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October 2, 2011
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Texas A&M doesn't have the defense to be a legitimate championship contender. The top-10 ranking and preseason hype that Texas A&M was a contender for conference and national championships was off target. Even great teams can blow a big lead once in a while. It happens. But blowing two huge leads in two weeks shows that A&M isn't a top-10 team. The Aggies gave up 510 passing yards in a 42-38 loss to Arkansas -- a game they led 35-17 at halftime. The Aggies blew a 17-point halftime lead to Oklahoma State a week ago. Those defensive issues raise major concerns, as explosive offensive teams Texas Tech, Baylor, Missouri and Oklahoma remain on the schedule.
[Megargee: Week 5 winners and losers]
Clemson can win with defense, too. In its first four wins, the Tigers scored at least 35 points and got explosive plays from QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins. But coordinator Kevin Steele's defense showed it can play, too. Clemson dominated the line of scrimmage, posted four sacks, forced two turnovers, limited Virginia Tech to 133 rushing yards and mounted a goal-line stand in a 24-3 victory over the Hokies.
Keep an eye on Notre Dame. Notre Dame will win its next six games and will be 9-2 when it enters its regular-season finale at Stanford on Nov. 26. Since an inexplicable 0-2 start caused by inexplicable turnovers, the Fighting Irish have won three in a row. And a season-ending triumph over the Cardinal might launch a 10-2 ND team into a BCS bowl. The latest effort was Notre Dame's most impressive yet, a 38-10 thrashing of a woefully overmatched Purdue team that sees its season circling the drain. The Irish totaled 550 yards and yielded just 270. Even more vital: ND didn't turn the ball over. This is a team that's slowly rounding into form and will be difficult to beat.
[IrishIllustrated: Notre Dame's season picking up steam]
Wisconsin in the title game -- the national title game? Wisconsin's 48-17 whipping of Nebraska means the Badgers clearly are the Big Ten's best team. The Badgers actually took over that mantle last season, when they toppled No. 1 Ohio State, then went on to play in the school's first Rose Bowl since the 1999 season. No one in the Big Ten is even in Wisconsin's neighborhood. The Badgers will be favored in every remaining contest, with their toughest games figuring to come at Michigan State on Oct. 22 and at Illinois on Nov. 19. And if Wisconsin remains unbeaten and gets a little help, the Badgers will have a shot to play in the BCS title game.
South Carolina needs to go back to the drawing board on offense. South Carolina can't win the SEC East depending on lineman Melvin Ingram to spark the team with defensive touchdowns or some wild special teams play. Saturday's loss to Auburn was proof of that. Ingram finished with 11 tackles, 3.5 sacks and an interception, yet the Gamecocks lost 16-13 at home. Much will be made of Steve Spurrier's poor clock management, which cost the Gamecocks a chance at a tying field goal. If South Carolina wasn't such a mess on offense, South Carolina wouldn't have to depend on perfect clock management. Stephen Garcia threw his eighth and ninth interceptions of the season and his 14th in his past seven games. He was 9-of-23 and completely ineffective on South Carolina's final drive. Alshon Jeffery finally was involved again after just four total catches against Navy and Vanderbilt, but most of his production came on a 50-yard touchdown catch. Something needs to change to lift this offense -- whether it's backup QB Connor Shaw or something else. After that happens, clock management won't be as glaring an issue.
[GamecockCentral: South Carolina falls short]
Kellen Moore is human. No matter the conference, Moore easily could have been his league's player of the week after each game. That won't be the case this week. Playing on a bum knee, the Boise State quarterback showed that he is indeed human. He passed for a career-low 142 yards and completed only 19-of-33 passes against Nevada. The most shocking development was the interceptions. He threw two of them -- on back-to-back plays, no less. It was only the third multi-interception game of his career. Boise State still won 30-10, with Nevada doing all its scoring in the fourth quarter.
Line play matters in the SEC. That's why Alabama took Florida to school in Gainesville, shutting down the Gators' rushing attack and running the ball right down the Gators' throats in a 38-10 rout. The margin would've been closer had Florida QB John Brantley not left the game with an injury late in the second quarter, but Alabama still would've won. The Tide easily handled the Gators at the line of scrimmage, and Florida coach Will Muschamp has to be more than a bit uneasy with LSU looming next on the schedule. As with the Tide, the Tigers have dominant fronts -- just like Auburn in 2010, Alabama in 2009, Florida in 2008, LSU in 2007 and Florida in 2006. Dominant fronts win SEC -- and national -- titles.
[TideSports: Alabama answers the challenge]
Texas is hitting its stride. The Longhorns steadily have gotten better, showing Saturday in a 37-14 whipping of Iowa State that they've grasped the concepts of new coordinators Bryan Harsin (offense) and Manny Diaz (defense). Texas led 34-0 at halftime and cruised from there. Granted, Iowa State isn't that good, but the Cyclones beat the Longhorns in Austin last season, when Texas finished 5-7. This is not a 5-7 team this season, Texas has a huge step up in competition next week, when it takes on archrival Oklahoma in Dallas. Given the way the Longhorns have improved on a weekly basis, Longhorns fans can have some hope that, at the least, the game is going to be close.
Illinois could be this year's Michigan State. Last season, Michigan State seemingly came from nowhere to win 11 games and tie for the Big Ten title. This season, Illinois could emerge as that under-the-radar Big Ten team that contends for a conference championship and posts a double-digit win total. Illinois rallied from an 18-point, second-half deficit Saturday to beat Northwestern 38-35 and improve its record to 5-0. The Illini have a dynamic quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase. They also have a favorable schedule. Illinois doesn't play Nebraska or Iowa this year. Its three toughest remaining opponents -- Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin -- have to visit Champaign. Illinois won't beat out Wisconsin for the Leaders Division title, but a 10-win season is possible.
[Video: Luck shows he can catch, too ]
Auburn's defense has come a long way in a short time. After giving up a total of 110 points in its first three games, Auburn needed dramatic improvement from its defense. That's just what it got Saturday in a 16-13 upset of South Carolina. Auburn limited star TB Marcus Lattimore to 66 yards on 17 carries. The Tigers also forced Stephen Garcia to go 9-of-23 with two interceptions. Auburn obviously doesn't have the dominant brand of defense we've seen from SEC West rivals LSU and Alabama this season, but the Tigers have improved quite a bit over the past few weeks. The Auburn defense that held Lattimore in check Saturday looked nothing like the group that allowed Utah State and Clemson to move the ball at will.
Tom Dienhart's Week 5 awards
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