NCF Nation: What we learned 090813

What we learned in the SEC: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
Here are five things we learned on another crazy Saturday in the SEC:

East should be wild: Just as we all expected, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina each have a loss after all of two weeks. Georgia jumped into the division lead with its 41-30 win against South Carolina on Saturday, but the division's power trio all figure to hang around throughout the fall. They all have demonstrated glaring weaknesses that make a second loss possible for each of them -- and even if Georgia has the lead now, it also faces perhaps the most difficult league schedule of the three expected front-runners. It should be yet another memorable race in the East.

Pay attention, Tide: Johnny Manziel certainly looked like a Heisman Trophy contender in passing for 403 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another in Texas A&M's 65-28 thrashing of FCS squad Sam Houston State. But the Aggies' porous defense has to be a major concern for Kevin Sumlin, with Alabama's stable of running backs on tap next week. Sam Houston's Timothy Flanders rushed for 170 yards and scored three touchdowns against A&M's depleted defense. Several Aggies defenders should be back from suspensions next week against Alabama, which should help. But after allowing 450 yards per game in the first two games, the Aggies will have to get a lot better in a week's time.

[+] EnlargeShayon Green, Jeff Driskel
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel and the Gators offense struggled in a 21-16 loss to Miami on Saturday.
More of the same at Florida: Jeff Driskel and Florida's offense still appear to be the middling bunch they were in 2012. In Saturday's 21-16 loss at Miami, Driskel passed for a career-high 291 yards, but the Gators turned it over four times inside the Miami 20 in another bumbling performance. Florida's defense surrendered just 212 yards and 10 first downs, but the offense still hasn't found consistent playmakers, and that was clearly evident Saturday.

Mettenberger for Heisman: It looks like the offseason talk about LSU making better use of Zach Mettenberger's powerful right arm under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was no joke. Mettenberger set a new school record with five touchdown passes in Saturday's 56-17 win against UAB. After passing for 282 yards against UAB -- with Odell Beckham Jr. grabbing five balls for 136 yards and three scores -- and 251 last week against TCU, Mettenberger has eclipsed the 250-yard mark in both of the first two games. He did so only three times last season.

Welcome back: Through two weeks, seven SEC programs are off to a 2-0 start. Included in that bunch are four of the five teams that failed to reach a bowl game last season: Auburn, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas. Enjoy it while it lasts, though, guys. Tennessee faces Oregon and Florida in the next two games. Auburn gets Mississippi State and LSU in the next two weeks. Arkansas draws Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama in a four-week stretch before long. And Missouri faces Vanderbilt, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in October alone. In other words, the road's going to get bumpy soon once they jump into conference play, and they can't feast on the Samfords, Arkansas States and Toledos of the college football world.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
For the second straight week, an ACC team knocked off an SEC heavyweight, but that wasn't the only storyline from Week 2. Here's what we learned:

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
AP Photo/J Pat CarterStephen Morris and Miami picked up another big win for the ACC over the SEC with their victory over Florida.
Miami might be back: After an offensive performance that included just 212 total yards, fewer than 50 percent of passes completed, just 1.8 yards per carry and just one conversion on 11 third-down attempts, there's still some room for doubt about Miami's resurgence. But a win is a win, and it's the second straight week the ACC has unseated an SEC heavyweight. The Hurricanes may not be back to the level of their national-championship past, but they have more offensive talent than they showed against Florida. The real surprise on Saturday was a dominant performance by the defensive front -- a big question mark entering the season that was answered resoundingly in Miami's biggest win in nearly a decade. It's also another feather in the ACC's cap after Clemson knocked off Georgia in Week 1, giving the league at least three teams -- along with Florida State, which was on a bye -- with legitimate hopes of a BCS bowl bid.

