1. Notre Dame - Beating Miami is one thing. Housing Miami in Chicago, scoring 41 points in the process is quite another. Plenty of people don't want to believe in Notre Dame (and previous track record would indicate they're right not completely buying in), but the more I watch this team, the more I can't help but think it's got the formula to be a 10 or 11 win team by year's end.
2. USC WR Marquise Lee - David Nuno of Rivals on Yahoo Sports Radio and I were discussing Lee Thursday night, wondering aloud whether he has surpassed former high school teammate Robert Woods as the go-to receiver for the USC offense.
I don't know if he necessary to do so, but Lee is extremely close to being the team's best offensive weapon, when many thought he would be the team's best DB when he arrived on campus a couple of years ago. He lit Utah up to the tune of 12 receptions for 192 yards and a touchdown. I saw someone tweet later that night that Lee is Peter Warrick…with a better NFL future, of course.
3. West Virginia's Offensive Line - Geno Smith is the Heisman leader. There isn't a better WR duo in college than Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin (that strikes a nerve for USC fans, huh?). Andrew Buie ran for over 200 yards Saturday night against Texas. But, why are the "glory boys" getting all of the glory?
Yep, the five in front. Quinton Spain, Josh Jenkins, Joe Madsen, Jeff Braun and Pat Eger. This quintet allows everything to flow seamlessly. Against Baylor, this group pass blocked like no other. Then, Saturday night Texas DC Manny Diaz dared WVU to win by running the ball. Behind these five, the Mountaineers piled up 192 yards rushing.
Sure, giving up three sacks doesn't look pretty in the box score. However, considering how often WVU throws the ball, I won't lose too much sleep, given the fact that this quintet opened holes in the run game all night long. The fly boys get the headlines, but the five up front for WVU are stellar.
4. NC State offensive coordinator Dana Bible and QB Mike Glennon - The Wolfpack offense couldn't do a dadgum thing in the first half. Nothing, nada, zip, zilch…not a da…well, you get the point.
Then in the second half, Bible went to a more up tempo attack and Glennon found a rhythm. The Wolfpack scored 17 second half points, the final touchdown on a fourth down from Glennon to Bryan Underwood with :16 left in the game to put State in front 17-16.
The Wolfpack were reeling after a disastrous trip to Miami last week, so knocking off the #3 team in the nation was WAY outside the realm of plausibility. But, Bible, Glennon and the offense got its act together for the final 30 minutes, just in the nick of time.
5. Florida's physicality - I remember watching Florida's defense last year early in the 2011 season and thought, wow, these guys live to hit. But, that unit eventually gave way to injury and inconsistency in an 8 win season.
But, this year, that defense's mindset is filtering through that entire squad and it's evident that the Orange and Blue love to tattoo you on both sides of the ball. It wasn't aesthetically pleasing, but to those that LOVE physical football, it was a Mozart, it was a Monet, it was a Van Gogh…it was beautiful. I never thought that I'd see the LSU Tigers get physically pushed around like Florida's offensive and defensive fronts did on Saturday. Will Muschamp's Gators just kept coming and coming and coming and LSU finally quit answering the door in a 14-6 Gators win.
6. South Carolina's defense and QB Connor Shaw - This highly anticipated matchup in Columbia turned out to be a major 35-7 dud. I was done watching it by halftime and it was over well before that.
USC DE Jadeveon Clowney is the best football player in the country, period. But, the true story of the Gamecocks is Connor Shaw at quarterback. He's changed this whole season for South Carolina with his play the past few weeks. He only threw it ten times, completing six for 162 yards and two touchdowns, but he also ran for 78 yards, keeping UGA's defense completely bamboozled all night long.
It definitely won't be easy (@LSU next week and then @Florida week after that), but this is a different USC team than we've seen in past years.
7. Penn State - Although Bill O'Brien is a good friend, I can speak even-handed about this team. Let's take into account the fact that PSU lost 14 players, its All-B1G running back, its top six receivers from last year, an All-B1G kicker…and, oh by the way, I forgot, four year sanctions that could still cripple this program in the future.
Through all of that, the Nittany Lions are 2-0 in the B1G and have won four games in a row, the last of which involved scoring 39 points in a win over a previously undefeated Northwestern squad on Saturday. Make a field goal against Virginia…one of the four PSU attempted and the Nittany Lions would be 5-1. Considering this is what Stewart Mandel predicted before the year, I'd say BOB's Lions deserve kudos:
A free agent exodus caused by the NCAA's sanctions has stripped Penn State of its star running back (Silas Redd), starting receiver (Justin Brown), All-Big Ten kicker/punter (Anthony Fera) and other potential contributors. O'Brien's pedigree as a quarterbacks coach suggests he can bring out the best in senior Matt McGloin, but the offense returns just one other starter. The defense has more dependable veterans like linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. It's hard to imagine the Nittany Lions won't splinter once the trying season wears on. Predicted 2012 record: 4-8.
