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September 10, 2007

Gamecocks for real, the Big Ten not so much

Each Monday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned while on the road - or things to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. Here is our second edition after taking in the sights and sounds at Oklahoma, Michigan, LSU and Vanderbilt this weekend.

Olin Buchanan, Rivals.com Senior National Writer
Oklahoma may have the nation's premier pass-catch combination: Name one that's better than Sam Bradford and Malcolm Kelly. They already have combined for five touchdowns in two games, and that production isn't a byproduct of playing inferior competition. They hooked up three times for 77 yards and three touchdowns against Miami.

"Malcolm is a tremendous player, I don't need to keep saying that," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "Sam was excellent. He was able to stand in there and take some shots while still delivering the ball to Malcolm."

This season, Bradford is 40 of 48 for 568 yards and eight touchdowns, and Kelly has eight catches for 220 yards and five touchdowns

Penn State appears to be the class of the Big Ten: Another Michigan loss, Ohio State's struggle against Akron and Wisconsin needing a late rally to defeat UNLV certainly didn't enhance the Big Ten's national reputation. Those subpar showings and Penn State's 31-10 drubbing of Notre Dame seem to signal the Nittany Lions are the team to beat. Penn State's defense has allowed three points in two games, Austin Scott is easing the concerns at tailback and Anthony Morelli is building on his strong finish of last season.

Zack Bowman is as vital to Nebraska's defense as he was reported to be: The buzz about Bowman, a heralded junior-college transfer, is that he's one of the best cornerbacks in the country when healthy. Unfortunately, he hasn't been healthy. A knee injury forced him to miss last season, and another one put this year in jeopardy. But he's in the lineup and made a key end-zone interception in the fourth quarter of the Huskers' 20-17 victory over Wake Forest. Based on last year's issues in the secondary, Wake Forest likely scores if Bowman isn't in there.

Steve Megargee, Rivals.com National Writer
The Hokies still can't run: Forget about Virginia Tech's quarterback competition. Until the Hokies start creating more running room for Branden Ore, it won't matter who's lining up under center. Ore has averaged just 2.6 yards per carry, without a single gain longer than 9 yards. No wonder the Hokies have scored only one offensive touchdown in each of their first two games. At least Tech's schedule gives the Hokies time to work through their problems on offense. The next three games are against Ohio, William & Mary and North Carolina.

Riley Skinner is more valuable than we thought: Wake Forest won the ACC title last year in part because quarterback Riley Skinner avoided the type of mistake that can separate a win from a loss. Wake Forest went 5-0 in ACC games decided by seven or fewer points. Skinner separated his shoulder last week and watched replacement Brett Hodges make an error that may have cost Wake Forest a victory Saturday. Wake Forest faced third-and-goal from Nebraska's 10-yard line when Zack Bowman intercepted a Hodges pass in the end zone with 6:05 remaining. It was tough to imagine Skinner making that kind of ill-advised pass.

South Carolina is for real: Steve Spurrier's arrival assured South Carolina would become competitive in the SEC, but the Gamecocks weren't going to challenge for league titles until they began playing championship-caliber defense. That time may have come. South Carolina finished 10th in the SEC in total defense during Spurrier's first season and moved up to ninth last year, but the Gamecocks kept Georgia out of the end zone all day Saturday in a 16-12 victory. Spurrier just might have the SEC's top linebacker in Jasper Brinkley, who made a game-clinching interception Saturday.

Gerry Ahern, Yahoo! Sports Senior Editor
Michigan is spread thin: Michigan's 0-2 start has been shocking to many. But perhaps the most baffling part has been the Wolverines' inability to stop the spread offense twice. Most expected defensive coordinator Ron English and his unit to adjust from the opening upset at the hands of spread team No. 1 Appalachian State. The Mountaineers tore off 34 points and 387 yards in the opener. Instead it got worse against spread team No. 2.

Oregon piled up 39 points and 624 yards of total offense. Afterward, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said it could have been worse. The Ducks even trotted out the old Statue of Liberty play twice, once resulting in a 9-yard TD run by quarterback Dennis Dixon, the other in a 14-yard gain.

How could the Wolverines get fooled again?

"We knew they ran that play," Michigan safety Jamar Adams said of the SOL. "We just didn't execute the right way ... twice."

