You know how ESPN loves to coin nicknames to promote certain college football Saturdays? "Judgment Day," "Shakedown Saturday," "Road Test Weekend," etc.?
Well, I get to wait until after the games to come up with an appropriate theme for what we saw. Let's call Week 6 "Reality Check Weekend," since several high-profile programs found out they're not yet where they thought they were.
• Texas (4-1): In hindsight, it seems a little fishy that Mack Brown's team went from 5-7 a year ago to No. 10 in the Coaches' Poll last week based on wins over BYU, UCLA and Iowa State. Despite that limited competition, the sentiment remained that "Texas is Texas," and that the 'Horns would soon be back among the national elite thanks to better coaching and a load of talent.
No. 3 Oklahoma debunked that myth in humiliating fashion Saturday, beating Texas 55-17 in Dallas. And as Andy Staples noted, Bob Stoops seemed to take particular glee in his staff outsmarting Texas' glitzy new coordinators, Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz. "[OU defensive coordinator Brent] Venables, it's fair to say he's pretty bright, too," said Stoops.
But schemes and film study only go so far. The Sooners rolled because they have better, more experienced players. While it's not surprising that Travis Lewis and Co. would overwhelm Texas' freshman-heavy offense (Oklahoma scored three defensive touchdowns), Diaz's defense put up almost no resistance against Landry Jones (31-of-50 for 367 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions) and Oklahoma's talented receivers. "We went in with a pretty good game plan that we felt confident in," said Texas safety Blake Gideon. "They've got all the athletes and stats for a reason."
With so many young players at key positions, Texas' long-term future remains bright. But the Red River Blowout showed that one group of freshmen can't instantly plug the void that seemingly infiltrated Brown's program post-Colt McCoy. Things won't get any easier for the Texas defense in Week 7, as Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon come to town.
• Florida (4-2): Admittedly, Will Muschamp's first reality check came in Week 5 against Alabama, and what slim chances Florida had against LSU went out the window when third-string true freshman quarterback Jacoby Brissett was pressed into the starting job.
But much like with Texas, many figured Florida could at least count on its talented young defense to remain competitive -- yet LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee lofted a 46-yard touchdown pass to Reuben Randle on the Tigers' second play from scrimmage. Following in Trent Richardson's footsteps, Spencer Ware and the Tigers ground out 238 rushing yards in a 41-11 rout.
"We've got to get better on the line of scrimmage," said Muschamp. "We wore out as the game went on."
The ultimate insult came early in the fourth quarter, when Jordan Jefferson hit the very same jump pass for a touchdown that Tim Tebow first broke out in this same game five years earlier. It felt symbolic. As recently as two years ago, Urban Meyer's Gators seemed to tower over the rest of the SEC. In consecutive weeks, we've seen just how far they've fallen behind Alabama and LSU.
• Florida State (2-3): Was it really just three weeks ago that the 'Noles took Oklahoma to the wire in Tallahassee? It's hardly surprising that FSU has failed to live up to its absurdly premature top five preseason ranking; it's a near-annual tradition. But the extent of the implosion, which reached new depths with Saturday's 35-30 loss at Wake Forest, is unquestionably stunning.
While it was easy to blame FSU's 35-30 loss at Clemson two weeks ago on injuries suffered in the Oklahoma game (most notably quarterback E.J. Manuel's), that excuse no longer held water Saturday. For one thing, Manuel returned (albeit not until the second quarter) and proved healthy enough to throw a 46-yard touchdown on his first possession. Mind you, he also threw two interceptions. Turnovers (five), penalties (10) and a surprisingly average defense (391 yards allowed) have all but eliminated FSU from returning to the ACC title game, much less fulfilling predictions by some that FSU was a national title contender.
"We're not playing intelligent," said Jimbo Fisher, who is only in his second season and still has ample time to return FSU to glory. In the meantime, Wake Forest (more on the Demon Deacons in a bit) served a sobering reminder of the stalled state of the FSU program by winning its fourth meeting in six years.
