Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
BOSTON COLLEGE'S FAST START WASN'T JUST A BY-PRODUCT OF A CUPCAKE SCHEDULE. True, the Eagles had victories over Kent State, UCF, Rhode Island and N.C. State, which were a combined 7-20 heading into Saturday. But a 28-23 victory over Virginia Tech provided some validation for the Eagles. Boston College's defense is solid and QB Chris Crane is doing well as a successor to Matt Ryan. He does need to reduce his interceptions, though. Still, the Eagles have proved they will be a factor in the ACC Atlantic Division race. Also, coach Jeff Jagodzinski might get the attention of athletic directors in need of new coaches. To follow up with a solid team after losing so many key players off last season's 11-3 squad is an impressive accomplishment.
PITTSBURGH IS THE TEAM TO BEAT IN THE BIG EAST. The Panthers took big strides toward that designation with their 26-21 victory over South Florida on Oct. 2. But even that came with some doubt because Pitt has been so inconsistent in the past. The Panthers followed up that win over USF by dominating Navy 42-21. In previous seasons, Pitt would be expected to follow a big win by coming out flat and playing poorly. This time, LeSean McCoy rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns and Pitt limited Navy to 251 yards of total offense. The Big East isn't a powerful conference, and at this point, Pitt looks like the best the league has to offer.
THERE WILL BE NO GREATER THEATER THAN THE BIG 12 SOUTH RACE.Texas is the lead dog and has looked impressive in dumping Oklahoma and thumping Missouri. But there's plenty of heavy lifting left with the Longhorns still to play unbeaten top-10 teams Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. And the Sooners – who also are in the top 10 – still must play the Cowboys and Red Raiders, too.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT USC. The Trojans smashed Washington State 69-0. No great feat there. But look for the beat to go on for the Trojans, who have a terrific chance to run the table and finish with one loss. USC's toughest remaining game? A visit from Cal. Bottom line: With attrition almost a certainty among Big 12 and SEC teams – and Penn State still having to tangle with Ohio State – USC is poised to snatch a spot in the BCS Championship Game. It would be sweet justice for the most talented team in America.
YOU CAN START TO TAKE TEXAS TECH SERIOUSLY NOW. There are a ton of reasons to keep Texas Tech out of the same conversation as Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders don't have a marquee win. They needed a gutsy fourth-down pass play to beat Nebraska at home two weeks ago. They didn't put Texas A&M away until the fourth quarter Saturday. Fair enough – but Texas Tech used to lose those kinds of games. That's why 500-yard passing games and undefeated Septembers don't impress anyone outside of Lubbock. That has changed this season. Tech has a legitimate shot at the Big 12 title because of its schedule in the next month: Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. And for the first time since Mike Leach arrived, the rest of the Big 12 is playing Texas Tech's pass-happy, defense-optional game.
JAVON RINGER'S HEISMAN CAMPAIGN IS OVER; MAKE WAY FOR DARYLL CLARK.Michigan State's Ringer was the outsider in the quarterback-laden Heisman race. He's a 1,000-yard back who had carried the ball 68 times more than anyone else in the nation going into Saturday. But Ohio State took the ball out of his hands by building an early lead, in the process taking away his Heisman hopes. The Big Ten's Heisman hopeful now is Clark, Penn State's quarterback, who accounted for three touchdowns against Michigan on Saturday. Clark must have a monster day next week against Ohio State, though. The Nittany Lions could go undefeated, but compared to his counterparts in the Big 12, Clark will lack the marquee stats Heisman voters crave. A big day against Ohio State with the mandatory highlight-reel play will vault Clark into the conversation.
OHIO STATE LOOKS TO BE HITTING ITS STRIDE. The Buckeyes play host to Penn State this week in what basically looks like a de facto Big Ten title game, and Ohio State is coming off its most complete performance of the season. The Buckeyes went to East Lansing, shut down Michigan State RB Javon Ringer, unleashed Terrelle Pryor and generally wreaked havoc. Can they do the same thing to Penn State in Columbus? One thing to consider: Penn State looks to be the Big Ten's only legit national-title hope.
OKLAHOMA'S DEFENSE HAS PROBLEMS. The Sooners' offense is tremendous, which will serve them well in late November games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. But unless the defense makes great strides before then, the Sooners are going to have to win shootouts against the Red Raiders and Cowboys – and that didn't work too well for OU against Texas.
THE ACC ATLANTIC DIVISION IS WIDE OPEN. It's only fitting that Maryland is tied for first place in the division after a 26-0 shutout of Wake Forest. Why shouldn't the most enigmatic team in the nation control its own destiny in college football's wackiest division? Only two teams seem out of contention for the division title midway through the season. One of those is Clemson, who was the overwhelming preseason favorite to win the entire conference. Maryland, Wake Forest, Boston College and Florida State have one loss each, but each is flawed. Maryland has beaten California and Wake – but it also lost to Middle Tennessee and fell 31-0 to Virginia. Wake can't run the ball, and FSU can't throw it consistently. The most consistent team in the division is Boston College, but the Eagles still have to play Florida State and Wake Forest on the road before closing the regular season with Maryland in a game that could determine who goes to Tampa Bay.
THE QUARTERBACK CAROUSEL AT SOUTH CAROLINA IS OVER. South Carolina's Stephen Garcia couldn't lead his team past LSU, but he managed to do just about everything else you could ask from a redshirt freshman quarterback facing the defending national champions in his first career start. Garcia threw for 215 yards, provided a running threat and showed plenty of signs that he can offer the stability that has been missing from the quarterback position throughout Steve Spurrier's tenure at South Carolina. Garcia arrived at South Carolina as a highly touted prospect, but off-field issues had kept him from contributing much until the past few weeks. As long as Garcia stays out of trouble, he should end Spurrier's quarterback concerns for at least the next couple of years.