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September 4, 2011
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Baylor is a team with which to be reckoned. No, the Bears don't figure to be a serious threat to the top contenders (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M) in the Big 12 race, but they showed they can't be overlooked, either, with a stunning 50-48 upset of No. 14 TCU on Friday. QB Robert Griffin threw five touchdown passes against Gary Patterson's usually stingy TCU defense, and WR Kendall Wright had a huge outing. Baylor's explosive offense can cause major problems for every team on its schedule.
Alabama has found its starting quarterback. All through the spring and in fall camp, there were questions about who would win Alabama's quarterback competition between sophomore A.J. McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. McCarron threw for 226 yards and a touchdown in leading the Crimson Tide to a 48-7 win over Kent State. Although McCarron also threw two interceptions, he performed better than Sims and established himself as the Tide's starter.
Ohio State may be OK at quarterback. Joe Bauserman won't show up on any Heisman watch lists, but he displayed enough promise in a 42-0 romp over Akron to think he effectively can lead this team. Bauserman, a fifth-year senior who used to be a minor league pitcher, hit 12-of-16 passes for 163 yards with three touchdown tosses and no picks. Yes, the competition will get more challenging, but Bauserman passed his first test.
Boise State is a BCS title game contender -- again. The Broncos' dominating 35-21 performance against Georgia was a major statement. Boise State has the offense, defense, coaching, schedule and mojo to advance to the BCS title game as a team from a non-qualifying conference. And playing in a better league -- a move from the WAC to the Mountain West -- may provide the Broncos with the needed BCS formula "juice."
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Despite beating Notre Dame, USF should not get ahead of itself. USF delivered a first-weekend upset when it defeated a ranked Notre Dame team 23-20 in South Bend. It's an important win for the Bulls' program and the national standing of the Big East, but this is not a definitive statement for USF. There are two key reasons. First, Notre Dame did everything it could to give the game away. The Irish turned the ball over five times, including thrice inside USF's 10. The Bulls hardly were dominant, allowing Notre Dame to put up 507 yards. QB B.J. Daniels was better than he was for most of last season, but the Bulls' offense didn't overwhelm Notre Dame by any means. Second, the Bulls know firsthand that big non-conference wins do not necessarily bring success in the conference. Since 2007, USF has defeated Auburn, Florida State and Miami on the road and Clemson in a bowl game, yet the Bulls have gone a combined 10-16 in the Big East. USF scored a big win for itself and the league and solidified itself as a contender in the Big East -- which we knew already -- but the Bulls have to follow through before earning more believers.
LSU QB Jordan Jefferson was the most overrated storyline of the week. The arrest and subsequent suspension of Jefferson was one of the major storylines of the last week or so. By Saturday, we learned it was because of the nature of the story -- a fight, the story unfolding day-by-day, the 49 pairs of shoes, that it involved a prominent player the week of a major game -- and not its impact on the game. What became apparent early in LSU's win over Oregon was that the absence didn't really matter. The Tigers survived and showed no signs of being a distracted team. Jarrett Lee was far from perfect, completing 10 of 22 passes for 98 yards with a touchdown. What didn't get enough pre-game talk, though, was that LSU doesn't need its quarterback to be a game-breaker. TBs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford both neared the 100-yard mark, and the defense was dominant. LSU just needs its quarterback, Lee or whomever, to avoid the big mistake. Against Oregon, Lee succeeded admirably in that department.
Don't sleep on Houston. The Cougars opened the season with a 38-34 victory over UCLA, and QB Case Keenum looked fully recovered from the torn ACL that caused him to miss most of last season. The Cougars' defense really isn't that good -- Bruins reserve QB Richard Brehaut was extremely effective -- but it may not matter. You want a potential BCS-buster? Look at Houston -- specifically, it's schedule. UCLA was the only Big Six team the Cougars play, and the rest of the non-conference schedule isn't scary at all: North Texas, Louisiana Tech and FCS program Georgia State. After the non-conference portion of the schedule is over, there are six consecutive C-USA games against teams that finished with losing records last season. The only offense that can truly exploit Houston's defense in that stretch is East Carolina's -- but Keenum going against ECU's defense is akin to Tom Brady going against your kid's Pop Warner team. In other words, Houston should be 10-0 going into its final two regular-season games -- SMU and at Tulsa.
The SEC is down -- but it still has two of the top three national title contenders. The SEC will not be its usual big, bad self from top to bottom this season. Georgia was dominated up front on both sides of the ball by Boise State. Auburn was lucky to beat Utah State. Kentucky's offense was horrible against Western Kentucky. South Carolina's secondary again looks shaky. Ole Miss can't pass. And despite winning with big first-week routs, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt have issues that will bite them this season. (Actually, that we included Vandy in that last sentence is because it will be the only time this season we can use "Vanderbilt," "winning" and "rout" in the same sentence, so why not go for it?) Ultimately, though, while SEC commissioner Mike Slive won't be able to crow about top-to-bottom excellence (or at least one-through-10-or-11 excellence), he has to smile knowing the defenses at Alabama and LSU give the league two teams that easily could end the season in New Orleans for the national title game.
South Carolina's SEC title hopes could depend on Stephen Garcia. While TB Marcus Lattimore and WR Alshon Jeffery clearly are the brightest stars in South Carolina's offense, the Gamecocks won't win the SEC unless Garcia finally develops some consistency in his last season of college football. That much was apparent after South Carolina's 56-37 season-opening victory over East Carolina. Late in the week, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier made the surprising decision to start Connor Shaw ahead of Garcia. South Carolina promptly fell behind 17-0 before Garcia entered the game and sparked a comeback. Garcia isn't a quarterback South Carolina fans can trust. He has let them down too many times. But they're going to have to put their faith in him once again. He may not be an ideal option, but he remains the Gamecocks' best option.
Never believe what anyone says about Notre Dame before the season. It happens every five years or so. A new coach at Notre Dame does well in his debut season, and all the talk around South Bend the following summer centers on the Irish's "return to glory," or at least their return to relevance. Then everything falls apart. Tyrone Willingham went from The Sporting News national sportsman of the year in his debut season to a 5-7 record in his second season. Charlie Weis never built on the momentum of his Fiesta Bowl appearance in his first season. And after ending the first season of Brian Kelly's regime on a four-game winning streak, the Irish opened the second season of Kelly's tenure with a dreadful performance in a 23-20 loss to USF. My gut tells me that Kelly is a better coach than Willingham or Weis and eventually will succeed. But why should anyone else believe that? We've seen this story too many times before.
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