By Stewart Mandel
September 06, 2009

Football Insiders: Click here to read Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback.

Saturday night's BYU-Oklahoma matchup was borne of necessity. Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione told me this summer the Sooners signed on for the neutral-site game only after an unnamed mid-level school surprisingly declined Oklahoma's offer for a home-and-home. ("Let's just say it's a team that you wouldn't traditionally expect Oklahoma to go play in their stadium," he said.) With the Sooners and Cougars looking to fill an open date on their schedules, ESPN stepped in with an offer to play in its planned season-opener at the new Cowboys Stadium. The parties only announced the matchup last January.

Oklahoma and BYU could have chosen to follow so many other schools and schedule a creampuff opener. Instead, they took a gamble. As a result, the Sooners are paying a hefty price, their national-title hopes severely damaged and their star quarterback sidelined.

The Cougars, however, have set themselves up for a potentially unprecedented opportunity. Since the dawn of the BCS, we've assumed the loftiest goal a team like BYU could realistically achieve was a berth to the Sugar, Orange, Rose or Fiesta bowls. We've assumed justifiably -- no such team has finished higher than sixth in the BCS standings.

But no previous team from a non-BCS conference has ever beaten a top three team during that period, either. With BYU set to play three more games against teams ranked in the AP's preseason top 20 (TCU, Florida State and Utah), it's time to revisit a question I first posed last month: Could an undefeated BYU team realistically reach the national championship game?

At least one man thinks so. "I give BYU credit for scheduling itself into that position," Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said Sunday. "That schedule matches up pretty well with a lot of people's."

BYU's upset could not have come at a better time for Thompson, who's spent much of the past eight months crusading for his conference's inclusion among the BCS's automatic-qualifying leagues. This being just the second year of a four-year review period, he needs MWC teams to continue their momentum from last season, when Utah and TCU both finished in the top 10.

Last January in New Orleans, Thompson watched the Utes rout a 12-1 Alabama team that nearly played for the national championship. On Saturday in Dallas, he watched the Cougars shut down a Sooners team that did play for last year's title.

Some will instinctively downplay BYU's 14-13 upset due to Heisman winner Sam Bradford's shoulder injury. Those people probably did not watch the game. A swarming Cougars defense exploited Oklahoma's rebuilt offensive line from the get-go. The scoreboard read 7-7 when Bradford went out, 10-7 at halftime and 13-7 after BYU stonewalled Oklahoma on a third-and-goal from the one-yard-line early in the fourth quarter, relegating the Sooners to a field goal.

"We knew the center [Brody Eldridge] was a [converted] tight end and he needed to make all the protection calls," BYU defensive coordinator Jaime Hill told Salt Lake City's 1280 the Zone. "We thought hopefully we could put them in some bad situations where they didn't know where we were coming from -- and they didn't."

Offensively, BYU played the entire game without returning 1,132-yard rusher Harvey Unga, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Despite that, Cougars QB Max Hall (26-of-38, 329 yards) kept chipping away at the Sooners' defense. Stymied by a pair of interceptions and two BYU fumbles, Hall finally broke through late in the fourth quarter, engineering a 16-play, 78-yard go-ahead touchdown drive.

Last year, BYU began the season as the consensus favored "BCS buster," but ultimately the Cougars' young defense couldn't play at the same level as its powerful offense. This year's team is much better suited for a run at perfection -- if it can handle the schedule.

In the meantime, I'm eager to see how the voters treat BYU when the new polls come out Tuesday. When TCU knocked off No. 7 Oklahoma in the 2005 opener, the Horned Frogs barely made a dent, entering the AP poll at No. 22 (four spots lower than the Sooners). BYU, however, should benefit from having started the season ranked 20th, and, presumably, from the level of respect for its conference that did not exist four years ago.

"It will be really interesting to see what the nation thinks of that performance, and equally interesting will be where Oklahoma drops to," said Thompson. "It's all about how quickly you can move up in the polls, and ultimately, where you get stranded in the polls. If they continue to win, then it's going to be equally important to see what happens in November."

Besides Oklahoma, Boise State has to be the team most dismayed by BYU's upset. After handling Oregon last Thursday (yes, a game took place before all the punching), the Broncos seemed to have paved a near-unobstructed road to their first BCS berth since 2006, but now the Cougars figure to jump them. Not only did BYU notch a more resounding win, but there's a vast disparity between the teams' remaining schedules. Consider: Two of Boise's purportedly toughest competitors in the WAC are Nevada and San Jose State. Notre Dame blanked the Wolf Pack 35-0 on Saturday; USC stomped the Spartans 56-3.

However, should the Mountain West heavyweights knock off each other, the Broncos showed signs against Oregon that they may be fielding their most complete team since the '06 Fiesta Bowl champs. After basically ditching their running game last year due to a young offensive line, the Broncos pounded the ball against the Ducks with tailback tandem Jeremy Avery and D.J. Harper. "Up front, we're better, bigger," said offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. "And the combination of utilizing Avery and Harper [on entire drives] lets them get into a rhythm."

