September 26, 2009

Winners and losers: Gators take hit

Florida's run at a third national title in four seasons may get derailed if an injury to senior quarterback Tim Tebow suffered during Saturday's 41-7 victory at Kentucky proves to be serious.

Tebow was sacked in the third quarter by Kentucky defensive end Taylor Wyndham. Tebow was hit in the chest by Wyndham, and as he fell backward, he hit his head on the knee of Florida tackle Marcus Gilbert.

Tebow lay on the field for several minutes, then walked to the sideline with the help of trainers. After about 10 minutes on the sideline, Tebow went to the locker room on a motorized cart, throwing up a few times, then was taken to a Lexington, Ky., hospital with what were called concussion-like symptoms. He was kept overnight for observation.

Tebow was one of four Florida players who traveled to Kentucky on a separate chartered plane because they were suffering from respiratory and congestive problems. Five other Gators - including starting linebacker A.J. Jones and starting guard James Wilson - came on a third chartered plane because they had been suffering from gastrointestinal illness.

The Gators are off next week before playing at LSU on Oct. 10.

Sophomore John Brantley took over for Tebow with Florida leading 34-7 with 3:45 left in the third quarter. Before he left, Tebow had thrown for 100 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 122 yards and two scores. Brantley finished 4 of 6 for 29 yards and a touchdown, and he also fumbled.

Coming into the game, Brantley was 18 of 24 for 202 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Brantley is a 6-foot-3, 217-pound third-year sophomore who was a four-star recruit and Rivals.com's No. 3 rated pro-style quarterback in the class of 2007.

If Tebow does miss extended time, Florida may rely more on its passing attack because Brantley is more of a classic pocket passer. Gators coaches made an effort in the first two games of the season to have Brantley run some option plays, but he really isn't a running threat.

Florida has been a shotgun-formation team since Urban Meyer's arrival before the 2005 season, but the Gators have added some I-formation plays this season. Brantley's fumble came with him lined up under center and with the Gators in the I-formation.

Hawkeyes shut down Nittany Lions

Joe Paterno couldn't explain it. He mumbled some words and said he would have to watch the film.

That doesn't make the sting of a 21-10 loss to Iowa go away for the more than 100,000 fans jammed in Beaver Stadium for a "white out." Iowa also beat Penn State last season, on a last-second field goal.

The Heisman 5
The Nittany Lions opened with easy victories over Akron, Syracuse and Temple, but given the competition, there still was this question: How good is Penn State? Turns out, not as good as many thought.

Penn State's loss capped a wild weekend that saw three teams in the top six and four in the top 10 lose. In addition to No. 5 Penn State, No. 4 Ole Miss lost Thursday to South Carolina, No. 6 California was crushed at Oregon and No. 9 Miami lost at No. 11 Virginia Tech.

Penn State's Daryll Clark has gone from potential Heisman contender to a guy who may not even be the top quarterback in the Big Ten. Clark was just 12 of 32 passing, though his completions did go for 199 yards and a TD. He also was intercepted three times and sacked twice as the Nittany Lions fell apart in the fourth quarter. The TD came on a 79-yard pass-and-run on Penn State's first play of the game.

The game was a defensive struggle that saw neither squad get to 300 yards of offense. The big difference was turnovers, as Penn State had four to Iowa's two. Another factor that killed the Nittany Lions was a poor ground game; Penn State ran for just 99 yards to Iowa's 161.

With the road victory, Iowa has to be considered a legitimate Big Ten title contender, which seems difficult to believe considering how close Iowa came to losing its opener to FCS member Northern Iowa. The Hawkeyes had to block two last-second field goals to escape with that win. Since then, Iowa has posted strong wins over Iowa State, Arizona and now Penn State.

Iowa still has to pass a few more tests, including an Oct. 10 visit from Michigan, a trip to Wisconsin the next week and a Nov. 14 game at Ohio State.

The loss drops Penn State from among the ranks of national title contenders. Indeed, the Big Ten doesn't have one. But the league title chase is shaping up as interesting.

FSU FLOPS

Last week, Florida State looked great in racking up 500 yards and dismantling BYU 54-28. Saturday, the Seminoles got punked at home 17-7 by little-brother neighbor South Florida. Adding to the ignominy: The Bulls' quarterback, a redshirt freshman making his first start, was B.J. Daniels, a native of Tallahassee.

Sitting at 2-2 and filled with more questions than answers, FSU is among the five most overrated teams thus far in 2009.

Florida State certainly isn't getting better under Bobby Bowden. And what's even more disconcerting is that the offense has looked average, at best, under coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who is the coach-in-waiting.

