Steve Megargee Rivals.com College Football Staff Writer
What most of the nation already suspected about the SEC has been confirmed.
The West is best.
Two interdivisional games Saturday in the SEC underscored the Western Division's superiority over the East this season.
Alabama physically dominated Florida and knocked starting quarterback John Brantley out of the game in a 38-10 victory over the Gators in the Swamp. That result wasn't a surprise, though the margin of victory might raise some eyebrows.
But the bigger stunner came in Columbia, as preseason East Division favorite South Carolina fell 16-13 to Auburn. An Auburn defense that had been allowing 31 points per game held South Carolina in check all day and limited Marcus Lattimore to 66 yards on 17 carries.
"We wanted to show everyone in the nation what we can do, and we did it," Auburn defensive end Nosa Eguae told reporters after the game. "You hear all week how your rushing defense is atrocious, it gets to you. It hurts you on the inside. It makes you want to go out and prove them wrong."
The day wasn't an entire washout for the East, as Georgia knocked off Mississippi State 24-10 in a third interdivisional game. But there's no doubt at this point in the season that the SEC's best teams are in the West.
With each passing week, the first two months of the season looks more and more like shaping up as a prelude to the Alabama-LSU showdown Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa. Has anyone in the country looked better than either of those two teams?
LSU already made the most of its prime-time opportunities on national TV by delivering dominant performances against Oregon, Mississippi State and West Virginia. LSU ceded the spotlight to Alabama on Saturday while taking care of business with a 38-7 rout of Kentucky in yet another SEC interdivisional game.
Alabama looked equally imposing against Florida. Alabama physically dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage. Trent Richardson ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns, while Alabama's defense held the SEC's top-ranked ground attack to 15 rushing yards on 29 carries. Brantley was injured late in the second quarter, and Florida didn't mount any semblance of an offense in the second half.
While the West looks like a two-team race between Alabama and LSU, the East suddenly is wide open.
South Carolina's loss to Auburn is good news for Georgia, which had lost to the Gamecocks earlier in the season. Florida had a chance to assert itself as the Eastern Division front-runner by upsetting Alabama, but the Gators came up short and now may be heading to LSU next week without their starting quarterback.
South Carolina remains the most talented team in the East, but the Gamecocks must improve their offense and need more consistency from their quarterback. Stephen Garcia went 9-of-23 against Auburn, and he has thrown six interceptions in the past two games.
"Offensively, we could do nothing," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier told reporters after the game. "We were pretty sad, pretty sad the entire game. Couldn't run the ball, and we're not a very good passing team. They made some third downs and ended up winning the game."
Here's a recap of winners and losers across the nation from the fifth week of the season.
LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu: Mathieu already is considered a prime contender for the Jim Thorpe Award that goes annually to the nation's top defensive back. If he continues his early-season penchant for delivering game-changing plays, Mathieu also could start getting Heisman consideration. Mathieu stripped the football from Kentucky QB Maxwell Smith and returned the fumble 23 yards for a touchdown in LSU's 35-7 victory. Although he is only a sophomore, Mathieu already owns LSU's career record for forced fumbles (nine).
Michigan State: The team that entered the week having allowed the fewest yards per game of any FBS program lived up to that ranking Saturday by delivering nine sacks in a 10-7 victory over Ohio State.
Boise State's defense: One year ago, Nevada rushed for 269 yards and gained 528 total yards while handing Boise State its only loss of the season. The Broncos made sure history didn't repeat Saturday, as they allowed only 182 total yards in a 30-10 blowout of Nevada. The Wolf Pack didn't reach Boise State territory until the middle of the third quarter.
West Virginia RB Dustin Garrison: The Mountaineers may have found their running back. Garrison, a true freshman who had a combined 13 carries for 65 yards in West Virginia's first four games, rushed for 291 yards and two touchdowns in a 55-10 blowout of Bowling Green. West Virginia entered the day ranked 115th nationally in rushing.
Kansas State LB Arthur Brown: This former five-star recruit couldn't crack the starting lineup for Miami, but he finally is living up to expectations at his new school. Brown's interception late in the fourth quarter - the first thrown by Robert Griffin this season - set up the winning field goal in Kansas State's 36-35 victory over Baylor.
