxford, rallying from a 13–0 deficit to beat Ole Miss 14–13. But the Cougars have to be a bit concerned after totaling only 316 yards and scoring just one offensive touchdown against a Rebel defense that was among the worst in the nation last season. Texas struggled in the first half with Rice before putting the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter. The best news for the Longhorns was the play of true freshman tailback Malcom Brown, who rushed for 85 yards on 16 carries in his debut. UT will need consistent production from Brown this season.
Texas 24, BYU 16
Mississippi State (-6.5) at Auburn
Auburn deserves credit for keeping its focus and rallying for 14 points in the final three minutes of its 42–38 win over Utah State, but there were far more negatives than positives. Led by a true freshman at quarterback, Utah State rolled up 448 yards of offense and did not turn the ball over once. And on the other side of the ball, Auburn managed only 364 yards against an Aggie defense that allowed 428.8 yards per game in 2010. It’s not necessarily time to panic, but it’s clear — as we all knew heading into the season — that the ’11 Tigers are a work in progress. Mississippi State, on the other hand, looks like a pretty complete football team. Yes, Memphis is one of the worst teams in the nation, but MSU was dominant in its 59–14 Week 1 win. Go with the Dogs over the Tigers, even at Jordan-Hare.
Mississippi State 37, Auburn 24
Iowa (-6.5) at Iowa State
The Hawkeyes have won six of the past eight in this series, including the past three by an average score of 29–5. Iowa is a solid favorite to win its fourth straight over the Cyclones, but Kirk Ferentz’s club will need a better effort from tailback Marcus Coker. The hero of Iowa’s Insight Bowl win over Missouri last year with 219 yards on 33 carries, Coker was benched in the opener against Tennessee Tech after fumbling twice in the first half. He is back atop the depth chart this week, and he is a guy that will have to produce for this Iowa team to be successful. Iowa State, which edged Northern Iowa 20–19, will need new quarterback Steele Jantz to be more efficient in the passing game. The junior college transfer rushed for 75 yards and two scores but completed only 18-of-40 for 187 yards with three interceptions.
Iowa 24, Iowa State 10
Cincinnati (+6) at Tennessee
Cincinnati rolled up 72 points in its Week 1 win over Austin Peay. Eight different Bearcats scored a touchdown and 10 different UC players rushed for at least 10 yards. Now, Butch Jones’ club must see what it can do against another, far more talented, team from the state of Tennessee. The Vols are also fresh off of a win over an FCS school, but a 42–16 win over Montana is a bit more impressive than a 72–0 victory over Austin Peay. The key for Cincinnati will be taking care of the ball. Two years ago, when the Bearcats won the Big East, they ranked 13th in the nation in turnover margin (+0.69). Last year, when they slumped to 4–8 overall and 2–5 in the Big East (and also lost coach Brian Kelly), they were 119th in the nation in turnover margin (-1.25). This team still has a ton of firepower on offense, led by quarterback Zach Collaros and tailback Isaiah Pead. Tennessee is in for a stiff test
Tennessee 30, Cincinnati 27
Nevada (+27) at Oregon
The Ducks return home after a humbling 40–27 loss to LSU in Dallas. Oregon’s rushing attack, which churned out 286.2 yards per game in 2010, was held to 95 yards on 28 carries. Quarterback Darron Thomas did throw for 240 yards but was held to 4.4 yards per attempt — a number that Chip Kelly can’t be happy with. Nevada was one of only two FBS teams that didn’t play in Week 1 (UAB was the other). The Wolf Pack will be without Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, but Chris Ault still has some solid talent on both sides of the ball. The boys in Vegas don’t seem to think Nevada can keep this game close. I disagree.
Oregon 40, Nevada 27
Last week — 7–3 overall (7–3 against the spread)
The first week of college football action is complete in the Big 12. Here is our look at the week that was.
Team of the Week — Baylor
All 10 Big 12 teams won on the opening weekend, but no team made a statement quite like Baylor. On a national stage, the Bears outlasted TCU, 50–48, in what will likely be one of the most entertaining games of the 2011 season. Led by the dynamic Robert Griffin III, Baylor rolled up 564 yards of total offense against a TCU club that has led the nation in total defense in each of the past three seasons. Baylor, which jumped out to a 7–2 record last season before fading down the stretch, has a chance to be 5–0 when it visits Texas A&M on Oct. 15.
Disappointment of the Week — Kansas State
The Wildcats needed a Collin Klein to Chris Harper 33-yard touchdown with 1:45 remaining in the game to beat FCS foe Eastern Kentucky, 10–7, in Manhattan. The Wildcats were strong on defense (EKU managed only 129 total yards) but struggled to move the ball with consistency all night long. They had 303 total yards and only one of their drives went for more than 50 yards.
Player of the Week — Robert Griffin III, Baylor
Griffin was nearly flawless in the Bears’ memorable win over TCU. The junior completed 21-of-27 passes for 359 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 38 yards and caught one pass — on a crucial third down — for 15 yards. He did commit one costly turnover, a fumble late in the game with Baylor clinging to a two-point lead, but he more than made up for it by leading his team on a seven-play, 46-yard drive that set up the game-winning field goal.
Freshman of the Week — Malcolm Brown, Texas
The nation’s No. 1 running back recruit, according to Athlon Sports, enjoyed a solid debut, rushing for 85 yards on 16 carries in the Longhorns’ 34–9 win over Rice.
Around the Big 12
• Steele Jantz, a junior college transfer, got the start at quarterback in his first game at Iowa State. He was productive on the ground (75 yards and two scores) but struggled throwing the ball. He completed only 18-of–40 for 187 yards with one touchdown and three INTs. Jerome Tiller, who came into the season with three career starts at quarterback, is academically ineligible this season.
• Oklahoma ran an astounding 100 plays from scrimmage — by far the most in the nation — in its 47–14 win over Tulsa. Oklahoma State was next at 87. Dominique Whaley, a walk-on transfer, led the way for OU with 130 yards and four touchdowns on only 18 carries.
