Originally Published: September 16, 2012

It's early, but the Crimson Tide look unbeatable

By Edward Aschoff
ESPN.com

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- It was just another Saturday for Alabama football.

Even with the Crimson Tide not exactly playing their best ball, Alabama sent Arkansas fans piling onto Dickson Street before halftime even began in a 52-0 rout of the Razorbacks.

Sure, Arkansas was banged up and played without quarterback Tyler Wilson, who was out with a head injury. But this was a possible national title contender entering the season, and the Crimson Tide dominated every aspect of Saturday's shellacking inside Razorback Stadium.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has spent the past two weeks preaching to the media about respecting Alabama's opponents, but even his team failed to do that on the field Saturday. Alabama displayed about as much flash as an unlit match yet handled Arkansas without a problem.

"What we've really been fighting with this group about ever since the Michigan game is allowing ourselves to accept average and getting them to demand more of themselves," Saban said. "I think that we started to gain a little bit today."

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Nelson Chenault/US PresswireNick Saban's Crimson Tide made it look easy against Arkansas.

This was a game that Alabama could have rolled into with a disinterested attitude. Arkansas was down and counted out. It was wet and cold and felt more like a day for reading than hitting.

But Saban's team came out ready and showed tremendous confidence, maybe because it knew that without having to face Wilson, things wouldn't be as difficult.

"Tyler Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and the whole program is built around the guy, the whole team is built around the guy," Saban said.

Translation: Without Wilson, Alabama knew it could create more havoc for the Hogs to deal with.

And it did … again and again.

Even with a former Heisman candidate in running back Knile Davis in the backfield, the Razorbacks didn't cross the century mark in offensive yards until the fourth quarter, and that was when Alabama's backups' backups were on the field. You can say what you want about how good -- or bad -- Arkansas is, but Alabama just re-established that it is the undoubtedly the best team in the country.

It seemed that way after Alabama dismantled Michigan to open the season. Last week's 35-0 win over Western Kentucky reinforced that feeling. Now voters shouldn't hesitate to put a first-place vote next to the Crimson Tide.

Not doing so would be a crime.

Alabama made things look easier than they should have been and proved that even when it isn't completely playing to its potential, it's still probably better than everyone else.

So can anyone beat Alabama? Is anyone close to being on the Tide's level?

Right now it doesn't seem like it, and Saban had better get used to even more praise being chucked at his team because the gap between the Tide and the rest of the country is growing each week.

Big Ten falls out of BCS race -- again

By Brian Bennett
ESPN.com

Just like last season, the Big Ten's hopes of ending its BCS title drought ended in Spartan Stadium.

But unlike 2011, when Wisconsin lost on a Hail Mary in East Lansing, the league's virtual elimination contained little drama this time around. Just a Michigan State team that had no prayer of moving the ball against Notre Dame.

At least the Badgers made it to late October last year before losing. In 2012, the Big Ten was choked out by Week 3.

We offer sincere apologies to Northwestern and Minnesota, which remain unbeaten, if unloved nationally. And probation-saddled Ohio State is technically eligible to finish No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. But realistically, this conference is already out of legitimate contenders to raise the BCS crystal ball, something no league team has done since the Buckeyes beat Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.

One by one, the Big Ten contenders have fallen early this season, beginning with Michigan in Week 1 and followed by Nebraska and Wisconsin in Week 2. Michigan State represented the league's last, best chance, and the Spartans' outstanding defense was supposed to help carry them the Big Ten banner. That banner is now in tatters after Notre Dame exposed Michigan State's lack of a passing game and offensive line flaws in a 20-3 Irish road win.

So it's already back to the sideline for the national title hunt for the Big Ten. The conference will turn its focus for the remaining two-plus months on what should be a wild, wide-open race for the Rose Bowl. Good thing Pasadena is so nice on New Year's Day, because that has become the ceiling for the league. Unless Northwestern and Minnesota are a whole lot better than anyone realizes.

Ash impressive again as Longhorns roll

By David Ubben
ESPN.com

David Ash completed just 57 percent of his passes as a wide-eyed true freshman in 2011. He compounded his problems by outweighing his four touchdowns with eight interceptions.

This was Garrett Gilbert's team through all the offseason leading up to 2011. Ash was the true freshman who was better than expected but not good enough to get more than four snaps in Texas' spring game last season.

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Spruce Derden/US PresswireTexas QB David Ash has found his comfort zone so far in 2012.

