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August 31, 2008
Rivals.com experts: What We Learned
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
California's running game won't wilt without Justin Forsett. The Bears have produced a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past six seasons. Maybe they will get two this year. Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen demonstrated great speed and acceleration as each exceeded 100 yards rushing against Michigan State.
Texas A&M needs more than just a new coach. The Aggies were optimistic with Mike Sherman taking over at the helm, and he may prove to be successful. But first the Aggies have to make dramatic improvement on defense after allowing 421 yards – 260 rushing – to Arkansas State. The Red Wolves outscored the Aggies 9-0 in the fourth quarter for an 18-14 upset.
USC will be very difficult to beat. The Trojans were thoroughly dominating in a 52-7 win at Virginia, racking up 558 yards of offense (218 rushing; 340 passing) while rationing the Cavaliers to 187. No, Virginia isn't a juggernaut, but USC was shockingly efficient on both sides of the ball. In fact, no team with legit title hopes was as frightening across the board this opening weekend. The performance by the defense wasn't shocking. But few anticipated USC slicing and dicing the Virginia defense the way it did.
Illinois' Juice Williams has become a legit quarterback. Credit coordinator Mike Locksley, who has polished, honed and buffed the rough edges. Now a junior, Williams picked up where he left off after a fast finish in 2007. He hit full bloom Saturday night in St. Louis vs. Missouri, hitting 26 of 42 passes for 451 yards and five touchdowns. Yes, Williams got off to a slow start and tossed two picks. But time and again, he showed precision in his passing and tossed numerous beautiful and accurate aerials down field. And Williams showed patience in the pocket, buying time with his feet and locating open receivers.
Rebuilding at Michigan is going to take a while. The hiring of Rich Rodriguez signals a break from tradition - as does the ongoing construction at Michigan Stadium. Michigan fans need to be patient during the rebuilding process – and not just for one or two weeks. Though the defense regained its bite in the second half against Utah, the offense has a long way to go before the Wolverines can contend again in the Big Ten. The current players need more time to learn the offense to run it effectively. Rodriguez needs more time to bring in his players to run it extraordinarily.
Utah is not a BCS crasher … yet. Utah was the first team outside of the "Big Six" conferences to play in a major bowl in the BCS era. The Utes won at Michigan on Saturday, earning the mandatory non-conference win over a BCS opponent for a potential BCS "interloper," but they're not going to make a return trip to the BCS until they sort some things out. Brian Johnson was sacked six times, an awful stat for a quarterback who has struggled with injuries. The offensive line nearly sabotaged the game with pre-snap penalties in the red zone and in short-yardage situations. The defense should have had more than one interception. Still, the offense has plenty of difference-makers and the defense is loaded with experience. Utah has to iron out these problems in the coming weeks against UNLV and Utah State before entertaining the thought of beating a team such as BYU and heading to another BCS game.
The ACC can expect more criticism. Heck, forget criticism – think derision. It was a lost weekend for the ACC. Clemson and Virginia Tech fell – preseason favorite Clemson to a team considered to be the third-best in its division in the SEC West. North Carolina State's offense looked like a Pop Warner unit in a shutout loss to South Carolina. Virginia was eviscerated by USC. Maryland and North Carolina squeaked by Division I-AA teams. Duke, Georgia Tech and Miami won – but against I-AA teams. Wake Forest and Boston College were the only league teams to beat other I-A schools – and Wake beat Big 12 bottom-feeder Baylor and BC beat MAC bottom-feeder Kent State. Good news for the ACC: Basketball practice begins in six weeks.
Washington is in trouble. Most folks think of this as a make-or-break season for Huskies coach Tyrone Willingham, and if things the rest of the way go as they did Saturday night, he's gone. Oregon crushed the Huskies, dominating them in the second half of a 44-10 rout. Oregon announced last week that starting quarterback Nate Costa was out for the season with a knee injury, then lost new starter Justin Roper to a concussion in the first half against the Huskies. No problem: Erstwhile third-stringer Jeremiah Masoli did his best Dennis Dixon impression in the second half to key the onslaught. Other than quarterback Jake Locker, the Huskies are painfully devoid of difference-makers on both sides of the ball.
Alabama's defense is better than we thought. Alabama lost its top pass rusher (Wallace Gilberry) from a defense that ranked in the middle of the pack in the SEC last season, but the Crimson Tide gave a season-opening performance that suggested they won't have much problem stopping teams this season. Alabama kept Clemson's offense out of the end zone in a 34-10 upset and held the Tigers to zero net rushing yards. The Tide also harassed quarterback Cullen Harper all night. Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said his team hadn't suffered such a thorough physical beating in three years.
Virginia Tech needs quarterback Tyrod Taylor on the field. Tech coach Frank Beamer's preseason decision to redshirt Taylor seemed puzzling because the Hokies didn't have any experienced running backs or receivers. Taylor's absence left Tech without one of its few proven playmakers. The Hokies sure could have used him Saturday. Quarterback Sean Glennon threw two interceptions in a 27-22 loss to East Carolina. The combination of Glennon's experience and Taylor's mobility helped Virginia Tech win the ACC title last season. The Hokies ought to go back to the two-quarterback system – or else just hand the job to Taylor now.