Time for contenders to do battle, weeding out process to begin
Au revoir, September. We had a good run. You introduced us to some bright new stars (here's to you, Mr. Robinson). You gave us some indelible moments (ah, "Little Giants"). Our one complaint: You really didn't do much to start shaping the national-title race.
Four weeks in, the top of the polls look very much like they did four weeks earlier: Alabama, Ohio State, Boise State, TCU. On Saturday, Texas became the first shortlist contender to bite the dust, but for the most part the big boys have taken care of business just the way they should.
So you'll have to forgive us, September, if we're more than ready to turn the calendar. Because starting Saturday, contenders start facing contenders. The stakes rise a little higher. The weeding out begins.
Florida at Alabama. Stanford at Oregon. Oklahoma vs. (diminished) Texas. By day's end, the SEC and Pac-10 will each have a decided front-runner, as will the Big 12 South. And the intrigue is only intensified by the fact that none of these teams have looked immortal.
A week ago, Alabama-Florida looked like it would be more lopsided than their SEC championship meeting last December. And maybe it still will be. But after dominating their first three foes, the defending champs were fortunate to escape Fayetteville on Saturday after the Tide's rebuilt defense finally showed its youth.
"Most of our guys on offense have been in games like this before," a visibly perturbed Saban said afterward. "Most of our guys on defense have not."
Fortunately for Saban, Florida doesn't have Ryan Mallett. In fact, if you watched Florida's offense in its first three games, you would assume 'Bama could play its second-team defense and do just fine. But the Gators may have found their missing spark Saturday night against Kentucky. Playing nearly the exact same "relief pitcher" role as
"I thought he was a good player when we recruited him," said
The newly energized Gators still aren't going to run all over Alabama's defense -- but Florida's defense is one of the few capable of slowing
We circled Florida-'Bama before the season began, but who would have guessed Oregon-Stanford might hold similar ramifications? The Ducks entered the season with relatively high expectations, then upped them several notches with three straight blowouts to move into the top five.
But then the defending Pac-10 champs played an utterly bizarre game in Tempe, Ariz., giving up 597 yards, but forcing seven turnovers, in a 42-31 win at Arizona State. The Sun Devils also slowed down Oregon's previously torrid rushing offense, holding the Ducks to 145 yards on the ground, though quarterback
"We kind of weathered the storm," said Oregon coach
Enter Stanford, one of the nation's biggest surprises to date. Expected by most to regress after star
Autzen Stadium will be rocking, and it's tough to get too concerned over a team that's yet to score fewer than 42 points. But either the Ducks will further legitimize themselves by becoming the first to solve Luck, or we might have to start embracing the possibility that Stanford -- yes, Stanford -- is now a national factor.
It says something, in fact, that an early October Pac-10 game may now overshadow the Red River Shootout -- a result of a previously forgotten Pac-10 team (UCLA) going to Austin and annihilating the Longhorns (more on that in a bit).
Texas, which plummeted to 21st in the AP poll, was bound to stumble eventually due to an offense wrought with issues, and now the Longhorns' trip to the Cotton Bowl becomes more about playing spoiler to Oklahoma, which has plenty of questions of its own. It's been a strange start for the Sooners, who throttled Florida State but struggled to put away Utah State, Air Force and, on Saturday, 1-2 Cincinnati, which racked up 461 yards as the Sooners barely held on, 31-29.
"Good win, I'm happy, but we gotta play better," said Oklahoma defensive end
The Big 12 is expected to produce at least one BCS title contender, but even Nebraska took a bizarre step backward Saturday following its eye-opening rout at Washington, posting a sluggish 17-3 win over South Dakota State.
About the only thing that's settled as of today: Third-ranked Boise State will remain a season-long factor after dispatching Oregon State, 37-24. The Broncos' heavy lifting is over for now, and perhaps until a Nov. 26 trip to new Top 25 entrant Nevada.
Until then, Boise and No. 4 TCU must hope for as much carnage as possible in the major-conference showdowns. There are plenty of good teams above and around them, but they're all beatable. And at least a couple are guaranteed to go down on Saturday.
When I reached UCLA offensive coordinator
"I guess we finally made the news," said Chow.
After installing a version of Nevada's Pistol offense in the spring (Chow and his offensive staff visited Reno), UCLA showed flashes of an improved running game early on, but not enough to avoid season-opening losses to Kansas State (31-22) and Stanford. Despite the slow start, Chow remained confident.
"I always thought we had a chance to be halfway decent," he said. "The Kansas State and Stanford games weren't indicative of the score. We turned the ball over [seven] times. [Texas] had stopped everyone they'd played, but it was all spread stuff. We felt we could get a little physical."
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of UCLA's turnaround is the amount of attrition the Bruins have overcome on the offensive line. Returning center
"This is my third year, and each year we've started five different guys," said the former BYU, N.C. State and USC coordinator. "It's never been that way anywhere else. But this new run game, we've simplified a ton. These guys are blocking the same guy 90 percent of the time."
