NCF Nation: what we learned 091309

What we learned in the Pac-10

September, 13, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

What did we learn from Week 2 of Pac-10 action?
  1. USC and its freshman QB are good enough to compete for the national title: A massive frown creased across the face of the college football world Saturday evening. Everyone outside of Trojan faithful was ready to relegate -- gleefully -- USC to the rebuilding stage. But true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, with an assist from Joe McKnight, cobbled together a signature game-winning drive at Ohio State, and the Trojans triumphed. It wasn't a beautiful performance, but the nation should be even more concerned because USC showed it also has guts and poise to season its awe-inspiring talent.
  2. In the football part of football, the Pac-10 matches the SEC. Again: Oh, there will be excuses about why Tennessee lost AT HOME to UCLA and couldn't exact revenge for the loss in the Rose Bowl last year. But how much more basic football do you need than a fourth-down stop on the goal line? No matter what happens with Arizona State's visit to Georgia, the Bruins' victory, paired with Washington's 478 yards of offense in a close loss to LSU, not to mention the Pac-10's 11-8 record vs. the SEC since 2000, stands as tangible evidence of the relative parity between the conferences. All else is hot air.
  3. Oregon State QB Sean Canfield is a leader: During his three-year competition with Lyle Moevao, Canfield has always been termed the more skilled quarterback, while Moevao was the gutty, charismatic leader. Moevao is a gutty, charismatic leader. But so is Canfield. Facing a do-or-die possession at UNLV, Canfield led the Beavers 64 yards in 12 plays for the game-winning field goal. On the evening, he completed 25-of-31 for 198 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. Moevao is close to being healthy again. It will be interesting to see how he will be used going forward.
  4. Washington will be competitive in the Pac-10; WSU probably won't: Washington ended its 15-game losing streak with a solid 42-23 win over Idaho. While it wasn't a tour-de-force performance, it's clear that the Huskies won't be an easy out. Meanwhile, a few miles away inside Qwest Field, Washington State was sloppy and couldn't stop the Hawaii passing game in a 38-20 defeat -- it was 35-6 at halftime. The Cougars suffered some unfortunate injuries during the week, and it's hard to win when you turn the ball over seven times. And it's important to note the Cougars fought back in the second half. But two games into the season, it's not unfair to wonder if the Cougs will win a game, much less a conference game, in 2009.
  5. Sept. 19 will be 'Measuring Stick' Saturday: It was a fairly successful -- 7-2 -- weekend for the Pac-10. This coming Saturday concludes the major portion of the nonconference slate and it likely will reveal where the conference will be rated by fans and pundits nationwide. Arizona can prove itself worthy of a top-25 ranking with a visit to Iowa. UCLA needs to avoid a letdown vs. Kansas State. Oregon can move past the disaster at Boise State with a win over visiting Utah. Oregon State can make a statement vs. Cincinnati, the best team in the Big East. California needs to prove it can win on the road at Minnesota. And Washington State will try to get a win vs. SMU, which is 2-0 after winning at UAB.

Posted by Graham Watson

1. Non-AQs are not a Week 1 wonder: The teams of the nonautomatic qualifying conferences followed up a stellar opening weekend of college football with yet another full of upsets, including Houston knocking off No. 5 Oklahoma State. What’s interesting is of all the upsets the first couple of weeks, only one has been by a ranked non-AQ team and two teams ranked in the top 5 have fallen. It's nice to see teams such as Toledo, Central Michigan and Louisiana-Lafayette getting in on the action.

2. Baby steps: Last week the non-AQs notched three wins against the automatic qualifiers, this week they had six wins (6-20). Houston, Toledo, Central Michigan, Louisiana-Lafayette, Hawaii, and TCU all had wins against AQ teams and there were several games that went down to the wire. It’s not time to say that the playing field is leveled, but this season is off to an interesting start, especially for the Big 12, which has suffered the most losses of any conference at the hands of non-AQ foes.

3. BCS busting race gets interesting: Houston’s win over No. 5 Oklahoma State put the Cougars right in the thick of the race to bust the BCS with BYU, Boise State, TCU and Utah. All four teams won on Saturday, though Utah struggled mightily against San Jose State and nearly lost. Regardless, with the weekend's effort, five non-AQ teams were in the Top 25 this week. During the fourth week of the AP poll last season, six non-AQ teams appeared.

