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September 18, 2011
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Texas has found a quarterback. Mack Brown will probably continue to use true freshman David Ash, but after Saturday's 49-20 victory over UCLA, there should be no doubt that sophomore Case McCoy is the Longhorns' starter. McCoy was 12-of-15 for 168 yards and two touchdowns. More than that, he showed poise, leadership and big-play ability. On one play late in the first half, he stepped away from two possible sacks and completed a pass inside UCLA's 5. He threw a touchdown pass on the next play. Texas hasn't had that kind of play out of its quarterback since McCoy's older brother left two years ago.
Notre Dame has a top-20-caliber team. The doubters and skeptic were out in full force after Notre Dame's first two losses, but the Fighting Irish came back with a dominant showing in a 31-13 victory over Michigan State. Notre Dame got big plays from its running game, defense and special teams. The Irish committed three turnovers, but it's clear when Notre Dame avoids turnovers -- or at least reduces them -- the Irish are good enough to finish in the top 20.
Oklahoma is good -- but not great. Oklahoma used a workmanlike effort to dispose of Florida State 23-13. But it wasn't a dominating performance against a Seminoles team that played most of the second half with a redshirt freshman quarterback. Are the Sooners really the best team in the nation? I don't think so. Yes, Oklahoma has a better quarterback than Alabama or LSU. But I think Alabama and LSU are better overall. Each team has a superior defense. And each team has a more physical rushing attack.
On Wisconsin. Wisconsin looks like a national title contender. Wisconsin's 49-7 triumph over Northern Illinois was the Badgers' latest impressive win for a program that has been taken to another level offensively by QB Russell Wilson, who threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns. Wisconsin has one last tune-up before beginning Big Ten play at home against Nebraska on Oct. 1 in what could be a preview of the inaugural league title game.
[GamecockCentral: More and more, Lattimore]
The SEC East is down to Florida and South Carolina, for now. According to conventional wisdom, the winners of Tennessee-Florida and South Carolina-Georgia would be the front-runners in the SEC East. True, Florida and South Carolina have a head start, but neither the Gators nor the Gamecocks look anything like their counterparts in the West. Florida can be proud of its 33-23 win over Tennessee on Saturday, but the Gators' offense remains a work in progress. The Gators' offense disappeared at times and UF squandered opportunities to bury Tennessee. Florida started four drives in Tennessee territory and finished those possessions with as many punts (one) as touchdowns. And what can I say about South Carolina? It's no surprise to see Navy's option cause problems, even for top teams. But this is becoming a trend for the Gamecocks. South Carolina surrendered 436 total yards to Georgia, then 274 rushing yards to Navy. Every team will have its lapses, but I wonder what's going to happen to Florida and South Carolina when they step out against the SEC West. In that category, South Carolina has a major advantage since it skips Alabama and LSU. Florida will need its offense to catch up to its defense and special teams to challenge both in early October.
It's time to start paying attention to Illinois. With so much going on Saturday night with Oklahoma's win over Florida State, South Carolina's close call with Navy and Miami's rout of Ohio State, it was easy to lose track of perhaps the biggest statement game for any team besides Oklahoma. Illinois defeated Arizona State 17-14 with a great defensive effort against Sun Devils QB Brock Osweiler. The Illini sacked Osweiler six times and intercepted him twice, and QB Nathan Scheelhaase did enough on the ground and in the air to win. Name a Big Ten team that struggled through the first two weeks of the season and they're on Illinois' schedule: Northwestern, Indiana, Ohio State, Purdue, Penn State and Minnesota. The toughest games, Wisconsin and Michigan, are at home. Illinois might not play for a Big Ten title, but the Illini may be in good position for a 10-win season.
[HuskerOnline: Nebraska outguns Washington]
Nebraska's defense isn't that good. Behind QB Taylor Martinez, the Huskers' offense has looked darned good so far -- as in good enough to win the Big Ten. The defense, though, has to have coach Bo Pelini raging in the film room. It was gashed last week by Fresno State and this week by Washington. Injured CB Alfonzo Dennard has been missed, and DT Jared Crick and LB Lavonte David have been good but not outstanding. The Huskers get one final tuneup next week against Wyoming before they travel to Wisconsin on Oct. 1. Given the way his defense has played, Pelini can't feel too comfortable right now about that visit to Madison.
The best record in Florida will belong to .... Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Florida International. The Golden Panthers won at Louisville last week, their first win over a Big Six team in school history. This week, they beat UCF despite playing most of the game without star WR T.Y. Hilton. UCF was coming off a dominating performance against Boston College, and talk again was emanating out of Orlando that UCF "belonged" in a Big Six league. After Saturday, that talk is going to go away for a while. FIU's defense shut down UCF's running game in helping the Golden Panthers move to 3-0. The last non-conference game left for FIU is Duke; other than that, every other game is against a Sun Belt Conference opponent. It's not a stretch to say FIU could finish 12-0. More likely, the Golden Panthers will finish 11-1 or 10-2, but they easily could end up with the most wins of any team in Florida. Expect coach Mario Cristobal, a former Miami player and assistant, to be a hot commodity when other schools start searching for coaches in December.
[College Football Pick'em: Sign up and play today]
Georgia Tech is the nation's most fun team to watch. I'm still not convinced Georgia Tech's defense is good enough to allow the Yellow Jackets to make a serious run at the ACC title, but you can't take your eyes off this offense. Tech set an ACC record Saturday with 604 rushing yards and set a school record with 768 total yards in a 66-24 beatdown of Kansas. Orwin Smith's 95-yard touchdown run on the Yellow Jackets' first play from scrimmage was their sixth play of at least 70 yards this season. They're averaging 59.3 points per game, 10.3 yards per play and 7.9 yards per carry. This team can score from anywhere on the field at any given moment.
Never count Case Keenum out. The Houston quarterback delivered one of the most memorable performances of his record-setting career Saturday by bringing the Cougars all the way back from a 27-point deficit. Houston trailed Louisiana Tech 34-7 before scoring 28 unanswered points in the final 20 minutes of the game. Keenum started the comeback with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Edwards, and he hit Edwards again for the winning 32-yard touchdown with less than two minutes left. This wasn't the first time Keenum's done this. During the 2008 season, Keenum rallied Houston from 19 points down against UTEP and erased a 17-point deficit against UAB.
Tom Dienhart's Week 3 awards
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