NCF Nation: Minnesota Golden Gophers

1. For years, Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill never said he had epilepsy. Until last fall, he referred to his illness as a "seizure disorder," which sounded more ominous and mysterious than epilepsy. Kill went public with his illness during midseason last year, found better medication, and now has become a leading spokesman in the state for the foundation fighting the disease. Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune tracked Kill’s coming to grips with epilepsy in a sensitive, well-written piece.

2. In the last two years, Penn State has dropped from 10th to 19th in royalty earnings on logoed merchandise among FBS schools who work with the Collegiate Licensing Company. Most Nittany Lion fans believe the NCAA punishment of the school in the Sandusky case was too harsh. And it seemed like all Penn State fans fell in love with the fight in last year’s 8-4 football team. But the drop in royalties gives voice to the silent. A portion of Penn State fans are keeping their wallets closed.

3. On most Sundays, Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof would be doing what coaches do -- coaching practice or watching video of practice. Two days ago, Roof sat at his desk with his heart in his stomach, watching his buddy Jason Dufner gut out the PGA Championship. “Great performance under maximum pressure,” Roof said in a text. He befriended Dufner in Auburn, where Roof ran the defense from 2009-11. Two years ago, on the day after Dufner lost a five-stroke lead with four holes to play in the PGA, Roof and the Auburn staff invited Dufner to stop by. When he did, the Auburn football players gave him a standing ovation.


This Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas wasn't a pretty one. A fun first half gave way to a lackluster second half until the final minutes, when Texas Tech's offense shook awake and rallied for a 34-31 victory over Minnesota with a Ryan Bustin field goal in the final seconds.

Tempers boiled for much of the game, which is pretty rare in a contest between two teams with absolutely no history and few if any links among players on the rosters. Officials didn't do a great job of keeping the peace.

The Big 12 moved to 2-0 in bowl games, and the Big Ten fell to 0-1 with the loss in its postseason opener.

It was over when: Bustin busted a 28-yard field goal through the uprights to complete an unlikely comeback in the final minutes, much as Texas Tech did back in the 2006 Insight Bowl. This one was a whole lot less dramatic than the FBS bowl-record 31-point, second-half comeback of that postseason meeting with the Golden Gophers, but Seth Doege made it a ballgame when he hit Eric Ward on a short slant that turned into a 35-yard, game-tying score when the safety help went absent.

Game ball goes to: Red Raiders wide receiver Darrin Moore. There weren't a ton of truly standout performances, but Moore caught a game-high 11 balls for 84 yards.

Stat of the game: This game was chippy from start to finish. A few media members on hand reported that there was some simmering tension after a contentious rodeo contest earlier in the week (which is just as silly as it sounds) -- and it showed up on the field. Nine personal fouls (five for Texas Tech, four for Minnesota) were handed out, and at one point, Minnesota faced a third-and-49 because of personal fouls. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro was also ejected for throwing a punch. More on that later.

Stat of the game II: Texas Tech's interception on third down in the final minute to set up the game-winning score was its first forced turnover since Oct. 20. Before that, Texas Tech had been minus-12 in turnover margin in its previous five-plus games.

Unsung hero of the game: Cornerback Michael Carter, Minnesota. He picked off Doege twice and made five tackles to help Minnesota's defense pitch a shutout in the first 28 minutes and 50 seconds of the second half.

Second-guessing: Amaro's decision-making. Texas Tech's Jakeem Grant fumbled what was nearly a go-ahead touchdown out of bounds, but Amaro made it worse by punching a defender he had pinned on the ground. Even worse? He did so right in front of an official, who flagged him for a 15-yard penalty and forced Tech into a third-and-goal from the 16. The eventual result was a blocked field goal; Minnesota took a 31-24 lead with a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Amaro didn't help his case by clearly complaining on the sideline and leaving the field while signaling "Guns Up" to the fans.

What Texas Tech learned: New coach Kliff Kingsbury has his work cut out for him. Texas Tech's offense struggled in the second half and the team looked undisciplined for all 60 minutes. The Red Raiders didn't score in the second half until the final 70 seconds. Kingsbury is right when he says the program is far from broken, but it obviously needs to be broken of some bad habits developed down the stretch in 2012. It struggled to turn red zone opportunities into touchdowns, and silly penalties hurt Texas Tech all night. The Red Raiders were clearly the better team and showed it with the victory, which came despite a very poor performance and mistakes throughout. A few minutes of solid offense in the second half were enough to win this one, but it won't be enough to win many games in the Big 12 once Kingsbury takes over.

