Eric Folk's FG lifted Washington to a shocking 16-13 win over #3 USC.

Eric Folk's FG lifted Washington to a shocking 16-13 win over #3 USC.

Today we got a good look at why Pete Carroll is using Matt Barkley as his starting QB as the Aaron Corp-led USC Trojans were wiped out in Seattle by an overachieving Washington Huskies team, coached by none other than former Carroll assistant Steve Sarkisian, who engineered the right defense to stop USC’s offensive juggernaut.

UW is a year removed from one of the ugliest seasons in school history, a 1-11 campaign that they needed an ugly win in the Apple Cup against winless Washington State to avoid the big 0 in the wins column.  Now all of that has become nothing more than a painful memory as they join the list of unlikely Pac-10 schools to trip up USC, joining Oregon State from last year, and Stanford from two years ago.

For USC, this might not necessarily mean the end of their national title hopes, but it’s certainly an unexpected and devastating blow for a team that was coming off yet another big victory in Columbus over Ohio State.  Now they are almost forced to bring Barkley back as soon as possible and bring some confidence to an offense that was simply outplayed by the Washington defense, making 3 bad turnovers that allowed the Huskies to hang around and pull the upset.

Looking back eastward, it may not have been the predicted beatdown that was expected, but it can’t be argued the the top-ranked Florida Gators handled Tennessee with relative ease.  In a game that was a lot more a case of grit than glits and glamour, It was the Florida defense that played the biggest role, showing the limited ability of the Tennessee receivers to get open downfield and making very difficult on Vols QB Johnathan Crompton all day, who finished an almost unnoticable 11/19 for 93 yards and 2 INTs. 

The big story that came out of this one though might be Tim Tebow’s final numbers, or rather the lack thereof.  The Heisman hopeful looked rather pedestrian and even a little confused by the defensive schemes shown by Tennessee.  Add in the two turnovers that he had, which led to 10 of Tennessee’s 13 points and Tebow’s Heisman chances just declined a little bit.

Speaking of Heisman, Jahvid Best is giving his best effort to get himself into

Jahvid Best was at his Best against Minnesota (Sorry for the pun.)

Jahvid Best was at his Best against Minnesota (Sorry for the pun.)

 the conversation with an unbelievable 5 TD performance at Minnesota to stop the Golden Gohpers 35-21.  From what I saw from Cal and USC today, I would be circling October 3rd on the calendar as their head-to-head matchup might determine the Pac-10 champion this year.

Also of note would have to be the death of several non-BCS conference teams’ hopes of an undefeated season this year, with Utah suffering a 31-24 loss in The Autzen Zoo to the Oregon Ducks, who look like they’ve finally gotten it back together after the Boise State debacle, and BYU currently getting waxed by the Florida State Seminoles 44-21 in Provo, it looks like it’s going to be up to Boise State once again to carry the torch for the unlikelies to reach a BCS bowl this year.  Considering the Broncos remaining schedule, though, it really wouldn’t surprise me to see them undefeated and going into another big bowl game, and this time you’ll be certain not to underestimate them.

In another thrilling finish, the Virginia Tech Hokies escaped losing twice at home in a ranked foe, scraping past Nebraska 16-15, in a game that will be mostly remembered for its offensive ineptitude than anything else.  Nebraska once again failed to get into the end zone in a big game, limited to five field goals despite controlling most of possession throughout this battle.  On the other side, Va. Tech took an eternity to get their offense going yet again, with Tyrod Taylor looking both uncomfortable in the pocket as well as afraid to throw a bad pass, at times.  This led to the Hokies having a laughable offensive output of 278 yards, 91 of which came on the game-winning drive and 80 of which came on one play in the final drive.  Yet, as they’ve been asked to do time and again, the Tech defense went above and beyond expectations in keeping the Nebraska offense at bay, although they did get a good bit of help in the 4th quarter, when a Nebraska drive got down to the Va. Tech 6-yard line, only to have the Cornhuskers commit 30 yards worth of penalties to force an unlikely punt.  At the end of the day though, it sets up another battle for the Hokies, who now prepare to take on a resurgent Miami team next Saturday in a battle for ACC supremacy.

