Tigers, Tide a toss-up through September
LSU beat then-No. 3 Oregon on a neutral field, blasted an overwhelmed FCS opponent at home, then defeated two nationally ranked teams on the road.
If any team can make a claim to being No. 1 in the country, it's LSU, which won its 36th consecutive nonconference game, handling No. 16 West Virginia 47-21 at Mountaineer Field on Saturday night.
But after the first month of the 2011 college football season, it might be hard to argue that the No. 1 Tigers are even the best team in their division.
No. 3 Alabama has been equally impressive in starting 4-0 after routing No. 14 Arkansas 38-14 at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday. The Crimson Tide also sandwiched routs of overmatched opponents around a 27-11 victory at then-No. 23 Penn State on Sept. 10.
Both teams know that neither can stake a claim to being the best team in the SEC West until after they play each other in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Nov. 5. That game might very well decide which team plays in the SEC championship game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome on Dec. 3 and stays in the hunt for a BCS national championship.
"I like the position we're in," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I don't think we're the best team in the country. There's that hope and that want and desire for this team."
Both the Crimson Tide and Tigers are led by suffocating and menacing defenses. Alabama ranks in the top three nationally in scoring defense (8.0 points per game), total defense (184 yards per game), run defense (45.8 ypg) and pass defense (138.3 ypg).
The Tigers rank No. 4 nationally in run defense (53.3 ypg) and are in the top 20 in scoring (14.3 ppg) and total defense (289 ypg). LSU was ranked much higher until it played West Virginia's fast-paced offense, which gained 533 yards but turned the ball over four times. LSU also ranks in the top 10 among FBS teams in turnover margin and tackles for loss.
"I know we weren't perfect, but it didn't make any difference," Miles said. "We overcame that adversity, turned to somebody else to make a play, and that's the mark of a true team. I think there's a real confidence in our football team; no matter what the environment is, we're capable. We can play."
If the Crimson Tide and Tigers can navigate their way undefeated through October, their Nov. 5 showdown figures to be the game of the year in college football. Their most difficult tests between now and then are expected to come against No. 15 Florida. Alabama will play the Gators on the road on Saturday, and LSU will face them at home on Oct. 8.
Different vibe for Arizona State
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Omar Bolden couldn't stop grabbing and hugging Vontaze Burfict as they walked into the locker room. Bolden, Arizona State's injured, charismatic captain, was bouncing around, jumping for joy. Burfict? The Sun Devils' wound-tight superstar alternated between a grin and a grimace as he limped off the field, lugging along Bolden under a scoreboard that said the Sun Devils had beaten USC 43-22, the first time they'd been on top of the Trojans in 11 previous meetings.
This Sun Devils team feels different.
Quarterback Brock Osweiler walked into his postgame news conference with 1,500 pounds of escort -- his entire starting offensive line.
Why? "I thought the media was pretty harsh on these guys last week," Osweiler said.
Last week, the Sun Devils lost at Illinois despite outplaying the Illini. Osweiler had three turnovers. The offensive line gave up six sacks. There were eight penalties for 91 yards. The loss knocked the Sun Devils out of the national rankings and cost them defensive end Junior Onyeali, who suffered a knee injury. It was the sort of loss that could linger in a locker room, not to mention inspire talk of "same old Sun Devils" from a skeptical fan base.
This Sun Devils team was different. It yielded just one sack. It committed no turnovers -- versus four from USC. It had just six penalties, one of which was on coach Dennis Erickson for celebrating.
Now, at 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the Pac-12, these Sun Devils have beaten two ranked teams. They might return to the national rankings. And this win was particularly sweet.
"Eleven years is a long time not to beat somebody," Erickson said.
To read the rest of Ted Miller's story, click here.
Uncertainty returns for South Carolina QBs
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- After benching starter Stephen Garcia in the fourth quarter of South Carolina's 21-3 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday, coach Steve Spurrier said he's unsure who will start at quarterback for the Gamecocks when they play Auburn next week.
"We'll put whoever out there we can to help us win the game," Spurrier said.
Spurrier added that there isn't a quarterback controversy and that Garcia "probably" will start, but he's keeping his options open.
Garcia went 16-for-30 on the night for 228 yards and a touchdown. However, he also made a handful of questionable throws and had four interceptions. Three of them were thrown right to defenders, while one was batted into the hands of Vanderbilt's Chris Marve after Garcia avoided the sack by trying to lob a short pass to an unsuspecting Alshon Jeffery at the goal line.
