For all the contenders and pretenders out there, we finally know who’s who. Week 3 and Week 4 resembled the stresses of a midterm exam week. Some teams passed with flying colors and others wasted credits. Cincinnati, South Florida, and Iowa are amongst the Dean’s list. Penn State, Pittsburgh, and Texas Tech are on academic probation. The Irish just made the cutoff.
Jimmy Clausen spilled his guts for 70,000 to see Saturday. He better be on your Heisman List. He willed the Irish to a victory with a late fourth quarter drive. This is the top prospect most Neanderthal pundits and message board scum considered overrated. Yet, he delivered a touchdown strike to Kyle Rudolph in the waning seconds on a painful turf toe. Jimmy Clausen showed the maturity we finally hoped to see since his red carpet arrival in South Bend. We also learned that Notre Dame’s offense is still explosive without Michael Floyd. I guess Weis is an innovative offensive mind as well pundits. He took his other stud receiver Golden Tate and deployed him all over the field. With Armando Allen out of action that was Weis’s plan. Notre Dame used a wildcat package throughout the second half and third quarter to rack up 137 yards and 17 points without Clausen or Allen. Only one problem, the Irish defense couldn’t even stop the Sex and City girls from a Macy’s shopping spree. The focus in the Purdue game was Ralph Bolden. They clung to him like a magnet on the fridge. A defense that yielded over 60 points in the last two games only allowed 21. However, Notre Dame’s defense squanders a 17-7 lead and looked foolish on a wheel route to Jacyen Taylor that put the Boilermakers ahead.
Notre Dame should be providing MSU QB Kirk Cousins with a thank you card for bailing them and Charlie out in Week 3. John Tenuta needed to ease off on the blitz pedal and his move generated more pressure in week 4. However, the experienced secondary has made Kirk Cousins and Joey Elliot look like Bart Starr. Jake Locker is the best quarterback the Irish will see all year. He comes into South Bend this Saturday and if be breaks contain he will hurt ND’s defense more than Tate Forcier. The only thing worse than being crushed by USC 7 times is that former assistants Steve Sarkeisen (Head Coach) and Nick Holt (Defensive Coordinator) believe they can beat you even if their has tallied two wins in their last 16 games. The Irish defense boasts a bevy a blue chip talent for the first time since the early 90’s. Boys, its time to live up to the hype.
What we have learned from the Big Ten is that you cannot base a conference off Phil Steele’s and Athlon’s predictions. Oh yeah, mine either. Sorry Mr. Steele and Athlon I am still your number one customer.
They had Michigan winning 6 games minimum and Indiana winning 4. Michigan took out a more experienced Irish squad at home and Indiana beat all non-conference teams that were supposedly picked to lose. Both faced off in the Big house last week undefeated at 3-0. They put on an offensive display and Michigan ended up making a crucial stop to hold on 39-33. Indiana switched to the pistol offense and so far it has paid dividends for them. If they can keep offensive pace with the rest of the Big Ten then Terry Heoparinger’s bowl dream can be accomplished. The 100,000 in Beaver Stadium faced a harsh reality last Saturday night. Penn State, everyone’s conference darling, was as overrated as M. Night Shamalan’s The Village. Whipping cupcakes Akron, Syracuse, and Temple never revealed the weaknesses of the Nittany Lions. Penn State’s O-line was shredded by Iowa defensive end Broderick Binns. Kirk Ferenz’s team did exactly what it is good at. Hang around an eventually get a big break and capitalize. A ten point first quarter including a touchdown bomb from Daryl Clark to Derek Moye became an eleven-point deficit by the end of third quarter. Iowa provided a sturdy test and right now is in the Big Ten driver seat. Hawkeye nation, my apology for the discrimination in the first two recaps. Ohio State finally listened to the nation and used Tyrell Pryor the right way in week 3. He used his legs and arm against Toledo and the Buckeyes cruised to a 38-0 victory. Then they emulated it with a 30-0 whopping of Illinois. Tyrell Pryor played well again but the defense forced turnovers and Juice William’s horseshoe luster lost its scent. Funny that was not the game plan two weeks ago. Michigan State and Wisconsin squared off in Madison. A dejected Spartan team coming off two hard losses looked to rid their woes with a conference opening win. Wisconsin had slithered by in their three openers and faced defensive challenges in their secondary from wideouts Blair White and Mark Dell. Cousins had 300 yards passing last week but he had a crucial interception and he gave a couple more away in this game. State was down by double digits and could not recover despite racked up 23 points in the second half.
Minnesota and Northwestern both come off losses. Northwestern lost a heartbreaker to Syracuse while the Gophers took a beat down to christen their new stadium. Minnesota normally is known for Adam Weber and Eric Decker. It was a little different this week. Duane Bennett punched it in 3 times for a 35-24 victory.
For the first time since 1999 the battle of Michigan between Sparty and the Wolverines is relevant. Despite, being 1-3 State is talented on offense and can sling it around a suspect Michigan secondary. Cousins has 600 yards passing in his last two games. If he avoids turnovers State will give the Wolverines a healthy test. East Lansing sure isn’t the best place for Tate Forcier to get his first road start. The key for Michigan is to control the clock with Brandon Minor and not put too much on Tate Forcier’s shoulders. This road game will go a long way to determining if Michigan is a Big Ten frontrunner.
