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Big East: Looking back and forward

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
11:00
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Now that we have closed the book on September, let's take a look back at three of the best moments and three of the worst moments in the Big East.

Best

1. Three undefeated teams. Heading into the season, I thought Louisville had a good chance at being undefeated through the month of September. Rutgers and Cincinnati? Not so much. But here we are on Oct. 1, and all three teams are proving there is some darn good football being played in the Big East. Rutgers is 4-0 for the first time since 2006; Louisville is 5-0 for the first time since 2006; and Cincinnati has won a league-high six straight games. The Big East needs these three teams to keep going strong.

2. Best game. USF had a thrilling win over Nevada, and Rutgers had an important victory at Arkansas. But I think Cincinnati's 27-24 win over Virginia Tech was the best win for the Big East in the month of September. Arkansas is now 1-4; Virginia Tech was ranked No. 25 in the coaches' poll headed into that game, and most recently beat the Bearcats 20-7 in the 2009 Orange Bowl. Plus, the victory allowed the Big East to move to 4-3 against ACC teams, a huge stat for those keeping score at home.

3. Best players. Offensive MVP for September goes to Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison, who leads the Big East in rushing with 491 yards. Defensive MVP for September goes to UConn linebacker Yawin Smallwood, who leads the league with 53 tackles and 10 tackles for loss, and ranks second with four sacks.

Worst

1. Week 4. This was the worst week for the Big East by far, as UConn and USF both lost to MAC teams, Temple lost to Penn State, and Syracuse couldn't do much against Minnesota. USF had won 44 straight games against teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences heading into its game against Ball State, but its last minute rally fell short. When you are in a conference like the Big East, you have to win games against non-AQ competition.

2. Worst loss. Pitt's 31-17 loss to Youngstown State in the opener sent alarm bells ringing. Pitt lost to an FCS program for the first time in school history and broke the Big East's 57-game winning streak over FCS teams. Pitt followed that with a loss to Cincinnati before rebounding to win two straight.

3. Worst start(s). Syracuse is 1-3 and has now dropped eight of its past nine games. Coach Doug Marrone has taken responsibility for the tough start and is making no excuses despite the schedule his team has played thus far; Syracuse's four opponents have a combined 14-2 record. USF is right up there, as well, and stands 2-3 after losing three straight games.

Top storylines in October

1. All eyes on Oct. 26. Cincinnati and Louisville have the best rivalry remaining in the Big East, and this year's version should be a dandy. Cincinnati has a great shot at being 6-0 heading into this game. To get to 7-0, Louisville has to get past Pitt and USF. It won't be easy, but it can be done.

2. Can Rutgers move to 8-0? Rutgers has a tendency to lose games it absolutely should not lose. October sets up very nicely for the Scarlet Knights, with games against UConn, Syracuse, Temple and Kent State. Only Temple is on the road, and that is a quick one-hour ride down the Jersey Turnpike. Rutgers cannot afford to drop any of these games.

3. Louisville has a tough month. The Cardinals have only three games in October, but all three are going to be major tests. After a bye this week, they play at Pitt. The Cards have lost four straight to the Panthers. USF is next, and the Bulls are not going down without a fight. Then they close out October with the Bearcats, as mentioned above. Cincinnati has won four straight in the series. The last time Louisville beat all three of these teams in the same season was 2006.

Big Ten: Looking back and forward

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
11:00
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Check your calendar. It's Oct. 1, which means the first month of the college football season is in the books. As you know, it hasn't been a great one for the Big Ten.

Let's take a quick look back at the Big Ten's September before spinning it forward.

Best of September

1. Miller time: Braxton Miller came to Ohio State to play for Jim Tressel, but the Buckeyes sophomore quarterback is meant to play in an offense like the one Urban Meyer has brought to Columbus. While more accomplished Big Ten offensive stars (Denard Robinson, Montee Ball) have struggled, Miller has been spectacular through the first month, recording 577 rush yards, 933 pass yards and 15 touchdowns (8 pass, 7 rush). He's very much on the Heisman Trophy radar entering the October.

2. Purple reign: Aside from Ohio State, Northwestern is the only other Big Ten team to truly take care of business in the early going. The Wildcats accounted for three of the Big Ten's six wins (Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Boston College) against teams from automatic-qualifying conferences and recorded their third 5-0 start in the past five seasons. The coaches have used quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter well and received improved play in both rushing offense and rushing defense. Northwestern exits September ranked in both major polls for the first time since 2008.

