Originally Published: October 2, 2011

Conference title dreams still alive

By Brian Bennett
ESPN.com

The first weekend of October brought us some separation in a few conference races.

Nowhere was that distancing more apparent than in the Big Ten, where Wisconsin and Nebraska kicked off Saturday as next-door neighbors in both major polls, ranked No. 7 and 8, respectively. The Badgers then jumped around, over and on the Cornhuskers in a 48-17 episode of "Who's the Boss?" (And for all of Nebraska's rich history, the program still is seeking an elusive first victory in Big Ten play.)

Elsewhere, Alabama smacked Florida 38-10 in The Swamp as Nick Saban showed former protege Will Muschamp who the real Jedi Master is. Defending champ Auburn recaptured its late-game mojo, throwing cold water on South Carolina's dream season with a 16-13 upset in Columbia.

Meanwhile, Clemson continues to do very un-Clemson-like things by stringing together consecutive, impressive victories. This time, the Tigers went on the road and dethroned the ACC's recent ruler with a 23-3 win over Virginia Tech.

[+] Enlarge
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireTheir SEC future didn't look too bright on Saturday, as Mike Sherman's Aggies blew a big lead and fell to Arkansas.

For the Huskers, Gators, Gamecocks and Hokies, their outside chances of a national title are dashed. Here's the thing, though: They're still very much alive for a conference championship.

The bright side of their Saturday losses is that the setbacks came against opponents in opposite divisions, meaning each can still reach its league title game by taking care of business from here on out. (Bummer for Iowa State and Baylor fans that the Big 12 no longer has enough teams to necessitate division play).

There's an easy road map to follow. South Carolina lost to Auburn last year in similar heartbreaking fashion but still claimed the Eastern Division to force a rematch in Atlanta. Florida lost to Auburn in 2006 and managed to win not only the SEC crown but a national championship. Virginia Tech has made a habit out of bouncing back from early-season disappointments to gain eventual BCS bids. Nebraska represented the North Division in the last two Big 12 title games following regular-season losses to South Division teams.

The Huskers can call on that history as they try to navigate the new Legends Division. "It's not difficult to bounce back," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "We need to play better. We've got to get some guys to step up and man up and start playing football."

The message is similar for the other losers of interdivision games on Saturday. The first weekend of October may have proved disappointing and damaging. But that will be forgotten if they can regroup and find themselves playing on the first weekend of December.

Trio stumbles in new league homes

By Andrea Adelson
ESPN.com

The welcome mats were never laid out for Nebraska, Utah and Texas A&M.

No, their new conference brothers did everything they could to make them feel unwelcome in their new league homes.

Texas A&M blew an 18-point lead against future SEC partner Arkansas.

Nebraska saw an early second-quarter lead vanish behind the fearsome duo of Russell Wilson and Montee Ball in its Big Ten debut.

And Washington forced five turnovers to beat Utah in its first Pac-12 home game.

Nobody said moving leagues would be easy, and that was more than evident on Saturday. If Texas A&M thinks it is going to be better off in the SEC, the Aggies need to look at their performance against a team that lost to Alabama 38-14 the previous week.

No. 14 Texas A&M seemed to be in control against No. 18 Arkansas, leading 35-17 at halftime. But the Aggies forgot to cover Jarius Wright. Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson ended up throwing for a school-record 510 yards, and Wright caught 13 passes for a school-record 281 yards.

In back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and Arkansas, the Aggies have been outscored 52-12 in the second half. The defense has allowed almost 600 yards of total offense after halftime. The loss moves Texas A&M to 0-3 against Arkansas. And let's not forget the Aggies lost to LSU in the Cotton Bowl last season.

Welcome to the SEC, fellas.

Meanwhile, in the Big Ten, the much-ballyhooed game between No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 8 Nebraska turned into a major dud once Wilson and Ball got rolling.

Wilson threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in a 48-17 rout, while Ball rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns. Wisconsin trailed 14-7 early in the second quarter after giving up two touchdown drives to Taylor Martinez.

But the Badgers took advantage of two late second-quarter interceptions by Martinez, turning them into 14 points, and the rout was on.

"I knew there was a lot of hype going into this game," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "That's why I kind of challenged our players to embrace it all week. I knew if we went out and played well and did what we do, we'd get a lot more attention."

And in Salt Lake City, Washington dropped Utah to 0-2 in the Pac-12 after a relatively easy 31-14 win. Chris Polk ran for 189 yards, and Keith Price threw three touchdown passes.