• Texas A&M’s running game could be among the best in the nation this season if both Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael remain healthy. In the Aggies’ impressive 46–14 win over SMU Sunday night, Gray led the way with 131 yards on 21 carries while Michael added 85 yards on 14 attempts.
• Missouri scored only 17 points in its Week 1 win over Miami (Ohio). It was the Tigers’ lowest output against a non-conference opponent in the regular season since a 24–14 loss at Troy in September 2004.
• Texas Tech fell behind Texas State 10–0 late in the first quarter but responded by scoring the final 50 points of the game. Seth Doege was efficient in his first start since 2009, completing 23-of-33 for 326 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
• One year after dropping a 6–3 decision to North Dakota State in its season-opener, Kansas rolled up 42 points in an 18-point win over McNeese State. The Jayhawks rushed for 301 yards, their highest total since gaining 334 in a 2008 win over Northern Colorado.
• Texas beat Rice for the 12th straight time. The Longhorns have scored at least 34 points in all but one of the 12 wins, the exception being an 18–13 win over the Owls in 1999.
The first week of college football action is complete in the SEC. Here is our look at the week that was.
Team of the Week — LSU
The Tigers outclassed Oregon in the marquee game of the opening week of the college football season. The LSU run defense was dominant, holding Oregon to 95 yards on 28 carries. The Ducks did pass for 240 yards, but Darron Thomas averaged only 4.4 yards on his 54 attempts — a number that LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis would take every single week. LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee didn’t do much — 98 yards passing with one TD — but he didn’t make many mistakes, either. The Tigers’ offense was powered by tailbacks Spencer Ware (99 yards on 26 carries) and Michael Ford (96 yards on 14 carries).
Disappointment of the Week — Auburn
Auburn deserves credit for keeping its focus and rallying for 14 points in the final three minutes of its 42–38 win over Utah State, but there were far more negatives than positives. Led by a true freshman at quarterback, Utah State rolled up 448 yards of offense and did not turn the ball over once. And on the other side of the ball, Auburn managed only 364 yards against an Aggie defense that allowed 428.8 yards per game in 2010. It’s not necessarily time to panic, but it’s clear — as we all knew heading into the season — that the ’11 Tigers are a work in progress.
Player of the Week — Vick Ballard, Mississippi State
All he does is score touchdowns. After leading SEC running backs with 19 rushing scores last season, Ballard reached the end zone three times on only 10 carries in Mississippi State’s 59–14 win at Memphis. The senior leads the league in rushing after one week, with 166 yards on a gaudy 16.6-yard average.
Freshman of the Week — Trey Depriest, Alabama
It was a relatively quiet week for freshmen in the SEC, but Alabama’s Trey Depriest played very well in his collegiate debut. The true freshman from Springfield, Ohio, led the Tide with 10 total tackles and added one quarterback hurry.
Around the SEC
• Nine of the league’s 12 teams played more than one quarterback in the opening week. Some were by design (Alabama, South Carolina and Ole Miss) while most the of the others were due to the lopsided scores. Some of the notable relievers were Arkansas’ Brandon Mitchell, who completed 10-of-11 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, and Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers, who threw a 30-yard touchdown on his first pass attempt of his FBS career.
• Kentucky had only 190 yards of total offense in its 14–3 win over Western Kentucky, with 58 coming on a late scramble by quarterback Morgan Newton.
• Ole Miss’ defensive effort against BYU looks pretty good on paper — the Cougars scored only one offensive touchdown and had a total of 316 yards — but the Rebels struggled to get off the field in the second half. BYU’s two drives in the third quarter went for 67 yards and 59 yards and the first drive of the fourth quarter went for 72 yards and a touchdown.
• Utah State had five drives of 65 yards or longer against Auburn. Four of Auburn’s six second-half drives went for 43 yards or more.
• Alabama’s defensive effort against Kent State — 90 yards allowed — is even more impressive if you consider that the Golden Flashes ran 70 plays from scrimmage. The Crimson Tide allowed an average 1.29 yards per play, by far the best in the nation in the opening week.
• There were a couple positives for Georgia in its 35–21 loss to Boise State. Tight end Orson Charles caught six passes for 109 yards, and true freshman wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell caught three passes for 64 yards and had one carry for 18 yards.
• Bruce Ellington, the starting point guard for South Carolina’s basketball team, had the first two carries of his Gamecock career, running for a total of 18 yards in USC’s 56–37 win over East Carolina. Ellington did not play football for South Carolina last fall.
• Vanderbilt redshirt freshman wide receiver Chris Boyd became the first Commodore to catch two touchdown passes in the same game since D.J. Moore scored twice against Kentucky in November 2008. Moore, an All-SEC cornerback, played sparingly as a wide receiver late in the ’08 season.
• LSU did not play a game against a Pac-10 opponent from 1982-2003 but has played five since. The Tigers have defeated Oregon State (2004), Arizona State (’05), Arizona (’06), Washington (’09) and Oregon (’11) over the past seven-plus seasons.
Team of the Week — California
Of the Pac-12’s eight wins in Week 1, only three came against FBS opponents. Of those three, Cal’s 36–21 win over Fresno State was by far the most impressive considering that Stanford beat a San Jose State team that won one game last season and USC struggled with Minnesota, which won three games in 2010. The Golden Bears nearly doubled up Fresno in total yardage (413 to 210) and showed some nice balance, with 147 yards on the ground and 266 through the air. Zach Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, was solid in his debut, throwing for 266 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He only completed 16-of-35, but coach Jeff Tedford seemed relatively pleased with the play of his quarterback. One negative for Cal: It appears the Bears will struggle to create a home-field advantage this season while playing at Candlestick Park. The opener drew an announced crowd of 31,563, with Fresno State fans reportedly outnumbering Cal fans.