4. Hughes is still a beast: TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes, who led the nation in sacks last year, got a head start on winning the title again this year with a career-high performance against Virginia on Saturday. Hughes had a career-high 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He led a TCU defensive effort that held Virginia to 177 total yards and seven first downs. Also, 104 of Virginia’s yards came in the final 4:39 of the game after TCU had built a 30-0 lead.

5. Conference races start to take shape: While many are talking about the upsets against nonconference foes, several teams are starting to assert themselves during early conference play, especially in Conference USA. SMU, which finished last season 1-11, has won it first two games, including a big win over UAB, to lead the West Division with Tulsa. Southern Miss is the divisional leader in the East. Although the other non-AQ conferences haven't played conference games, the MAC does not have a winning team after the second week of the season and the Mountain West only has one losing team (New Mexico). Louisiana-Lafayette is the only winning team in the Sun Belt and Boise State and Hawaii are the only winning teams in the WAC.

Posted by's Chris Low

Auburn made a little history. Tennessee came crashing back down to reality and Georgia lived to see another day Saturday.

Here’s a look at what all we learned in the SEC in Week 2:

1. Auburn serves notice: Hey, this Gene Chizik guy has made a pretty big splash. In fact, of the three new head coaches in the league, he’s made the biggest splash, and he’s done it the old-fashioned way -- by winning games. Auburn flattened Mississippi State 49-24 on Saturday night and rolled up more than 500 yards of total offense for the second straight week. It’s the first time since 1970 that Auburn has surpassed the 500-yard mark in back-to-back games. This is a team that’s improving weekly and a team that obviously knows how to put its opponent away. Auburn led Louisiana Tech 13-10 at the half last week, but set sail on a 24-3 run in the second half to win easily. And then Saturday, Mississippi State jumped out to a 17-14 lead midway through the second quarter, but Auburn scored four unanswered touchdowns to send the Bulldogs packing in the SEC opener for both teams. Here’s the most telling stat about what the Tigers have done: They scored six offensive touchdowns against Mississippi State. A year ago, they scored a total of seven offensive touchdowns in eight SEC games.

2. Alabama has options on offense: Sophomore running back Mark Ingram was already coming back from the flu and a bruised knee. Then on the opening drive against Florida International, Julio Jones bruised his right knee cap, while senior running back Roy Upchurch injured his ankle. No problem, though. The Crimson Tide unveiled freshman running back Trent Richardson in full, and he responded with 118 yards rushing. Mike McCoy got most of Jones’ snaps and finished with 100 yards in receptions, and junior quarterback Greg McElroy really looks comfortable standing in that pocket right now and throwing the ball. Everybody will keep an eye on Jones these next few days to see how his knee responds, but this appears to be a more diverse Alabama offense than a year ago.

3. Tennessee not ready for prime time: Now we know. Western Kentucky was just that bad. The Big Orange Nation was giddy with excitement over the Vols’ 63-7 season-opening win last week. But after watching the Vols play a real opponent and lose to UCLA 19-15 at home Saturday, reality quickly set in for the folks on Rocky Top. This is an average team that has a ways to go before it climbs back among the SEC’s elite. The offense doesn’t look any better than it did a year ago, although Monte Kiffin’s defense played valiantly. Lane Kiffin has a decision to make about senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who’s already thrown five interceptions in two games. Kiffin obviously lost any confidence he had in Crompton throwing the ball in the second half Saturday. How else do you explain those two up-the-middle-run calls by Kiffin down near the goal line in the final minutes?

4. Garcia finds his groove: Even though South Carolina didn’t win Saturday, sophomore quarterback Stephen Garcia gave the Gamecocks hope for the future with the way he played. He showed some courage in the pocket, was a wizard at scrambling out of trouble and just generally grew up in South Carolina’s 41-37 loss at Georgia. It’s sort of what everybody has been waiting to see from Garcia ever since he came to South Carolina as a highly regarded prep quarterback out of Tampa, Fla., two years ago. He finished 31-of-53 for a career-high 313 yards and was intercepted just once. He also led the Gamecocks in rushing with 42 yards on 10 carries. If he’d only kept the ball on that final fourth-down play instead of trying to throw it, South Carolina might be 2-0 right now. Either way, if he continues to play this way the rest of the season, the Gamecocks are going to have a chance to win a lot of games.

