Posted: Sunday September 23, 2012 9:41PM ; Updated: Monday September 24, 2012 7:04PM
Stewart Mandel

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Spreading the field

LSU's Zach Mettenberger
LSU escaped with a win, but quarterback Zach Mettenberger passed for just 169 yards against Auburn.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

• With so many important games happening at once Saturday night, then-No. 2 LSU's narrow escape over Auburn, 12-10, flew under the radar. Sorry, but Les Miles' team doesn't get the "SEC grind" excuse for this one. For one thing, it was LSU's conference opener. For another, Auburn isn't that good. Fortunately for LSU, it wasn't playing Louisiana-Monroe Saturday.

LSU's defense was as dominant as ever, limiting Auburn to just nine first downs. But after two years of buildup, quarterback Zach Mettenberger's SEC debut was largely unspectacular (15-of-27 for 169 yards, two fumbles). He's not likely to set the Tigers as far back as Jordan Jefferson did, but is he the difference-maker LSU needs against Florida, South Carolina and Alabama? "I think I handled the pressure well," Mettenberger said. It's certainly not going to let up.

• So much for Connor Shaw's bum shoulder. South Carolina's quarterback completed 20 consecutive passes in the No. 6 Gamecocks' 31-10 demolition of Missouri. "I just found a groove and stayed with it," said Shaw, who is 11-1 since taking over as starter last season. Things didn't go as smoothly for Tigers quarterback James Franklin, who, in his third start this year, endured the wrath of Jadeveon Clowney and Co. And yes, Gamecocks fans chanted "S-E-C."

• It's hard to believe Oregon State went 3-9 last season. The Beavers (2-0) not only boast the nation's No. 2 rushing defense, but sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion (24-of-35, 379 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception in Saturday's 27-20 win at then No. 19 UCLA) is emerging as a budding star. It helps to have a pair of big-play receivers like Markus Wheaton (nine catches, 150 yards) and Brandin Cooks (six catches, 175 yards). Coach Riley celebrated the win with an In-n-Out run.

• Arkansas' soap opera continues, as the Razorbacks (1-3) managed to lose to Rutgers, 35-26, despite receiver Cobi Hamilton's SEC-record 303 receiving yards on 10 catches. Scarlet Knights quarterback Gary Nova had a career night (25-of-35 for 397 yards, five touchdowns and no picks) to lead Rutgers to its first 4-0 start since 2006, the year it went 11-2 with Ray Rice. Not a bad start for first-year coach Kyle Flood. Counterpart John L. Smith suffered a much tougher loss last week.

• Central Michigan's David Harman bucked the trend of woeful clutch kicking this season, drilling a 47-yard field goal with three seconds remaining to seal a 32-31 upset of Iowa. This came after the Chippewas scored a touchdown with 45 seconds left and recovered their second kick onside kick attempt, which came after a delay of game call nullified their first try. In converting the kick, Harman ruined a spectacular day by Hawkeyes' walk-on running back Mark Weisman. The 6-foot sophomore finished with 27 carries for 217 yards and three touchdowns.

• Freshman receiver Stefon Diggs is shaping up to be Randy Edsall's potential savior. The former five-star recruit notched 42- and 56-yard touchdown catches in Maryland's 31-21 loss to West Virginia. However, it takes more than a few big plays to counter Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith (30-of-43, 338 yards, three touchdowns), who now has an 18-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio dating back to last year's Orange Bowl, and West Virginia's own stud receiver, Tavon Austin, who corralled 13 catches for 179 yards and three scores in the win.

• USC (3-1) beat Cal, 27-9, despite another spotty performance from Matt Barkley (192 yards, two touchdowns, two picks). With Cal focused on bottling up receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, the Trojans instead rode running backs Silas Redd (21 carries, 158 yards, one touchdown) and Curtis McNeal (10 carries, 115 yards). "Obviously, it's not as fun," said coach Lane Kiffin. "It's fun winning 50-0, but that doesn't happen every week."

• It was a banner day for the MAC, which, in addition to Central Michigan's win over a Big Ten foe, also knocked off teams from the Big 12 (Northern Illinois over Kansas) and Big East (Western Michigan over Connecticut, Ball State over USF). The last time the MAC beat three BCS-conference opponents on the same day was Sept. 20, 2003 -- though those were three ranked foes. The conference isn't back to those days of Ben Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski, but it's certainly gaining back some respect.

• It's also shaping up to be a heck of a three-way race for the WAC title. Louisiana Tech (3-0), the aforementioned winner of a 52-24 rout over Illinois, has scored at least 52 points in all three of its games. San Jose State (3-1), which tested Stanford in Week 1, notched a nice road win at San Diego State, as did Utah State (3-1) at Colorado State. The Aggies previously beat Utah and narrowly lost at Wisconsin.

• Kudos to the resilient Colorado Buffaloes (1-3), which rebounded from embarrassing losses to Sacramento State and Fresno State by rallying from a 31-14 fourth-quarter deficit to win their Pac-12 opener, 35-34, at Washington State (2-2). "I don't get it," Wazzu cornerback Daniel Simmons told the Seattle Times. "In my opinion, we lost to a team we're far better than." Easy there, Cougs. You don't get to start trash talking until Mike Leach wins his first Pac-12 game.

• Additional props to Al Golden's resilient Miami Hurricanes (3-1, 2-0 ACC), which raced to a 19-0 lead against Georgia Tech Saturday, proceeded to give up 36 straight points and then clawed back to capture a dramatic 42-36 victory. The 'Canes stuffed Jackets quarterback Tevin Washington on fourth-and-inches on the first possession of overtime, and then running back Mike James broke a game-winning 25-yard touchdown. "Our kids earned it the hard way," said a jubilant Golden, who sprinted across the field after the game-winning play.

• As with all things Miami these days, Saturday's win came less than day after more revelations surfaced about the Nevin Shapiro scandal. This time the information came from a former Hurricanes equipment employee and the jailed booster's former right-hand man.

• If you sat through the BYU-Boise State offensive horror show last Thursday, you undoubtedly wanted to strangle BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. Trailing 7-0, the Cougars finally reached the end zone after backup quarterback Taysom Hill orchestrated a 95-yard touchdown drive with 3:37 remaining. Despite a lack of any timeouts and the fact that Boise State had given up trying to kick field goals, Mendenhall went for two. "I wanted to win," said Mendenhall. "... I'd do it again." He lost, 7-6.

• Georgia crushed Vanderbilt, 48-3. Before you say, "Oh, it's just Vanderbilt," know this: The outcome was the Commodores' worst loss since 2003.

• There's sign of life at Minnesota, off to its first 4-0 start since 2008. The Gophers notched a 17-10 win over Syracuse despite playing without quarterback MarQueis Gray.

• There's also sign of life at UNLV (1-3), where Bobby Hauck's team beat Air Force, 38-35. The result was the Rebels first win in a conference opener since 2007.

• It looks like Utah could be in for a long season. Arizona State (3-1) outgained the Utes (2-2) 512-209 in a 37-7 rout.
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