3. Surprise stars: September didn't bring too many positives from the team level, but the Big Ten saw its share of surprise stars around the league. Mark Weisman came out of nowhere -- actually, the Air Force Academy -- to rescue Iowa's rushing attack in Week 3, and he has piled up 507 rush yards and seven touchdowns in the past three games. Penn State's Allen Robinson, who entered the year with just three career receptions, has been the Big Ten's top wide receiver (32 receptions, 439 yards, 5 TDs). Other surprise standouts include Northwestern running back Venric Mark, Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin and Minnesota defensive end D.L. Wilhite.

Worst of September

1. Big-game woes: The Big Ten flunked its nonleague exam, failing in nearly every big-game opportunity through the first four weeks. Things got off to an ominous start when Alabama crushed Michigan 41-14 in Week 1. Things only got worse the following Saturday, as the Big Ten went 6-6, including three road losses to Pac-12 foes. The Big Ten went 0-3 against Notre Dame, and its members suffered ugly losses against teams like Central Michigan and Louisiana Tech. Aside from Michigan State's season-opening win against Boise State and Northwestern's triumphs, there was nothing to celebrate in nonleague play.

2. The thin red line: No one doubts Wisconsin lost a game-changer in quarterback Russell Wilson, now starting for the Seattle Seahawks. But the Badgers still returned a Heisman Trophy finalist in Ball at running back, an NFL prospect in tackle Ricky Wagner and other solid pieces of an offense that set records each of the past two seasons. Few could have seen Wisconsin's rapid drop in offensive production. Coach Bret Bielema already has replaced offensive line coach Mike Markuson, made a quarterback change and seen Ball sustain a concussion. Although the unit is showing a bit of life lately, its short-yardage struggles at Nebraska reconfirmed that Wisconsin isn't Wisconsin right now.

3. No offense: With a few exceptions, Big Ten teams were pretty brutal to watch on offense during the season's first month. Only four league squads rank among the nation's top 50 in total offense, and just five rank in the top 50 in scoring. Wisconsin's decline has been the most shocking, but Michigan State hasn't replaced the production it lost in the pass game. Iowa couldn't reach the end zone until Weisman came along. Illinois has scored just 21 points in its two games against major-conference opponents and has yet to form an identity under its new coaching staff.

Three storylines for October

1. Search for separation: If the recent power rankings and bowl projections haven't made it clear, the Big Ten is a muddled mess after the first month of the season. There's very little separation among the top eight teams. Fortunately, four more Saturdays of league play -- and particularly key division matchups -- should identify the teams to beat in each division. Almost every Big Ten squad looks capable of making a run to Indy right now, particularly in the wide-open Leaders Division. The pool of teams that can make this claim in a month will be reduced.

2. Penn State's progress: Written off by many after a 0-2 start, Penn State has turned its season around with three consecutive wins. First-year coach Bill O'Brien has done a tremendous job of keeping his players focused on the present, rather than the program's uncertain future. O'Brien has molded McGloin into a solid Big Ten signal-caller, while the defense has turned things around after a rough opener, as senior linebacker Michael Mauti leads the way. It'll be interesting to see if Penn State can keep up its winning ways and continue to surprise folks who saw the program falling apart immediately after the NCAA imposed severe sanctions in July.

3. Mitten fight: The Big Ten's two members from the Mitten State -- Michigan and Michigan State -- entered the season as the most popular picks to win the league, but the first month hasn't gone as planned for either squad. The teams are a combined 5-4 with two losses to Notre Dame. It'll be interesting to see if both the Wolverines and Spartans can get back on course during the first two weeks of the month before they meet Oct. 20 in Ann Arbor in a game that could decide the Legends Division. The in-state rivalry had been designated a potential Big Ten game of the year before the season. We'll soon find out how significant it will be.

Big 12: Looking back and forward

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
11:00
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Believe it or not, we're officially done with the first month of the season. Time to take a look back at the month that was and the new month that begins today.

