NCF Nation: what we learned 091612

What we learned about Notre Dame: Week 3

September, 16, 2012
1. This could be a special season: Yes, it's been only three games. Yes, we may be overreacting. But Michigan certainly looks beatable, and BYU and USC lost Saturday. The daunting schedule looks a little less daunting, the Irish look a little better than advertised, and, well, you can be forgiven for wondering what the possibilities are for this team this year.

[+] EnlargeCierre Wood
Mike Carter/US Presswire Cierre Wood rushed for 56 yards in his first action of the season.
2. The front seven is as good as advertised: The Irish held Michigan State to 50 net rushing yards. Manti Te'o had a game-high 12 tackles, Prince Shembo had his best career game with nine, and Stephon Tuitt also notched his fifth sack of the season. If Notre Dame can slow MSU's rushing game to a halt, you have to like what this team can do against the run the rest of the season.

3. Everett Golson will grow: No, 14-for-32 passing for 178 yards won't light up any stat sheet. But this was a redshirt freshman's third career start and his first real road test. It came at night in a tough environment, as MSU had not lost inside Spartan Stadium since 2009. And it came after a horrible start, when the Irish had a false start and were forced to call a timeout before they could even get off a play from scrimmage to begin the game. Golson managed the game well, as he accounted for both touchdowns and avoided any turnovers.

4. Cierre Wood hasn't lost a step. A two-game suspension gave way to Theo Riddick taking the majority of the carries. But Wood, the returning 1,000-yard rusher, fared much better Saturday, carrying the ball 10 times for 56 yards, more than serviceable against the Spartans' defense. On Notre Dame's 12-play, 84-yard fourth-quarter drive that started from its own 4 and chewed up 6 minutes, 35 seconds, Wood carried it five times for 45 yards.
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

1. Void at the top: Throughout the offseason and up until 8 p.m. Saturday, we insisted that Michigan State was the Big Ten's top team. That title is totally up for grabs after the Spartans were pushed around by Notre Dame in a 20-3 loss. Who's No. 1 now? Is it Ohio State, which is 3-0 but looked awfully shaky against Cal in a game it probably should have lost? Is it Michigan, which shouldn't be punished too heavily for losing to a potentially great Alabama team? How about Purdue, which played Notre Dame much tougher on the road than Michigan State did at home, or Nebraska, which bounced back from the UCLA loss to thump Arkansas State? Or maybe Michigan State just doesn't match up well with the Irish, since it got beat soundly in South Bend a year ago but still won the Legends Division. We can't discount Northwestern, which is 3-0 with wins over three BCS AQ teams, and, yes, Minnesota is also undefeated. Ohio State likely will be the league's top team in the Associated Press poll this week. But the truth is, there's a major power void at the top of the conference.

[+] EnlargePurdue's Caleb TerBush
Andrew Weber/US PresswireAre Caleb TerBush and the Boilermakers the class of the Leaders Division?
2. What now for Wisconsin? No Badgers assistants are likely to lose their jobs this week, but no one in the coaches' offices can feel too comfortable right now, either. Bret Bielema fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson after only two games in an attempt to fix a stalled running attack, but the Wisconsin ground game was still pedestrian against Utah State. Montee Ball ran for 139 yards but needed 37 handoffs to do so as the team averaged only 3.5 yards per carry. Bielema even benched quarterback Danny O'Brien, who completed just 5 of 10 passes for 63 yards. Wisconsin was extremely fortunate to escape with the 16-14 victory as the Aggies missed a 37-yard field goal in the closing seconds. A loss would have sent Badger Nation into full panic mode. But if the offense doesn't perform better than it has the first three weeks, Bielema's team will have a hard time winning many Big Ten games.