Syracuse and Virginia couldn't follow Miami's lead: The top of the conference did its job in the opening weeks of the season, proving that the best of the ACC can stand toe-to-toe with anyone. In the middle of the pack, however, things are a bit more jumbled after Syracuse and Virginia were clobbered in nonconference tilts against ranked opponents. On the heels of strong defensive performances by both schools in Week 1, the two teams combined to allow 107 points to No. 19 Northwestern and No. 2 Oregon. Neither game was close from the outset, with Syracuse trailing the Wildcats 34-7 at the half and Oregon throttling Virginia 28-10 at the half. So while the two big wins for Clemson and Miami offered ample cachet for the ACC in the season's first two weeks, the conference lost its other four games against ranked foes and was just 2-5 against teams from BCS automatic qualifier conferences overall.

Boston College won't be a pushover: After a dismal 2012, it was easy enough to write off the Eagles as a team destined for a rebuilding phase. Add a lackluster effort early against Villanova to start the season, and it seemed appropriate to shrug off the win over FCS competition. But BC dominated Wake Forest this week, looking like a team that knows what it wants to do on both sides of the football, which is to be a physical, punishing group that will not be an easy win for anyone. Andre Williams' 204-yard rushing performance was impressive, and he's now tallied 318 yards rushing already this season. That would account for nearly 30 percent of BC's total rushing offense from all of 2012.

Duke and NC State will live and die with backups: One week after Brandon Mitchell went down with a broken foot at NC State, Duke's Anthony Boone became the second ACC quarterback to suffer a significant injury. Boone left in the second quarter against Memphis with a broken collarbone, leaving backup Brandon Connette to pick up the slack. Connette rallied the Blue Devils to 21 second-half points, including two fourth-quarter TDs to secure the win. Meanwhile, with Mitchell sidelined, NC State nearly fell to FCS foe Richmond before backup Pete Thomas engineered a 48-yard drive in the final two minutes to set up a game-winning field goal. Thomas wasn't exactly stellar -- he completed 24 of 31 passes for 237 yards and two interceptions -- and shared the workload with freshman Bryant Shirreffs, who completed all three of his passes, including one for a TD. But the Wolfpack still escaped with a win. Both NC State and Duke are now 2-0 in spite of their quarterback concerns.

Concerns remain at Virginia Tech, North Carolina: Against clearly overmatched opponents, the Hokies and Tar Heels both rebounded nicely from opening-week losses, but in some key areas, concerns linger. Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech passing game improved markedly after a dismal performance against Alabama, but against FCS foe Western Carolina, Thomas still threw two interceptions and didn't complete a pass longer than 20 yards. Meanwhile, North Carolina's run defense was torched by South Carolina in its opener, and while the Tar Heels' front found more success against Middle Tennessee -- four sacks, four QB hurries -- it still allowed 183 yards on the ground (not counting sacks), including 109 for tailback Jordan Parker. Through two weeks, UNC ranks 84th nationally in rushing defense.
Lessons learned from Week 2 in the Big Ten:

1. Ohio State has company at the top: The widely-accepted thought going into the season was that the Big Ten would be Ohio State and everybody else. Well, after two weeks, it's fair to say the Buckeyes have company from the team they dare not name: Michigan. The Wolverines have looked mighty impressive in their first two games, especially in Saturday's 41-30 win over Notre Dame.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDevin Gardner wore No. 98 to honor Michigan great Tom Harmon, then played great against Notre Dame.
Devin Gardner has made Michigan's offense truly balanced, and he is as dynamic a playmaker as Ohio State's Braxton Miller. Greg Mattison's defense gave up some yards and points to Notre Dame but is always going to be solid, more so if Jake Ryan returns this year.

Ohio State was also very good in a 42-7 win over San Diego State, especially considering Miller got hurt early on and was replaced more than adequately by Kenny Guiton. The Buckeyes have yet to play good competition or reach their peak with their full lineup available. Their ceiling might remain higher than the Wolverines', but Ohio State still has to go to the Big House, where Brady Hoke has never lost as a head coach. Having both of these teams reach superpower status this year ultimately will be good for the league. It's early, but it looks like we're on our way toward that, though those two teams are not the only ones to consider in the conference race. Speaking of which ...