Cupcakes of the Week: Once again, the Capital region gets the dubious honor of having two of the biggest underachieving programs in the nation, in

Wazzus best player ever was this guy. It explains a LOT about why they stink.

Wazzu's best player ever was this guy. It explains a LOT about why they stink.

 Maryland and Virginia, both of which ended up on the wrong side of games put on the schedule that were supposed to be easy wins.  The Terps proved to be as soft as the Pillsbury doughboy as they folded 32-31 at home against Middle Tennessee State, while the Cavaliers lost 37-34 at home to Southern Miss.  The Golden Eagles are usually one of Conference USA’s better teams, but that’s just it, they’re in Conference USA, which might be the second weakest conference ahead of the Sun Belt.  I give out one more dubious honor to the Washington State Cougars, who yet again found a way to lose, this time in overtime to SMU, who hasn’t been good since the late ’80s when they were the top of the Southwest Conference, only to have the program receive the death penalty from the NCAA due to serious violations.  Somewhere out there tonight, Drew Bledsoe is watching the highlights of his alma mater and thinking “Man, I played better than this when I was with the Bills!”

QB Case Keenum is the King of Houston as he led the Cougars to a huge upset of #5 Oklahoma State

QB Case Keenum is the King of Houston as he led the Cougars to a huge upset of #5 Oklahoma State

Once again, college football fans have no reason to be unhappy with the way things went on a busy Saturday on the gridiron.  For those of you who might have missed some of what happened, here’s some brief recaps on some of the Top 25 action, as well as some games of note from outside the rankings:

No need to really talk about #1 Florida or #2 Texas as they ripped right on through their cupcake opponents in Troy and Wyoming, respectively, so let’s go right into the game of the week, where #3 USC escaped Ohio Stadium and the eighth-ranked Buckeyes 18-15.  This was a game that most people

He was held to 60 yards, but Joe McKnight was the key to USCs game-winning drive in Columbus

He was held to 60 yards, but Joe McKnight was the key to USC's game-winning drive in Columbus

expected USC to run away with based off of Ohio State’s performance last week at home against Navy, but give credit to the Buckeye’s defense, which did a great job of containing star RB Joe McKnight until the final drive of the game for the Trojans, where McKnight made several key runs to lift USC to the win.  The QB matchup was certainly the big draw to this game, but both Matt Barkley (who’s a freshman in case you hadn’t heard that enough yet) and Terrelle Pryor failed to deliver fireworks as neither threw a TD pass and they both had 1 INT a piece in a game that was far more defensive than anticipated.  That being said, the Trojans maintain their dominance over Big 11 foes.

Again we skip #4 Alabama’s waxing of FIU and get right into our upset of the week as the Houston Cougars stung the soon-to-be former #5 Oklahoma

This might have been Houstons biggest win since Ware flopped with the Lions

This might have been Houston's biggest win since Ware flopped with the Lions

State Cowboys 45-35.  After building a surprising 24-7 halftime lead in Stillwater, Houston was outscored 21-0 in the 3rd quarter and the dream seemed dead for a team most remembered for producing Andre Ware in 1991 from their “Fun ‘n Gun” offense.  However, the Cougs came rallying back on their old Southwest Conference opponent, scoring 21 points in the 4th quarter in a furious rally to pull the upset.  The state of Oklahoma might just have to wait until next year for the National Champs to come from their backyards.

Continuing on down the list, no major surprises or scares for Penn State, BYU, Cal, LSU, Boise State, Oklahoma, Va. Tech, or TCU, as they all had relatively easy days handling their FBS or FCS opposition.  This allows us to

Tate Forcier is quickly bringing pride back to the Blue and Maize

Tate Forcier is quickly bringing pride back to the Blue and Maize

 look right at what was almost the game of the week, as Michigan, in spite of all the turmoil within its program, manages to pull out a last second victory over the #18 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  The story of this game is Tate Forcier, who seems to be the man Rich Rodriguez has been searching for to run his spread offense, as Forcier threw for 240 and two TDs and also ran the ball 13 times for 70 yards and a score.  For Notre Dame, Jimmy Clausen was very good, throwing for 336 yards and 3 TDs, but in the end it was not enough.  Expect a flip-flop between these two teams being in and out of the Top 25 on Monday.

