Week 4: Conference Focus

Greetings once again football fans.  Week 4 of the college football season featured several important conference matchups as well as a few intersectional games of note.  We will begin this week’s coverage on the Left Coast.

RESULTS: Pac-12

Stanford and Washington were idle and will square off in the Pac-12 Thursday Night Game of the Week this week.  Personally, I hate Thursday night games.  I understand that they are good for ESPN and for conference exposure and revenue, but for me, college football does not feel like college football when a game is not played on a Saturday.  I’ll make exceptions for bowl games and Thanksgiving weekend games, but that’s about it.

Oregon 49, Arizona 0:  Holy defense, Batman!  We all knew about Oregon’s prolific offensive attack, but zero points surrendered?  To high-flying Arizona?  You got it.  It wasn’t that Arizona couldn’t move the ball, but rather that they could not score, going a remarkable 0-for-6 in the red zone.  Add to that five turnovers, and 49-0 doesn’t seem so surprising.  I love Oregon safety Brian Jackson’s comment after the game: “It’s our job to make the score on the other side as low as possible,” he explained, “and tonight we made it as low as possible.”  Exactly.

USC 27, Dumb Cal 9:  It’s a win.  After last week’s performance at Stanford, the Trojans needed to get healthy at home against a pesky Cal squad.  For the second straight game, the defense did everything it needed to do to help SC win, and for the second straight game, the offense tried to give it away.  Two more Barkley INT’s plus a fumble would have cost the Trojans against a team with more offensive punch, but this was Cal, so it didn’t end up mattering.  Still, this is not a good trend for the preseason #1 team in the country.  On a positive note, USC did rediscover its running game, which had disappeared for much of the previous two contests.  For their part, Cal’s defense fought hard, but it wasn’t enough.  Whether USC will be able to up its play as it enters the meat of its schedule remains to be seen.  As for Jeff Tedford, it’s win now or adios.

Arizona State 37, Utah 7:  I’m not surprised the Sun Devils won this game at home, but 37-7?  THAT makes me take notice.  Utah was held to 55 yards in the second half, and only nine in the fourth quarter.  Yes, Utah has lost its QB and RB, and of course that will impact your offensive production; but what about the defense?  Arizona State led 31-7 at the half, lighting up the Utes for three touchdowns in the first quarter to effectively end the game before it started.  This loss is quite disheartening for Utah, which many considered the #2 team in the South behind SC.  Not no more.  Arizona State, welcome to the door.  Start knocking.

Colorado 35, Stupid Washington State 34:  Mad props to the entire Colorado football team.  They stuck behind their coach in spite of a disastrous start to the season.  I myself buried the Buffs as the 124th best team in college football last week (out of 124).  To make matters worse, Colorado trailed the Cougars 31-14 early in the 4th quarter.  Yet none of this mattered: the players kept their poise and somehow managed to rally for a stunning one-point victory, converting on 4th down from the WSU 4 with nine seconds left.  This is the kind of victory that can lift a team from the doldrums.  Again, my congratulations to the Buffaloes.

As for Stupid Washington State, congratulations on living down to your name.

Oregon State 27, UCLA 20:  I wish I could say I am shocked, or even surprised, at this result, but I ain’t.  I saw this coming last week, after UCLA turned the ball over five times against Houston.  The Bruins had yet to play a complete game of football in all three phases, and it finally came to bite them against a vastly improved Oregon State team.

Something felt strange about this game from the get go.  Unlike against Nebraska, there was no electricity in the stadium — perhaps because it was 95 degrees at the start of the game (at 12:30; the heat only increased as the day wore on), or perhaps because the Beavers dominated the game from start to finish.  Regardless, there was a noticeable lack of urgency in the offensive tempo.  UCLA was a miserable 2-for-15 on third downs.  As a matter of fact, the final score itself is misleading: OSU should have won this game by far more than seven points.  The Beavers lost a touchdown on a personal foul in the first half, then gave away a 65-yard touchdown with under a minute to go before the break — made possible by a defensive holding penalty on the previous play.  Oregon State should have led 24-7 at the half.

Having said that, UCLA also missed its opportunities.  Facing 3rd and goal from the 1, Joe Fauria inexcusably false started, resulting in a field goal instead of a touchdown.  The Bruin defense forced a fumble and an interception on consecutive possessions in the third quarter, but despite outstanding field position, the offense bumbled its way to zero points, thanks to a dropped pass on 3rd and 16 and an overthrown ball by Hundley that would have been a sure touchdown.

In the 4th quarter, UCLA was lucky not to have fumbled at the one yard line (that call could have gone the other way), and lucky that Franklin was not called for pushing Hundley into the end zone on a keeper.  Leading 24-17, Oregon State could have sealed the game late when it had a first and goal at the 2, but three plays netted only one yard, and the Beavers had to settle for a 27-17 lead.  Fairbairn, however, missed from 42 yards with 7:30 to play, and that effectively did it for the Bruins.  His late field goal to cut the lead to seven was too little, too late.

Simply put: Oregon State’s line outplayed UCLA, which looked young and inexperienced (particularly on offense).  In last week’s column I stressed how the Bruins had to play well on offense, defense, and special teams to defeat the Beavers.  UCLA went 0-for-3.  Oregon State proved they were the better team — at least on this day.

