An unbeaten road
The major conference showdowns that dominated Week 5 yielded no upsets but some tantalizing possibilities. Already, fans have started talking about various scenarios for the BCS National Championship Game.
What if more than two teams go undefeated, as was the case last season?
What if Alabama, Ohio State, Boise State, Oregon, TCU and Nebraska go undefeated?
We are only five weeks through the season, and it's way too early to believe that everyone will stay undefeated. But it is not too early to look at the road ahead for the teams with the best shot at winning all their games.
We start at No. 1, where Alabama looked as dominant as ever in a 31-6 win over Florida. Perhaps the Tide have separated themselves from the rest of the country, but their schedule does not allow time for breaks. Plus, they did come awfully close to losing last week at Arkansas.
Up next is a huge game at South Carolina on Saturday, the third straight weekend they will face a ranked team. The Gamecocks nearly beat Auburn on the road, and although coach Steve Spurrier has an itchy trigger finger with his quarterbacks after Stephen Garcia played poorly against the Tigers, this game will be a tough test.
South Carolina had a bye this past week, and Alabama will see that a lot. The rest of its SEC opponents have a week off before playing the Tide. Alabama tried to get relief from the SEC office for what it believes is an unfair disadvantage, but to no avail. The Tide will have a bye before they play at LSU on Nov. 6, but the West could be won with the season finale against Auburn on Nov. 26.
No. 2 Ohio State looked less than great in a 24-13 win over Illinois. If the Buckeyes produce several more unimpressive wins like that, they could get jumped if Oregon continues to look as dominant as it has. The Buckeyes will play at Wisconsin on Oct. 16, but that game has lost a bit of its luster after the Badgers lost to Michigan State on Saturday. The tough stretch comes in November with three straight games against Penn State, at Iowa and then home against Michigan. It's not unmanageable, but if Adrian Clayborn plays the way he did in a win over the Nittany Lions on Saturday, Terrelle Pryor could be in trouble.
Now is the time when we really hear about how the terrible WAC schedule affects Boise State. The Broncos are essentially out of the collective college football consciousness now that they are playing the New Mexico States of the world. Watch for the game against Hawaii on Nov. 6, though. Quarterback Bryant Moniz and the Warriors are putting up video-game numbers on offense, ranking first in the country with 431 passing yards per game. The secondary is one of the Broncos' weaknesses, so that will be a test. But the ultimate challenge will come in the season's second-to-last game, when they face a surprisingly good Nevada team Nov. 26.
What of Oregon? The Ducks have looked unstoppable in five games this season, especially after halftime. They have allowed just one second-half touchdown all season, and the latest example of their dominance came in a 52-31 win over Stanford. Oregon outscored the Cardinal 28-0 in the second half and is in prime position to make a run at a championship.
But in the ultracompetitive Pac-10, the cliché "Any given Saturday" is appropriate because games against UCLA, at USC, Washington, Arizona and at Oregon State still loom large on Oregon's schedule. You know the Trojans would love nothing better to knock the Ducks from the national title conversation because they have no bowl game and no championship to play for this season.
TCU has looked unimpressive in two straight games, wins over SMU and Colorado State. The Horned Frogs will face Air Force at home on Oct. 23, but the big test will be at undefeated Utah on Nov. 6.
Nebraska has one of the easiest roads of any of the top undefeated teams. The Cornhuskers go on the road to play Kansas State, a Wildcats team that nearly lost to UCF. That huge home game against Texas on Oct. 16 does not seem as scary now that the Longhorns have lost two straight. There are trips to Oklahoma State on Oct. 23 and Texas A&M on Nov. 20, but the Huskers will be the favorite in every game they play the rest of the season. Oklahoma is not on the regular-season schedule, but the Sooners could be the Cornhuskers' opponent in the Big 12 championship game.
After beating Texas 28-20, the Sooners seem to be the undefeated top team that is least likely to stay that way. Oklahoma nearly blew the game and has looked far from impressive in four of its five games this season. Games at Missouri on Oct. 23, at Texas A&M on Nov. 6, at Baylor on Nov. 20 and at Oklahoma State on Nov. 27 to close the season all pose potential stumbling blocks.
So there is your look ahead. But as any college coach will tell you, perhaps it is best to focus on one week at a time.
Upon further review
So maybe Florida and Texas just don't reload.
The two traditional college football powers came into the 2010 season missing many of their star players, yet both teams were ranked in the top 10 in most preseason polls.
After watching the Gators and Longhorns play on Saturday, we now know their lofty preseason rankings were built on reputation more than their current teams.
Florida lost badly to Alabama for the second time in a row, falling to the No. 1 Crimson Tide 31-6 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The No. 21 Longhorns fell for the second week in a row, losing 28-20 to No. 8 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
Not the same
|Texas fell to 3-2 after a loss to rival Oklahoma. It marks only the third time since Mack Brown took over in 1998 that the Longhorns have lost two of their first five games (1998, 2000). The Longhorns have not lost three consecutive regular-season games since 1997, the year before Brown took over the program.
