September 9, 2007

Pac-10, Big East starting to show depth

Alabama-Vanderbilt | California-Colorado State | Duke-Virginia | Washington-Boise State | Florida-Troy

Time to rethink everything you thought about how strong Conference X is compared to Conference Y.

The SEC remains on its perch as the nation's top conference until someone knocks it off, but a few others are catching up fast. Just ask Auburn.

The Big East and Pac-10 showed there's more to their conferences than just their top teams. South Florida defeated Auburn on the road, and Cincinnati beat Oregon State on Thursday. Despite the Beavers' loss, the Pac-10 proves it's more than just USC. A week after Cal defeated Tennessee, Oregon beat Michigan on the road, Washington ended Boise State's 14-game win streak and UCLA defeated defending Mountain West champ BYU.

The ACC may be struggling even worse than a year ago. Virginia Tech got clobbered, Miami got clobbered, North Carolina lost to East Carolina, Florida State struggled with UAB, etc.

Team of the week: Oklahoma

Michigan vacated its status as a legitimate national title contender last week. Virginia Tech might have in Week 2. Stepping into the void is Oklahoma. When the season started, the Sooners appeared to be a quarterback short of a national title run. Sam Bradford disagrees. He shredded a standout Miami defense for five touchdown passes on 19 of 25 passing in a 51-13 win. Bob Stoops takes pride in the fact that Oklahoma has won four Big 12 titles with four different quarterbacks since 2000. Bradford's making a case to be the fifth different Sooners QB to accomplish that feat.

Breakouts & Breakdowns

Breakout: We were supposed to be in awe of the LSU defense, right? The Tigers offense instead stole the show against Virginia Tech. The Hokies led the nation in total defense in each of the last two years, but they have some work to do if they are to do it for a third. Under new coordinator Gary Crowton, LSU put up nearly 600 yards of offense and 48 points.

Breakdown: How fast can Charlie Weis install a spread offense? Can Jimmy Clausen run a bit? Michigan was again doomed by its inability to defend the spread. Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon passed for 292 yards and ran for 76 against the hapless Wolverines.

Breakout: Don't tell Notre Dame fans, but Tyrone Willingham is 2-0 at Washington, and the Huskies' daunting schedule doesn't seem quite so intimidating. Redshirt freshman Jake Locker and the Huskies defense helped end Boise State's 14-game win streak. Locker accounted for 277 total yards and two touchdowns while Ian Johnson was held to 81 yards, his lowest total since Boise State's last loss in the 2005 MPC Computers Bowl.

Breakdown: Quarterback U is long gone. Miami is once again looking for either Kyle Wright or Kirby Freeman to entrench himself as the Hurricanes' starting QB. Randy Shannon will re-evaluate the quarterbacks after Wright and Freeman combined to complete only 10 of 23 passes for 82 yards against Oklahoma.

Breakout: Texas ended the Big 12's struggles against ranked nonconference teams. The Longhorns offense regrouped against No. 19 TCU to give the Big 12 its first win over a ranked nonconference teams in 16 games a streak that dates back to Texas' upset of USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

Breakdown: Notre Dame should drop Fighting from their moniker. At least until the Irish score an offensive touchdown. Notre Dame hasn't scored an offensive touchdown in two games this season and rushed for minus-8 yards total.

Breakout: Clemson's offense might be more than its duo of running backs. Cullen Harper threw a school-record five touchdown passes, completing 20 of 26 passes for 270 yards, in a rout of Louisiana-Monroe. Heralded true freshman Willy Korn made his debut, going 6-for-8 passing for 49 yards in mop-up duty.

Breakdown: Tom O'Brien has seen better days in Boston. On the opposite sideline, to be specific. O'Brien's new team, N.C. State, lost 37-17 in his return to Boston College. New Wolfpack quarterback Harrison Beck, a Nebraska transfer, has seen better days, too. He finished with five interceptions and lost a fumble in the loss.