• Utah (2-3): The Utes finally got their coveted invite to a BCS conference, but they've yet to procure a Pac-12 victory, falling to 0-3 with Saturday's 35-14 home loss to Arizona State on the heels of a 31-14 loss to Washington a week earlier. They committed five turnovers in both losses.
"We'll start winning games when we stop turning the ball over," said coach Kyle Whittingham. "That is the bottom line."
Actually, the Utes' troubles date to last season. Since starting 8-0 last year, Whittingham's team has lost six of their last 10. Part of the problem: Quarterback Jordan Wynn, so promising as a freshman two years ago, continues to struggle with injuries. He missed Saturday's game and will be out at least another two weeks with a shoulder injury. Backup Jon Hays threw three interceptions.
More than in any other league, a team can't win in the Pac-12 without a solid quarterback.
Bo Pelini's honeymoon at Nebraska ended late last season, as Huskers fans grappled with the double embarrassment of their coach's sideline hysterics and their team's miserable offense. Pelini entered 2011 with a mostly clean slate amid excitement over Nebraska's move to the Big Ten. But then his previously stout defense proved an early disappointment, culminating in last week's blowout at Wisconsin. So when suspension-ravaged Ohio State jumped to a 21-point lead Saturday night in Lincoln, it was easy to envision the fury that would hit the talk shows and message boards across Nebraska.
But then Lavonte David saved the Huskers' season.
When Nebraska's star linebacker stripped Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller on a first-down conversion midway through the third quarter, it touched off the biggest comeback in school history, from a 27-6 deficit to a 34-27 victory. "That was a game-changing play," Pelini said of David's forced fumble. "He's been doing that since he got here."
Ohio State fans would surely claim the real game-changer came a series later, when Miller -- who had been scorching the Huskers with his feet on 10 carries for 91 yards -- left with an ankle injury, forcing Luke Fickell to turn to the maddening Joe Bauserman, who would finish a miserable 1-of-10 for 13 yards and a pick. Still, that doesn't explain the massive change of momentum that occurred shortly after David's strip.
Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez (16-of-22 for 191 yards; 17 carries for 102), booed following an interception late in the first half, ran for an 18-yard touchdown, threw a 36-yard score and then, to tie the game, eluded pressure just in time to dump the ball to Rex Burkhead (168 total yards) on the flat. He scooted 30 yards to the end zone. Burkhead later scored the go-ahead touchdown, and the defense took care of it from there.
"We were going so crazy in the locker room [afterward]," said receiver Jamal Turner. "Coach [Pelini] said he's never been prouder of a team before in his life."
Nebraska is hardly out of the woods. Dramatic as it was, the Huskers beat a mediocre Buckeyes team. Still, it will be interesting to see whether the momentum that began with David's forced fumble continues going forward.
If you skipped out on Saturday's Miami-Virginia Tech game because ... well, because it was two already beaten ACC teams and because ABC probably wasn't showing it in your area, then you missed one of the season's most thrilling games to date, highlighted by a pair of monstrous individual performances.
A week after failing to lead his team to even a touchdown against Clemson, Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas finally showed what the hype was all about. The sophomore was a masterful 23-of-25 for 310 yards, three touchdowns and no picks, with the two incompletions coming on a drop and a desperate flip under pressure. But his biggest play came with his feet. Facing fourth-and-one with 56 seconds left, down 35-31, Thomas faked a handoff to David Wilson, then shot straight up the middle untouched for a game-winning 19-yard touchdown run.
"I stepped through the hole and there was nothing there," Thomas said afterward.
Thomas managed to overshadow another eye-popping day from Miami tailback Lamar Miller, who rushed for 166 yards on 18 carries and now ranks third in the country in rushing with 135.4 yards per game. On one fourth-quarter drive to cut Tech's lead to 31-28, Miller rushed for gains of 37 and 22 yards, then caught a 16-yard touchdown on a trick pass from receiver Phillip Dorsett. His 30-yard touchdown run put the 'Canes up 35-31.
But ultimately, Al Golden's team (2-3, 0-2 ACC) suffered its third heartbreaking loss of the season -- all decided in the final minute -- leaving Miami's first-year coach fighting back tears in the postgame press conference.
