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October 8, 2007

Daniel has Tigers rolling in Big 12

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 sixth edition after taking in the sights and sounds at LSU, Purdue and Texas-Oklahoma.

Olin Buchanan, Rivals.com Senior National Writer
Missouri is the class of the Big 12 North: The populations of Lawrence, Kan., and Boulder, Colo., will disagree, but unbeaten Mizzou firmly entrenched itself as the favorite to win the Big 12 North with Saturday night's 41-6 thrashing of Nebraska.

True, Kansas also is unbeaten and coming off an impressive win over Kansas State. Colorado is 2-0 in conference play. But Missouri has the best overall body of work with wins over the Huskers, Ole Miss and Illinois.

Speaking of Illinois

Illinois is a legitimate contender to win the Big Ten: Ron Zook's guys haven't lost since falling to Missouri by six points in the season-opener. Back-to-back victories over Penn State and Wisconsin prove Illinois is no fluke.

Tailback Rashard Mendenhall is emerging as a serious Heisman Trophy contender.

Ohio State has the best defense north of Baton Rouge: We knew the Buckeyes' defense would be strong, but now it appears absolutely muscle-bound.

The unbeaten Buckeyes, who have not allowed more than 14 points in a game this season, made a powerful statement in shutting down Purdue in a 23-7 victory. Purdue had not scored fewer than 33 points before facing the Buckeyes.

Steve Megargee, Rivals.com National Writer
Hester has heart: There are plenty of runners who are faster than LSU's Jacob Hester, but you'll have a difficult time finding one who's tougher.

The Tigers turned to Hester when their season was on the line Saturday. Hester responded by gaining just enough yardage on a pair of fourth-down situations to keep the winning drive alive before he finally scored on a 2-yard run to put the Tigers ahead for good with 1:09 remaining in a 28-24 victory over Florida.

"Hester brings so much to the table, both emotionally and physically," LSU LB Ali Highsmith said. "He's just a dominant player who goes out there and makes plays when you need him."

Boston College could win the national title: We're not kidding. Boston College is in the top five, and the Eagles seem to have all the ingredients you want in a champion.

Matt Ryan gives the Eagles one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. NFL prospect Gosder Cherilus leads a veteran offensive line. Ball-hawking DBs Jamie Silva and DeJuan Tribble spark an opportunistic defense.

The biggest question surrounding Boston College at the start of the season was how the Eagles would respond to first-year coach Jeff Jagodzinski, but he's developing into a potential Coach of the Year candidate. In fact, Boston College and Ohio State are the only unbeaten teams that haven't even been threatened yet.

Beamerball is back: Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer's reliance on defense and special teams has helped make the Hokies one of the nation's most consistent winners over the past decade.

The Hokies' 41-23 victory over Clemson was vintage Beamerball. Virginia Tech's first three touchdowns came on an interception return, a punt return and a kickoff return.

By the time the Hokies scored their first offensive touchdown midway through the second quarter, they owned a 31-5 lead over the shell-shocked Tigers. All that production on defense and special teams allowed Virginia Tech to win a blowout despite gaining just 219 yards in total offense.

David Fox, Rivals.com National Writer
Cincinnati is the team to beat in the Big East: Sorry, USF. Though the Bulls have a top-five ranking and the Big East's marquee win this year, Cincinnati has shown it is the class of the league because of its consistency.

The Bulls needed all four quarters to put away Florida Atlantic on Saturday, and have turned the ball over 11 times in the past three games.

If the Bulls don't correct their turnover problems by the time these two meet in Tampa on Nov. 3, USF could be in for a long night. The Bearcats intercepted Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel three times in a fourth-quarterback comeback win in Piscataway, N.J.

Jim Harbaugh has changed the culture at Stanford: Before Saturday, Stanford lost its previous three Pac-10 games by an average score of 30 points. The Cardinal isn't about to start challenging USC, Cal and Oregon for Pac-10 titles anytime soon, but Saturday's upset was a landmark day for putting Harbaugh's stamp on the program.

From the moment he arrived, Harbaugh stressed what Greg Schiano once preached when he took over at moribund Rutgers: Everyone is responsible for changing the losing culture.

We saw signs of a new culture at Stanford when the Cardinal indeed "bowed to no man" at USC. When Harbaugh took the job, he believed he had the talent to compete at Stanford, but not the attitude. That changed Saturday.

Someone you never expected will end the year in New York: With many of the preseason candidates fading, at least one player figures to be a surprise addition to the Heisman ballots.

Don't be surprised if one of these Heisman long shots finds his way to New York in December: Missouri QB Chase Daniel, Illinois TB Rashard Mendenhall, Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford, Kentucky QB Andre' Woodson, LSU DT Glenn Dorsey or even Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree.

That's two players from non-traditional powers Missouri and Illinois, a redshirt freshman quarterback, a purely defensive player and a so-called "system receiver" who happens to be a freshman.

It's only fitting that a season full of upsets should end with some surprises at the Heisman ceremony.

Mike Huguenin, Rivals.com College Sports Editor
Louisville is a mess: It appeared as if Louisville righted itself last week with a victory over North Carolina State in which the defense allowed only 10 points.

Well, the Cardinals' defense was shredded again Friday, by a mediocre Utah team. As for NC State, the offensive struggles against Louisville were more because NCSU's offense is awful than the Cardinals' defense is good.

BYU-Wyoming will play for the Mountain West title: Wyoming looked good in beating TCU on Saturday, and the Cowboys' next five league games look winnable. That means their game at BYU on Nov. 17 should decide who wins the Mountain West.

A lot of folks forget that Wyoming beat Virginia by 20 the same UVa. team that's 3-0 in the ACC.

Texas A&M is set for a fall: The Aggies are the only team unbeaten in Big 12 South play, but they could lose out the rest of the way.

The remaining schedule: at Texas Tech, at Nebraska, Kansas, at Oklahoma, at Missouri and Texas.

Will the Aggies go winless from here out? No. But they won't win more than two games, either.

Gerry Ahern, Yahoo! Sports Senior Editor
Ohio State a national title contender? The Buckeyes' dominant defense certainly leads us to believe so. They shut down once-prolific Purdue in a 23-7 victory Saturday, limiting the Boilers, who had averaged 45 points, to a garbage-time TD, 4 yards rushing and 272 total yards, much of it against reserves.

But the Jekyll-and-Hyde play of quarterback Todd Boeckman gives us pause.

Boeckman completed seven of his first nine passes, including a pair of touchdowns as Ohio State went up 14-0. But he struggled later, throwing three interceptions and failing to get his team into the end zone the rest of the way.

The Buckeyes certainly have capable running backs in Chris Wells and Maurice Wells. But to win it all, the QB must make some plays. More importantly, he must not make mistakes. Right Craig Krenzel?

The Rodney Dangerfield of running backs is: Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall.

The junior from Skokie, Ill., is a punishing runner. Without his efforts Saturday, the Illini would not have knocked off then-No. 5 Wisconsin. Mendenhall ran for 160 yards and two touchdowns. He is now fifth in the nation in rushing with 772 yards (128.7 average) and 10 touchdowns.

While Michigan's Mike Hart and Arkansas' Darren McFadden garner the headlines, Mendenhall just wins baby.

There's fight in Irish: Notre Dame's 20-6 win over UCLA spared the Golden Domers further shame and foiled the haters who figured the Fighting Irish would lose their first eight games.

But what is a reasonable expectation now for Charlie Weis' team, which currently stands at 1-5?

Expect losses to BC and USC. But don't be surprised if ND finishes 5-7. They can certainly beat Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford. Well, maybe not Stanford.

Mississippi State NEWS


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