What you might have missed
DeSean Jackson's thumb injury sustained against Tennessee lingered into Saturday's game against Colorado State, but didn't have too much effect on the outcome. Jackson ran 73 yards for a touchdown on a reverse but dropped a couple of passes along the way.
The same day Boise State fell, another WAC front-runner showed it's not so invincible. Hawaii needed overtime, and then a failed two-point conversion, to beat Louisiana Tech 45-44. Colt Brennan still managed to pass for 548 yards and four touchdowns in a game when Hawaii running backs carried the ball only nine times.
So much for the debut of Pittsburgh freshman quarterback Pat Bostick. Following the thumb injury to Bill Stull last week, Kevan Smith earned the start against Grambling. Bostick entered the game late and threw an interception on his only pass attempt.
Looks like we'll see more of freshman quarterback Peter Lalich at Virginia. Lalich came in for starter Jameel Sewell to lead a fourth-quarter touchdown drive against Duke. Lalich completed 8 of 10 passes, including a four-yard TD pass to Tom Santi for the final score in a 24-13 win.
East Carolina might as well apply to join the ACC. With a 34-31 win over North Carolina, the Pirates are 4-2 against the ACC in two seasons under Skip Holtz. Six ACC teams have worse records against their own conference in the last six games. No ACC teams have a better league record.
Buffalo beat Temple 42-7 in the Futility Bowl - which is a conference game now. Welcome to the MAC, Temple!
Breakout: The adage that defense wins championships was lost in the preseason polls on the Big Ten. Despite its losses on defense, Michigan was ranked higher in the polls. But Ohio State, returning James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and Vernon Gholston, maybe deserved a bump in the rankings. While the Buckeyes offense sputtered in the first half, the defense forced 14 Akron punts in a 20-2 win.

Breakdown: Nebraska hopes a game against a Pac-10 team will help Sam Keller return to his Pac-10 form. The Arizona State transfer hasn't made the splash expected of him in two games with the Huskers. In a 20-17 win at Wake Forest, Keller was 24 of 41 for 258 yards with two interceptions and a TD. The Cornhuskers will need more than that out Keller next week against USC.

Breakdown: Maybe it was the 11 a.m. kickoff. West Virginia managed just one touchdown in the first half against Marshall but scored 42 second-half points in a 48-23 win.

Breakout: If Steve Spurrier is going to make noise in the SEC with South Carolina, it appears he's going to do it with defense and special teams. The Gamecocks beat Georgia for the first time in five tries by keeping Georgia out of the end zone and getting three field goals from Ryan Succop in a 16-12 upset in Athens.

Breakdown: Louisville's Brian Brohm passed for a career-record 401 yards and five touchdowns and Anthony Allen rushed for a school-record 275 yards. But this isn't the story for Louisville this week. Louisville allowed 555 yards of offense to Middle Tennessee State. Former Louisville coach Howard Schnellenberger watched his new team, Florida Atlantic, hold MTSU to 217 yards a week earlier in an FAU win.

Breakout: Brian Kelly was expected to bring a high-powered offense to Cincinnati, but he hardly needed it against Oregon State. His defense forced seven turnovers and held the Beavers to 36 rushing yards in the Bearcats biggest nonconference win since upsetting No. 9 Wisconsin in 1999.

Breakdown: Oregon State has played only three games in the Eastern time zone since 1987 and we found out why. A trip to Cincinnati exposed a struggling Oregon State offense in a 34-3 loss. Yvenson Bernard (16 carries, 30 yards) missed All-Pac-10 guard Jeremy Perry, who is out for six weeks with a leg injury. Sammie Stroughter playing at full speed will help, but Beavers quarterbacks Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao still threw three interceptions each against Cincinnati.

Quote of the weekend

"We expected a lot more cleverness. When we got down to it, it was just window dressing."
Washington safety Roy Lewis on Boise State.

Stat that counts: 2

Number of successful Statue of Liberty plays Oregon ran against Michigan. Jonathan Stewart gained 10 yards on the first. Dennis Dixon kept the ball and ran for a 9-yard touchdown on the second.

All eyes on ...

Louisville. Try to wrap your head around this statement: After allowing 555 yards and 42 points to Middle Tennessee State on Thursday, the Louisville defense needs to regroup in time for a matchup with Kentucky on Saturday.

Tim Tebow. Against lightweights Western Kentucky and Troy, the Florida quarterback has completed 73.8 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions. He makes his first start against an SEC team (Tennessee) next.

Notre Dame at Michigan: Or all eyes averted, maybe. Recruitniks rejoice, though. The top two true freshman quarterbacks from the 2007 class will likely face each other with Jimmy Clausen starting for Notre Dame and Ryan Mallett in line to start in place of Chad Henne (leg).

David Fox is a national writer for He can be reached at

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