The game that might have raised the most eyebrows this week had to have been UNC’s 12-10 escape of lowly UConn.  It wasn’t even that UConn stepped up, it was just that UNC looked that bad.  The #19 Tar Heels never found any offensive rhythm and needed 12 fourth quarter points, the final 2 coming on a safety on a penalty in the end zone, to get out of Hartford with a W.  It calls into question the overall quality of the ACC as a whole.  Several teams have looked very soft in the early going, and it might point to a tough year in the bowls for the conference.

The last game in the Top 25 of note this week was #21 Georgia holding off a huge late rally by South Carolina to defend their turf, 41-37.  Holding a 38-26 lead in the 3rd quarter, the Bulldogs allowed the Gamecocks to score 11 straight points and creep back to within one at 38-37.  However, Georgia’s block of what would have been the game-tying PAT was just enough to secure the victory Between the Hedges.

Outside of the Top 25, there were three games that really caught my attention.  First was Tennessee’s 19-15 loss to UCLA at home.  Didn’t Lane Kiffin say something about beating Florida this year?  I know it’s just one game but UCLA is not the class of the Pac-10.  I wonder if Kiffin is wanting to take some of the things he said back yet.

Last, but certainly not least, my Cupcakes of the Week Award goes to both the University of Maryland, who narrowly escaped their home opener with a thrilling 38-35 victory over James Madison, and also to the Ball State Cardinals, who went from possible BCS busters last season to losing 23-16 at home to New Hampshire.  Listen, I understand that rebuilding years will happen and that sometimes the team just doesn’t show up for games against lesser opponents, but if you’re bigger budget, higher profile school is getting beaten by teams filled with your recruiting leftovers, then something is very wrong with what you as a college football program are doing.  It’ll be very interesting to see how the Terps play in the very mediocre ACC this year.

So there it is, another long Saturday in the books for football fans, but not to worry, for the NFL season is upon us!  Check back tomorrow night/Monday morning for a recap from Sunday’s games and a preview of the Monday Night games.

Game of the Week: LSU at Auburn

By: Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

 

     vs    

TV: ESPN, 7:45 PM ET

Last Week: Auburn defeated Mississippi State; LSU beat North Texas

     This week marks a change in the nature of this blog. For the past columns, I have examined non-conference match ups as “games of the week.” This week’s column will look at a conference game, LSU at Auburn. Because many of the more intriguing non-conference games have been played, the trend will likely continue. (Note: You might also see more columns concerning SEC games because a). There are currently 5 top 10 teams in the SEC and b). I have more inherent knowledge of the SEC than any other conference. Of course, I will try to shake things up and look at some other conferences if there are marquee games, but don’t be shocked if you see another SEC preview next week…)

     Anyway, LSU-Auburn intrigues me (and hopefully other college football fans) on several different levels. Obviously, the fact that this is a top 10 match up makes it worthy of this column. As well, this game has been quite fascinating historically. For instance, in 1988, LSU defeated Auburn on a late touchdown, and the eruption from the LSU fans (the game was played in Baton Rouge) was so intense that it literally caused an earthquake. More importantly, this game is huge for divisional implications in the SEC West as both teams were predicted to be and should be the class of the SEC West. The winner of the SEC typically plays role in the national championship picture, and the winner of this game will have a clearer path to become the SEC champion. First, however, a slight review of each team’s path to the game is necessary.