Best of September

1. Geno Smith. The West Virginia passer has been arguably the biggest story of the season, and easily the game's best player. Smith capped his month with an absurd 656-yard, eight-touchdown performance in a 70-63 win over Baylor. Through four games, he's been nearly perfect. He has thrown 20 touchdowns, four more than any QB in the country. He's completing 83.4 percent of his passes, 5.3 percent more than any QB in the country. Only one QB has thrown more than Smith's 1,728 yards, and that guy (Rakeem Cato, Marshall) has almost 100 more attempts. Smith's 10.2 yards per attempt is third nationally. He's got a 24-point lead in the QB rating stat, 17 points higher than Russell Wilson, the nation's leader, finished last year.

2. Kansas State and Bill Snyder. The Wildcats are the most impressive team in the Big 12 through the first month. There's still a lot of football left to be played, but K-State has a blowout win over Miami on its résumé and went to Oklahoma and became the first ranked team to ever beat Bob Stoops in Norman. The old silver fox in Manhattan with his name on the stadium has still got it.

3. The Big 12 vs. everybody else. Kansas' hatred for holding leads in the fourth quarter aside, the Big 12 has racked up an impressive 26-3 record in nonconference play. Only one nonconference game remains, when Notre Dame travels to Oklahoma later this month, but the Big 12 has the nation's best record outside its own conference. The only disappointment? Oklahoma State's 59-38 loss to Arizona on the road that featured a school-record 167 penalty yards, and the Cowboys lost the turnover battle 4-0. Not much hope when you do that. You'll have a hard time finding a benchmark win among the 26 (Iowa State over Iowa? K-State over Miami? West Virginia over Maryland? Texas over Ole Miss? TCU over Virginia? Baylor over Louisiana-Monroe?), but there's something to be said for lining up and taking care of business. No Big 12 team has really had a serious scare in a game it should absolutely win.

Worst of September

1. Kansas. The rebuilding project in Lawrence hasn't quite gotten off the ground yet. While everybody else in the league is playing top-25 ball or close to it, the Jayhawks have been muddled in embarrassing losses. The weirdest thing about all this? KU is actually better than it was a year ago, but found a way to have a worse start. It's 1-3 instead of 2-2, with losses to Rice and Northern Illinois. KU had fourth-quarter leads in both of those games, but lost both, giving the Big 12 two nonconference losses that never should have happened and preventing the league from going 29-1. In a league with depth everywhere, Dayne Crist hasn't been as good as the Jayhawks had hoped, and KU is clearly the league's only weak link.

2. Landry Jones and/or Oklahoma. I don't mean to pile on here, but the Sooners are the only Big 12 team to take a major tumble down the polls, and they have yet to do anything of note. OU lost at home to Kansas State, and looked awful in a win over UTEP that required a late charge to make it convincing. Jones, meanwhile, has a passer rating better than exactly two Big 12 QBs: Dayne Crist and Steele Jantz. His completion percentage (63.6) is better than only Crist's.

3. TCU in the red zone. I'll be honest; there's not much to harp on in a league that's been pretty solid to this point. Still, TCU is dragging along in the first month with some really bad red zone performances. The Frogs have reached the final 20 yards before the end zone 20 times this year. That's good! They've come away with points just 12 times. That's bad! Only six teams in the country have been worse. The schedule toughens up now for TCU. Its nonconference slate is done. It's already played Kansas. Everybody else is fully capable of beating the Frogs, even if TCU plays pretty well. This stuff in the red zone has to change. We've seen a little bit of everything, from turnovers to missed field goals. Only nine of those 20 possessions have resulted in touchdowns.

What to watch in October

1. Where do the Sooners go from here? Oklahoma entered the season as the preseason Big 12 favorite. Through three games and two bye weeks, OU hasn't looked better than very many teams in the Big 12. In the meantime, the Sooners have hung around the Top 25, despite a loss to Kansas State and an unimpressive win over UTEP. Oklahoma has the talent to make it through December without a loss and win the league. It also has enough problems to fall and finish 6-6. The league is deep enough to make OU pay that way. How will the Sooners respond from a rough first month? A trip to Texas Tech awaits, followed by the Red River Classic. OU hosts Kansas before a showdown with No. 9 Notre Dame.

2. Can David Ash keep it up, and the Texas defense bounce back? We'll know exactly how good Texas is over the next month. It has looked good, and has one truly impressive win on its résumé: a road win over Oklahoma State, a team that was unranked when the Longhorns played them but likely is one of the nation's top 25 teams, all things considered. Texas' liability, though? Not David Ash, who's daring to peek his head into a Heisman race with eye-popping numbers. It's the defense, which hasn't had the pass rush most believed it would and has had major tackling issues that were on display in the dramatic win over Oklahoma State. This month? Texas hosts West Virginia, then meets Oklahoma at Red River. Then Baylor comes to Austin. All difficult tests for the defense, much more so than Ash.