By the end of 2011, it was clear that Texas was Ash's team, but he looked wholly unprepared to shoulder the load and lead the way. And now? After what Ash did to Ole Miss? The stat sheet tells you pretty much everything you need to know.

Ash is one of just three Big 12 quarterbacks (Heisman front-runner Geno Smith and TCU's Casey Pachall) without an interception, and he's been good enough to add seven touchdown passes, including four in Texas' 66-31 rout of Ole Miss.

He's also completing 76 percent of his passes this time around, including 83 percent on Saturday night. His 326 yards were the second consecutive game in which Ash set a career high for passing yardage, too.

Scoff at the opponents (Ole Miss and New Mexico won a combined three games in 2011), but Ash has Texas looking more and more like it's ready to return to a spot among the nation's elite. He doesn't need to complete 76 percent of his passes every night. He can throw a pick or two. But he's been good, and far better than he needs to be for Texas to improve on its eight-win season a year ago. For now, as long as Ash is stringing together completions (he hit on 15 consecutive passes on Saturday), defenses will soften up for a powerful running game with a revolving door of backs who will always have fresh legs.

When that happens, a defense that's led the Big 12 in total defense four years running gets more leeway it doesn't necessarily need.

Add that all up, and you get a scary proposition for the rest of the Big 12: Texas beginning to put together the pieces that comprise a return to a college football juggernaut.

Welcome to the ACC: Panthers surprise Hokies

By Heather Dinich
ESPN.com

No. 2 USC's loss to No. 21 Stanford was huge. No. 10 Michigan State's loss to No. 20 Notre Dame was a definite upset. Western Kentucky won an overtime thriller. And Arkansas was absolutely humiliated by top-ranked Alabama.

But Virginia Tech's loss to Pitt was arguably the biggest surprise of the day.

The Hokies were supposed to be the No. 13 team in the country with a first-round NFL draft pick at quarterback (you know, with Logan Thomas as the next Cam Newton). Pitt was supposed to be a team in transition under coach Paul Chryst, a team that lost at home to FCS school Youngstown State, then was embarrassed on the road in a loss to Cincinnati. ACC fans were ready to pool their money together for the $50 million ACC buyout fee to keep the Panthers out of the league before they even joined.

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Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesThe Hokies and QB Logan Thomas struggled to hold on to the ball against Pitt.

On Saturday, though, Pitt looked ready to win the Coastal Division -- not just join it.

The Panthers' win wasn't only shocking, it was inexplicable. Bud Foster's defense, which was billed as one of the best in the ACC, allowed a 100-yard rusher (Rushel Shell) and a 100-yard receiver (Mike Shanahan), not to mention 537 total yards. The Hokies' defensive line was outplayed by a pedestrian Pitt offensive line.

Virginia Tech had four turnovers on its first six possessions -- including three interceptions by Thomas -- against a defense that had yet to get a takeaway until Saturday. Thomas completed just 14 of 31 pass attempts, Virginia Tech was held to 59 rushing yards, and the Hokies struck out on both fourth-down attempts.

Neither Virginia Tech nor Pitt resembled anything near what we saw from either team in the first two weeks.

Virginia Tech saw the nation's longest true-road-game winning streak snapped at 13. With the loss, the Hokies have lost at least once in the first five games of the season for the seventh straight season.

History says it shouldn't have been a surprise. The past two weeks say otherwise.

Gators are only going to get better

By Travis Haney
ESPN Insider

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Florida was 3-0 in 2011. Florida is 3-0 in 2012.

Will Muschamp contends that those are different records, though.

"Better teams," the Florida Gators' second-year coach said.

And a better team at UF?

Each point is difficult to debate, at least through Week 3. Forget the slop against Bowling Green and consider that a Florida team that's still trying to fully understand itself -- head coach included -- went to College Station and Knoxville in consecutive weeks, both the sites of ESPN's "College GameDay" program, and won.

Each time, it overcame emotionally charged environments in which statements were trying to be made.

Each time, the team's second-half efforts were almost mystical. What was it doing with those precious 20 minutes, exactly? Who knows? Regardless, the coaches are adjusting and, well, coaching. And the players are emerging more confident, more competent with the plan. The Gators already have made some great strides, and they have plenty of room to improve. They were one of the teams getting better in Week 3 while others were trending down.

To read the rest of Travis Haney's story, click here Insider.

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