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October 3, 2010
Tom Dienhart's Week 5 awards
What we learned in Week 5
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Michigan State is a legitimate contender in the Big Ten. The Spartans entered the week with a 4-0 record, but three wins were over lowly Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic and Northern Colorado and another was in overtime over Notre Dame. But the Spartans' emotional 34-24 victory over Wisconsin proved their fast start wasn't just a by-product of playing weak competition. Michigan State has to be taken seriously in the Big Ten. The Spartans have road games against Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Penn State coming up, but they don't have to face Ohio State.
Texas is its own worst enemy. The Longhorns committed two turnovers and were penalized nine times for 81 yards in a 28-20 loss to Oklahoma. Two of those penalties -- an unnecessary defensive holding call and a dead-ball personal foul -- came on third down, when it appeared Texas had stopped OU. Instead, the Longhorns extended the drives and Oklahoma scored touchdowns on both. The Longhorns still had an outside chance, but fumbled away a punt late in the game. This coming a week after they committed five turnovers in a loss to UCLA.
Virginia Tech may win the ACC. The Hokies have won three games in a row after a 0-2 start. The most recent triumph was the most impressive, as the Hokies rallied from 17 down to win 41-30 at North Carolina State. That keeps Virginia Tech unbeaten in the ACC and still thinking big. The Hokies' next four games are in Blacksburg, and all are winnable. It may come down to back-to-back road games at North Carolina and Miami in November. And by then, Tech really may be humming.
Alabama may go unbeaten -- again. The Crimson Tide's 31-6 demolition of Florida was their 19th victory in a row and the first time the Gators were held without a touchdown since 2005. Which SEC club is going to beat this team? A trip to South Carolina on Saturday may be dicey, as could a game at LSU and a visit from Auburn. And a rematch with Florida may loom in the SEC title game. But none of those teams appears to have the total package to topple the Tide, who haven't lost since falling to Utah in the Sugar Bowl after the 2008 season. Since then, Alabama has been the most dominant team in the country, going unbeaten in 2009 en route to winning the national title. This season, Alabama is off to a 5-0 start with a balanced offense that's highlighted by an overpowering ground game and a defense that continues to mature and develop chemistry as nine new starters are worked in.
Oregon deserves to be No. 2 in the country. I know I'm going to hear it from folks in Columbus and Boise, but I don't care. Ohio State and Boise State have a fair case to be ranked ahead of the Ducks; after all, the Buckeyes and Broncos are among the last three teams to beat Oregon. But you know which was the third team? Stanford. Besides, last season's results aren't supposed to matter in the 2010 rankings. The Ducks' offense is unstoppable. The defense forces timely turnovers (seven vs. Arizona State, three vs. Stanford). And Oregon's halftime adjustments are ridiculously good -- the Ducks are outscoring opponents 114-7 in the second half. Oregon clearly deserves to be ranked ahead of Ohio State after the Buckeyes sputtered to a 24-13 victory over Illinois. Boise State is a little more troubling because Oregon's and Boise State's schedules to this point are about equal. Still, the Ducks have won every game comfortably, even if it didn't start out that way. The only defense that might be able to stop the Ducks is the one in Tuscaloosa.
Minus Alabama, the SEC needs to put its conference crowing on hiatus. OK, Auburn, you can brag a little bit, too. For the rest of you, the "SEC-SEC-SEC" chants have to stop, unless you're going to start chanting after every first down. That would be a worthy cause for some. Every season, at least one SEC game sets offense back 50 years. On Saturday, Tennessee at LSU set the sport back 100 years. In the past, SEC defenses have been truly elite. This year, SEC defenses may be good, but let's face it: Most SEC offenses stink. Start with LSU. Before the Tigers turned in 16 points and four turnovers against Tennessee, they struggled with West Virginia. Before LSU, Tennessee mustered only 287 yards against UAB. For Florida, the Kentucky game was an aberration; John Brantley still has room to grow as a passer, and for some reason Gators coaches have him running the ball. Not even lowly Colorado could make Georgia look good. Arkansas was off this week, but the last time we saw the Hogs, we saw a one-dimensional offense that threw two picks in the final minutes against Alabama. The SEC may win a fifth consecutive national title, but that would be Alabama's accomplishment. For the rest of the league, it would be best not to brag about SEC defenses unless you're ready to defend the inept offenses in the conference.
Somebody upstairs must owe Les Miles. If there's a remake of "Pride of the Yankees," Miles would be the perfect guy to give the "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth" speech. I didn't believe anything could top the atrocious clock management by Tigers coaches at the end of last season's LSU-Ole Miss game. Then came Saturday against Tennessee. Does anybody on LSU's offensive staff have any semblance of a clue? This time, though, Miles was bailed out.
Don't forget about Iowa. The Hawkeyes fell at Arizona on Sept. 18 and the loss seemingly knocked them out of the public consciousness. It shouldn't have. The Hawkeyes still are a legit Big Ten title contender. Their defense toyed with Penn State on Saturday night (way cool sectioning of the crowd, by the way), and now they get a week off to prepare for their toughest remaining road game -- against defense-free Michigan. Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State all must travel to Iowa City. It's not a stretch to think that in early December, the Hawkeyes will look back on the first half in Tucson and ponder what could've been.
Michigan won't contend for a Big Ten title without a better defense. Imagine what kind of numbers Michigan QB Denard Robinson could put up if he got a chance to face his own defense. Robinson maintained his status as the Heisman front-runner Saturday by throwing for 277 yards, running for 217 yards and accounting for five touchdowns in a 42-35 victory at Indiana. But he had to deliver that kind of performance because Michigan's defense was allowing Indiana's Ben Chappell to throw for 480 yards and three touchdowns. Barring injury, Robinson almost surely will get to New York in December, but his defense won't let him get close to Pasadena in January.
The return of A.J. Green couldn't end Georgia's misery. Georgia fans kept hoping that Green's return from a four-game suspension would help knock the Bulldogs out of their funk. It didn't happen. The star wide receiver did his part by catching seven passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, but Georgia still fell 29-27 to Colorado for its fourth consecutive loss. Georgia couldn't stop Colorado RB Rodney Stewart and couldn't hang on to the ball when it drove into field-goal range in the final minutes. Georgia's problems went far beyond the absence of one player.