Disappointment of the Week — Oregon State
This one is easy — even in a week in which the Pac-12 struggled. Oregon State lost at home to Sacramento State, an FCS school that lost its opener last year to Stanford, 52–17. The Beavers are trying to bounce back from their first losing season since 2005. It won’t be easy, with non-conference tests remaining at Wisconsin and vs. BYU at home, along with a nine-game Pac-12 schedule.
Player of the Week — Robert Woods, USC
Woods’ sophomore season began in style, with a school-record 17 catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans’ closer-than-expected 19–17 win over Minnesota at the L.A. Coliseum. Woods, who led USC with 792 yards as a freshman, scored on catches of 7, 50 and 2 yards.
Freshman of the Week — Malcolm Agnew, Oregon State
The Beavers have apparently found the replacement for Jacquizz Rodgers. On an afternoon that will be remembered more for a loss to Sacramento State, Agnew rushed for 223 yards (an OSU freshman record) on 33 carries. The true freshman from St. Louis, Mo., Agnew was a 2-star recruit (by Scout.com) who picked Oregon State over Colorado State.
Around the Pac-12
• In two career games against SEC teams, Oregon tailback LaMichael James has 31 carries for 103 yards. His 49 yards against Auburn in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game and his 54 yards in last week’s loss to LSU are his two lowest totals since he emerged as the Ducks’ primary ball-carrier early in the 2009 season.
• Arizona received solid production from true freshman Ka’Deem Carey in the win over Northern Arizona. Carey, who picked Arizona over Arizona State and USC, rushed for 59 yards on nine carries.
• Joseph Fauria, a former transfer from Notre Dame, had his most productive afternoon in a UCLA afternoon, catching six passes for 110 yards and one score in the Bruins’ loss at Houston. Fauria caught a total of three passes in 2010, his first season at UCLA.
• Stanford’s rush defense was highly effective in the 57–3 win over San Jose State. The Spartan had two running backs carry the ball more than three times, and both averaged less than one yard per attempt. Brandon Rutler and David Freeman combined for 14 yards on 18 carries.
• Washington gave up more than 500 yards of offense to defending FCS national champion Eastern Washington but managed to win the game, 30–27, thanks to a 4-to-0 edge in the turnover battle. EWU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, a former starter at SMU under June Jones, completed 39-of-69 for 473 yards and three touchdowns. Washington’s Keith Price wasn’t nearly as productive. Making his second career start, Price completed a more-than-respectable 68.0 percent of his passes, but his 4.1 yards-per-attempt average was alarmingly low.
• Colorado is going to need to get more production from senior tailback Rodney Stewart. In Saturday’s loss at Hawaii, Stewart netted only 52 yards on 18 carries for a 2.9-yard average. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season, when he rushed for 1,318 yards and 10 carries.
• Utah has to be a bit concerned that it only gained 292 yards against an FCS foe (Montana State), but the Utes did get a break out performance from tailback John White. The diminutive (5-8, 186) junior college transfer rushed for 150 yards on 19 carries.
Name a team from a Big Six power conference that you believe could surprise in 2011-12.
Mitch Light: I believe California will emerge as the biggest threat to Arizona in the new-look Pac-12. Mike Montgomery’s club welcomes back its top three scorers, led by the underrated backcourt of veteran leader Jorge Gutierrez and sophomore sharpshooter Allen Crabbe. Cal lost four double-digit scorers from the 2009 club that won the Pac-10 crown, yet Montgomery still had his team competitive in the league last season; the Bears tied for fourth with a 10–8 mark and advanced to the second round of the NIT. In two years, Montgomery is 23–13 in league games. The guy is a proven winner, and he figures to have the ’11-12 Golden Bears back in the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus.
Nathan Rush: Former George Mason giant killer Jim Larranaga takes over a Miami roster that has all of the pieces in place for a “Cinderella” run in the ACC. The New York City backcourt of junior point guard Durand Scott (13.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.1 apg) and senior Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant (14.8 ppg, 42.3 3PT%) gives the U a solid, veteran foundation to build on. Ever-improving 300-pound junior center Reggie Johnson (11.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 59.1 FG%) should be hitting his prime. If enigmatic highlight-reel high-jumper DeQuan Jones can finally rise to the occasion for his senior year or another wing steps up to replace departed sixth-year senior Adrian Thomas, then the Heat won’t be the only team making noise on the hardwood in South Florida.
Patrick Snow: I think a surprise team on the national scene for the 2011-12 campaign is Cincinnati. While much of the Big East preseason talk will revolve around Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh and defending national champion UConn, Mick Cronin’s squad returns its top four scorers from a 26–9 team. The Bearcats won 11 conference games a year ago and finally bought in to Cronin’s defensive style. They should have a solid nucleus with those top four players — Yancy Gates, Dion Dixon, Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright — and newcomer Shaquille Thomas could provide some added scoring punch. It took five years for Cronin to get the UC program back to a top level, and he should have a quality team that will make some noise during the upcoming season.
What was the most questionable hire of the offseason?
Patrick Snow: I thought this offseason’s most curious hire was Frank Haith at Missouri. Athletic director Mike Alden was very ambitious in his pursuit of Purdue’s Matt Painter after Mike Anderson left for Arkansas. But after Painter turned down Mizzou, Alden seemed to settle immediately on Haith instead of interviewing other qualified candidates. Haith never had a winning ACC record and went 43–69 in league games during seven seasons at Miami. While he did inherit a below-average program from Perry Clark, Haith only took the Hurricanes to the NCAA Tournament once in his tenure at the U. It’s easy to understand the early struggles in Coral Gables, and things looked to be turning around in Haith’s fourth season when the Canes won 23 games and made the NCAA Tournament. However, over the next three seasons, Miami went just 17–31 in league play and made two NITs. While he may wind up recruiting well at Missouri, you have to believe the Tigers could have hired a coach with a better track record.