3. Purdue could be the best team in the Leaders Division: Danny Hope's Boilermakers are no longer just a sleeper team in a division that Wisconsin had been pegged to dominate. Purdue might be the best of the bunch in the Leaders, which isn't a huge compliment but an encouraging sign in West Lafayette. Ohio State barely escaped against Cal, Wisconsin is a shell of its former self, and Illinois, Penn State and Indiana all have some flaws. The Boilers are very strong defensively and might have the league's top defensive line, led by star tackle Kawann Short. They have some depth in the run game and a standout receiver in Antavian Edison. Although Caleb TerBush has his ups and downs at quarterback, Purdue could go a long way this season. Right now, the Boilers might be the team to beat in the quest to reach Indianapolis.

4. Not the same old Northwestern: The Wildcats played a truly odd game against Boston College. They piled up 560 yards, 34 first downs and 100 total offensive snaps, yet they didn't score their first touchdown until Mike Trumpy broke off a 27-yard run with 1:37 left. Still, the 22-13 win over the Eagles was in some way like last week's 23-13 triumph against Vanderbilt. Northwestern showed that its defense could hold down a respectable offense (BC came in averaging 33 points per game) and that it could grind out a game once it grabbed the lead. Those things haven't been common of late for Pat Fitzgerald's team, but this one seems to have good chemistry and grit, not to mention a bevy of offensive weapons. The Wildcats are off to a excellent start, and with South Dakota and Indiana at home in the next two games, they could easily finish September at 5-0.

5. Receivers are catching on: We've wondered for a while where the standout receivers were in this league outside of Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis. With Abbrederis out of commission this week because of an injury, several wideouts made statements on Saturday. Ohio State's Devin Smith continued his flair for the dramatic with a 72-yard, game-winning catch against Cal, part of a 145-yard, two-touchdown day. Penn State's Allen Robinson caught three touchdown passes and had 136 yards. Nebraska's Kenny Bell also caught a pair of scores, including a 42-yarder. Minnesota's A.J. Barker torched Western Michigan for 101 yards and three touchdowns. Illinois' Ryan Lankford broke out with seven catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns, albeit against Charleston Southern. Purdue's Edison is quietly putting together a strong season. Indiana's Cody Latimer had 115 yards and a pair of scores, including a 70-yarder late. Even Iowa, which struggled to throw the ball downfield in the first two weeks, got a 100-yard day from Kevonte Martin-Manley. Perhaps the new crop of Big Ten star receivers is starting to blossom.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 3

September, 16, 2012
It was injured quarterback week in the SEC or, more simply, Week 3. Let’s take a look at what we learned:

1. Alabama is the class of college football: Nobody has forgotten about LSU. The Tigers’ time will come. But for now, the college football throne belongs to Alabama, which destroyed Arkansas 52-0 on Saturday. The Crimson Tide aren’t perfect. They’re just as close as it gets in the college ranks. Four of their five starting offensive linemen will be high NFL draft picks. AJ McCarron is easily the most talented quarterback Nick Saban has had at Alabama, and even though most of the faces are new on defense, this is still the same grind-your-nose-into-the-ground unit that Alabama has put on the field each of the past few seasons. The Crimson Tide are even drilling 51-yard field goals now. There’s a lot of football left to be played this season, but it’s going to take somebody’s best effort (and then some) to take down the Tide. The team best equipped to play that kind of game is sitting right there in the Western Division. Could it be that we see two rounds of Alabama versus LSU again this season? The rest of the country might want to brace itself.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
John Sommers II/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel threw for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Gators' win over Tennessee.
2. Florida sets sights on East: That’s two SEC road victories in as many weeks for the Gators at two tough places to play. There’s no question that this is a tougher team, more complete team than a year ago. In three games this season, Florida hasn’t allowed any fourth-quarter points. Meanwhile, the Gators are running the ball effectively on offense, finishing games on that side of the ball, and quarterback Jeff Driskel is growing up by the week. Give the staff some credit, too. That’s two weeks in a row that the Gators have made key defensive adjustments at halftime. These guys are for real in the East race, and most of their toughest games remaining are in the Swamp.

