Tom Layberger

Conference Call

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Questions heading into Week 4

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Since conference play has yet to begin, save for a few games here and there, this juncture of the college football season is still one where the crystal ball is largely in play. How will the offense fair when conference play begins? Will the defense somehow plug the dike? Can Team X finish undefeated? Which coach will be the first to be shown the door? Is this or that running back for real? Will one quarterback emerge to run the offense? It’s a fun time of the season because much has taken place, yet so much has yet to be determined. 

Georgia Tech
Your early-season leader in points and total offense? I don’t care who you are playing or not playing, 59.3 points and 675 yards per game after three weeks are remarkable figures. The assault against Kansas last week looked like something Army did against its opponents when Blanchard and Davis were running wild while the nation was engaged in World War II. Again: 768 yards, 604 rushing yards and 42 second-half points in a 66-24 rampage that came without benefit of a Jayhawks turnover!  On Saturday, it will be an ACC clash of 3-0 teams Saturday in Atlanta when the Ramblin’ Wreck hosts North Carolina.

North Carolina
The Tar Heels’ win over Virginia last week marked their first win in an ACC opener in 11 years.  After five turnovers against Rutgers, the UNC offense cleaned up its act with only one TO against the Cavaliers. The larger story in Chapel Hill, of course, is a nice 3-0 start after a tumultuous summer that led to the exit of Butch Davis and Everett Winters taking over the team on an interim basis a mere week prior to the opening of camp.

Big East
After junior Will Stein left the Kentucky game with a shoulder injury, freshman Teddy Bridgewater took over the offense and led the Cardinals to victory. As stagnant as the offense was during the first two games, Cardinals fans might see more of Bridgewater after he threw a pair of TD passes against their chief rival.

The offense was expected to pile up the yards and points again, and it has.  A porous defense, which had three TD returns against Akron last week, still ranks only 81st and that’s with having played the Zips and Austin Peay of the FCS to start the season. The Bearcats defense will be tested against North Carolina State on Thursday night. Wolfpack QB Mike Glennon already has 8 TD passes and he’ll likely try to attack early and often.

Big Ten
Penn State
In an ugly victory over Temple, the Nittany Lions special teams was the ugliest. In fact, the kicking game has been a joke. Junior Evan Lewis is 1-for-5 on field goals and has missed an extra point. Sam Ficken has missed his only field goal attempt this season and Anthony Fera had a punt blocked by the Owls. Even if the Bolden/McGloin QB battle fails to sort itself out, the issues with the kicking game are more serious.

With an average of 252 yards per game on the ground, it has looked like Tom Osborne’s Cornhuskers on display in Lincoln.  While the offense has been piling up the yards and points, the defense was iffy against two FBS opponents. The Huskers allowed 440 yards to Fresno State and 420 to Washington. After a trip to Wyoming on Saturday, Nebraska had better tighten up against Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson in Madison on Oct. 1.

Big 12
Iowa State
We will soon find out how good the 3-0 Cyclones are. A bye this week is followed by a four-game stretch against Texas, Baylor, Missouri and Texas A&M. Hence, now is the time for junior QB Steele Jantz to work out some of the kinks that have led to a pair of three-interception games. For all the good plays Jantz has made, the turnovers are no small matter.

After his fine effort against UCLA, Case McCoy likely cannot wait to get back under center. The Longhorns, however, have a week off. That could bode well for McCoy, who can get several more reps with the first team heading into an Oct. 1 matchup at Iowa State. The sophomore is definitely the man in charge with Garrett Gilbert done for the season after shoulder surgery.

After three games, Case Keenum is second in passing yards (1,119) and tied for second in TD passes (10) while leading the Cougars to a 3-0 start. With 14,705 career passing yards, Keenum needs 327 to pass Ty Detmer and move into third on the all-time list. The Cougars play Bill Curry’s two-year-old Georgia State program Saturday night.

The attack on Pearl Harbor launched Work War II, Lou Gehrig passed away, the average cost of a home was little more than $4,000 and the Dow closed the year at 110.96. That was 1941 and Joe Paterno was 14 years old. It was also the last time Temple defeated Penn State. The Owls led late and the loss really does hurt. Can they forget about the 14-10 defeat and focus on Maryland?  It’s an early challenge for coach Steve Addazio, whose team has a conference headliner against Toledo next week.

