AJ McCarron led Alabama to a 27-11 road win against Penn State in front of 107,846 mostly hostile spectators, and yet afterward coach Nick Saban said: "We still have a competition" at quarterback.
So do several other high-profile programs -- and that's usually a bad thing. After two games, a team wants to know who its starting quarterback is going to be the rest of the season. And it'd like to know it can count on that quarterback. Some of the teams that entered the year with uncertainty are feeling considerably better today. For others, the "competition" continues.
On the positive end of the spectrum we find defending national champion Auburn, where offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn continues to work wonders. Never mind losing Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and six other offensive starters. In their first SEC game Saturday, the Tigers beat No. 16 Mississippi State 41-34 for their 17th consecutive victory overall and 10th consecutive in games decided by eight points or fewer. We'll stop doubting these guys one day.
Newton's replacement, junior Barrett Trotter, didn't engineer consecutive last-minute touchdown drives against Mississippi State like he did against Utah State, and he threw a pick-six in the second quarter. But look closely and you'll see that Trotter, who beat out sophomore Clint Moseley in preseason camp, is doing exactly what we've come to expect from Malzahn's QBs: He's completing 71.7 percent of his passes, albeit for modest yardage (146 on Saturday), while Auburn leans on its talented running backs. Michael Dyer had 150 yards on 18 carries against MSU.
"He bounced back from that one [interception] like a champion," Malzahn said of Trotter, who plays with a veteran's confidence and poise. Auburn's defense made the crucial goal-line stop at the end, but it still has work to do after giving up 531 total yards Saturday; the offense is seemingly in good hands.
The same is true at Alabama, even if Saban won't say so. McCarron played every meaningful snap at Penn State and was an effective 19-of-31 for 163 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. Redshirt freshman Phillip Sims will likely see the field again next week against North Texas, but Saban knows the winning formula: With a dominant defense and dynamic tailback Trent Richardson, his quarterback need only stay out of trouble. McCarron did that. "AJ did a nice job," said Saban. "No but."
Ohio State also went with just one quarterback Saturday, but in this case the decision was unexpected and slightly troubling. Coach Luke Fickell went in with a plan to get true freshman Braxton Miller meaningful playing time behind fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman, just as he did last week against Akron. But then Toledo gave the Buckeyes everything they could handle -- going up 22-21 in the third quarter and driving for the win at the end before the Buckeyes finally stopped the Rockets for a 27-22 win -- and Bauserman (16-of-30, 189 yards, one touchdown, no picks) never left the field.
"It was just the flow of the game," said Fickell, who planned to play Miller in the second quarter. "It's just one of those gut decisions you've got to make out there. ... Things just weren't going the way we had them planned."
If Fickell didn't trust the freshman enough to insert him into a close game in which the defense was struggling, it stands to reason Bauserman may go most or all of the way next week against Miami. With the Buckeyes' offense limited by the suspensions to Dan Herron and DeVier Posey, one could expect a return to "TresselBall" against the Hurricanes.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly might also want to think about keeping the ball on the ground more often. For the most part, sophomore Tommy Rees acquitted himself nicely in Saturday's thriller at Michigan, finishing 27-of-39 for 315 yards and three touchdowns and throwing what appeared to be a game-winning touchdown with 30 seconds left. But he also had three turnovers, including a mystifying fumble at the Michigan seven-yard line midway through the fourth quarter during the Wolverines' frantic comeback.
The Irish are now 0-2 in large part because Kelly, who was so adept with his quarterbacks at Cincinnati, can't find the right answer in South Bend. But it doesn't sound like Dayne Crist will be coming back just yet. "[Rees] made some critical mistakes, but he kept battling," said Kelly. "At the end you're looking for your quarterback to lead you on the road and he did a terrific job of that."
But the most intriguing quarterback mystery in the country may be taking hold in Austin, where Mack Brown played three signal-callers in Saturday night's 17-16 squeaker against BYU.
Coaches finally pulled the plug on oft-maligned junior Garrett Gilbert after he started 2-of-8 for eight yards and two interceptions. What followed was a frenzied rotation of Case McCoy and true freshman David Ash, who combined to go 9-of-11 for a modest 92 yards. But down 16-10 on a third-and-nine at the BYU 34 midway through the fourth quarter, we saw a familiar hook-up: McCoy (younger brother of Colt) to Jaxon Shipley (younger brother of Jordan) for 20 yards, setting up the go-ahead touchdown. (And yes, they are roommates.)
