Tag:Terrelle Pryor
Posted on: December 20, 2011 2:14 pm
Edited on: December 20, 2011 6:11 pm
 

NCAA gives Ohio St. bowl ban, Tressel show-cause



Posted by Adam Jacobi

Urban Meyer may have high hopes for his first season at Ohio State in 2012, but his team's first appearance in the postseason is going to have to wait until 2013 at the earliest. Ohio State has been given a one-year postseason ban, effective next year, by the NCAA. The NCAA also found Ohio State's offer of giving up five scholarships over three years inadequate, and will require that the Buckeyes give up a total of nine scholarships over that period instead.

The sanctions stem from a litany of NCAA violations committed by various Buckeyes and ousted head coach Jim Tressel. Terrelle Pryor was one of the worst offenders, repeatedly receiving impermissible benefits and allegedly participating in a system where he traded signed memorabilia for free tattoos, and DeVier Posey was suspended for a total of 10 games in 2011 for multiple instances of receiving impermissible benefits.

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Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith had said previously that he didn't anticipate a bowl ban for Ohio State, and Meyer told reporters after being hired that he had received "extremely positive feedback" about OSU's prospects before the NCAA.

Tressel was also given a five-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA. The "show-cause" label means that the NCAA considers Tressel a serious offender, and any NCAA school interested in employing Tressel must show why it does not deserve sanctions for doing so. The five-year sanction effectively ends Tressel's coaching career in the collegiate ranks.

Tressel's decision not to inform the NCAA of the violations once he learned of them played heavily into the decision to hit him with such a heavy penalty.

"Of great concern to the committee was the fact that the former head coach became aware of these violations and decided not to report the violations to institutional officials, the Big Ten Conference or the NCAA," the NCAA said in its report.

Tressel is now a game-day consultant for the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL.

Smith said in a statement that Ohio State would not contest the NCAA's ruling.

“We are surprised and disappointed with the NCAA’s decision,” said Smith. “However, we have decided not to appeal the decision because we need to move forward as an institution. We recognize that this is a challenging time in intercollegiate athletics. Institutions of higher education must move to higher ground, and Ohio State embraces its leadership responsibilities and affirms its long-standing commitment to excellence in education and integrity in all it does.

“My primary concern, as always, is for our students, and this decision punishes future students for the actions of others in the past,” said Smith. “Knowing our student-athletes, however, I have no doubt in their capacity to turn this into something positive – for themselves and for the institution. I am grateful to our entire Buckeye community for their continued support.”

Urban Meyer also released a statement that was even more forward-looking than Smith's.

“I agreed to become the Head Football Coach at The Ohio State University because Shelley and I are Ohio natives, I am a graduate of this wonderful institution and served in this program under a great coach. I understand the academic and athletic traditions here and will give great effort to continue those traditions.

“It is still my goal to hire excellent coaches, recruit great student-athletes who want to be a part of this program and to win on and off the field. The NCAA penalties will serve as a reminder that the college experience does not include the behavior that led to these penalties. I expect all of us to work hard to teach and develop young student-athletes to grow responsibly and to become productive citizens in their communities upon graduation.” 

Posted on: November 26, 2011 4:03 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Michigan 40, Ohio State 34

Posted by Adam Jacobi

MICHIGAN WON. For the first time in nearly 3,000 days, Michigan has a victory over Ohio State in football. The Wolverines needed a ton of points to finally get over the hump, but when the dust settled, it was the Wolverines with a 40-34 victory. Denard Robinson was brilliant in victory, throwing for 167 yards and three scores on 14/17 passing and adding 26 rushes for 170 yards and two more TDs. For OSU, Braxton Miller looked like a force to be reckoned with in years to come, going 14-25 for 235 yards and two passing scores while rushing 16 times for 100 yards and other score -- a 19-yard beauty that gave OSU a 17-16 lead. 

WHY MICHIGAN WON: Michigan took a page out of Ohio State's gameplan and rushed nearly 75% of the time on Saturday, and it was a recipe for success. Robinson's 170 yards led the team, but Fitzgerald Toussaint added 120 yards of his own on 20 carries, and Ohio State really had no answer on defense for Michigan's physical rushing game. Even Robinson ran with authority, frequently putting his head down and fighting for extra yardage and first downs. His effort was as conspicuous as it was successful, and doubtless his Wolverine teammates fed off that determination.

WHEN MICHIGAN WON: When Courtney Avery intercepted a 4th down Braxton Miller pass with under a minute left. It looked as if Michigan was putting the game away on the prior drive, when Fitz Toussaint and Denard Robinson appeared to score touchdowns on consecutive plays. But Toussaint was ruled down a foot away from the goal line, and Robinson's score was wiped out by a holding call and a personal foul for a late hit, which pushed the Wolverines all the way back to the OSU 26. Brendan Gibbons would eventually convert a field goal from there to push the lead to 40-34, but that six-point margin meant Ohio State still had some life at the end of the game. 

WHAT MICHIGAN WON: Michigan beat Ohio State. Wait, let's try that again: MICHIGAN BEAT OHIO STATE. The 10-win season is absolutely nice for the Wolverines, but they've been circling this game on their calendars since time immemorial, and to get a win in this rivalry after eight years of futility is a major, major accomplishment for Brady Hoke and his charges. 

WHAT OHIO STATE LOST: Without Terrelle Pryor or Jim Tressel, this was going to be a tough season for Ohio State no matter what, and the 6-6 (3-5) record certainly reflects that. Not many people in Columbus are really holding it against Luke Fickell, necessarily -- again, meeting Ohio State's usual standards of success was a nearly impossible task -- but Fickell at least had the opportunity to turn this year into a one-game season with a game against Michigan. "At least we still own Michigan" would have been a reassuring mantra as OSU fans prepared for a coaching regime change and NCAA punishment, but now Ohio State has to acknowledge that this is now, at long last, a two-team rivalry again.

