By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the most important things to take away from this weekend.
Arkansas – After getting throttled by Alabama in Week 4, the Razorbacks have bounced back with two solid wins. Arkansas had to stage a furious rally to beat Texas A&M, but easily defeated Auburn 38-14 on Saturday. Outside of the season finale against LSU, the Razorbacks should be favored the rest of the way.
Arizona State – It’s still too early to declare the Sun Devils the runaway Pac-12 South champ, but their remaining schedule is favorable. Outside of a date at Oregon this Saturday, Arizona State hosts Colorado, Arizona and California, while making road trips to UCLA and Washington State. The Sun Devils will be underdogs against Oregon, but there is not another sure loss on the schedule.
Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina – Steve Spurrier’s decision to go with Shaw appears to have sparked the offense - at least for now. The sophomore blistered the Kentucky secondary for 311 yards and four touchdowns, while adding 42 yards on the ground. Shaw’s four touchdown tosses against the Wildcats equaled Stephen Garcia’s total so far this year. Considering the opponent was Kentucky, it’s hard to put a whole lot of stock in Shaw’s performance, but he looked comfortable and the offense turned in its best performance of 2011.
Georgia – After losing the first two games of the year, the Bulldogs have fought back with four consecutive victories. The defense has not allowed more than 13 points in its last four games. Running back Isaiah Crowell rushed for only 58 yards against Tennessee, but has brought a spark to the offense. Georgia has a key test coming on Oct. 29 against Florida, but the Bulldogs look like the best team in the SEC East.
Houston – The Cougars lack a marquee non-conference win, but they have cruised to a 6-0 start. Considering the upcoming schedule – Marshall, Rice, UAB, Tulane – Houston should be 10-0 before the final two games of the year against SMU and Tulsa. It’s a longshot for the Cougars to make a BCS bowl, but there’s a strong possibility they could finish the season undefeated.
Kansas State – Once again, the Wildcats continue to prove the doubters wrong. Kansas State was a home underdog to Missouri, but posted a 24-17 victory to move to 5-0. There’s nothing flashy about this team, but the Wildcats simply continue to find ways to win. Quarterback Collin Klein is having a good season, while linebacker Arthur Brown has been a difference-maker on defense.
Illinois – The Fighting Illini is 6-0 and in the thick of the Big Ten Leaders Division title chase. Receiver A.J. Jenkins has been on fire this season, posting four games of at least 100 yards receiving and scoring five times in his last two contests. Although Illinois is off to a great start, Saturday’s test against Ohio State could be its toughest of the season.
Michigan – The Wolverines trailed Northwestern 24-14 at halftime, but there was no panic in this team as they rallied for a 42-24 victory. Michigan continues to make good adjustments on defense in the second half, while quarterback Denard Robinson overcame three picks to help lead the comeback. The Wolverines are off to their first 6-0 start since 2006 and face rival Michigan State this Saturday.
Nebraska – A week after getting blown out against Wisconsin, it looked like the Cornhuskers were headed for another loss midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s game against Ohio State. However, Nebraska rallied for a 34-27 victory, led by the one-two punch of quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead. The Cornhuskers still have question marks on defense, but remain the favorite to win the Legends Division.
Notre Dame – With Saturday’s 59-33 victory over Air Force, the Fighting Irish has quietly totaled four wins in a row. Notre Dame is off this Saturday and is back in action on Oct. 22 against USC. If the Fighting Irish can knock off the Trojans, they should be 9-2 going into the season finale against Stanford.
Oklahoma – The Red River Rivalry wasn’t much of a contest. The Sooners used a big game from quarterback Landry Jones (31 of 50, 367 yards) and three defensive touchdowns to blow out Texas 55-17. Oklahoma still has a few tests remaining – at Kansas State, Texas A&M and at Baylor – but is headed for a Dec. 3 showdown against Oklahoma State. If both teams are undefeated, a spot in the national title game could be on the line.
Oregon State – It’s been a difficult year in Corvallis, but Saturday’s victory over Arizona erases the goose egg from the win column. The Beavers have shown improvement each week, and will get a boost when running back Malcolm Agnew returns to the lineup. Coach Mike Riley is taking a lot of criticism for Oregon State’s slow start, but the talk of him being on the hot seat needs to end.
