Rivals.com College Football Staff Writer
The hottest preseason debate in the ACC wasn't whether Florida State would win the conference title. That seemed like a given.
Florida State's re-emergence as the ACC's dominant program seemed so inevitable that any questions about the Seminoles focused on whether they could compete for a national title. The belief that Florida State would win its first ACC championship since 2005 was almost as widespread as the opinion that Wake Forest would finish last in its division for a second consecutive season.
In retrospect, most of the people who cover this game for a living were way too premature in determining Florida State had regained its status as a national power. And the reports of Wake Forest's demise as a competitive program were greatly exaggerated. That much was evident Saturday when perhaps the nation's most surprising team handed the nation's most disappointing team its third consecutive loss.
Wake Forest's 35-30 victory over Florida State gave the Demon Deacons a 3-0 start in ACC competition for the first time ever. Wake (4-1, 3-0) is tied for first place in the Atlantic Division, where Florida State (2-3, 0-2) was supposed to be.
If Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price hadn't gotten hurt in the fourth quarter of a season-opening overtime loss to Syracuse, the Deacons likely would be undefeated.
"We've just grown up a lot," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe told reporters after the game. "We've gotten a little better every week, and you know how I feel about this football team. I like these guys. They like each other. We've just got a good group right now."
Wake already has exceeded its win total from last season, when the Demon Deacons finished 3-9.
While Wake is on the way up, FSU is heading in the opposite direction. Saturday's loss likely ended any ACC title hopes for a FSU team that had been ranked as high as fifth in the nation.
"They made plays," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We didn't. The bottom line is we've got to coach better. We've got to coach better and take responsibility for what we're doing. It starts with me."
Plenty of issues have prevented the Seminoles from living up to their preseason billing.
FSU's offensive line isn't nearly as strong without four-year starters Rodney Hudson at guard and Ryan McMahon at center. The defense that played so well in a 23-13 loss to Oklahoma has given up 35 points in back-to-back games. The Seminoles also lack discipline, as they committed five turnovers and 13 penalties against Wake Forest.
"I think sometimes we press too hard," Fisher said. "I don't think it's [a lack of] hunger. It's not effort. We play hard. ... You look at the film, and the effort and the hustle, that's not it. It's playing intelligently. We don't play intelligently."
FSU also has suffered from misfortune. Injuries forced Florida State to open the game with a redshirt freshman (Clint Trickett) as its starting quarterback and a 17-year-old true freshman (Bobby Hart) as its starting left tackle. The Seminoles' leading rusher Saturday was true freshman Devonta Freeman, as starting tailback Chris Thompson got knocked out of the game in the first quarter.
Of course, even at less than full strength, FSU still has more talent than Wake Forest. The Deacons went 3-9 last season and weren't supposed to be much better this fall. FSU's losses to Oklahoma and Clemson were understandable. A loss to Wake ends the honeymoon for second-year coach Fisher.
Fisher subjected himself to second-guessing with his quarterback decisions. Preseason first-team All-ACC quarterback E.J. Manuel practiced this week and dressed for the game after sitting out a loss to Clemson two weeks ago with a sprained AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder, but Trickett started. After Trickett committed three turnovers in the first half, Manuel entered the game and played the rest of the way.
If Manuel was healthy enough to play, why didn't he start?
"They told me he could play, but one good shot could set us back six weeks," Fisher said. "The swelling's down, but if he takes a shot, if he falls, if he gets hit hard on it. ... He could go in an emergency if we had to have him, but they would prefer if he had one more week [of rest]."
The 35-30 result was all too familiar to Florida State, which lost to Clemson by the same score two weeks ago. Clemson and Wake now are tied for first place in the Atlantic Division. The teams meet Nov. 12 at Clemson.
Price, one of the nation's most improved quarterbacks, threw three touchdowns without an interception against Florida State. Josh Harris rushed for 136 yards on only 13 carries. Chris Givens, one of the top receivers in the ACC, caught six passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Michael Campanaro continued to be the Deacons' trick-play weapon by throwing his second touchdown pass of the season.
