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Chris Dufresne / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

System has taken some shocks

October 02, 2008|Chris Dufresne

Early sideline observations while trying to make a headset connection with Norm Chow . . .

Florida State is playing at Miami on Saturday and about 15 people care, but where Duke is playing next matters.

And Northwestern hasn't gone south yet, either.

Washington's quarterback has offered to play defensive back, USC could be tripping toward a second consecutive loss, and Vanderbilt, not Georgia or Florida, is leading the Southeastern Conference's East Division.

And Greg Robinson is still coaching at Syracuse.

The quarterback who led Ohio State to the national title game last year has been benched and replaced by a freshman.

And Brigham Young has positioned itself nicely for a national title run.

Maryland couldn't beat Middle Tennessee but handled Middle Clemson, which opened the season at No. 9 in the Associated Press media poll but has now been asked, kindly, to take a number.

And watch out for Ball State.

Also, a school that began the year unranked in the USA Today coaches' poll is now No. 4 after beating preseason No. 1 Georgia in Athens, handing Uga VII its first defeat as a mascot.

And the season's just getting started.

Shocks, spills, ups and downs were the order of most days in September, so before we look forward, let's look back.

Five early-season blindside hits:

1UCLA shocks Tennessee in overtime.

Given that UCLA has since lost three straight games, by the combined score of 126-41, only makes what happened in the Rose Bowl on Sept. 1 even more mind-boggling.

It should never have happened, but it did, and first-year UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel will never forget it, and right now that win is the only card the struggling Pacific 10 Conference holds in its ongoing argument with the SEC.

Tennessee, at 1-3, is not very good as it turns out, but it's the same team that came within a two-point conversion from taking No. 13 Auburn to overtime. And that Auburn team stood toe-to-toe in a five-point loss to defending champion Louisiana State.

And maybe that dot-to-dot connection alone is good enough to say the Big 12 is a better conference so far this year.

2The Smart Guys are winning!

Vanderbilt, Duke, Northwestern and Stanford are a combined 15-3 after finishing a combined 16 games below .500 last year.

Duke is 3-1, with its only loss to . . . Northwestern.

First-year Duke Coach David Cutcliffe is upstaging some of the biggest names in football show business. His Blue Devils are 1-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division, ahead of . . . Florida State.

Duke at Georgia Tech in the ACC this week almost incredibly trumps Florida State at Miami, one of the most storied rivalries in college football.

Most years, you never want Duke as the miss on your schedule, but that might be good news this year for Florida State.

"I pull for teams like Duke," Seminoles Coach Bobby Bowden said Wednesday. "The reason is because of their academic standards. It's just good for our people, all over the country, to see a team, a school, that has the academic reputation that Duke has, also be able to do it athletically."

That's high praise coming from a coach whose program is facing possible NCAA sanctions in the aftermath of an academic cheating scandal.

Cutcliffe is no dummy, having coached both Peyton and Eli Manning while he was an assistant coach at Tennessee and head coach at Mississippi. He may just be the man to pull Duke from the doldrums. Last week's win against Virginia ended a 25-game losing streak in ACC play.

Cutcliffe admitted it's a different brand of football. He recently interjected physics into a team meeting and asked how many of his players had studied the subject.

"I think everybody on the team raised their hand," Cutcliffe said. "I don't think that would happen many places."

3This is not Pete Carroll's best team at USC.

The Trojans' upset loss at Oregon State on Sept. 25 knocked the hyperbole out of the nation's used-to-be-top-ranked team and left a lot of head-scratching questions heading into Saturday's home game against Oregon.

Was that overturned cart in Corvallis an isolated brain cramp or did it expose deficiencies in the Trojans' seemingly impenetrable armor?

You can bet that Oregon, after seeing Oregon State run down hill on the USC defense, will attempt to batter the Trojans' interior line with its run-based spread option.

Saturday's game, in terms of USC's national title hopes, is what they call at the pottery shop, "make or break."

4No. 8 Brigham Young might win the national title and produce this year's Heisman Trophy winner.

In the 10-year history of the Bowl Championship Series, no school from outside the six-conference power structure has been ranked this high this early, leading to speculation that the Cougars could make a run at the national title.

Opinion in the Mountain West Conference is split.

BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall does not think the poll gods will allow a 12-0 team from his conference to play for the grand prize.

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