Penn State – The offense is going to be an issue all year, but the Nittany Lions have a solid defense to lean on. Penn State defeated Iowa 13-3 on Saturday to move to 5-1 this season. The Nittany Lions should earn their sixth victory with Purdue coming to Happy Valley on Saturday. If the offense can settle on a quarterback and get consistent production, Penn State should be in good shape to get to eight or nine wins.
Rutgers – It wasn’t exactly a pretty victory, but the Scarlet Knights defeated Pittsburgh to move to 4-1. How important was Saturday’s win? Rutgers won only four games all of last season. The offense is still searching for the right pieces, but after a disappointing 2010 season, the Scarlet Knights should be in the mix for a bowl bid.
UL Lafayette – The Ragin’ Cajuns haven’t beat any team in the top 25, but they are off to an impressive 5-1 start and own victories over Troy and FIU. New coach Mark Hudspeth has been one of the top hires for 2011 and the Ragin’ Cajuns are poised to earn their first season of more than six wins since 1993.
Virginia Tech – One week after a disappointing 23-3 loss to Clemson, the Hokies delivered in the clutch for a 38-35 victory over Miami. Quarterback Logan Thomas had the best performance of his career, completing 23 of 25 throws for 310 yards and three scores. The sophomore also added 28 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. With Thomas settling in, don’t write off Virginia Tech from winning the ACC title.
Wake Forest – After finishing 3-9 last season, there were some calling for Demon Deacons’ coach Jim Grobe to be placed on the hot seat. How quickly things have changed. Wake Forest is off to a solid 4-1 start, which includes Saturday’s big win over Florida State. The Demon Deacons still have a chance to win the ACC Atlantic, but Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech and the Nov. 12 date at Clemson will be huge. Even if Wake Forest doesn’t win the Atlantic, it should make a bowl game.
Arizona – The Wildcats dropped to 1-5 with a 37-27 defeat to Oregon State on Saturday. Arizona’s only win in 2011 came in the opener against Northern Arizona and its last victory over a FBS team was against UCLA on Oct. 30, 2010. Although the Wildcats had a lot of holes to fill this season, the dismal start has put coach Mike Stoops squarely on the hot seat. Whether or not he keeps his job will depend on how Arizona performs over the final six games of 2011.
Boston College – The Eagles have struggled all year and dropped to 1-5 with Saturday’s 36-14 loss to Clemson. Unfortunately, the bad news didn’t stop on the field, as running back Montel Harris and defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsay are both done for the year due to injuries. Boston College hopes to get both players a medical redshirt for a return in 2012.
Florida State – Saturday’s 35-30 loss to Wake Forest was the Seminoles’ third straight loss. Florida State began the year with national title expectations, but has struggled with turnovers, penalties and dropped passes by the receivers. EJ Manuel’s injury against Oklahoma was a setback for the offense, despite Clint Trickett’s play in the loss against Clemson. The Seminoles have a good shot to win all of their remaining games, but the mental errors that have plagued this team must be fixed.
Kentucky offense – If the Wildcats’ offense wasn’t at rock bottom already, Saturday’s performance probably pushed it there. Kentucky managed only 96 yards of offense against South Carolina and struggled just to move the ball past midfield. The Wildcats also turned the ball over six times. Kentucky was expected to have one of the top offensive lines in the SEC this season, but that group has been hit by injuries, while quarterback Morgan Newton has struggled mightily.
Maryland offense – Whether it’s a new scheme, coaching or different personnel stepping into starting roles, the Terrapins just haven’t been able to find their rhythm on offense this year. Quarterback Danny O’Brien entered 2011 as one of the contenders for ACC Offensive Player of the Year, but was awful in Saturday’s loss to Georgia Tech, completing 1 of 6 passes for 17 yards and one interception. Backup C.J. Brown did not fare much better, throwing four completions on 17 attempts for 36 yards. Brown did give the team a spark with his legs, but Maryland has to find its passing offense with a high-scoring Clemson team coming to College Park.