USC QB Matt Barkley and WR Robert Woods: Barkley threw for a school-record 468 yards and also tossed four touchdown passes in USC's 48-41 triumph over Arizona. Woods caught 15 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. The Trojans needed those big-time performances to withstand a monster effort from Arizona's Nick Foles, who threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns.
SMU: The Mustangs' 40-33 overtime victory over TCU ended the Horned Frogs' 22-game home winning streak. SMU also picked up just its second win over a ranked opponent since it revived its program in 1989 after the NCAA-imposed death penalty.
San Jose State: One week after the Spartans snapped a 13-game losing streak, they won their second game in a row and ended a 16-game road skid with a 38-31 triumph at Colorado State.
Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase and WR A.J. Jenkins: Scheelhaase threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns and also ran 1-yard for the winning touchdown with 13 seconds left as Illinois erased an 18-point, second-half deficit in a 35-31 victory over Northwestern. Jenkins caught two of those touchdown passes and also collected 12 receptions for a school-record 268 yards.
Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson and WR Jarius Wright: Wilson threw for 510 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a 42-38 victory over Texas A&M, marking the second consecutive week A&M's defense has allowed an opposing quarterback to set his school's single-game record for passing yards. Wright caught 13 passes for 287 yards, breaking a school single-game receiving record that Mike Reppond had held for 40 years.
Arkansas RB Broderick Green: The guy who scored the winning touchdown against Texas A&M wasn't even supposed to be on the field. Green tore the ACL in his left knee during spring drills and was expected to miss the entire season. He instead returned to action Saturday and scored two touchdowns, including a 3-yard run that put Arkansas ahead for good with 1:41 remaining.
Michigan RB Vincent Smith: He became the fifth Big Ten player since 1996 to have a touchdown pass, run and catch in the same game. All three of those touchdowns came in the first 21 minutes of a 58-0 victory over Minnesota. Smith scored on a 3-yard touchdown run, threw a 17-yard scoring pass to Drew Dileo and reached the end zone on a 28-yard reception.
Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson: Meet the new Heisman front-runner. Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score as Wisconsin rolled to a surprisingly easy 48-17 victory over Nebraska. Wilson, who entered the game ranked second nationally in pass efficiency, has thrown 13 touchdown passes and only one interception.
Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles and LB Tony Jefferson: Broyles became the Big 12's leader in career receptions after catching four passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns in a 62-6 blowout of Ball State. Broyles' 304 career receptions broke the record formerly held by Texas Tech's Taurean Henderson, who caught 303 passes from 2002-05. Broyles is 12 catches away from the NCAA record owned by Purdue's Taylor Stubblefield, who caught 316 passes from 2001-04. Jefferson, who plays a hybrid linebacker/safety position, had interceptions to end three consecutive Ball State possessions.
Clemson DE Andre Branch: Da'Quan Bowers may have moved on to the NFL, but Clemson's pass rush continues to thrive. Branch recorded 11 tackles - five for loss - and three sacks to lead a dominant defensive performance by Clemson in a 23-3 triumph at Virginia Tech. The victory followed wins over Auburn and Florida State, making Clemson the first team in ACC history to defeat three consecutive opponents ranked in each of the two major polls.
Notre Dame's ball security: The team that had committed 15 turnovers in its first four games never gave the ball away Saturday in a 38-10 rout of Purdue. And as long as the Irish are taking care of the ball, they have a dangerous offense. Michael Floyd caught 12 passes for 137 yards against Purdue, while Cierre Wood rushed for a career-high 191 yards.
New Mexico State QB Matt Christian: He threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns while also running for 101 yards and a fifth score as New Mexico State beat New Mexico 42-28 for its third consecutive victory in the series. Christian is starting only because Andrew Manley was lost for the season two weeks ago with a torn ACL.
Ohio State's offense: Say what you want about former Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor's off-field exploits, but his on-field production for Ohio State looks better and better in retrospect. The Buckeyes are simply lost on offense without him. The Buckeyes needed a 34-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining Saturday to avoid getting shut out for the first time since 1993. QBs Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller went a combined 12-of-24 for 143 yards.
Baylor QB Robert Griffin's Heisman campaign: Griffin put up spectacular numbers again Saturday, but his first interception of the season is the play everyone's going to remember from the Bears' loss to Kansas State. The interception was the first of the season for Griffin, who entered the day with more touchdown passes than incompletions.
