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What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
Five things we learned from the five Pac-12 games this week:

  1. Utah won’t make things easy in the South: The conference record might not show it, but Utah is a pretty good football team. Despite going 3-0 in its nonconference schedule, the Utes have yet to really make an impact in conference play. But they’ve made it tough for others -- pushing Oregon State into overtime a couple of weeks ago and then putting a scare into UCLA on Thursday. Six Utah turnovers (all interceptions) didn't help its cause. As for the Bruins, they survived a tough road game and did nothing to damage their national ranking. For a team that’s expected to be in the hunt for the Pac-12 South, you have to imagine they are happy to have Utah in their rearview mirror.
  2. [+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
    Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsConnor Halliday threw for 521 yards and three touchdowns in WSUs 44-22 win over Cal.
  3. Air trumps Bears: We knew there would be a lot of passing (combined 129 attempts). We knew there would be yards (1,160) and we knew there would be a lot of passing yards (1,027). It was every bit the air show, needing only the "Top Gun" theme music and an F-14 flyover to make it official. Connor Halliday was 41-of-67 for 521 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, leading WSU to a 44-22 win over Cal. The Bears' Jared Goff was 32-of-58 for 489 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. Red zone fumbles doomed the Bears, who have now lost nine straight games to FBS opponents, the longest losing streak of any BCS conference team. The Cougars, meanwhile, find themselves two wins away from bowl eligibility.
  4. Ducks are deep, dangerous: And this is without De’Anthony Thomas? Oregon scored 50-plus points for the fifth straight game, topping Colorado 57-16, setting a school record and becoming just the second team in the history of history to do that (Princeton in 1885, per ESPN Stats and Information). No DAT? No problem. Quarterback Marcus Mariota set a personal best by accounting for seven touchdowns -- five in the air and two on the ground. Byron Marshall posted his second straight 100-yard rushing game, and Bralon Addison had his first career 100-yard receiving game. Right now the Ducks have zero weak spots.
  5. ASU not quite ready for its close-up: You can’t ask for a better opportunity ... playing a historic program at a neutral site with not one, but two opportunities to drive down and win the game. Trailing Notre Dame 30-27, both drives, however, ended with Taylor Kelly interceptions -- including one that was returned for a touchdown. A late ASU score made the final 37-34 margin. The Sun Devils come out of their brutal four-game stretch 2-2 with wins over Wisconsin and USC, but losses to Stanford and the Irish. The optimistic Sun Devils fan says at least we beat USC, because that keeps us in the hunt for the Pac-12 South. The half-empty-glass drinker notes that twice the Sun Devils have reached Top 25 status and twice (at 2:57 a.m. PT on Sunday morning I'm predicting the Sun Devils don't stay in the Top 25) have had it relinquished. Arizona State could still contend for the division. But its national credibility suffered a setback Saturday.
  6. Stanford, Washington make statements: There’s a couple of different takeaways from Saturday’s nightcap, depending on whether you sleep in purple or Cardinal-colored jammies. This was a quality win over a quality opponent for Stanford. As expected, it was a tight, hard-fought game with both offenses and defenses coming up big at various times. Special teams -- specifically Stanford’s Ty Montgomery -- turned out to be the difference-maker, with Montgomery's long kick returns, including a 99-yard TD return on the opening kick. The takeaway for Washington? The Huskies are a top-20 team and should continue to be ranked accordingly. The Cardinal held Bishop Sankey below his season average, but he still ran for 125 yards and two scores. And there should be no debate about whether Keith Price is back following his performance (33-of-48 for 350 yards with two touchdowns and an interception). Regardless of where you come down on the video replay, this was billed as the game of the week, and it lived up to the hype.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
After the early-season scrum, a line of demarcation is emerging in both divisions in the ACC, and Saturday's games helped draw that line a bit more clearly. Here's what we learned.

