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October 17, 2010
Tom Dienhart's Week 7 awards
What we learned in Week 7
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
This might be Mack Brown's best defense at Texas after all. Before the season Brown said this year's defense could be he best he's had in his 13 seasons at Texas. But that sure didn't seem the case after UCLA ran over the 'Horns three weeks ago. But against a Nebraska offense that was ranked seventh in the nation and averaging nearly 500 yards per game, the defense was exceptional. Texas held Nebraska to just 202 total yards, did not allow an offensive touchdown and limited Huskers QB Taylor Martinez to 21 rushing yards. If that defense keeps improving, then we'll know Brown was right.
Being ranked No. 1 is easier than remaining No. 1. For the second week in a row, the nation's top-ranked team fell. A week after South Carolina knocked Alabama from the No. 1 position, Wisconsin toppled No. 1 Ohio State. Neither win was a fluke, either. Perhaps the Oregon Ducks, the new No. 1, should be concerned. But there is one factor to consider: Alabama and Ohio State lost against good opponents on the road. Oregon will be at home against UCLA, which is mediocre at best.
The Big Ten title will go through Iowa City. Yes, Michigan State is in the driver's seat in the Big Ten race. But the conference championship will go through Iowa City. Next Saturday, Wisconsin plays at Iowa following the Badgers' scintillating victory over No. 1 Ohio State. On Oct. 30, the Spartans, who are off to their best start since 1966, travel to Iowa City. And on Nov. 20, Ohio State plays at Iowa. Michigan State is shooting for its first trip to the Rose Bowl since the 1987 season, while Iowa is aiming for its first visit to Pasadena since the 1990 campaign. Ohio State is looking to tie its Big Ten record by winning at least a share of its sixth consecutive league crown. It's going to be a terrific race.
Missouri is legit. It's time to start believing in Missouri. The Tigers improved to 6-0 with a 30-9 demolition of Texas A&M in College Station. It's only Mizzou's fifth 6-0 start in school history. The Tigers have had some good teams in recent seasons that were built around outstanding offenses. And this year's attack is deadly with QB Blaine Gabbert. But this squad has been led by its defense, which is a rarity in Columbia. Mizzou has the No. 1 scoring defense in the Big 12 and No. 2 in the nation (10.8 ppg), and the Tigers have yielded a national-low seven touchdowns. Missouri will become a national championship contender on Saturday in Columbia if it beats Oklahoma, which is 6-0 against Tigers coach Gary Pinkel. In fact, Pinkel is just 3-14 vs. the Big 12 South's current lineup of coaches.
Boise State, TCU and Utah all won, but took hits anyway. The BCS system means teams playing from behind, in this case the teams in non-Big Six conferences, must beat teams, then root for their former opponents the rest of the way. That wasn't enough this week as Boise State, TCU and Utah won but watched past and future opponents lose. Oregon State probably shouldn't have been ranked last week, but the Beavers won't get into the polls at all this week after an attempt at a two-point conversion to beat Washington in the second overtime fell short. Oregon State was TCU's best non-conference opponent and one of Boise State's key wins, too. The Broncos, Horned Frogs and Utes also likely lost ranked opponents as well when Nevada lost at Hawaii late Saturday and Air Force lost to San Diego State. The wins by Hawaii and San Diego State should be evidence of at least some depth in the WAC and Mountain West, respectively, but Boise State, TCU and Utah now don't have another ranked opponent (Air Force was 23rd in the coaches' and Harris polls, Nevada was 20th in the Harris and 21st in the coaches' poll) to lean on in conference play. TCU and Utah still have each other, but their games against Air Force don't look like the statement games they could have been.
If Kentucky could put together a complete game, the Wildcats would be pretty good. Joker Phillips' biggest task for the remainder of his first season will be to coax his team into playing all four quarters. In the past two weeks, Kentucky dug itself into a hole, only to mount a comeback in the second half. It worked against South Carolina with Mike Hartline picking apart South Carolina's defense. It didn't work against Auburn last week. In the games against the Gamecocks and Tigers, Kentucky was outscored 59-27 in the first half before outscoring those foes 38-6 in the second. Three weeks ago against Ole Miss, Kentucky trailed by 22 in the fourth quarter only to narrow the deficit to a touchdown. In the weakened SEC East, those first-half doldrums may end up costing Kentucky a trip to the SEC championship game. Still, if the Wildcats sustain the momentum from the second half of the South Carolina victory, all of their remaining SEC games (Georgia, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Tennessee) are winnable.
Looking at the SEC East race is like looking at a car wreck. South Carolina leads the division with a 2-2 mark, but if the Gamecocks lose at Vanderbilt this week, the Commodores -- the team coming off a 43-point beatdown against Georgia -- would be in first place in the division all by themselves. The division is so mediocre -- apologists would say "balanced" -- that the winner could finish 4-4 in league play. Even Tennessee, which is 0-3 in league play, still is alive. South Carolina looks like the favorite, but the Gamecocks end SEC play with back-to-back games against Arkansas and Florida. The SEC East has had at least one team in the BCS in 10 of the 12 seasons the BCS has existed; there will be no SEC East team in the BCS this season.
Missouri and Oklahoma State have it all in front of them. After remaining unbeaten by winning impressively on the road Saturday, both teams have big ones this week. Mizzou is at home against Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State is at home against Nebraska. There still are some questions about the Tigers and Cowboys, but wins this week would erase those questions -- and mean both are legitimately in the national title hunt.
All promising quarterbacks endure growing pains. Michigan's Denard Robinson spent much of this season's first half as the Heisman front-runner. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez also was billed as a Heisman contender after his dominant performance in a nationally televised showcase at Kansas State. But we learned Saturday that it's almost impossible for a first-year starting quarterback to make it through an entire season without stumbling once or twice. Robinson showed he was human last week by throwing three interceptions in a loss to Michigan State, and he wasn't having a particularly good game before an injury sidelined him in a 38-28 loss to Iowa. Martinez was pulled from a 20-13 loss to Texas after going 4-of-12 passing and rushing for just 21 yards on 13 carries.
Auburn's Cameron Newton may be the exception to the rule. The recent struggles of Robinson and Martinez make Newton's season look all the more impressive. Sure, Newton led Blinn College (Texas) to a national junior college title last year, but he never had proved himself against FBS competition. Now he's dominating SEC defenses so thoroughly that he's joined Oregon's LaMichael James and Boise State's Kellen Moore as top contenders for the Heisman. Newton hasn't been perfect. Auburn failed to score in the second half of its victory at Mississippi State, and Newton had a tough first half against Clemson before rallying Auburn to an overtime win. But he's played his position as well as just about anyone in the nation this season.