Maybe Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis should install the spread attack when the 0-2 Irish meet the 0-2 Wolverines on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

Bumbling Buckeyes: With Michigan misfiring, maybe Ohio State should be the choice to claim the Big Ten championship. Then explain how the Buckeyes led Akron just 3-2 at halftime before taking a 20-2 win. OSU's offense shouldn't scare anyone but itself after turning the ball over five times against the Zips.

The Buckeyes must be banking on the adage that defense wins championships. While the offense self-destructed, the guys on the other side of the ball made the Zips punt 14 times, 12 after three-and-outs. Akron made only three first downs all day and netted 69 yards of offense.

Does anyone want to win the Big Ten?

Badgered in Vegas: How 'bout Wisconsin?

Four-touchdown favorites against UNLV, the Badgers needed a late score on a 29-yard bootleg by quarterback Tyler Donovan to escape with a 20-13 victory. This against a Rebels team that has won just two games each of the past three seasons.

UNLV led 13-12 halfway through the fourth quarter before Donovan took the Badgers 61 yards on 10 plays to go ahead for good with 1:53 left. Later, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema talked about how it's a test for teams to win on the road in a hostile environment.

The Badgers' Sin City struggles are just another sign that the Big Ten might be down big time this season.

Mike Huguenin, Rivals.com College Sports Editor
Defense may be at a premium in the Florida-Tennessee matchup: The Vols played a poor first half defensively in beating Southern Miss. The Gators played a poor second half defensively in defeating Troy. Given Tennessee's problems in Game 1 against California's speedy skill-position players and given UF's rebuilt defense (nine new starters), Saturday's game in Gainesville may come down to who has the ball last.

BYU is the best non-BCS team: TCU looked to own that moniker before Saturday's pasting at the hands of Texas. Instead, BYU's loss to UCLA showed that the Cougars look to be the strongest team from outside the BCS leagues. BYU shut down Arizona in Week 1, then battled the talented and experienced Bruins until late in the fourth quarter. Hawaii? The Warriors can play offense, but the defense looks mediocre.

Arizona State bears notice: The Sun Devils, under new coach Dennis Erickson, fell behind Colorado 14-0 Saturday night. No problem. The Sun Devils rolled to a 33-14 victory. With five of their first seven games at home, ASU could be 7-0 when California comes calling - for homecoming! - Oct. 27. The Sun Devils' returning offensive players fit nicely into Erickson's scheme, and though ASU can be expected to be a little undisciplined (a trademark of Erickson teams), that aggressiveness also will serve them well at times.

David Fox, Rivals.com National Writer
One Oregon team is feeling good about its quarterback, the other is not: Dennis Dixon's business card could read "minor-league baseball player, major-league quarterback."

Dixon has shaken off the inconsistency that marked his first two seasons as a starter to become one of the nation's most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks.

Against Michigan, he accounted for 368 total yards and four touchdowns. In two games this season, he has accounted for 643 yards of total offense, eight touchdowns and no turnovers.

Oregon's in-state rival hasn't been so fortunate.

Former starter Matt Moore wasn't exactly a fan favorite, but Oregon State fans would love to have him back right now. Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao (43-of-82 combined this season) each threw three interceptions against Cincinnati on Thursday.

If the Beavers can't find a stable quarterback, it's going to be a long year for star tailback Yvenson Bernard.

Alabama's defense can handle at least one elite SEC player: Defense is Nick Saban's forte, and Alabama's 24-10 win at Vanderbilt on Saturday provided a perfect example of that.

The Crimson Tide defense used a three-deep zone to contain Vandy quarterback Chris Nickson and thus take star wide receiver Earl Bennett out of the game. Nickson, who played with an apparent hamstring injury, was 5-for-18 with an interception. Bennett had four catches for 52 yards.

Alabama faces a more potent threat, this time in the ground game, when Arkansas tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones visit Tuscaloosa this week.

Cincinnati is giving the Big East more depth: Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers aren't the only contenders for the Big East crown.

In addition to USF, Cincinnati made a statement this week with a non-conference rout of Oregon State - a team that won 10 games last season. New coach Brian Kelly's offense wasn't the story against Oregon State; instead, former coach Mark Dantonio's impact still is felt.

The Bearcats forced seven turnovers, had three sacks and held Yvenson Bernard to 30 yards. Cincinnati's offense needs some work the Bearcats fumbled six times, losing two but the defense should hold its own.

College Football Rewind: Week 2 | Video: Scenes From Saturday

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