THAT WAS CRAZY: In the second quarter, Ohio State caught a major break when Michigan punter Will Hagerup muffed a routine long snap. The miscue surprised everyone in the stadium, Hagerup included, and it led to this classic screencap of Hagerup's reaction to the ball in midair. Oh, it also led to a short field and an eventual field goal for the Buckeyes, but we're happier focusing the screencap.
Posted on: November 23, 2011 1:55 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Ohio State at Michigan

Posted by Adam Jacobi

OHIO STATE WILL WIN IF: Bad Denard makes a housecall. If there's one area where Ohio State's struggles have been surprising, it's turnovers. OSU's +4 on the year, so that's good, but that's only because the Buckeyes barely ever give the ball away; they've done so 12 times in 11 games, which is tied with Michigan State for best in the Big Ten. But that +4 margin also means that the defense hasn't exactly been ball-hawking this year. Indeed, the 16 takeaways managed by the Buckeye D is tied for 8th best in the conference, and that's hardly in line with OSU's usual modus operandi (though the fact that one of the teams also tied at 16 is Alabama should tell you how necessary forcing turnovers really is). Still, OSU probably can't just play Michigan straight up and try to bend but not break and hope to come away with a victory; Denard Robinson is too explosive for that. He's also too error-prone for OSU not to take risks and force him into tough situations. A couple instances of Bad Denard this Saturday, and Ohio State could have the opening it needs to win.

MICHIGAN WILL WIN IF: Braxton Miller is forced to throw the ball. Ohio State has done a generally good job during Big Ten play of limiting what Miller is being asked to do, in terms of making reads or otherwise thinking on the fly. That's a recipe for disaster for nearly every true freshman quarterback (which is why most redshirt), so there's a reason why Miller is instead the team's leading rusher (though Boom Herron will probably surpass Miller by the end of the bowl game) this season in addition to his passing duties. Miller still completes fewer than 50% of his passes, and that may help make it easier for Michigan to get OSU into a third and long situation. Now, just because Miller drops back on a 3rd and 9 doesn't mean a pass is necessarily coming; Miller's not quite as gifted a scrambler to the sticks that Terrelle Pryor was, but he's already pretty close, and Michigan's going to need to account for that too. Nonetheless, it should be the Wolverines' goal to keep Ohio State well below .500 on third-down conversions, as that will likely lead to a victory. 

X-FACTOR: Urban Meyer. Ohio State has fought tooth and nail to keep the media's focus on this game and not the future of the program, which by all indications will not be spearheaded by Luke Fickell after this year. The problem is that the athletic department isn't very good at keeping secrets, because while it's certainly plausible that Meyer hasn't inked any contracts yet, the process is far enough along that the Columbus Dispatch is reporting the deal as done. Now, whether the Buckeyes have been able to maintain their focus on game week is the big thing, not whether the media has. And it certainly stands to reason that the players (especially the seniors) care more about the game in front of them than who may or may not be the coach going forward. And yet, and yet, every time the words "Urban Meyer" get said in the locker room, that's one more conversation that isn't about the game.



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Posted on: October 30, 2011 3:35 pm
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 9



Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: Beavis and Burkhead - It's impossible to discuss either Taylor Martinez or Rex Burkhead without mentioning the effect they've had on each other and Nebraska's success. They're like a buddy comedy, bringing out the best in each other while highlighting their differences; Martinez is often erratic through the air but almost always hits Burkhead in stride, while the slower Burkhead can be an effective decoy on options to spring Martinez for big gains on keepers. They work in tandem, and it would be jarring to see either of them try to replicate their success this year alone.

This week, Nebraska managed just 270 yards against Michigan State, but 233 of those yards (and all three touchdowns) came from either Martinez or Burkhead. Against the statistically best defense in the Big Ten, that's no small task. If the Huskers intend to continue toward the Big Ten Championship, it will be on the backs of their maddening quarterback and devastating tailback, ever inseparable.

LOSER: Michigan State's rushing game, again - Coming into Saturday's action, Michigan State was ranked dead last in the Big Ten in rushing yardage per game. Now, afterwards, nothing has changed. Facing a middling Nebraska defense that continues to miss All-American DT Jared Crick, the Spartans as a team managed only 101 yards on 30 carries. The passing game was even worse (11-27, 86 yards), but still: this was supposed to be a rushing attack that could take over games -- or at the very least reliably keep the chains moving. Instead, thanks to some lackluster blocking, these guys aren't even able to solve a defense with seven men in the box. If this serial failure to rush the ball effectively continues, MSU's not going to hold onto its claim for the division title.

WINNER: Braxton Miller - Yes, Ohio State is running the ball almost exclusively. But that offensive approach isn't possible if Joe Bauserman is the starter, because a diet of nothing but rushes is easy for a defense to figure out if there's only one potential ball-carrier in the backfield. That's not the case with Braxton Miller running the show, though; if Miller drops back in the pocket, he's got the opportunity to look for rushing lanes as well as open receivers. That's extremely stressful for defenders who have to decide whether to stay in coverage or crash the line once Miller takes off. That's what got Devin Smith so wide open for the game-winning score on Saturday, and it's exactly how other mobile quarterbacks like Terrelle Pryor and Denard Robinson find guys free in the secondary so often. 

LOSER: The Big Ten bandwagon - Anyone still feel like Wisconsin is a Rose Bowl-quality team? Anyone? With Wisconsin on a two-game slide and the defense looking like a liability (which it always was, it just didn't matter when the Badgers were scoring at will), the Big Ten now looks like it has zero elite teams, not one. Whoever goes to the Rose Bowl -- probably Michigan State, Michigan, or Penn State -- is due for a shellacking at the hands of whoever the Pac-12 puts forth (Stanford and Oregon being the key contenders here).  

