Fifty-six seconds left in the period. Four-yard run by Carter. Conway kick. It's 35-0.
Three weeks into the season, six teams have scored enough points every time out to beat Princeton in basketball. There is Florida, which took a 71.5 average into the Tennessee game. There is Penn State, which has outscored Big Ten opponents Iowa and Minnesota by 117-24. (On Oct. 1, the Nittany Lions play Temple. Lay the 65½.) There is Florida State, perhaps so weighed down by negative publicity that its average margin of victory in three games is only 32 points. There's also Miami, which is averaging 51.5 points; Colorado, which turned Wisconsin into the walkover it promised to be when the game was scheduled in 1990, back before the Badgers got better; and Nebraska, which began emptying its bench one play into the fourth quarter, already leading UCLA 49-14.
Two other teams belong among the elite, but both No. 4 Michigan and No. 9 Arizona (SI's preseason No. 1—you didn't think we were ready to bail out just yet, did you?) hang on the periphery of the sluggers because they keep track of their points on regular scoreboards and not on CD-ROMs. Between them, the biggest blowout was Arizona's 44-0 win over the same New Mexico team that lost to Florida 70-21.
How to explain these beatings and the sudden chasm separating the teams at the top of the polls from the second-tier teams? In some cases it's easy. Florida State is Florida State, bruised by scandal but still bursting with talent. Ditto for Miami, whose tumble may indeed have been prematurely declared. But the next few weeks will tell, because the Hurricanes are about to play Washington (Saturday), Florida State (Oct. 8) and Virginia Tech (Oct. 29), all at home. Miami's toughest road game is at rebuilding Syracuse (Nov. 5), where the Hurricanes will very likely be a two-touchdown favorite.
In other cases, good programs simply have peaked. Witness Florida and Nebraska, which have already traded places atop the AP poll. Florida coach Steve Spurrier knows he can no longer coach offense, ignore defense and ride heavy on quarterbacks. This year he has switched defensive coordinators and gotten the expected superb play from quarterback Terry Dean. A shutout at Tennessee, even a wounded Tennessee? Unthinkable. "Our defense," said tackle Ellis Johnson after making it thinkable, "is definitely picking it up." This is the single most daunting signal of the season.
Nebraska, meanwhile, looks only like a better version of itself. Its offensive linemen are typically hulking (three starters weigh 300 or more, two others are at 280), but four of them can dunk a basketball, and the fifth, Rhodes scholar candidate Rob Zatechka, runs the 40-yard dash in 5.06. They rolled over UCLA's defense for 484 yards on the ground. "We'd just smash them off the ball, drive them back 10 yards, get up and celebrate," says Nebraska guard Joel Wilks.
There is a little of the smash-drive-and-celebrate at Penn State, too, as Carter runs behind a veteran offensive line. There is also Collins throwing to dangerous wide-outs Bobby Engram and Freddie Scott. The Nittany Lions have scored on their first two drives in all three games. The blowout first quarter against the Hawkeyes was the Lions' highest-scoring first period since 1968, when they poured 35 on Pitt en route to a perfect season. "I can't find any weaknesses with Penn State," Iowa coach Hayden Fry said Saturday. "This club has got it all."
But if you really insist on mining for warts, Penn State's defense is mediocre. So is Colorado's, but when you can score 55 against a Wisconsin team that is expected to contend for the Big Ten championship, mediocre defense is more than good enough.
As for the rest of the season, it works two ways.