NCF Nation: internal affairs 2

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A look inside the Pac-10 this week.

Pac-10: This week defines the conference, with eight of 10 nonconference opponents having played in bowl games last year and five representing other BCS conferences. It's more than USC trying to defend its No. 1 ranking against visiting Ohio State, ranked fifth. It's UCLA at No. 18 BYU. It's No. 16 Oregon at Purdue. It's Arizona looking for revenge at New Mexico. It's Washington playing host to No. 3 Oklahoma. It's California at Maryland, Stanford at TCU, Hawaii visiting Oregon State and Arizona State trying not to look ahead to Georgia while playing UNLV. The Pac-10 is 7-3 so far in nonconference games, and two of the losses came against ranked opponents. If the conference were to have a big weekend -- say go 8-2 or 9-1 -- it would send a message to the rest of the nation.

USC: Coach Pete Carroll sometimes can be difficult -- in a pleasant way, of course -- with reporters. Ask him a question that has a negative turn, and he'll reject it in favor of something positive. But when asked about linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga nursing wrist and hand injuries this week, he admitted that, yes, those types of injuries make it harder to tackle. Harder to tackle, say, 240-pound speedsters like Ohio State RB Chris Wells. Maualuga has practiced all week, but seems to favor his hand. Cushing missed half of practice Tuesday, but because of a hip bruise, not his wrist. If Cushing is limited, DE Clay Matthews, a pass-rush specialist, would slide over at strongside LB. It's hard to believe that one of these injuries won't become an issue Saturday.

Washington: It's hard to imagine Washington beating Oklahoma, so that means an 0-3 start for the Huskies with the screws tightening on coach Tyrone Willingham. The question, really, then is whether the Huskies play hard the entire game and keep things interesting. Would a respectable performance mollify fans, with a string of more manageable games ahead after a bye week (Stanford, Arizona, Oregon State and Notre Dame)? After school president Mark Emmert -- who held the same post at LSU and loves his football -- went public with a request for patience, it seems like even a blowout loss wouldn't cost Willingham his job before the end of the season. If the Huskies gut it out and put a scare into the Sooners, it's not unreasonable to project them winning a couple of their upcoming games and possibly building some momentum. Still, finding six wins over the remaining nine games feels extremely difficult, and the general feeling is six wins is a minimum standard for Willingham to survive.

UCLA: Is UCLA ready to refocus after a bye week? BYU will come at the Bruins with a far more sophisticated -- and balanced -- offense than Tennessee, so the week off to game plan likely will help. Washington barely touched Cougars QB Max Hall, who looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate while completing 30 of 41 passes for 348 yards and three TDs, so figuring out ways to apply pressure will be the biggest task for defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. This will be the second consecutive veteran offensive line Walker has schemed against, and the Cougars may be even better than the Vols. On the other side of the ledger, the Cougars' secondary is vulnerable -- it will not be able to match the athleticism of the Bruins WRs. But QB Kevin Craft needs time to throw, and it's still uncertain how well the Bruins OL will hold up. The BYU front seven won't be as athletic as the Vols, but it's still a strong crew. Further, will "Leaky" Craft or "Jet" Craft show up? Guess is OC Norm Chow is hoping for the Craft of the second half of the Tennessee game, not the one who threw four interceptions in the first half.

Oregon: With Oregon, it's almost always about the Ducks' potent spread offense, which is fancy. But the visit to Purdue figures to be more of a test for the defense. Purdue QB Curtis Painter has started 33 consecutive games and has thrown for a lot of yards in the Boilermakers' version of the spread. In other words, he knows most of the tricks in the book. The Ducks' defense focuses on stopping the run first and relying on an experienced and talented secondary to win one-on-one matchups in the back-half. So this one figures to turn on how the touted Ducks' secondary does against Painter. Will the front seven help by pressuring Painter into mistakes? Or will Painter find seams in the secondary and earn the Big Ten a statement victory?

Big Ten internal affairs

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
11:54
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Injuries are cropping up around the league, and coaches are shuffling pieces to try to find the right fit. Here's a look at five key issues in the Big Ten.

Minnesota -- Just when the Golden Gophers found a viable running threat, they received news that Duane Bennett tore his ACL against Bowling Green and will miss the rest of the season. Coach Tim Brewster will audition three players -- junior Jay Thomas and freshmen Shady Salamon and DeLeon Eskridge -- at the running back spot in hopes of identifying a featured back. The Gophers need more than one capable runner, but Brewster doesn't want a rotation there. Though Thomas has by far the most experience, Eskridge and Salamon are listed behind Bennett on this week's depth chart.