3. Porous defenses: What’s happened to some of the defenses in this league? Yes, Alabama and LSU are still a load on that side of the ball. But when you look around at what’s transpired the first three weeks, in particular this past week, there are more than a few defenses in the SEC that need a serious face-lift. In no real order, Auburn has given up 1,326 yards of total offense and is lucky it’s not 0-3. Of course, a year ago at this time, the Tigers had given up more than 1,600 yards of total offense. Arkansas has given up 110 points in three games, and keep in mind that two of those games were against Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe. Tennessee got into the act on Saturday, too, and was gashed for 336 rushing yards by Florida. The Vols allowed two scoring plays of 75 yards or longer. And then there’s Ole Miss, which was trounced 66-31 by Texas and gave up 676 yards of total offense. The 66 points were the most Ole Miss has allowed in a game since Sewanee scored 69 in 1917.

4. The Hogs are teetering: Some might argue that the Hogs have already gone over the edge this season. The 52-0 loss to Alabama was bad enough. If you ever wanted to see what it looks like when a team quits, go watch the tape from Saturday’s rain-soaked game in Fayetteville. Tyler Wilson did his best to step forward and be a leader after the game, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll be back next week against Rutgers. A concussion kept Wilson out of the Alabama game, and without him the Hogs are a bottom-tier SEC team. Back in the preseason, coach John L. Smith joked that he just wanted to make sure he didn’t screw it up. Well, that ship has sailed. We’ll see what’s left of it to salvage.

5. Quarterback controversies: Hold on tightly at the quarterback position. Austyn Carta-Samuels got his first start for Vanderbilt in the Commodores’ 58-0 mauling of Presbyterian. Jordan Rodgers didn’t play at all. Afterward, coach James Franklin said nothing was set in stone on who would be the starter against Georgia. The Vandy quarterbacks weren’t talking, either, because they weren’t made available to the media. It also sounds like South Carolina could be juggling quarterbacks down the road. Imagine that. ... Steve Spurrier is playing more than one quarterback. Starter Connor Shaw aggravated his shoulder injury against UAB, and backup Dylan Thompson again played well. The quarterback situation at Missouri could also get interesting. Is this still James Franklin’s team? Even more pressing, how healthy is Franklin’s shoulder?

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 3

September, 16, 2012
Here's what I learned after one more week in the Big 12.

The Big 12 will have a few close calls, but its teams won't play down to bad competition. This was an awful week of scheduling across the Big 12, but there were really only two games that made Big 12 teams sweat. Baylor trailed Sam Houston State by 10 at the half and Kansas State led North Texas by just one in the third quarter, but both made late runs to finish well ahead weak opponents. Besides that duo, everybody else took care of business, and the Big 12 finished 7-0 in nonconference play. Kansas State's 14-point win was the closest margin of victory in the Big 12. None of these wins will impress anyone, but cumulatively, they help the league's perception.

[+] EnlargeTexas' David Ash
Spruce Derden/US PRESSWIREAt one point against Mississippi, Texas quarterback David Ash completed 15 consecutive passes.
Texas showed something close to its offensive ceiling, and it was scary. The last time we saw Texas play offense like that, Vince Young was on the field and Texas was a few weeks away from being crowned the national champion. It's too soon to talk about anything like that, but this Longhorns defense is already stacked despite some ugly tackling in the Horns' 66-31 win over Ole Miss. David Ash completing 15 consecutive passes? Running backs pounding linebackers and running through huge holes? We'll find out in time whether Texas can do that every week, but the idea of Texas scoring 60 was pretty close to an impossibility these past two years, much less doing it on the road against a BCS conference opponent.

