Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
THE PAC-10 IS NO SEC. The ACC and Big East have been harshly criticized for their apparent weakness this season. After this weekend, the Pac-10 will take some jabs, too. The Pac-10 went 3-7 and one of the victories – Oregon over Purdue – came in double-overtime. Pac-10 teams were 0-4 against the Mountain West Conference. Baylor also pummeled Washington State, and Oklahoma - as expected - trounced Washington. The other loss? California was upset by Maryland of the ACC.
USC'S MARK SANCHEZ IS INDEED ONE OF THE NATION'S BEST QUARTERBACKS. Sanchez drew raves from coach Pete Carroll after he threw four touchdown passes in a 35-3 victory over Ohio State. He's now thrown seven touchdown passes through two games and has made significant strides from last season, when he was inconsistent in three starts. "He totally understands the system and he gets it to everybody who needs to get the football," Carroll said. "We can count on him now. He's a big-time player for us."
OHIO STATE SHOULD START TERRELLE PRYOR AT QUARTERBACK OVER TODD BOECKMAN. Why not? The Buckeyes aren't likely to win the national title following the 35-3 drubbing they took at USC. Pryor showed promise in the loss, going 7-for-9 for 52 yards. He also carried 11 times for 40 yards, offering spark to an attack that struggled. It was clear to anyone watching that Pryor clearly is a special talent who brings more to the table than Boeckman. By starting Pryor, it could invigorate the offense while giving the true freshman much-needed experience. And who knows? Maybe by seasoning Pryor now, he actually may one day lead the Buckeyes to a big win in a big game against a big non-conference foe.
BYU ISN'T GOING AWAY, PEOPLE. The Cougars' 59-0 annihilation of UCLA was heard loud and clear by pollsters and the like. (How does this make Tennessee feel? Never mind.) This was BYU's last game vs. a "Big Six" team this season, so it knew it needed an impressive performance, especially after the Cougars squeaked by Washington last week. Mission accomplished. A by-product of BYU's apparent collision course with a BCS bowl is the emergence of QB Max Hall as a legit Heisman contender after tossing seven TD passes. Now, BYU just needs to guard against a letdown in Mountain West play, where it will play foes familiar with its schemes and personnel. Still, the only things standing between the Cougars and a possible BCS bowl berth are games at TCU (Oct. 16) and at Utah (Nov. 22), which is the regular-season finale.
USF IS THE TEAM TO BEAT IN THE BIG EAST. Congratulations, USF, you're now carrying the banner for the Big East. Let's hope you do a better job of it that you did last season. USF's victory over Kansas on Friday night is the only major win for the league this season. The Bulls are two weeks away from their first league game, but it's clear they are the class of the conference right now. QB Matt Grothe is one of the best leaders in the league and he may have found a new playmaker in running back Jamar Taylor, who rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown in the second half. Now that DE George Selvie's early season slump is over, USF is as equipped as any team to win the Big East.
THE ACC HAS SOME LIFE LEFT IN IT. This league was left for dead a week ago. Think again. North Carolina emerged as a legitimate contender in the ACC Coastal with a thorough 44-12 embarrassment of Rutgers on Thursday night. After watching playmaker Brandon Tate and the Tar Heels' imposing defense, I doubt North Carolina will have to wait another six years for a win outside of the state. Maryland had the league's stunner of the weekend. After beating Delaware by a touchdown and losing at Middle Tennessee State, the Terrapins never trailed in a 35-27 win over Cal. Even Duke has a pulse, improving to 2-1 by beating Navy. The league still has two wild cards as well: Florida State hasn't played a Division I-A opponent and Miami is only going to get better after last week's loss in Gainesville.
THE EBB AND FLOW IN THE CONFERENCES MAKES FOR FUN TIMES. Last week, the Pac-10 was great, the ACC was horrible and the Big East was weak. This week, the Pac-10 reeks, the ACC has a pulse and the Big East has some hope. Wisconsin's victory at Fresno State was good for the Big Ten, though losses by Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan offset the Badgers' victory. There are some chinks in the SEC's armor – UCLA, which beat Tennessee in Week One, was demolished by BYU. Auburn scored three points, and Kentucky was lucky to escape with a victory over Middle Tennessee. The Big 12 is looking good – though that could change next week with conference members matched up with teams from the ACC, Big East and Mountain West, among others.
AN OFF WEEK COMES AT A GOOD TIME FOR TYRONE WILLINGHAM AND WASHINGTON. The Huskies have started 0-3, thanks to a schedule that saw them play three ranked teams in a row – Oregon, BYU and Oklahoma. As bad as they have looked in two of those games, there actually may be hope. The Huskies are off this week, then they play four in a row against teams they can beat – Stanford, Arizona, Oregon State and Notre Dame. All but Arizona are at home. Thing is, the Huskies likely have to sweep those games to have a legit shot at a bowl. That means their defense needs to get better in a hurry.
NOTRE DAME'S OFFENSIVE LINE HAS COME A LONG WAY. If we're handing out an early season award for the most improved unit in college football, Notre Dame's offensive line deserves the honor. Then again, these guys also had the most room for improvement. One season after giving up 58 sacks – the most in the nation – the Irish haven't allowed a sack through their first two games. They also created enough running room Saturday to allow the Irish to run 34 times for 113 yards against a Michigan defense that was allowing only 1.1 yards per carry. Only time will tell if the line truly has turned the corner, but the early returns are encouraging for Charlie Weis' crew.
REACHING THE MOUNTAINTOP. Mountain West Conference fans will remember this weekend for a long, long time. The upstart conference swept four games from the Pac-10 to assert itself as the next-best league after the so-called "Big Six" conferences. Heck, after Saturday's results, you could argue the Mountain West is as good as the Pac-10 if you threw USC out of the equation. TCU's victory over Stanford was no surprise. BYU was supposed to beat UCLA, though nobody could have anticipated a 59-0 blowout. But who could have figured that New Mexico would knock off Arizona or that UNLV would stun Arizona State on the road in overtime? The UNLV shocker takes some of the luster off next week's Georgia-Arizona State showdown in Tempe.