What Minnesota learned: Bowl games mean even more pain and another rough finish for the Golden Gophers, who lost their final three games of the season. Quarterback Philip Nelson showed a lot of promise for the future, but his late interception set up the Red Raiders' winning field goal. Minnesota has now lost five consecutive bowl games, and hasn't won one since the 2004 Music City Bowl.

Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl

December, 2, 2012
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Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5)

Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET, Houston (ESPN)

Minnesota take by Big 12 blogger Brian Bennett: Few teams would be as thrilled to accept a Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas invite as Minnesota is. The Gophers are going bowling for the first time since the 2009 season and have made steady progress in Year 2 under head coach Jerry Kill, doubling their win total from three to six.

Kill made the bold decision midway through the year to take the redshirt off true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson and thrust him into the starting role, switching banged up senior MarQueis Gray to receiver. It paid off as the precocious Nelson guided the team to two Big Ten victories, which was just enough for bowl eligibility after a 4-0 nonconference mark.

Minnesota badly needs the month off between games to get healthy, as injuries really started to take a toll on an already young and thin team down the stretch. The Gophers got blown out in their last two games and mustered only 96 yards in their finale at home against Michigan State.

Texas Tech can relate after having lost four of its final five. Minnesota will have to hope its No. 11 pass defense can slow down the Red Raiders' No. 2 passing attack, but Kill's limited offense faces a tremendous challenge in trying to score enough points to win. Regardless, just getting to this bowl game will stand as a major stepping stone for the Gophers.




Texas Tech take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Just like last year, Texas Tech stumbled to the finish after a big win over a top five team, but this time, the late struggles weren’t enough to prevent Texas Tech from making a bowl game.

The 7-5 Red Raiders lost four of their final five games, with the only win coming against 1-11 Kansas at home in overtime, and two losses coming by more than 30 points. Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville began the season on the hot seat after going just 5-7 a year ago, but coached his team to a 6-1 start and a big win over then-No. 5 West Virginia. Despite the late-season struggles, Texas Tech does boast quarterback Seth Doege, who is second nationally with 38 touchdown passes and sixth nationally with 3,934 passing yards. The only problem? That’s fourth in the pass-happy Big 12.

The Red Raiders will be a tough matchup for Minnesota, who went just 2-6 in a weak Big Ten and lost three of their final four games, never topping more than 17 points in that rough stretch. They’ll need to hang a lot more points to keep up with Texas Tech, who scored more than 20 points in every game this season and was held below 41 points on just four occasions. The Red Raiders will also commemorate a memorable Insight Bowl matchup against Minnesota in which Tech rallied from a 31-point, third-quarter deficit to beat the Golden Gophers in overtime and clinch the biggest comeback in FBS history.

Video: May's look behind the numbers

September, 28, 2012
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Mark May looks at the numbers behind college football and breaks down the most important statistics.
1. Yes, the Big Ten is taking a beating. But let’s point out that Minnesota and Northwestern are both 4-0 and could be undefeated for their Oct. 13 game in Minneapolis. The last time they both started? All the way back in … 2008. More to the spirit of the point, you have to go back to 1940, when both teams came into their game 4-0, to find a year when both started undefeated and played each other. The No. 4 Gophers edged the No. 8 Wildcats, 13-12, and went on to win the national championship.

2. As LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger discovered at Auburn, conference road games can test the inexperienced player. Texas Tech, trounced the last two years by Iowa State (52-38 and 41-7), takes a 3-0 record to Ames this week. The scores have been posted in the Red Raider locker room since the beginning of the season. “We mentioned to the young guys,” senior quarterback Seth Doege said, “that it’s going to be different … . It's going to be a four quarter game and they are a very physical team. It's going to be loud.”

3. Blackout I: Oregon fans wore black to Autzen Stadium Saturday night. Blackout II: given the 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff the Ducks probably played unseen by many fans east of the Mississippi. No one in Eugene, including Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens and head coach Chip Kelly, is happy with a 7:30 p.m. local kickoff. Mullens said at least 40 percent of Duck ticket buyers drive two hours or more to Autzen. By the way, Oregon’s next home game, against rival Washington on Oct. 6, will kick off at 7:30 p.m. local.

