College Football Overtime (cont.)
Reevaluating West Virginia
Despite my past (and well-documented) skepticism regarding second-year West Virginia coach/uber-nice guy Bill Stewart, I couldn't help but be impressed by the Mountaineers' 35-20 win over virtually the same East Carolina team (15 returning starters) that drubbed them 24-3 a year earlier. Quarterback Jarrett Brown, in particular, put together a rousing performance: 24-of-31 for 334 yards and four touchdowns, plus 73 rushing yards on 10 carries.
So I put in a call Sunday to "Coach Stew," who, as always, sounded like there was nothing in the world he'd rather be doing at that moment than talking on the phone.
"This one Saturday was big [for Brown]," Stewart said of the fifth-year senior. "Our team saw it throughout spring camp and fall camp, and in the past, but he never had a chance to showcase it because of Patrick [White]. He threw two touchdowns Saturday where he had defenders right in his mouth."
The seeds for West Virginia's performance Saturday were planted a year ago. From Day 1, Stewart adamantly stated his goal to turn the previously run-heavy Mountaineers into a more balanced team. That wasn't the case most of last year as White and the offense struggled to adjust.
However, if you remember back to West Virginia's Meineke Car Care Bowl win over North Carolina, White threw for a career-high 322 yards. When I suggested to Stewart his offense's current incarnation actually began taking form late last season, a truly unusual thing happened: He complimented me.
"You are absolutely, positively accurate with that [observation]," said Stewart. "It's been a thing of beauty, but it's been a struggle. The receivers had to learn [new routes], we never really pass-blocked that much, we'd always been more of a zone team. We struggled a little bit, but now we're spreading the wealth."
Indeed, four different players -- receivers Jock Sanders, Bradley Starks and Alric Arnett and running back Tavon Austin had between 59 and 99 receiving yards Saturday, while right end Will Johnson caught a touchdown and running back Noel Devine ran for 80 yards and a score. With Brown at the helm and all those weapons at his disposal, the Mountaineers -- who visit suddenly potent Auburn on Saturday (more on the Tigers in a bit) -- seem to be fulfilling Stewart's vision of a balanced attack.
"I'll tell you what," promised Stewart. "You will enjoy watching the West Virginia Mountaineers."
My reaction to the latest polls and standings:
Overrated: LSU (AP: No. 9; coaches: No. 7)
Two games in, the Tigers have provided little indication of their anticipated return to heavyweight status. Last week the defense raised suspicion after allowing 478 yards to Washington. This week the offense was highly unimpressive against Vanderbilt, which trailed just 16-9 midway through the fourth quarter. LSU may be 2-0, but it has yet to look like a top 10 team.
Underrated: Houston (AP: No. 21; coaches: unranked)
You would think going on the road and knocking off a top five team (Oklahoma State) would have earned a bigger bump for Case Keenum and the Cougars, but because Houston doesn't yet have the track record of a Boise State or TCU, the voters apparently remain skeptical. There's no justifiable reason, however, why the Cougars remain five to nine spots lower than the team they just beat.
Current BCS forecast
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games:
Title game: Florida vs. Texas
Cincinnati supplanted Rutgers as my Big East representative after the Bearcats ... you know, crushed the Scarlet Knights. Quarterback Tony Pike has Cincy's no-huddle offense zipping in a way that compares to Oklahoma's ludicrous 2008 tempo. As for the Sooners, I reluctantly placed them back in the Fiesta Bowl. It's a long leap of faith to think they will only lose once more (to Texas). However, there's no other potential at-large team, Big 12 or otherwise, in which I currently feel more confident.
Spreading the field
Guz Malzahn is working his magic again. Facing the same Mississippi State team it infamously beat 3-2 a year earlier, Auburn racked up 589 yards -- including a staggering 390 on the ground -- in a 49-24 win. Under the direction of the former Arkansas and Tulsa offensive coordinator, the Tigers currently rank fourth nationally in total offense, up 100 spots from 2008.
Five days after its shootout with Miami, Florida State came within 35 seconds of losing to Jacksonville State. The Seminoles trailed 9-7 nearly the entire second half before putting together a 57-yard scoring drive to avoid defeat. Perhaps FSU officials ought to stop fighting so hard to save Bobby Bowden's vacated wins and start figuring out a way to get out of that $5 million Jimbo Fisher contract.
Georgia's dramatic 41-37 win over South Carolina could do wonders for its psyche. Coming off an opening-week loss at Oklahoma State and with continued questions about quarterback Joe Cox, the Dawgs found creative ways to score points (a kick return by Brandon Boykin, a 61-yard reverse by freshman Branden Smith) and prevent them (DeAngelo Tyson's clutch extra-point block.)
There were a lot of crazy endings Saturday, but the North Carolina-UConn game may take the cake. First, after catching a game-tying touchdown with 2:36 remaining, Tar Heels tight end Zack Pianalto dislocated his foot while celebrating and had to be carted off the field. UNC then won, 12-10, by scoring a safety when Huskies tackle Dan Ryan was flagged for holding in his own end zone.
Jacquizz Rodgers is back, and he's bringing a new dimension. Oregon State's star running back had a big night Saturday against UNLV, rushing 26 times for 166 yards and a touchdown -- and hauling in 10 receptions for 65 yards. Beavers coach Mike Riley wasn't kidding about using Rodgers more as a receiver; he never had more than four catches in a game last year.
If you're a Georgia Tech fan, you shouldn't be concerned about quarterback Josh Nesbitt's performance against Clemson. The stat line wasn't pretty: 3-of-14 for 73 yards and two TDs. However, when the game was on the line, Nesbitt (who ran 18 times for 91 yards) engineered consecutive scoring drives, highlighted by a huge 39-yard pass to Demariyus Thomas with 1:48 left.
Pittsburgh wasted little time finding its next great running back now that LeSean McCoy's in the NFL. True freshman Dion Lewis carried 24 times for 190 yards and two TDs and caught six passes for 72 yards in a 54-27 win over Buffalo. That's following his 129-yard debut against Youngstown State.
Virginia Tech rookie running back Ryan Williams is delivering on the hype. A week after his 32-yard touchdown run against Alabama, the redshirt freshman ran for 166 yards and three TDs in the Hokies' 52-10 rout of Marshall. Williams helps negate the preseason ACL injury to Darren Evans; now if the Hokies can just develop a semi-decent passing game, they'll be in good shape.
It felt a whole lot like 2003 in the MAC this weekend, with Toledo knocking off Colorado, Central Michigan toppling Michigan State and Bowling Green nearly taking down Missouri. Such upsets used to be customary in the storied league of Midwestern overachievers, but the MAC saw its profile plummet over the last five years. Perhaps a resurgence is in the works.
Obligatory congrats to Washington for ending its painful 15-game losing streak with a 42-23 win over Idaho. Now, the Huskies try to make it two in a row when they face ... um, USC.
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