Garcia was pulled late for Connor Shaw, who started the year as the Gamecocks' quarterback. Shaw finished with 8 yards passing on two attempts. Redshirt freshman Dylan Thompson also came in, but he mainly handed the ball off and ran the ball once for 1 yard.
"If some of those other guys look great in practice, yeah, I'd put them in there," Spurrier said.
When asked whether he was frustrated by being yanked, Garcia said, "They wanted to get Connor some playing time, some experience. That's normal. We had the game pretty much sealed at the end, so I'm not really frustrated by it at all."
When asked whether he still felt like the starter, Garcia said this with a slight laugh: "You'll have to ask Coach [Spurrier] that."
To read the rest of Edward Aschoff's blog, click here.
Clemson meets consistency
CLEMSON, S.C. -- This change didn't happen overnight.
In January, offensive coordinator Chad Morris was hired. In February, Clemson signed one of the most talented recruiting classes in the country. In March, an offensive overhaul began. And this past summer, quarterback Tajh Boyd said, some veterans on Clemson's roster got together and decided this season would be different.
With its 35-30 win over No. 11 Florida State on Saturday, Clemson proved it is.
"We hear Clemson can't win two games back-to-back, Clemson can't do this, Clemson can't do that," Boyd said. "It's really fine because we have everything we need in this stadium right here."
Including back-to-back wins over ranked opponents.
In two weeks, Clemson found ways to beat defending national champ Auburn and a Florida State team that was lauded by many as a national title contender for 2011. For Clemson, a program widely regarded as one of the most inconsistent in the country, its 4-0 start proves the Tigers are capable of consistency. After all, it's only the second time in 23 years that Clemson has defeated Top 25 teams on back-to-back weekends and the first time it has done it at home. More importantly for the Tigers, though, Saturday's win came against a Florida State team heavily favored to win the Atlantic Division.
If you thought Florida State was "back," you might want to reconsider.
"We're back," said Clemson offensive lineman Dalton Freeman. "A lot of people have been doubting us and saying it's the same old team. In the past we've been very inconsistent, but a lot of things have changed, and we're just hoping to keep the ball rolling. We're just clicking right now. If we can keep it rolling and continue to get better, we have a chance to be pretty special."
Now, as Clemson prepares to travel to Virginia Tech for its first road test of the season, it does so undefeated, with confidence and with an early lead in the Atlantic Division race. Although it's very early in the conference schedule, Clemson's chances at returning to the ACC title game for the first time since 2009 look even better considering how Atlantic Division opponents Maryland, NC State and Boston College have struggled this month.
To read the rest of Heather Dinich's story, click here.
Jaz finds right tune for Sooners
NORMAN, Okla. -- Jaz Reynolds was humbled and humiliated. Benched and suspended.
All of those things made Reynolds' burst-out performance in Oklahoma's 38-28 win over Missouri Saturday night all the more satisfying.
"I've been waiting for my chance for a year-and-a-half," Reynolds said afterward, unable to contain a smile. "It all snowballed into tonight."
Replacing Kenny Stills, who was sidelined after suffering symptoms of a concussion late in the week, Reynolds came through with a career-high 93 yards receiving on five catches. "Coach [Bob Stoops] didn't want to lose anything with Kenny down," said Reynolds, who found out Thursday night he would start. "Kenny is a big-time player. I wanted to do my best to fill his shoes."
Reynolds filled in admirably, with his second catch proving to be the turning point in the game.
Trailing 14-10 in the second quarter and facing third-and-7, Landry Jones lobbed a pass down the sideline to Reynolds, isolated in single coverage. Reynolds hauled in the pass for a 39-yard, first-down completion. The Sooners scored a touchdown seven plays later and held the lead the rest of the night.
To read the rest of Jake Trotter's story, click here.
Three weekend observations
1. That the Big East officiating crew whiffed on the Syracuse extra point in the fourth quarter of the Toledo game is unfortunate. That the Big East replay official also missed the call is inexcusable, especially because it made the difference between a one-point Rockets victory in regulation and an Orange victory in overtime. That said, you have to applaud the immediate mea culpa from Big East supervisor of officials Terry McAuley. Throughout college football, officials now adhere to the belief that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Coming clean benefits all of us.
2. The Arizona that lost to Oregon 56-31 on Saturday night looks nothing like Mike Stoops' Wildcats teams of mid-2007 to mid-2010. After a 2-6 start in 2007, Arizona won 26 of its next 38 games, including a 2-1 record against top-10 teams. The Wildcats have lost eight consecutive games against FBS opponents, some in heartbreaking fashion and some like Saturday night -- when the Wildcats missed tackles, quarterback Nick Foles missed open receivers and open receivers dropped balls. Arizona is in disarray.