Mitch Light: I will go with Brian Gregory at Georgia Tech. A former Tom Izzo assistant at Michigan State, Gregory has an outstanding reputation among college coaches, but his record at Dayton — a school that should win at a high level in the A-10 — isn’t overly impressive. He went to the NCAA Tournament only two times in eight seasons and had a league record of 48–48 over his final six seasons. If you are Georgia Tech, a school that colossally underachieved under Paul Hewitt, do you really want a coach who underachieved at his previous stop? For a more under-the-radar choice, I will go with Rod Barnes, who was hired by Cal State Bakersfield after being let go at Georgia State. Barnes went 44–79 in four years at GSU with a mark of 24–48 in the Colonial. Prior to that, Barnes had an eight-year run at Ole Miss, his alma mater. His overall record was a solid 141–109, but he had a losing record in each of his final four seasons and was 28 games under .500 in the SEC.
Braden Gall: I find the Frank Haith-Jim Larranaga-Paul Hewitt merry-go-round very curious. I think Missouri will be good in the short term, but Haith doesn’t strike me as the man to lead the recently reenergized Tigers program into the future long term — no matter how good they might be in 2011-12. Miami is a tough gig and bringing in an elder statesman like Larranaga — who is no doubt a fine coach — won’t exactly fire up a fanbase that is notorious for its lack of support. The U seemed like a job for a young, brash, fiery recruiter rather than a grizzled vet.
Which offseason coaching hire do you like the most?
Patrick Snow: I think the slam dunk hire of this offseason was Mike Anderson at Arkansas. He obviously knows the school and culture in Fayetteville after 17 seasons as an assistant under Nolan Richardson, but Anderson has also proved himself as a head coach. The new Arkansas boss was 200–98 in nine seasons at UAB and Missouri, with six NCAA Tournament appearances. And just as important as his coaching record, Anderson brings an identity back to Hog basketball for the first time since Richardson’s departure. He was the key assistant during Arkansas’ amazing run in the early-to-mid ‘90s, when the Razorbacks went to three Finals Fours and won it all in 1994. The fans will love his excellent recruiting prowess and “Fastest 40 Minutes of Basketball” style of play. After a year of installing his system and bringing in players to fit it, expect Mike Anderson to put Arkansas back on the national map.
Nathan Rush: Billy Gillispie is a perfect fit at Texas Tech. Sure, Gillispie’s act didn’t go over well during his two years at Kentucky — where he went 40–27 overall, 20–12 in the SEC, lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and went to the NIT before getting the axe. But prior to being burned by the spotlight in Lexington, Billy Clyde turned a 6–24 UTEP team into a 24–8 WAC champion during two years in El Paso and was a two-time Big 12 Coach of the Year in three seasons at Texas A&M — where he went 70–26 overall, 31–17 in the Big 12 and made the NCAA Tournament twice, including a Sweet 16 run in 2007. Gillispie is a native Texan with a proven track record in the Lone Star State. The Red Raiders were savvy to buy BCG stock at its lowest point; the hire will pay off sooner rather than later in Lubbock.
Mitch Light: I’m going off the radar a bit with Ron Hunter, the new head coach at Georgia State. Hunter only made the NCAA Tournament once during his time at IUPUI — losing as a No. 16 seed to Kentucky in 2003 — but his teams were consistently among the best in the Summit League. The Jaguars were 106–56 in their 10 seasons in the Summit, with only one losing record — 6–8 in ’01-02, their first year in the league. Hunter is very charismatic, and he will do his best to promote the Georgia State program in the city of Atlanta. The Panthers have struggled to compete in the ever-improving CAA, but that should change with Hunter in charge.
Do you like Texas A&M's decision to go with Billy Kennedy to replace Mark Turgeon?
Mitch Light: I do like the Billy Kennedy hire. He might not be a household name, but the guy is a very good basketball coach who has been a consistent winner. His record at Murray State was outstanding (70–24 in the OVC in five seasons), but I’m more impressed with what he did in his six seasons at Southeastern Louisiana. Kennedy inherited a program that won a combined five games in the Southland in the previous two seasons. He slowly built the Lions into a winner, culminating with back-to-back conference titles in ’03-04 and ’04-05. In ’05, he led SE Louisiana to its first and only NCAA Tournament appearance. Kennedy has only spent one season of his career in the state of Texas (he was an assistant at A&M in the early ‘90s), but he has coached in Louisiana, which borders Texas, for 13 seasons, with stops at New Orleans, Northwestern State and Tulane, in addition to SE Louisiana. Recruiting the state of Texas should not be a problem.
Braden Gall: I do like the fact that Kennedy has ties to the school and the region of the country, and he claims he would like to retire in College Station. After Texas A&M lost its last two coaches to more high-profile schools, finding a coach who appears to be a long-term fit with the Aggies was likely a high priority. I am not in love with the fact that the 47-year-old Kennedy has a 211–179 record as a head coach (a good but not great .541 winning percentage) and has 12 previous stops (10 as an assistant). But if he can continue the trend of aggressive defense — something Mark Turgeon mastered — the transition should be relatively painless in the short term.
Patrick Snow: Yes, I think Billy Kennedy is a solid choice for Texas A&M. He has won regular-season and tournament titles in two different conferences (OVC and Southland), and he has taken home Coach of the Year three times in those leagues. In his last six seasons as the head man at Murray State and Southeastern Louisiana, Kennedy’s teams won at least 13 games in conference play. He worked briefly as an A&M assistant 20 years ago, and his strong recruiting ties to Texas and his native Louisiana will be key in having success in College Station. I’m not sure he ‘won the press conference,’ but Billy Kennedy is a quality hire in Aggieland.