3. Just keep on watching ... the cream will rise. There's no way around it right now: This league is impossibly muddled. From 1-8 (and maybe nine, we'll see), anybody is good enough to get through the next month without a loss. But in the same breath, unless you're playing Kansas, you're not good enough to be guaranteed any wins. How will this Big 12 race look a month from now? No joke, you could make an argument for literally any order. West Virginia and Kansas State are the favorites now, but Texas is right in the mix, and might be better than both of them. Are you ready to bury Oklahoma yet? You shouldn't be. And why can't Oklahoma State bounce back and make some noise? The Cowboys are good enough. Nothing is impossible in this wide-open race.

Notre Dame: Looking back and forward

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
11:00
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The first month of the season is in the books. Let's revisit some of it, and look at what October could bring us.

Best

1. Notre Dame is 4-0. This is a big deal. The Irish have not had a 4-0 start since 2002. They have beaten three of the Big Ten's better teams (sly word choice there, eh?) and have put themselves in a good position to make a run at a BCS game.

2. The defense has been phenomenal. We knew the defense would be good. But this good? No. 3 scoring defense in the country (9 points per game) good? With an early-season Heisman contender at linebacker and a pass-rusher as lethal as any in the country? Check out this stat unearthed yesterday by media relations director John Heisler: Notre Dame is now the only FBS football team in the country that has never trailed in a game so far in 2012.

3. The turnover margin. Want the biggest reason the Irish are undefeated? Look no further than their plus-2.25 turnover margin, third in the nation. The defense has forced 13 turnovers in four games, one shy of its season total from 2011. And more importantly, the offense has protected the ball, giving it away just four times this season. (It had five turnovers in each of its first two games last season.)

Worst

1. The quarterback situation is unsettled. Everett Golson has shown flashes of potential here and there, and he was a terrific game manager in both of the Irish's road contests. But he looked overwhelmed by the stage against Michigan, and Tommy Rees came in to save the day for the second time. The Irish are winning, so there's not much room to complain, but there is plenty of room for improvement from the quarterback of the future, regardless of how well Rees plays when he is in.

2. Little help from receiving unit. Defenses have wisely focused on Tyler Eifert, leaving the best tight end in America with just one catch over the past two games. No one has stepped up to make the plays with Eifert covered, leaving much room for the passing game as a whole. DaVaris Daniels, who left one game with an ankle sprain and barely played in another, leads the team with 159 receiving yards on the season.

3. Injury bug. The secondary will eventually be tested. Losing a fifth-year senior such as Jamoris Slaughter makes that eventual test all the more difficult. Make no mistake, the three starting newcomers, particularly Bennett Jackson, have done everything the Irish could have hoped for so far. Zeke Motta has emerged as a leader. But Slaughter's versatility is a big loss, and Notre Dame can't just rely on its front seven to be so dominant in every game this season.

Top storylines in October

1. Can the Irish run the table? Hey, they've done it so far. And it's easy for many to look ahead and think of a possible 7-0 Notre Dame team entering Norman, Okla., on Oct. 27. The daunting schedule looks far less daunting, and the Irish have every reason so far to feel that they can win every game. But they also have enough shortcomings that have kept them from running away in games they should win easily, so there is little margin for error against every October opponent.

2. Will the offense come through when needed? Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin made the point that the offense has delivered when called upon so far: against Purdue and against Michigan. But if the defense doesn't play at the same insanely high level it has so far, will the offense be consistent enough for four quarters to pick everyone up? Eventually the Irish will be tested to win a game with their offense, not in spite of it, and development there over the next month is crucial.

3. Quarterback situation. Check back next month, though I don't think this section will change.

Pac-12: Looking back and forward

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
11:00
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As we inch closer toward the second half of the college football season (I know, crazy, right?) it's time to look back fondly (and not-so-fondly) at the first five weeks. Across the blog network we're taking a look at three good things so far, three bad things so far and three things to keep an eye on this month.