2. Northwestern is a legitimate contender: Ohio State and Michigan are the Big Ten's top two teams, but Northwestern isn't far behind. Pat Fitzgerald's team needed some offense from its defense to survive a tough opener at Cal last week. The offense needed no such help Saturday as top quarterback Kain Colter returned to the field and, along with quarterback Trevor Siemian, wide receiver Tony Jones and others, shredded Syracuse's defense to the tune of 48 points and 581 total yards. Colter and Siemian combined to go 30-of-37 passing for 375 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and 91 rush yards.

Northwestern hasn't even been at full strength yet -- star running back/return man Venric Mark continues to nurse an injury -- and still looks like a superior team to the 2012 version, which won 10 games. Although the defense remains vulnerable to the big play, it also generates takeaways, continuing a theme from last season. The tough part of the non-league slate is over, as Northwestern has only Western Michigan and Maine left before two weeks to prepare for an Oct. 5 showdown with Ohio State, which should be the most-anticipated game of Fitzgerald's tenure. Northwestern's league schedule isn't easy, but it should be in the thick of the Legends Division race when November rolls around.

3. Song remains the same for Michigan State, Indiana: What good is it being outstanding on one side of the ball if the other side can't hold its own weight? Michigan State and Indiana have changed a lot of names in an effort to shore up their crummy offense and defense, respectively, but the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Spartans' quarterback picture is becoming an absurd theater; Mark Dantonio gave Connor Cook his first career start and Tyler O'Connor his first collegiate action but had to go back to incumbent starter Andrew Maxwell to start the second half against USF after both struggled. The three quarterbacks combined to go just 12-of-24 for 94 yards and did nothing to clear up the picture, while the offense managed only one score against a Bulls team that gave up 53 to McNeese State a week earlier. Thank goodness for the MSU defense, but it can't carry everything on its back all season again.

It's the opposite story at Indiana, which supposedly practiced all offseason to prepare for the Navy option but then looked as if it had never seen such a thing before in a dispiriting 41-35 loss. The Hoosiers have added some talented freshmen to the defensive mix, but they couldn't prevent the Midshipmen from rolling up 444 rushing yards. Indiana can still throw it and score with anybody and has put up 108 points in two games, but Kevin Wilson's team isn't going bowling unless the defense becomes competent. If only the Spartans and Hoosiers could combine into an all-star team, we'd really have something.

4. Mystery lingers around Wisconsin, Nebraska and Minnesota: We're still waiting to learn something about the Badgers, Huskers and Gophers, who are a combined 6-0 but have yet to face a true test (sorry, Wyoming).

Wisconsin has posted back-to-back shutouts to open a season for the first time since 1958, and the run game looks as strong as ever with James White, Melvin Gordon and even Corey Clement, each of whom has rushed for more than 100 yards in the first two games. But few teams have faced weaker competition (Massachusetts, Tennessee Tech).

Nebraska's defense performed much better in Week 2, as cornerbacks Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans both had pick-sixes. But the Huskers' performance came against a Southern Miss team that now has lost 14 straight.

Minnesota continues to find creative ways to score, adding touchdowns on both defense and special teams in an easy win at New Mexico State. Then again, who have the Gophers faced? Fortunately, we'll find out a lot more next week as Wisconsin travels to Arizona State and Nebraska hosts UCLA. The wait will be a little longer for Minnesota, which hosts high-powered San Jose State in Week 4.

5. Illini are cellar-dwellers no more: Illinois has held pretty steady at or near the bottom of our Big Ten power rankings for about a year. But while the Illini are still far from league contenders, they no longer can be viewed as the conference's worst team after Saturday's stunning 45-17 win over Cincinnati improved their record to 2-0. The Bill Cubit-directed offense looks legit, and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is playing as well as he has in his career.

