My Ten thoughts on this weekend's action, followed by an updated top ten list.
1. #1 Knocked Off Again
Another week, another #1 loses on the road. Surprisingly, poor defense played a large role in Ohio State’s loss in Madison. It’s clear that John Clay’s 100-yard rushing game (the first since Joe McKnight of USC in 2008) was the key to Wisconsin’s success. Not so surprisingly, special teams also proved to be a problem. When Wisconsin ran back the opening kickoff, you knew Ohio State was in trouble. Clay extended the lead to 21-0 with two dominating TD runs before a field goal finally put Ohio State on the board. A big interception and questionable personal foul put the Buckeyes in a position to bring the game close, but poor offensive execution left OSU with a long FG attempt that went wide left. Terrelle Pryor led a furious comeback in the second half, reducing the deficit to a field goal early in the 4th quarter. However, 10 consecutive Badger points and a late Pryor interception sealed Ohio State’s fate.
2. Shootout in the SEC
What happened to the “great SEC defenses” people have been talking about all these years? All I saw were 108 total points in the SEC game of the week. All kidding aside, I said last week that if Auburn were to beat Arkansas, they would see a significant rise in my rankings. True to my word, the Tigers have moved up. However, I still have my reservations. Up until the middle of the 4th Quarter, the Hogs were threatening to pull the upset. After seeing the way their defense performed against the Arkansas backup quarterback I’m a little nervous about putting them in the top 3. There are still 3 very losable games left on their schedule (next week against LSU, the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa, and a potential SEC title game in Atlanta). If Auburn wins out (LSU too), they should find themselves in Glandale. Cameron Newton cemented his place as Heisman frontrunner. I will be interested to see how he plays next week against the conference’s best defense, his first real test.
3. Texas Defense Comes up Big
Leave it to Will Muschamp and the Texas defense to draw up the scheme that shuts down Taylor Martinez and the potent Nebraska offense. Much like South Carolina last week, I think the bye played a large role in the success of the Longhorn defense. Much like Michigan, Nebraska doesn’t have enough pieces around their young star quarterback to compete when he has a tough day. Hats off to the UT offense as well, they didn’t move the ball much, but they moved it enough (especially on the ground) to win the game. A question worth asking is which Texas performance is the truest representation of this team’s quality, getting manhandled at home by UCLA or the one that got a big win in Lincoln? As is typical, the truth likely lies somewhere in between.
4. What About the Rest of the Big XII
Lost in the commotion of Nebraska and Oklahoma’s undefeated runs and the struggles of Texas, there are several 2nd tier Big XII teams that have been quietly putting together solid years. Both Oklahoma State and Missouri moved to 6-0 this afternoon with wins in the Lone Star State (OSU at Texas Tech and Mizzou at A&M). Both teams will face their first big tests next week though, as the Cowboys welcome an angry Nebraska team to Stillwater and the Tigers welcome an Oklahoma team that is still very much in the National Title race to Columbia. Additionally, Bill Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats are 5-1 after a lopsided win over Kansas Thursday evening and had a great win to open their season against UCLA. Lastly, Robert Griffin has the Baylor Bears one win away from their first Bowl game in 14 years after defeating Colorado in Boulder.
5. Illinois Better than Expected, Sparty has Big Ten’s Best D
In the first half of the game in East Lansing, Illinois put the fear of God in Michigan State, leading 6-3 at the half. In the second half, Kirk Cousins, the 2 headed monster at RB, and the rest of the Spartan offense looked much better as they ran away with the game 26-6. After the way the Ohio State and Iowa defenses looked in their games against Wisconsin and Michigan respectively, it is a safe bet to say that Sparty has the Big Ten’s best defense. MSU holds its BCS destiny in its own hands with only their game at Iowa as a big concern.
6. Bad Defense, Trouble Through the Air Cost Michigan Again
There were points in their match up with Michigan that Iowa looked like the stereotypical Big Ten team that many people nationally accused of being “too slow,” especially on the defensive side of the ball. Michigan was able to move the ball easily in large part due to its superior athleticism. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the Michigan comeback was sparked by Tate Forcier’s entrance in to the game. Given Denard Robinson’s struggles with going through reads and throwing accuracy, coming from behind can prove to be a problem. Though I’m not advocating Forcier as the starter in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines are going to need an improved passing game if the want to win against the Big Ten’s better teams. 11 new starters on defense would help, too.