Good things so far
  1. Still perfect: The Pac-12 still has two undefeated teams as we flip the calendar. And both of those undefeated teams have scored victories over ranked opponents -- Oregon over Arizona and Oregon State over Wisconsin and UCLA. It's one thing to jump out to a perfect start, and another to do it with wins over Top 25 teams from BCS conferences. Oregon has the best shot of any team in the conference of making a run at the national title game, and so far, they have kept to the script. Oregon State's resurgence has been a welcome addition to the dense fog that hangs over the North.
  2. Speaking of risers: UCLA and Arizona State have been pleasant surprises in the South. Like Oregon and Oregon State, both schools are getting good quarterback play (more about that below). But their ascension brings some intrigue to the South Division -- once thought to be the exclusive property of USC (more about that below, as well). The ranked Bruins have a signature win over a ranked Nebraska squad and their only loss was to Oregon State -- which in hindsight doesn't look all that damning. The Sun Devils are about one solid win away from cracking the Top 25.
  3. Quarterbacks: There's a reason we're talking about these four schools. All four are finding success with young quarterbacks -- three of which are first-year starters. Oregon's Marcus Mariota has shown poise and efficiency since winning the high-profile job. Taylor Kelly is playing mistake-free, efficient ball for the Sun Devils and UCLA's Brett Hundley is one of the most dynamic young quarterbacks the conference has seen in quite some time. And then there is second-year starter Sean Mannion at Oregon State, who is playing with the maturity of a third- or fourth-year guy.
Bad things so far
  1. USC's downturn: All is not lost for the Trojans -- the nation's preseason No. 1 team. But with their road loss to Stanford, the path to finished business is a lot tougher than it was before. That Nov. 3 date with Oregon becomes that much more crucial now for the Trojans, who can't afford another loss if they hope to reach the national championship game. Inconsistent play on both sides of the ball has so far left a cloud over what was expected to be a special year for USC.
  2. Heisman candidates underperforming: The Pac-12 once had three players in the top four of the ESPN.com Heisman poll. That number has slid. Matt Barkley's play over the past couple of weeks has completely knocked him off of everyone's ballots, De'Anthony Thomas isn't getting enough touches to leave a lasting impression and Johnathan Franklin -- after his hot start -- has come back to earth. He has failed to score a rushing touchdown since the season opener. The results of the weekly poll come out tomorrow, and I'll say that Kenjon Barner is now No. 2 on my ballot.
  3. Conference perception: Stanford beats USC -- well, USC was overrated. Washington beats Stanford -- well, Stanford was overrated. Oregon struggles in the first half against Washington State -- well, Oregon must be overrated. This is the national perception of the Pac-12. But here's a thought from someone who lives and breathes the conference: Maybe the Pac-12 is just a good, deep conference. I think the blog zealots would agree with that statement. That maybe Stanford just matched up very well with USC. That maybe the Cardinal buckled against a Washington team that's pretty good. That maybe Washington State had a really good game plan against the Ducks. And that Oregon didn't struggle -- but that Washington State played really well in the first half. So long as there is a nine-game conference schedule, good Pac-12 teams will continue to knock off good Pac-12 teams. It might hurt the national perception, but it also makes for great football. I'll take that.
Oct. Storylines
  1. Separation games: There are quite a few good ones, starting with Thursday night's matchup of USC-Utah. Both teams are coming off a bye. Considering the issues Utah has had early (you could certainly lump them in with USC as one of the season's disappointments so far), this game doesn't have as much luster as we once thought -- but it's still worth tuning in for. And how about the Trojans the following week? Stanford beat USC. Washington beat Stanford. You know the math. As flawed as that statement is, Oct. 13 should be a pretty good showdown in Seattle. And there are a couple of nonconference games to eyeball this month, including Oregon State at BYU and Stanford at Notre Dame. And I can't wait for Oct. 27th's UCLA at Arizona State South Division showdown.
  2. Civil War momentum: We've already talked about Oregon and Oregon State being the undefeated teams. Can they stay that way? And will the Civil War actually end up being the must-see game in the Pac-12 this year? After this week's game with Washington, the Ducks have a bye and then are at ASU and home to Colorado to close out the month. The Nov. 3 game still looms. The Beavers have an unpredictable WSU team this weekend, followed up by a trip to Provo, a home game to Utah and then a trip to Seattle. The Beavers appear to have the more intriguing October docket.
  3. October rivalry: The Big Game in October -- still sounds weird. But the Bears and Cardinal will renew their rivalry in just three weeks when Stanford crosses the bridge on Oct. 20. The Bears are off to the worst start of the Jeff Tedford era, which might be rapidly coming to an end. They host a hot UCLA squad this week and then travel to Pullman on Oct. 13. The Oct. 20 showdown with the Cardinal (who may or may not be ranked pending the outcome of Arizona this week and Notre Dame the next) could be the deciding temperature gauge on Tedford's seat.