WINNER: Whoever's starting at quarterback against Iowa - Consider the list of Indiana's Tre Roberson, Iowa State's Steele Jantz, Minnesota's MarQueis Gray, Northwestern's Dan Persa, and Penn State's Matt McGloin. What do they all have in common? They've all spent extensive time this season not being their team's starting quarterback, usually splitting time if not outright benched for poor play. They've all also lit the Iowa defense up, combining for a 149.95 passer rating and a 69.3% completion rate, numbers far higher than each QB's season rates. These are quarterbacks that a good defense feasts on; instead, Iowa lets them run wild.

The news gets worse for the Hawkeyes, as Kirk Cousins and Denard Robinson are both looming in the upcoming schedule. If Iowa can make the since-benched Steele Jantz look like a one-week Heisman candidate, imagine the devastation Robinson will rain down upon the Hawkeye defense.

LOSER: The 3:30 slate of games and anyone unlucky enough to witness them - In the strongest evidence yet that close games are not automatically good games, Illinois-Penn State and Iowa-Minnesota were decided by a grand total of four points, featured lead changes in the last three minutes, and were enough to set college football back decades. Illinois-PSU was scoreless through the first 41 minutes of play, and featured as many punts as points (17) -- a stat made even more horrifying when combined with the seven turnovers the game also featured.

Meanwhile, in Iowa's 22-21 loss, the Hawkeyes drove into Minnesota territory on their first four possessions and got a grand total of zero points on those drives; they would add a lost fumble inside Minnesota's 30 in the third quarter. Minnesota, meanwhile, was incinerated by Marcus Coker on the ground, giving up over 250 yards and eight yards a pop to the Iowa sophomore -- and Minnesota won. It was just a bad, shoddily-executed game all around, and nobody needs to see that unless they've got a vested rooting interest. 

WINNER: Quietly, Michigan's title hopes - During the Michigan State-Nebraska game, ESPN erroneously showed a graphic of Iowa at 6-1 (2-1) on the year, presupposing that the Hawkeyes' 44-41 loss to Iowa State didn't happen. This gaffe went unnoticed in the booth, as Urban Meyer twice made mention of Iowa being a "quiet 6-1" and a challenger for the Legends Division crown.

We bring that up not to nitpick ESPN, but to point out that if even Iowa was getting division title mention as of Saturday morning (NOTE: all that talk is obviously done now), then Michigan's gone straight past "darkhorse" and into "invisihorse" territory, even though the Wolverines are still a one-loss team. Yes, MSU still holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Michigan, but if all it takes is another loss out of the team that just got worked by Nebraska for Michigan to be in the driver's seat here, that's not exactly asking much.

LOSER: For once, not Ron Zook - No, we're clearly not declaring Ron Zook a winner this week, not when his players just dropped their third straight game and are on the brink of pure freefall after a 6-0 start. No no, he is no winner. But at the very least, this week, Illinois did not look outcoached -- just outplayed. Gone were the howlers of game management and terrible playcalls, although that's scant consolation when the alternative is four turnovers and two missed field goals. At the very least, though, those are execution problems (it's not as if Zook called "the fumble play"), and even with those problems Illinois wins this game if it weren't for PSU's 80-yard touchdown drive on its last possession of the game. So chins up, Illinois fans: your coach didn't blow this one.

Posted on: October 7, 2011 2:38 pm
Edited on: October 7, 2011 2:41 pm
 

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 6

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom. 

This is a bit of a bizarro week in your college football diet, as most of the big games on Saturday will be taking place earlier in the day while our nighttime offerings lack some of those bolder flavors we all love. But that's fine, because with some of the entrees you'll be served during the day, you might not have enough room for that 32-ounce steak once dinner comes around.

Though hopefully you have room for one of those steaks at breakfast.

BREAKFAST

#3 Oklahoma vs. #11 Texas - ABC 12pm ET

This is a pretty wonderful way to start the day, isn't it? There are a lot of great rivalries in the world of college football, and this one has to be considered one of the best. For years the winner of this game basically helped decide who was going to win the Big 12, and it will go a long way in deciding the conference champion again this year. Also, Texas finds itself ranked near the top ten once again after a terrible 2010 season, and while things seemed to have turned around in Austin, this game will be the first real indication of how far the Longhorns have come. - Tom Fornelli 

#13 Georgia Tech vs. Maryland - ESPNU 12pm ET

The Yellow Jackets keep scoring in bunches and riding their offense to methodical wins, while Maryland desperately is trying to put the pieces back together following a pair of home losses.  The Terps offense finally got back in a groove against Towson, particularly getting a boost from the return of wide receivers Quintin McCree and Ronnie Tyler.  Maryland's high-tempo offense must keep drives alive in order to give their defense time to rest on the sideline.  Additionally, the defense must get stops on third down or Georgia Tech will slowly wear down Maryland on both sides of the ball.  Let's casually call this one "The Friedgen Bowl" since former Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen said he "could care less about Maryland" and "is flying a Georgia Tech flag now." - Chip Patterson

North Carolina vs. Louisville - ESPN2 12pm ET

Louisville's offense is struggling, averaging less than 20 points per game and ranking dead last in the Big East.  The matchup against North Carolina's talented front seven will provide plenty of work for the Cardinals inexperienced offensive line.  Louisville's greatest strength on defense might be their secondary, but this Tar Heels team has become uncharacteristically run-heavy.  The emergence of Gio Bernard has changed the face of the offense, as the redshirt freshman will look to continue his streak of 100+ yard games to four.  Something that hasn't been done by a North Carolina running back since Ethan Horton in 1984. - CP