In the wake of Gary Williams’ retirement, there has been considerable debate about the quality of the Maryland job as it relates to the rest of the college basketball landscape. Like most, I believe it is one of the top 10 in the nation. I would put four at the top of the list — North Carolina, Duke, Kansas and Kentucky (in no particular order) — and slot UCLA in at No. 5. After that, Maryland is in a select group that includes Texas, Ohio State and Illinois. Michigan State and UConn could easily be in the second tier, as well.
What makes Maryland such a good job? A history of sustained success, affiliation in an elite conference, fan support and an extremely fertile recruiting area.
But if Maryland is such a good job, then why have the Terps been so mediocre in recent years? Williams was one of the most respected coaches in the nation during his stops at American, Boston College, Ohio State and Maryland, but it’s a fair question to ask if the Terps underachieved during the latter years of his tenure.
The answer is yes and no, depending on how you interpret the numbers. In the nine seasons since winning the national title in 2002, Maryland compiled a 78–66 record in ACC games, an average of 8.6 wins per seasons. At first glance, that’s pretty mediocre, but consider the following: The Terps’ 78 wins rank third in the league over that stretch, behind Duke (107 wins) and North Carolina (97).
Is it fair to label a coach who has won the third most games in one of the top conferences in the nation as an underachiever? Yes, if that coach is the boss of a program that most believe is one of the 10 best in the nation. Since that title season, Maryland has only had a winning record in the ACC three times (11–5 in ’03, 10–6 in ’07, and 13–3 in ’10) and the Terps failed to make the NCAA Tournament four times. In the five seasons in which Maryland did make the tournament, it was seeded no higher than fourth.
So at no time in the past nine seasons have the Terps been regarded as a top-12 team at the conclusion of the regular season — not good for a school with the resources of Maryland.
— Mitch Light
By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Houston — It’s the most unlikely Final Four since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985. We have a No. 3 seed that finished in a three-way tie for ninth place in its own league (UConn), a No. 4 seed that went 2–6 on the road in its conference (Kentucky), a No. 8 seed that at one point this season lost consecutive games to Milwaukee, Valparaiso and Youngstown State (Butler), and, finally, a No. 11 seed that lost its final four conference games of the regular season, three of which were at home (VCU).
So who’s going to advance to the National Championships game on Monday night? Who knows. At this point, all we can do if offer an educated guess. Here’s mine:
Game 1 — Butler over VCU
My first thought was to pick Butler. The Bulldogs are a seasoned group that has proven itself in the NCAA Tournament over the past two seasons. They advanced to this point by beating four very good teams — Old Dominion, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Florida. Those were my thoughts earlier in the week. Then, I switched over to the VCU camp. The Rams, after all, didn’t just beat some good teams to get to the Final Four — they beat them thoroughly. Any team that is good enough to beat Georgetown and Purdue by 18 points and Kansas by 10 is surely good enough to beat Butler. Right? The answer, of course, is yes, but only if this team continues to play at the same extraordinarily high level. Only if this team continues to bury the 3-point shot at such a high rate and continues to rebound the ball so effectively and continues to play defense with such tenacity. The guess here is that VCU will be unable to maintain the same level in all three phases. It’s been a magical ride for the Rams, but it will end Saturday night. I’m back with the Butler Bulldogs.
Game 2 — Kentucky over UConn
At some point late in the season, Kentucky developed into a complete basketball team. Sure, John Calipari would prefer to have more depth and another low-post scorer would be welcomed, but this team that we all thought was flawed earlier in the season looks pretty darn good now. With Josh Harrellson producing around the basket (14.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg in the NCAA Tournament) and veteran wing players DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller playing at a high level to complement the talented freshmen, there’s not a lot this team isn’t doing well. Connecticut, however, will have the best player on the floor in junior guard Kemba Walker. The Huskies will need big a night from Walker, but he must be efficient as well. Kentucky will gladly allow Walker to score 30 points if he needs 25 shots to get his points. UConn must get production from its role players, and big man Alex Oriakhi must provide some scoring around the basket. In four NCAA games, he has scored a total of 25 points. That won’t get it done Saturday night. This figures to be a thrilling game played at a high level. Take the team with the better roster over the team with the best player.
1. There are four great point guards in the Final Four. Which one is your favorite?
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): I don’t want to over-think this one. I’ve got to go with Kemba Walker, a first-team All-American who has been playing at an amazingly high level for the past few weeks. Joey Rodriguez at VCU, Shelvin Mack at Butler and Brandon Knight at Kentucky are all very, very good, but Walker is the best.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): As talented, and clutch, as Brandon Knight has been and as entertaining as Joey Rodriguez can be, how do you not go with Kemba Walker? The step-back buzzer beater against Pitt in the Big East Tournament was a thing of beauty. He is the best scorer of the bunch and has been simply unbeatable (12-0) in any tournament he has played in this season.
Nathan Rush: I’ve been a fan of VCU’s Joey Rodriguez since he, Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes were the state title-winning “Three Amigos” of Orlando’s Lake Howell High. Florida’s Billy Donovan snatched up Parsons and Calathes, while former Gators assistant-turned-VCU coach Anthony Grant (who is now at Alabama) was able to sign Rodriguez to the Rams. J-Rod has been as valuable as any player in this year’s NCAA Tournament — averaging 10.2 points, 7.6 assists (compared to only 2.0 turnovers), 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals over five games. It’s good to finally see Rodriguez getting the national exposure he deserves. He’s my favorite point guard in the Final Four.
2. What is more of a surprise: Butler in its second straight Final Four or VCU making the Final Four?
Mitch: Well, I am more surprised that VCU is in the Final Four, because the Rams were a No. 11 seed and had lost their last four regular-season games in the CAA. But I think Butler making it the Final Four for the second straight season is a bigger story. It is very difficult for make the Final Four once. Just ask BYU, Missouri and Alabama, three schools with over 20 trips to the NCAA Tournament without a Final Four appearance. Butler has now done it two times in a row. It’s truly one of the most amazing stories in college basketball over the past two decades.
