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October 26, 2008
Rivals.com Experts: What We Learned
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
GEORGIA IS IN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENTION. The Bulldogs not only avoided a second loss in what was essentially an elimination game with LSU, but also turned in their best overall performance of the season with a 52-38 victory over the Tigers. Matthew Stafford threw two touchdown passes and ran for a score, while Knowshon Moreno rushed for 163 yards and a touchdown. A makeshift offensive line gave up just one sack. Doing that at LSU, which also entered the game with one loss and was playing with a sense of urgency, indicates the Bulldogs might be hitting their peak at the perfect time – with Florida coming up next week. If Georgia can close out the regular season with victories, it would win the SEC East and would have a chance to redeem its loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. That scenario also would allow the Bulldogs to make a dramatic move in the BCS standings.
TEXAS TECH IS DESERVING OF ITS TOP-10 RANKING. Whether Texas Tech was really that good was subject to debate, but that issue was settled with the Red Raiders' blowout of Kansas. Graham Harrell was at his absolute best, and the defense performed up to its potential. The victory validates Texas Tech as a national championship contender.
PENN STATE CLEARS ITS LAST HURDLE. By methodically defeating Ohio State 13-6, Penn State cleared the last big hurdle in what looks to be a 12-0 regular season. The Nittany Lions are off next Saturday before traveling to Iowa. After that, Penn State plays its last two games at home, against Indiana and Michigan State. With a perfect record in its sights, Penn State is primed to claim its first spot in the BCS championship game if those ahead of it – Texas and Alabama – slip. Whether the Big Ten deserves another crack at playing for the BCS title is debatable.
TCU MAY BE THE BEST NON-"BIG SIX" TEAM. The Horned Frogs improved to 8-1 with a 54-7 demolition of Wyoming. TCU, whose only loss this year is at Oklahoma, is steaming toward a showdown at unbeaten Utah on Nov. 6, a Thursday night. If not for that loss to the Sooners, the Horned Frogs likely would be a lock to secure a BCS bid. But even with that defeat, TCU still possibly could be a BCS-buster if it can topple Utah and close the season 11-1 in what has been an impressive season for a Horned Frogs squad that already has whipped BYU.
YOU CAN CALL IT A DAY FOR THE LSU DEFENSE. LSU won't be back in the national championship game this season, and probably won't make the SEC title game after another dismal effort by its defense. The Ryan Perrilloux dismissal was the big offseason issue for the Tigers, but Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch have performed adequately. It appears the loss of defensive coordinator Bo Pelini to Nebraska was the game-changer. After LSU allowed 50 points for the second game this season, the Tigers are next-to-last in the SEC in scoring defense. Lightweight offenses at Mississippi State and Auburn had some of their best moments of the season against LSU. The defense was pitiful against Georgia – no sacks, no forced turnovers and touchdown plays covering 68 and 49 yards, plus another 48-yard completion. Something's not right here: LSU has too much talent and should have too much pride to allow 50 points at home in what effectively was an elimination game.
DAVE WANNSTEDT IS THE NEW TOMMY BOWDEN. The former Clemson coach "stepped down" a little less than two weeks ago, and we already have a successor to his letdown throne – Pitt's Wannstedt. Few would have been disappointed if Pittsburgh lost two games this season, provided those losses were at USF and to West Virginia. Instead, Pitt has lost to Bowling Green and Rutgers, both of whom are 3-5. Pitt is on the same path as recent Clemson teams: If you find a reason to get a little excited, get ready to be wildly disappointed. Pitt's 54-34 loss to Rutgers gets my vote as the most embarrassing performance of the season. Pitt made Rutgers look unstoppable. Mike Teel had thrown three touchdown passes all season; he threw five in the first half against Pitt. Kenny Britt hadn't caught a touchdown pass this season; he had three before halftime. Rutgers hadn't scored three touchdowns in a game against an FBS (i.e., Division I-A) team all year. The Scarlet Knights topped that with 10:43 to go in the first half. That should suspend any talk of a Big East title in Pittsburgh for the rest of the season.
THE BIG EAST RACE IS LOOKING FAMILIAR. West Virginia went into the season as a sleeper national title contender, but the Mountaineers started 1-2 and people started talking about overmatched new coach Bill Stewart. But WVU now is 5-2 and is the only team unbeaten in Big East play. USF, seen as WVU's most likely challenger before the season, already has two conference losses. On Saturday, Pitt lost at home to a mediocre Rutgers team. Cincinnati was steamrolled by a Connecticut team that had had trouble scoring. Add it all up and WVU is looking good.
FLORIDA IS LOOKING LIKE IT WAS SUPPOSED TO. Speaking of looking good, let's talk about Florida. The Gators started 4-1, but it was an unimpressive 4-1 - including an inexplicable home loss to an Ole Miss team that the Gators should've beaten by at least two touchdowns. But going into the most important game of the season – a game this coming Saturday against Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla. – the Gators seem to have put it all together. They scored 63 points in whipping Kentucky over the weekend; UK came in having given up 63 points all season. Defense and special teams have been a constant for Florida this season, and now the offense looks to have come around. The Gators have scored 114 points in the past two games and allowed just 26 in wins over UK and LSU.
OKLAHOMA IS MORE THAN SAM BRADFORD. The Sooners have scored at least 35 points in every game mainly because of Bradford's efficiency, but they proved Saturday they can continue scoring at nearly a point-a-minute pace even when he has a rare off day. Bradford was just 13-for-32 Saturday while throwing to a receiving corps that was missing the injured Manuel Johnson. It didn't matter. Oklahoma still scored 55 points in the first half on the way to a 58-35 victory over Kansas State. Much of the credit belongs to DeMarco Murray, who caught two touchdown passes and ran for two scores while averaging more than 6 yards per carry. Murray has struggled on occasion this season, but he had his best game of the season Saturday. If he consistently can run as effectively as he did Saturday, Oklahoma should win the rest of its games.
TIM TEBOW IS BACK. He almost certainly won't win his second consecutive Heisman, but Tebow recaptured his spectacular 2007 form Saturday. He went 11-for-15 with two touchdown passes and also ran for two scores in the Gators' 63-5 waxing of Kentucky. Tebow has received plenty of criticism this season for his inability to match his 2006 production, but just about any other quarterback in the country would love to have his numbers. Tebow has a 12-2 touchdown-interception ratio and has run for five touchdowns in his past four games. Tebow won't come close to accounting for 55 touchdowns again, but he also doesn't need to carry the offense quite as much now that Jeffrey Demps and Chris Rainey have emerged in the backfield. And after failing to run for a touchdown in Florida's first three games, Tebow's production the past month indicates he has regained his status as one of the nation's most dangerous and versatile quarterbacks. And the timing for his resurgence couldn't be more fortuitous heading into next week's showdown with Georgia.