LUNCH

#1 LSU vs. #17 Florida - CBS 3:30pm ET

What happens when a Honey Badger smells blood? We may find out when Tyrann Mathieu and the rest of the LSU defense hosts a Gator attack missing John Brantley and still licking the wounds from its strangling at the hands of Alabama. Whatever hope Florida has will rest in their defense shutting down the Bayou Bengals' power-running game, but the return of the bruising Spencer Ware from a hamstring problem won't help them. - Jerry Hinnen [Video Preview]

#20 Kansas State vs. Missouri - ABC 3:30pm ET

Raise your hand if you thought before the season started that Kansas State and Missouri would be pegged as a game appearing on a national network during the middle of the season. Okay, now put your hand down, liar. Missouri has been a bit up and down this season as James Franklin has grown accustomed to filling Blaine Gabbert's shoes, and he doesn't have the easiest defense to go against this week. Then there's Kansas State which has caught just about all of us by surprise so far this year, as Bill Snyder has once again lifted this program back into Big 12 contention. - TF

#21 Virginia Tech vs. Miami - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

Both of these teams need a win if they plan to contend with Georgia Tech for the Coastal Division title, but neither team has put together a truly impressive performance that makes me think they could.  It will be a chance for both teams to prove (to themselves, really) that they belong at the top of the ACC.  Miami has been wildly inconsistent on both sides of the ball this season, but get a huge boost with preseason all-conference safety Ray-Ray Armstrong returning from suspension.  The Hokies' offense will need more than David Wilson to beat the Canes, and that responsibility falls on quarterback Logan Thomas.  Thomas' development has taken longer than some expected, but this would be a great time for him to grow up and lead VT to a huge home win over their longtime rivals. - CP

Penn State vs. Iowa - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

This has been a rather one-sided affair over the last decade or so, but give Iowa-PSU credit: the games are generally exciting, with six of the last 10 meetings featuring either single-score margins or a 4th quarter lead change. Expect more of the same this week, with Iowa bringing the conference's most prolific passing game (seriously) to town and Penn State hoping to turn their offensive fortunes around against a surprisingly green Hawkeye defense. - Adam Jacobi

DINNER

#10 Arkansas vs. #15 Auburn - ESPN 7pm ET

Last year's meeting produced an SEC regulation-time record 108 points, and judging by Tyler Wilson's 500-yard passing day last week (and Texas A&M's 381 yards rushing), Arkansas looks ready to do their part for a repeat performance. But this time, the Tigers have to hope their improving defense can keep them out of a shootout--a struggling passing game has Gus Malzahn's unit leaning heavily on Michael Dyer and ground-out first downs. - JH

Northwestern vs. #12 Michigan - Big Ten Network 7pm ET

If it weren't for that Russell Wilson fellow over in Madison, this game might feature the best two QBs in the conference, as Dan Persa leads the Northwestern charge against visiting Denard Robinson and the Wolverines. Persa shined in his first week back from that Achilles injury last year, but missed the last few minutes for precautionary reasons after an awkward tackle. Can Northwestern make headway against a newly re-energized Michigan defense, or will the Wolverines keep rolling along? - AJ

#7 Stanford vs. Colorado - Versus 7:30pm ET

Colorado isn't terribly good this season but the Buffaloes are rebuilding their program under new head coach Jon Embree and do have several weapons Stanford has to contain. The Buffs are 36th in passing offense and sophomore Paul Richardson is averaging 95 yards receiving a game. As always though, the reason to tune into this game is Heisman candidate Andrew Luck and a balanced attack that can beat you through the air or on the ground. Plus, you never know when something like this is going to happen and make you say wow. - Bryan Fischer

#14 Nebraska vs. Ohio State - ABC 8pm ET

Before this season, this game looked like the second half of a brutal conference opening for Nebraska. Wisconsin held up its end of the bargain last week by beating the Huskers 48-17, but Ohio State is hardly the challenge it used to be without Terrelle Pryor and a host of other stars. If Nebraska's going to show it belongs among the Big Ten elite, it has to bring the pain against a reeling OSU ballclub this week. - AJ

LATE NIGHT SNACK

BYU vs. San Jose State - ESPNU 10:15pm ET

Not exactly a marquee matchup, I know, but it's football and it's on your television. Plus, aside from getting pasted by Utah a few weeks ago, BYU hasn't played a game this season that didn't come down to the final minutes, so the possibility of some midnight HAM is totally in play here. - TF
Posted on: October 5, 2011 1:35 pm
 

Gordon Gee: OSU 'poster child' for compliance

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Ohio State president Gordon Gee addressed his beleagured athletic department in a statement this morning, and while his interpretation of the words he used isn't necessarily incorrect, it's certainly tone-deaf.

“We are the poster child for compliance," Gee said, "and whenever we discover a possible infraction, we resolve and report it to the NCAA, no matter how minor the violation. That’s what we have done here."

Now, the popular sentiment among writers thus far has been to remind Gee that "denial isn't just a river in Egypt," but I'd amend that slightly to "compliance isn't just a department in your office." It's one thing if Ohio State quickly and dutifully reports all the potential violations it hears about to the NCAA (though are we just going to pretend the Jim Tressel era never happened? Really? This soon?). That's what a compliance department ought to do.

If you want your athletic department to be the poster child for compliance, though, the correct way to go about that is to stop committing such an unholy amount of violations in the first place. That's what real compliance is, and on that front, Ohio State has failed miserably -- espectially relative to just about every other school in Division I. Where that systemic unusual frequency of individual failure comes from can be debated endlessly, but the point is that it's there, and as long as Ohio State keeps pretending there's no big problem the violations are going to keep happening.