Michigan State -- The Spartans apparently no longer have cornerbacks or safeties, just general defensive backs. Before the season, coach Mark Dantonio moved starting corner Kendell Davis-Clark to safety after projected starter Roderick Jenrette took a leave of absence. Dantonio now is considering switching another starting cornerback, Ross Weaver, to safety after Davis-Clark sustained a shoulder injury against Cal and missed last week's matchup against Eastern Michigan. Davis-Clark is listed as day-to-day but didn't appear on this week's depth chart for Florida Atlantic.

Ohio State -- Cornerback Donald Washington returns from a two-game suspension Saturday against USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET), but the two-year starter might not retain his job. Ohio State likely will platoon Washington and sophomore Chimdi Chekwa, who has started the first two games. Coach Jim Tressel also seems intent on keeping Jermale Hines in the mix, possibly at nickel back. Hines should get decent playing time Saturday because the Buckeyes don't know whether linebacker/safety Tyler Moeller will be able to play after suffering an injury.

Michigan -- Redshirt sophomore Perry Dorrestein likely will make his season debut as the Wolverines' starting left tackle Saturday at Notre Dame after Mark Ortmann dislocated his elbow last week. Dorrestein previously had backed up Stephen Schilling at left tackle. Michigan already is without two guards who went down with injuries before the season. Coach Rich Rodriguez expects Bryant Nowicki and true freshman Patrick Omameh to fill in behind Dorrestein on the left flank.

Penn State -- The still-unresolved suspensions of starting defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma and the season-ending injury to Jerome Hayes leave the Nittany Lions in a bit of a bind. Both the end and tackle positions have depth issues, and end might be a greater concern as Penn State doesn't have much behind Josh Gaines and Aaron Maybin. One possibility would be moving true freshman Jack Crawford from tackle to end, though Paterno is leery about Crawford's inexperience. If Crawford switches, it puts more pressure on keeping Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu and Tom McEowen healthy.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are some tidbits from around the conference that will shape how teams play their games this week.

1. Kansas: TB Angus Quigley, a third-stringer before the start of the season, has emerged as the team's most consistent rushing threat. Despite big expectations for Jake Sharp and Jocques Crawford before the season, it's been Quigley who's been the best runner. The Jayhawks need some kind of consistency rushing the ball for any kind of success against South Florida on Friday night.

2. Missouri: Coaches are hoping the return of S William Moore and LB Van Alexander will help boost their defense's production. The Tigers allowed 250 yards passing against Southeast Missouri State and surrendered 15- and 11-play drives in the first half of the game. That unit must improve before Big 12 play begins.

3. Iowa State: Look for the team to use Phillip Bates more against Iowa than in his first two games as he's backed up starting ISU QB Austen Arnaud. Bates' athleticism could give the Iowa defense some problems, particularly on option plays and other outside runs. Remember, Bates' 38-yard reception last season against the Hawkeyes was the key play in ISU's game-winning drive.

4. Oklahoma: Don't be surprised if top defensive recruit R.J. Washington gets his redshirt pulled this week. The Sooners' depth at defensive end is lagging as Frank Alexander recovers from a stab wound. And Washington has been routinely wowing coaches with his performance in practice. They believe it's about time for him to be tested in a game.

5. Oklahoma State: Despite Dez Bryant's huge game last week against Houston, look for Oklahoma State to try to develop other receiving threats this week against Missouri State. With Artrell Woods gimpy with a knee injury, players like Jeremy Broadway, Damian Davis, Josh Cooper and DeMarcus Conner need to produce to keep offenses from concentrating on Bryant.

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Owls doing it with defense: Temple coach Al Golden said for the first time since he's been on campus, players cried after Saturday's overtime loss to Connecticut. Golden said that's the first time he felt like members of the team were starting to take the game seriously.

"Before it was like football was an intramural," he said.

Golden said players are also wearing shirts and ties on road trips, being respectful in restaurants and while on their trip to Army, Golden said the manager of the Marriott where the team stayed called his squad the most well-behaved young men he'd ever seen.

Harnish's injury still unknown: Results from the MRI of Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish were inconclusive Tuesday. Harnish suffered a foot injury against Western Michigan last week and has not been able to put pressure on it since. Senior Dan Nicholson, who came in to replace Harnish, is dealing with a sore shoulder from surgery he had this offseason. That leaves redshirt freshman DeMarcus Grady as the team's only healthy quarterback heading into a bye this weekend.