Clemson and Florida State are on a collision course: There was buzz in Syracuse that the Carrier Dome would make it tough for Clemson's up-tempo offense. Tajh Boyd responded by throwing for 455 yards and five touchdowns. FSU's defense was criticized all week after struggling against Boston College. The Seminoles responded by holding Maryland to 33 yards rushing while pitching a shutout. Only two weeks remain before the ACC's top two teams face off in Death Valley, and Boyd and Jameis Winston both look like Heisman contenders while the Tigers and Seminoles have their sights set on a national championship.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesMiami running back Duke Johnson finished with 325 all-purpose yards, including 184 yards rushing.
Miami and Virginia Tech are rolling, too: The Coastal Division race hasn't gotten the same national attention as the Atlantic, but the battle at the top looks nearly as intriguing. The Hokies had little trouble shrugging off North Carolina, and Logan Thomas seems to be rounding into form. He's completed 38 of 53 passes (72 percent) for 514 yards, four TDs (plus one rushing) and no interceptions in his last two games. Meanwhile, Duke Johnson carried Miami to a huge win over Georgia Tech, keeping the Hurricanes undefeated and effectively burying the Yellow Jackets in the division. Johnson racked up 325 all-purpose yards, while Stephen Morris threw for 324 yards and three TDs. Miami and Virginia Tech will go head to head on Nov. 9.

There were big performances on smaller stages: While the big boys hogged the bulk of the ACC spotlight Saturday, Wake Forest and Boston College managed to make some noise of their own behind some big-time performances from their stars. BC's Andre Williams continued his torrid start to the 2013 season, racking up a whopping 263 rushing yards and five TDs against Army. Williams has gone over 100 yards in four of five games this year, including twice topping 200. Meanwhile, Michael Campanaro continues to shine for the Demon Deacons, who got their first ACC win of the year. The ACC's leading receiver hauled in 12 catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns. It was Campanaro's fifth game with 12 or more receptions since the start of last season.

Syracuse and Maryland were exposed: There was ample enthusiasm for both programs leading up to Saturday's games, but they came up well short in showdown games against the ACC's elite. At Syracuse, the Orange had hoped they'd turned a corner behind new starting QB Terrel Hunt. That might still happen, but Hunt struggled badly against Clemson, completing 8 of 24 passes for 52 yards and three INTs. Meanwhile, Maryland showed it wasn't ready to compete for the Atlantic Division title, getting smoked 63-0 in Tallahassee. C.J. Brown went out early with a concussion, and Stefon Diggs left a quarter later. The Orange and Terrapins could still find success this year, but they're both 0-1 in ACC play and all that enthusiasm from a week ago seems a distant memory.

Problems in the Triangle: North Carolina was already reeling before it had to go on the road to face one of the nation's top defenses without its starting quarterback. The outcome was predictably ugly, as the Tar Heels fell to 1-4. Meanwhile, NC State hoped it had made strides under first-year coach Dave Doeren, but instead the Wolfpack lost in Winston-Salem for the sixth straight time. Add in Duke's rough start to conference play (the Blue Devils were off this week) and the three teams in the Triangle are a combined 0-6 in the ACC.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
Another solid weekend of SEC football is in the books. Georgia and Tennessee gave the fans a treat, but there were plenty of other takeaways. Here are five things we learned from around the league in Week 6:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIGeorgia quarterback Aaron Murray was 19-of-35 passing vs. Tennessee, with 196 yards and three touchdowns.
Murray, Georgia have the clutch gene: Remember when people wondered whether Aaron Murray could or would ever win a big game? That's been pretty much put to rest, especially after last week's 44-41 win over LSU, but on Saturday, Murray and Co. came up with a touchdown drive when they absolutely had to have it in the final minutes of regulation to send their dramatic battle with Tennessee into overtime. The Bulldogs benefited from a fumble by Tennessee running back Pig Howard as he dove for the pylon in the first overtime, but still, credit is due to Georgia for finding a way to win when Tennessee came roaring back from a two-touchdown deficit to take a 31-24 lead with all of Neyland Stadium singing "Rocky Top." Not to mention, injuries eliminated key player after key player from the Bulldogs' lineup, leaving them depleted in some areas -- particularly receiver and running back -- down the stretch. The Bulldogs' title hopes are still alive as a result of their fight.

