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October 31, 2010
Experts: Week 9 awards, what we learned
Tom Dienhart's Week 9 awards
What we learned in Week 9
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Auburn deserves to be No. 1. Auburn doesn't need a huge rushing performance from QB Cameron Newton to be dominant offensively. Newton had rushed for between 176 and 217 yards in Auburn's past four games against SEC opponents. He was held to just 45 rushing yards by Ole Miss, but it didn't matter as Auburn still rolled to a 51-31 victory that proved the Tigers aren't a one-man show. Newton more than compensated for his substandard rushing totals in other ways. He passed for 209 yards and two touchdowns and also caught a 20-yard touchdown pass to reinforce his status as the leading Heisman candidate. With the offensive showing -- Auburn's fourth game with more than 50 points -- the Tigers again proved they are deserving of the No. 1 ranking in the BCS standings.
Baylor is a legitimate Big 12 South contender. Baylor has been a nice, feel-good story: The Bears are a long-suffering team finally playing well enough to be bowl eligible. But after their 30-22 victory at Texas, the Bears have to be taken seriously as a contender in the Big 12 South. QB Robert Griffin is a bona-fide star and RB Jay Finley has emerged as a legitimate threat. The Bears have a solid offensive line, good receivers and a decent defense. They're 4-1 and leading the South standings with three games to go. They still are underdogs to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in the division race. But while wins over Baylor once were taken for granted, the Bears now have to be taken seriously.
The Big Ten race is a mess. Iowa's trouncing of Michigan State officially makes the Big Ten league title chase a mess. Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State are the contenders. Which school has the best chance to win out? Wisconsin (at Purdue; vs. Indiana; at Michigan; vs. Northwestern) and Michigan State (vs. Minnesota; Purdue at Penn State) have the easiest remaining schedules, while Iowa (at Indiana; at Northwestern; vs. Ohio State; at Minnesota) and Ohio State (vs. Penn State; at Iowa; vs. Michigan) have the toughest. It's important to note that Ohio State and Michigan State don't play. Ohio State plays at Iowa on Nov. 20 in what is the biggest remaining game on the Big Ten slate. The loser will be out of the running, meaning there's a good chance the winner may finish in a three-way tie for first with Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Notre Dame will finish with a losing record. Notre Dame's stunning 28-27 loss at home to Tulsa makes it all but official: The Fighting Irish (4-5) figure to finish with a losing record. ND is off this week. Then is a visit from Utah followed by a home game against pesky Army before the season ends at USC. Notre Dame's issues are exacerbated by injuries. QB Dayne Crist seems likely to miss the rest of the season with a left knee injury suffered against Tulsa. RB Armando Allen's career may be finished because of hip flexor injury. Earlier this season, TE Kyle Rudolph was lost with a season-ending hamstring injury. For the second season in a row and the third time in four seasons, ND looks likely to miss a bowl.
Oregon's defense is underrated. All the attention on Oregon is about the Ducks' overwhelming offense, but let's not lose sight of the defense. Detractors will point out that the Ducks' per-game statistics -- 35th nationally in total defense, 17th in scoring defense and 34th in rush defense -- aren't necessarily in line with previous BCS champions. But Oregon's offense is so quick and so effective, it's best to measure the defense in other ways. Matt Barkley and USC's offense had been on fire, but Oregon held the Trojans to 377 yards, their second-lowest total this season and the lowest in Pac-10 play. Besides, USC tacked on 105 yards on two possessions after Oregon took a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter. Beyond that, look at the per-play stats for Oregon: The Ducks entered the game tied with Arizona, allowing the fewest yards per play (4.5) and led the Pac-10 in fewest yards per pass attempt, third-down defense and red-zone defense. They were second in yards per carry. Against USC, Oregon outperformed their per-play averages, allowing 4.4 per play (3.1 per carry and 5.4 per pass attempt). The lesson here: Don't let detractors say Oregon doesn't have a championship-caliber defense.
Stanford should be a BCS at-large team. Only once has the Pac-10 sent two teams to the BCS -- in 2003, when USC played in the Orange and Washington State played in the Rose. That should change this season. Stanford deserves that honor. The Cardinal still need to face the Arizona schools, California and Oregon State, but if Stanford finishes with one loss, it should get a BCS invitation. True, Washington now has a losing record, but Stanford dismantled the Huskies in the most thorough way possible in a 41-0 win. Washington amassed only 107 yards of offense, including just 19 in the ground. Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor had a 104 on his own.
Please, no more talk about Jake Locker. Locker and his Washington Huskies got steamrolled 41-0 at home by Stanford. Washington finished with 107 yards and seven first downs. Locker was 7-of-14 passing for 60 yards, with two picks. Stanford roared out to a 28-0 lead; Washington managed just three first downs in that span, and one was via penalty. Locker is not an elite quarterback.
Florida isn't dead yet. Florida coaches put their off week to good use, tweaking the offense in numerous ways. The Gators used a modified version of the "pistol," they lined up WR Omarius Hines as a tailback, they used true freshman Trey Burton as a ball-carrying fullback, they used more two-tailback sets than usual, they ran some wheel routes and they put QB John Brantley in motion. Florida frequently has used Burton at quarterback this season and put Brantley at wide receiver in those sets; Saturday, for the first time, Brantley would motion back to the quarterback spot after initially lining up in the slot or as an H-back. The Gators had their best offensive output of the season in beating Georgia 34-31 in OT, their 18th win in the past 21 meetings with the Bulldogs. Florida plays host to South Carolina on Nov. 13, and the SEC East title will belong to the winner.
Virginia Tech is the ACC favorite. Virginia Tech didn't play, but the Hokies still may have enjoyed the best week of any ACC team. While contenders such as Florida State, Miami and Clemson stumbled, idle Virginia Tech became the lone ACC team unbeaten in league competition. Virginia Tech has won six consecutive games since opening the season with two losses, and Tyrod Taylor quietly has developed into one of the nation's top quarterbacks. But the Hokies can't afford to relax. They play host to defending league champion Georgia Tech on Thursday, then have consecutive road games with North Carolina and Miami. But there's no question that Virginia Tech is playing better than any of its conference rivals.
Nebraska's offense isn't a one-man show. Taylor Martinez has been the dominant figure in Nebraska's offense with his electrifying speed, but Nebraska proved Saturday it can survive without its star quarterback. Martinez bruised his right leg late in the first half of a 31-17 victory over previously unbeaten Missouri, but the Huskers continued to run effectively behind the spectacular play of Roy Helu Jr., who ran for 307 yards to set a single-game school rushing record. Martinez is expected to return next week at Iowa State, but Helu's performance underscored that the Huskers' rushing attack features more than one weapon.