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September 27, 2010

Huguenin: About those preseason rankings ...

We're a third of the way through the season, and 13 of the teams in the preseason coaches' top 25 already have lost at least once. Five have lost twice and another -- Georgia -- has lost three times.

Three of those teams were in the preseason top 10: No. 4 Texas, No. 6 Virginia Tech (which has lost twice) and No. 10 Iowa.

Virginia Tech lost to a FCS school -- at home, no less -- but Texas' loss to UCLA on Saturday still might be the most shocking. It's not that Texas lost, necessarily, but that the Longhorns were physically dominated up front.

UCLA had an inauspicious start to the game. The Bruins punted on their first possession. They took over at Texas' 20 on their second possession after a fumble recovery, but they went backward 11 yards, then missed a field goal. On its third possession, UCLA fumbled on first down at its 20 and Texas turned that into a field goal.

But by the time Texas scored again, it trailed 20-6 and UCLA had total control.

UCLA won 34-12, and the Bruins ran the ball right down the Longhorns' collective throats. UCLA threw the ball just nine times and finished with all of 27 passing yards. The Bruins ran it 56 times, for 264 yards, and that's counting 34 yards lost on sacks.

UCLA lost two fumbles and was penalized eight times for 75 yards -- and still it won in Austin by 22 points. Texas' only TD came with 2:32 left. The victory was UCLA's first on the road against a ranked opponent since 2001.

The Bruins forced five turnovers, including four in the first half, which ended with the Bruins leading 13-3. UCLA had 77 total yards and five first downs in the first half, but scored 10 points off turnovers.

The Bruins then went 80 yards on eight plays after the second-half kickoff for a 20-3 lead, and it was all but over, thanks to UCLA's clock-consuming ground attack.

"I can't grasp it," UCLA offensive tackle Sean Sheller said. "It's like a little kid at Disneyland."

That Sheller can't grasp it is understandable. UCLA came in at 1-2 and with as one-dimensional an offense as you can imagine. The Bruins had thrown for 300 yards -- total -- in their first three games, and Texas had to feel good about being able to stop the run. The Longhorns had allowed just 132 rushing yards in their first three games.

But Texas was powerless to stop UCLA's ground attack.

"It was a rear-end kicking," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "This one's embarrassing for me."

What's most embarrassing is that Texas' rushing attack -- the one Brown and his coaches vowed would be better this season -- is putrid again. The Longhorns are averaging 135.5 rushing yards per game, but in two games against Big Six opponents, that average drops to 89.0 yards.

The Longhorns could overcome a mediocre rushing attack the past two seasons because Colt McCoy was on hand. But they can't do it this season with sophomore Garrett Gilbert at quarterback. Brown knew that, which is why he promised an increased emphasis on the run. But it's not working.

Texas gets Oklahoma this week in the annual "Red River Rivalry," and Brown was asked afterward if he was worried about his team's confidence after losing by 22 to a UCLA team that was whipped 35-0 by Stanford on Sept. 11.

"Yeah," he answered. "No question."

Perhaps the lone bit of good news for the Longhorns is that Oklahoma once again didn't play all that well Saturday -- though the Sooners did win to go to 4-0.

For the third time in four games, the Sooners had to battle to the final whistle before emerging victorious. This week, it was a two-point win over a Cincinnati club coming in off a big loss to N.C. State. Last week, it was a three-point win over Air Force. In the opener, OU squeaked past Utah State.

Interestingly, in the one game observers thought OU could be in trouble, the Sooners crushed Florida State 47-17 in a game that wasn't even that close.

Texas can make everyone forget the embarrassing loss to UCLA by beating Oklahoma. Unlike UCLA, though, OU actually has some offensive balance and is able to run and throw.

OU coaches also know that the way to beat Texas is to force Gilbert to win the game with his arm. That doesn't seem likely to happen, which means another preseason top-10 team is going to have two losses.

Ducks wobble but they don't fall down
In one of the best games of the day, Oregon held off host Arizona State 42-31. The Ducks forced seven turnovers, scoring on two of them, and that was the difference.

Oregon came in having allowed just one TD this season, but Arizona State exposed the Ducks a bit, showing that the one-TD stat was more a case of weak competition (New Mexico, Tennessee and FCS program Portland State) than a sterling defense.

