Around the Nation - Week 2
September 5, 2012
By The SportsBoss
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The SEC still looks like the dominant conference in the country, did anyone think otherwise? BUT, it may not be as GREAT top to bottom as many believe. Of course Alabama looks awesome once again, easily dispatching the likely best team the Big Ten has to offer; Tennessee looked solid taking care of the Wolfpack from North Carolina State with relative ease on Friday night; Missouri and Mississippi State handled their business as well against inferior opponents.
But, a closer look at the remaining results may yield a different story:
-- South Carolina, whom is most likely #1 or #2 in the SEC East, struggled mightily to put away the second to worst SEC East team on the road, Vanderbilt, and did not look good doing it. What's more about this game, QB Connor Shaw came out of it banged up with a shoulder injury - shoulder issues for QBs are never a good thing this early in the season, especially with the style he prefers playing. This game may have a big impact on the Gamecocks chances at representing the SEC East in the SEC Title game come December as unlike the last few seasons, there is no depth at QB for the 'Cocks.
-- Georgia was only up on lowly Buffalo 24-16 at the half, and wound up winning by 22, not covering the spread, and allowing the Bulls to put up 23 points between the hedges. Yeah, the Dawgs had some defensive starters suspended for this one, but their 3rd team should be able to hold down Buffalo to single digits.
-- Florida pulled out a 27-14 win over Bowling Green, but really looked bad doing it. This was my upset pick of the week, as I mentioned to clients BG had a legit shot at winning this game SU, and they came pretty close, easily covering the # by 2 TDs. The Gators still have massive issues offensively, not just at QB - last year Demps and Rainey bailed them out of many tough spots - this year, although Gillislee looks strong, he isn't as explosive or experienced as those two were.
-- Auburn lost by a TD to co-ACC favorite Clemson at the Georgia Dome Saturday night. Keep in mind Clemson did not have All American WR Watkins for this tilt, but still was able to put up 26 on the Tigers defense. Like Florida, Auburn still has issues at QB as neither school has been able to bounce back at that position since winning it all.
-- Arkansas was only up 35-21 at the half vs. FCS Jacksonville State, and wound up winning by 25, again not covering the #. We know the Hogs will have an explosive offense, but unless that defense improves a lot after what we saw on Saturday (and even last season), it's hard to imagine a scenario where they can come close to challenging Alabama, and probably LSU, in the SEC West.
-- LSU looked anything but spectacular in a 41-14 win over North Texas. New QB Zach Mettenberger does look like an upgrade at QB, and the running game will still be a tough matchup for most teams, but will they have enough on offense to matchup with Alabama in early November? I have my doubts after that game, although it was clearly just the opener.
-- Ole Miss is still in rebuilding mode - never clearer than at the half being down to Central Arkansas 20-14 on their home field. Although a 35-0 2nd half easily dispatched CA at the end of the day, it was certainly a very slow start - and another SEC team that yielded quite a high # of points to a clearly overmatched team.
-- Kentucky was smacked upside down by Big East co-favorite Louisville 32-14 in a game that wasn't as close as that score indicates. It appears UK remains the worst team in the SEC East, and another long year for Joker Phillips is likely in the cards. But give the man some time, and I feel he can do a pretty solid job at the basketball school.
Did a BCS conference that went 10-2 on opening day look any worse than the Big Ten? Ouch. There is no shame at all losing to Alabama, even if it was the favorite to win the conference, but getting destroyed 41-14, including being down 31-7 at half, isn't what Michigan, and the conference as a whole, had in mind. Although it certainly appears obvious Alabama is again the toast of college football, it also remains obvious Michigan is still a ways away from approaching the top of the game once again. Also of note in the Big Ten, Minnesota picked up a road win, but it was against UNLV, and it took 3OT; Michigan State needed some late game heroics, and a herculean effort from RB Le'Veon Bell to beat a Boise State team that returned just 7 starters (tied for #122 in FBS), including the loss of college football's all time wins leading QB Kellen Moore; Northwestern pulled out a 1pt win (after blowing a 35-13 3rd quarter lead) at Syracuse , aided by a questionable roughing penalty during the final minute of the game winning Wildcat drive; PSU lost at home to MAC defending champ Ohio; Wisconsin needed a late defensive stand to hold off FCS member Northern Iowa 26-21; Iowa scored a late TD to beat UNI 18-17; and Indiana beat in-state rival and FCS member Indiana State 24-17 at home. At the end of the day 10-2 is all that matters, but it could be a sign of things to come, in a bad way, for many teams in the Big Ten for 2012.