"I really felt like we were going to win," said Golden. "I thought in a lot of ways we deserved to win."
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech (5-1, 1-1) gained new life after last week's Clemson debacle. Next up: A trip to suddenly formidable Wake Forest (more on the Deacs in a bit). Which Thomas will we see the rest of the way?
My reaction to the latest AP and Coaches' polls:
Overrated: Georgia Tech (AP and Coaches': No. 12)
It's hard to knock 6-0, but I'd like to see the Jackets beat a ranked team first before elevating them to the upper half of the rankings. Saturday they eked by 2-3 Maryland, with the Terps playing their backup quarterback most of the way.
Underrated: Kansas State (AP: No. 17; Coaches': No. 18)
Bill Snyder's defense is legit, folks. On the heels of their win over then 15th-ranked Baylor, the Wildcats (5-0) put the clamps on Missouri's high-powered offense in a 24-17 win Saturday and currently rank 15th in scoring defense.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's this week's edition:
Title game: Alabama vs. OklahomaRose: Oregon vs. WisconsinFiesta: Oklahoma State vs. StanfordSugar: LSU vs. Boise StateOrange: Clemson vs. West Virginia
No changes this week -- though you could flip a coin right now between Oregon and Stanford. The Ducks are doing what they always do. Since the opening loss to LSU, they've outscored their last four opponents 69-20, 56-7, 56-31 and 43-15, though they did lose LaMichael James to an elbow injury late in last Thursday's win over Cal at the tail end of James' third straight 200-yard rushing game. It will be interesting to see how the Ducks fare without him Saturday against No. 18 Arizona State. We'll probably get to see more of explosive freshman De'Anthony Thomas.
Meanwhile, Andrew Luck and Stanford just keep taking care of business, though they've still yet to play anyone of note. Luck was 26-of-33 for 370 yards, three touchdowns and a pick in Saturday's 48-7 rout of Colorado. Apparently Coaches' Poll voters were unimpressed: Idle Wisconsin passed the Cardinal for the No. 4 spot.
• Remember a few weeks ago, when Mark Richt was almost certainly a goner at Georgia? We haven't heard a peep lately as the Dawgs (4-2) have moved into a tie for first place in the SEC East with a 3-1 league record. Saturday's 20-12 win at Tennessee gave the 11th-year coach his 100th career victory, though it did come with some unusual drama. A succession of three straight holding calls and a facemask penalty left Georgia with a second-and-56 from its own 33. On fourth-and-58, it punted.
• That's nothing, however, compared to the odds Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is facing after the Vols (3-2, 1-2 SEC) lost quarterback Tyler Bray to a thumb injury that will likely sideline him for four weeks. Talk about bad timing. Over the next three weeks, Tennessee faces No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Alabama and No. 15 South Carolina. "What do you do?" said Dooley. "Nobody's going to feel sorry for Tennessee." Actually, I kind of do.
• Penn State has made it to 5-1 despite having one of the nation's worst passing offenses because its defense is making opposing passers perform even worse. In Saturday's 13-3 win over Iowa, Penn State intercepted previously sterling Hawkeyes quarterback James Vandenberg twice and sacked him on three straight plays late in the game. The Nittany Lions now boast the nation's fourth-ranked pass efficiency defense (89.81) and fourth-ranked total defense (250.8 yards per game).
• Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson is on fire. A week after throwing for a school-record 510 yards against Texas A&M, Wilson at one point completed 19 straight passes in the 10th-ranked Razorbacks' (5-1, 1-1 SEC) 38-14 win over Auburn (4-2, 2-1). It marked the third-longest streak in SEC history. Things didn't go so well Saturday for his Tigers counterparts, though. Auburn's Barrett Trotter completed just 6-of-19 passes for 81 yards, while freshman Kiehl Frazier threw two picks.
• Michigan (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) finally went on the road Saturday, and at first looked like it was headed for another October meltdown. Northwestern was up 24-14 at halftime thanks to three Denard Robinson interceptions. Unlike recent Wolverines squads, however, this one is capable of adjusting. Brady Hoke's defense shut out the Wildcats in the second half while Robinson (450 total yards) calmed down to lead four touchdown drives for a 42-24 win. Now comes a biggie next week at Michigan State.