My solution? An Ohio-wide media campaign called "STOP PAYING OUR PLAYERS IT DOESN'T END WELL FOR ANYBODY." Use Maurice Clarett and Terrelle Pryor in TV commercials to talk about how accepting improper benefits torpedoed their college careers right when they were getting good. But don't just go up there and tell people OSU's doing everything right. C'mon. 

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Posted on: October 2, 2011 4:26 am
Edited on: October 2, 2011 12:07 pm
 

What I learned from the Big Ten (Oct. 1)



Posted by Adam Jacobi

1. Wisconsin should probably go undefeated this year. Seventh-ranked Wisconsin faced its first stiff test of the season, as No. 8 Nebraska came to town for a night game at Camp Randall in the Big Ten opener for both schools. Wisconsin treated Nebraska like just another speed bump, crushing the Huskers 48-17 in a game that saw the Badgers outscore Nebraska 41-3 in the last 33 minutes of play. It was equal parts savage, brilliant, and awe-inspiring -- the type of game that only great teams play.

Wisconsin's slate from here on out is heavy on intriguing road games, but if Nebraska can't even keep the game within 30 points, what hope would Ohio State or Illinois or anybody else left on the schedule have of winning a game against the Badgers? Russell Wilson can basically do whatever he wants on offense, and with a duo of tailbacks like Montee Ball and James White behind him, the Wisconsin attack is basically as complete as offenses can get.

So yes, Wisconsin should go undefeated this year. That would be quite welcome, especially if it ends in a game against whoever takes the SEC between LSU and Alabama. Would the SEC team win? Possibly. Plausibly. Probably. I'd sure like to see that determined on the field of play, and doubtless so would Wisconsin fans.

2. That team that just got wrecked by 31 points is still probably going to win its division. I don't know what's more infuriating -- that Nebraska has underperformed so badly in every game this season that they're probably just plain average as a whole, or that this average Nebraska team is still a favorite to win the Legends Division. Michigan's on a roll but has a nasty back half of the schedule, Michigan State has a brutal schedule and only managed 10 points against the Ohio State defense, Northwestern has major defensive issues to work out, Iowa struggles mightily against mobile quarterbacks while playing in a division full of them, and Minnesota... no.

Of course, the actual most likely result of this traffic jam of mediocrity is five teams tied at 4-4 and Minnesota eating paste at 0-8. This is the result I will be openly rooting for. because nothing would be funnier than Jim Delany taking a look at that situation, taking a look at Wisconsin, and then just canceling the First Ever Big Ten Championship Game and just handing the Rose Bowl to Wisconsin. And nobody would think that was the wrong thing to do.

3. Whatever you thought about the quarterback situation at Ohio State, I assure you, it's actually worse. Joe Bauserman was Ohio State's leading passer on Saturday, and if that doesn't sound troubling, please consider that Bauserman didn't enter the game until early in the fourth quarter, and he threw for all of 87 yards. Starter Braxton Miller, meanwhile, passed for 56 yards (not just on one drive, for the entire game), lost 27 on the ground, and led the OSU offense to all of six first downs in the first three quarters. The Buckeye faithful were booing early and often in this game, and while they generally weren't booing Miller himself, it certainly stands to reason that the mood at the 'Shoe would have been far more jovial if Terrelle Pryor had still been under center.

It didn't help that the Michigan State defensive front was teeing off on Miller, and generally overwhelming the Buckeye offensive line in the process, but it's just shocking that Ohio State could have such a dearth of production at the quarterback position like this. Miller's got talent, but is in no way game-ready, whereas Bauserman looks like someone who just doesn't belong on a two-deep of a BCS-level team. This is a personnel problem for Luke Fickell and Ohio State, and personnel problems like these don't generally solve themselves mid-season.

4. At this rate, Illinois might actually enjoy endgame pressure. Illinois is 5-0 for the first time in 60 years, and it's doing so at the expense of the cardiac health of Ron Zook and all the Illini fans. For the third straight week, Illinois won a game by three points, and for the third straight week, it needed to take the lead late in the fourth quarter and hang on for dear life. This week's victim was Northwestern, who capitalized on a Jason Ford fumble and drove for a go-ahead score with 75 seconds left ... only to see Nathan Scheelhaase and A.J. Jenkins drive the ball down the field with ease and punch the ball in for the game-winning score with 13 seconds left. 

It's too early to start making assumptions about Illinois' postseason fate as yet, because if the Illini keep getting into these 50-50 late-game situations, the odds are pretty low that they'll keep winning them consistently. And with games like home dates with Ohio State and Michigan -- not to mention a road match at Penn State -- still on the schedule, Illinois probably isn't even near done with the close contests yet this season. But perhaps it does, and perhaps the games won't be close, and perhaps Ron Zook -- he of the hottest seat in the Big Ten six weeks ago -- has another 10-win season up his sleeve just yet. Perhaps. We're at least on the right road for that to happen, at least.

5. Pssst... Michigan might be legitimate. Maybe. As long as Minnesota keeps proving itself to be far more MAC-worthy than BCS conference-caliber, it's going to be useless to read much into a team's performance beating the Gophers -- even the final score is 58-0. And yes, Michigan started 5-0 last year too and that season still ended with Rich Rodriguez fired. That's all true. The problem, though, is that Michigan started 5-0 in 1997 and it just so happened to finish 12-0 and win a national championship, and most teams that start 5-0 don't end up giving up the most points in program history and firing their coach.

So while it's easy to just say "But 2010" whenever someone mentions the fact that Michigan is still undefeated, there's one difference that's crucial to point out: the defense is showing up too. Last season, Michigan gave up over 25 points per game in its first five games. This year? 10.2. Yes, it's relevant that 31 points came against Notre Dame in a game the Wolverines had zero business winning and 20 came against tomato cans like Eastern Michigan and Minnesota, but consider that Michigan also spanked Western Michigan 34-10, and that's a Broncos team that came up just shy in a 23-20 loss at Illinois and just took a 38-31 win at Connecticut. So yes, given the context we've got, Michigan is not just pulling a 2010.