But things started terribly for Utah, which fumbled the opening kickoff. Jamaal Kearse returned it 18 yards for a touchdown and four more Utah turnovers followed -- including two in the red zone.

Meanwhile, Utah starting quarterback Jordan Wynn was forced out of the game in the second half with a shoulder injury. His replacement, Jon Hays, threw an interception and fumbled.

It was just that kind of day for the new teams on the block.

Stanford's offense looks complete against UCLA

By Kevin Gemmell
ESPN.com

The Stanford offense put together a complete game for the first time this season, outplaying Stanford's heralded defense in a 45-19 win over UCLA at Stanford Stadium.

The No. 6 Cardinal (4-0, 2-0) totaled 442 yards of offense while extending the nation's longest winning streak to 12 games. Not their highest total of the year. But it was the way they went about swallowing up those yards that was impressive. They looked crisp in the passing game, punishing in the run game and well-oiled moving up and down the field.

Andrew Luck and Stepfan Taylor led the charge for the Cardinal. Luck continued his Heisman campaign with a very efficient 23-of-27 for 227 yards and three touchdowns. For the second straight game, Taylor looked sensational behind a strong game from the offensive line. He rushed for 112 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"We talk all the time about efficiency," said head coach David Shaw. "When Bill Walsh put the West Coast offense together, we talked about being efficient, gaining ground every single play. Our honorary captain, Condoleezza Rice, talked about acquiring real estate, just chewing up real estate play after play, and our guys did that."

The offense was creative, per usual: reverse wide-receiver passes to quarterbacks, Wildcat formations, end arounds. But the Cardinal were at their best when they were pounding away at the UCLA defense.

"Our coaches challenge us intellectually, as they do the defense," said Luck. "Here's the scheme, here's how we're attacking this week and it's up to you to go execute. All of the guys will attest to it. We want to make it challenging on ourselves because we know that's going to play to our advantage. I think that's part of why a lot of guys come to Stanford -- to be challenged athletically and academically, and it's fun to be in that offense."

To read the rest of Kevin Gemmell's blog, click here.

Clemson the team to beat in ACC

By Heather Dinich
ESPN.com

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- This is not normal for Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech has owned this conference since joining it, winning four ACC titles and four Coastal Division crowns. Entering Saturday's game against Clemson, the Hokies had won 12 straight ACC games -- including last year's ACC championship -- and 14 straight regular-season games.

Those streaks came to a halt as quickly as the Hokies' offense on Saturday night in a 23-3 loss to Clemson.

That's right, Clemson.

This is not normal for Clemson.

The Tigers are known for their inconsistency, their letdowns. Clemson had not defeated Virginia Tech since 1989. It had lost five straight games to Virginia Tech.

On Saturday, Clemson started a new streak. The Tigers became the first ACC team to defeat three straight ranked opponents. With the upset of the Hokies, there was a monumental shift of power in the ACC. Fleeting? We'll see. Georgia Tech might have something to say about that. But Virginia Tech's offense looked inept. Clemson's offense looked efficient. Virginia Tech's defense looked good. Clemson's defense looked great. Virginia Tech looked like a team playing its first ranked competition. Clemson looked like a championship-caliber team.

The ACC race is just beginning -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer will be the first to tell you that -- but in a game that has revealed the most about the defending ACC champs, Clemson looked like the team to beat this year.

To read the rest of Heather Dinich's story, click here.

Sooners look ahead to Texas after rout

By Jake Trotter
SoonerNation

NORMAN, Okla. -- All week, Tony Jefferson and the Oklahoma defense were focused on rebounding from a subpar showing against Missouri.

By the third quarter, such focus began to shift. Enough of Ball State. Bring on Texas.

"I started thinking, 'All right, now it's time to move on,'" he admitted. "'We're up big. We got a big game next week.'"

With the Red River Rivalry on deck, Texas might have made a statement, dispatching Iowa State 37-14 in Ames to improve to 4-0.

But the second-ranked Sooners countered with their own statement, blasting Ball State 62-6 at Owen Field and setting up the first OU-Texas battle of unbeatens since 2008.

"We definitely knew we needed to do that," Jefferson said. "It was a big confidence builder for our defense. If we hadn't done that, it wouldn't have been a good situation going into Texas."

To read the rest of Jake Trotter's story, click here.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?