• No. 8 Clemson (6-0) took care of business at Boston College, 36-14, but not without a scare. Quarterback Tajh Boyd went down with a hip injury in the third quarter and never returned. X-rays were negative and on Sunday Boyd pleased a whole lot of Tigers fans by tweeting he "... will be back for the [Maryland] game" next week. See, coaches of America: It's not always a bad thing to let your players use Twitter.
• Remember when the Boise State-Fresno State rivalry was ... well, a rivalry? Now they're no longer in the same league, literally (at least until next year) or figuratively. No. 5 Boise (5-0) won last year's meeting 51-0 at home, and on Friday, rolled 57-7 at Fresno (2-4). "We certainly understand the history between the two teams," said Kellen Moore. "You have to come with a lot of energy and start fast." Actually, it seems like Boise just needs to enter the stadium.
• Five years removed from Rutgers' one great moment in the sun (its 11-2 season in 2006), Greg Schiano's team is producing another sneaky good defense. The Scarlet Knights (4-1, 2-0 Big East) notched four interceptions and held Pittsburgh (3-3) to 271 total yards in a surprising 34-10 rout. "That was an old-fashioned Rutgers win," said Schiano, referring either to the school's famous 6-4 win over Princeton in 1869, or more likely to '06 -- the only other time it started 2-0 in the Big East.
• Steve Spurrier's switch to sophomore Connor Shaw paid immediate dividends, with the quarterback throwing four touchdowns and South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC) racking up 639 yards -- the highest in Spurrier's tenure -- in a 51-3 rout of Kentucky. It's always more fun when the Ball Coach is blowing people out, because it prompts him to say things like this: "Kentucky has a heck of a punter, I know that." The fun will presumably last until the first time Shaw throws an interception.
• Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh, targeting a Big East football-only invite for his program, told the Denver Post he turned down overtures from the Big 12 because of the level of competition. "I can't do that to my kids, because they'll get beat up," he said. Fair enough, but does he plan to keep Notre Dame on the schedule? Because Tommy Rees and the Irish (4-2) hurt the Falcons pretty badly in a 59-33 rout Saturday, scoring their most points in 15 years.
• No. 6 Oklahoma State (5-0) only needed the services of Brandon Weeden (24-of-28, 288 yards, five touchdowns) for one half to hang 70 on Kansas (2-3), which is allowing 49.4 points per game. Next up the Jayhawks face ... Oklahoma.
• It seems increasingly likely Mike Stoops is down to his last days at Arizona. After falling 37-27 to previously winless Oregon State, the Wildcats (1-5) have lost nine straight games against FBS opponents dating to last season.
• Your Case Keenum NCAA record book watch: The Houston quarterback moved into second place Saturday on both the career yardage (15,895) and touchdowns (124) lists. He's looking up at Timmy Chang and Graham Harrell, respectively.
• Syracuse kicker Ross Krautman may have missed that extra point against Toledo, but he was true on a game-winning 21-yard field goal Saturday to beat Tulane.
• Some Texas Tech fans gave Texas A&M a sophomoric going-away present Saturday. The Aggies left Lubbock (possibly for the last time) with a 45-40 win.
We knew it would happen the day the rule was first announced nearly 18 months ago: Some unfortunate player would have a touchdown nullified for taunting on his way into the end zone. But who would have predicted the first perpetrator would be a punter?
Executing a nifty fake punt late in the first quarter against Florida, LSU's Brad Wing was on his way into the end zone on a 44-yard touchdown run when he briefly glanced at the two nearest Florida defenders and spread his arms in a boastful gesture. Out came the flag. Wing's run was ruled dead at the eight-yard-line, and 15 yards were tacked on to push the Tigers back to the 23. They settled for a field goal.
The reaction across the Twittersphere was predictably indignant and irate.
"Based on what was seen on the television replays, the LSU player turned towards two Florida players and made a taunting gesture," Steve Shaw, the SEC's director of officials, said in a hastily issued release. "The rule as stated in the rule book was accurately applied."