Two weeks ago, Florida State almost got dumped at home by FCS member Jacksonville State, scoring 12 points in the final 35 seconds to escape with a 19-9 win. In that game, FSU ran for only 78 yards.

Now, this.

The Seminoles' offense looked horrid against USF. FSU ran for just 19 yards and lost four fumbles. The offensive line time and again looked discombobulated, as quarterback Christian Ponder was sacked five times.

Is it safe to wonder if Florida State should continue its plan to have Fisher take over as coach? For all intents and purposes, this has been Fisher's team for the past three seasons. And the results haven't been inspiring. But if Fisher isn't coach at the start of the 2011 season, he will be owed $5 million

Conversely, USF is 4-0 less than a week after star quarterback Matt Grothe was lost for the season with a knee injury. Saturday, Daniels ran for 126 yards and tossed two touchdown passes en route to accounting for 341 yards. It was the first time since Nebraska's Steve Taylor rushed for 139 yards in 1986 that Florida State allowed a quarterback to eclipse the 100-yard plateau.

What's next for Florida State? Who knows? Every game appears to be a potential adventure. Can the Seminoles win at Boston College next week? And how bad will the regular-season finale be at Florida ?

5 MOST OVERRATED

Michigan State: Did the Big Ten media really pick the Spartans to finish third? Wow. Look at MSU now, 1-3 and a bumbling mess. It started to go wrong in Week 2 with a home loss to Central Michigan. Unbeaten Michigan visits next.

Notre Dame: We still are waiting, Charlie Weis. Where is that signature victory? It probably won't come this season with a schedule that's packed with middling teams. ND already has lost to a Michigan team it had no business losing to. And it nearly lost to Michigan State. Still, don't be shocked if the Irish get another undeserved BCS bowl bid - where, of course, they will get blown out like they did in Weis' first two seasons.

Oklahoma State: Remember all of that chatter about how the Cowboys were going to be this year's Texas Tech ? The Pokes still have a soft defense. And the offense hasn't found it stride because of injuries to key players such as wide receiver Dez Bryant and running back Kendall Hunter.

Ole Miss: The Rebels started 2-0 but looked far from impressive in dispatching Memphis in the opener and clobbering a directional Louisiana school. Yet, they were ranked No. 4 in the nation. The 16-10 loss at South Carolina wasn't even that close. Goodbye, SEC West title hopes. Goodbye, Heisman dreams, Jevan Snead.

USC: The loss at Washington was almost as dubious as that still-confounding home loss to 41-point underdog Stanford in 2007. So, for a fourth year in a row, USC is all but out of the national title picture before one leaf has been raked.

5 MOST UNDERRATED

Alabama: No team is playing better in every phase of the game than the Crimson Tide. Alabama has a devastating defense and better-than-expected offense behind quarterback Greg McElroy. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the best team in America.

Cincinnati: Coach Brian Kelly oversees a high-flying offense that plays with flash. But it's the play of a rebuilt defense that had just one starter back that has been really impressive in wins at Rutgers and at Oregon State. The Big East belongs to the Bearcats again.

Kansas: How come this team wasn't picked by everyone to win the Big 12 North? The Jayhawks 'offense has been as good as advertised behind quarterback Todd Reesing. The defense has room to improve. Still, the best is yet to come for a still-developing unit.

Michigan: Coming off of a 3-9 debut under Rich Rodriguez, little was expected from the Wolverines. But Big Blue is 4-0 and flying high, thanks to the arrival of true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier.

TCU: The Horned Frogs are the best non-Big Six team in the nation. The pundits were in love with Boise State and BYU. The Cougars were ripped by Florida State, a loss that looks worse now. Boise State remains perfect and likely will finish perfect, but an unbeaten Broncos squad figures to finish behind an unbeaten Horned Frogs club. TCU already has wins over Virginia and Clemson and can earn more credibility with triumphs over BYU and Utah.

WINNERS

The Big East: Some felt the ACC's early efforts in non-league games indicated it wasn't as good as the Big East. Case closed. The Big East had three key games vs. ACC teams and won two of them. South Florida prevailed at Florida State and Rutgers won 34-13 at Maryland. Previously unbeaten Pittsburgh was the lone loser, falling 38-31 at North Carolina State.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines had to rally to beat Indiana 36-33. But that Michigan was able to gut out a win when it didn't play its best is testament to how well this team is developing under Rich Rodriguez. The 4-0 Wolverines must button up a defense that yielded 467 yards. But for a still-building program, a win is a win.