Video: Gameday crew makes picks

September, 22, 2012
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Ricky Carmichael, Lee Corso, and Kirk Herbstreit make their picks for the Syracuse-Minnesota and Rutgers-Arkansas games.

What to Watch in the Big East: Week 4

September, 20, 2012
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Here's what to keep an eye on this Saturday. (Yes, every Big East game will take place Saturday, for a change.)

1. Paging UConn's offense: Yes, we say this every week. But until the Huskies show some semblance of a consistent offensive attack, we are going to be repeating ourselves. Their three-point win at Maryland put them at 2-1, but the Huskies managed just 223 total yards and only 70 through the air, getting a big boost from special teams and, as always, their defense.

2. Does Temple finally beat Penn State? This would be the year to do it, with the Nittany Lions losing 13 players -- who transferred before the season because of NCAA sanctions -- and getting off to just a 1-2 start. The Owls, who haven't beaten Penn State since 1941, will need to establish their ground game early against a strong front seven.

[+] EnlargePitt's Paul Chryst
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPaul Chryst and Pittsburgh hope to build on their upset of Virginia Tech.
3. Pitt continuing upward trend: It will be tough to tell, considering the Panthers are hosting FCS team Gardner-Webb. Then again, they lost their opener to FCS Youngstown State by two touchdowns, so they must show that their rout of Virginia Tech was no fluke, and could be something to build on the rest of the season.

4. USF bouncing back: A trip to Ball State is hardly daunting, but the Bulls' conference-opening loss to Rutgers last week brought back all sorts of bad memories from a year ago, and they can't afford to let mistakes turn into habits and one loss turn into two.

5. Rutgers goes for knockout blow: Remember when we thought this was the Big East's chance at a national statement against a title contender? Now a loss to the Razorbacks might qualify for humiliation, though they remain a talented -- and especially now -- desperate bunch who will look to take out their frustration on a Scarlet Knights team riding high after a win at USF.

6. Teddy Bridgewater takes show on the road: The Louisville sophomore has played as well as any quarterback in the nation through three weeks, but all of his games have come at home. This one, at FIU, might not seem all that hostile for the Miami native, who will have a homecoming of sorts with the No. 20 Cardinals.

7. Alec Lemon making history: The Syracuse receiver recorded just two receptions last week in a win against Stony Brook, and is four catches away from breaking the school career record of 139. Minnesota (3-0) will provide a stiff test for the 1-2 Orange, though the Gophers are expected to start Max Shortell at quarterback in place of MarQueis Gray (ankle).
1. The semifinal teams get four of the 12 slots in the new six-team rotation of “major bowls.” The commissioners are studying two plans to fill the other eight slots. One would simply follow whatever ranking will be used, from 5-12. Another would guarantee any conference champion that finishes at a certain ranking –- Top 16? Top 20? -- and use the rankings to fill the remaining slots. That’s good news for the Mountain West and Conference USA. That system would have produced five bowl berths in the last 12 years.

2. The commissioners have said all along that they wanted the next postseason contract to extend 10 to 12 years, as opposed to the recent four-year deals. The long-term deal should stand guard against the urge to expand the four-team playoff to eight or 16 teams. That said, 12 years is a long time. You have to think that the need for more money will arise in that time. And after a few years of team No. 5 screaming about being left out, the need to quell controversy will arise, too. Let’s see how ironclad that 12-year deal will be.

3. The donation of memorabilia to Minnesota by the family of Paul Giel, the Gophers' two-time All-American tailback and the 1953 Heisman runner-up, is a wonderful window into the 1950s. There is the “All-American sweater” that Giel wore while appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, which America gathered to watch on Sunday nights. There’s also a one-of-a-kind personalized Little Brown Jug presented to Giel after he led Minnesota to a 22-0 win over Michigan in 1952. Don’t see that happening in today’s game, either.

Upset special: Iowa over Michigan

November, 3, 2011
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Kind of like last week's upset pick of Georgia Tech over Clemson, there's seemingly little reason to pick Iowa to beat No. 13 Michigan at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. But the Hawkeyes have beaten the Wolverines in their past two meetings, scoring 68 points and gaining 750 yards in those victories. The Wolverines had nine turnovers in their past two games against Iowa. The Hawkeyes are coming off an ugly 22-21 loss at Minnesota last week, but have won all five of their home games this season. Iowa will have to do a better job stopping the run, after giving up 178 yards in the loss to the Gophers. The Hawkeyes are averaging 39.2 points per game at home, and tailback Marcus Coker, who had a career-high 252 rushing yards in last week's game, will find plenty of room to run against Michigan's defense in a close victory.

