October 26, 2009
Adjusting to the weekend's new realities.
• Where K-State is king. The division's three obvious preseason frontrunners, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, all suffered their second conference losses of the season in fairly humiliating fashion -- in successive time slots, the Huskers committed eight turnovers against Iowa State; Mizzou was trounced by five touchdowns at home against Texas; and KU gift-wrapped a lopsided win to an Oklahoma outfit that badly needed it.
The team in sole possession of first place at the moment, Kansas State, has suffered back-to-back losses to UCLA and Louisiana-Lafayette and a 52-point pounding at Texas Tech. Colorado (2-5, 1-2) remains very much alive for the division crown, and in all likelihood, no team in the North will be favored to beat any team from the South except possibly Baylor, a much-needed confidence-builder the next two weeks for Nebraska and then Missouri. But it's a toss-up, really.
• This year's USC defense is not last year's USC defense. Coming into the season, there was no way this year's USC defense could possibly hope to operate in the same ballpark as the devastating 2008 Trojan D, which allowed fewer points per game than any other defense of the decade, also led the nation against the pass and sent eight players to the draft. Through the first five games, though, the new crop was working on a surprisingly strong approximation, allowing a grand total of three touchdowns and effectively shutting down Ohio State (15 points) and Cal (three points). Even in the bewildering loss at Washington, the Huskies struggled to score 16 on less than 300 yards for the game. The new crop was still making a case as the best defense in the country.
Two weeks later, that case is riddled with holes courtesy of Jimmy Clausen and Sean Canfield, who have combined for 589 yards and five touchdowns passing with no interceptions in the Trojans' narrow escapes against Notre Dame and Oregon State, respectively. Yielding a little to the Irish was understandable, but Saturday night's effort against OSU was arguably USC's worst in years: Canfield's three-touchdown performance matched a career-high he achieved against Idaho State in 2007, while Jacquizz Rodgers easily broke 100 yards on the ground on more than five yards per carry for the second year in a row.
If the Trojan offense hadn't shown up this time around to bail them out, the defense would have earned failing marks across the board for the first time since the brain-bursting Stanford loss two years ago.
• BYU does not belong anywhere near the polls. Stunningly, the Cougars remain the No. 1 team in the AP's "Also Receiving Votes" section and the No. 2 "Also Receiving Votes" team in the Coaches' poll, meaning quite a few pollsters are still voting for BYU despite blowout losses to Florida State and now TCU, barely a month apart and both at home. The Cougars took advantage of shellshocked Oklahoma to earn a quality win when Sam Bradford went down in the opener, but since haven't beaten another team with a .500 record and have been bounced out of their own stadium by the only teams they've faced with a pulse -- and when one of those teams is the current edition of Florida State, it's not even that strong of a pulse. After a week off, the Y will need a big November, culminating with a strong effort against Utah, to salvage its reputation as one of the heavy hitters out of the Mountain West.
• OMG Terrelle Pryor for Heismanz! Well, no. But after last week's dog pile by fans and even some local media, Pryor delivered probably his best performance of the season with three touchdowns, 100 yards rushing, and a successful refutation of a week of sports-radio backlash and a few scattered boos in the first quarter of Ohio State's blowout win over Minnesota. It must be nice to be at a program that devolves into a mini-crisis after every loss.