3. It seemed as though the winner of the Oklahoma State-Texas A&M game would emerge with credentials worthy of inclusion in the national championship argument. And maybe, after the way Auburn outscored everyone on its way to the BCS title a year ago, the era of defense winning championships is over. But in the Cowboys' 30-29 victory, which featured nearly 1,000 yards of offense and five turnovers (four by the Aggies), neither team looked ready to be included among the top five in the nation. Too many mistakes, too little defense.
Highlights: Kansas State-Miami
GameDay crew final thoughts
I knew Oklahoma State had talent. I knew the Cowboys had athleticism. I knew they had guts. But I didn't know they had the chops to come back from 17 down on the road against a good team and win like they did. They proved they're a threat to play for the national championship. Last week, I wondered how Oklahoma and Florida State would come back from such a tough, physical and emotional game. It hurt Oklahoma for a while early, but the Sooners came back and beat Missouri. It really hurt Florida State, which was missing some key players, and the Seminoles never recovered and lost to Clemson. This week, Alabama and Clemson will be in those shoes, as both of them hit the road after emotional wins at home to play two good teams. Alabama plays at Florida, and Clemson visits Virginia Tech.
Helmet stickers go to:
• CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
5.5 tackles, interception, forced fumble, fumble recovery versus West Virginia
• LB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
Nine tackles, three sacks, forced fumble versus North Carolina
Next week could be another crazy week. I can't recall this many early games that could determine the conference championship or, at the very least, the division championship in the leagues that hold conference title games. Alabama heads to Florida next week; Nebraska plays Wisconsin. They should be some exciting games.
Helmet stickers go to:
• QB Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
School-record 438 passing yards, two TDs versus Texas A&M
• RB Bernard Pierce, Temple
149 rushing yards, school-record five rushing TDs versus Maryland
People are going to look at the number of passing yards and total yards West Virginia put up against LSU's defense, but don't be fooled. LSU didn't give up a significant number of bombs or big plays; it made West Virginia work by taking lots of underneath stuff. And Jarrett Lee did a great job of managing the game, not making any mistakes and executing when he needed it to. A great defense and sound offense form the perfect combination for winning big games on the road.
Sammy Watkins is going to be a superstar at this level. He's being challenged each week now by defenses and continues to get the job done. Although Clemson didn't win going away the way it seemed it would early, the Tigers got it done, and a "W" is a "W" no matter how you get it.
I knew Alabama's defense was good, but I was surprised how the Crimson Tide handled an Arkansas offense that lost Ryan Mallett and Knile Davis but still had lots of weapons. They got after Tyler Wilson and were dominant. Also, Nick Saban's teams tend to get better each week and don't step backward.
Helmet stickers go to:
• RB LaMichael James, Oregon
School-record 288 rushing yards, two TDs versus Arizona
• LB Tre Walker, Kansas State
Eight tackles versus Miami
Blog Network: What we learned
With disappointing, indefensible losses, the ACC took two steps forward in Week 3 and four steps back in Week 4.
Don't sell your Texas A&M stock. This is still a good team with another huge game waiting next week.
If Cincinnati continues to be aggressive on defense and dynamic on offense, it could be a dark horse in this league.
Michigan can lean on its defense. It's not a finished product, but the Wolverines are making important strides.
Washington QB Keith Price is ready for his close-up, moving from a pleasant surprise to a potential all-conference player.
Which is the best team in the East? Through four weeks, Florida probably has as strong a claim as anyone.
The pass rush is for real. A week after making life miserable for Kirk Cousins, ND's front seven got to the Pitt backfield.
Highlights: USC-Arizona State
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: Stephen Hill; Giovani Bernard; Boston College
More ACC stickers
• Big 12: Brandon Weeden; Robert Griffin III; John Hubert
More Big 12 stickers
• Big East: Mohamed Sanu; Nick Williams; B.J. Daniels
More Big East stickers
• Big Ten: James Vandenberg; Rex Burkhead; Nick Toon
More Big Ten stickers
• Pac-12: LaMichael James; Cameron Marshall; Keith Price
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• SEC: Jeff Demps; Isaiah Crowell; Alabama's secondary
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• Notre Dame: Tyler Eifert; Manti Te'o; Darius Fleming
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