Floyd, Woods set for receiver showdown

October, 20, 2011
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- On USC's second offensive play this season, Robert Woods ran a curl route, hauled in a 9-yard pass and was hit by Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire, who jarred the ball loose.

Woods, doing his best David Tyree impression, simply snatched the ball with his right hand and pinned it to the back of his helmet while falling out of bounds. He got up, pigskin secured in his palm, and handed the ball back to the official.

On Notre Dame's first play in Week 4, Michael Floyd ran a drag route, had a pass bounce off his right shoulder at the line of scrimmage, absorbed a hit, tipped the ball in front of him with his left hand before securing it and then left Pitt's Tristan Roberts behind for an 11-yard gain and a first down.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Michael Floyd
Charles LeClaire/USPRESSWIRE"He's fast and he's really elusive and breaks tackles a lot and can see the whole field," Michael Floyd said of Robert Woods,
The potential for those kind of jaw-dropping plays will be high this Saturday, when Woods and Floyd take the field under the lights in what will be a showcase of two of the college game's best receivers.

"He's fast and he's really elusive and breaks tackles a lot and can see the whole field," Floyd said of Woods, "which makes him a good football player and also a great wide receiver."

Woods' 60 catches and 783 receiving yards are good for second and fifth in the nation, respectively. Floyd's 53 catches for 639 yards rank eighth and 13th.

"Not easier, but yeah, it helps a lot," Gary Gray said of facing Floyd every day in practice. "Floyd's one of the best receivers in the country, so whenever I get a chance to go against him I go against him every day, so it helps me out a lot."

Floyd has broken virtually every school receiving mark through six games of his senior season. Woods, only a sophomore, looks poised to do the same for USC.

In fact, through five games, Woods appeared headed for a few national receiving marks as well. His 14-catch, 255-yard performance in a win over Arizona had him atop the national statistics and on pace or within striking distance of several single-season records.

After an uncharacteristic five-catch, 36-yard game against Arizona, he may have to settle for USC's single-season catch record of 102, set by Keyshawn Johnson.

"I would say that he's got a unique ability to run fast and catch," defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. "He's got not only long-speed but short-space quickness. So he can get open based on speed just in tight quarters. He can also gas it past you. And then he's got something very unique to the position. He has tackle-break ability.

"So not just make you miss, but he's got tackle-break ability. He's got a violent strong stiff arm. He's a leg-drive player. He's got contact balance. He can give with impact and continue to gas it."

Floyd had one blemish through six games as well, grabbing just four passes for 27 yards at Pitt, and the low numbers suggested the Panthers possibly developed a blueprint for stopping him.

A 12-catch, 137-yard performance a week later at Purdue proved otherwise, and Irish cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks won't count on one bad performance signaling the slowing down of Woods, either.

"Cal looked like to me like they just played their defense," Cooks said. "I didn't see a lot of brackets, I didn't see a lot of double-teams, and USC, they took their shots down the field and they made a lot of them and Cal came up with a few of them. But they didn't do anything special. As you review the tape I think again, they make it so hard to put in certain coverages because if you try to double Woods then they're gonna go backside to Marquise Lee.

"Their tight ends are guys that can stretch the field. They've got capable running backs back there. So again there's no magical coverage, we've just gotta be sound in what we do."

Cooks said seeing Floyd every day can help prepare his cornerbacks, but acknowledged he is a different receiver from Woods, who is 44 pounds lighter and two inches shorter than the 6-foot-3, 224-pound Floyd.

Regardless, the capabilities of Woods and Floyd are enough to give defensive coaches headaches in the days before facing either one.

"He'll line up as a running back, he'll line up as a fullback, he'll line up as a tight end," Cooks said of Woods. "They move him around, so you can't really get a beat on him to where you'd like to be able to run some combination coverages and maybe potentially bracket the guy. You can't do that. He's at the No. 1 spot, he's at the No. 2, he's at the No. 3. He's at the fullback spot. So they do an excellent job of moving him around, and obviously his play-making ability when he has the ball in his hands is exceptional."

Notre Dame Prediction: Week 8 vs. USC

October, 20, 2011
10/20/11
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Lane Kiffin called this game Notre Dame's Super Bowl because it is coming off the Irish's bye week. He is also upset that the Irish announced it was a night game in March, somehow messing with USC's travel plans.