Hardly anyone expects Wake to win the Atlantic title. Heck, the Deacons were double-digit underdogs against Florida State this week. They still have a home game with Virginia Tech and road trips to Duke and North Carolina before heading to Clemson.
Then again, who believed Wake Forest would be in first place midway through the season?
"We're just happy to be where we're at right now," Grobe said. "It's a good feeling."
Here's a recap of other winners and losers from the sixth week of the season.
Oklahoma's defense: The Sooners' defense actually outscored Texas' offense in a 55-17 Red River Rivalry rout. Demontre Hurst scored on a 55-yard interception return, David King scored on a 19-yard fumble return and Jamell Fleming reached the end zone on a 56-yard fumble return.
Illinois: The Illini are 6-0 for the first time since 1951. Nathan Scheelhaase and A.J. Jenkins connected on two touchdown passes - from 77 and 66 yards away - as Illinois trounced Indiana 41-20 to remain unbeaten. That 1951 Illinois team won its first seven games and went on to finish 9-0-1 with a Rose Bowl victory.
Notre Dame's offense: This is the type of production many people expected when Brian Kelly brought his spread offense from Cincinnati. Notre Dame reached the end zone on each of its six first-half possessions and rolled to a 59-33 victory over Air Force in a game with the highest combined point total in Notre Dame Stadium history. Notre Dame's 59 points were its most since a 62-0 victory over Rutgers in a 1996 shutout that marked Lou Holtz's last home game as the Irish coach.
LSU's two-quarterback system: While Texas' blowout loss to Oklahoma on Saturday showed the pitfalls of a two-quarterback rotation, LSU showed that a team can succeed while using multiple quarterbacks. Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson went a combined 10-of-14 for 214 yards in a 41-11 waxing of Florida. Each quarterback threw a touchdown pass, and neither tossed an interception.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder: In his second stint at Kansas State, Snyder is working his magic again. K-State's 24-17 victory over Missouri improved the Wildcats to 5-0. The last time Kansas State started 5-0 was 2000, when Snyder led the Wildcats to an 11-3 record and a spot in the Big 12 championship game.
Arizona State: Sun Devils fans should go ahead and start making plans for the inaugural Pac-12 championship game. Arizona State is unbeaten in Pac-12 play and already has beaten South Division rivals USC and Utah. Arizona State's remaining South Division games are against UCLA, Colorado and Arizona -teams that entered Saturday with a combined four wins.
South Carolina QB Connor Shaw: Maybe the Gamecocks finally have found their quarterback. Connor Shaw took over as the starter for Stephen Garcia and threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns in a 54-3 rout of Kentucky that gave South Carolina its largest margin of victory in a conference game since the Gamecocks joined the SEC in 1992.
Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas: After struggling in a 23-3 loss to Clemson last week, Thomas bounced back in a big way Saturday while rallying Virginia Tech to a 38-35 victory over Miami. Thomas went 23-of-25 for 310 yards and three touchdowns, and he also raced 19 yards for the winning score on a fourth-and-1 play with 56 seconds left.
Penn State's pass defense: Penn State sacked Iowa's James Vandenberg five times and intercepted two of his passes in a 13-3 victory over the Hawkeyes. Vandenberg was leading the Big Ten in passing and had thrown for 10 touchdowns with only one interception before Saturday.
North Carolina RB Gio Bernard: Bernard, a redshirt freshman, rushed for 109 yards on 25 carries in a 14-7 victory over Louisville. Bernard is the first UNC player to run for 100 yards in four consecutive games since Ethan Horton in 1984.
Temple RB Bernard Pierce: He scored three times in a 42-0 trouncing of Ball State to give him a school-record 40 touchdowns. Paul Palmer, the 1986 Heisman runner-up had rushed for 39 touchdowns from 1983-86.
Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell: After coming off the bench to replace ineffective starter Chris Relf, Russell went 11-of-13 for 165 yards and three touchdowns as Mississippi State rallied from a 3-0 halftime deficit for a 21-3 triumph over host UAB.
Rutgers QB Gary Nova: This true freshman made his first career start and threw two touchdown passes in Rutgers' surprisingly easy 34-10 victory over Pittsburgh, the school he nearly attended. Nova had committed to Pitt, but he changed his mind after former Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt was fired.
Oregon State's gamble: Oregon State was clinging to a 30-27 lead with 5 ½ minutes remaining when it faced fourth-and-goal from Arizona's 2. Rather than settling for an easy field goal, the Beavers decided to go for it. The move paid off when Sean Mannion found TE Joe Halahuni for the final touchdown in Oregon State's 37-27 victory.
Alabama defense: Alabama's 34-0 victory over Vanderbilt gave the Crimson Tide their second shutout of the season. Vanderbilt gained 48 yards and made just two first downs while getting outscored 20-0 in the second half. Nobody has exceeded the 14-point mark against Alabama this season.
Georgia coach Mark Richt: Although he has had to deal with rumors about his job security all season, Richt has done a nice job of helping Georgia rebound from its 0-2 start. Georgia's 20-12 triumph over Tennessee extended its winning streak to four and gave Richt his 100th career victory.
Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson: He threw 19 consecutive completions at one point in a 38-14 rout of Auburn. The string consecutive completions was the third-longest streak in SEC history.
Nebraska LB Lavonte David: Nebraska trailed Ohio State 27-6 early in the third quarter when David stripped the ball from QB Braxton Miller and recovered the fumble at Ohio State's 24. David's takeaway set up a touchdown that sparked Nebraska to its biggest comeback in school history. The Huskers scored the game's last 28 points to erase a three-touchdown deficit in a 34-27 victory.
Louisiana-Lafayette: Florida International and Troy supposedly were the top teams in the Sun Belt this season, but ULL already has beaten both of them. ULL's 31-17 victory over Troy makes the Ragin' Cajuns the clear front-runners for the Sun Belt title.
Utah State: After losing one game in overtime and two more in the final minute of regulation, Utah State made sure Saturday's game with Wyoming didn't go down to the wire. Chuckie Keeton threw five touchdown passes and Robert Turbin ran for 109 yards in Utah State raced to a 63-19 victory.
Texas' quarterback situation: David Ash and Case McCoy had done a nice job sharing the quarterback duties for Texas the first month of the season after the benching of Garrett Gilbert, but their inexperience proved costly against Oklahoma. Ash went 11-of-20 for 107 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, while McCoy was 9-of-16 for 116 yards and lost two fumbles.
The no taunting rule: LSU P Brad Wing became the first victim of the NCAA's stricter new "no taunting" rule when he was penalized for raising his arms just before finishing a 52-yard touchdown run on a fake punt. The stricter interpretation of this rule allows officials to take points off the board if the penalty is committed before a player reaches the end zone. LSU eventually had to settle for a field goal instead of scoring the touchdown. The penalty had no impact on the game, as LSU breezed to a victory over Florida. But the differing opinions on whether Wing's act necessitated a penalty exemplify why this rule never should have passed in the first place.
Service academies: This wasn't a great day for academy football. Air Force got blown out 59-33 at Notre Dame, Navy lost 63-35 to Southern Miss and Army fell 35-28 to previously winless Miami (Ohio).
Clemson's luck: Clemson rolled past Boston College 36-14 to continue its fastest start since 2000, but the Tigers suffered a major scare in the third quarter when starting QB Tajh Boyd was carried off the field with a hip injury. X-rays and an MRI showed no broken bones.
Kansas' defense: Three weeks after giving up 768 total yards in a 66-24 loss to Georgia Tech, the Jayhawks reached a new low in a 70-28 setback against Oklahoma State. Every FBS team that has faced Kansas has scored at least 42 points. Oklahoma State beat Kansas so thoroughly that Brandon Weeden threw five touchdown passes before leaving the game in the second quarter.