I still don't think Michigan survives that brutal November that awaits, and it's possible that with Dan Persa and Kirk Cousins looming as opposing quarterbacks in the next two games, Michigan might take a 5-2 (1-2) record into its bye week. But 6-1 (2-1) is more likely now, and being undefeated through seven games is definitely on the table. That's good news in Ann Arbor, especially when everyone else in the Legends division is staring at major problems that need fixing. But that's a topic best left for November; for now, Michigan would do well to focus on the next game in front of it.
Posted on: September 26, 2011 10:07 am
Edited on: September 26, 2011 2:20 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 4



Posted by Bryan Fischer


As much as it frustrates the rest of the country, there's a reason why the SEC is continually touted as the nation's best conference. There's a reason why they've won five straight BCS championships.There's a reason why the league is so competitive. And it's not hard to figure out either.

Defense, and lots of it. S-E-C Speed, S-E-C D.

With nearly half the league ranked 75th or worse in total offense through four games, five ranked teams and a 25-4 non-conference record don't happen by accident. Six teams are in the top 30 in scoring defense, including Alabama and Florida in the top five.

For LSU, the fearsome part of their defense is the backend. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu repeated as Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week thanks to six tackles and two turnovers against West Virginia. A week earlier, his teammate Morris Claiborne was tabbed for the award after two interceptions against Mississippi State. If there's a better pair of corners in the country on one team, they're in the NFL. Mathieu's interception that he took down to the one right before halftime helped stretch the Tigers' lead to 20 and Claiborne's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown ended all hopes of a Mountaineers rally and kept momentum planted firmly on the LSU sideline.

"West Virginia did a very good job, but our defense showed up to play and we got off to a nice start," Les Miles said after the game. " Morris Claiborne’s return was right on time, and we were able to finish it off. We made some mistakes, but we overcame that adversity."

What was surprising Saturday was just how little pressure LSU's front seven were able to get on opposing quarterback Geno Smith. He finished with a school-record 468 yards of total offense as the Tigers game up more yards in a game than they had since 2005. Giving up chunks of yards to a Dana Holgorsen-led offense is nothing new, but what kept the game in LSU's favor was the big play ability of coordinator John Chavis' defense.

Ultimately, the Tigers don't win by scoring, they win by scoring on defense.

Mathieu, who wears Patrick Peterson's old number seven, is as ball-hawking as you can get. Peterson was a one-man island last season, often taking away half of the field by himself in zone coverage if he wasn't locking up his man one-on-one. While Mathieu isn't as good in coverage as the man he took over for, he has a great feel for the game and reads plays as well as anybody on the back half. When he roams or blitzes, things just happen - as they did in Morgantown on Saturday. Despite losing Peterson, this secondary is better and deeper than it was a year ago as Claiborne and others have elevated their game. As one NFL scout told CBSSports.com writer Gregg Doyel, there are actually more than four NFL players among this group.

Read more about Tyrann Mathieu in Bruce Feldman's Big Picture

"The offensive game plan was not a problem," Holgorsen said. "Turning the ball over four times is a problem, and they have something to do with that too. They have a pretty good defense."

LSU has scored first and led at halftime in each of the Tigers' games this year. It's all part of the plan: Score first, play defense, be opporunistic and win the fourth quarter.

Alabama uses a similar strategy. Before the season, one person inside the program said what many had been saying: this defense was better than 2009's championship squad and might be one of the most talented ever under Nick Saban. They might have an even faster secondary than LSU and use the speed to play everything in front of them, swarming to ball seconds after the snap.

Against Arkansas, they also delivered shot, after shot, after shot on quarterback Tyler Wilson. The 3-4 the team runs allows Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart to mix in plenty of zone blitzes to create pressure on quarterbacks who rarely can tell where it's coming from before the snap. The Tide recruit athletes who can move well in they scheme more than anything and that's translated into a fearsome unit that is living up to their reputation as the best in the country. They play smart and play well.

"Well we set out to establish that we were going against the best offense in the SEC and a lot of people were labeling us as the best defense in the SEC, so we wanted to go out and show people what we were capable of with all cylinders turning," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said.

Though the highlight of the game with Arkansas was Marquis Maze's punt return for a touchdown, that was nearly the straw that broke the razorback's back. As Saban and others admitted it was a defensive play, DeQuan Menzie's interception, that shifted the momentum after the offense couldn't convert on the goal line.

"That was a big turning point in the game from a momentum stand point, and you know, we need to make more plays like that, get more turnovers," Saban said. "People are going to see what we do and figure out ways to deal with it. Our challenge is to get better every day."

That's a scary thought - for Alabama or for any SEC defense. Can't wait to see them match up with LSU on November 5 as much as the offensive coordinators do not.

Stat of the week

After wrapping up a 56-31 win over Rice, just about everybody was talking about Heisman candidate and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Look up the box score and it's easy to see why: he went a ho-hum 29-33 for 338 yards and five touchdowns as the Bears racked up 673 yards of offense. Even more eye-popping was the fact that he threw more touchdowns than incompletions for the second consecutive game. Griffin has also thrown more touchdowns (13) than incompletions (12) this season. He is completing 85% of his passes, hasn't thrown an interception and is throwing for nearly 12 yards per attempt. As one would expect, he tops the NCAA efficiency rankings, just ahead of Wisconsin's Russell Wilson.

Other stats of note

- Florida beat Kentucky for the 25th time in a row and by at least 34 points for the fourth straight year.  The Wildcats are on the losing end of the two longest active losing streaks to one team, the other being the 26 game streak to Tennessee.

- Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz set a school record and tied the NCAA record by throwing seven touchdown passes against UC Davis over the weekend. He sat out the second half after the Warriors led 49-0 at half but not before he also passed for a school record 424 yards in a half.

- Notre Dame is dead last in the country in turnover margin at -2.50 a game. The Irish have given the ball away 15 times in four games, more than they did in all of 2009 and 2006. The defense has forced just five this year.

- Quarterback Denard Robinson is the nation's leading rusher at 168.7 yards per game, over 15 yards a game more than runner up LaMichael James. While that's pretty impressive, he wouldn't be in the top spot were it not for the NCAA not counting his stats from the game against Western Michigan - which was stopped early. Of course, who knows, he might have been able to pad his stats during that game and still be in the lead a few weeks later like he is now.

- Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray had his nine-game streak of at least 100 yards rushing broken. The Aggies really went away from the ground game in the second half and never did establish Gray against Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden set school records for completions (47) and passing yardage (438).

- James was back to putting up video game numbers for Oregon against Arizona this weekend. He rushed for a school record 288 yards and also set the all-purpose mark. His first quarter touchdown run also gave him the Ducks record for career touchdowns as well. His 288 yards were more than the Wildcats have rushed for all year (249).

- Florida Atlantic had just one first down against Michigan State but racked up 20 against Auburn's defense in a 30-14 loss. The Owls are dead last in the country in offense and have scored only 17 points all year. 62% of FAU's offensive yardage this year came against Auburn.

- South Carolina's defense allowed just 77 yards to Vanderbilt and only five first downs all game. Defensive stud Melvin Ingram scored yet another touchdown, his third in as many weeks. By reaching the end zone, Ingram is tied for third on the team for points scored with quarterback Stephen Garcia.

- A few miles away from Columbia, Clemson receiver and freshman sensation Sammy Watkins is leading the Tigers in scoring after 141 yards receiving and two touchdowns in a victory over Florida State. Through four games this year he has 433 yards receiving and six touchdowns, marks that would have placed him second and third on the team respectively in each category last year.

- Four teams topped the 400 yard rushing mark last Saturday, led by Air Force rolling up 595 yards against hapless Tennessee State. Oregon had 415 yards against Arizona, Florida rushed for 405 against Kentucky and Army pounded Ball State for 402 yards. A team has rushed for over 400 yards 10 times this year while a team has passed for over 400 yards 22 times through week four.

- According to SI.com's Stewart Mandel, Illinois is 4-0 for the first time since 1951. I'm with him, how is that possible?

- Georgia Tech has six plays of 70+ yards this year and seven one-play scoring drives.

Yard-by-yard

-  Hats off to Mike Gundy's halftime adjustments. After being held about 1,000 points below their average in the first half to trail by 17, the Cowboys offense exploded as Brandon Weeden started picking apart Texas A&M's secondary with intermediate passes on their way to a comeback win. The Aggies turned the ball over three times and anytime you give Weeden the ball on a short field, watch out. The most telling sign was the lack of panic on the OSU sidelines as they fell behind. Though they hadn't been in the position before, it was as if they knew what to do and went out and executed. The defense isn't quite as good as Oklahoma's but they'll be able to ride the offense quite far in Big 12 play.

- I'm not quite ready to say the Michigan defense is good but it's certainly much improved and solid enough in a weaker Big Ten for new coordinator Greg Mattison. After the much maligned unit struggled all of last year, they seemed to turn a corner against a very good offense in San Diego State. The Wolverines shutout talented running back Ronnie Hillman and the Aztecs in the first half, the first time they've pulled off the feat in the first half in over two years. Hillman hadn't fumbled since the first carry of his freshmen season last year and yet coughed it up twice. We've been in this position with the Wolverines before last year - a fast start, Denard Robinson being Denard Robinson - before fading badly at the end in Rich Rodriguez' last year as head coach. This year, though, might be different. The schedule is manageable and with the defense being more opportunistic than they have been in the past, Michigan could have a much different ending.

- Michigan's archival Ohio State doesn't have the kind of stability that the Wolverines have but they had to be encouraged with the solid first start for quarterback Braxton Miller. He didn't cause anybody to label him the "next" anything after going 5-13 for 83 yards and rushing for 83 yards but it looks like he's the future after a disastrous passing game for the Buckeyes I saw firsthand against Miami. What's funny is the last time I saw Ohio State play on the road was a couple of years ago at USC. The offense struggled and the next game a talented true freshman by the name of Terrelle Pryor started for the first time. Pryor tossed four touchdowns in that game and led the Buckeyes to an 8-1 record as a starter. While Miller didn't come anywhere close to looking like his predecessor, he looked comfortable running the offense and playing with what the defense was giving him. No one's saying he'll be able to replicate what Pryor did on the field but it looks like yet again the Buckeyes have another true freshman ready to lead them into Big Ten play this year.

"I slept pretty good," he said of his first start. "I really didn't have any jitters at all."

With improved play from Miller and the rest of the offense, head coach Luke Fickell might sleep better too.

- There's no offense quite like Georgia Tech's. It's an option attack but one that has a dangerous passing game that is part of the reason the Yellow Jackets are leading the nation in yards per game. They piled up 496 yards on Saturday in a nice win over North Carolina. Quarterback Tevin Washington is the triggerman but unlike previous players at the position under Paul Johnson, he looks like he can legitimately get the ball down the field accurately. Of course, it helps to throw the ball to 6-foot-5 receiver Steven Hill. There were times where he looked just like Calvin Johnson while making one-handed catches on his way to 151 yards and a touchdown. Hill might be the best receiver no one's really talking about but with Washington throwing the ball and running back Orwin Smith helping out on the ground, expect to hear more about Georgia Tech going forward.