No, this isn't the '70s, when this annual intersectional matchup often had national title implications. Neither team is ranked, and USC won't even be able to play in a conference title game, let alone a bowl game, due to NCAA sanctions. But Kiffin has done what he can to inject some juice into this showdown, which will certainly make for an enhanced atmosphere under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium.

On the field, USC is the better team in the standings, at 5-1. But Notre Dame has the better personnel. This is a Trojans team that managed just a two-point season-opening home win against Minnesota, after all.

Did USC's defense turn a corner last week against Cal? A unit that gave up 40-plus points in consecutive weeks shut down the Golden Bears in a 30-9 victory. It remains to be seen, but one thing I'm certain of is USC's offense has the firepower to hang with the Irish.

I see this one similarly to the way I saw Notre Dame-Air Force -- to an extent. Both offenses are capable of exploding, but only the Irish's defense appears capable of making a stop when push comes to shove. And, for the second game in a row, I think the Irish jump to an early lead and never look back, leaving USC to play catch-up in another high-scoring affair.

No alleged flukes here. And no injury excuses, either, regardless of how much Marc Tyler can actually play, if at all. The Irish start a winning streak of their own against USC with their second win in as many years, and just maybe help restore this rivalry in the process.

Prediction: Notre Dame 35, USC 24

3-point stance: Perspectives on Week 1

September, 5, 2011
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1. We’ve had the first course. Waiter, bring a dish of perspective. What does it mean that UCLA gained 554 yards of total offense when they haven’t averaged more than 337 yards in Rick Neuheisel’s three seasons? Is Houston’s defense that bad? The Bruins may have found a quarterback in the 38-34 loss. Richard Brehaut, in relief of the injured Kevin Prince, went 17-for-26 for 264 yards and two scores. That’s only the fifth time in Neuheisel’s tenure that the Bruins scored 34 points. They are but 3-2 in those games.

2. My favorite winner from the weekend: Northwestern, without starting quarterback Dan Persa, won at Boston College, 24-17. Sophomore Kain Colter showed he can do more than run the Wildcat, which is about all he could handle last season when coach Pat Fitzgerald took away his redshirt after Persa’s Achilles injury. Colter ran and passed for 268 yards and took the pressure off of Persa. He can come back when he’s physically ready.

3. Can anyone recall a true freshman quarterback who debuted in a big-boy stadium and showed the cool of Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton? How about Minnesota’s Max Shortell, who came into the fourth quarter at the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium and completed 7-of-13 for 98 yards and a touchdown. The Gophers, who spotted USC a 19-3 lead, had a chance to win the game in the last two minutes before falling, 19-17. Here’s hoping Keeton and Shortell build on their starts and wow us for four seasons.

Halftime: USC 19, Minnesota 3

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
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Other than two-point plays, USC is cruising versus Minnesota. And receiver Robert Woods is soaring.

Woods has caught 11 passes for 115 yards with three touchdowns as the Trojans are dominating the Golden Gophers 19-3 at the break.

While the running game is struggling, quarterback Matt Barkley is 18-of-20 for 163 yards.

The offense did fail on two two-point conversion attempts. When the Trojans converted a successful PAT, it apparently drew cheers from frustrated Trojans fans.

The defense also is playing well, though the Minnesota offense is suspect.

So maybe it's Woods -- instead of Barkley -- who should become a Heisman Trophy candidate?

USC assistant Mack Garza resigns

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
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USC secondary coach Willie Mack Garza has resigned, citing personal reasons, the school announced in a statement.

Obviously, the horrible timing -- two days before the season-opener versus Minnesota -- and vagueness here inspires a raised eyebrow and a, "Hmm."

The statement said the personal reasons are "unrelated to USC." That would suggest that this is more a Garza issue than a USC football issue.

Garza, 42, was with head coach Lane Kiffin at Tennessee and followed him to USC in 2010.

Here's the LA Times on the matter. It reports, "Former USC and NFL safety Sammy Knight is a graduate assistant on the staff and could oversee the secondary."

This shouldn't be a significant problem for the Minnesota game -- the game plan likely has been fully installed -- though it could complicate getting marching orders from defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to his defensive backs.

It's also probably a good thing that USC has a veteran secondary, with three of four 2010 starters back, including preseason All-American safety T.J. McDonald.

