September 17, 2007

Hart, Saban get it done while others falter

Each Monday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned while on the road - or things to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. Here is our third edition after taking in the sights and sounds at Michigan, Kentucky and Nebraska this weekend.

Olin Buchanan, Rivals.com Senior National Writer
1. Mike Hart is a man of his word: Last week, the Michigan tailback guaranteed victory over Notre Dame; the Wolverines proved him prophetic with a 38-0 win. Hart, the soul of the Wolverines, did his part with 187 yards and two touchdowns.

We also learned that despite Michigan's early struggles, Hart still should be a Heisman Trophy candidate.

He has rushed for 502 yards and five touchdowns through three games.

2. Nick Saban is worth the money: Well, if any coach can be worth $4 million a season, Saban would be the one. The Crimson Tide is 3-0 and avenged last season's loss to Arkansas with a 41-38 victory in which Saban made all the right decisions at crunch time.

The Tide benefited from a questionable pass interference penalty on their game-winning drive, but they're clearly more physical and focused than a year ago.

3. Texas doesn't have the defense to win the Big 12: The Longhorns allowed 32 points to UCF, and perhaps most alarming is that 15 of them came in the fourth quarter. If UCF is moving the ball that well on the Longhorns, what is Oklahoma going to do?

Steve Megargee, Rivals.com National Writer
1. Louisville's Harry Douglas may be the nation's best receiver: Kentucky's comeback Saturday overshadowed a brilliant performance from Douglas, who has been the most productive receiver in the game since last November. Douglas caught 13 passes for a school-record 223 yards in the 40-34 loss to Kentucky. Douglas has caught 52 passes for 1,006 yards and nine touchdowns in his past nine games. He ranks fourth in the nation in receiving and has more receiving yards than 19 teams.

2. That Boston College-Clemson game could mean plenty: Mark the Nov. 17 BC-Clemson game on your calendar. It ought to decide the best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Boston College and Clemson remained the league's only two unbeaten teams Saturday while showcasing surprising strengths. Conventional wisdom indicated Clemson would go as far as tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller would lead them, but first-year starting quarterback Cullen Harper has been brilliant thus far. Harper has thrown 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions. Boston College typically isn't known for its defense, but the Eagles are allowing just 1.6 yards per carry. They held Georgia Tech star Tashard Choice to 31 yards on 15 attempts, ending his streak of nine consecutive 100-yard games.

3. Auburn has major issues: Florida's Ron Zook and Alabama's Mike Shula got fired after losing to Mississippi State, though Shula's dismissal didn't come until the end of the regular season. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville won't meet a similar fate, but he does have to solve his quarterback problem before this season spirals out of control. Senior Brandon Cox was benched and showered with boos after throwing two interceptions Saturday. He has completed 46.7 percent of his passes with 10 interceptions and five touchdowns in his past six games. Kodi Burns played well after replacing Cox on Saturday, but can the Tigers rely on a true freshman to lead them through a treacherous midseason schedule? Auburn must play at Florida, Arkansas and LSU in the next five weeks.

David Fox, Rivals.com National Writer
1. The deepest position group in the country isn't USC's running backs. It's Florida's receivers. True, almost every team in the country would make room for the Trojans' third- and fourth-string tailbacks, but a transfer and injuries have hurt the group's numbers. Florida displayed plenty of difference-makers at receiver. Percy Harvin is a threat to score every time he touches the ball as a runner and receiver. Cornelius Ingram causes matchup problems because of his size (6-4, 230). Riley Cooper is averaging more than 30 yards per catch and leads the team with three touchdown receptions. Louis Murphy and David Nelson provide depth. And those were the receivers that played Saturday against Tennessee. Senior Andre Caldwell missed the game because of injury, and Rivals100 freshman Deonte Thompson has yet to see the field.

2. Speaking of the USC backfield… We should have listened closer when Pete Carroll said one of the players USC missed the most last year was fullback Stanley Havili. Havili played in his first three games as a redshirt freshman before missing the rest of the season with a broken leg. As if the USC running game needed a spark, Havili gives the Trojans a playmaking fullback. He ran for 50 yards on USC's first play from scrimmage and scored the Trojans' first two touchdowns while also leading the way for Stafon Johnson's 144 yards against Nebraska.

3. Is this heaven? No, (unfortunately) it's Iowa: We had a feeling Iowa was overachieving when the Hawkeyes won at least 10 games in each season from 2003-05. But since then, the program appears to have fallen back to Earth. The Hawkeyes are now 10-11 in their past 21 games following Saturday's loss to Iowa State, a game Iowa lost despite not allowing the Cyclones to score a touchdown. Iowa was considered a dark-horse candidate for the Big Ten title, in part because Ohio State and Michigan aren't on the Hawkeyes' schedule. Instead, they face Wisconsin on the road Saturday and Penn State on the road on Oct. 6. Maybe dodging those two teams wasn't such a good thing after all.

Mike Huguenin, Rivals.com College Sports Editor
1. Penn State is sitting pretty in the Big Ten: The Nittany Lions are proficient on offense and solid on defense – and that may be enough to win the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions' toughest league road game is Saturday, and it's against Michigan. JoePa's boys get Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue at home this season. And if you saw Iowa and Wisconsin play this past weekend, those teams don't exactly look scary. Wisconsin didn't look scary in barely getting past UNLV last week, either. The Penn State-Ohio State game on Oct. 27 could be for the Big Ten title.

2. The Pac-10 took some hits: UCLA was expected to be a contender for the league championship, but title contenders don't get blown out by Utah. Arizona dropped to 0-2 against Mountain West foes this season with a home loss to New Mexico. And Washington was thoroughly beaten by a rebuilding Ohio State team at home. At least USC laid the lumber to Nebraska.

3. The Florida-LSU showdown got even bigger: The Gators blasted Tennessee 59-20 Saturday, are at defenseless Ole Miss this week, then return home to face punchless Auburn on Sept. 29. LSU gets South Carolina this Saturday in Death Valley, then heads to Tulane on Sept. 29. In other words, they both should be 5-0 and ranked in the top five when they meet in Baton Rouge on Oct. 6.

Gerry Ahern, Yahoo! Sports Senior Editor
1. USC can run at will: Quarterback John David Booty can keep his arm on ice. Coach Pete Carroll pretty much told us so. The top-ranked Trojans bludgeoned Nebraska for 313 rushing yards, averaging 8.1 yards per carry, in a 49-31 victory. That's the worst YPC the Cornhuskers have yielded, besting a 57-year-old mark (7.7) by Kansas. With the USC line opening gaping holes, it didn't seem to matter who was carrying the ball. Five Trojans backs found the end zone. In its previous two games against Nevada and Wake Forest, Nebraska had given up an average of 156.5 rushing yards.

2. Notre Dame can't protect: Charlie Weis' feeble offensive attack remains without a touchdown on the year (and for the past 14 quarters) and has compiled a cumulative minus-14 yards rushing on the season. Freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen was sacked eight times in a 38-0 humiliation at Michigan. The Irish have given up 23 sacks over three games. Simply pitiful.

3. You're up, Golden Panthers: Duke ended the nation's longest losing streak at 22 games by downing Northwestern 20-14. Duke enjoyed its first win since Sept. 17, 2005, over I-AA Virginia Military Institute. It was Duke's first victory over a major-college team since it beat Clemson on Nov. 13, 2004. Florida International now is the biggest loser with a 15-game slump.



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