Indiana and Ohio State might have looked like a pushover in the preseason. After last week the Hoosiers are for real. They boost a formidable rushing attack in Darius Willis. Troubles with Navy’s Ricky Dobbs and Joe McKnight means Ohio State better be on guard. Indiana must be on guard for Tyrell Pryor who has looked great in back to back weeks.
The Big East planted Conference flags more places the last two weeks than the Marines at Iwo Jima. Cinncinatti and South Florida have carried the torch for the once putrid conference. Cincinnati and their gunslinger Tony Pike handed Oregon State their first home loss against a non-conference foe since 1996. Then they traveled and took out a solid Fresno State squad. South Florida had Bobby Bowden second-guessing himself in the postgame interview. Without the school’s all-time offensive leader Matt Grothe it looked like the Bulls would keel over in Tallahassee. Not if B.J. Daniels had anything to say about it. The Redshirt Freshman had 300 yards versus Florida State. The USF defense destroyed the Seminole O-line and made it look average. Connecticut and Rutgers also made a statement in hostile road environments in College Park and in Waco. Rutgers defense suffocated Maryland and forced turnovers all day in route to a 35-14 victory. A week earlier Connecticut went down to Texas and took out a Baylor team some thought would be bowling this year. Andre Dixon ran through the Bear for over one hundred yards and three TDs. If it was not for a safety versus North Carolina the Huskies might still be undefeated.
West Virginia was beaten by Auburn but still put forward a great fight in a 41-30 loss. Heck, Syracuse notched their first win versus a Big Ten bowl school in Northwestern.
Outside West Virginia giving Colorado a spanking 35-20, this week proves to be quiet for the conference as Rutgers and Connecticut are off. Pittsburgh will look to avenge their 38-31 loss against Louisville.
After excellent opening act the curtains couldn’t come down any faster for the Big 12. The big blows continued the last two weeks. Baylor was predicted to be the most improved team in the conference and sneak into a bowl. Connecticut beat them up on the ground 30-22 and now Robert Griffin is gone for the year. Nebraska continues to flop on the national scene. The defense could not stop Tyrod Taylor again and this time he made it sting throwing a game-winning touchdown with 30 seconds to go. Bo Pelini has tons of work to do in Lincoln. If his offense cannot score versus superior talent how are they supposed to survive a shootout with Kansas later in the year? Speaking of the Jayhawks they have been the conference’s most consistent team besides Texas. Despite a scare from Southern Miss, Todd Reesing continues to show he is the most underrated Quarterback in the conference and the most productive. Desmond Briscoe and Kerry Meier are dominant receivers and will give all future Big 12 opponents trouble down the stretch. I had Kansas winning the North unlike the Cornhuskers and so far they have lived up to the hype. Texas Tech became another one of Houston’s Big 12 south victims giving up a late game drive to fall 29-28.
Texas continues to roll and Oklahoma looks to have found a new restored confidence in Redshirt Freshman Landry Jones. Jones had 6 touchdown passes last week. That is more than Sam Bradford ever threw in a game in Norman. The running backs are lethal and the O-line looks much improved from week one. However, with back-to-back shutouts this defense continues to be the Sooners strong point and down in Miami they will be the difference between a victory and another stunning defeat.
The Sooners and Hurricanes are the banner game in the conference but there is another barnburner is on a neighboring Espn Network.
Texas A&M is 3-0 and averaging a nation best 574.0 yards a game on offense. Mike Sherman has ditched the bore of a west coast playbook and traded it in for a no-huddle spread attack. It has done wonders for Jerrod Johnson. He has 9 touchdown passes, 4 rushing touchdowns, and a totaled over 1300 yards this year. The Aggies, which looked like the conference doormat, are alive and can light it up with anyone. They have the best offense in Texas right now and Johnson looks like a bigger and smarter version of Duante Culpepper. Freshman Wide Receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu and Receiver Ryan Tyannhill provide a formidable aerial threat. This weak they will feast vs. Arkansas. Arkansas has Ryan Mallet and D.J. Williams will surely put up some points in this shootout as well. My suggestion is to cook up some extra chicken on the Barbie because this one will be long.
As September closes October beckons with more anticipation and questions. Will Michigan win the Big Ten? Is Texas going to falter? Can Cincinnati be stopped? What we know is that preseason magazines carry the same weight as any issue of vogue. Great articles and great reads but the truth does not lie in the pages. Who thought last year’s 4-8 Texas A&M squad would score at will this year. I know the schedule is unimpressive but take a positive that they could not break thirty versus the early part of it last year. Kansas continues to be the frontrunner in the Big 12 North but is Missouri a dark horse candidate that can steal the show.
In October there is bound to be a shakeup in the Big 12 South. Oklahoma Texas game and Oklahoma State Texas game could be the devastating trap that denies a national title appearance to the Longhorns. Michigan is 5-0 but road trips to Iowa and Michigan State await. Ohio State might walk through October without a threat. Cincinnati had a stellar September and the ball looks to keep rolling until someone harasses Tony Pike. South Florida is confident as well no matter whom the Quarterback is. October is here so sit back, grab a brew, and lets see it all unfold.