"[McCoy] was very comfortable in the pocket," said Brown. "He's very accurate, and he obviously made the plays he had to to help us win the game."
That's really what it comes down to: Coaches feel better about their quarterbacks when they win. Saturday night Brown was beaming like he'd just won the national championship; in Ann Arbor, Kelly was visibly exasperated. They're both managing complicated situations, and the sooner they're resolved, the better. At least we think. Ask Saban.
On the day after his team's heartbreaking 45-42 loss to South Carolina, terminally upbeat Georgia coach Mark Richt sounded no different at 0-2 than he would have at 2-0.
"We played more physical in this game than we did in the first game [against Boise State], especially up front," Richt said. "We're playing extremely fast and intense. We've got a lot of spirit. ... I really liked what I saw."
Unfortunately for Richt, the majority of his fan base no longer likes what it sees: a program that has now lost 10 of its past 15 SEC games dating to 2009 and is 6-9 overall since the start of last season. The Dawgs are indisputably mediocre in the lone department that counts, yet those who watched Saturday's game saw a team with a talented quarterback and no shortage of playmakers. By Steve Spurrier's own admission, Georgia outplayed the 12th-ranked Gamecocks. And as Richt said, "Our defense really and truly only gave up 17 points in the game," citing three non-offensive South Carolina touchdowns (a fumble return, an interception return and a fake punt) and another fumble return to the five.
Rarely has a coach's obit been written just two games into the season, but that seemed to be the consensus regarding Richt after the loss. Richt had two games against ranked opponents right off the bat in which to appease critics, and he didn't win either. To judge by Twitter, he might as well pack his bags now.
I wouldn't be so sure.
Georgia's next five games come against Coastal Carolina, at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, at Tennessee and at Vanderbilt. The Georgia team that put up 436 yards on Saturday -- including 118 on 16 carries from touted freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell -- is capable of winning all those leading into its always-important Oct. 29 date with Florida. After that, it's New Mexico State, Auburn and Kentucky at home, ending at Georgia Tech.
No question, Richt is down to his ninth life. His kind demeanor, respect in the community and .727 winning percentage have already helped him last longer than the typical SEC coach in this same situation, but fans can only take "we're getting better" for so long. Provided the players don't get discouraged, the Dawgs are fully capable of rallying to a nine-win season and possible division title, which is probably what it would take at this point to save Richt's job.
The first-ever Pac-12 league game between USC and Utah provided a full-blown officiating controversy. It didn't determine the outcome of the game, but it did have some serious ramifications in Las Vegas.
USC's Matt Kalil blocked Utah's attempted game-tying field goal on the final play to preserve a 17-14 lead, and Torin Harris returned it 65 yards for an apparent icing-on-the-cake touchdown. However, because USC coaches and players poured onto the field while the play was ongoing, officials called unsportsmanlike conduct on the Trojans. Fans headed to the exits and reporters began filing their stories believing the final score was 17-14.
Not until hours after the game did the Pac-12 send out a statement "correcting" the final score to 23-14, with conference officiating consultant Mike Pereira noting that unsportsmanlike penalties against substitutes are considered dead-ball fouls, normally enforced on the next play. But there was no next play.
Pandemonium ensued in large part because the otherwise superfluous touchdown meant USC covered the 8.5-point spread after all, which of course raised all sorts of suspicion. Who's ever heard of a conference overruling its officials as to the final score?
However, it's important to note that nobody "overruled" anyone. On Sunday, Pac-12 Coordinator of Football Officiating Tony Corrente issued a statement clarifying the situation. "The final play of the game between USC and Utah was ruled properly and the touchdown did stand," said Corrente. "There was a miscommunication between the officials and the press box that led to the confusion about the final score. We will make the appropriate adjustments to improve communication between on field officials and press box personnel so that we avoid any scoring issues in the future."
What caused the confusion? None of the refs actually signaled a touchdown. In announcing the penalty, referee Jack Folliard said: "By rule, the game is over," but he, too, neglected to mention any touchdown.
"It took a while," said USC Sports Information Director Tim Tessalone, "but ultimately everybody got it right." That's no solace to anyone holding a USC ticket in Vegas: The major sports books declined to honor the corrected score, seeing as many Utah bettors had already collected their winnings. Both the school and conference were quick to point out that's not their concern.
My reaction to the latest AP and Coaches' polls:
Overrated: Mississippi State (AP and Coaches': No. 25)
This team is still ranked because ... I guess because it plays in the SEC West. But Dan Mullen has yet to beat an SEC West team other than Ole Miss. Perhaps pollsters could have found someone more deserving.