Kaheaku-Enhada to play this weekend: Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada will play this weekend according to coach Ken Niumatalolo. Kaheaku-Enhada has been out since Aug. 9 with a strained hamstring and until this week has practice lightly. Jarod Bryant, who has been the team's quarterback, will rotate in at quarterback and slotback. Niumatalolo said Bryant "would play a ton."

Fresno State excited for this weekend: Fresno State coach Pat Hill is ready for Bulldog Stadium to be rocking this weekend for the first-ever clash between ranking opponents on Fresno State's home turf. Hill said Saturday's primetime game against Wisconsin gives Fresno State fans a chance to be big time, something they haven't gotten to be before. Fresno State has had more than a week to prepare for this game after a bye this past weekend.

James Casey all-everything: Rice coach David Bailiff sad his team isn't ready to anoint itself C-USA champions after it's 2-0 start, but that the start is encouraging for a team that won just three games last season. Bailiff championed the leadership efforts of his seniors, including Chase Clement and Jarett Dillard. The two have been instrumental in keeping the offense moving for the Owls, as has tight end James Casey, the former defensive end, who had 11 catches for 208 yards last week.

Big East internal affairs

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
11:07
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

West Virginia: The Mountaineers' offensive problems could be about Schmitt. Head coach Bill Stewart has promised some changes after West Virginia lost 24-3 at East Carolina, including getting back to more intense practices. Stewart also wants to return to the zone-read option that made West Virginia's running game so devastating. In that regard, the team really misses graduated fullback Owen Schmitt, a former fixture in the backfield. The hard-nosed Schmitt made teams at least respect his inside power-running ability, and that helped spring Pat White and Noel Devine on the outside. There's not a player like that on this team right now, but Stewart may give Will Johnson more looks in that role.

South Florida: If the Bulls want to go far this year, they'll need to shore up their kicking game. Junior Delbert Alvarado has been erratic throughout his career and has made just one of his four attempts this year. One of the misses was a potential game-winner at Central Florida. He memorably missed four of five kicks at Auburn last year before tying the game with a 19-yarder. Coach Jim Leavitt will make a change if Alvarado doesn't gain more consistency.

Louisville: The Cardinals have some extra time off before playing Kansas State on Wednesday, and they need it. Four starting offensive linemen left Saturday's Tennessee Tech game with various injuries, but none are considered serious at this point. Louisville is hoping to get receiver Scott Long back soon. Long broke a bone in his foot during training camp and hasn't yet been cleared to return to practice. Fellow receiver Trent Guy, who has played in the first two games despite suffering a gunshot wound in his lower back on July 5, is getting back into shape and becoming a bigger part of the team's plans. Guy may be worked into special-teams return duties this week.

Pittsburgh: Weakside linebacker Shane Murray, who injured his knee in August and has missed the first two games, has returned to a limited practice schedule this week. If all goes well, Murray could be back in the starting lineup for next week's game versus Iowa. The Panthers have lost starting strongside LB Adam Gunn indefinitely to a broken bone in his neck. Austin Ransom and Greg Williams filled in and played well last week against Bowling Green. Williams, a promising redshirt freshman, could be the long-term solution at the weakside spot once Murray is back in full stride.

Syracuse: The Orange had to move a defensive back, Bruce Williams, to offense to shore up its depleted receiver position. Now, a former offensive player might be starting at safety. Senior Paul Chiara approached the coaching staff in the spring and asked if he could switch from running back to safety because the Orange had a lot of backfield depth. An injury to Randy McKinnon in the Akron game could thrust Chiara into a starting role at his new spot.

Internal affairs in the SEC

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
11:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Week No. 3 is almost upon us, meaning there are two different conference games on tap. No. 2-ranked Georgia visits South Carolina, and No. 9-ranked Auburn travels to Mississippi State. Here's our weekly installment of "Internal Affairs" in the SEC:

Bosley to stay at tackle: Jason Bosley hadn't played tackle in a game since he was a freshman in high school. That all changed last Saturday when he moved out to right tackle and Ryan Pugh moved into Bosley's old center spot. The Tigers liked that lineup so much that they're probably going to stick with it. For one, Bosley has been plagued with a shoulder injury that's particularly bothersome when you're having to make the shotgun snap on just about every play in Auburn's new spread offense. Bosley, one of the Tigers' most consistent linemen, graded out higher than anybody in the win over Southern Miss. He's smart enough and good enough that he could play any of the positions up front. It never hurts to have guys who can move around in the offensive line.