- Poor N.C. State fans. As if it weren't enough to see former quarterback Russell Wilson at the helm for a top 10 team, Thursday's blowout loss to Cincinnati couldn't have given anybody any confidence in what's to come this season. The offensive line gave up six sacks to go on top of three turnovers, two of which were interceptions thrown by Wilson's replacement Mike Glennon without much thought. There's some talent on the team but clearly not enough in a much tougher ACC this year. It's going to be a long season until North Carolina's Committee on Infractions hearing for Wolfpack fans.

- I thought the Clemson game would be a bit of a letdown game for Florida State and while they made it close, the execution just was not there for the Seminoles. Of course they wanted to win and definitely were without some key players, but they invested so much into the game against Oklahoma one would have to think that they spent a little too much time watching film from last week instead of film of the Tigers. Just when it seemed like the defense was ready to make a stop or the offense get going, there'd be a penalty (they finished with 11 for 124 yards). On the other side, it finally appears that Clemson is getting the hang of offensive coordinator Chad Morris' new hurry-up system. Tajh Boyd still has moments that must make Morris rip out some hair but he is looking much more comfortable behind center. With electric freshman Sammy Watkins making plays every time you tune in, it's easy to see why there's plenty of optimism in Death Valley.

"I'm super excited about how our players keep growing this offense and executing. And we're only four games into this offense," Morris said. "It's crazy."

- Penn State beat Eastern Michigan 34-6 as part of the Big Ten's weekend of home games against directional schools to raise money for themselves. The Nittany Lions might have come out with a victory but it was a costly one - starting outside linebacker Mike Mauti will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Considered to be the team's best backer, this is needless to say a big blow to a team that already has struggled some on both sides of the ball. Mauti missed the 2009 season with an ACL injury to his other knee and was limited at times last year due to a shoulder injury. Senior corner D'Anton Lynn was also hurt and had to be transported to the hospital to have his head and neck examined after a hit.

- Speaking of Penn State, the team that almost beat them last week, Temple, ended up routing Maryland 38-7. Steve Addazio has quietly taken what Al Golden left him and turned the Owls in a forced to be reckoned with. Junior back Bernard Pierce is the Northeast's best kept secret, as he rushed for five touchdowns and 149 yards to power Temple's first road win over a BCS foe in nine years.

- How bad is Oregon State? The Beavers lost 27-19 to a UCLA team that is not without their own issues on both sides of the ball. Many expected them to get a boost - they were favored at home - with the return of all-purpose threat James Rodgers and tight end Joe Halahuni but it was to no avail. It's the worst start of the Mike Riley era and unlike many of his previous teams, there's just no execution. There's been issues behind the scenes and at quarterback on offense while the defense is still breaking in plenty of new players. As Pac-12 play continues, don't expect things to get any easier until the Beavers get back to their roots of playing smart football and keeping the turnovers to a minimum. For UCLA, it was a game they just had to have if they're to sneak into a bowl game this year. According to the LA Daily News , a joyous Rick Neuheisel told a group of fans after the game  "Anybody have fun on the flight here? Not as much as you'll have on the flight home!" Of course, he also added that the Bruins haven't been 1-0 in the conference, "in a long time."

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Video
Quote of the week

"Big 12! Big 12! Big 12!" - Oklahoma State fans after their victory at Kyle Field. Perhaps it was also fitting that Texas A&M had two 12th man penalties on defense early in the game.

Quote of the week, part II

"The speed of the game, it's kind of lighting struck the outhouse and we were in it." - Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter after the Wildcats' 48-10 loss to Florida.

Tweets of the week

"Arizona will always be a basketball school.. So Child please!" and "If one more person EVER tells me Arizona is turning into a "football" school .. Can kiss the baby"

- Former Arizona forward Derrick Williams during his football team's blowout loss to Oregon. Ouch.

Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma

4. Boise State

5. Stanford

6. Wisconsin

7. Oklahoma State

8. Oregon

9. Virginia Tech

10. Nebraska

Where we'll be this week

The big CBS primetime matchup between Alabama and Florida from the Swamp will have Mr. College Football himself, Tony Barnhart, in attendance. Dennis Dodd will be at Camp Randall for Nebraska's first Big Ten conference game against Wisconsin while Brett McMurphy will be listening to 'Enter Sandman' as Clemson plays at Virginia Tech. I've got early duty as I'll be at Texas A&M's first SEC conference game (well, first unofficial one anyway) against Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium.

Leaning this way

Alabama at Florida (8 p.m. ET, CBS)

The past three meetings has featured one of two teams ranked number one overall and while neither will be in the top spot in the polls this year, a top 12 matchup awaits down in the Swamp. Both the Gators and Tide have tough defenses that are ranked in the top five nationally in the three big defensive categories (total/rushing/scoring defense) so each offense figures to have a little more trouble moving the ball than they have so far this year. Alabama's speed will be the difference as they bottle up Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps to come out with a victory.

Nebraska at Wisconsin

Welcome to the Big Ten Nebraska. Camp Randall should be jumping around as they welcome in the Cornhuskers and Taylor Martinez. Look for Russell Wilson to continue to be sharp and not turn the ball over and the Badgers' defense to make just enough plays to win. Martinez should be able to move the ball though, Wisconsin's defense hasn't really been tested - much less by an offense like Nebraska's.

Clemson at Virginia Tech

The first big test for both teams as Clemson goes on the road to take on Frank Beamer's squad. Clemson made several key mistakes that kept Florida State in the game last week and if they turn the ball over, that plays right into the Hokies game plan. Virginia Tech should win but don't be surprised if this is a close ACC battle.

Category: NCAAF
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