Arizona State ran 99 plays Saturday night and rolled up 597 yards. But Steven Threet threw four picks -- including one on each of Arizona State's final two drives -- and the Sun Devils lost three fumbles. Oregon scored on an interception return and a fumble return; the fumble return, which came with 5:06 left, nailed down the win.

Oregon's defense will get a much tougher test this week, when the Ducks play host to Stanford. Oregon leads the nation in scoring offense (57.8 points per game), while Stanford is No. 4 (48.0).

Unlike a lot of NFL types, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh doesn't play not to lose; rather, he plays to get you down, then stomp on your throat.

Stanford rang up 505 yards on Oregon last season in a 51-42 upset, but the Ducks still got to the Rose Bowl. While this season's game is in early October, the winner will be seated alone in the Pac-10 driver's seat -- and have to feel good about staying there.

Hard times in Athens
Georgia is 1-3 overall and 0-3 in the SEC for the first time since 1993, when they finished 5-6 under Ray Goff.

Other than a 55-point output against Louisiana-Lafayette in the opener, the Bulldogs' offense hasn't done much, scoring 42 points in the three SEC games.

The latest loss was a 24-12 setback at Mississippi State, and it was evident from Mississippi State's game plan -- those Bulldogs threw just 14 passes -- that it wasn't worried about Georgia scoring many points.

"If you go by watching film down by down, you'd say we're not as far off as some people might think," Georgia coach Mark Richt told reporters after the game. "But if you look at the record, then we are pretty far off of where we want to be."

Last season, it was the Bulldogs' defense that came up short; this season, the defense actually has been OK but the offense has been anemic. It's obvious that Georgia misses WR A.J. Green, who is the team's best player. Still, even without Green, Georgia should be scoring more than 14 points per game in SEC play.

The line has been a giant disappointment. All five starters are back, but the Bulldogs are averaging just 124.3 rushing yards per game. Take out the ULL game, and that number drops to 104.3.

Green's NCAA-mandated suspension is over in time for a three-week stretch with some winnable games -- at Colorado, at home against Vanderbilt and at home against Tennessee. Still, given the way Georgia's offense is playing, none of those wins can be taken for granted, and Richt finds his seat becoming increasingly hotter.

"We've --- got to look within, starting with me, as to the things that have kept us from having the success that we want," Richt said Saturday. "That's what we're going to do."

Georgia's new athletic director is Greg McGarity, who has been on the job for a month. He had been at Florida as the No. 2 man in the athletic department. At UF, he worked for Jeremy Foley, whose method of operation when it comes to coaches can be summed up thusly: "If a change has to be made, better to make it a season early than a season late."

Georgia still looks as if it could go 7-5, but will that be enough for Richt to stay on the job? A 6-6 or even 5-7 record is possible, too, and in that scenario, it's hard to see Richt returning, no matter his level of success while at Georgia.

Grid bits
Michigan QB Denard Robinson was hurt in the first quarter against Bowling Green. Robinson had scored on two TD runs before his injury, but you knew some throats got tighter in the stands -- and probably along the sideline, too -- at Michigan Stadium. As it turned out, there was no reason to worry. Backup QBs Devin Gardner and Tate Forcier combined to go 19-of-22 for 195 yards and two TDs, and they rushed for a combined 55 yards and a score on 10 carries as the Wolverines rolled 65-21. Plus, Robinson is fine and should start next Saturday when the Wolverines travel to defense-challenged Indiana. "All three quarterbacks were very efficient," coach Rich Rodriguez told reporters afterward. "Tate has showed he can play. We wouldn't be playing Devin if we didn't think he was ready. Is he as ready as Denard or Tate? Maybe not yet because he's just a first-year player."

Tennessee WR Denarius Moore was lifted onto his teammates' shoulders and carried around for a while Saturday after scoring the winning TD in overtime as the Vols beat -- UAB!?!? Has it come to this for the Vols (2-2) -- celebrating like they won a conference title when they beat a second-tier Conference USA school? Sadly for Tennessee, that appears to be the case. And before Phil Fulmer gets up on his CBS pulpit to blast administrators and his immediate successor, he needs to take responsibility. The Vols lack talent and depth, for the most part, because of Fulmer's weak recruiting efforts in his final few seasons in Knoxville. The Vols have LSU, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina -- with all but the Tide on the road -- in the next month. As bad as Georgia is going, it seems likely the Vols will exit October with a 2-6 record.