Underrated: UCF (unranked)
Jeff Godfrey and the Knights took down Boston College 30-3, with the defense absolutely stifling Eagles quarterback Chase Rettig, who threw for 70 yards and two interceptions. This is an SEC defense playing in Conference USA.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's my preseason edition:
Title game: Alabama vs. OklahomaRose: Stanford vs. Wisconsin Fiesta: Nebraska vs. Boise State Sugar: South Carolina vs. Florida State Orange: Virginia Tech vs. USF
Only one change this week: Wisconsin and Nebraska flip-flop, with the Badgers to the Rose Bowl and the Huskers to the Fiesta. Russell Wilson and Co. have looked dominant so far, albeit against light competition, while Taylor Martinez and Co. struggled to put away Fresno State. The Huskers' offense may run into trouble in the Big Ten, but it's not like the rest of the conference is tearing it up, either.
• Nobody can say why it took Denard Robinson three quarters to get going against Notre Dame, but once he did ... my heavens. And while he mostly looked like his old, freelancing self during the Wolverines' fourth-quarter surge, it's worth nothing that Sholeace completed all four of his touchdown passes from under center, while his two interceptions came from the shotgun.
Brady Hoke and coordinator Al Borges have clearly had an impact on Robinson, though through three quarters it did not seem positive.
• The Jadeveon Clowney era has officially begun. While fellow South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram got the glory for two touchdowns (one on a fake punt, one on a fumble recovery) against Georgia, the frightening freshman Clowney had two sacks, the latter coming when the Bulldogs inexplicably left him unblocked and causing the fumble that Ingram returned for a score. The next three years might not be the most enjoyable for SEC East quarterbacks.
• Thankfully, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill was reported to be improving and resting comfortably Sunday after suffering a seizure and collapsing on the sideline late in Saturday's game against New Mexico State. It was a scary moment, but Minnesota's staff was prepared; Kill had two previous occurrences while coaching at Southern Illinois. He should return to work shortly, and he certainly has work to do after the Gophers lost at home, 28-21, to the lowly Aggies.
• Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer earned his 200th career win in very Beamer-esque fashion: with the Hokies limiting a powerful East Carolina offense to just 112 total yards in a 17-10 win. It wasn't a memorable day for the Virginia Tech offense, however, with quarterback Logan Thomas completing just 8-of-20 passes for 91 yards and an interception, and the Hokies committing 12 penalties for 92 yards and two turnovers.
• Tennessee's Tyler Bray showed promise as a freshman last season, but now he's blossoming into a truly elite quarterback. With help from talented receivers Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter, Bray went 34-of-41 for 405 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-23 win over Cincinnati. Get used to it, because Bray, Rogers and Hunter are all sophomores. "I've never had three of them like this, this young," said Vols coach Derek Dooley. "I hope they keep doing what they're doing."
• Another emerging star: Arizona State's Brock Osweiler, who picked apart Missouri's defense to the tune of 353 yards and three touchdowns on 24-of-32 passing. The 6-foot-8 junior executes coordinator Noel Mazzone's vertical spread passing attack with precision. The Sun Devils still needed overtime to survive the Tigers, 37-30, but they're one of just two Pac-12 South teams that hasn't lost a game already. The other, USC, is ineligible for the league title game.
• It's going to be another "hold your breath" season with Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. The exciting but erratic sophomore was 4-of-13 for 79 yards and two picks in the first half Saturday as Fresno State took a 17-14 lead to the locker room. But by game's end he'd racked up 385 total yards, including a decisive 46-yard touchdown run, in the Huskers' 42-29 win. "A lot of people would take what he did tonight throwing and running," said coach Bo Pelini. "I'm glad he's on our team."
• It didn't take long for No. 12 Oregon's offense to get back on track, with the Ducks racking up 603 yards in a 69-20 blowout of Nevada. Darron Thomas led the way by throwing for 295 yards and six touchdowns, one of them a 44-yarder to LaMichael James, while freshman De'Anthony Thomas rebounded from his two-fumble disaster against LSU by catching 69- and 24-yard touchdowns. "The scoreboard looked normal," said Ducks guard Carson York. "So that was nice."
