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"We will never lose to Michigan State again on my watch." -Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, summer of 2006.
Had the infamous Michigan State meltdown of 2006 been the last game in this storied series, then Weis would have looked like a clairvoyant. Instead, he'll be left looking for answers after the Spartans dominated his Irish for a second straight season.
Other big games happened on Saturday, but the MSU/ND matchup was one I'd been looking forward to since the final whistle blew in 2006. So with that in mind, this week's edition of "What We've Learned" will have a bit of a Green and White, and Blue and Gold flavor to it.
Lessons from Michigan State-Notre Dame
For Notre Dame
Charlie Weis needs not be completely discouraged by his team's effort on Saturday. Everybody not named 'Javon Ringer' was held in check pretty well by an impressive Notre Dame defense, and it even took Ringer 40 carries to get to 200 yards for the second straight week.
Brian Hoyer was hassled for the entire game as well, and was only able to complete about 40 percent of his passes.
Linebacker Maurice Crum looks like he could end up playing on Sundays, maybe even as a safety. Every Notre Dame game I've watched this season, he's been all over the field making plays.
But with the success of the defense comes the failures of the offense.
Notre Dame's running game was completely inept, gaining only 16 yards on 22 carries against a brilliant front seven for the Spartans. MSU wanted to make Jimmy Clausen win the game in the air, but a couple of drive-killing interceptions by Otis Wiley proved to be too deep of a hole for ND to climb out of.
Clausen looked a lot more confident than he had against SDSU or Michigan, but the two forced throws that led to picks can't happen every week or it will be a long season. Still, he completed plenty of passes to guys not named 'Golden Tate', and the passing offense took a small step forward.
For Michigan State
If the season ended today, Javon Ringer would be getting serious Heisman consideration. All he's done in four games is rush for 11 touchdowns and 699 yards. If he keeps up at this pace, ESPN.com projects 429 carries, 2,097 yards and 33 touchdowns. Those are Larry Johnson with Kansas City-type numbers.
But with all the great stuff Ringer is doing, MSU needs to find another dimension to their offense, and fast. MSU has a brutal conference schedule, with games against Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State. If Ringer keeps shouldering the load for the Spartans, he'll be very worn down going into the tail end of the season, which may prevent the Spartans from going to a great bowl.
Brian Hoyer needs to get his act together. He didn't make any game-changing mistakes, but if the Spartans ever need to rely on him to win a game, it won't be pretty if he keeps playing like this. A 44.6 completion percentage is not going to get it done once conference play begins.
The puzzling thing is, we all know that Hoyer is capable of a big game. He had two 300-yard games last season, and threw six TDs in the last two games of the 2007 regular season. MSU rode his arm to the Champs Sports Bowl at the end of the season, but he just seems a bit off this year.
If Hoyer can't be relied on to win, the defense can. Notre Dame only had one rush of over ten yards, a 24-yard end around to Golden Tate. More often than not, Notre Dame lost yardage. Michigan State was also the first team to sack Jimmy Clausen this season.
USC loves their down time
We're now four weeks into the season, and the USC Trojans have played two games. What does Pete Carroll have his team doing on the weekends? Trips to Disney Land? Auditioning to be extras in 'Entourage'? Sipping Pina Coladas at Ivy? The schedule makers sure gave them a lot of time to soak up the Southern California sun. I'm actually a little jealous.
Terrelle Pryor is for real
Don't be skeptical because Pryor threw his four touchdowns against Troy. Troy isn't a c*pc*ke, not like Youngstown State. And any time a guy can walk into his first ever collegiate start and throw four TDs while looking as confident as he did, it's impressive.
Look, we all knew that Pryor would be dangerous with his legs. We expected a sort of Chris Leak/Tim Tebow platoon at quarterback, but the uninspiring play of Todd Boeckman forced Jim Tressel's hand.
The Vest was rewarded with a good performance by Pryor in his debut. His escapability keeps defenses honest, and his arm is good enough to do some damage. I look forward to him bamboozling the Michigan Wolverine defense at the end of the season, continuing Tressel's ownership of that school from Ann Arbor.
A Mountain West team will be crashing the BCS
I've held off on making any BCS predictions because last season was so, well, unpredictable. But I can't wait any longer.
BYU has absolutely steamrolled their last two opponents. Max Hall has posted a completion percentage just a shade under 75% while throwing for 1,284 yards in only four games. He opened the season by throwing for 486 yards!
The other Mountain West team that could be playing in January is Utah. They opened the season with a signature win at Michigan and are beating opponents by an average of 19.5 points. They beat a pretty good Air Force team this weekend to move to 4-0 on the season, 2-0 in conference.
The November 22nd matchup between BYU and Utah could decide which one plays in a BCS bowl. My early money is on BYU, but if Utah is convincing against Oregon State and TCU, that could change.
Be sure to catch next week's column for insight on the opening weekend of Big Ten conference play, and a look at the highly-anticipated match between Georgia and Alabama.
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