September 16, 2007

Powers assert themselves

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In July, Jim Harbaugh boldly declared this year's USC squad to be one of the best college football teams in the history of the sport. USC looked very good at Nebraska, despite allowing 21 fourth-quarter points in a 49-31 win. The Trojans are likely to retain their No. 1 spot in the polls this week, but other teams are entering the debate. LSU and Oklahoma used wins over Virginia Tech and Miami last week to join the discussion in week two. The Tigers and Sooners rolled over lesser opponents Saturday. Florida showed it's not willing to give up its national championship crown without a fight. The Gators staged a 59-20 mauling of Tennessee in their SEC opener.

Team(s) of the week

How about SEC teams formerly coached by Bear Bryant? Alabama and Kentucky both managed final-possession wins against ranked opponents. The Crimson Tide regrouped against Arkansas after allowing four consecutive touchdowns in the second-half. Crimson Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson led Alabama on an impressive game-winning drive. Meanwhile, Kentucky quarterback Andre' Woodson may have topped Wilson. Woodson threw a 57-yard touchdown pass in the final 30 seconds against Louisville for Kentucky's first win over a top-10 team in 30 years.

Breakouts & Breakdowns

Breakout: Tim Tebow put to rest questions of whether he could pass against an SEC defense. He completed 14 of 19 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee on Saturday. Behind Tebow and a bevy of playmakers at receiver, Florida showed it will try to repeat as national champions this year behind its offense rather than defense. The Gators put up 559 yards against the Volunteers - even without senior receiver Andre Caldwell.

Breakout: For all the talk about USC's running back depth, a couple of unlikely suspects made the most noise in the 49-31 win at Nebraska. Stafon Johnson, the forgotten man a year ago with only three carries, shifted the momentum to USC's favor with his seven-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He finished with 144 yards. Stanley Havili, the fullback who missed all but one game last year, scored the first two TDs for USC while opening holes for the rest of the Trojans running backs.

Breakdown: Sam Keller's second-half struggles against USC continued Saturday. As Arizona State's quarterback two years ago, Keller threw four second-half interceptions to erase a 21-3 lead in a 38-28 loss to the Trojans. Keller didn't fare much better as the Cornhuskers' quarterback; he threw two second-half interceptions Saturday. Keller completed 36 of 54 passes for 389 yards against USC, but it wasn't enough for a team that was outrushed by 282 yards.

Breakdown: Texas is looking less and less like a national title contender at times, but at least it got out of Orlando with a win. The Longhorns helped Central Florida break in its new stadium by falling behind to UCF 24-23 early in the fourth quarter. The Longhorns rallied with five Ryan Bailey field goals. After throwing only seven interceptions as a freshman last year, Colt McCoy has thrown five picks as a sophomore. He's still completing 66 percent of his passes, though.

Breakout: Does the state of Kentucky have the best collection of college quarterbacks? You can make that argument following the toe-to-toe meeting between Kentucky's Andre' Woodson and Louisville's Brian Brohm. The two combined for 641 yards and six touchdowns Saturday with Woodson coming out on the winning end. Suddenly, Kentucky and South Carolina look like Florida's top contenders in the SEC's Eastern Division.

Breakout: Only one Boston College quarterback passed for 400-plus yards under former coach Tom O'Brien. The same one, Matt Ryan, has now done it twice for new coach Jeff Jagodzinski. Ryan torched Georgia Tech for 435 yards in a 24-10 win. Thanks to a scheduling oddity, BC has a 3-0 record in the ACC. The Eagles now play four consecutive nonconference games.

Breakout: Michigan running back Mike Hart backed up his guarantee for a win over Notre Dame with 187 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-0 victory over the struggling Fighting Irish.

Breakdown: Armanti Edwards and Dennis Dixon could run away from the Michigan defense, but not Jimmy Clausen. The Notre Dame quarterback was sacked eight times.

What you might have missed
If Appalachian State can win in a Big Ten stadium, why can't Duke? The Blue Devils ended their streak of futility by defeating Northwestern 20-14 in Evanston to end a 22-game losing streak.
Clemson is giving new quarterback Cullen Harper a workout before ACC play resumes. The Tigers' QB has completed 37 of 46 passes with eight touchdowns in his last two games against Louisiana-Monroe and Furman. Along the way, one of Clemson's biggest strengths faltered. C.J. Spiller ran nine times for minus-1 yard.
Arizona's hopes of going to a bowl game are already looking bleak. Expected to finally make a move in the Pac-10, the Wildcats lost 29-27 at home to New Mexico.
Cincinnati needed to return to quarterback Dustin Grutza, who had made 22 starts in the last two years, in a 47-10 win over rival Miami (Ohio). Grutza started in place of new starter Ben Mauk, who had a sore throwing arm. Grutza passed for 290 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Mauk, then playing for Wake Forest, missed most of the 2006 season following shoulder and elbow injuries.
Temple can't catch a break, or according to officials, a pass in the end zone. Connecticut defeated the Owls 22-17, but got some help. Video review upheld the on-field call that Temple receiver Bruce Francis didn't catch a deflected pass in the end zone that would have given the Owls the lead in the final 40 seconds. The Big East replay official felt he didn't have conclusive evidence to reverse the on-field call made by a MAC official.
As if a 42-39 loss to Florida Atlantic isn't crazy enough, Minnesota allowed its Sun Belt conference opponent to put up some crazy numbers. FAU quarterback Rusty Smith passed for 463 yards and five touchdowns, and the Gophers turned the ball over seven times in the loss in Miami.
Will there be a quick hook for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina? A week after leading the Gamecocks to a 16-12 win over Georgia, quarterback Blake Mitchell threw three interceptions against South Carolina State.
BYU and Tulsa combined for 1,027 passing yards in a 55-47 Tulsa win. Golden Hurricane quarterback Paul Smith passed for 454 yards and five touchdowns, and BYU quarterback Max Hall passed for 526 yards and four TDs.
Breakout: Remember James Laurinaitis? The Ohio State linebacker and Nagurski Award winner again made game-turning plays for the Buckeyes against Washington. He had two interceptions and a sack of quarterback Jake Locker to end Washington's modest three-game winning streak.