5. Bulldogs aren’t dead yet: They were reading the last rites on Georgia’s season as South Carolina drove down the field in the final minutes Saturday. Who knows where an 0-2 start would have led the Bulldogs? Wherever that is, it wouldn’t have been a lot of fun. But by gutting out a 41-37 win, Georgia now heads to Arkansas this coming weekend with a little momentum. The Razorbacks have been pointing toward this game for the past couple of weeks. Even Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino admitted the Hogs worked on some Georgia stuff leading up to the opener against Missouri State, and they were off this past weekend. The Bulldogs will have to play better defensively, especially against the pass, if they’re going to win in Fayetteville. But they go into that game with some newfound confidence and do so 1-0 in the SEC.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Losses by Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State and a near defeat by Missouri stamped this as a disappointing weekend for the Big 12.

Despite those unseemingly blemishes in the national spotlight, here are some items that we can take away from the games we just witnessed.

1. The Big 12 could arguably be considered the nation’s most overrated conference after the first two weeks of the season -- at least at the supposed strength at the top. Texas slumbered through the first half of game against Wyoming, a team predicted to finish last in the Mountain West Conference. Oklahoma lost last week to Mountain West Conference team BYU. Oklahoma State lost to the Conference USA’s Houston. You can argue all you want, but the conference’s expected three power teams should have played better to live up to the conference’s immense preseason hype.

2. The best example of the importance of returning Oklahoma’s Brody Eldridge to tight end could be seen with the re-emergence of DeMarco Murray against Idaho State. Murray had trouble getting free outside last week against BYU. But with Eldridge leading the blocking on the flanks, the Sooners’ outside running game was rejuvenated Saturday night against Idaho State.

3. For all of the excitement about Taylor Potts’ eight touchdown passes, I was even more impressed by the effort by Texas Tech’s defense in the Red Raiders’ blowout victory over Rice. The Red Raiders forced their first two turnovers of the season and racked up six sacks -- from six different players -- and notched eight other tackles for losses. Tech will be stepping up in class next week against Texas, but the Red Raiders’ defense should be brimming with confidence as it prepares to face the Longhorns.

4. Something seems to be amiss with Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson after two games. Both coach Mike Gundy and Robinson termed his performance in the loss against Houston as “average.” The Cowboys aren’t going to be able to compete against the South Division powers elite unless their senior quarterback plays much better than that.

5. Nebraska’s defense has allowed only 12 points in the first two games of the season. But one statistic that has to be worrisome for Bo Pelini was that the Blackshirts surrendered 18 plays of 8 yards or more in their victory over Arkansas State. The thought here is that if the Cornhuskers are allowing those plays to Sun Belt Conference offenses, it won’t be a good sign when the Cornhuskers starting playing teams like Virginia Tech next week. And for those of you who may have missed it, a Virginia Tech running game that was expected to wither away after the preseason loss of Darren Evans produced 444 rushing yards in the Hokies’ victory Saturday against Marshall.

Posted by's Brian Bennett

1. West Virginia can be as good as it wants to be: Despite a couple of muffed punts and a spate of penalties, the Mountaineers beat East Carolina 35-20. They had 509 yards of offense and got a superstar performance from quarterback Jarrett Brown (334 yards, four touchdowns). If they can clean up their problems on special teams and other areas, the Mountaineers will be a major factor in the Big East. "We've got a long way to go, folks," coach Bill Stewart said. "We're not even close to being a good football team."

2. Pitt can be explosive: The question about the Panthers coming into the year was whether the offense could score enough points without LeSean McCoy and with some shaky quarterback play. A 54-point day at Buffalo helps answer that. Dion Lewis has rushed for 319 yards in two games, making people forget about McCoy, and Bill Stull has been good enough at quarterback so far. The competition will improve soon, though, and the Pitt defense -- particularly its secondary -- has some issues to work on after giving up 500 yards to the Bulls.