Braden: VCU is more surprising in my mind. They have played one more game than everyone else as one of the last teams to make it into the bracket. It really isn’t a shock that a team that played for the national title last season made it back to the Final Four the following year.
Nathan: VCU making the Final Four as a controversial “First Four” at-large bid is definitely more surprising than Butler advancing to the Final Four for the second straight season. The Bulldogs lost Gordon Hayward to the NBA Draft — where he went No. 9 overall to the Jazz — but returned a brilliant coach (Brad Stevens), blue-collar big man (Matt Howard) and clutch lead guard (Shelvin Mack). The Rams, however, lost five of their last eight games before making the NCAA Tournament field of 68. Since then, Shaka Smart’s team has knocked off USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas. That’s Shaka-ing to me.
3. Name a role player who will have to step up for his team to win two games in Houston.
Mitch: Kentucky’s Josh Harrellson is one guy who will need to play well, but I will go with Butler freshman Khyle Marshall. He plays about 20 minutes, gives the Bulldogs a little bit of scoring (7.7 ppg in the NCAA Tournament) and some quality work on the boards (6.7 rpg). Marshall, who signed with Butler before last year’s amazing run to the Final Four, is the type of under-the-radar recruit who has put the Bulldogs in position to compete on a national level.
Braden: Anyone named Lamb. Whichever Lamb shows up in the Kentucky vs. UConn game will win the national title. Both UK’s Doron and UConn’s Jeremy can shoot from long range, both are solid passers and both can handle the ball.
Nathan: Kentucky freshman Doron Lamb undoubtedly will shadow Connecticut’s Kemba Walker for much of the UK-UConn showdown. And the Oak Hill product from New York City must play the type of lockdown defense he played for key stretches against North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes in the Elite Eight victory. Offensively, Lamb must continue to knock down open shots from long range — where he shot 48.1 percent (65-of-135) this year, including 62.5 percent (5-of-8) in the NCAA Tournament. Lamb must play great defense and hit big shots under pressure in order for the Cats to advance to the title game and, ultimately, cut down the nets in Houston.
4. Should the NCAA reseed the teams in the Final Four?
Mitch: No. Bad idea. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Braden: Great question. The answer to that question 99 out of 100 times is absolutely not. This would be the only year that even raises the issue. An 8 vs. 11 match-up has never happened in the Final Four and may never happen again. It’s unfortunate that the national title will be determined on Saturday in the Kentucky-UConn game, but those are the cards basketball fans — and CBS — have been dealt. The best we can hope for on Monday night is that Butler will give us another great effort.
Nathan: Absolutely not. All region champs are created equal at this time of year. Any team that wins four straight games (or five, in VCU’s case) in the Big Dance has proven it belongs. These are the four No. 1 seeds, in my opinion. Plus, reseeding could backfire. If UK and UConn were split up, they could both lose. Then, there would be a Butler-VCU title game. As it stands, at least one member of basketball royalty will be playing an underdog for the crown on Monday night in Houston.
5. Who will win it all?
Mitch: Right now, I think Kentucky is the best team. If the Cats continue to get solid play from Josh Harrellson, a perceived weakness is a strength. Kentucky is getting great play from its veteran wing players Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins, and the entire team is hitting big shots in the big moments.
Braden: The experience and will power of Kemba Walker will give the Huskies the slight edge over Kentucky. However, something tells me that this is John Calapari’s year. Every time North Carolina got to within one or two points, Brandon Knight would knock down a huge shot. These Cats can shoot the ball better than any of Cal’s past teams, and it appears the coach has finally learned that you have to run half-court sets to win a championship. Even if the banner is pulled down in three years.
Nathan: Kentucky over Butler. This is not John Calipari’s most talented collection of players but it may be the best “team” he’s ever had, not to mention the best coaching job he’s ever done. The emergence of senior junior college transfer Josh “Jorts” Harrellson — who stepped up when the NCAA suspended five-star freshman Enes Kanter for the season — has provided championship-caliber heart and soul for the Cats, while juniors DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller add athleticism and experience to a core trio of freshmen — point guard Brandon Knight, wingman Doron Lamb and forward Terrence Jones — who are playing with poise beyond their years. Butler is no easy out but if Coach Cal can avoid a repeat of his Memphis-Kansas Monday night meltdown — when he let a championship slip through his fingers — UK will raise the eighth banner in school history.
By Ken Davis
When Jim Calhoun embarked on his career as a NCAA Division I basketball coach at Northeastern in 1972, he was 30 years old — even younger than Butler’s Brad Stevens or VCU’s Shaka Smart as they head to the 2011 Final Four.
Fourteen seasons at Northeastern gave Calhoun an understanding of the whole mid-major, David vs. Goliath issue, but the hurdles were much different back then for the young coach from Boston.
“Making our way through, we always felt the elite were the elite and just to play them was great, never mind beating them,” said Calhoun, who is now 68 and leading Connecticut to a Final Four for the fourth time since 1999. “Now, everybody can beat everybody. I think it’s good for the sport.”
Calhoun can say that without any trepidation, because his team is still alive and just two wins away from UConn’s third national championship. The Huskies still fall on the elite side, along with Kentucky, their semifinal opponent. But Kansas, Georgetown and Purdue actually feel the pain because they all lost to VCU. And the same goes for Florida, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh, who were Butler’s big-name victims in this tournament.
Since tournament seeding began in 1979, there has never been a Final Four like this. The school banners hanging over the festivities at Reliant Stadium in Houston will have a much different look and not just because Butler and VCU have crashed the power conference party.
The absence of either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed is unprecedented. With the benefit of time, we may look back on this Final Four as the one that changed all our previous perceptions.
“The teams that play the best basketball in the tournament are the teams that have a chance to win the tournament,” Stevens said. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from or how big your football program is or how much money is in your athletic department.
“It’s about a group of kids coming together, five guys playing on the court at once, hopefully believing together. … There’s no politics in this. There’s a 40-minute basketball game. That’s the beautiful thing about it.”
