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Miami's revived offense, Florida's question mark, poll insight, more

This was supposed to be Tebow/McCoy/Bradford: Year II. But during this early part of the season, while the Florida and Texas QBs have remained largely quiet and the reigning Heisman winner has been relegated to a sling, a new cast of quarterbacks has captured our attention.

Jake Locker. Tony Pike. Case Keenum. Ryan Mallett. And of course the Miami sophomore who, on Labor Day night, torched rival Florida State for 386 yards, then followed up with a Thursday-night masterpiece (20-of-25 for 270 yards and three touchdowns) against Georgia Tech.

And yet, it seems some of you still doubt Jacory Harris.

I was very impressed with Miami's dismantling of Georgia Tech. What I can't figure out is if Jacory Harris is for real. Every throw he made seemed to be to a wide-open receiver -- and I mean no defender within three strides. Do you think Jacory is a stud, or is a lot of this the work of new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple?-- Matt, Gainesville, Fla.

No quarterback can succeed entirely on his own. Of course Whipple has played a role in Harris' success. But that's not the whole story. In Miami's first two games, three things have been abundantly evident:

1) Whipple is a masterful play-caller. After years of watching the same, predictable pro-style offense, it's been refreshing to watch Miami mix things up. Sometimes Harris is under center. Sometimes he's in the shotgun on first down. On one play Whipple will spread three receivers wide, the next he's featuring two tight ends. Harris play-fakes on first down. He makes short throws. He airs it out. The opposing defense must constantly guess what's coming next.

2) Miami's offensive line is rock-solid. The 'Canes have allowed just one sack. Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan, who had five sacks in the Jackets' first two games, was rendered a non-factor against Miami. Credit left tackle Jason Fox, who has started 38 games in his career, and veteran left guard Orlando Franklin, who clearly have that unit clicking.

3) The receivers have gotten a lot better. Miami always boasts athletic receivers -- but that hasn't always guaranteed productivity. See the brutal LanceLegget/Sam Shields era. Travis Benjamin and LaRon Byrd have gone from promising but inconsistent freshmen to big-time playmakers as sophomores. Like Matt said, these guys, along with previous afterthought Leonard Hankerson, were running wide open all night long against the Yellow Jackets.

With all that said, Harris is clearly the guy who makes it all go. The way he glides across the field and makes all those long passes seem effortless reminds me of a lankier JaMarcus Russell. And it's not like Harris hasn't made some difficult throws -- like this one on the game-winning drive against Florida State.

This week, we'll see if he can keep it up against some real pressure. On Saturday, Miami travels to Virginia Tech. Whereas Bobby Bowden admitted his team got no pass-rush in the opener, and Georgia Tech, as mentioned, barely touched Harris, Hokies pass-rushers Cody Grimms and Jason Worilds will be coming after Harris like they did Nebraska's Zac Lee, who endured a miserable 11-of-30, two-interception day in Blacksburg last Saturday.

But that's where Whipple comes in. He's watched the tape. He knows Virginia Tech's first three opponents have rushed for a combined 200.3 yards per game. Don't expect to see Harris back there chucking it as much this week. His job will be to avoid mistakes, make a few big throws and keep things cool in the huddle when Lane Stadium starts rocking.

When will someone in the media finally start to realize USC's offense began a slow decline after Pete Carroll forced out Norm Chow and has now accelerated with the last of Chow's protégés (Steve Sarkisian) leaving? If anything, shouldn't this solidify Chow as the best college offensive coordinator ever and Carroll as maybe overrated?-- Troy, Laguna Niguel, Calif.

I have nothing but the highest respect for Chow, and what you say may be true. But couldn't one also make the following assertion: that "USC's offense began a slow decline" when one of the greatest collections of skill players ever assembled on one team -- Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett -- left? Ever since that 2003-05 run, when the Trojans went 37-2, won two national titles and played for a third, everyone has just assumed USC would keep reloading without skipping a beat. Has anyone ever stopped to consider that the aforementioned group -- which, incidentally, posted its most productive season the year after Chow's departure -- has been pretty darn tough to replicate?