I don't imagine THIS particular team has six straight losses in it to close the season. Consequently, it's hard to know what will happen in the future and O'Brien has acknowledged that recruiting "against the sanctions" has been tough. But, this program, led by a new coach and new staff with a new mindset, is sending a message and that's a new day in State College.
8. Duke - The Blue Devils hammered Virginia with a backup QB (Anthony Boone) throwing four touchdown passes in a 42-17 whitewashing. David Cutcliffe's Blue Devils scored 28 unanswered points after trailing 17-14 at half.
So, let's do the math: The Blue Devils are 5-1 and, with one more win, are bowl eligible. Holy March Madness, Batman, is that possible? You bet your Krzyzewski it is. It's not going to be easy the rest of the way (@VT, UNC, @FSU, Clemson, @ GT and Miami), but to be in this position is a positive step for the Blue Devils.
1. Georgia - Show up, why don't you? If that's the best you've got, Todd Grantham, move along and let the big boys take care of business.
2. The B1G Leaders division - Take Ohio State and Penn State out of the mix due to post-season ineligibility and the remaining four teams have one B1G win combined. And, the only win Wisconsin has is because it played another Leaders division foe last Saturday Illinois. 0 for the season against the Legends division. Ouch.
3. LSU's offense - Sure, Florida is better than all of us thought originally, but not putting the ball in the end zone is inexcusable. The offensive line is in shambles. Perimeter players get one or two chances per game to make a play and that's it. QB Zach Mettenberger has no confidence.
There is no swagger. This is a shell-shocked team that can still get it right going forward, but it won't get any help with South Carolina coming to Baton Rouge this Saturday.
4. Florida State - The week prior, NC State's defense gave up 566 yards passing to Miami's Stephen Morris. Miami's offense can't hold a candle to Florida State's. Pure and simple.
So, you explain to me why and how QB E.J. Manuel only threw for 218 in a 17-16 loss…hmm?? HMMM???? Can't do it.
After the Clemson game, there was a ton of talk about how explosive this FSU offense was and would continue to be. I mentioned Raleigh as a tough spot for FSU, but after NC State's secondary got lit up like a Christmas tree, I backed off. I shouldn't have. FSU laid another egg when it had a clear path to the national championship game. Now, it has to get some help from Clemson, et. al to play in the ACC Championship game. What a tangled web we weave when we don't come ready to dominate!
5. Texas defense - I can't even begin to tell you the fundamental errors I saw from this defense on Saturday night. Sure, the pass rush was great on occasion, but overall, WVU did whatever it wanted and dictated the tempo and the flow of WVU's 48-45 win in Austin. Players not reading keys. Players running around like chickens with their heads cut off, having absolutely no clue. Poor tackling.
I understand WVU has one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, but if the Texas D executed, it would have won that game. DC Manny Diaz had to be sick when he put that film on Sunday morning. Not because Texas failed, but because it COULD have succeeded in a major way.
6. Virginia Tech - See what had happened was…uh, nope, no excuses. This program is in free fall; I just hope it's only for this year. This team isn't doing anything well and the NFL draft stock of Logan Thomas is falling…unfortunately. It's ugly, real, real ugly.
Players that have caught my attention this year for a variety of reasons (kept to a minimum for "time purposes" of course)
1. Penn State QB Matt McGloin - The scourge of many going into the season, McGloin has soaked up the teachings of Bill O'Brien and been the leader of a surprisingly potent PSU offense.
2. South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney - Beast. That is all…for now.
3. Florida S Matt Elam - My buddy Brady Ackerman, sideline reporter for the Florida Gators, gave me a heads up on Elam a couple of years ago and it's all coming to fruition for the Gators' star safety this season.
4. Oregon uber-player Colt Lyerla - If you haven't seen the Oregon Ducks version of James Casey, tune in and don't miss the show.
5. North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard - When you see that little fella's legs moving as fast as they were on Saturday in a win over Virginia Tech, you'll know why.
6. Ohio State DE John Simon - The Energizer Bunny of the B1G. Dude does NOT quit - love the way he plays.
7. Oklahoma RB Damien Williams - He doesn't have a ton of running room, but he's finding a way to hurt opponents with his pass receiving abilities.
8. USC DE Morgan Breslin - See John Simon above.
9. Northwestern weapon Venric Mark - He's a Reggie Bush clone and finds a way to impact every game he plays in (punt return for a TD against Penn State)
10. Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks - Should be first CB off the board this April, love everything about his game. By the way, keep an eye on MSU as it continues to improve this year. It's not easy from here on out, but it'll compete, that's for sure, led by Banks and the physical defense.