Calhoun says it is the cumulative effect of players leaving early for the NBA.
“This year we noticed,” Calhoun said. “I said all year there are some terrific teams. Pitt, Ohio State, Kansas … but there may not be a great team. It there’s not a great team, it opens up the field for everybody else. That’s what happened.”
Who needs further expansion? With 68-teams, better players and better coaches at all levels, the formula seems almost perfect.
Without a doubt, that is the top storyline for this Final Four. Here’s the rest of our Top 10:
Lighting A Fire
VCU has made history, going from the “First Four” to the Final Four in this first tournament with a 68-team field. No other team in history has had to win five games to reach the Final Four. And this is a team with 11 losses. The Rams were 3-5 in February. On March 1, Smart found a new way to light a fire under his team. Smart gathered his players together, took the month of February out of his desk calendar, used a lighter and set it on fire. “The guys watched it burn,” Smart said. “That was symbolic for us, putting the month of February behind us.” Said Calhoun: “I love it.”
Calipari Was Hired For This
Tubby Smith couldn’t please the fans in Big Blue Nation. The Billy Gillispie Era was a disaster and lasted two seasons. On April 1, 2009, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart introduced John Calipari as the coach of the Wildcats. His critics call him Coach Vacate because Final Four appearances with Massachusetts and Memphis have been stricken from the NCAA record book because of rules violations. But Wildcat fans love Coach Cal for taking Kentucky to the Promised Land for the first time since the Comeback Kids of 1998. “I’m young enough that I am not worried about my legacy,” Coach Cal said. “I am trying to win one more game.”
Take The Money And …
VCU athletic director Norwood Teague says he’s going to keep Smart as coach of the Rams. How much cash will that take? Smart has gotten smarter and hotter as a coaching prospect as the Rams moved on in the tournament. With his aggressive and attractive style of play, you just know a school like NC State is ready to tangle big dollars in front of Smart’s eyes. Of course, Brad Stevens signed an extension after Butler’s big season and first Final Four last year. “There are so many factors that go into it,” Stevens said. “You have to figure out what’s best for your family, are you happy where you are, do you feel empowered when you go to work, do you like the people you work with, do you like the city you live in, and everything else.”
This stat worked its way through media rooms across the country over the weekend. Stevens, 34, and Smart, 33, combined are younger than Calhoun, 68. “My two sons plus my problem child [Calipari],” Calhoun said during a conference call Monday.
Cal vs. Calhoun
That “problem child” reference brings us to the prime-time coaching matchup in the semifinal round. Calipari and Calhoun are anything but strangers. They went at each other hard and strong when Calipari coached at UMass. Both were trying to mark their territory. The schools were old rivals from the Yankee Conference (and before), and the coaches hated each other. The fire doesn’t burn quite as strong any more, but there is still a feeling of dislike. They have met a few times since Cal left Amherst, most recently in Maui when UConn won. The bottom line is their personalities are so similar there’s no way they could get along. “John always has been an aggressive, incredible personality who has developed into a terrific basketball coach,” Calhoun said. Calipari said he would be shocked if Calhoun ever retires. “He’s as good as they get,” Cal said of the UConn coach.
It seems fitting that UConn point guard Kemba Walker will close out his college basketball career at the Final Four. Walker began his season of dominance at the Maui Invitational in November, which now seems like a lifetime ago. He had a little shooting slump when everyone started to doubt him, then he took the young Huskies on his back for this remarkable postseason run. Five wins in five days at the Big East Tournament. Now four more wins in the NCAA, to make it nine in a row. This is UConn’s second Final Four in three years, but last season was an NIT disaster, and the cloud of the NCAA investigation into recruiting violations hung over the Huskies all season. UConn’s Final Four run is almost as amazing as that of VCU or Butler.
This isn’t Indy
Butler was the home team at the Final Four in Indianapolis last year. It was remarkable. The Final Four hadn’t seen anything like it since Danny Manning and his Miracles at Kansas won the 1988 championship in Kansas City, Mo., and Kemper Arena. But Lucas Oil Stadium was on a whole different scale. Duke had to win the national championship playing a road game. “Nothing will be like Indy. Indy was crazy,” Stevens said. “If there's 30,000 people [at open practice] they're going to try to be getting whoever else's autographs are there in Houston. It's not going to be for our guys. ... But trust me, we will play anywhere they send us and we are thrilled to go to Houston."
Get the point
Walker, named to first team Associated Press All-America team Monday, may be the star of this Final Four. But the other three teams have talented point guards who direct the traffic, call the signals and provide the leadership. Can you remember a Final Four team that didn’t have that? The Butler-VCU game will match Shelvin Mack of Butler against Joey Rodriguez of VCU. Mack wasn’t highly recruited, but he fits the Butler system perfectly. Rodriquez is a senior who never backs down. His distribution to his teammates was a key in the win over Kansas. And Walker will be going against freshman Brandon Knight, the Most Outstanding Player in the East Regional and the king of the buzzer beater in this tournament. The Kentucky media guide says Knight chose the Wildcats over UConn, Florida, Kansas, Miami and Syracuse. It should say about 300 other schools wanted him. “If I spent all my time on the kids we lost, I’d fantasize and we would have won a lot of championships because we’ve lost a lot of good players,” Calhoun said. “I’m more interested in the kids we get.”
Fans say they love the Cinderella teams. But do they really? We will find out Saturday when the semifinals play out on CBS. Butler vs. VCU first and then the bluebloods, Kentucky vs. UConn. The ratings for this tournament have been off the charts so far, but will the viewers embrace this Final Four? By this time, the Cinderellas have usually turned to pumpkins. “It’s going to be fine,” Mike Aresco, CBS Sports executive vice president, told USA Today. Aresco likes Butler as a “big story” and the two young coaches. He didn’t mention Calhoun’s “problem child” but you can be sure the ratings will be high in Kentucky.