Tennessee has reason for optimism: The loss hurts and it looked like the Volunteers were going to pull off the upset of the No. 6 team in the country, but there are definitely positives to be taken away. For starters, the kind of fight and grittiness Tennessee showed is what you want to see in your football team and something that hasn't necessarily been there in recent years. The Vols could have easily folded up like a tent when down 17-3 and Georgia was on the verge of taking a three-score lead before a missed field goal. Instead, they fought to the point that they put themselves in position to win. That's a huge positive for new coach Butch Jones. Secondly, quarterback Justin Worley played his best game of the year and made some big-time throws down the stretch. The execution by Worley down the stretch -- as well as the offense as a whole on three fourth-down plays in the second half -- was terrific.

Auburn and Mizzou are worth keeping an eye on: We weren't sure what to make of undefeated Missouri coming into Saturday, because all of the Tigers' opponents had been of the nonconference variety and none were particularly formidable. But in their first SEC contest on Saturday, the offense did what it has done much of the season -- score points -- en route to a 51-28 win over Vanderbilt. Missouri racked up 523 yards and got a great performance from quarterback James Franklin (19-of-28 passing, 278 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions). Mizzou is now 5-0 heading into a showdown with Georgia in Athens next week. Auburn, meanwhile, withstood a late rally from Ole Miss to secure a 30-22 win. Defensively, Auburn was relentless in rushing Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, collecting six sacks. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall gave the Rebels trouble on the ground, rushing for a team-high 140 yards and two touchdowns while also throwing for 93 yards on 11-of-17 passing. Auburn's now 2-1 in the SEC and has surpassed its win total from a year ago.

Odell Beckham Jr. is the truth: He has already shown how good he is this season by recording more than 100 receiving yards in three games, but on Saturday against Mississippi State the LSU junior receiver recorded career highs in catches (nine) and receiving yards (179) with two touchdowns in a 59-26 road win. The Bulldogs had absolutely no answer for Beckham all night as LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw him a variety of passes, including some jump balls that he made look unfair to defenders.

South Carolina is struggling to close games: Last week the Gamecocks saw Central Florida reel off 15 unanswered points in the final 10 minutes, but they hung on to win 28-25, and on Saturday, Kentucky rallied to make another Gamecocks win close late. South Carolina came into the fourth quarter with a 27-7 lead but the Wildcats pulled to within six with 11:50 remaining and seven with 4:02 to go. The Gamecocks held on, but it certainly isn't all roses for Steve Spurrier and Co. Not to mention, Jadeveon Clowney sat out the game with bruised ribs.
Five lessons learned from a full week of conference play on Saturday:

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesCarlos Hyde carried 26 times for 168 yards and scored three second-half touchdowns Saturday.
1. Ohio State can handle adversity; will it be enough? Ohio State hadn't trailed all season before finding itself in a dogfight at Northwestern in which it had to come from behind in the fourth quarter on the road. In the end, Carlos Hyde and the Big Ten's best offensive line proved too much for the Wildcats. The Buckeyes are now 6-0, halfway to another undefeated regular season heading into a bye week and riding an 18-game winning streak under Urban Meyer. Yet Ohio State has shown some weaknesses, particularly with a pass defense that Northwestern exploited for 343 yards the week after safety Christian Bryant was lost for the season. A win is a win, and 18-0 is 18-0, but Meyer's team hasn't produced a lot of style points that would distinguish it in what looks like -- for now, anyway -- a very crowded BCS title chase. The good news is that the Buckeyes have cleared two of their biggest hurdles of the season with back-to-back wins over Wisconsin and the Wildcats, and they might not be challenged again until the season finale at Michigan, if even then. We wouldn't mind seeing a Northwestern-Ohio State rematch in Indianapolis, as Pat Fitzgerald's team looks like the best in a muddled Legends Division scrum, but the remaining schedule is tough. Someone from the Big Ten is probably going to have to play a near-perfect game to beat the Buckeyes; it remains to be seen whether perfection will be enough for Ohio State to get into the national title game.