Throw in gunslinger Kellen Moore and a defense that held Oregon without a first down for two-and-a-half quarters, and Boise figures to be a tough matchup come bowl time. Hopefully for the Broncos, bowl time doesn't take place at the Poinsettia Bowl.

Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. My current predictions:

Title game: Florida vs. Texas Rose: USC vs. Penn State Fiesta: Oklahoma State vs. Boise State Sugar: Alabama vs. Rutgers Orange: Georgia Tech vs. BYU

Would a BCS bowl (in this case, the Fiesta) voluntarily select a second non-BCS team? Probably not, but right now I'd take both BYU and Boise over a second team from the ACC, Big Ten or Pac-10. Following its uninspiring opener against Navy, I've taken Ohio State off my BCS board. The Buckeyes need to show me something next week against USC to regain their spot. And while Oklahoma may well rebound and produce another 10-win regular season, as of now I'm picking Oklahoma State to supplant the Sooners and take the Big 12 South's second berth.

• While attending a USC practice last week, I noticed junior tailback Joe McKnight looked bigger, sharper and generally more comfortable than he did during his relatively disappointing first two seasons. Coach Pete Carroll named McKnight the starter that day, and McKnight delivered against San Jose State, running 14 times for 154 yards and two TDs. Throw in Stafon Johnson, Allen Bradford, et. al., and a veteran line, and my guess is the Trojans are going to run the ball down a lot of peoples' throats this fall.

• No major conference endured a more humiliating opening weekend than the ACC, which went 4-6 in non-conference play despite the fact six of those games came against I-AA opponents. The league lost all four of its BCS-conference matchups (NC State fell to South Carolina, Virginia Tech to Alabama, Wake Forest to Baylor and Maryland to Cal), while Virginia (to William and Mary) and Duke (to Richmond) fell to I-AA foes. Mind you, many of the victims were picked near the bottom of the conference anyway, but it doesn't make the idiot who said the league could be "poised for prominence" look very smart.

• With Steve Sarkisian on the sideline and star QB Jake Locker back on the field, Washington looked like a different team, even in a 31-23 loss to LSU, than the squad that went winless a year ago. The Huskies gained more yards in the first half (296) on Saturday than in seven full games last year and wound up with 478, led by Locker's 372 total yards. Tigers fans, meanwhile, should be concerned their defense possibly hasn't improved as anticipated under new coordinator John Chavis, but can take heart in the solid performance sophomore QB Jordan Jefferson (11-of-19, 172 yards, three TDs) put together.

• As if Oklahoma State didn't have enough star power with Zac Robinson, Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant, it's probably time folks started giving cornerback Perrish Cox his due. The noted return specialist struck again Saturday against Georgia with a momentum-changing 74-yard kick return to start the third quarter. Just as impressive: his sticky coverage against the Dawgs' star receiver, A.J. Green, who finished with a modest 52 yards on four catches.

• Virginia Tech has now dropped four straight games against SEC foes, but the two most recent -- Saturday's 34-24 defeat to Alabama and a 48-7 loss to LSU in 2007 -- have been particularly disturbing. The Hokies' normally stingy defense allowed a combined 1,106 yards to the Tigers and Tide. It's one thing to stifle the primarily mediocre offenses that have littered the ACC in recent years, but the Hokies have been outclassed when facing more physical, dynamic attacks. And that's on their strong side of the ball.

• Speaking of which, if Alabama's capable of winning a game like that even after allowing a 98-yard kickoff return, throwing a pick at its own 14, having one of its players commit multiple unsportsmanlike penalties on the same play and generally stinking it up for three quarters, it bodes pretty well for the Tide. Still, I wouldn't want to be in a meeting room with Nick Saban this week.

• He runs like a track star. He's lethal on the deep ball. Now, add a new feat to Robert Griffin's resume: he can punt. On a quick-kick in the second quarter against Wake Forest, the Baylor quarterback drilled a 59-yard punt that pinned the Deacons at their five-yard-line. Meanwhile the Bears' defense picked off Wake QB Riley Skinner three times in a 24-21 victory, Baylor's first nonconference road win over a BCS foe since 1995.

• Arizona coach Mike Stoops has spent six years trying to mold the Wildcats' defense into the type of fast, aggressive outfit he engineered at Oklahoma. How's this for a statement: The Wildcats held prolific Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour -- he of 9,214 passing yards and 2,235 rushing yards over three seasons -- to just 182 total yards in a 19-6 win. "We're trying to be a greedy defense and bring back the old days," said safety Cam Nelson, presumably referring to Arizona's "Desert Swarm" D from the '90s. Continued efforts like that will take a lot of pressure off sophomore QB and first-time starter Matt Scott.

• New Purdue coach Danny Hope certainly doesn't lack swagger. Following Saturday's 52-31 rout of Toledo, in which the Boilermakers showed off a more balanced, multiple-look offense, Hope said: "I'm not surprised to see us hang 50 on them. I think we have a very good offense." After 12 years of Joe Tiller's famed spread, coordinator Gary Nord showed a little bit of everything -- five-receiver sets, more traditional sets, some no-huddle -- and sophomore RB Ralph Bolden exploded for 234 yards, third-most in school history.