-- David Bearman, ESPN Stats & Info
Florida was no match for Alabama, the defending BCS national champion, in a rematch of the 2009 SEC championship game. The Crimson Tide won the previous meeting by a 32-13 score, and they were even more dominant this time around.
"We worked in the offseason to get to Atlanta," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "We take one at a time. We took a week out and didn't play our best. We have to play our best the next time."
The Gators still have a chance to return to Atlanta's Georgia Dome for the SEC championship game because their competitors in the SEC East aren't very good. But this Florida team isn't nearly as good as its Tim Tebow-led squads of the previous three seasons.
The Gators don't miss Tebow as much as they miss departed players like tight end Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper. Florida's offense doesn't have many playmakers, and its offensive line struggled to protect quarterback John Brantley against Alabama's fierce pass rush.
Likewise, Texas sorely misses departed quarterback Colt McCoy and receiver Jordan Shipley. The Longhorns also have a dearth of proven playmakers and still don't run the ball well.
Texas committed far too many mistakes against Oklahoma, which beat the Longhorns for only the second time in the teams' past six meetings.
Texas will try to avoid its first three-game losing streak in coach Mack Brown's 13 seasons at the school when it travels to No. 6 Nebraska on Oct. 16.
"You want to get better," Brown said.
Enjoy the show
Denard Robinson had barely crossed the goal line with the winning touchdown against Indiana when the naysayers piped up, as they've done after every Michigan game this season.
They talked about the "real defenses" Robinson soon would encounter in Big Ten play. They said Robinson of 2010 might as well be Tate Forcier of 2009. They talked about Michigan's inevitable collapse in October or November.
|Denard Robinson continued his assault on the Michigan and NCAA record books. With 277 yards passing and 217 yards rushing, he became the first quarterback in FBS history to have more than 200 passing yards and 200 rushing yards twice in the regular season. Vince Young did it twice in 2005, but one time was the 2006 Rose Bowl/title game over USC. Robinson fell 23 passing yards shy of joining Marques Tuiasosopo as the only quarterbacks to reach 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing in a single game.
-- David Bearman, ESPN Stats & Info
What happened to simply enjoying the show? Right now, Robinson is college football's top performer.
The Wolverines sophomore is doing things this season that we likely won't see again for a long time. After recording 277 pass yards and 217 rush yards against Indiana, Robinson became the first player in FBS history to eclipse 200 pass yards and 200 rush yards twice in his career. More amazing is that he's done so twice in a four-week span.
A lot of great quarterbacks face a lot of weak defenses in every league, but no signal-caller has started a season quite like this. Robinson set a Michigan single-game total offense record (383 yards) in the opener against Connecticut and has since broken his own mark twice. He has 905 rushing yards and 1,008 pass yards with more than a half-season to play. Robinson has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in each of his first five games. And after being a completely one-dimensional player as a freshman in 2009, Robinson has complemented his superior speed with surprising accuracy in the passing game.
Will Robinson keep up this pace? It's extremely unlikely.
Michigan will face much better defenses in its final seven games, including elite units from Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State. And Robinson's durability remains a question mark; he has been shaken up in every game this season.
Some folks will relish the day when Robinson looks human. They might be waiting a while.
For now, he's putting on a scintillating display. If you don't watch, you're missing out.
Déjà vu anyone?
Last year against USC, Jake Locker became a national figure -- and touted NFL draft prospect -- after he led Washington to an upset of then-No. 3 USC with a clutch final drive.
This year, Locker regained his national stature -- and probably restored the confidence of NFL general managers -- by doing the same thing. Only this time, the Trojans aren't nearly as celebrated, so it's not nearly as shocking.
Locker and Washington came back from a bye week after a terrible performance versus Nebraska to beat No. 18 USC 32-31 after Erik Folk kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired. Last year, Erik Folk kicked a 22-yard field goal for a 16-13 win after Locker orchestrated a stunning drive against the Trojans' defense. This time, the drive covered 61 yards and featured an 18-yard pass on fourth-and-11, and Folk connected from 32 yards as time expired.
Locker passed for 310 yards and rushed 110 on 12 carries. It was Washington's first road win since 2007 and snapped a 13-game losing streak in the Coliseum that stretched back to 1996.
The Huskies won despite giving up 298 yards rushing, including 223 to Allen Bradford.
USC? Well, despite a 4-0 start, there were telling signs of a decline. That was confirmed by the Huskies. Coach Lane Kiffin hinted this past week about a revenge motive for his team, but the Trojans failed to follow through. That same scenario, by the way, will apply to next weekend's visit to Stanford.
The Huskies will return home to play Arizona State, a game that is critical to each team's bowl hopes.
Three weekend observations
1. Perception no longer is reality in the Southeastern Conference. The SEC East went 0-for-Saturday, excluding South Carolina, which had the good sense not to suit up. And none of the losses made the East look good, with the possible exception of the gutsiness shown by Tennessee in its heartbreaking loss at LSU. Florida got embarrassed on national TV by Alabama. The other losses -- to Connecticut, Colorado and Ole Miss -- mumble for themselves. Alabama looks invincible. Auburn seems to mature every week. The rest of the league could swap uniforms with the Big 12, and we'd be none the wiser.