Running to glory: While the Vols want to give Jonathan Crompton every chance to be more consistent throwing the ball with the Florida game looming, look for them to really try to rev up their running game this week against Alabama-Birmingham. Establishing some semblance of a running game and sticking with it is the only way they're going to have a chance to beat Florida. Crompton plays a big role in that, too. He has to be sharper in managing the running game and making sure the Vols are in the right sets. They had several run plays called against UCLA that never materialized or never really had a chance when they broke the huddle because of different miscommunications.

Rebels getting healthier: Ole Miss is getting a little healthier in its defensive line, which means the Rebels are trying to get people back to their natural positions. The best news for them was that defensive tackle Peria Jerry was able to play last week against Wake Forest after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery during the preseason. Because of that, Marcus Tillman has moved back outside to end after starting the first two games at tackle. Tillman (260 pounds) is undersized to play tackle in this league. The Rebels are still waiting on end Greg Hardy, who led the SEC in sacks last season and is recovering from foot surgery. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt is hopeful that Hardy will be able to play some in the Rebels' SEC opener against Vanderbilt on Sept. 20.

More Cobb sightings: Kentucky coach Rich Brooks and his staff will be careful about the way they juggle their two-quarterback system of third-year sophomore Mike Hartline and true freshman Randall Cobb. They don't want to kill Hartline's confidence, and they don't want to throw Cobb in there head-first too early. But make no mistake, Brooks is intrigued by the possibilities with Cobb running the show. Kentucky fans saw a glimpse of it last week when he led the Wildcats to touchdowns on three consecutive drives against Norfolk State. He also turned the ball over twice. Cobb's role in this offense will continue to expand, to the point where he could be getting the bulk of the snaps by the time Kentucky travels to Alabama on Oct. 4.

Mississippi State eyeing change: The loss of senior middle linebacker Jamar Chaney for the season to a broken leg continues to haunt Mississippi State. Not only was he an All-SEC performer on the field, but he was one of the Bulldogs' strongest leaders in the locker room. Redshirt freshman Jamie Jones started at middle linebacker last week in the win over Southeastern Louisiana, but Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom may opt for experience this week against Auburn. Croom is leaning toward going with sophomore Karlin Brown in the middle. Whereas the Bulldogs will pick up some experience with Brown, they'll lose size. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Brown looks more like a safety than he does a middle linebacker.

ACC internal affairs

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

1. Clemson: Quarterback Cullen Harper said Tuesday he's dealing with a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder, an injury he suffered in the season opener against Alabama. Clemson's injuries and inexperience on the offensive line are obviously part of the problem, but a bit of tension between Harper and coach Tommy Bowden won't help things. Bowden said Harper needs to play better after going 14-of-18 passing for 192 yards and a touchdown against the Citadel. Harper said "come to me and say it."

2. Florida State: Finding the right combination on the offensive line is the main priority right now before heading into ACC play against Wake Forest. Offensive line coach Rick Trickett publicly called out left tackle Zebrie Sanders, saying "I didn't think he played very well." Trickett was impressed with Andrew Datko and right guard David Spurlock, "but the other guys, those two freshmen, we've got a little ways to go there." Trickett still hasn't made much use of junior college transfer Joe Tonga at right tackle.

3. Georgia Tech: Most of the focus has been on the offense, but the Yellow Jackets' secondary has quietly picked off four passes in two games. It's quite an improvement considering they only had five interceptions all of 2007. Part of that is a result of the tremendous pressure Georgia Tech is bringing up front, but it's also showed a fearlessness from younger players. True freshman safety Cooper Taylor had six tackles against Boston College and cornerback Rashaad Reid made his first career interception.

4. NC State: The Wolfpack is looking for offensive playmakers to replace injured starters, as they're down to their third-string tight end, leading rusher Jamelle Eugene is out and top wide receiver Donald Bowens is out. Keep an eye on T.J. Graham, a blazing wide receiver and kickoff man who is the league's top freshman in all-purpose yards. And tight end George Bryan made the most of his promotion, as he had five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown last week. Quarterback Russell Wilson, who was out last week with a severe concussion, will make his comeback in Death Valley.

5. Virginia Tech: Despite quarterback Sean Glennon being outspoken about the staff's decision to use Tyrod Taylor last weekend, coach Frank Beamer said that wasn't the reason he put a muzzle on the quarterbacks this week. "I just think we spend all our time talking about quarterbacks and I want to talk about Georgia Tech." Beamer is looking for his team to block better and more consistently and wants his offensive line to continue to improve. The most progress came in the kicking game, and the tackling improved from Week 1 to Week 2.

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