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September 26, 2010
Tom Dienhart's Week 4 awards
What we learned in Week 4
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Texas was vastly overrated. The Longhorns were ranked seventh and have been ranked as high as fifth, but on Saturday they looked second-rate in an inept 34-12 loss to UCLA. The Longhorns committed five turnovers. But that couldn't be used as an explanation for the loss. Texas' running game continues to sputter, QB Garrett Gilbert is unimpressive and Texas' run defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation, was dismantled by the Bruins. Texas had posted wins over Rice, Wyoming and Texas Tech to stay ranked high in the polls. But the Longhorns dropped significantly in the rankings after the loss to UCLA.
The Pac-10 race is going to be the country's most compelling. Oregon, Stanford and Arizona are undefeated and have posted impressive victories. One from that trio likely will emerge as the conference champion, but it's not going to be easy. That much was obvious for Arizona. A week after upsetting Iowa, the Wildcats took advantage of a missed field-goal attempt by California and got a late touchdown to win 10-9. Oregon might be the nation's most explosive team, but it had to win a shootout over Arizona State. Next week the Ducks face Stanford, which has scored at least 35 points in every game. UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State and USC -- which is ineligible -- probably won't win the championship, but they all appear capable of posting an upset that may ultimately determine who does win it.
Auburn is the real deal. The Tigers took a big step toward showing that they are going to be a legitimate contender in the SEC West with a 35-27 victory over South Carolina. Auburn has a tough, physical offense, led by Heisman-contending quarterback Cameron Newton (172 yards rushing, with three scores). And the defense is a tenacious lot that showed it can mute a strong rushing attack by clamping down against stud freshman RB Marcus Lattimore (33 yards). Another reason to like Auburn: The schedule. All but one of the toughest remaining games are at home, including visits from Arkansas and LSU. Still, the most difficult contest will be on the road against Alabama, an Iron Bowl matchup that's shaping up as a de facto SEC West championship game.
Patrick Peterson = Charles Woodson? Admit it: You're comparing LSU CB/KR Peterson with 1997 Heisman winner Woodson because, frankly, Peterson is college football's best all-around player since the Michigan star. Peterson is the best defensive back in college football, and he doubles as one of the country's top return men. That's why he's a Heisman contender. In a methodical victory over West Virginia, Peterson ran back his second punt of the season for a touchdown, punctuating the score by striking the Heisman pose. He also blocked a field-goal attempt and helped limit WVU to 119 passing yards. For the season, Peterson paces the SEC and ranks second in the nation in punt returns with a 28.1-yard average, and he's No. 3 in the SEC in kickoff returns with a 31.7-yard average. He also has picked off two passes to rank sixth in the SEC.
The Big East is in danger of having the lowest-ranked team to play in the BCS. The Big East is 15-13 (.536) in non-conference games this season. If the season ended today, it would be the worst mark for the conference since 1999. It won't finish the regular season that bad, but it's a troubling sign for the conference anyway. Even after a close loss at LSU, West Virginia may be the best hope to finish the conference in the top 20. Florida State, ranked 22nd in 2005, is the lowest-ranked team to play in the BCS (whose standings didn't expand from the top 15 to 25 until 2003). West Virginia looks like the most complete team in the league this season, and Cincinnati and Connecticut should at least have confidence going into league play given their performances Saturday. But Rutgers is struggling on offense, and Pittsburgh is in shambles. That points to a lot of 4-3 and 3-4 teams when league play shakes out. West Virginia is the league's best hope to go 7-0 or 6-1 in the conference, but I'm basing that on a 20-14 loss at LSU right now. That's not the most solid foundation for the Big East favorite.
Georgia's new athletic director has some tough questions ahead of him. New Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity, who had been the right-hand man to Jeremy Foley at Florida, could have some major decisions coming with Mark Richt and his staff. Losing to Arkansas and South Carolina without A.J. Green is excusable, but starting 0-3 in the SEC with a loss to Mississippi State makes things more difficult. The masses aren't happy with Richt, but the man has won 10 games seven times in nine years plus two SEC championships. Will Richt get a chance to repair the program, will the offensive staff go the way of the defensive staff from a year ago or will the season lead to a drastic overhaul? Factions around Georgia will clamor for any of the three options. We'll see what happens.
Mark Ingram is near the top of the Heisman chase. How can a guy miss two games but still be one of the top two or three contenders for the Heisman? It's easy when you're Ingram, who had knee surgery earlier this month but has rushed for 308 yards and two TDs in two games. You heard a lot of talk in the first two weeks about how Trent Richardson was better than Ingram, but Ingram's performance sure has quieted those folks.
Keep an eye on Nevada. Everyone basically is penciling in Boise State as a BCS participant, but the unbeaten Wolf Pack will benefit from playing the same WAC opponents as Boise. Given that Nevada's toughest opponent between now and Nov. 26, when it plays host to Boise, is a Fresno State team that was thrashed at Ole Miss on Saturday, it certainly wouldn't be a surprise if that Thanksgiving weekend game matched two unbeaten teams. Nevada mauled California last week -- you know, the Cal team that almost won at Arizona a week after Arizona beat Iowa. This week, the Wolf Pack dominated BYU. Beating BYU and Cal isn't as "sexy" as beating Oregon State and Virginia Tech, but, hey, unbeaten is unbeaten, right?
Stanford is for real. Is any team in the nation playing better right now? Stanford has won each of its first four games by at least 23 points -- and that 35-0 shutout of UCLA looks even more impressive in retrospect. What made Stanford's 37-14 triumph over Notre Dame so notable is that the Cardinal proved they could win convincingly even when star QB Andrew Luck was off his game. Luck threw two interceptions and only one touchdown pass Saturday, but it didn't matter because Stanford's defense kept the Irish out of the end zone until midway through the fourth quarter.
We need to start paying attention to North Carolina State. The last remaining unbeaten team in the ACC has even more reason for optimism because QB Russell Wilson no is longer a one-man show. Wilson threw for 368 yards and accounted for four touchdowns in the Wolfpack's 45-28 road victory over defending ACC champion Georgia Tech, but he also got plenty of help. Dean Haynes and Mustafa Greene combined for 143 rushing yards, while Nate Irving had 16 tackles (four for loss) and two sacks. If Wilson doesn't have to carry the team each week, North Carolina State could make a legitimate run at an ACC title.