Ken Davis is the author of Basketball Vault books covering the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Connecticut. Both are available through the publisher
(http://www.whitmanvaultbooks.com/) and autographed copies are available at Ken's web page (http://kendavis55.wordpress.com/).
1. Which Sweet 16 matchup are you most looking forward to watching?
Mitch Light: There are a bunch of good ones, but I’m interested in the Duke vs. Arizona game in Anaheim. There’s star power with Arizona’s Derrick Williams and Duke’s Nolan Smith — two All-Americans — and then there is the Kyrie Irving storyline: How much of an impact will he have on the game? I think the key will be Williams vs. the Duke front line. He will need to have a monster game for Arizona to move on.
Nathan Rush: BYU-Florida will either be Jimmer Fredette’s final college contest or a repeat of last year’s first-round upset — when the Jimmer scored 37 points while leading the Cougars to a 99–92 double-overtime victory in Oklahoma City. I don’t know which one it will be, but I expect Jimmer to go out in style — the Naismith Player of the Year Award finalist is averaging 37 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds over his last four games.
Braden Gall: BYU and Florida. This Gators team is big inside, has veteran guards and an extraordinary coach. And don’t forget about the extremely versatile Chandler Parsons, the SEC Player of the Year. Jimmer-mania got the Cougars out of the first weekend — something I did not anticipate, I will admit. So I won’t miss any game with Fredette — especially since it will be his last. Patric Young is playing the best ball of his young career. The Gators have too much interior size.
2. What National Championship matchup would you most like to see?
Mitch: A Butler vs. Duke rematch would be wild, but I don’t believe that will happen. I will be boring and go with Ohio State vs. Kansas. These were the two best teams for the majority of the season, and I would love to see them play each other for a national title.
Nathan: Ohio State and Kansas are the two best teams. And since North Carolina and Duke can’t meet in the title game, I’ll go with the top two rosters. But I do wish the Tar Heels and Blue Devils could go toe-to-toe with everything on the line. Maybe one day. If so, I want Gus Johnson on the mic.
Braden: North Carolina v. Kansas would certainly have some storylines. Florida and Kentucky would too. But Duke vs. Ohio State would be my pick. I think they are the best two teams in the nation, and I would love to see them battle it out in Houston — it just won’t be in the title game.
3. Which team are you most surprised is not playing this weekend?
Mitch: Well, anytime a No. 1 seed doesn’t make it to the Sweet 16 it’s a surprise, so Pitt is one answer. But I’m more surprised that Texas will not be playing in the Sweet 16. I really thought Rick Barnes’ team was ready for deep run. This edition of the Longhorns had enough talent to win a national championship, but they simply didn’t make the smart plays in crunch time against Arizona. Major disappointment.
Nathan: Rick Barnes did it again. Every year, I take Texas too far in my bracket. I was feeling pretty good when Cory Joseph prepared to inbound the ball with a 69–67 lead over Arizona and 14.5 seconds on the clock. Then, a failed timeout call and controversial five-second violation resulted in an opportunity for Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams to make a hero play, which he did. The rest is busted bracket history. But look out for the Longhorns next year; I’ll probably pick them to make the Final Four and maybe even win it all.
Braden: I am sure Texas would get a lot of votes, but the Horns consistently underachieve in the tourney (I had Zona). My pick is Notre Dame. A veteran, defensive-minded team that can shoot the lights out? There is no way that team should have been knocked out — especially the way they were.
4. If you were an A.D. and had a job opening, which coach would be higher on your wish list: VCU’s Shaka Smart or Richmond’s Chris Mooney?
Mitch: Mooney. Smart has done a great job guiding VCU to the Sweet 16, but he’s only been a head coach for two seasons and he didn’t recruit the key players on this team. And don’t forget, VCU lost its last four CAA regular-season games when it was — we thought — playing for its NCAA Tournament life. The sample size of Mooney’s work, however, is far greater. He went 18–12 in his lone season at Air Force (2004-05) and has built Richmond into a consistent winner. The Spiders have reached the NCAA Tournament in two straight seasons — which isn’t easy to do coming out of the A-10.
Nathan: I’ll go with the “Havoc Ball” full-court defensive pressure and fast-breaking offensive style of VCU’s Shaka Smart. Like his predecessor at VCU, current Alabama coach Anthony Grant, Smart coached under two-time national champion Florida coach Billy Donovan — who is the star of Rick Pitino’s extensive coaching tree — before arriving in the Commonwealth. I’d hire Smart, a coach cut from the Donovan-Pitino mold, over Mooney, a former wedding planner with a Princeton pace. But make no mistake, neither the Rams nor Spiders would be in the Sweet 16 without their top-flight point guards — Joey Rodriguez and Kevin Anderson.
Braden: Unfortunately, we just don’t know enough about Shaka Smart. Mooney has a much longer track record and built this Spiders squad himself. He has increased his win total four years in a row, building to this tournament. And his team took advantage by making it to the second weekend. Smart certainly looks the part, but Anthony Grant deserves most of the credit for the construction of this VCU team.
5. Who will win the national title?
Mitch: I’ll stick with Ohio State, my pick before the NCAA Tournament. There are plenty of teams that can beat Ohio State, but the Buckeyes are the best team in the country when they are playing well. They’ve got the big man in the middle in Jared Sullinger and a bunch of shooters on the perimeter. They will be tough to beat.
Nathan: After watching Ohio State crush UT-San Antonio, 75–46, in the opener and stomp on George Mason’s Cinderella dreams, 98–66, there’s no reason to go against my pre-Tournament national title pick. Jared Sullinger and the Buckeyes will cut down the nets in Houston on April 4.
Braden: Duke. Duke. Duke. I picked them to cut down the nets before I learned Kyrie Irving would be back. This team is just as talented as Kansas, just as physical and athletic as Ohio State and has more experience than both. Give me Coach K.