3. UConn is at a crossroads: The Huskies had a soul-crushing defeat on Saturday when they blew a 10-0 fourth-quarter lead at home to North Carolina and lost on a safety in the final two minutes. Now they must regroup for this week's game at Baylor to avoid a 1-2 start. The defense, led by Lindsey Witten (six sacks in two games) has been terrific. But once again the offense is not carrying its fair share of the load, and quarterback Zach Frazer's status is iffy after he suffered a knee injury in the second half against the Tar Heels.

4. Syracuse is close but needs to start winning: The Orange have exceeded expectations in each of their first two games. The problem is they have also lost both games, including Saturday's 28-7 defeat at Penn State. Starting this week with Northwestern, Syracuse will play six straight at the Carrier Dome. It will need a similar effort but better execution to get some more desirable results and to give fans something to really cheer about.

5. South Florida isn't there yet: The best thing you can say about the Bulls right now is they're 2-0. But it's hardly an impressive 2-0. They were in a battle into the fourth quarter with FBS newbie Western Kentucky on Saturday before using two late touchdowns to pull away 35-13. Special teams have been sloppy and the offense has been hit or miss. South Florida doesn't look ready yet for Florida State in two weeks -- or beyond. "Playing them [Western Kentucky] isn't anything in the world like playing in the Big East, not even in the hemisphere," coach Jim Leavitt said. "I guess it's pretty good when we're disappointed and we won. The Big East is a lot better than all this stuff."'

Posted by's Brian Bennett

What we learned about Notre Dame after its 38-34 loss to Michigan on Saturday:

1. The Irish aren't a championship-caliber team: There were some who insisted Notre Dame had an outside chance at the BCS title game this season, or at the very least could be a 10- or 11-win, top 10-type of outfit. The Irish are not there yet. Teams of that pedigree do not lose to rebuilding opponents with a freshman quarterback, and they certainly don't make as many mistakes as Notre Dame did in all facets of the game on Saturday. The Irish's realistic goal this year was getting to nine wins and a BCS game. That's still possible, but now it's harder.

2. The defensive line is a sore spot: The D-line was a major area of concern going into the season, and some of the problems in the Nevada game were glossed over because the Wolf Pack failed to score. But Michigan exposed Notre Dame's problems in its front four in a big, big way. The Wolverines pulverized the interior of that line with huge runs up the middle all during the second half. Tackles Ian Williams and Ethan Johnson need to play a whole lot better if this team is going anywhere.

3. Charlie Weis maybe out-thinks himself: With 2:29 left, Notre Dame has a second-and-10 on its own 29 with a 34-31 lead. Michigan had two timeouts left. If the Irish simply run the ball twice, the Wolverines have to burn both timeouts and might not have enough time for the winning drive (they scored with 11 seconds left, and used a timeout after a sack on the drive). Instead, Weis dialed up too high-risk passes that both fell incomplete.

The coach's reasoning -- that Michigan had loaded the box against the run -- failed to make a lot of sense, since milking the clock there was at least as important as getting another first down. Sometimes it's better to play it safe in the final minutes than to try and out-scheme your opponent. Those two calls are being widely second-guessed by fans.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Time to put a bow on Week 2 in the Big Ten with five lessons learned.

1. Michigan is back -- The Wolverines are young and not very deep at several spots, but they're extremely resilient and clearly on the right track under second-year head coach Rich Rodriguez. True freshman Tate Forcier delivered a performance to remember against a good Notre Dame team, completing 6 of 7 passes for 56 yards and a touchdown on the game's decisive drive. Rodriguez's offense has returned to form behind Forcier, running back Brandon Minor and a much improved line. Michigan has closed the book on last season's 3-9 disaster and could make a serious push for the Big Ten title.

2. Ohio State's offense needs a spark -- When you start four possessions inside the opponent's territory, even if the opponent is USC, you need to get more than two field goals. Buckeyes running back Brandon Saine said after Saturday's game that "we always talk about ending each drive with a kick." But too often since 2007, those kicks have been field goal attempts, not extra point attempts. Whether it's Jim Tressel's play-calling or Terrelle Pryor's inconsistency or an unproven supporting cast around Pryor, something just isn't clicking for the Buckeyes on offense and it cost them a huge win against the Trojans.