The Big Ten's No. 12 team now has to be Purdue, which lost to that same Cincinnati squad, 42-7, in the opener and needed a pair of late defensive stops to hold off Indiana State 20-14. Yes, the same Indiana State team that Indiana destroyed 73-35 in the Hoosiers' opener. The Boilermakers once again were plagued by communication issues and an ineffective offense that got outgained by nine yards by an FCS opponent. Darrell Hazell's team figures to be a heavy underdog in its next six games, beginning with Notre Dame this weekend.

Iowa also still has a lot to prove after struggling to put away Missouri State at home until the fourth quarter. At least the Hawkeyes finally snapped their seven-game losing streak, though beating an FBS team would be nice.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
Here's what we learned in a weird Week 2 in the Big 12:

1. Texas is the same Texas: During the offseason and the preseason, coach Mack Brown kept saying how this Texas team was different than the ones from the past three seasons. However, in a loss to BYU on Saturday, this looked like the same Texas. The Longhorns' defense surrendered a school-record 550 yards on the ground while the Texas offense could only watch on in horror. This will be an interesting week in Austin. And if the Longhorns fall to a surging Ole Miss team this weekend, the wheels could begin to careen off -- assuming they haven’t already.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Eric GayJ.W. Walsh threw for 326 yards and four TDs in Oklahoma State's victory over UTSA.
2. J.W. Walsh can throw: In just his fourth career start, the Oklahoma State sophomore showed that he’s not just an option quarterback. Against UTSA, Walsh completed 24 of 27 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns as the Cowboys coasted to an easy win. Walsh, in fact, broke Brandon Weeden’s school record for completion percentage in a game (88.9 percent), and notched the third-highest QBR of any player in college football for the week. Sure, the performance came against UTSA. But if Walsh continues to throw like that, the Cowboys will be difficult to contain on offense this season.

3. Oklahoma’s QB controversy is just getting started: Freshman Trevor Knight might have won the quarterback job during the preseason. But Saturday night against West Virginia, he gave the Sooners plenty of reasons to reopen the competition. After a lackluster first half, Knight fell apart in the second. He completed just one of five passes and threw two interceptions before the Sooners benched him in favor of Blake Bell early in the fourth quarter. After Sam Bradford and Landry Jones both shattered multiple passing records during their careers, Oklahoma is now struggling just to complete passes. Coach Bob Stoops hinted after the game that he might make a switch at quarterback. Considering the way Knight played Saturday, Stoops might have to with Notre Dame, TCU and Texas coming up on the schedule.

4. Trevone Boykin is the man for the Frogs: TCU’s quarterback controversy resolved itself Saturday when starter Casey Pachall suffered an injury to his non-throwing arm that required surgery. With Pachall expected to miss an extended period of time, Boykin can officially move forward as the quarterback in the TCU offense. Pachall won the starting job during the preseason; but so far, the offense has been more effective with Boykin, who, after replacing Pachall, led the Horned Frogs to three straight scoring drives on Saturday to put away Southeastern Louisiana. After Pachall left school last season, Boykin went just 3-6 as a starter. But he looks like an improved quarterback across the board and brings an element of mobility to the position that was missing with Pachall in the game.

5. The Baylor offense is scary: For the second week in a row (this time against Buffalo), Baylor scored four touchdowns in the first quarter, prompting Bulls coach Jeff Quinn to suggest the Bears might deserve to be ranked with the team he faced last week (Ohio State). Baylor might not be on that level just yet. But there’s no reason why with this balanced and prolific offense, the Bears can’t contend in a wide-open Big 12.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
Five things we learned about the Pac-12 in Week 2.