     Both teams opened the season with uncertainty at the quintessential quarterback position. Last May, LSU coach Les Miles dismissed likely starting quarterback and dual-threat player Ryan Perriloux for multiple violations of team rules and “not fulfilling his obligation” as a student-athlete. The Perriloux situation gave way for inexperienced quarterbacks Andrew Hatch (transfer from Harvard) and Jarrett Lee to compete for the starting positions. Both have played this season, with Hatch starting. In Auburn’s case, the major shift with their team occurred largely with the coaching hire of offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, who runs a spread offense. He actually arrived at Auburn a few weeks before the Chick Fil-A Bowl versus Clemson and installed his offense in preparation for the game. Then freshman Kodi Burns, another dual threat quarterback, shared snaps with then senior Brandon Cox and stole the spotlight by scoring the game winning touchdown in overtime. With the win, excitement rushed through the hearts of Auburn fans as the spread offense appeared to be the answer to some of Auburn’s offensive woes. However, the pre-season brought about a quarterback controversy with the emergence of junior college transfer and former Texas-Tech commit, Chris Todd. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville announced that both quarterbacks would play but did not announce who would be the actual starter until right before Auburn’s first game against Louisiana Monroe (Kodi Burns).

     Despite these concerns, critics and coaches both believe that each team merits a top 10 ranking, and perhaps the most important factor contributing to each team’s respective rankings derives from the quality of their defensive units. Auburn ranks first in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 5 points per game, and LSU gives up 8 points per game. Auburn comes in 3rd in total defense, and LSU is 4th (in the SEC). So, based on statistics alone, these teams are pretty good on defense. Now, the statistics are possibly slightly inflated due to the level of competition they have faced, but recent history and actual observation indicate that these teams have pretty good defenses.

     But back to offense. So far this season, Auburn has struggled mightily on offense. Kodi Burns did start the opening game, but Chris Todd usurped the starting position from him (in part because of a slight injury but Burns can still play). Neither QB has accomplished anything noteworthy this season, nor has there been any return on the investment of Tony Franklin’s spread offense. Auburn is ranked 11th in passing offense in the SEC and has thrown for one touchdown and two interceptions. They are a bit better in the running game averaging 204.7 yards per game but have lost six fumbles in three games this season. Their turnover ratio is – 2, and that’s only because their defense has forced 6 turnovers. (To illustrate the imbalance of Auburn’s offense-defense ratio, I have included this clip of their 3-2 win over Mississippi State. You can call it a “lowlight” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDdt3UBAi_Y).

     On the other hand, LSU’s offense has been slightly better. They are tied for the SEC lead in points per game and are 1st in rushing offense. Still, their passing game is a bit suspect. Each of their quarterbacks has thrown one interception, and neither of them has been particularly impressive. In addition, LSU has not truly been faced with a tough test all year. Their two games (North Texas and Appalachian State) were both at home, and LSU must travel to Auburn.

     On special teams, both teams have been adequate, although Auburn has missed a few field goals. There really isn’t much to say here, but one thing I do want to discuss quickly is intangibles. Last year, LSU was behind by one point late in the fourth quarter and could have advanced the ball and called a timeout to attempt the field goal. Instead, in a controversial call, Coach Les Miles decided to try a long pass to the end zone. LSU receiver Demetrius Byrd made a miraculous catch in the end zone, giving LSU the win. So karma theoretically is in Auburn’s favor as they are due for some type of miracle. Recent history is on Auburn’s side as well: the home team has won the past 8 games in the series.

Prediction: If a significant amount of offense occurs in this game, it will be the biggest shock since Pearl Harbor. LSU wins 4-2. LSU gets two safeties; Auburn gets one. (Of course, that was a rather silly prediction; I just wanted to emphasize the defensive ability relative to offensive ability of each team. I would still pick LSU and a score of 10-7 would be more reasonable).

Look Back: Ohio State has been exposed again. I know I picked a fairly close game with USC winning 35-28, but if I had any guts, I would have picked a USC blowout. Hopefully, Ohio State will not end up in the national championship game (sorry Buckeyes fans), even if they run the table for the rest of the year. As for USC, two things will hinder them on a quest to a national championship: a slip up a la Stanford last year or multiple undefeated teams who possibly have a better resume than USC. The second situation is unlikely, but even if it does occur, USC still might end up in the championship game because they are likely to be ranked # 1 in the polls.