Oklahoma State will play games with injury information in advance of its Big 12 opener vs. Texas. Just about everybody across the Big 12 wants to know the status and specifics surrounding Wes Lunt's injury. Too bad. Oklahoma State traditionally releases an injury report on the Friday before games, and Mike Gundy said that was the team's plan with the Lunt injury. OSU will be off next week, and offensive coordinator Todd Monken said he expected Lunt to be back in a couple of weeks. Reports surfaced on Saturday that Lunt's injury was not a dislocated kneecap, but don't expect to hear any official word. In the meantime, Texas will have to prepare for both Lunt and J.W. Walsh, who are two very different quarterbacks. That's exactly what Gundy and Monken want. Expect reports of Lunt's status to leak between now and then, but we won't get any official word until Sept. 28. Annoying as it may be from a media perspective, I respect the gamesmanship from Gundy's Pokes.

Kansas can play some defense, and TCU's got work to do. Kansas may be in for another frustrating year, but you can already see the Dave Campo-inspired improvements at KU. The linebackers and secondary know where they need to be, and there are at least defenders in the vicinity of where the ball is headed, which is more than you could say for this team last year. TCU made a lot of mistakes, but the Horned Frogs had to work for most of their offense on Saturday. Last year, Kansas made a serious case as the nation's worst defense. The Jayhawks have already made huge strides defensively, and that'll keep them in games this year.

Geno Smith is the Heisman front-runner. It was going to be difficult for Smith to do enough to surpass USC's Matt Barkley, but the Trojan suffered a shocking loss on the road Saturday night at Stanford, and though his offensive line played poorly, Barkley completed less than half his passes and had two interceptions without a touchdown. Smith? Oh, he's been OK through two games. He's got nine touchdowns and nine incompletions, and WVU has rolled in its first two games. It's a long season, but through three weeks, Smith needs to join Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas as co-front-runners in this still-wide-open race.

What we learned in the Big East: Week 3

September, 16, 2012
So what did we learn in the Big East in Week 3?

1. The Big East was pretty perfect. No, the Big East was not picture-perfect, but it went undefeated on Saturday and, well, that was better than what happened the first two weeks of the season. The Big East went 5-0 in its nonconference games -- including 3-0 against its archrival ACC. After going 0-2 last week against the ACC, the Big East needed a better performance this week. You figured UConn and Louisville had the best shot. But Pitt? Wow. The Panthers have been derided during their 0-2 start, with neither the Big East nor the ACC wanting custody. Well, I think after its big win over Virginia Tech, the Big East is happy to have it for the next few weeks.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri enjoyed good protection from his offensive line in a 35-17 victory over Virginia Tech.
2. Speaking of Pitt -- Don't count out the Panthers. You know what we learned about this team? It has heart and determination and simply refused to be defined by its first two games of the year. Does this mean Pitt is going to have a good season? I think it is too early to make those sorts of projections. But perhaps Pitt is clearly not as bad as we thought. While the Panthers do have Virginia Tech's number -- each of Pitt’s five wins over Virginia Tech have come against nationally ranked Hokies teams -- there were exactly zero people outside of Pittsburgh who thought they would win. I was most impressed by two things: Tino Sunseri and the offensive line. The two played nearly flawlessly. The line protected Sunseri and allowed just one sack, in probably its best performance since 2010. Not once last year did Pitt give up fewer than two in a game. Ray Graham and Rushel Shell also teamed up to dominate on the ground, and Sunseri showed guts and smarts. This is truly a win to build on; now we'll see what the Panthers do with it.

3. Louisville needs to close 'em out. I admit that after Louisville took a 36-7 lead on North Carolina at halftime, I started talking about whether the Cardinals have what it takes to run the table this season. Then the Cardinals nearly imploded and had to hold on in a way closer than it should have been in a 39-34 victory. That second half was a reminder that Louisville is still a young team with only a handful of seniors, and mostly underclassmen leading the way. "That is what happens in the game of college football when you get a big lead," coach Charlie Strong said. "We are not a mature enough team to go out and play well, and I told them at halftime that if we are a mature football team, we would not lose our focus. We will go out and finish this game. It is so hard when you have a big lead and have a young football team the way we do and just did not go out there and finish the game.”

