A Saturday to forget in Big Ten
The Big Ten didn't wait until New Year's Day to endure its national flogging. The league assumed the position in Week 2.
If Jan. 1, 2011, was the worst on-field date in league history -- Big Ten teams went 0-5 in bowls, including a Wisconsin loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl -- Saturday came pretty close to the worst regular-season date on record.
It began with Penn State missing field goals in Virginia and ended with a short-handed Illinois team getting toasted in the desert. In between, the reigning Big Ten champion, Wisconsin, came less than two minutes away from being shut out by a seemingly benign Oregon State squad. A Bo Pelini-coached Nebraska squad couldn't stop UCLA, while Iowa couldn't score a touchdown on its home field against Iowa State.
After an unimpressive but not completely disastrous Week 1 performance -- the Big Ten went 10-2 and split its showcase games against Alabama and Boise State -- it wasn't front and center on the national radar entering Saturday. But an unusual slate of contests -- seven true road games, including three in Pac-12 territory, where the league has struggled mightily the past two decades -- created the potential for extremes. As has been the case all too often in recent seasons, the Big Ten ended up with an extreme embarrassment, going 6-6.
The league went 1-6 against teams from major conferences plus Notre Dame, as Northwestern's come-from-behind win against SEC member Vanderbilt marked the lone bright spot. The next most "impressive" wins came against the likes of UCF (Ohio State) and Air Force (Michigan).
"I'm sorry to hear that for our brothers in the league," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We're focused on what we need to do. We're not a good enough football team right now to, I guess, put the league on our shoulders or anything like that."
Michigan State might be, and the Spartans are clearly carrying the tattered flag of the Big Ten after the first two weeks. But Michigan State is the only Big Ten squad worthy of sniffing the nation's top 10.
Saturday's most stunning and stinging performance came from Wisconsin, which has represented the Big Ten in the past two Rose Bowls. A Badgers team that set offensive records the past two seasons failed to score for 58:29 against an Oregon State team it shut out 35-0 a season earlier. Wisconsin had just 79 total yards entering the fourth quarter, and star running back Montee Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011, was a nonfactor.
"I'm not in this profession to lose football games," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. "Any loss absolutely disturbs me to no end."
Bielema had company Saturday.
Kirk Ferentz has now watched Iowa's offense, under the direction of new coordinator Greg Davis, score a grand total of one touchdown in the first two games. Pelini, considered a virtuoso of defense, saw Nebraska surrender 36 points (24 in the first half) and 653 yards to the Bruins.
"I'm embarrassed by how we played today," Pelini said. "We didn't play well in any phase of the game. We were inconsistent, our fundamentals were lousy, and that leads to bad things happening."
Bad things happened around the Big Ten on Saturday, and with few remaining opportunities against major-conference foes, the league must wait until bowl season to begin repairing its dreadful national rep. More specifically, the Big Ten's chance for redemption arrives New Year's Day.
Pac-12 flexes its muscles with huge wins
If you're desperate for a pun, you could say the Pac-12's showing in its three games against the Big Ten was, well B1G. But that doesn't quite do it. Huge, would be more appropriate. It was huge for the teams that needed those wins to validate their legitimacy and huge for the national perception of the Pac-12.
In the three head-to-head matchups between the Rose Bowl compatriots, the Pac-12 swept the day, with Oregon State knocking off No. 13 Wisconsin 10-7, UCLA upending No. 16 Nebraska 36-30 and Arizona State pummeling Illinois 45-14.
And if you'd like a cherry for your Pac-attack sundae, the Left Coasters went 6-1 against fellow BCS opponents, with Arizona thumping No. 18 Oklahoma State, USC topping Syracuse and Stanford blasting Duke.
To be fair, Week 2 wasn't all peaches and cream for the Pac-12. Washington was embarrassed by No. 3 LSU, Utah fell to Utah State for the first time since 1997 on Friday and Colorado lost to the FCS's Sacramento State.