 

By: Brennan Marks

SZ Contributing Writer

IMAGES COURTESY OF YAHOOSPORTS.COM

Game of the Week: Ohio State @ USC

By Brennan Marks, SZ Contributing Writer

 

    vs.    

 

TV:  ABC, 8:00 PM ET

Last Week: Ohio State beat Ohio; USC had a bye.  USC defeated Virginia week  1.

It’s finally here. The most anticipated nonconference matchup of the season has arrived. In case you didn’t know (or didn’t read the title), I’m talking about the top 10 matchup between the Buckeyes of Ohio State and the Trojans of USC.

Instead of being a rebel and choosing an avant-garde game of the week, say Kansas at South Florida or UCLA at BYU or any game from a myriad of other intriguing matchups, I have sided with the status quo and will blog about the game everybody else is blogging about.  If you wanted originality, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Basically, here’s the premise.  Ohio State, two time defending national runner-up and epitome of everything that’s wrong with the BCS system, is, once again, in the national championship picture. If they are in the national championship picture at the end of the season, some of the poll voters (depending on the details of the regular season, of course) might boycott Ohio State and promote another contender, which could have an important effect on the BCS poll, which directly affects who plays in the national championship. 

On the other hand, USC sits atop both major polls right now and is currently the “darling” of college football, so-to-speak.  As far as football goes, USC’s strength is their defense.  In their game against Virginia, they gave up one touchdown. Of course, their offense put up 52 points, so I guess I should say they are extremely balanced.  QB Mark Sanchez, a question mark going into the season, passed for 338 yards and three touchdowns in the game versus Virginia. It is necessary to note that one game does not make a season, but many pundits believe that he will be a huge asset and nowhere near a liability.  He does have a running game to help him out, and with playmakers like Joe McKnight and CJ Gable in the backfield, his help is in full supply.

Moving back to Ohio State, they are a traditional Big-10 type team.  By that, I mean the pound the ball down your throat and play extremely defense -oriented football.  They can afford to do that with a playmaker like James Laurinaitis at linebacker.  Still, they have fairly good offensive players as well. The foremost among them is a running back named Chris “Beanie” Wells.   Because of a toe injury, no one knows whether or not he will play or if he does play, how long will he be able to endure the physicality of the game, but whatever his status is, his situation has stolen a lot of the hype for the actual game itself, a game which happens to have critical national implications.

One more interesting tidbit about the game involves Ohio States quarterbacks Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor.  Boeckman is the experienced starter and top-notch quarterback, but he has not performed well in big games, like last year’s national championship game, for instance.  Pryor is the freshmen sensation, top recruit in the nation, dual threat quarterback who everybody (media, fans, and some players) are hyping up as the be-all, end-all and the “chosen by God” quarterback who can’t possibly lose or make any freshmen mistakes.  And even if he does make mistakes, (which won’t happen), his pure talent will cancel them out.  Now, personally, I’m not buying that much hype, but I’m buying a little, and I think he is very talented. Whether he should play or Boeckman should play- I think the course of the game should determine that.

Prediction: Before I give my prediction, I want for all readers to pray that this game will live up to the hype as far as excitement goes, and it won’t be a blowout by either team. Now, personally, I believe USC will win 35-28.  First of all, USC has home field advantage.  Secondly, I think they are a better team. Here’s what will happen after the game: Ohio State will win all of their remaining games; USC will somehow lose to weaker Pac 10 opponents. The two -loss winner of the SEC will dominate Ohio State in the championship game.  Such is the consequence of the BCS. (Note: that wasn’t really a real prediction about the rest of the season, more of an observation.)

Look Back: Last week, the ECU-West Virginia game was the game of the week.  My prediction was horribly wrong, as  ECU destroyed West Virginia. ECU has created a national storyline; if they run the table in Conference USA, which is harder than it probably sound, they should at least play for a BCS Bowl, and depending on the other elite teams, they could play for the national championship. That’s something to keep an eye on.  As for West Virginia, I hope they can regroup and get back into contention for a BCS bowl birth.  I’m not a fan of West Virginia, but I am a big Pat White fan, and I hope he can get back on track.

 

By Brennan Marks

SZ Contributing Writer