2. Nebraska's defense and Michigan State's offense provide hope: The Huskers' defensive struggles and the Spartans' offensive woes were the top storylines for each team through the first month of the season. Nebraska entered the open week needing to repair a defense that hadn't stopped anyone consistently, from nationally ranked UCLA to FCS foe South Dakota State. But the Blackshirts responded against an Illinois offense that had made a bunch of big plays through the first four games. Young defenders like Jared Afalava, Randy Gregory and Michael Rose all had big games, as did veteran nickelback Ciante Evans, as Nebraska held Illinois out of the end zone for two and a half quarters. Nebraska's offense did its thing behind running back Ameer Abdullah, but the defense's progress is encouraging for the future. Michigan State also saw an encouraging performance from its offense, as quarterback Connor Cook bounced back from his struggles at Notre Dame and got some help from not one, but two receivers in Macgarrett Kings Jr. (five catches, 94 yards, TD) and Bennie Fowler (nine catches, 92 yards, TD). Michigan State dominated possession time (37 minutes, 13 seconds) and scored the game's final 16 points. Nebraska will continue to lean on its offense, while Michigan State will rely on the Spartan Dawg D, but both teams looked more balanced Saturday, which is a great sign for their chances in the wide-open Legends division.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
AP Photo/Tony DingAfter a week off, Devin Gardner accounted for 252 yards and two touchdowns, with no turnovers.
3. Bye weeks can be helpful: Data doesn't support the notion that bye weeks are beneficial to a team's win-loss record. But when a team is struggling in a certain area and has a week to work on it, that can be very helpful. As mentioned above, Michigan State and Nebraska both showed much improvement on their underwhelming sides of the ball after being idle in Week 5. Michigan worked in two new starters on the offensive line and came out determined to run the ball versus Minnesota. While the yards per carry average (3.2) still wasn't great, the push was better and the Wolverines ran for four touchdowns. More importantly, quarterback Devin Gardner finally played a turnover-free game. Indiana, meanwhile, simplified things for its young defense, as coach Kevin Wilson said there "was less on their plate" against Penn State. That worked, as the Hoosiers were able to attack and play loose in a 44-24 win over the Nittany Lions, coming up with several key stops. Northwestern obviously used its bye to get Venric Mark healthy and to work on more plays with Kain Colter at receiver, both of which proved helpful, indeed. The only team that didn't show some improvement after a Week 5 holiday was Penn State, although that might be due because of depth and injury issues than anything else.

4. Pump the brakes on Iowa and Illinois: The Hawkeyes and Illini had been undoubtedly the league's two big surprises through September and had chances to keep the good vibes going on Saturday. But Iowa took a step back against Michigan State, unable to run the ball or prevent a typically pedestrian Spartans passing attack from stretching the field. Iowa didn't look like a Legends Division contender and paid a price on the injury front. Things don't get any easier after an open week, as Iowa visits Ohio State (Oct. 19). Illinois needed its high-powered offense to strike against a seemingly vulnerable Nebraska defense, but it never happened, as Nathan Scheelhaase struggled with his accuracy. The Illini defense had all sorts of trouble against Nebraska's backup quarterback and running back Ameer Abdullah. Illinois has another week off before home tests against Wisconsin (Oct. 19) and Michigan State (Oct. 26). Both Iowa and Illinois could make bowls, but neither looks like a serious division contender.

5. Magic might be gone for Penn State: There were few better stories in the Big Ten last year than the way Penn State played under the cloud of NCAA sanctions, especially as the Nittany Lions won eight of their last 10 games. But Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill aren't walking through that door. Not only does Penn State lack the incredible senior leadership of last year's group -- which is less a knock on the current players than a tip of the cap to last year's veterans -- but it is struggling to find speed and playmakers on a defense that looks like one of the weakest in years in State College. The only two decent passing attacks on the Lions' schedule -- UCF and Indiana -- shredded Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler's crew. Meanwhile, the offense is becoming too reliant on the individual greatness of receiver Allen Robinson and failed to dominate an Indiana rush defense that has been the Big Ten's worst for multiple years in a row. A 20-point loss to the Hoosiers, in a game in which his team trailed 42-17, is easily the worst defeat of the Bill O'Brien era. The team is down to 61 scholarship players, and not all of them are healthy. "I don't think in any stretch of anybody's imagination that this is a normal Penn State team," O'Brien said. Unfortunately, this might be the new normal for Penn State as the sanctions take their toll, and another 8-4 season might well require some magic at this point.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
What we learned about the Big 12 from Week 6:

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty and Baylor's offense have been unstoppable so far.
1. The Baylor offense is amazing: I don’t care whom Baylor has played. What the Bears have accomplished so far offensively is nothing short of amazing. They became the first team since 1930 to drop 70 points in three straight games. They have scored at least four touchdowns in every first quarter. They have annihilated everyone they’ve faced with an offense that doesn't have any apparent weakness. Bryce Petty has delivered a Total QBR of at least 93 (scale of 0 to 100) and thrown for more than 300 yards and two touchdowns in every game so far despite also having taken a seat early in the second half of every game. Lache Seastrunk has eight consecutive 100-yard rushing games, the longest active streak in the FBS. Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese are the first- and third-leading receivers in the Big 12. The superlatives are unending. The Bears will face tougher tests down the line. But this offense has a chance to go down as the best in Big 12 history, and that includes the ’08 Sooners, ’11 Cowboys and ’05 Longhorns.

2. The other Big 12 offenses are not so amazing: The Big 12 used to have the best offensive conference in college football. Take away Baylor, and it might be the worst. TCU failed to generate a first down during the first half against Oklahoma, and the Sooners couldn’t get one against TCU the third quarter, either. Oklahoma State didn’t generate a first down in the second half against Kansas State until its winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. The list goes on. The defenses in the league are better. But outside Baylor, the offenses are collectively the worst they’ve been in a long time.

3. West Virginia’s defense is improved, but nothing more: The Mountaineers' defense got off to a strong start in Big 12 play, holding Oklahoma to 16 points in Norman and Oklahoma State to 21 in a win last week in Morgantown. But they were utterly exposed in Waco. Sure, Baylor’s offense might be the best in college football. But good defenses don’t surrender 73 points to anyone. Florida State also showed Saturday in a 63-0 rout of Maryland -- which scored 37 against West Virginia -- that the Terrapins' offense is not exactly a juggernaut. The Mountaineers are definitely better defensively than they were last season, but nothing more.

4. Oklahoma State, K-State and Texas Tech have major QB questions: Week 6 only brought more questions to the QB situations in Stillwater, Manhattan and Lubbock. Texas Tech’s Baker Mayfield played his best game since the opener in a 54-16 rout of Kansas, but in the third quarter he had to be helped off the field after twisting his knee. Michael Brewer made his debut in garbage time, and Davis Webb played again, too. The Red Raiders have three weeks to figure out their QB situation before they go to Oklahoma on Oct. 26 in what could be a huge game. Meanwhile, K-State, for the first time, went mostly with Daniel Sams over Jake Waters in Stillwater to mixed results. Sams energized the K-State offense with his wheels but also cost the Wildcats with three ugly interceptions, including two to end the game. The Cowboys have QB questions, too. Oklahoma State stuck with J.W. Walsh again but continued to be very average offensively. Coach Mike Gundy gave backup Clint Chelf only two plays against K-State, then went back to Walsh the rest of the game. Is it time for the Cowboys to try something different? Either way, something has to change for the Cowboys offensively if they want to jump back into the Big 12 race.

5. Texas has one week left to find itself: The Longhorns are 2-0 in Big 12 play but have been one of the shakiest teams in the conference. Texas escaped Ames with a 31-30 win over Iowa State. But the Horns did not impress and needed help from the Big 12 officials, who negated what appeared to be a late fumble that could have won the game for the Cyclones. After losing two games in September, the only way Texas can salvage its season -- and Mack Brown’s job -- is to beat Oklahoma this weekend. The Longhorns have completely rolled over against OU the past two seasons in Dallas, and this time, they will be without several key players, including quarterback David Ash. Despite that adversity, Texas has one week to become the team Brown said it would be this season. Because if it can't beat the Sooners, the season will effectively be a failure, regardless of what the Horns do afterward.