San Diego State
It should be interesting this week with the Aztecs visiting Michigan and former coach Brady Hoke. It will also be interesting to find out how Ronnie Hillman, the nation’s second-leading rusher (166 yards per game), performs in the Big House against a Wolverines defense that is 103rd against the run. Before this one is in the books, both Hillman and Michigan’s Denard Robinson may threaten 200 yards. Hillman has topped 180 yards twice and Robinson had 198 last week against Eastern Michigan.

It not so much that the Wildcats lost to Oklahoma State and Stanford the last two weeks, but that they were outscored 74-24. That can’t bode well for coach Mike Stoops, who was looking to shed the ugly five-game losing streak that closed out 2010. With No. 10 Oregon on tap Saturday followed by a trip to USC next week, the schedule maker could not have been more cruel. But at some point, Stoops and the Wildcats need to step up and be counted instead of scrambling for another Alamo Bowl or some such. While QB Nick Foles has had a fantastic start, he has had no help from a running game that ranks 116th. On the other side of the ball, the defense ranks 111th. By the way, Arizona has lost seven straight games to FBS opponents.

With so much deserved attention on Andrew Luck, Stepfan Taylor has been a star himself in the Cardinal offense as he is on the way to a second 1,000-yard season. Certainly Arizona has seen enough of Taylor. The junior ran for 153 yards on 22 carries (7.0 avg.) in last week’s win and ran for 4 TDs against the Wildcats a year ago.

Washington State
The Cougars’ inability to finish against San Diego State cost them a 3-0 start. After winning three of their previous 24 games entering this season, it would have been rarified air. Speaking of air, the passing game has been a strong suit.  Senior Marshall Lobbestael has finally had an extended chance to play and he already has 10 TD passes, four to Marquess Wilson. The receiver, who had 1,006 yards on 55 catches last year as a freshman, was 6-236-2 in the loss to SDSU. Wilson’s yardage total is the nation’s single-game best after three weeks and his 429 yards on the season lead the country.
Ole Miss
With the love of a nine-win 2009 long gone, the Rebels find themselves having just one victory in their last 10 games against teams from the Automatic Qualifying conferences.  The Rebels host Georgia on Saturday. Either Ole Miss coach Huston Nutt and Georgia’s Mark Richt will have saved his job – for now.

The Commodores’ 30-7 win over Ole Miss last week marked their largest margin of victory in an SEC game in 40 years. While they are getting contributions from far and wide during a 3-0 start, Vandy ranks tenth nationally in total defense and leads the nation with 10 interceptions. The unit will have quite a test at South Carolina on Saturday against the nation’s leading rusher, Marcus Lattimore.

Sun Belt
Florida International
The Golden Panthers have allowed 43 points in their 3-0 start, which includes victories at Louisville and at home against Central Florida.  In looking at the schedule, it is entirely believable Mario Cristobal’s team could go undefeated. Duke and conference member Troy would appear to be the toughest opponents in the remaining nine weeks -- and both games are at home. By the way, the Golden Panthers received Top 25 votes for the first time in the their brief history.

It must be frustrating for quarterback Bryan Moniz, who threw for more than 5,000 yards last season, to play the lead role in a rather pedestrian performance by the offense so far. Graduating two top receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher is not easy, but to think Moniz is the team’s leading rusher with all of 95 yards after three games speaks volumes of the Warriors’ problems. Until somebody emerges in the running game, Moniz will continue to have trouble getting the ball down field. He is averaging only 10.4 yards per completion.

Unfortunately for the Cougars, their horrid 54-10 loss to rival Utah seemed to be the exclamation point that these programs are going in opposite directions. The Utes celebrated a huge win and now move on during their first season in the Pac-12. BYU, which turned the ball over a remarkable seven times against Utah and have lost 10 turnovers this season, was left wondering what happened. BYU will proceed with an independent schedule that features five WAC programs, one from CUSA and one FCS program. Talk about being off the national radar.

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