But back to the Pac-12-Big Ten matchups for a moment. In those three games, the Pac-12 showed its diversity as a conference, winning with defense (Oregon State), offense (Arizona State) and a little something in between (UCLA).
UCLA and Oregon State are two programs that desperately need good things to happen. Both sit in the shadows of their highly ranked big brothers and both stole the spotlight in Week 2.
Entering Week 2 action, the Pac-12 was seen as a two-team league with USC and Oregon lumped in with Alabama and LSU as the top four teams in the country. And that's still correct.
But it also showed this weekend that its depth is vastly underrated with three unranked teams knocking off three ranked teams from BCS conferences. Stanford recovered from a poor showing against San Jose State to beat a Duke team that many feel will reach the postseason this year. Arizona and Arizona State have taken to their new coaches and new systems with impressive haste. The jury is still out on Cal and Washington -- a pair of teams thought to make some noise in the North Division. We do know that Washington is not ready for the big time.
Cal, which muddled its way through a 50-31 win over FCS squad Southern Utah for its first win of the season, could go a long way toward increasing the Pac-12's national reputation when it travels to Ohio State next week. Or the Big Ten could win back a little bit of its dignity.
Few will debate that the SEC still sits atop the college football conference hierarchy. But the Pac-12 clearly stated its case for No. 2. And it was convincing.
Expect wild race in SEC East
No coach or player would dare make a prediction about a divisional race based purely on the first two weeks of the season.
Too much can happen.
But here's something to ponder when trying to size up the SEC's Eastern Division race: This thing could end up taking all sorts of twists and turns.
Georgia is still the favorite after pulling away from Missouri on the road for a 41-20 victory Saturday. Keep in mind that the Bulldogs won without four defensive starters, and they also have the easiest schedule the rest of the way. They don't have to play Alabama, Arkansas or LSU from the West this season.
That said, Georgia has to play at South Carolina, which routed East Carolina on Saturday with quarterback Connor Shaw resting his right (throwing) shoulder and watching from the bench. Backup Dylan Thompson filled in nicely with 330 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Florida made one big statement on the road Saturday by clamping down on Texas A&M in the second half and rallying for a 20-17 victory. The Gators get a chance to make a second straight statement on the road next weekend, when they travel to Tennessee.
The Vols also have their sights set on making a run in the East. This is their best team under Derek Dooley, and their passing game is one of the best in the league.
And even though Missouri couldn't hold serve Saturday at home against Georgia, the Tigers will still have something to say about how it all shakes out in the East.
It's premature to think that the winner will have three losses, similar to 2010, when the Gamecocks made it to Atlanta with a 5-3 mark, but it's also hard to see anybody coming out of the East unscathed.
"We know every week is going to be tough. That's just the way it is in this conference," Florida linebacker Jon Bostic said. "You've got to find different ways to win and move on to the next week."
McGee catches on in Virginia's win
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said he can still remember the day Jake McGee approached him about switching from quarterback to tight end. It was only about two practices into McGee's collegiate career when he told the staff "he would rather be the next Heath Miller."
It's a good thing for UVa the staff was willing to let him try.
McGee had a career-high 99 receiving yards and one touchdown in Virginia's 17-16 win over Penn State on Saturday. His 44-yard catch in the fourth quarter was a career-long reception, and it extended Virginia's final scoring drive.
"McGee has come a long way. He's worked very hard at it," Lazor said. "He's a very talented guy. He makes those catches all the time in practice. We know now we can count on him."
McGee's breakout game came one week after a career-high 23 receiving yards in Virginia's Week 1 win over Richmond. His touchdown against Penn State on Saturday was the first of his career.
"I was fired up and trying to get some more points on the board," McGee said. "[Quarterback Michael] Rocco scrambled out of the pocket, he put it up, and I somehow came down with it. I don't know how I came down with it, but it stuck."
So did UVa's lead, as Penn State missed its fourth and final field goal opportunity as time expired. McGee's 44-yard catch in the fourth quarter came on a third-and-16, and it came in double coverage. It wasn't his first clutch grab of the season.
