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September 11, 2011
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Garrett Gilbert no longer is Texas' quarterback. He can't be. The mistake-prone Gilbert was pulled in the second quarter after going just 2-of-8 for 8 yards and two interceptions. Texas was trailing BYU 13-0. Case McCoy and David Ash shared quarterback duties the rest of the way and rallied the Longhorns to a 17-16 victory. McCoy had two big completions to Jaxon Shipley for first downs in the winning touchdown drive. Texas can't go back to Gilbert now.
A game against Washington State no longer can be considered an easy win. The Cougars have posted back-to-back victories for the first time since 2007 and already have met or exceeded their win totals for each of the past three seasons. True, they've only beaten Idaho State and UNLV, but the Coogs have won in blowouts, with 123 points in two games. Talk out of Pullman this offseason was the Cougars could make a run at bowl eligibility. They just might, and that ratchets up the Pac-12's overall toughness.
Mark Richt is done. I guess there's a way he could save his job by winning out, or coming close to it. But that's not likely for a coach who entered 2011 on one of the hottest seats in the nation. After two weeks, it's painfully obvious Georgia is an average team. The loss at home to South Carolina has the Bulldogs off to a 0-2 start, the school's first since 1996. This isn't good for Richt, whose team posted a 6-7 mark in 2010 that was punctuated by a brutal Liberty Bowl loss to UCF. Tough games remain against Mississippi State, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs already are circling the drain. What will be the attitude and psyche of the Bulldogs the rest of the season? In the end, it may not matter.
Don't count out Auburn in the SEC West race. The Tigers are an ugly 2-0. But 2-0 is 2-0, and Auburn continues to build confidence by winning close games. The latest thriller was a heart-stopping 41-34 victory over Mississippi State that saw the Tigers secure victory by stopping Bulldogs QB Chris Relf seemingly one inch from the end zone as time expired. Auburn still has lots of work to do on defense as young players continue to develop. But the defending national champions, who are riding a national-best 17-game winning streak, figure to continue to improve and gain confidence, which will make them dangerous in the loaded SEC West. This team seemingly has forgotten how to lose.
[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Auburn QB Barrett Trotter]
West Virginia and USF will carry the banner for the Big East. So far, nothing has shown the Big East will be any better this season than it was in 2010, the worst season for the league in its current incarnation. Against Tennessee, Cincinnati showed it still can't stop anyone on defense. Despite its 2-0 record, Syracuse has needed the fourth quarter and overtime to beat Wake Forest and FCS patsy Rhode Island. Louisville looked as if it never watched film of Florida International's T.Y. Hilton before Friday's loss. Connecticut couldn't muster an offensive touchdown in a loss to Vanderbilt. And Pittsburgh had to overcome seven sacks and two turnovers to beat FCS member Maine by six points. By the end of the day, Rutgers' 24-22 loss to a sloppy North Carolina team was one of the league's more encouraging statements of the weekend. That leaves USF and West Virginia in charge. The Mountaineers' hold on the top of the league is far from a sure thing, too, as West Virginia trailed FCS member Norfolk State at halftime before scoring 45 unanswered points in the second half. There are valid reasons for Big East teams to struggle -- injuries and coaching turnover, for the most part. But that doesn't soften the meager results for the league so far.
Mark Richt shouldn't be the nation's most under-pressure coach. Richt is under fire this week because of Georgia's 0-2 start, but it's not entirely fair to make him the nation's most embattled coach. He's the most obvious choice because Georgia has lost two high-profile games, to Boise State and South Carolina, but those two losses aren't grave embarrassments. Those are losses to better teams. Of course, an angry Georgia fan might be correct in arguing Georgia always should be better than South Carolina and Boise State. Georgia fans have good reasons to grumble, but other fan bases probably are more justified in being dissatisfied. Under Rick Neuheisel, UCLA needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns at home to beat San Jose State, a team that has defeated only Southern Utah, Cal Poly and New Mexico State in the past two seasons. A week after struggling with Troy, Dabo Swinney and Clemson trailed FCS member Wofford at the start of the fourth quarter. Wofford, a triple-option team, completed two passes in nearly pulling the upset. Georgia fans might not be happy with Richt's recent results, but other high-profile programs are struggling more.
Michigan-Notre Dame deja vu. Saturday night's game was an instant classic -- for the way it ended, not for the relative merits of either team. Last season's game was exciting, too, but neither team was that good then, either. In other words, revel in the last-minute fireworks, but begin making plans now to see them in mid-level -- at best -- bowl games again.
South Carolina's secondary is going to cost the Gamecocks a game or two -- or three. The Gamecocks were shaky against the pass last season and are so again this season. They have allowed 508 passing yards and eight TD passes in two games -- and that's with a good group of pass rushers. CB Stephon Gilmore has a ton of talent, but is inconsistent. The rest of the starting defensive backs are just guys. What has to be most worrisome for Gamecocks coaches is that one week after throwing for 260 yards and four TDs against South Carolina, East Carolina threw for 127 yards and zero TDs against Virginia Tech.
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Virginia Tech's defense is back. Although the Hokies won their third ACC title in four seasons in 2010, their normally stout defense wasn't quite up to Virginia Tech standards. A team that normally ranks in the top 10 in total defense finished 52nd last season. That won't happen this season. While Virginia Tech's offense is struggling to adjust to life without QB Tyrod Taylor, the defense is in midseason form. The Hokies squeaked out a 17-10 victory at East Carolina on Saturday by allowing just 112 yards of total offense to a team that averaged 36.8 points per game last season and lit up the scoreboard a week ago in a 56-37 loss to South Carolina. This wasn't a great overall performance for Virginia Tech by any means. The Hokies committed 12 penalties and a couple of turnovers. But the defense made sure the Hokies survived even on a day when they weren't at their best.
Alabama has its quarterback. Alabama's two-quarterback system didn't last long. After alternating A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims in a season-opening rout of Kent State, the Crimson Tide relied exclusively on McCarron this week at Penn State. McCarron responded by throwing for 163 yards and a touchdown while avoiding mistakes in a 27-11 victory. The offense seemed to respond to the move. McCarron and Sims each threw two interceptions against Kent State last week, but the Tide had no turnovers against Penn State. McCarron isn't going to wow anybody, but that's not what the Tide need from their quarterback, anyway. The big plays come from their defense and running game. If McCarron remains as steady as he was at Penn State, he can help Alabama win a national title.
Tom Dienhart's Week 2 awards
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