The Big 12 didn't lose a game, with all teams playing besides TCU. Don't get me wrong, none of these teams played anyone with a legitimate goal of anything substantial this season, but for the most part the conference flexed its offensive muscle scoring an average of 48.6ppg. Not too shabby. The biggest concern clearly comes from Oklahoma, who once again has dreams of a national title, but didn't look the part whatsoever in a lethargic 24-7 win @ UTEP. The offense continued to struggle, as it did last season once WR Ryan Broyles went down - this issue is starting to look like a permanent one for OU, and if they cannot figure things out vs. Florida A&M next week, it will be an uphill battle this year.
The conference went 2-10 in the opening weekend. The two wins you ask? Central Florida, one of my biggest sleeper teams this season, hammered Akron on the road 56-14 impressively; and East Carolina took care of FCS foe Appalachian State 35-13, driven by a strong 4th quarter close. The losses that drive the biggest concerns? Let's start with defending regular season champ from last season Houston (yes, they lost the CUSA title game), losing SU to Texas State, at home, as 35-point favorites! Wow, talk about a shocker. Then, 2011 CUSA champ Southern Miss was beat in Lincoln by Nebraska 49-20. It wasn't that the Golden Eagles lost the game, it was the fact the yielded 49 points to a very one dimensional Cornhuskers attack. Next up is SMU, an 8-5/5-3 team in 2011, whom many fancied as a favorite in the conference this season - got bombed by Baylor 59-24 as only 7pt dogs. While it's true Vegas badly missed this number and I took advantage, it was still a terrible effort for SMU, especially defensively. How poor is Memphis? They are likely the worst team in FBS (again), supported by an unreal 20-17 home loss to Tennessee-Martin - the Skyhawks, yeah - who were 5-6 last season in the FCS! Keeps getting worse for the Tigers, long LONG way to go in this rebuilding effort.
The MAC opened 4-9, but did have quite a few impressive efforts amongst the losses, although the 4 wins were comprised of one conference game, and 2 wins vs. FCS opponents. The only FBS win the conference had was the aforementioned Ohio Bobcats victory in Happy Valley over PSU.
Here are a few of the losses that were solid:
-- Toledo lost 24-17 in OT at Arizona in Rich Rodriguez's first game in Tucson. RR had lost at home to Toledo with Michigan, so this tight game should not have come as a surprise.
-- Bowling Green lost 27-14 in the Swamp, mentioned above.
-- Northern Illinois lost 18-17 at Soldier Field vs. Iowa mentioned above.
-- Buffalo, also mentioned above, only lost 45-23 in Athens.
The lone BCS conference on the West Coast started the 2012 campaign 8-3, with Oregon State idle - the Beavers open this week, at home, in a big game for their program hosting the Badgers of Wisconsin. Even though the conference posted an impressive record, taking a closer look at those 8 wins shows the only team that was truly impressive was Oregon - even though the final score reads 57-34, it was 50-3 mid 2nd quarter, as new QB and sleeper Heisman Trophy candidate Mariota tore up the Arkansas State defense in what should be a sign of things to come for any Ducks opponents this season - take note USC. Speaking of the Trojans, they did win 49-10, which certainly looks great, but they didn't cover the # so it wasn't that "impressive" of a performance. Arizona only won by 7 vs. Toledo, Washington only won by 9 vs. San Diego State, and Stanford only won by 3 over San Jose State - not good, in particular the last two teams that internally have designs on challenging Oregon in the Pac 12 North. On top of those, a few losses were not good signs either: Washington State, in Mike Leach's debut, were hammered by BYU 30-6; Jeff Tedford's Cal team lost at home to Nevada 31-21, which comes as no surprise to me as earlier this summer in my Cal team capsule I stated I would be surprised if Tedford is still coaching Cal in 2013 - not a good start for him and his team; and Colorado lost to rival Colorado State 22-17 on a late TD, a bad sign for the Buffs as that was a rare spot this year where they will be favored.
The Mountain West
The MWC, despite only posting a 5-5 record, actually looked pretty strong relatively speaking.