LSU: The Tigers are 4-0 following a 30-26 win at Mississippi State. LSU has work to do, but it is shaping up as a potential threat to Alabama. By the way, Florida visits Baton Rouge on Oct. 10.

Wisconsin: Some felt Bret Bielema entered this season under pressure. Opening with a 4-0 mark has eased the tension. The latest triumph, a 38-30 win over Michigan State, was the best yet.

Virginia Tech: Two weeks, two impressive wins. Last week, the Hokies used some late-game Tyrod Taylor magic to pull out a win over Nebraska. This week, No. 11 Virginia Tech used no magic, just lots of muscle in manhandling No. 9 Miami, 31-7. Tech remains the ACC's top team.

Stanford: Who is in first place in the Pac-10? Jim Harbaugh's Cardinal, who are 3-1 overall and stand 2-0 in league play following a dominating 34-14 win over No. 24 Washington. Just a week earlier, the Huskies shocked USC. Senior running back Toby Gerhart carved up Washington's defense. Stanford's lone loss was a 24-17 defeat at Wake Forest two weeks ago that saw the Deacons rally from 17-3 down with 21 second-half points.

LOSERS

Illinois: The Illini were 30-0 losers at Ohio State, moving their record to 1-2.

Miami: A 31-7 shellacking at Virginia Tech takes some of the luster off that 2-0 start. A win next week at home against Oklahoma will make most of it go away.

North Carolina: The No. 22 Tar Heels showed again they aren't ready for prime time, losing at Georgia Tech 24-7 in what many felt would be a breakout game.

Cal: No. 6 Cal didn't just get beat by Oregon ; it got clobbered 42-3. Now, the Pac-10 race is wide open.

Hot seat

Ron Zook, Illinois. His Fighting Illini are 1-2, and both losses have been spectacular flameouts - 37-9 to Missouri in the opener and 30-0 at Ohio State on Saturday. Illinois' lone victory was against FCS member Illinois State. Next up: a visit from what should be a mad Penn State team. All of this coming off a 5-7 season in 2008.

TOP 5 STORYLINES FOR NEXT WEEK

1. Will Sam Bradford play? There was a report that the Oklahoma quarterback and reigning Heisman winner met with noted physician James Andrews to get clearance to play at Miami next Saturday. Can the Sooners win at Miami without Bradford?

2. Big 12. It's a big week for non-conference games, with it all starting Thursday with Colorado playing at West Virginia. The non-con action continues with Oklahoma at Miami, New Mexico at Texas Tech, Arkansas meeting Texas A&M in the Dallas Cowboys' palace and Kent State at Baylor.

3. LSU at Georgia. This is a prove-it game for each school, with both still finding their way with first-year starting quarterbacks. Jordan Jefferson leads the Tigers and Joe Cox paces the Bulldogs. LSU is unbeaten; Georgia has a loss, which makes this a must-win game at home.

4. Auburn at Tennessee. A battle of first-year coaches trying to right their programs. This would be a credibility-building victory for either coach -- Auburn's Gene Chizik or Tennessee's Lane Kiffin. It looks as if the Tigers may be a little further along on offense.

5. There will be no change at the top of the polls. Why? Because No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Texas are off.

Dienhart's weekly awards
COACHES
Wish I were him: Chip Kelly, Oregon
Glad I'm not him: Ralph Friedgen, Maryland
Lucky guy: Frank Spaziani, Boston College
Poor guy: Bill Lynch, Indiana
Desperately seeking a clue: Bobby Bowden, Florida State
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jim Leavitt, USF
Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jeff Tedford, California
TEAMS
Thought you'd kick butt, you did: Ohio State
Thought you'd kick butt, you didn't: Ole Miss
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you did: Kentucky
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you didn't: South Florida
They're good: Alabama
They're bad: Maryland
Did the season start? Louisville
Can the season end? Michigan State
Can the season never end? TCU
GAMES
Play this again: N.C. State 38, Pittsburgh 31
Never play this again: Texas 64, UTEP 7
Are you kidding me? South Carolina 16, Ole Miss 10
Oh ... my ... God: Oregon 42, California 3
Told you so: Stanford 34, Washington 14
NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for: Oklahoma at Miami
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: New Mexico at Texas Tech
Upset alert: Washington over Notre Dame in South Bend.
Must win: California over USC in Berkeley.
Offensive explosion: Arkansas vs. Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas.
Defensive struggle: Auburn at Tennessee
Great game no one is talking about: LSU at Georgia
Intriguing coaching matchup: SMU's June Jones vs. TCU's Gary Patterson
Why are they playing? Arkansas State at Iowa
Plenty of good seats remaining: Northwestern at Purdue

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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