"I'll tell you, you saw last week the one-handed catch he made, and that catch down the middle of the field," Virginia coach Mike London said. "If he doesn't make that, the game's probably over. Jake has made those types of catches in practice. He's another type of guy that we've got to get the ball to and find ways to do that. I'm very, very proud of Jake for being a selfless player, and when he's called upon, a lot of times he delivers."
On Saturday, he delivered a touchdown when Virginia needed it most.
Trojans have the answers for Orange
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It was going to be difficult enough for the Syracuse Orange.
But the Orange, for whatever reason, decided here Saturday to make the task even more difficult. USC players and coaches said the Syracuse defensive backs specifically called out the talented receivers during pregame warm-ups, taunting Lee and Woods with profanity and vulgarity.
Uh, bad idea.
"We heard that and said, 'Oh, that's how it's going to be?'" one Trojan said. "We wanted to come in here and have a nice game, but, oh, OK."
That's about how the game, a 42-29 Trojans win, played out. USC had a rather uneven performance, something you might expect inside a giant, quarter-filled NFL stadium for a West Coast team playing an East Coast nonconference game. (Not to mention severe weather that delayed the start of the second half for about an hour.) But the ability of Lee and Woods to lead the Trojans' offense out of a lull, and how Lane Kiffin uses them to enhance the run game, stood out among the things I learned in Week 2.
To read the rest of Travis Haney's story, click here .
Three weekend observations
1. Quarterbacks such as USC's Matt Barkley and West Virginia's Geno Smith are the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy, but the best player in the country might be Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones. Jones, a junior from Columbus, Ga., might have saved the No. 7 Bulldogs' season with his defensive effort in Saturday night's 41-20 victory at Missouri. The USC transfer had nine tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and an interception return to the Tigers' 1-yard line, with most of his damage coming in the fourth quarter. Thanks to Jones, Georgia survived its first big road trip and slowed down Missouri's fast-paced offense without four defensive starters.
2. Don't look now, but they're actually playing good football in the Arizona desert. Arizona and Arizona State, which are under first-year coaches, are a combined 4-0 and are coming off impressive victories on Saturday night. The Sun Devils defeated Illinois 45-14 in Tempe, Ariz., and coach Todd Graham's defense has already forced six turnovers in its first two games. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are already scoring a ton of points under new coach Rich Rodriguez, blasting No. 18 Oklahoma State 59-38 in Tucson, Ariz. Predictably, the Wildcats are averaging more than 550 yards of offense per game, but they're also allowing nearly 500 yards per game on defense, a stat that will be all-too-familiar for Michigan fans.
3. Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees might have moped or complained after losing the starting job to Everett Golson. But Rees delivered when Notre Dame needed him most on Saturday, as he came off the bench to direct the Irish on a last-minute drive that ended with Kyle Brindza's 27-yard field goal with seven seconds left in a 20-17 victory over Purdue. Golson, who was dinged up at the end of the game, is still Notre Dame's best option at quarterback. He's an efficient passer and takes care of the football. After turning the ball over 10 times in their first two games in 2011, the Irish have only two turnovers and are plus-four in turnover margin in 2012.
GameDay crew final thoughts
The biggest thing to me were the huge wins by some previously downtrodden Pac-12 teams, particularly Arizona, Oregon State and UCLA, who all beat good teams. I thought it really spoke volumes for the direction of the new coaches at Arizona and UCLA. And for Mike Riley, who is one of the more underappreciated coaches nationwide in college football, to get that huge win over a Wisconsin team that has been elite nationally for the past couple of years, that really was a signature win for the season and one the team can build on.
I thought the most impressive performance among the three was the explosive nature of Arizona. Oklahoma State thought that it was going to be much better on defense this year, but Matt Scott and Arizona cut the Cowboys to pieces.
I think now you're looking at a situation where you can have a pretty wild Pac-12 race. Clearly USC and Oregon are a cut above, and if those teams play their best, they'll win all of their conference games -- save for the games against each other. But these other teams have proved to be good enough and dangerous enough that given the right set of circumstances, they can turn things upside down. I think it showed how much depth the Pac-12 is developing and putting itself in position to challenge the SEC -- if you like to keep up with conference strength.