Here are their 5 losses:
-- Boise State lost late to Michigan State 17-13, covering the #
-- UNLV lost in 3OT to Minnesota 30-27, covering the #
-- Hawaii lost 49-10 at AP #1 USC, covering the #
-- Wyoming kept things relatively tight vs. Texas, losing 37-17, covering the #
-- San Diego State lost 21-12 @ Washington, covering the #
It could certainly be a solid year for this conference, as all 5 losses in Week 1 were to BCS conference teams, all of whom sans Minnesota are ranked or close to being ranked, and all of which were covers for the MWC. Keep eyes on this group's non-conference games coming up, as heading into this season I am bullish on Fresno State & Nevada, while Boise State, although taking a step back from the greatness they have been the last half decade, will still be capable of making noise and still likely the favorite to win the conference.
The ACC opened 9-3, a solid weekend considering two of the three losses were in conference games (BC lost at home to Miami (Fl.) & Georgia Tech blowing a late lead and losing in OT @ Virginia Tech). The only loss to a non-ACC team was NC State, who was clearly over matched physically losing to Tennessee 35-21. Of the 9 wins, 7 were vs. non-ACC teams, and only 2 of the remaining 5 were over FBS members - so not exactly overly impressive.
Some of the key games:
-- Clemson stood up to the SEC once again, taking down Auburn for a 2nd straight season 26-19. Tajh Boyd played well without his #1 WR Sammy Watkins, but the true standout performance was RB Andre Ellington, who rushed for 231 yards vs. a strong SEC defense. Clemson showed they have recovered from the Orange Bowl thrashing in January, and will be a force come conference play.
-- Florida State & North Carolina, my two projected division winners (although UNC cannot play in the ACC Championship Game), easily hammered FCS foes by a combined score of 131-3.
-- Virginia also looked strong, beating in state rival Richmond 43-19. Yes, the Spiders are an FCS school, but they are traditionally one of the best, and they also play in the SEC of FCS, the CAA, which currently has 6 teams in the FCS Top 20 rankings.
-- Maryland & Wake Forest struggled mightily with their FCS opponents, with Maryland scoring a 4th quarter TD to beat William and Mary 7-6, while Wake Forest rallied to beat Liberty late 20-17. As mentioned multiple times, the Terps firing of Ralph Friedgen and hiring of Randy Edsall made no sense at all - and as written about earlier this summer, I feel Edsall will be fired after this season, only 2 years in - and this loss was a big step in that direction. Wake Forest on the other hand I feel can have a good season, perhaps reaching a bowl even after this poor game on Saturday. They still have QB Tanner Price, who is one of the better gunslingers in the ACC, along with 7 starters back on defense.
-- Duke opened the season with a relatively impressive 46-26 win over Florida International, a game they led early in the 3rd 44-14. Per my comments in an ESPN article this summer, I project Duke to reach their first bowl game in quite some time, easily going over their Vegas projected wins # this season - and that was the exact kind of start I expected, as 4pt favorites winning by 20.
The Big East started the season 5-2, with Cincinnati idle and set to open their year hosting Pittsburgh on Thursday night this week. Here are a few of the games that stood out this past week:
-- Youngstown State, a top ten FCS team, took down Pittsburgh at Heinz Field 31-17. That wasn't exactly what Panther fans envisioned as the opener to the Paul Chryst era in the Steel City, but YSU is a solid team - and it was proven once again that the top notch FCS teams can compete with just about any FBS team sans the Top 30 or so.
-- Syracuse suffered a tough home opening loss to Northwestern after battling back from a 35-13 3rd quarter deficit. A good sign for the Orange was scoring 41 points as offense is typically a sore spot in upstate NY. A worse sign however was yielding 42 points to a Northwestern team that figures to be a middle pack Big Ten team (again), and was breaking in a new QB.
-- Louisville looked impressive handling Kentucky with relative ease in a 32-14 win. Keep an eye on the Cardinals this season as they have a lot of talent, headlined by QB Teddy Bridgewater.
The WAC and Independent teams looked pretty solid overall. The WAC went 4-2, with perhaps their best team Louisiana Tech becoming idle following Hurricane Isaac - their game vs. Texas A&M has been moved to October. Outside the terrible loss by Idaho, the only other loss was San Jose State, and that was an impressive three-point defeat on The Farm to Stanford.
As far as the independents go, Notre Dame and BYU opened their campaigns with impressive wins over Navy and Washington State respectively.
SportsBoss Power Poll
2. Florida State
7. Ohio State
10. West Virginia
11. South Carolina
12. Kansas State
13. Notre Dame
15. Virginia Tech
18. Michigan State
21. North Carolina
23. South Florida
25. Oklahoma State
Next Five...Baylor, Purdue, TCU, Utah, Wisconsin
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