SEC: Looking back and forward

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
11:00
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It seems like only yesterday people were talking about an LSU-USC national championship, and weren't totally sold on Alabama making another run to a national title.

Oh, how things change in a matter of a month.

Now that September has come and gone, it's time to take a look back at some of the SEC's best and worst moments from the first month of the college football season. We'll also take a look at three storylines to keep an eye on in October:

September's best:

1. Alabama's dominant run to No. 1 in the polls: In September, it appeared the Crimson Tide were just reloading after their national championship season. Alabama destroyed Michigan in its season opener at Cowboys Stadium and has mangled its past four opponents by a combined score of 160-21, including a 52-0 romp over Arkansas in Fayetteville. Questions surrounded Alabama's defense, but it's been utterly dominant, leading the nation in scoring defense and ranking in the top four in total, rushing and passing defense. There's no question that this is the best, most complete team in the country.

2. Florida's emergence in the East: We didn't know what we were going to get from the Gators in Year 2 of Will Muschamp's coaching career. The defense hasn't really surprised us with how it's played, but the offense has made tremendous strides since last season, thanks to Jeff Driskel and Mike Gillislee. Driskel has been splendid for the Gators, running that offense like a vet with his ability to own the second half of games. Gillislee has given this offense the downhill running threat it's missed since Tim Tebow was around. The Gators have dominated in the second half of games and haven't allowed any fourth-quarter points.

3. Georgia's sensational freshman duo: The Bulldogs had to find some success in their running game after Isaiah Crowell's dismissal, and with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall tearing it up, Crowell is a distant memory. The fabulous freshmen have combined for 964 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gurley currently leads the SEC with 536 yards and nine touchdowns. He's also averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Marshall, who has displayed some of the best open-field speed in the SEC, is averaging 8.2 yards per carry and cranked out touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards against Tennessee over the weekend. It's hard to stop a train, let alone two.

September's worst

1. Arkansas' total meltdown: Heading into the season, I had a feeling that this team would struggle with adversity without Bobby Petrino around. This team hasn't just struggled, it has totally collapsed. John L. Smith has lost this team, as the Razorbacks are 1-4 and have been outscored 203-116. Against Alabama and Texas A&M, the Hogs were outscored by 100 points. This all started with Petrino's now-infamous motorcycle ride back in April, but trouble on the field was magnified by Arkansas' overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Since then, there hasn't been a lot of fight out of this team and quarterback Tyler Wilson went as far as to say his team "quit" against Alabama. The same should have been said about the 58-10 loss to Texas A&M.

2. Defensive woes: It was a rough month for some of the SEC's defenses that were supposed to be better in 2012. Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee are all giving up more than 400 yards a game, after all hired new defensive coordinators. The Hogs own the SEC's worst defense, allowing 510.2 yards per game and 40.6 points per game under Paul Haynes. Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has been through the SEC before, but the Tigers are allowing 419.3 yards per game. As Tennessee continues to transition to Sal Sunseri's 3-4 defense, it's clear the Vols aren't ready for it, as they are allowing 425.8 yards and nearly 30 points a game.

3. Missouri's SEC start: After Mizzou's first two SEC games, the Tigers are a decisive 0-2 and have been outscored by Georgia and South Carolina by a combined 72-30 margin. Mizzou put up a good fight through the first three quarters against Georgia, but had no steam in the fourth. This team barely looked alive against South Carolina, as the Gamecocks just pushed the Tigers around all day. The Tigers said they could handle the size and speed of the SEC, but haven't through two games.

October storylines:

1. Will the real LSU stand up? Entering the season, LSU was one of the country's best teams on paper. Now, we're all wondering what this team will do going forward after it ended the month with less than flattering outings against Auburn and Towson. LSU's offense struggled to get much of anything going against an overmatched Auburn defense, and the Tigers' defense then allowed 188 rushing yards and 22 points to Towson. It isn't panic time in Baton Rouge, but what's this team's true identity? A lot has to be cleaned up in a month that features trips to Florida and Texas A&M and a home game against South Carolina.