4. Jawan Jamison is one of the best running backs in the Big East. Rutgers already has the best defense in the league, as proven in its 23-13 win over USF on Thursday night. But the Scarlet Knights now appear to have one of the best rushers in the league in Jamison, who had 151 yards rushing and a school-record 41 carries. Jamison came on strong at the end of last season and has carried that over to 2012, where he has clearly separated himself from Savon Huggins (who sat out against USF with an injury). Jamison has 373 yards this season and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry. If he keeps that up, bank on Rutgers trying to ground-and-pound its way to a Big East title.

5. Yawin Smallwood should start his defensive player of the year campaign. I have been thoroughly impressed with the way UConn linebacker Yawin Smallwood has played to start the season. He had his best game yet in a win over Maryland, with 14 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble on quarterback Perry Hills. Smallwood made some major strides in his first year as a starter last year, finishing No. 6 in the league in tackles. But this season he appears to be a much more complete player and is always around the football. At least it seems that way. By the way, he is only a sophomore.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 3

September, 16, 2012
Here’s a look at what we learned in the ACC in Week 3, in no particular order:

1. The Coastal Division is in disarray. With Virginia Tech’s loss to Pitt and Georgia Tech’s win over Virginia, who is the best team in the division? It depends on which day it is, whom you ask and whether Pitt has joined the ACC yet. The Hokies have the edge on paper because of their head-to-head win over the Jackets, but if you actually watched both teams on Saturday, Georgia Tech looked like the better team, and it’s still not out of the division race. North Carolina looked like a different team from one half to the next in a loss to Louisville. Miami is 1-0 in conference play but is still a mistake-prone team looking for its defense. This division is wide-open.

[+] EnlargeClemson's Sammy Watkins
Joshua S. Kelly/US PRESSWIREThe 2012 debut of Clemson star Sammy Watkins included this 58-yard touchdown run.
2. Virginia Tech was overrated. Pitt lost to FCS team Youngstown State at home. Then it got outplayed on the road against Cincinnati. The Panthers were better than they played the first two games, but the Hokies? They’ve been given a little bit too much credit, along with their quarterback. It was a sloppy effort by Virginia Tech, which had four turnovers and allowed 537 yards of total offense. Virginia Tech’s tendency to struggle early and late in the season has to be driving its fan base nuts. The good news for Hokies fans is that their team is still leading the division, but it won’t be for long if it continues to play the way it did at Pitt.

3. Florida State is focused. One of the biggest questions heading into this season was whether Florida State could play with consistency this season. So far, it has not played up or down to an opponent, and on Saturday, it dominated Wake Forest from start to finish. Some questioned whether the Noles would be looking ahead to Saturday’s showdown with Clemson, but there was never even a hint of it. The defense was smothering, and the Deacs couldn’t slow down FSU running back Chris Thompson. This game might not have revealed whether the Noles are deserving of all the preseason hype, but it did tell us that it’s time to take FSU seriously. FSU and Clemson are the only teams in the league that haven’t lost yet.

4. The Big East still has a pulse. The ACC has positioned itself ahead of the Big East in the college football landscape, but it couldn’t edge the struggling conference on the field this weekend, losing all three games. North Carolina’s effort was too little, too late against Louisville; Maryland came up short against UConn in the Edsall Bowl; and Virginia Tech? Well, that might have been the biggest surprise in the country on Saturday -- even over USC’s loss to Stanford. The ACC was doing fairly well against nonconference opponents this year until it ran into the Big East this weekend.

5. Sammy is still Sammy: One of the biggest storylines heading into this week was the return of Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins from his two-game suspension. Well, he looked like he picked up right where he left off in 2011 -- as one of the best players in the country. Watkins had a 58-yard touchdown run in the win over Furman. "It was like he just shot out of a cannon," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, according to the Associated Press. "It was a thing of beauty." Watkins finished with 119 all-purpose yards.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 3

September, 16, 2012
What did we learn in Week 3? Read on.

