Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Goodbye, California. The Cal Golden Bears were dismissing last week's 42-3 loss to Oregon as just a bad day. Actually, it was an indication of more bad days to come. Cal managed just three points for the second consecutive week in a 30-3 loss to USC. Kevin Riley was just 15-of-40 passing and Jahvid Best was held to 47 yards by the Trojans defense. The Bears have not appeared in the Rose Bowl since the 1958 season, and it might be another 50 years before they get back.
Texas A&M's highly ranked offense was a by-product of playing marginal defensive teams. The Aggies entered Saturday's game against Arkansas with the nation's top-ranked offense. But their stats were accumulated against New Mexico, Utah State and UAB, which all ranked 107th or worse in defense. A&M had 458 yards of offense against the Razorbacks, but managed only 19 points. That's 19 points against a Razorbacks defense that allowed 41 points to Georgia and 35 to Alabama.
It may be time to pull the plug on the Bobby Bowden era. There certainly are no signs that things are getting better at Florida State (2-3). In fact, matters may be getting worse. Saturday's 28-21 setback at Boston College is the latest dubious defeat in a decade that has been filled with kicks in the gut. This latest loss comes on the heels of last week's flop at home to USF. FSU lost 13 games in the 1990s, when it was the dominant program in college football. The loss at BC is FSU's 41st of the 2000s. The Seminoles' last game of the season is at Florida. How ugly could that be? A blowout loss to the rival Gators would be an awful way for Saint Bobby to go out. But that may be his fate.
USC will march on to an eighth consecutive Pac-10 title. The Trojans' dominating 30-3 victory at Cal served noticed that USC is ready to take off on another season-ending run that has come to define the program in recent seasons. Here is the Trojans' M.O.: lose an early season game to an unranked team, rebound and win the rest of their games, then complain about being left out of the BCS title game. The only scary games left are a contest at Notre Dame on Oct. 17 and a trip to Oregon on Oct. 31. USC will cruise - again.
Wisconsin is a Big Ten contender. The Big Ten looks a little more wide open every week. Wisconsin entered itself in the mix, just in time for the Badgers' make-or-break stretch - at Ohio State next week and at home against Iowa on Oct. 17. In Saturday's 31-28 victory over Minnesota, Wisconsin showed why the rest of the Big Ten should take it seriously after a subpar 2008 season. At least on offense, the Badgers look an awful lot like Bret Bielema's first team in Madison, the one that went 12-1 in 2006. Wisconsin has a punishing running game, an efficient quarterback, a stout offensive line and a playmaking tight end. Wisconsin has some concerns, like six fumbles lost in three weeks, and the defense isn't as good as it was in '06. But if those issues are fixed in the next two weeks, the Badgers can win the Big Ten crown.
Houston is a BCS pretender. I'm not surprised Houston lost a Conference USA game. A date with Southern Miss on Oct. 31 and the C-USA title game were serious road blocks for a BCS bid. I'm just a little surprised UTEP was the team to pull off the upset is such convincing fashion. The game wasn't televised, so here's a recap: Houston lost 58-41 to UTEP and trailed by at least two scores for the final 20 minutes. We excused Houston's defense earlier this season because the Cougars faced offensive juggernauts Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, but that probably wasn't a good idea. TCU might not be as exciting to watch as Houston, but the Horned Frogs' defense - and Boise State's, to a lesser degree - make those teams far less volatile on a week-to-week basis.
Something is wrong with Texas Tech. The Red Raiders looked listless in beating a bad New Mexico team by 20 on Saturday. Starting QB Taylor Potts was lost to an injury and backup Steven Sheffield guided five scoring drives in the second half. But the Red Raiders looked lifeless in the first half, played sloppy football (five turnovers) and let the Lobos roll up 431 yards of offense - though most of that was after the affair was decided. Still, you have to wonder if some of the players are just flat-out tired of coach Mike Leach and his "quirks." Texas Tech begins conference play this week with a "gimme" against Kansas State, but the other seven league games have an element of danger about them.
Does anyone want to win the ACC's Atlantic Division? The only unbeaten team in league play in the division is Maryland - and the Terps probably are the worst team in the six-team grouping. Clemson and Florida State looked to be the division favorites before the season, but each already has two league losses. The way it's shaping, the division winner easily could have three conference defeats - and will be a heavy underdog to the Coastal winner in the ACC title game.
Notre Dame has learned how to win close games. Call them lucky if you'd like, but the Irish's three-game winning streak shows they've finally discovered how to win the close games they lost too often last season. The only close games they won then came when they blew big leads and barely escaped against Stanford and Navy. In the games that were close most of the way (e.g., North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Syracuse), the Irish typically came up short. They failed to come through again this year at Michigan. Not anymore. Jimmy Clausen has improved as much as any quarterback in the nation and has continually delivered in the clutch, whether he's throwing a fourth-down touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph in the final minute against Purdue or rallying Notre Dame from behind against Washington. Even Notre Dame's porous defense came through Saturday with a pair of goal-line stands. Notre Dame has figured out how to win close games against mediocre teams, but the real test comes in two weeks against USC. Lately, this rivalry hasn't been close at all.
The excessive celebration rule has to change. Last season, Washington quarterback Jake Locker was victimized by a bogus excessive celebration penalty that may have cost the Huskies a chance to force overtime against BYU. Saturday, an equally ridiculous penalty on Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green helped LSU get favorable field position on its winning drive in the final minute. In neither case did the player taunt or disrespect his opponent in any way. So why throw the flag? You can blame the officials all you want, but they frankly shouldn't be put in a position to have to make judgment calls over what constitutes an excessive celebration. Change the rule to allow any impromptu celebrations that don't include taunting. And if you're going to keep the rule as it is now, at least reduce the penalty to 5 yards instead of 15 so it won't make nearly as much of an impact.