Monday, October 27, 2003
Calm weekend sets up huge matchups
By Trev Alberts Special to ESPN.com
Nothing too shocking or surprising happened over the weekend -- with the possible exception of Michigan thoroughly dominating Purdue -- and it seemed many teams were playing with one eye on this week's big matchups.
That was certainly the case for teams like Oklahoma and Colorado on a workmanlike Saturday for most top programs. Not a lot of statements were made, but we did see reality checks for teams like Northern Illinois.
It was the perfect definition of "the calm before the storm". It reminded me of sitting on the porch with my father in Iowa, watching the thunderstorms roll in over the plains and waiting for everything to start, and as I sat in the studio after last weekend's games I felt that same anticipation of big things to come.
Matt Mauck's consistency may be the key for LSU to topple Georgia.
LSU was the one team that made a statement of sorts, dominating the line of scrimmage in a 31-7 win over Auburn.
The Tigers' defensive front four, led by Chad Lavalais, created havoc from the start and had me flashing back to the whipping USC put on Auburn. The speed of the LSU defense allowed them to get in the gaps and into the backfield, forcing the Auburn backs to make cuts and moves before they even got back to the line of scrimmage and holding them under 100 yards.
Because of that the Auburn offense was out of rhythm from the get-go and wound up in a lot of predictable down-and-distance situations, allowing LSU to bring a ton of pressure on quarterback Jason Campbell, who actually made some good decisions in getting rid of the ball to avoid sacks.
On the other side of the ball, LSU quarterback Matt Mauck was a pleasant surprise and answered some questions with 224 passing yards and three touchdowns. He was facing an Auburn defense that had been on fire in recent weeks and was playing in front of a group of young running backs -- who combined for nearly 160 rushing yards -- yet Mauck was comfortable in the pocket and very accurate in finding big gainers to Michael Clayton and Devery Henderson.
LSU has to be kicking itself over the home loss to Florida, because with dominating wins over other SEC teams Nick Saban's team would be 8-0 and sitting pretty in the BCS.
Wolverines set up Big Ten brawl
I've maintained since the beginning of the season that Michigan is the most talented team in the Big Ten and the Wolverines' 31-3 rout of Purdue certainly showed that.
But as good as Michigan was against the Boilermakers, the Wolverines have been a hard team to figure all year and look a little different every week. They may be the only team in the nation that struggles and improves as much from quarter to quarter as most teams do from game to game.
Michigan has struggled with turnovers and other mental mistakes, but when the defense is aggressive and dominates like it did while holding Purdue to just 242 total yards the Wolverines are a very good team. Count them among the few statement-makers last weekend, too.
I cannot wait for this week's matchup between Jeff Smoker and the Michigan State offense and the Michigan defense. The Wolverines like to get pressure on the quarterback and get in the faces of the receivers, but with all the weapons Smoker has available to him in the Spartans' attack there is nothing particular to focus on.
If Smoker can make good decisions and Michigan State can use Michigan's aggressiveness against the Wolverines we are going to be in for a heck of a game. If not, a Wolverine victory could make the Nov. 22 Ohio State-Michigan matchup the de facto conference championship and return things to normal in the Big Ten.
Deja vu for USC
USC started the season struggling to find a way to utilize all the young talent on the roster, but if last weekend's 43-23 whipping of Washington is any indication that is no longer a problem.
Freshman running back Reggie Bush had 270 total yards, fellow freshman Reggie Bush rushed for 98 yards and first-year fullback Brandon Hancock caught a 52-yard touchdown pass from Matt Leinart. Offensive coordinator Norm Chow has figured out how to utilize all the weapons at his disposal, allowing Leinart to get comfortable in his first year as the starter.
Chow has been able to get his players in favorable matchups and they have taken advantage, especially Leinart. He seems to be getting better every week despite fans and media calling for stud freshman John David Booty to be inserted into the lineup, and after another 351 yards and four TDs last week Leinart's numbers are strikingly similar to those Carson Palmer put up last season on his way to the Heisman Trophy.
That explosiveness on offense and a defense that is getting better all the time have the Trojans are once again building a ton of momentum down the stretch. USC is the best one-loss team in the nation right now, and if Florida State remains above the Trojans in the BCS standings it will be a flat-out joke.
Both Florida State and Georgia have gotten a lot of ink as one-loss teams with a chance to make it to the Sugar Bowl, but I'm not sold on either.
The Seminoles have a great defense but I don't have much confidence in the offense. We've seen what quarterback Chris Rix can do and how good he can look against inferior teams like Duke and Colorado, but things always seem to bog down in big games and all those who buy into the hype, myself included, get burned.
So despite the 48-24 win over Wake Forest last week, Florida State is not a top 2-3 BCS team.
As for Georgia, it seems like the right buttons are not being pushed. Injuries and youth have been issues all season, but great teams overcome those kinds of obstacles and do a little better than 16-13 homecoming victories over UAB. Still, things are setting up nicely for the Bulldogs this week.
Everyone is talking about how well Florida has played in consecutive road wins and how lackluster a banged-up UGA looks, but I guarantee all those bumps and bruises will feel just fine and the 'Dawgs will be ready to go. If the Gators come into the game overconfident, look out.
We were told a few weeks ago that Oct. 11 was "Separation Saturday", but that tag might have been used a little early. There were a few questions answered that day, but the coming weekend is going to sort some things out for real.
Michigan and Michigan State will tell us which is the best team in the Big Ten, Miami and Virginia Tech will tussle for Big East supremacy and Oklahoma and USC will prove they are the most dominant teams in the Big 12 and Pac-10, respectively.
Don't buy into the Oklahoma State hype this week as the Cowboys get ready for Oklahoma, because quarterback Jason White has made all the difference in the world for the Sooners' offense and the Cowboys stand no chance in Norman. And while Bill Doba has done an outstanding job taking over at Washington State, the Cougars are running into a USC team with too much talent on both sides of the ball.
The calm is over, so let the storm begin.
Trev Alberts is a college football analyst for ESPN and a regular contributor to ESPN.com during the season.