Breakdown: Auburn's loss made Alabama's win over Arkansas that much sweeter for Tide fans. The Tigers lost to Mississippi State, putting Tommy Tuberville in a dubious fraternity of coaches who have lost to a Sylvester Croom-led Bulldogs team. Five coaches, including SEC coaches Ron Zook and Mike Shula, have lost their jobs after losing to Croom's Mississippi State squad. Making matters worse for Tuberville is a budding quarterback controversy between senior Brandon Cox and freshman Kodi Burns. Auburn is on the wrong end of an astounding 12-to-4 turnover margin through three games.

Breakout: Through the first three weeks of the season, the Big East has the country's best collection of freshman running backs. On Saturday, Pitt's LeSean McCoy ran for 172 yards and a 64-yard touchdown in a 17-13 loss to Michigan State. West Virginia's Noel Devine needed only five carries to reach 136 rushing yards against Maryland on Thursday. He's averaging a mere 15.1 yards per carry in three games. And then there's South Florida's Mike Ford, who has 157 yards and three touchdowns in two games.

Breakdown: No. 7 Wisconsin nearly pulled a Michigan. The Badgers needed P.J. Hill to tie a school record with five touchdowns to escape Division I-AA The Citadel 45-31.

Breakdown: Any hopes for UCLA to make noise in the Pac-10 race looked bleak Saturday. The Bruins flopped against Utah, losing 44-6 to a 0-2 team without its starting quarterback and running back. A defense that regrouped last year under Dewayne Walker collapsed to allow 37 unanswered points. Bruins quarterback Ben Olson also threw three interceptions.

Breakout: Even for Texas Tech, freshman receiver Michael Crabtree has been unusually productive. He caught 11 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns in a 59-29 win over Rice. His career low is 106 receiving yards - in the opener against SMU.

Breakout: Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter has a 13-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio after passing for three TDs in a 45-22 win over Central Michigan.

Breakdown: What has happened to Iowa? The Hawkeyes are 10-11 in their last 21 games following a 15-13 loss to Iowa State, a team that previously lost to Northern Iowa and Kent State earlier this year. The Cyclones didn't even need a touchdown to defeat rival Iowa.

Breakout: How's this for an under-the-radar matchup next week: Indiana's Kellen Lewis vs. Illinois' Juice Williams. Whichever teams wins this game on Sept. 22 could end its bowl drought. Lewis and Williams were both impressive in wins Saturday. Lewis ran for 199 yards and passed for 137 in a 41-24 win over Akron. Williams accounted for two touchdowns in a 41-20 win at Syracuse.

Breakout: Don't blame Big 12 teams if they never return to Troy. The last two that went there, Missouri in 2004 and Oklahoma State on Friday, returned with a loss. Oklahoma State was supposed to have an explosive spread offense this year, but instead Troy quarterback Omar Haugabook passed for 371 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 49 yards and two TDs against the Cowboys, who played without Bobby Reid and Dantrell Savage.

Breakdown: TCU's chances of a BCS bowl were diminished last week with a 34-13 loss to Texas. Now, it's having trouble just trying to win in the Mountain West Conference. TCU lost its second consecutive game Thursday with a 20-17 overtime defeat to Air Force. The Falcons executed a 71-yard option pitch for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and a field goal in overtime to beat the Horned Frogs.

Quote of the weekend

"We won. That's not something Lloyd Carr can say."
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden following a 38-10 win over Division I-AA Furman, proving that fans aren't the only ones who won't let Michigan forget its losses to Appalachian State and Oregon. Bowden's game ended before the kickoff of Michigan's 38-0 win over Notre Dame.

Quote of the weekend II

"I know they weren't asking me to be Superman or anything,"
Virginia Tech freshman quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who passed for 287 yards and ran for a touchdown in a 28-7 win over Ohio.

Stat that counts: 3

Losses for Notre Dame to start the season. The Irish have started 0-3 only one other time in school history, in 2001. Notre Dame faces 3-0 Michigan State next week and has yet to score an offensive touchdown.

All eyes on ...

Iowa at Wisconsin: The Hawkeyes miss both Ohio State and Michigan this year, so this is presumably their toughest Big Ten game. Neither team was too impressive this weekend, but each will look to get back on track in its Big Ten opener.

The SEC East on the road: Undefeated South Carolina and Kentucky hope to challenge Florida in the East, but will have to build their resumes this week on the road. The Gamecocks visit LSU while Kentucky visits Arkansas.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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