Still, not the best way for a team to start off the season.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 1

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
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Ten issues to consider heading into the third week of games.

1. Oregon's biggest issue might not be LSU's D-front: In Phil Steele's unit rankings, he rated LSU's D-line 10th in the nation and its LBs 15th. There's no individual player as disruptive as Auburn's Nick Fairley, but LSU's Tigers are better across the entire front-7 than those Tigers. The Ducks could again struggle to run the ball. But the big problem is the LSU secondary, which Steele rates the nation's No. 4 unit. Auburn's secondary was weak all through 2010, and Ducks QB Darron Thomas picked it apart for 363 yards. But even though LSU lost first-round draft pick CB Patrick Peterson, their defensive backfield is deep and talented. Thomas won't find throwing into it as easy in any event, but particularly without his top-two receivers from a year ago.

[+] EnlargeKelly
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIOregon coach Chip Kelly will need to scheme around a tough LSU run defense and an even tougher pass defense.
2. Will UCLA catch a Case of Keenum? UCLA was dominating Houston last year when it knocked QB Case Keenum out of the game in the second quarter, but Keenum remains a guy who is good enough to win a game on his own. Still, the Bruins should be able to win the battle on both lines of scrimmage, and that should make things easier for QBs Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, who both will play. Prince will be on the field to start the game. But will he be on the field to finish?

3. A Gray day for the USC defense: USC shouldn't have too many problems with Minnesota, but the biggest question is will the Trojans again show flashes of playing good defense. Golden Gophers QB MarQueis Gray is a bit of a mystery. He's being billed as a dual threat -- the sort who has given USC trouble in the past -- but he seems more like a 6-foot-4, 240-pound athlete who can run some option and scramble. His passing is decidedly questionable. The Trojans figure to crowd the line and dare Gray to throw. That means a secondary in man-coverage. Recall that the secondary got beaten a bunch in 2010.

4. Maynard debut: You look at California's depth chart and you think, "If these guys are any good at QB, they might be pretty tough." That's the pressure on Zach Maynard in his debut against a solid Fresno State team. If Maynard puts up good numbers, the Bears no longer will be so easy to write off in the Pac-12 North.

5. Buffs, hit Moniz: Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz put up huge numbers in 2010: 5,040 yards passing with 39 touchdowns. The Buffs secondary is suspect. Not a great combination. But a good way to protect a suspect secondary is with a good pass rush. While Moniz is a good athlete who can run, the best way for Colorado to end its 18-game road losing streak is to pound on Moniz and not give him time to throw. The good news on that: The Warriors have just three starters back on offense, one of whom is an offensive lineman.

6. The Price of confidence: Washington QB Keith Price makes his debut as Jake Locker's replacement against Eastern Washington, which is hardly a patsy. Sure, the Eagles are an FCS team. But they also are the defending FCS national champions and they are the preseason No. 1 team in FCS football. Warning! Warning! The key thing here is for the Huskies to show up focused and take care of business. For Price, he wants to play within himself, get comfortable and build his confidence because the competition will ramp up quickly.

7. Cougars grinning: Washington State is going to beat Idaho State. Not a big deal. What's a big deal is being 1-0 for the first time since 2005. What is a big deal is a team getting some early momentum, which it hasn't had in in coach Paul Wulff's first three seasons. The Cougs need to go out and pound on Idaho State. They need to walk away feeling good about themselves.

8. Luck and Shaw: Stanford is going to pound San Jose State. But the key thing for Cardinal interests is getting Luck some numbers and then sitting him, and letting Shaw get comfortable with his new job fronting the program.

9. Utah, Arizona State and Oregon State -- just win: The Utes, Sun Devils and Beavers each face weak, FCS foes. Each is going to win. And each faces a far more formidable foe the next week. The key is taking care of business, staying healthy and getting refocused. Starters eating orange slices in the third quarter is good, too.

10. Defense wins championships: OK, so what if LSU's defense thwarts Oregon's offense? The Tigers offense, particularly with Jarrett Lee at QB, is hardly scary. One of the often forgotten elements of the 2010 national title game against Auburn is the Ducks did about as good a job as anyone of slowing down QB Cam Newton. Lee is no Cam Newton. There is no law saying Oregon can't win a game 17-13. The LSU defense might stop the Ducks offense, but what if the Ducks defense is even more in control against perhaps the worst offense they will face all season?

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