Against Texas, the Bruins ran the ball 86 percent of the time, with Prince attempting just eight passes. That's not going to work every week. But they're in a much better place than they were after the Stanford meltdown two weeks ago.
At the very least, Chow has certainly earned himself some time by the pool -- once it's clean, of course.
At most schools, a 91-30 record, two conference titles and three BCS bowls would earn a coach enough mileage to survive a couple down seasons. But not in the SEC, and certainly not at Georgia, where 10th-year coach
"If you go by watching film down by down, you'd say we're not as far off as some people might think," said Richt. "But if you look at the record, then we are pretty far off where we want to be."
Richt's job isn't in danger yet. But it could be if Georgia doesn't right the ship in a hurry. Getting back suspended star receiver
It also doesn't help Richt's cause that 10 of the guys who wear those jerseys have been arrested this calendar year, the most recent coming Saturday night when freshman linebacker
Green returns in time for a soft streak on Georgia's schedule -- its next four games are against Colorado, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. After that: Florida. It's not inconceivable Georgia could win all four heading into the Cocktail Party, which could become Richt's ultimate judgment day.
For all his other success, Richt is just 2-7 against Florida. His program has also suffered a noticeable decline since Meyer arrived in Gainesville. From 2001-05, Georgia went 30-10 in the SEC and won two league titles. Starting in '06 -- the year Meyer won the first of two BCS titles -- the Dawgs have slipped to 20-15.
It could be that Richt has fallen too far behind his divisional rival (not to mention Alabama and LSU) to recover. It could also become a classic case of be careful what you wish for, however, if McGarity runs him off. Georgia went 20 years without an SEC title before Richt's arrival. It wants to be Florida -- but it could just as easily become Tennessee.
Miami strengthened its case as the ACC's team to beat by going on the road last Thursday and destroying Pittsburgh, 31-3. But don't count out Virginia Tech (which blanked Boston College, 19-0, on the road), Clemson or even streaking dark horse N.C. State, which improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2002 with a 45-28 win at Georgia Tech. Wolfpack quarterback
Meanwhile, I continue to waffle on my projected Big 12 champ, so much so that Nebraska gets the nod this week despite a horrific performance against South Dakota State. Freshman quarterback
Yes, the Tigers are 4-0, and yes, they just beat a ranked opponent (West Virginia). However, no one who watched quarterback
In Week 3, the Wolf Pack blasted a previously stout Cal defense for a 52-31 win. A week later, while Nevada won at BYU, that same Bears defense nearly made it the entire game without allowing Arizona to score a touchdown. Nevada's pretty good.
• Two-way Stanford star
• LSU's standout cornerback
• For the second consecutive week, Arizona quarterback
• Auburn quarterback
• On the opposite end of the SEC spectrum is Tennessee, which needed overtime to survive UAB, 32-29, and was fortunate to even get there, considering Blazers kicker
• Boise State played far from its best game against Oregon State, committing "boneheaded" (defensive end
• Something tells me the
• The Big Ten's cupcake weekend made for all sorts of gaudy scores. Michigan's 65 points were its most since 1986. Wisconsin put up a school-record 70 on Austin Peay, while Ohio State's 73 points against Eastern Michigan (which included six
• The Toledo loss was extra costly for the hard-luck Boilers, who lost starting quarterback
• No one should be more excited about October's arrival than Big East fans, because it means we're that much closer to basketball season. Following losses by Rutgers (to North Carolina), Cincinnati (to Oklahoma), West Virginia (to LSU) and Pittsburgh (to Miami), the league fell to a staggering 1-10 against BCS-conference foes and 6-13 against FBS competition. For the first time since Oct. 25, 1995, there isn't a single Big East team left in the AP Top 25.
• Speaking of the Big East ... if Mark Richt is on the hot seat, shouldn't
• One of the reasons the Big East stinks so badly is the massive turnover it's endured in the head coaching ranks, losing guys like
• There's nothing like a trip to Pullman to get an inconsistent offense on track. USC racked up 613 yards, with fullback
• Also located: Ole Miss' pulse. The 1-2 Rebels took out the frustration of losing to Jacksonville State and Vandy with a 55-38 rout of visiting Fresno State.
• Back in hiding: Duke football, which, after making positive strides in
I'm sure there have been more disastrous coaching hires in the last decade than New Mexico's
On Saturday, New Mexico fell to 0-4 with a 45-10 loss to previously winless UNLV. Opponents have now outscored the Lobos by a combined score of 225-41, dropping Locksley's New Mexico record to 1-15. Mind you, this is the same guy who decked an assistant coach last season. It's truly bewildering that he still has a job.
Apparently a faction of the New Mexico faithful feels the same way, because they've taken to starting wild rumors to undermine Locksley's job security. Last week, a former executive producer for Lobos' sportscasts (and subsequently the school's flagship radio network) "reported" that Locksley
I'm sure that someone won't have to wait too much longer.