Colorado State K Ben DeLine certainly experienced the highs and lows Saturday. Colorado State, which had lost 12 in a row, scored a TD with 6:24 left against Idaho, but DeLine missed the extra point that would've tied it at 34. But on the last play of the game, he nailed a 35-yard field goal to give the host Rams a 36-34 win.

West Virginia was held to 177 total yards in a 20-14 loss at LSU. Despite that anemic offensive performance, WVU still looks like the best team in the Big East -- which says far more about the Big East than it does about the Mountaineers.

As for LSU, there's no question that the John Chavis-coordinated defense is a solid one. But the Gary Crowton-coordinated offense still seems stuck in the mud. LSU managed just 230 yards and was 3-of-13 on third-down conversions against WVU. LSU is 102nd in total offense (299.8 ypg) and a pathetic 115th (110.0 ypg) in passing offense; the Tigers were 112th in total offense last season (304.5 ypg). The Tigers get Tennessee this week, but then have Florida, Alabama and Auburn in the next four weeks.

Minnesota is off to a 1-3 start after losing by 11 at home Saturday to Northern Illinois, which ran for 297 yards on the Golden Gophers. It was Minnesota's third loss in a row, including a setback on Sept. 11 to FCS member South Dakota. Reports say that there were three separate "Fire Brewster" chants during the game, as fourth-year coach Tim Brewster's team continues to struggle. Minnesota doesn't play Indiana this season and must travel to Purdue and Illinois, meaning the Gophers could be underdogs in every game the rest of the way.

Utah scored on its first offensive play -- a 43-yard reverse by Reggie Dunn -- and cruised to a 56-3 rout of San Jose State. The loss capped a difficult first month for the Spartans, who played three top-20 teams on the road -- Alabama, Wisconsin and Utah -- and lost by a combined 111 points.

Florida freshman backup QB Trey Burton set a school record with six touchdowns in the Gators' 48-14 romp over Kentucky. Burton played quarterback, tight end and H-back during the game, and scored on each of his five runs; he also caught a TD pass. Unfortunately for Burton, his mom -- who was at both of Florida's previous home games -- missed this one; she was with his brother, Clay, a defensive end from Venice (Fla.) High who was making his official recruiting visit to Notre Dame.

Hopefully, those who watched Miami-Pittsburgh on Thursday night are awake now. Pitt's offensive ineptitude made that one difficult to watch. Pitt had 13 possessions -- and threw one pass on first down. That one pass attempt was intercepted. There also were three sacks on first down, along with nine runs.

Suddenly, South Carolina looks a lot like some past Gamecocks teams. The Gamecocks started 3-0, then held a 20-7 lead on Auburn in the second quarter. But the Tigers rallied to win 35-27 after the Gamecocks self-destructed with four fourth-quarter turnovers. The Gamecocks are off this week, then play host to Alabama. They also have games left vs. Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida and Clemson, with all but Arkansas on the road. South Carolina's "marquee" win is over Georgia -- 1-3 Georgia.

N.C. State has blazed to a 4-0 start and now gets three of its next four at home, starting this week with a struggling Virginia Tech team. Also heading to Raleigh in October are Boston College and Florida State. QB Russell Wilson again is playing at a high level (1,112 passing yards, with 11 TDs and just one pick), and while the rushing offense isn't gaining huge chunks of yardage (145.0 ypg), at least the Wolfpack have a rushing offense this season. The addition of Jon Tenuta as linebacker coach has made the Wolfpack more aggressive on defense -- Tenuta seemingly needs to blitz as much as most of us need to breathe -- and that has helped NCSU compile a plus-5 turnover margin. NCSU was a trendy pick to finish last in the ACC Atlantic Division, but by the end of October, it wouldn't be that big a surprise to see the Wolfpack squarely in the division title hunt.

Life without star QB Case Keenum could be difficult for Houston. Keenum was lost for the season in last week's loss at UCLA; also lost for the season was backup Cotton Turner. That meant true freshman Terrance Broadway, who was in line to be redshirted, suddenly became the new starter. In its first game with Broadway at the helm, Houston beat Tulane 42-23. But it was 28-23 midway through the fourth quarter before the Cougars pulled away, including one score on an interception return. Houston actually had more rushing yards (175) than passing yards (174), the first time that had happened since Nov. 24, 2007, against FCS bottom-feeder Texas Southern. After a home game vs. Mississippi State on Oct. 9 in their next game, the Cougars have three in a row on the road.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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