• I thought Oklahoma State's offense would take a step back without last year's coordinator, Dana Holgorsen. Boy was I wrong. Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden shredded Arizona's injury-riddled secondary last Thursday, completing 22 of his first 23 passes. All-everything receiver Justin Blackmon also did his thing, catching 12 passes for 128 yards in a 37-14 rout. "That first quarter," said Weeden, "you could have called anything and it was going to work."
• Cal seems to finally have a quarterback in Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard, who threw the game-winning touchdown in overtime Saturday to beat Colorado, 36-33. Now the Bears just has to find their defense. In a career performance, Buffs QB Tyler Hansen lit up the Bears for a school-record 474 yards and three touchdowns, with receiver Paul Richardson catching 11 of those passes for a school-record 284 yards. "A hard win like this teaches us how to fight," said Maynard.
• A man of Steele has come to save Iowa State. The Cyclones' juco transfer quarterback, Steele Jantz, threw for 279 yards and four touchdowns in a wild 44-41, triple overtime upset of archrival Iowa. This series is known for upsets, and ISU coach Paul Rhoads pulls one off every year (Nebraska in 2009, Texas in '10), but this one truly came out of nowhere. Who outside of Ames knew the power of Steele? "When the game was on the line, he was spectacular," said Rhoads.
• Iowa State's Big 12 peer (for now) Kansas pulled off its own dramatic victory, as Jordan Webb threw a fourth down touchdown to B.J. Beshears with nine seconds left to beat Northern Illinois, 45-42.
• Indiana rallied from a 20-point second-half deficit to go up 31-23 on Virginia, but the Cavs scored 11 points in the final 1:36 to send Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson to a particularly vicious 0-2 start.
• Wilson's misery is nothing compared to cross-state rival Danny Hope, who, a week after beating Middle Tennessee on a blocked field goal, lost to Rice, 24-22 ... on a blocked field goal.
• Not all was bleak in the Big Ten on Saturday. In a mesmerizing defensive performance, Michigan Sate held FAU to 48 total yards and one -- one! -- first down in a 44-0 win.
• Florida State's defense appears as advertised. It held Charleston Southern to 84 total yards. Here come the Sooners.
First off, props to my colleague Holly Anderson, our resident Sun Belt expert, who warned the Twitter world Friday night that, "FIU could beat Louisville tonight. STOP LAUGHING AT ME." The Golden Panthers did indeed top the Cardinals, 24-17, for their first win over a BCS-conference program. It marked the latest milestone for coach Mario Cristobal's nine-year-old program, which went from 0-12 in 2006 to a Little Caesars Bowl victory last season and a 2-0 start this year.
At the heart of FIU's rise has been one of the nation's best-kept secrets, receiver/return extraordinaire T.Y. Hilton. Anyone who tuned into ESPN on Friday saw what Sun Belt fans have known for four years: The guy can flat-out fly. Hilton, who has 5,894 career all-purpose yards, caught seven passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinals. He's currently the nation's third-leading receiver.
And yet, for a guy who plays the one position most synonymous with swagger, the 5-foot-10, 183-pound Miami native is incredibly self-effacing. I asked him Sunday about people around the country catching on to him after Friday's performance. "It's not just me," Hilton said. "The defense came up big, they gave the offense a shot. The receiving corps, the great routes they're running, they're taking some pressure off me."
This lack of self-promotion simply won't suffice. After all, Holly and I are practically ready to launch a Heisman campaign for him. "I've always flown under the radar," Hilton said. "Even being on top of the radar, it doesn't seem like it to me. I feel like I can do better."
Now desperate for a juicy quote, I resorted to one of those cheesy, local TV-station questions: "Which do you like better: breaking a kick return or catching a long touchdown?" He paused. He struggled for a second. "Actually," Hilton said, "I'd go with throwing a block for one of my teammates to spring open downfield."
T.Y., you're too good to be true.
Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:
• Oklahoma at Florida State, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): This game will obviously have a dramatic impact on the national title race; someone's advancing, someone's falling back in the pack. But it's impossible to overstate the significance for FSU, which has waited a long time for a game of this magnitude.
• Ohio State at Miami, Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET): Miami gets back five of its suspended players, and we get to see whether Jacory Harris has exorcised his interception demons. We'll also learn a lot about Luke Fickell's suspension-riddled Buckeyes: This isn't 2002 Miami, but it's not Akron or Toledo either.
• Tennessee at Florida, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): Wow: It's a Sunshine State trifecta. Neither team is what it once was, but they may both be better than we originally anticipated. Bray and the Vols' receivers will provide a nice test for Florida's young defense, while Charlie Weis' offense will face its first resistance.