Barkley's, USC's coronation was premature: There is no certainty in college football, particularly when you're questionable on the line of scrimmage. That's what USC quarterback Matt Barkley found out. His offensive line couldn't block Stanford's defensive front seven, which sacked him four times and harassed him constantly. Barkley, even with elite receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, completed only 20 of 41 passes with two interceptions in a 21-14 loss. Sure, losing center Khaled Holmes to an ankle injury was a major blow -- the Cardinal exploited his replacement, Cyrus Hobbi -- but the Cardinal's domination up front wasn't about one spot. And that domination was on both sides of the line. The Cardinal, with a first-year starting quarterback, outgained the Trojans 417 yards to 280. Barkley's Heisman Trophy hopes took a major blow, as did the Trojans' hopes for a national title, that bit of unfinished business that brought Barkley back for his senior year.

Luck had nothing to do with it: That was a sign in the crowd at Stanford, duly noted by ESPN analyst Robert Smith. Stanford has billed itself as a physical, run-first team, even when it had Luck. So, without him, it figures the Cardinal would remain themselves. Still, many of us doubted whether the Cardinal would be as physical without now-NFL offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. They were. Stanford figured out a way to neutralize the Trojans' flash, and then the Cardinal exploited their superiority on both lines of scrimmage. The most telling number? The Cardinal outrushed USC 202 yards to 26. The Pac-12 game of the year still might be Nov. 3 when Oregon visits USC. But if Stanford takes care of business, it might end up being the Cardinal's visit to Oregon on Nov. 17.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/US PresswireMarcus Mariota and Oregon have feasted on overmatched foes; perhaps stiffer tests await?
Oregon returns to the top: Oregon's 63-14 blowout of Tennessee Tech wasn't terribly relevant. But USC's loss and sudden vulnerability topples it from atop the Pac-12 perception pecking order. Stanford moves up. But the Cardinal can't eclipse the Ducks because Oregon has blown them out in consecutive seasons. USC no longer can be considered a favorite on Nov. 3 when the Ducks visit. But the wiser way to view things is to see a lot of football ahead. The Ducks have yet to play a team with a pulse. It's possible we'll see a few more plot twists before we get to November.

Arizona, UCLA avoid letdown: Arizona and UCLA posted big upset wins over ranked teams last weekend and became ranked teams themselves. Sometimes teams that do that fall flat the next week while still drunk on the past instead of focusing on the present. The Wildcats and Bruins did not. They both rolled big and improved to 3-0. Sure, both played overmatched foes, a convenient bit of scheduling. Particularly the Wildcats against South Carolina State. But both now head into interesting matchups -- UCLA hosts Oregon State and Arizona visits Oregon -- riding plenty of positive momentum, sitting prettier than most had imagined in the preseason.

Arizona State's reinvention remains a work in progress: Arizona State had three turnovers in its first two games. It had four in its 24-20 loss at Missouri. QB Taylor Kelly had zero interceptions in the first two games. He had two against the Tigers. The Sun Devils had five penalties for 35 yards in the first two games combined. They had seven for 54 yards at Missouri. The point: As cleanly as the Sun Devils played in the first two games, their becoming a disciplined team on a consistent basis is still a work in progress. That probably shouldn't be surprising. It's hard to completely reinvent a team culture in just two games. And the Sun Devils' fourth-quarter surge, coming back from a 24-7 deficit, showed backbone. That's a positive.

California and Utah can't be overlooked: Cal lost its opener to Nevada, spoiling the debut of remodeled Memorial Stadium. Utah lost at Utah State in Week 2, ending a 12-game winning streak in the series. Both losses were greeted with gnashing teeth by the respective fan bases. Their performances on Saturday, however, showed that both are certainly not easy outs and could become factors in their Pac-12 divisions. Utah beat a 25th-ranked BYU team that waxed Washington State. The Utes' defense remains formidable, no matter the issues on offense. And the Bears were just a couple of plays away from pulling the upset at No. 12 Ohio State before succumbing 35-28.