Indeed it was. Even Les Miles agreed. But why is this rule on the books in the first place? It seemed completely over the top from the minute it was announced, and this didn't make me feel any better about it. What exactly are we trying to curb here? Why does it seem like a more restrictive rule gets put on the books every year to help make football just a little bit more sterile?
And really, how is the punter supposed to know?
If any good came from the incident, it's that it brought attention to Wing, a redshirt freshman from Australia who's emerged as one of LSU's most valuable players. Forget the fake punt. He pinned six punts inside the 11-yard line against West Virginia, and Saturday he placed one at the two-yard-line. As we inevitably look ahead to Nov. 5, Wing could well prove to be as much of a difference-maker as Courtney Upshaw or Tyrann Mathieu.
Assuming, of course, he doesn't look at anybody the wrong way.
On Saturday afternoon, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry tweeted the following: "Wake beating FSU, things are back to normal!" Winning in general was fairly normal during Curry's time in Winston Salem, including a 2006-08 span in which the Demon Deacons went 28-12 and earned an ACC title and three straight bowl berths. But it only took two losing seasons, including a 3-9 debacle last year, for Jim Grobe's program to return to the realm of the forgotten.
"It's always nice to sneak up on people," Grobe said Sunday after his team's aforementioned 35-30 upset of Florida State sent Wake to its first 3-0 ACC start since ... well, ever.
In order to win at the smallest school (4,569) in a BCS conference, Grobe, now in his 11th season, built his program around redshirting as many freshmen as possible and developing strong senior classes. Last season, however, a rash of injuries and a small senior class forced him to ditch the script, with often disastrous results including a 52-21 loss to Virginia Tech and a 62-14 loss to Maryland.
"We had too many young guys play last year. We just can't do that at Wake Forest," said Grobe. " We got embarrassed in a handful of games last year but felt we had some talented young kids. And then coming back this spring, it felt like there was something special about the chemistry these guys had."
One of the youngsters forced into action last season was then-freshman quarterback Tanner Price, who is now blossoming into one of the ACC's top passers. Price, a product of the same Texas prep power (Austin Westlake) as Drew Brees, Nick Foles and others, was 21-of-35 for 233 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against the 'Noles. His importance goes beyond the numbers. Wake's sole loss came in the opener at Syracuse, when Price went out with a minor knee injury and the Deacons blew a 29-14 lead.
But much like those 2006-08 teams, which featured stars like Curry and cornerback Alphonso Smith, Wake is surprisingly athletic on defense. Cornerback Bud Noel, who like Smith is from Pahokee, Fla., had a game-high eight tackles and notched one of four interceptions on the day. Undersized nose guard Nikita Whitlock, another Texan, came after FSU quarterback Manuel. "We played a little bit over our head [Saturday] and got a big win over the Noles," said Grobe.
Wake gets no time to celebrate the victory. This week, Virginia Tech comes to town. Grobe is 66-61 at Wake Forest -- the school's first coach in 61 years with a winning record -- but he's 0-3 against the Hokies. "You hope that would be something this football team takes to heart," he said. "But these young guys, they don't know the history we've had."
They think this is normal.
Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:
• Michigan at Michigan State, Saturday (Noon ET): Here we go, Denard. The oft-dazzling, oft-frustrating Wolverines quarterback is averaging 341 yards of offense, but he also has a 10-to-nine touchdown-to-interception ratio. He can't afford to be destructive against the Spartans' No. 1 defense (173.4 yards per game).
• Arizona State at Oregon, Saturday (10:15 p.m. ET): It's a strange but true possibility that these teams could meet again in the same stadium in December for the Pac-12 championship. In the meantime, an opportunistic ASU defense (18 forced turnovers) looks to frazzle Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas.
• Oklahoma State at Texas, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): If he hasn't already, Cowboys receiver Blackmon is going to watch tape of Saturday's Red River game, watch Ryan Broyles repeatedly torch 'Horns freshman corner Quandre Diggs, and drool. Texas will need a big game from freshman running back Malcolm Brown.