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Tuesday Talking Points: Georgia Misses Another Chance, Pac-12 South Wide Open

Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia Bulldogs

Every Saturday night, Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall hosts The Scoreboard Show on SiriusXM College Sports Nation, Ch. 91. Every Tuesday, Athlon Sports will feature his take on the national conversation from fans to players to coaches.

The 2007 season is the benchmark for college football craziness, and while there is still more than two months left in the ‘14 campaign, comparisons are already being made to that wacky season seven years ago.

I bet Mark Richt remembers all about the '07 campaign.

We entered Week 3 with one marquee showdown in the SEC East and a bunch of so-so matchups throughout the rest of college football.

But as the day went along, it was obviously not going to be an average run of the mill Saturday afternoon.

West Virginia and Clint Trickett ran 108 plays for 694 yards to outlast Maryland, sending an unexpected shot across the Big 12 bow. Ruffin McNeill and East Carolina basically dominated a Virginia Tech team in Blacksburg that went into Columbus and won easily last weekend. Bowling Green scored with nine seconds left to give the Big Ten their third loss to the MAC. And Virginia won an ACC game for the first time in 672 days when it upset a ranked Louisville team at home.

And that was just the noon kickoffs. The real craziness took place in the SEC East and the Pac-12 South.

Georgia and South Carolina duked it out in true heavyweight fashion in a rainy but electric Williams-Brice Stadium. The Bulldogs had no answer on defense for the balanced and explosive South Carolina offense. Dylan Thompson waited his turn behind Connor Shaw for years for exactly this type of moment.

With the season hanging in the balance just three weeks into his senior season, the Gamecocks quarterback led an offense that dissected the UGA defense for 447 yards and 6.2 yards per play in what turned out to be the highest scoring game in the history of the SEC East series. 

Thompson finished with 271 yards passing and four total touchdowns. More importantly, Steve Spurrier’s bunch left Week 3 with what amounts to a two-game lead over Georgia in the East and a renewed sense of purpose. Do both the Dawgs and Cocks have glaring issues on the defensive side of the ball? Is the rest of the SEC East — considering how good Mizzou has looked — considerably more balanced and more difficult than expected in the preseason? Did Georgia once again miss an opportunity to make a championship statement in a huge moment under Mark Richt?

Yes. Yes. And yes. But, for now, South Carolina landed the first big SEC East blow.

One guy who didn’t miss his chance in the spotlight was UCLA backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel.

The Bruins have looked like anything but a College Football Playoff team with three victories over Virginia, Memphis and Texas by a grand total of 18 points. But Neuheisel, the son of former UCLA coach and QB Rick Neuheisel who was forced into action when Brett Hundley left in the first quarter with an arm injury, won’t ever forget what happened in Arlington on Saturday night.

With three minutes to go in the game and trailing by four points, Neuheisel dropped a gorgeous 33-yard touchdown pass into the waiting arms of Jordan Payton down the left sideline to give UCLA the win over Texas. He may never throw another pass on any level again in his career but he certainly won’t ever forget that one.

While the Bruins have struggled on the whole this season, UCLA is still unbeaten and is coming off its most complete game against its best opponent and did so without its Heisman Trophy candidate. It should give Jim Mora’s bunch some confidence heading into a bye week before traveling to Tempe to face Arizona State in a critical Pac-12 South showdown.

The key will be who is playing quarterback in that huge Thursday night showdown. Hundley is optimistic he can return for UCLA while the Sun Devils may not be as lucky. Arizona State’s star quarterback Taylor Kelly was on crutches in the waning moments of ASU’s win over Colorado on Saturday and appears to be out for 2-3 games.

It couldn’t come at a worse time for Todd Graham. Arizona State will get an off weekend in Week 4 but then have to face UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington. The Sun Devils’ Pac-12 South hopes may now hinge on the inexperienced but very powerful right arm of junior Mike Bercovici.

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If either Kelly or Hundley miss any amount of time — or aren’t playing at their usually elite level — one would think that would open the door for another team to step into the Pac-12 title picture.

It’s just hard to make the case that this team will be USC. The Trojans' win over Stanford was fortunate but there was nothing fluky about the way Boston College dominated the line of scrimmage against USC on Saturday night. Steve Sarkisian’s bunch was outrushed 452 to 20 in the massive upset. Seriously, read that previous sentence again.

No, it may actually be Arizona (3-0) or Utah (2-0) who might be ready to step into a challenger's role in the Pac-12 South rather than the Men of Troy.

Entering Week 3, the races in the SEC East and Pac-12 South were somewhat clear with Georgia and UCLA standing in control. While both the Bruins and Dawgs could still be considered the front-runners, each appears to be right in the heart of a much more heated race than originally expected.

Would it really shock anyone now if Missouri or Arizona won its respective division?

Saturday Conversation

Dylan Thompson, QB, South Carolina

The Gamecocks quarterback was extra motivated after hearing about how great Georgia was for two weeks and that helped his team pull off the upset at home.

Jerry Neuheisel, QB, UCLA

The UCLA quarterback had to step in for the injured Brett Hundley and he led the Bruins to a comeback win over Texas. He talks about his interview with his father, Rick, and being forced into the spotlight.

Tyler Murphy, QB, Boston College

The Eagles quarterback rushed for 191 yards and explained how his team was able to pull off the shocking upset over USC.

Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina

The head coach of the Pirates knew his team was prepared to compete with Virginia Tech but he explains how losing to South Carolina helped his team.

Brandon Allen, QB, Arkansas

The Razorbacks quarterback explained how the SEC-Big 12 rivalry and difference in offensive styles helped the Hogs prepare for (and defeat) Texas Tech.

Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina

The Gamecocks running back gives all of the credit for the ground game’s success to the offensive line after the big win over Georgia.

Greyson Lambert, QB, Virginia

The Cavaliers signal-caller explains how the locker room at Virginia is brimming with confidence following a big win over Louisville.