Even in a losing effort, Michigan showed the rest of the Big Ten how Iowa can be beaten. If a team can play ANY defense and takes advantage of Iowa’s less athletic secondary, they have a great shot at a win. In spite of their loss in Madison, Ohio State seems to be the Big Ten team most equipped to take down Iowa. Though I am being critical of Iowa, I do acknowledge how difficult Big Ten road wins (especially in Ann Arbor) are to come by.
7. Vandy Controls its Own Destiny is SEC East
This SEC’s eastern division is light years behind the west. Last week I said that 4 of the league’s top five resided in the west. However, the case can even be made that ALL FIVE of the SEC’s best teams (Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, AND Mississippi State) are from the western division. In inter-divisional games this season, the east has won only two games (Vanderbilt won at Ole Miss and South Carolina beat Alabama in Columbia). Following South Carolina’s loss in Lexington, it is likely that a 5-3 (possibly even 4-4) team will go to Atlanta. The Gators lost their third straight (all in Conference) for the first time since 1988. Right now, 2-loss Vanderbilt (who lost to UConn) is tied for first and controls its own BCS destiny! Even the 3-loss teams Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee are still alive.
8. No Dominant ACC Team
Since expanding to 12 teams, parity has been the only thing that can be counted on in the ACC. Every time a team appears ready to separate themselves from the pack, they put in a performance that gives people cause to pause. So far this season, North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, and Georgia Tech have all fallen into this trap. Florida State nearly became the most recent victim at home against Boston College. In what was clearly a letdown game after the big win in South Beach, the ‘Noles found themselves trailing early in the 4th quarter. I still stand by my statement that FSU is the best team in Florida this year, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a trap waiting for them down the road.
9. Late Night Games Hurt Boise State
Boise State’s national title bid took a minor blow this week, as both Oregon State and Nevada lost on the road. Oregon State’s 35-34 double overtime loss at Washington is another downturn in what has been a Jekyll and Hyde season for the Beavers, losing on the road to top ten Boise State and TCU while winning at then top ten Arizona. In what most thought would be the highest scoring game of the weekend, Hawaii defeated Nevada at home by a modest score of 27-21. This represents Nevada’s 6th consecutive road loss in the Central Pacific, a place they haven’t won since 1948. To put that in perspective, the last time the Wolf Pack won in Honolulu was the same year that the Cleveland Indians won their most recent World Series.
Both losses further weaken Boise State’s already questionable strength of schedule, as Nevada and Oregon State were their only two opponents ranked in the top 25. These losses likely will knock both teams out of the polls, possibly for good. The BSU/Nevada game next month in Reno goes from a top 15 match up and possible College Gameday site, to nothing more than a trap game against a team with a solid offense. The Beavers have three more potential losses on their schedule, playing USC at home, traveling to Stanford, and hosting Oregon in succession to end their season.
10. Trojans Win Big, 2 Weeks Until Showdown With Ducks
USC had their best performance of the season in their last game before welcoming the Oregon Ducks to town in two weeks. The 48-14 beat down of the California Golden Bears should be seen as a statement made directly to the Ducks. The Trojans are one of the few Pac-10 teams that have the defensive talent to shut down the high-powered Oregon offense. Like South Carolina last weekend and Texas yesterday, having two weeks to prepare is going to give Monte Kiffin the best chance of any defensive coordinator this season. Last week, I stated that Mike Stoops was the best defensive mind in the Pac-10, forgetting that Monte moved with his son from Tennessee to LA. Right now, they are 1 and 1A in the conference. I think it’s safe to say that whoever shuts down Oregon first is the best.
My Top Ten (previous ranking)
1. Oklahoma (1)
2. Oregon (3)
3. Auburn (7)
4. Boise State (4)
5. TCU (6)
6. LSU (8)
7. Alabama (9)
8. Utah (10)
9. Michigan State (NR)
10. Stanford (NR)
The Next Five: Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State (2), Missouri, Nebraska (5)