  1. The Pac-12 can rally: After going 7-3 in Week 1, the most disappointing of those losses being Oregon State’s loss to Eastern Washington, the Pac-12 bounced back in Week 2, going 8-0 in its nonconference games. Most were blowouts. Some were dicier (cough, Cal, cough, Colorado, cough, Oregon State, sort of), but they were wins nevertheless. It was the kind of week the Pac-12 needed heading into a Week 3 that will see a significant uptick in the competition. The Pac-12 faces four Big Ten teams, three of which are ranked. And through the first two weeks of the season, the combined record of the nonconference foes in Week 3 is 18-2. The bar is raised. Despite the close calls, some very strong performances from ASU, Arizona, Utah and Stanford should not go unmarked. And does anyone else get the feeling that when Central Arkansas took a 24-17 lead in the fourth, the old Buffs would have wilted? Kudos to Mike MacIntyre for rallying his team (getting turnovers helps).
  2. [+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
    AP Photo/Andrew ShurtleffDe'Anthony Thomas had little trouble against Virginia, but the Oregon offense wasn't perfect.
    Good can be better: We know Oregon is good. We also know the Ducks can be better. For the second straight week, De'Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota rushed for at least 100 yards (124 for DAT, 122 for Mariota) and the scoreboard shows a dominating performance over Virginia. But there were uncharacteristic drops. Four drives stalled and turned into punts. And while we concede that Oregon will in fact have to punt from time to time, we certainly don’t expect drives of three plays, 2 yards; three plays, minus-1 yard; three plays, minus-9 yards. Take it as a compliment that you can beat a BCS conference opponent, on the road, 59-10 and still have things to work on.
  3. Lane Kiffin is on fire (not in a good way): The hottest seat in America just got a healthy dusting of thermite. The quarterback soap opera, which is now turning into horrific reality TV, is overshadowing what should be a couple of great performances from USC’s defense. And it’s actually gotten to the point where the quarterback play is hurting the defense. In USC's loss to Washington State, Cody Kessler was 8-of-13 for 41 yards with a pick-six. Max Wittek was 3-of-8 for 13 yards with an interception. Through two games, the quarterbacks are a combined 26-of-50 for 226 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Want some perspective? Arizona safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant has more interceptions returned for touchdowns (two) than both USC quarterbacks have touchdown passes. This make-or-break season for Kiffin is breaking, rapidly. Hats off to the Cougs, who have beaten two Top 25 teams in their last three games.
  4. Goff and Wilson, young guns: The Utes have been star-crossed at quarterback the last couple of seasons, but they appear to have something special in Travis Wilson. Per ESPN Stats and Information, Wilson’s showing against Weber State was one of the finest quarterback performances in the last decade. His raw QBR rating was 99.7. Raw meaning it will be adjusted to reflect quality of competition -- so it will drop. Still, he averaged 16.2 yards per play, accounted for five touchdowns and his rating of 99.7 is the eighth-ranked single-game score by any quarterback with at least 25 action plays since 2004 (fifth in the last five seasons). It’s the highest total QBR with that many action plays since Andrew Luck posted a 99.9 versus Cal back in November 2010. If you still aren’t up on the QBR, click here. You’ll be seeing it a lot on the blog this season -- especially with quarterbacks like Mariota, Brett Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Kevin Hogan, Keith Price and apparently, Wilson. Speaking of bright young quarterbacks, also per our friends at Stats and Info, Cal's Jared Goff has 930 passing yards in two games. That’s the second most by a quarterback in his team's first two games since 2000 (Colt Brennan had the most in 2007).
  5. Stanford owns Cali: Stanford coach David Shaw improved to a perfect 10-0 against schools from California. The Cardinal’s 34-13 win over San Jose State moved him to 3-0 against the Spartans since taking over in 2011. He’s also 2-0 against USC, 3-0 against UCLA and 2-0 against California. If anyone is curious, the margin of victory in those 10 games is 16.1 points. But that’s a bit skewed by a pair of 2011 victories over San Jose State (57-3) and UCLA (45-19). There have been some tight ones, like the three-overtime USC game in 2011, 31-28 over Cal in 2011, 20-17 over San Jose State in 2012, 27-24 over UCLA in 2012 and 21-14 over USC in 2012. Still, perfect is perfect.