Obviously, this season's offense is off to a particularly inauspicious start, and while I had no problem with Carroll anointing freshman Matt Barkley his opening-day quarterback, last week's handling of Aaron Corp (keeping him in the dark about whether he'd start until the last possible moment) was bizarre. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on an equally big decision: hiring 33-year-old wunderkind Jeremy Bates as his play-caller. Whereas Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin were hand-groomed by Carroll, Bates is an NFLer, fresh from the Denver Broncos. It was obvious against both Ohio State and Washington, when he put extremely conservative game-plans into action. That hasn't usually been Carroll's style.

It's way too early to go passing judgment on Bates' hire, but it does feel like the offense has reached a crossroads. These are not the Leinart-Bush Trojans, but if they don't at least match the John David Booty era, Carroll will have some serious questions to answer.

Does the Washington win have you reconsidering labeling LSU overrated? Does it take Ohio State down a notch? Or would doing either of those overestimate the importance of one game?-- Eric D., Gainesville, Fla.

Bingo. If LSU's only game so far was the Washington game, then yes, we'd have to look at in a whole new light. But when I say the Tigers are overrated -- and to be clear, by "overrated" I don't mean "complete fraud," but rather not yet the seventh-best team in the country -- I'm looking at their whole body of work. I see a team that's still highly suspect on offense (they currently rank 90th nationally at 325.7 yards per game). Les Miles expressed dissatisfaction this week with both the running and passing game. However, the one aberration from the Washington game was LSU's defense, which was hardly the first or last to struggle against Jake Locker and has played much better since.

And the same goes for Ohio State. If you judged the Buckeyes in a vacuum, you might say, "Hey, that defensive performance against USC doesn't seem so special anymore after Washington did the same thing." But as you may have noticed, Ohio State went out the next week and shut out Toledo, no small feat considering the Rockets came into the game having scored 85 points against Purdue and Colorado. The Buckeyes remain exactly where I thought they were after the USC game: a top 15 team with a chance to get much better by year's end.

I showed my wife (a University of Washington alumna) your upset special pick against USC. Then I showed her the Wall Street Journalprediction that over 10,000 simulations, USC would beat UW 91 percent of the time. Guess who I'm listening to from now on?-- Frank Fillmore, Baltimore

No, no. In general, you should definitely listen to the computer. I don't doubt USC would win 91 percent of the time. It's that other 9 percent that makes this sport so fun, though.

What should we make of Florida's not-that-dramatic win against Tennessee? Was this just an off day for the Gators, perhaps due partly to some flu and injuries, or are there some real weaknesses on this team?-- Richard, Washington D.C.

I think the biggest thing we learned is that Urban Meyer and Lane Kiffin are like two 12-year-olds trapped in adult bodies. Seriously, guys, let ... it ... go.

I'm not overly concerned with Florida's performance, both because I know how tough Tennessee's defense is (the Vols are going to hold a whole lot of teams to 23 points or less) and because we've seen this before. The Gators' offense started slow last season, too, before kicking it into gear about five games in. Of course, Florida also lost to Ole Miss before that happened. The voters won't be quite so forgiving if the Gators suffer a similar misstep this year.

Right now, I think Meyer is still looking for some receivers he can count on beyond Riley Cooper, David Nelson and tight end Aaron Hernandez. Getting Deonte Thompson back from injury this week will help, but to really get the passing game going, Florida is going to need at least one of its freshman receivers (T.J. Lawrence, Omarius Hines and Frankie Hammond) to step up the way Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey did at running back last year. Until then, you may see the Gators continue to rely heavily on their running game and their defense -- because they can.

This is the worst Top 25 poll of all time. It is literally staggering. It is because of morons like this that college football is becoming a joke. The polls need to be shut down, do you agree?-- Ryan Clark, Akron, Ohio

Why take potshots at the coaches' poll when you have Doug Lesmerises still making a mockery of the AP poll?-- Chip, Cleveland

A mockery? A joke? I beg to differ. My man Doug is a pioneer. He is the rare AP voter with the temerity to actually follow the AP's stated guidelines to "base your vote on performance, not reputation or preseason speculation," "pay attention to head-to-head results" and "don't hesitate to make significant changes in your ballot from week to week." Every year, people complain about the arbitrary nature of preseason polls; well, Doug literally tosses out his preseason poll as soon as the games begin and focuses almost solely on results (though he apologetically admitted this week to accidentally leaving off Washington.)

