September 4, 2006

SEC, Big East make big statements in Week 1

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge said his teammates could hear California's players screaming "Pac-10" during pregame warm-ups Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

The Volunteers spent the rest of the day helping the Southeastern Conference deliver an emphatic response.

Tennessee's stunning 35-18 demolition of the ninth-ranked Golden Bears helped the SEC make its case as the top BCS conference.

"This game wasn't just for Tennessee vs. California," Ainge said. "It was the South vs. the West Coast. The SEC and Pac-10. We took that to heart."

The opening week featured three SEC/Pac-10 matchups. Auburn buried Washington State 40-14, while Southern California salvaged some Pac-10 pride with its 50-14 whipping of Arkansas.

But the biggest stories of the first week came in the Big East.

The conference lost arguably its most dynamic player when Louisville's Michael Bush broke his leg in Sunday night's game with Kentucky, but it also continued to shed its "Big Least" label by winning two of three head-to-head matchups with the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko showed signs of regaining his 2004 form in a 38-13 whipping of Virginia, while Rutgers went on the road and beat North Carolina 21-16. The ACC's only victory over the Big East came at Wake Forest, where the Demon Deacons outlasted Syracuse 20-10.

The Rutgers victory was particularly interesting because it featured a breakthrough performance from Raymell Rice, who gained 201 yards and scored three touchdowns. The combination of Rice and fullback Brian Leonard could give Rutgers one of the nation's top backfield tandems.

The unofficial SEC-Pac-10 and Big East-ACC challenge represented just one of the top 25 storylines of college football's opening week. Now let's run down the rest of the Top 25:

2. Hawkins' rude awakening: Colorado had never faced a Division I-AA team before Saturday.

The Buffaloes probably don't want to do it again anytime soon.

Former Boise State coach Dan Hawkins' debut at Colorado resulted in a stunning 19-10 loss to Montana State. Rick Neuheisel remains the only Buffaloes coach since 1932 to win his first game at Colorado.

And this loss could have been even worse. Montana State reached Colorado's 1-yard line on back-to-back series in the fourth quarter and had just three points to show for it.

"I have been doing this a long time, and I've lost before," Hawkins told "If you can't understand how to deal with losing, you are never going to win. To me, it is only devastating if people make it devastating. We understand that most people are going to jump on when it's rosy, but we all find out about ourselves when things aren't so good."

3. Hey, hey, I-AA: Montana State wasn't the only Division I-AA team to knock off a I-A program this weekend.

Richmond posted a 13-0 victory over Duke, which never recovered after losing running backs Justin Boyle and Ronnie Drummer to injuries in the first half.

New Mexico's offense didn't fare much better in a 17-6 loss to Portland State. The victories by Portland State and Montana State marked the first time in six years that two Big Sky teams beat Division I-A teams on the same day.

Northern Arizona nearly gave the Big Sky three wins over I-A teams this week. The Lumberjacks were tied 14-14 with Arizona State at the end of three quarters before falling 35-14.

4. Trojans share the wealth: So much for the talk that all those offseason departures would decimate Southern California's offense.

USC doesn't have Reggie Bush or LenDale White, but the Trojans proved against Arkansas that they still know how to run the ball.

In fact, USC has so many capable backs that Trojans coach Pete Carroll can't seem to pick a favorite.

Allen Bradford, C.J. Gable, Emmanuel Moody, Desmond Reed and Chauncey Washington all carried the ball at least four times Saturday in a 50-14 victory over Arkansas. Gable (12 attempts, 58 yards) got the ball the most, but Moody (7-58) and Washington (8-55) averaged more yards per carry.

5. Rapid recovery: As they absorbed a second consecutive one-sided defeat to Southern California, Arkansas fans at least could take solace in Darren McFadden's comeback.

The All-America candidate rushed nine times for 42 yards barely a month after undergoing surgery on his left big toe. McFadden said he was playing at about 80 to 85 percent of full strength.

"It just feels good to be out there on the field with my teammates again," McFadden told "And being able to play in this game, I'm just really thankful."

The Razorbacks better hope McFadden is ready to run even more next week. Felix Jones fumbled three times in the first half Saturday – losing two of them - while splitting carries with McFadden.

6. Tenuta does it again: Looking for a way to shut down the offense of a top 10 team? Give Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta a call.

Georgia Tech used Tenuta's aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach to upset Auburn and Miami last year. The Jackets nearly pulled off another major upset Saturday before falling 14-10 to second-ranked Notre Dame.