3. The Big Ten isn't that bad -- After being ripped all week and most of Saturday afternoon, the Big Ten held its own in the key games. Michigan upset Notre Dame and Ohio State dominated USC for most of the way. Purdue paced Oregon at Autzen Stadium, Iowa rebounded strong at Iowa State and both Minnesota and Wisconsin notched nice wins against Air Force and Fresno State. The Big Ten might not be at the SEC's level, but it hasn't suffered multiple embarrassments like the ACC or the Big 12. Though the USC loss stings, having Michigan back on the national scene really helps the league's overall perception.

4. A new group of running backs emerges -- The Big Ten no longer has Shonn Greene, Javon Ringer or Chris "Beanie" Wells, but the league is once again reloading at the running back spot. Purdue's Ralph Bolden looks like a star in two games, while Wisconsin's John Clay delivered a bounce-back performance and Indiana's Demetrius McCray sparked a dormant rushing attack. Michigan's Minor and Illinois' Jason Ford were superb in their returns from injuries. Iowa turned to a true freshman (Brandon Wegher) and a redshirt freshman (Adam Robinson) to ease its rushing woes. Junior Stephen Simmons has emerged as Northwestern's top back after a very nice performance Saturday.

5. League race could be a lot more interesting -- The Big Ten has been pegged as a two-team league, but several other squads could work their way into a wide-open race. Michigan has looked more impressive than any Big Ten team so far, and Iowa made a strong statement in Ames after an extremely shaky start against Northern Iowa. Ohio State clearly has some issues on offense, and Penn State's run game struggled against Syracuse at home. Everything still could come down to Penn State-Ohio State on Nov. 7 in Happy Valley, but a few more matchups will shape the league race.

Posted by’s Heather Dinich

It wasn't a very revealing week in the ACC, but the conference did pick up some wins. Here are a few things we can gather from the Week 2 performances:

1. Georgia Tech’s offense can be defended. Clemson had outgained Georgia Tech 319-91 in total yards into the fourth quarter since falling behind 24-0. B-back Jonathan Dwyer -- the ACC’s reigning player of the year -- was held to just 66 yards on 18 carries. After the first quarter, the Tigers committed to stopping the option, and Georgia Tech was unable to score a touchdown for the rest of the game.

2. The ACC is resilient. It wasn’t always pretty (more like Ugly Betty), but the ACC did what it had to do to bounce back from last week’s losses. Wake Forest responded from its loss to Baylor against a tough Stanford team, Duke rebounded from its loss to Richmond on the road against Army, Maryland was able to stave off James Madison after its loss to Cal, and both Virginia Tech and NC State took out its aggression from Week 1 losses to the SEC and beat up on Marshall and Murray State, respectively. Florida State also got a win after losing to Miami.

3. Clemson looks like a true threat in the Atlantic Division. Despite its loss to Georgia Tech, the Tigers had no shame in their second-half performance on Thursday night, as they came back from a 24-point deficit to lead 27-24 lead in the fourth quarter. The coaching staff made a comeback, along with the team, and did a better job of getting the ball to their playmakers than their predecessors did. Unlike last year in Atlanta when the Tigers were embarrassed by Alabama, this team didn’t quit on coach Dabo Swinney. Clemson’s performance, coupled with Florida State’s poor play, leaves the door wide open for the Tigers.

4. UNC desperately needs to keep its blockers healthy. The Tar Heels were noticeably weaker up front without starting center Lowell Dyer (shoulder) and offensive guard Jonathan Cooper (ankle), and they missed the blocking of fullback Bobby Rome, who stayed home with H1N1 symptoms. They weren’t able to get anything going on the ground and finished with just 35 rushing yards. T.J. Yates was sacked six times and UNC was held scoreless with just 134 yards of total offense through three quarters.

5. Duke has a winning backup quarterback. For all of the questions and inexperience surrounding backup quarterbacks in the ACC this year, look no further than Durham for a dependable No. 2. In his first collegiate action, Sean Renfree came off the bench in the second half to complete 7 of 8 passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns to lead Duke to a come-from-behind 35-19 win over Army. With Duke trailing 10-7 midway through the third period, Renfree threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Brett Huffman on his first collegiate pass to give the Blue Devils the lead -- their first of the 2009 season. On Duke's next possession, Renfree engineered a nine-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 31-yard touchdown to Donovan Varner for a 21-13 lead early in the final period.