But alas, it seems Doug is so far ahead of his time that his genius is doomed to go unappreciated. Last week, the readers of Pollspeak.com overwhelmingly voted him the AP's "bad voter of the week." Their "good voter of the week:" Chris Fowler, whose ballot mirrored the overall AP almost exactly. The lesson here: As much as people like to complain about the polls, they're still more comfortable with conformity.

Brian Kelly and the Cincinnati Bearcats have been quite impressive this season. Do you think they're head-above-shoulders in the Big East?-- Ryan, Franklin, Tenn.

That Cincy offense is scary. The 2007 Ben Mauk-led unit was pretty darn good itself and gave a sense of what Kelly likes to do offensively, but apparently he was only warming up. This year, with a projected high-round draft pick, Tony Pike, at quarterback, and a whole slew of weapons around him (most notably receivers Mardy Gilyard and D.J. Woods), Kelly is operating his no-huddle spread attack at a relentless tempo. The Bearcats are averaging 7.08 yards per play, better than all but six teams nationally. And they showed at Oregon State they can handle a little adversity. When the Beavers rallied back to within a three-point deficit early in the fourth quarter, Pike promptly led his team on a 12-play, 79-yard touchdown drive.

Cincinnati is definitely my Big East favorite, but I wouldn't go so far as to say it's "head and shoulders" above the rest of the league. While West Virginia didn't pull out a win at Auburn, the Mountaineers did rack up 509 yards of offense and look like they'll be tough to handle. Pittsburgh did a nice job shutting down Navy's option attack last week. And both Connecticut and USF boast top 20 defenses right now. It should be a competitive race.

Watching Texas and Texas Tech play arena football, it's easy to see why every year the SEC champ tears apart whichever victim is chosen. Anyone out there ever heard of defense? It's the thing you do when you don't have the ball.-- Chris Burns, Huntsville, Ala.

I'm sorry -- did you send this in 2008 and I only now received it? I could have sworn the prime-time "arena football" duel Saturday night took place between SEC teams Georgia and Arkansas (final score: 52-41), not Texas Tech and Texas (final score: 34-24).

Stewart, don't you think there's been an overreaction to the "BCS busters?" Boise State was a nice story in 2006, and the Broncos' Fiesta Bowl win was epic. Same could be said with Utah and its Sugar Bowl season last year. Boise State has looked good this year, but its only marquee win is/will be a victory over an average Oregon team with a new coach, at home. It's as if Boise gets a pass because it's the headliner of the non-BCS conference teams.-- Jay, Austin, Texas

Well, I think you answered your own question there. Since the BCS lowered its auto-qualifier threshold from top six to top 12 in 2006 (in response to heavy political pressure from a coalition of non-BCS school), three such schools have received bids (Boise State, Hawaii and Utah), and two of them have upset big-conference powerhouses. Obviously, that built credibility for those programs to the point where Boise now gets much the same "benefit of the doubt" from the pollsters as a Notre Dame or Michigan -- the difference being the Broncos have to go undefeated.

As we well know by now, anything can happen in a one-game setting. So while Boise's schedule will undoubtedly go down as a joke, I don't see the harm in rewarding the Broncos (or TCU, or Houston) with an at-large bid should they finish undefeated. I will be interested, however, to see how the voters treat them the rest of the way considering they're already up to No. 8 in both polls just three weeks into the season, and inevitably, most or all of the teams above them will lose. How high will they rise before someone says, "Wait a minute -- do I really believe Boise State is the [blank]-best team in the country?"

Just saw your picks for this weekend. I love how each year you want to see the downfall of USC. What's even funnier than that is how you can't seem to pick any of the games. With your record, I should put money on the opposite of your picks.-- Matt, Las Vegas

Uh oh. You live in Vegas? Please tell me you didn't do that.

Why does your box say "Question?" No one would ask an idiot a question. Too bad you never read your mail. Too bad you are as stupid as the BCS committee. Too bad you think Washington will beat USC.-- Bomer Touison, Atlanta

Fortunately for me and my stupidity level, there is no such thing as "the BCS committee." Unfortunately for you, I do read my mail.

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