The Jackets held Heisman Trophy candidate Brady Quinn without a touchdown pass and shut the Fighting Irish out for the game's first 29 minutes. Georgia Tech coaxed Notre Dame into three false-start penalties and forced the Irish to rely on short passes instead of throwing deep.

"It's a little different when you're under duress than when you have time to step and throw," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis told

7. Two-way Travis: One of the nation's most high-profile preseason position switches was Weis' decision to move backup running back Travis Thomas to linebacker, where the junior earned a starting job on the weak side.

But when the Irish needed to run out the clock in the fourth quarter, Thomas was back at his old position grinding out yardage.

He finished the night with six carries for 19 yards on offense and four tackles on defense. Two of his tackles were behind the line of scrimmage.

8. Gambles don't pay off: Central Michigan and Illinois State both squandered opportunities to pull upsets after their late risks backfired.

After Illinois State scored a touchdown that cut Kansas State's lead to 24-23 with 3:02 remaining Saturday, the Redbirds went for two instead of trying a game-tying extra point. Kansas State sacked quarterback Luke Drone and survived with a one-point victory.

Central Michigan trailed Boston College 31-24 and had the ball on the Eagles' 34-yard line in the final minutes of a 31-24 game. That's when the Chippewas lined up in a bizarre formation that placed their offensive line on the left hash mark, while their quarterbacks and receivers were on the right hash mark.

The plan backfired when Chippewas quarterback Dan LeFevour ran for his life before making an off-balance pass that Brian Toal intercepted with 1:33 remaining.

That wasn't the Chippewas' only odd decision. Boston College also scored a second-quarter touchdown after Central Michigan unsuccessfully went for a first down on fourth-and-8 from its 27.

9. Nix up to his old tricks: Tyrone Nix earned a reputation as one of the game's top young defensive coordinators while at Southern Mississippi, but he couldn't translate that success to the Southeastern Conference last year. South Carolina finished 10th in the conference in total defense last year with Nix serving as co-defensive coordinator.

Perhaps the Gamecocks just needed time to adjust to him.

In Nix's first game as sole defensive coordinator, South Carolina allowed just 161 total yards to blank Mississippi State 15-0. The Bulldogs advanced beyond South Carolina's 38-yard line only once all night, when an interception gave them the ball on the 28.

The Gamecocks knocked starting quarterback Michael Henig out of the game with a broken collarbone in the first half, then teed off on backup Tray Rutland the rest of the night.

"Tyrone Nix called a gutsy game, a heck of a game," South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier told "That's the way we need to play."

10. Similar name, similar game: There's a new guy wearing Olson on his back in the UCLA huddle, but his performance brought back some familiar memories.

Ben Olson threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns in the Bruins' surprisingly easy 31-10 victory over Utah. Olson is replacing Drew Olson – no relation – who threw 34 touchdown passes and only six interceptions last year.

UCLA's surprisingly easy victory could cause some people to raise their expectations of the Bruins. Because they struggled late last season and lost Drew Olson, the Bruins were widely picked to finish around the middle of the Pac-10 standings this season.

11. Utah's BCS hopes take a hit: Before the season, Mountain West rivals Texas Christian and Utah were considered the most likely beneficiaries of a rule making it easier for teams from smaller conferences to earn BCS bids.

The addition of a fifth BCS game this year allows a team from a conference such as the Mountain West to earn an automatic bowl bid to the Fiesta, Rose, Orange or Sugar if it is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS standings.

But it's tough to imagine Utah earning a BCS invitation now.

Losing so badly to UCLA could prevent Utah from reaching the top 12 this year. The Utes have no games remaining against teams from BCS conferences.

12. Look who's back: On a night when Florida unveiled much of its future, the Gators also reached to the past.

Percy Harvin, rated by as the No. 1 player in the 2006 recruiting class, ran four times for 58 yards and had three catches for 33 yards in Florida's 42-7 victory over Southern Mississippi. Highly touted freshman quarterback Tim Tebow came off the bench and rushed for a touchdown.

But the loudest cheers were reserved for former Gator coach Steve Spurrier, who returned to Florida Field as part of a pregame ceremony honoring the 1996 national champions. Spurrier could get a much different response when he leads South Carolina into Gainesville on Nov. 11.

Spurrier wasn't the only familiar name from the past to make an appearance. Stephen Reaves, the son of former star Gator quarterback John Reaves, played quarterback for Southern Mississippi in the fourth quarter.