2. Jacory Harris is a remarkable talent, but watching him lead Miami to a 30-21 victory at Clemson confirmed my suspicion that he's just good enough to break your heart. Young quarterbacks are defined by the mistakes they make. But Harris has started 18 games and played a lot as a freshman. He shouldn't be throwing eight interceptions in three games. Until Harris corrects his errors, he will do nothing but tantalize.
3. Northwestern dominated the last 10 minutes at Minnesota and came back from a 28-20 deficit to win 29-28. That makes the Wildcats 5-0 for the second time in three years. Coach Pat Fitzgerald texted that his players "believe in who we are and each other. Solid chemistry rt now! And we have one hell of a QB." Junior Dan Persa, who ranks third in the nation in passing efficiency, also bench-presses 375 pounds. That's more than Fitzgerald, the former Wildcats linebacker and Nagurski award winner, ever benched. "I am the worst athlete to ever be named All-American or win a postseason award," Fitzgerald texted.
'GameDay' crew final thoughts
While everyone has been locked on Ohio State and Iowa in the Big Ten, Denard Robinson has emerged as the leading Heisman contender. But I want to see how he handles a solid, hard-hitting defense with some speed in Michigan State. This will give him a chance to base his Heisman candidacy on something more than just stats -- a win in a rivalry game. I'm sure Spartans linebacker Greg Jones is eager to become acquainted with Mr. Robinson -- if he can catch him.
Helmet stickers go to:
• QB Jake Locker, Washington
420 total yards, pass TD in 32-31 win at USC
• WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami
7 receptions, 147 yards, school-record 3 TDs in 30-21 win over Clemson
All you want to do every week is find a way to win, and that's what Ohio State and LSU did. It may not be pretty, but a win is a win no matter how you do it. You have to find a way to win every week. Here we are five weeks into the season, and things are really starting to take shape.
Helmet stickers go to:
• LB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
7 tackles, 4 TFL, fumble recovery, pass def in 31-6 win over Florida
• RB Matt Brown, Temple
Career-high 226 rush yards, 4 TDs in 42-35 win over Army
The Alabama Crimson Tide once again showed their might by flexing their muscles over the Florida Gators. The last two times they've played, Alabama has won by a combined score 63-19! I'm not sure whether it's even a rivalry anymore. LSU skates by in a tough loss for Tennessee. They played their hearts out but didn't win because their coaches weren't prepared for the end of the game. And Oregon proved it can hang half a hundred on just about anyone. The Ducks are so much fun to watch because they're so explosive on offense.
Helmet stickers go to:
• QB Denard Robinson, Michigan
495 total yards, responsible for 5 TDs in 42-35 win over Indiana
• QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
Career-high 380 pass yards, 3 pass TDs in 55-7 win over Kansas
Saban on Bama's win over Florida
Blog Network: What we learned
Thanks to wins by Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami, the Coastal Division finished the weekend with a 3-2 record over the Atlantic Division.
Texas should not be in the Top 25, and Baylor may be a lot better than anyone thought.
UConn is starting to figure things out, Rutgers is in turmoil and Ray Graham is a budding superstar.
After four impressive victories, Ohio State raised some red flags with its performance at Illinois.
Oregon is a national title contender, and LaMichael James is a Heisman Trophy candidate.
We were pretty sure that Alabama was the class of the SEC going into Saturday night's contest with Florida. Now, there's no doubt.
No letdowns for Boise State and Nevada as the WAC front-runners had little trouble on Saturday after big weekends.
After three straight losses, Notre Dame's season would have gone up in flames with a setback to Boston College.
Blog Network: Helmet stickers
Every week our bloggers will hand out helmet stickers to the week's top players, coaches, teams or anything else worth this honor.
• ACC: Shaun Draughn; Mark Stoops; Joshua Nesbitt
More ACC stickers
• Big 12: Robert Griffin III; Rodney Stewart; DeMarco Murray
More Big 12 stickers
• Big East: Ray Graham; Jordan Todman; Bilal Powell
More Big East stickers
• Big Ten: Denard Robinson; Don Treadwell; Adrian Clayborn
More Big Ten stickers
• Pac-10: LaMichael James; Jake Locker; Ryan Katz
More Pac-10 stickers
• SEC: Chad Bumphis; Kelvin Sheppard; Courtney Upshaw
More SEC stickers
• Non-AQ: Matt Brown; Nathan Enderle; Vai Taua
More Non-AQ stickers
Odds & ends
• Baylor moved to 4-1 in record-setting fashion. The Bears defeated Kansas by 48 points, the largest Big 12 victory in school history. Along the way, the Bears set school records for total yards (678) and most individual yards of offense (444 by QB Robert Griffin).
• Connecticut defeated Vanderbilt in a nonconference Big East-SEC tilt. Compared to the other megamatchups going on, this might seem insignificant. However, the win was only the second this season in 12 games for a Big East team against schools from other automatic-qualifying conferences. The other was West Virginia over Maryland two weeks ago.