• That thing I said last week about Penn State being overrated? Forget it. Never happened. The Nittany Lions outgained Akron 344 to 8 in the first half of a 31-7 win (all 31 points came in that half), and it seems Daryll Clark and his new receivers are getting along just fine.

• Oh, and what I said about Cal? About how I wouldn't jump on the Bears' bandwagon until QB Kevin Riley showed me something? Riley was 17-of-26 for 298 yards and four touchdowns against Maryland. Choo choo!

• While we're at it, to anyone in St. Louis who listened to a radio interview I did there last week in which I proclaimed Illinois a potential national sleeper ... I misplaced my phone that day. Really. Wasn't me who answered.

• Only one weekend in, and I already want to pound my head into a wall every time I hear that Kenny Chesney snippet. Why, ESPN? Why?

Last Thursday night, while most of the country was fixated on Oregon-Boise State, a stunning score popped up from Muncie, Ind.: North Texas 20, Ball State 10. If that doesn't register, this will: Ball State went 12-2 last year; the Mean Green were 1-11.

After going 3-21 his first two seasons, North Texas coach Todd Dodge -- who the school took a decided gamble on by hiring him straight out of Texas prep power Southlake Carroll -- got a much-needed confidence booster. And he did it with a familiar face running his no-huddle spread offense: redshirt freshman QB Riley Dodge, his son. "We're not anything to write home about yet, but [Riley] did a really nice job in his first game getting the ball in a lot of different peoples' hands," said Todd, who previously coached Chase Daniel in high school.

Most remarkably, North Texas' defense -- which ranked dead last nationally last season -- held the Cardinals to 10 points. Granted, Ball State figured to take a dip following the departure of head coach Brady Hoke and star QB Nate Davis. But the Mean Green, helped by the influx of four junior college or freshman defensive linemen -- held the Cardinals to just 309 yards.

This was the San Jose State coach's assessment following his team's 56-3 loss to USC: "For a while it looked like we could compete with them. Obviously, it was an illusion."

Still traumatized by Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount's punch-to-the-face last Thursday night? Still puzzled over how a college football player could melt down so explosively on national television? On this week's edition of "The Bubba Counseling Show," Bob Zima, licensed professional counselor and self-proclaimed Boise State fan, uses the Blount punch to teach us all a valuable lesson about hurt and anger ... direct from his RV. (Warning: clip includes brief profanity.)

The Lane Kiffin era got off to a rocking start -- literally. Saturday's 63-7 rout of Western Kentucky doesn't mean Tennessee will win the SEC just yet, but the Vols already take the cake for highest production value of a pre-kickoff Jumbotron segment. It certainly worked this dude into a tizzy (the real fun starts at the 3:42 mark).

I'm not sure I've ever endured a stranger game-trip than last week's jaunt to Boise.

It started almost bucolically, my buddy Bruce Feldman and I enjoying lunch at the RAM Restaurant and Brewery across the street from Bronco Stadium, looking out at joggers and dog-walkers strolling the Boise River Greenbelt. With a Rueben in my hand, Journey's Any Way You Want It piping through the restaurant and ESPN Classic replaying the Northwestern-USC Rose Bowl on one of the bar's TVs, life seemed pretty grand.

Of course, the evening ended with my head spinning and my poor editors waiting on me at 4 a.m. EST as I tried to process the fact that a prominent college football player had just punched an opposing player in the face, among other things. In between, Bruce and I somehow got lost on that same river trail for two hours in 94-degree weather, I ate three different brewpub meals in less than 24 hours and I learned that I'd been mispronouncing "Boise" (it's Boi-see, not Boyz-ee) my entire life.

Boise really is a lovely place with a beautiful stadium and a splendid football team, though I do have one criticism (shared, apparently, by Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott): How does the school not punish Byron Hout? Seriously?

Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:

USC at Ohio State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET): My, how things change in a week. Back when USC named Matt Barkley its starting quarterback and lost starting WR Ronald Johnson and CB Shareece Wright, many felt the Trojans would be vulnerable heading to Columbus. Now, after watching USC thump San Jose Sate and the Buckeyes barely escape against Navy, many may wonder whether this year's game will be any closer than last year's 35-3 Trojans wipeout.

Notre Dame at Michigan (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET): Boy, did this one get more interesting in a hurry. The Wolverines looked light years better in their 31-7 rout of Western Michigan, but how will young QB Tate Forcier fare against an ND defense that shut out Nevada? For that matter, can Irish QB Jimmy Clausen continue his recent dominance (37-of-44, 716 yards and nine TDs in his past two games) against the Greg Robinson-led Wolverines defense? I know one thing: I'm intrigued.

UCLA at Tennessee (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET): The Vols racked up an impressive 657 yards against Western Kentucky, but I'm not sure that tells us anything. The Bruins only scored three offensive touchdowns against San Diego State, but I'm not sure that tells us anything, either. The only thing we'll know for sure going in is there are going to be a whole lot of freshmen on that field.

Now that you've got your college fix, click here to satisfy your pro football craving with Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback.

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