Helmet stickers go to:
• QB Kolton Browning, UL-Monroe
412 passing yards, three TDs, 69 rushing yards, one TD in win at Arkansas
• Oregon State's defense
Allowed 7 points in win versus Wisconsin
I was surprised that both Arizona schools won and won so decisively. To see the improvement that some of the first-year coaches have made -- look at Rich Rodriguez, look at Todd Graham, and you have to look at what Jim Mora has done at UCLA. It just changes everything.
I was disappointed in the Big Ten. I feel sorry for kicker Sam Ficken and Penn State. That's two weeks they've come close to a victory, and I know how disheartening that can be.
But once again, you never know what's going to happen. I can hardly wait for next week because we'll be here again saying, "I didn't expect that!"
Helmet stickers go to:
• QB B.J. Daniels, South Florida
363 passing yards, three TDs, 53 rushing yards in win at Nevada
• QB Collin Klein, Kansas State
210 passing yards, one TD, 71 rushing yards, 3 TDs in win versus Miami
It was a huge upset by Louisiana-Monroe over Arkansas. But the bottom line is the Razorbacks should've been protecting their quarterback, Tyler Wilson, and they just didn't get it done. You've got to leave that one up to the coaching staff and you've got to have your backup quarterback ready to play, and he wasn't. There's no reason that with all the talent Arkansas has, it shouldn't have won that football game. Tip your hat to Louisiana-Monroe for coming back, playing hard, executing and winning the game.
In the other big games this week, Alabama did what it was supposed to do; so did USC and Oregon. Nothing there really changed. West Virginia was idle, and LSU just pounded Washington, and that was something I expected.
The Big Ten was absolutely atrocious in nonconference games. It was an embarrassment to the entire conference because you're supposed to be one of the major conferences, but to have five of its teams go on the road and lose? Wisconsin lost, Nebraska lost, Penn State lost, Purdue lost, Illinois lost, Iowa lost. These are supposed to be some of the bell-cow programs in the conference, but all of them lost -- some of them on the road and most of them as favorites. It was a complete embarrassment for the conference.
Helmet stickers go to:
• RB Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
217 rushing yards, 59 receiving yards, one TD in win versus Nebraska
• Savannah State players
Played against ranked Oklahoma State and Florida State in first two games
Blog Network: What we learned
Watch out for Wake. If there is one thing folks in the ACC have come to realize, it is that coach Jim Grobe continually does more with less.
Kansas State is back, and better than ever in coach Bill Snyder's second go-around. Its performance against Miami was the day's biggest shocker.
Syracuse is the best 0-2 team in the nation. I give the Orange major credit for taking USC to the limit.
With all due respect to Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota, the Big Ten is down to one legitimate remaining BCS title contender after just two weeks.
On a weekend when the old Pac-10 played well, the league's newest members laid eggs. The honeymoon is over. A few teams need to pull their weight.
Arkansas' defense isn't ready for prime time. It was pushed around by Alabama and LSU in 2011, and was pushed around Saturday by a program that had never beaten a ranked team.
The QB position is, um, interesting. Well, that's one way to put it. Brian Kelly says there's no controversy, and that Everett Golson is his starter.
Highlights: Oklahoma State-Arizona
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: Spencer Benton; Spiffy Evans; Steve Greer
More ACC stickers
• Big 12: Collin Klein; Seth Doege; Jake Knott
More Big 12 stickers
• Big East: Teddy Bridgewater; B.J. Daniels; Munchie Legaux
More Big East stickers
• Big Ten: Braxton Miller; MarQueis Gray; Denard Robinson
More Big Ten stickers
Chris Coyle; Ed Reynolds; Andrew Furney
More Pac-12 stickers
• SEC: Justin Hunter; Maxwell Smith; Dylan Thompson
More SEC stickers
• Notre Dame: Everett Golson; Tommy Rees; Tyler Eifert
More ND stickers