Texas A&M (in the second half): If games lasted only 30 minutes, the Aggies would be the best team in the country. They instead have become college football's version of the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves. One week after blowing a 17-point halftime lead in a 30-29 loss to Oklahoma State, Texas A&M squandered an 18-point halftime advantage against Arkansas. The SEC-bound Aggies have now lost seven consecutive games to SEC opponents. They haven't beaten an SEC team since opening the 1995 season with a 33-17 victory over LSU.
Syracuse: The Orange had only themselves to blame for losing their Big East opener. Syracuse blew a 10-point lead by committing three turnovers and missing two field-goal attempts after halftime.
Connecticut: The Huskies should thank the 2007 Notre Dame team for assuring they won't go down in history as the team that delivered the worst follow-up to an appearance in a BCS game. The defending Big East champions are 2-3 with losses to Vanderbilt, Iowa State and Western Michigan. They fell 38-31 to Western Michigan on Saturday by allowing Alex Carder to throw for 479 yards. Three Western Michigan players - Jordan White, Robert Arnheim and Chris Ravenell - had 100 receiving yards each.
Navy QB Kriss Proctor's overtime penalty: After helping his team rally from an 18-point deficit, Proctor put Navy ahead of Air Force in overtime with a 1-yard touchdown run. But he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct immediately afterward, making the extra-point attempt much more difficult. Air Force blocked the kick, then scored a touchdown of its own to eke out a 35-34 victory. Proctor and Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo criticized the call after the game. "Some guy got in my way and I told him to move explicitly, and [the official] called it," Proctor told reporters afterward.
Idaho coach Robb Akey's OT gamble: It's tough to fault Akey for deciding to go for two after the Vandals' overtime touchdown against Virginia. After all, a similar gamble had allowed Idaho to win the Humanitarian Bowl in overtime two years ago. Akey's move didn't pay off this time, as Brian Reader's incomplete pass on the two-point conversion allowed Virginia to escape with a 21-20 victory.
Minnesota: The good news for Minnesota is that coach Jerry Kill returned to the sidelines Saturday after receiving treatment for seizures earlier in the week. The bad news is that Kill has a long rebuilding project ahead of him. Playing without injured QB MarQueis Gray, the Gophers gained just 69 yards and were on the wrong end of Michigan's most one-sided victory since 2000. Minnesota didn't reach Michigan territory until the final minute of the third quarter. Minnesota is 1-4 and already has lost to WAC lightweight New Mexico State and FCS program North Dakota State this season
Kansas (in the second half): Texas A&M isn't the only Big 12 team that doesn't play well after halftime. Kansas blew an early 20-0 lead and a 27-24 halftime advantage in a 45-34 loss to Texas Tech. In its past two games, Kansas has been outscored 63-14 after halftime.
Colorado's collapse: The Buffaloes gave up two touchdowns in the final 2:35 of a 31-27 loss to Washington State. Then, Colorado's bid to regain the lead ended when it fumbled the ball away at Washington State's 39 in the last minute.
Temple's inability to handle prosperity: One week after garnering some national attention with its 38-7 rout of Maryland, the Owls committed four turnovers and fell 36-13 to Toledo in their Mid-American Conference opener. Bernard Pierce had rushed for 149 yards and a school-record five touchdowns against Maryland, but Toledo limited him to 75 yards on 24 carries.
USF on Thursdays: USF has become the most dreadful Thursday night programming since "Outsourced." The Bulls' 44-17 loss to Pittsburgh made them 0-7 in Thursday night games since joining the Big East.
Conference newcomers: Not only did Nebraska get blown out in its Big Ten debut, Utah fell 31-14 to Washington in its first Pac-12 home game and Colorado lost 31-27 to Washington State in its first Pac-12 contest (the Buffaloes' 36-33 loss to California on Sept. 10 wasn't officially considered a conference game). Utah also lost starting QB Jordan Wynn, who sat out the second half of the Washington game with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
Iowa State's start: The Cyclones committed three first-quarter turnovers that led to 13 Texas points in a 37-14 loss to the Longhorns.
Virginia Tech's punting situation: Virginia Tech entered the weekend ranked 110th in net punting, and the Hokies struggled again Saturday. Scott Demler averaged 29.4 yards on eight punts. On one occasion, he dropped the ball while preparing to attempt a rugby punt. Although he managed to pick the ball up, his punt went only 11 yards.