WHAT THIS MEANS

From a conference power standpoint, Oregon still remains at the top.  Arizona State takes a major leap forward in the South, with Utah taking a difficult step back.  UCLA looks like a team of the future, and may be able to compete in the present, but the lack of consistency is likely to make it hard for the Bruins to challenge for a divisional title.  Oregon State, however, looks like they can play against anyone after having shut down Montee Ball and Johnathan Franklin in consecutive games.  USC remains a bit of a disappointment, but that is more due to early season expectations not being met; there is still time in the season for Troy to get back in the upper echelon of the college football world.  Stanford will face an awkward test at Washington this week; we shall see if they can maintain their status as the main challenger to the Ducks in the North.  Colorado’s huge victory propels them out of conference doormat status; will they be able to ride this momentum to victory over UCLA on Saturday?

As for WSU, yikes.

POWER RANKINGS

South

1. USC

2. Arizona State

3. Arizona, UCLA

5. Utah, Colorado

North

1. Oregon

2. Stanford, Oregon State

4. Washington, Cal

6. SWSU (Stupid, Stupid, STUPID Washington State)

NATIONAL NOTES

Boise State 7, BYU 6:  So much for high-flying offenses.  The winning touchdown in this game came from Boise’s defense: a pick six scored by a 312-pound nose tackle from Windsor, Ontario named Michael Atkinson, better known as “Canadian Bacon.”  That alone is enough to get you written up in this blog.  I would have added that BYU nearly won this game despite five turnovers (to zero for Boise State) — but I like Atkinson’s nickname better.

Baylor 47, Louisiana Monroe 42:  ULM is the darling of the college football world, even in defeat.  The upset over Arkansas and the near miss against Auburn, and now this near miss against Baylor, mean that I will be cheering for them all season.  Go Warhawks!

Miami 42, Georgia Tech 36:  a thrilling game, but since Miami won I don’t want to comment.

LSU 12, Auburn 10:  it’s an SEC road victory, but make no mistake: the Tigers escaped with their lives.  If they played Alabama right now on a neutral site, it would be tough to pick against the Tide.

Georgia 48, Vanderbilt 3:  winning at home against Vanderbilt was expected, but 48-3?  The Dawgs are a legit top five team — at least for now.  They should prove superior to Tennessee this Saturday, especially playing at home.  Tennessee’s defense has not been good enough to make them a real contender.  A win in Athens, however, could be season defining.

San Jose State 38, San Diego State 34:  watch out WAC, the Spartans are coming.  With a 3-1 record after stopping the Aztecs in San Diego, SJSU is poised to win 8, 9, 10, or possibly even 11 games this season.  Given that their only loss was by three points at Stanford, I wouldn’t bet against them in any remaining contests.

Florida State 49, Clemson 37:  the game of the day — easily.  Trailing 28-14 midway through the third quarter, the Seminoles erupted for 35 points to win going away.  Is FSU “for real,” you ask?  The answer: maybe.  This was a huge win, but it was at home, and the defense gave up a lot of points.  Unfortunately, we may not find out how “real” this team is this season, because the remaining schedule is full of weak ACC opponents.  If FSU finishes undefeated but two other teams from the Big 12, Pac-12, or SEC (or possibly even the Big East) also finish undefeated, the Seminoles will be locked out of the championship game by virtue of their weak schedule.

Kansas State 24, Oklahoma 19:  a huge — no, an enormously huge — victory for Collin Klein, Bill Snyder, and Wildcat Nation, as K-State avenged a humiliating 58-17 home loss last season with a titanic five point upset of the sixth-ranked Sooners in Norman.  How did this happen?  Simple: turnovers.  OU had three, K-State none.  Running back John Hubert summed up the emotions of the Kansas State team beautifully: “He was very excited.  He really didn’t have too much words to say.  That’s when you can tell when Coach Snyder is excited, when he comes into the locker room and he’s kind of speechless.”

Western Kentucky 42, Southern Miss 17:  if I need a coach at the end of this season, I’m hiring Willie Taggart.  WKU continues to roll, this time by 25 points over USM.  Impressive.

Big Ten (Gulp) Pullout Section

Notre Dame 13, Michigan 6:  The law of averages caught up with Denard Robinson in a big way.  After scintillating victories over ND the last two seasons, Shoelace threw four interceptions — several of them really awful — and fumbled, effectively giving the game away despite an excellent performance by the Wolverine defense.  I can’t say for sure whether his performance was the result of a superb defensive effort by the Irish or an off day at the office for Robinson.  Therefore, until I get further confirmation, I’m holding off on any “Notre Dame is back” talk.  Still, 4-0 is 4-0, and the Irish faithful have to be excited by the defense’s consistent effort in each of their first four games.

Central Michigan 32, Iowa 31:  Big Ten embarrassment #1.

Louisiana Tech 52, Illinois 24:  Big Ten bigger embarrassment #2.

Ohio State 29, UAB 15:  Still overrated (the Buckeyes, that is).  4-0 against weak competition, with all games at home, and struggling in the last three?  Come on.  Big Ten near embarrassment #1.

Wisconsin 37, UTEP 26: Big Ten near embarrassment #2.

Michigan State 23, Eastern Michigan 7:  BTNE #3 (might as well create an acronym).

Minnesota 17, Syracuse 10:  BTNE #4.

Thankfully for the Big 10, Nebraska knows how to win — at least against Idaho State (73-7), while Northwestern also knows how to get the W — at least against South Dakota (38-7).  Jeesh.

Finally:

Wyoming 40, Idaho 37 (OT):  is this game even worth mentioning?   CBS Sports didn’t even include a recap on their website.  So…I guess not.

All for now folks.

–Mr. G.

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