Pitt's passing game: Maybe the Panthers should just hand the ball to TB Ray Graham on every play. Graham ran for 165 yards Saturday, but Tino Sunseri and Trey Anderson threw a combined four interceptions with no touchdown passes in a one-sided loss to Rutgers. Sunseri, the Panthers' starter, was sacked six times and threw three interceptions.
The passing attacks in the Georgia Tech-Maryland game: Maryland QBs Danny O'Brien and C.J. Brown went a combined 5-of-23 for 53 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington wasn't a whole lot more effective, as he was 6-of-19 for 114 yards, no touchdowns and one interception in the Yellow Jackets' 21-16 victory. At least they could run the ball well. Washington rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns, while Brown ran for 124 yards and one touchdown on only nine carries
The other two Stoops brothers: Saturday was a banner day for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, but the other two Stoops siblings in the coaching fraternity didn't fare nearly as well. Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops watched his defense give up 35 points for a second consecutive game, while Arizona coach Mike Stoops' job security grew increasingly tenuous with a 37-27 loss to previously winless Oregon State. Arizona has lost its past 10 games against FBS opponents.
The ugliness of the Texas A&M-Texas Tech rivalry: The heated emotions that accompany the Texas A&M-Texas Tech series got a little out of hand this year. A&M officials reported that Texas Tech logos and derogatory comments were written in washable paint on the outside of the Aggies' team buses. A&M officials also indicated that "animal excrement" had been spread throughout one team bus that couldn't be locked.
QB Johnny McEntee's fumble: Connecticut trailed West Virginia 10-9 and was in the red zone early in the third quarter when Pat Miller knocked the ball loose from McEntee, leading to an 83-yard fumble return by West Virginia's Jewone Snow. West Virginia scored the next 33 points and breezed to a 43-16 victory.
Kentucky's offense: The Wildcats gained just 96 total yards against South Carolina. QBs Morgan Newton, Matt Roark and Maxwell Smith went a combined 4-of-24 for 16 yards and four interceptions.
Minnesota: A surprisingly close 19-17 loss at USC to open the season offered cause for optimism, but Minnesota has fallen apart. One week after losing 58-0 to Michigan, the Gophers (1-5) gave up the game's first 31 points in a 45-17 loss to Purdue.
Fresno State: Remember when this team used to scare the heck out of national powers? That era may have passed. Boise State's 57-7 victory Friday at Fresno State was the Bulldogs' most one-sided home loss in Pat Hill's 15-year coaching tenure. Fresno State dropped to 2-4 and could end up with its first losing season since 2006.
Northwestern's lack of a killer instinct: One week after blowing a 28-10 lead in a 38-35 loss to Illinois, Northwestern squandered a 10-point halftime advantage in a 42-24 loss to Michigan. The Wolverines didn't allow a second-half point. This has become a troubling trend for Northwestern, which couldn't hang on to a 21-0 lead over Penn State or a 17-0 lead over Michigan State last season.
Auburn's defense: After playing so well last week in a 16-13 victory at South Carolina, Auburn's defense took a step backward. The Tigers couldn't stop Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson and also allowed a 92-yard touchdown run by Joe Adams.
UNLV's passing game: An off-week couldn't help UNLV QB Caleb Herring break out of his slump. Two weeks ago, Herring threw three interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in a 41-16 loss to FCS program Southern Utah. In his first game since that performance, Herring went 1-of-14 for 8 yards and an interception in a 37-0 loss to Nevada. Herring was sacked six times, and his lone completion came in the last five minutes of the game.
Colorado's defense: It's hard enough to try stopping Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck when you're at full strength. Colorado had to face Luck without five defensive players suspended for a violation of team rules. Luck threw for 370 yards against Colorado's short-handed defense as the Cardinal cruised to a 48-7 victory.