2. Can Manziel continue his red-hot run? Georgia's frosh duo at running back has stolen the freshman headlines, but Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been spectacular this year. Through four games, the redshirt freshman has passed for 1,094 yards and 10 touchdowns (no interceptions) and has rushed for a team-high 366 yards and six more scores. He's been the league's best dual-threat quarterback, and while his feet have made him and A&M's offense that much more dangerous, he's turning into a better passer with each game. Against Arkansas, his 557 yards of total offense (453 passing yards and 104 rushing yards) set an SEC record.

3. East race could settle itself: This month, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all play each other. That means that come Nov. 1, we might know who really has the upper hand in the East race. Florida has a chance to really make a statement by playing LSU on Saturday, while either Georgia or South Carolina will drop a game back this weekend, as they play each other in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina then goes to LSU. Florida ends the month playing South Carolina and Georgia back-to-back, but both games are in the state of Florida.

ACC: Looking back and forward

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
11:00
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See ya, September.

Here’s a look back at three of the best and worst moments last month in the ACC, and three things to look forward to as we welcome October:

THE BEST

Best game: No. 10 Clemson at No. 4 Florida State. Both teams delivered in an entertaining nationally televised ESPN game. There were offensive fireworks, SEC speed and NFL draft picks flying all over the field. Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel had a Heisman-worthy performance, and the Seminoles’ defensive adjustments in the second half were a difference. On a night when the spotlight was blinding, the ACC put on a show worthy of prime time. Finally.

Best performance: FSU's Manuel had the best performance of his career in the Sept. 22 49-37 win over then-No. 10 ranked Clemson. Manuel completed 27 of 35 for 380 yards and two touchdowns, and he also ran for 102 yards on 12 carries. He was the first FSU quarterback since Charlie Ward in 1992 to pass for over 300 yards and rush for over 100. Manuel not only played his way into the Heisman conversation, he established FSU as a true national title contender.

Best surprise: Miami. The Canes faced a lot of doubt heading into the season with eight new starters on offense and three of their first four games on the road, but their only loss was to a ranked K-State team. Miami found a way to end September with back-to-back close wins against Georgia Tech and NC State. The Canes, picked to finish fifth in the Coastal Division, are now leading it and undefeated after a 3-0 super September.

THE WORST

Worst game: Middle Tennessee 49, Georgia Tech 28. Blech. The Jackets’ Sept. 29 home loss to a Sun Belt team -- in such convincing, embarrassing fashion that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called it the worst loss of coach Paul Johnson’s career in Atlanta -- was another black eye for the ACC. It was the second straight weekend that Georgia Tech’s defense had allowed over 500 total yards, and it was the program’s first home loss to a non-BCS power conference school since 1996 when it lost to Navy on Nov. 23, 1996.

Worst stat: The ACC finished September 5-10 against BCS opponents, including a 3-4 record against the Big East and an 0-for-3 whiff against the Big 12. Who would’ve thought Maryland’s win over Temple would have been so important?

Worst surprise: Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ offense has been hard to watch. Virginia Tech is No. 10 in the ACC in total offense, and No. 8 in scoring offense. With eight new starters on offense, we knew there would be growing pains, but not wake-me-up-when-September-ends kind of pain.

BRING ON OCTOBER

Here are your top three storylines for this month:

1. Can the ACC’s leaders keep it up? Florida State made it through the month of September unbeaten, and Clemson managed to avoid tripping over itself. FSU has two tough road trips this month, Saturday in Raleigh, and Oct. 20 against Miami. Clemson has back-to-back games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, plus a Thursday night game at Wake Forest. If both Clemson and FSU can continue their success, it’s possible the ACC could have two BCS bowl teams for the second straight season.

2. Can Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech show a pulse? The Hokies were picked to win the division (again), and at 1-0 in league play, they’re in it just as much as anyone. They just haven’t looked like champs. Two of their three games this month are on the road (at UNC, at Clemson). Georgia Tech has lost back-to-back games and needs to avoid a downward spiral. That’s going to be tough with Saturday’s game at Clemson.

3. Can Duke find two more wins? With Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Florida State on the schedule, it’s not going to be an easy month for the Blue Devils. Road trips to Blacksburg and Tallahassee will be daunting (even with the Hokies’ struggles). But Duke (4-1) is off to its best start since 1994, the last time the program went bowling. Right now, everyone in the Coastal Division looks beatable.

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