13. Northwestern getting defensive: Northwestern and Miami (Ohio) held a moment of silence before their game Thursday to honor former Wildcats and Red Hawks coach Randy Walker, who died of a heart attack two months ago. The Wildcats handed Walker's widow, Tammy, a game ball after their 21-3 victory.

In between those moments, the Wildcats bore little resemblance to the high-scoring Northwestern teams of the Walker era.

Northwestern recorded five sacks, held Miami to 2½ yards per carry and didn't allow a touchdown for the first time since a 38-5 victory over Duke in Sept. 9, 2000 – the second game of the Walker era.

The Wildcats ranked last in the nation in total defense a year ago, but they still went 7-5 because of Walker's explosive offense. They may be learning a different way to win under first-year coach and former All-America linebacker Pat Fitzgerald.

14. Everything's all Wright in Fresno: One of the most heartwarming developments of the season's opening week came in Fresno, where former 1,000-yard rusher Dwayne Wright rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-19 victory over Nevada.

What made this story so special? Wright hadn't played a game in nearly two years.

After rushing for 1,038 yards two years ago, Wright tore the patellar tendon in his left knee at the end of a 61-yard pass play during a 45-21 upset of Kansas State on Sept. 11, 2004. He sat out the rest of that season and the entire 2005 campaign.

15. Broussard's also back: Wright wasn't the only running back to return from a serious knee injury this week.

LSU's Alley Broussard also returned after missing the entire 2004 season with an injured right knee. Broussard, who rushed for a team-high 867 yards in 2004, gained 46 yards and scored a touchdown Saturday in the Tigers' 45-3 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette.

"It was great to see a guy that has undergone as much adversity as Broussard to get in there," LSU coach Les Miles told "We want him to have some success. We're not going to go too fast with him. We want him to be ready when he gets in a game that's competitive."

16. Sooners struggle past UAB: Oklahoma quarterback Paul Thompson played well enough to help the Sooners beat Alabama-Birmingham 24-17, but the former receiver also made the type of errors he can't repeat two weeks from now at Oregon.

Thompson threw two interceptions after Oklahoma had driven inside UAB's 25-yard line. Those turnovers – coupled with some poor tackling by Oklahoma's vaunted defense - helped the Blazers stay close all day.

17. Wolverines' defense comes alive: New Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English promised that the Wolverines would play harder and faster this season.

So far, so good.

Michigan collected six sacks and 11 tackles for loss in a season-opening 27-7 victory over Vanderbilt. The Commodores' only touchdown came on a trick play – a 30-yard pass by wide receiver Earl Bennett.

"It feels like Coach E., he's more aggressive," sophomore cornerback Charles Stewart told "He's more enthusiastic. We're more excited to play for Coach E. There was nothing wrong with Coach Herm ([former defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann), we were excited for him too, but Coach E. just brings something else to the table emotionally."

18. Dennis Erickson can still coach: Although he never had much success in the NFL, it's hard to argue with Erickson's track record as a college coach. His résumé includes two national titles at Miami and a Pac-10 co-championship at Oregon State.

Erickson's latest move trying to turn around an Idaho program that has lost 47 games in the last five years, represent the toughest challenge of his career.

He took a step in the right direction Saturday.

Erickson began his second tenure at Idaho (he previously coached there from 1982-85) with a closer-than-expected 27-17 loss to Michigan State. The Spartans entered the game as a 29-point favorite, but they didn't clinch the victory until Brett Swensen kicked a 23-yard field goal with 30 seconds remaining.

19. McCoy cements his status: Ohio State doesn't have to worry about guessing the identity of Texas' starting quarterback next weekend.

Colt McCoy solidified his hold on the job by going 12-of-19 for 177 yards with three touchdown passes in the Longhorns' 56-7 shellacking of North Texas. McCoy had earned the right to start the season opener by beating out true freshman Jevan Snead.

Snead didn't look nearly as comfortable in his debut. He went 3-of-7 for 20 yards with an interception.

20. True freshman QBs make their mark: True freshman Matthew Stafford couldn't win Georgia's preseason quarterback competition, but his performance Saturday indicates he may not remain a reserve much longer.

Stafford went 3-of-5 for 40 yards and a touchdown pass in the Bulldogs' 48-12 victory over Western Kentucky. He led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives in relief of starter Joe Tereshinski, who went 7-of-17 for 90 yards.

Stafford's performance dominated the headlines, but Georgia's coaches said Tereshinski will remain the starter next weekend against South Carolina.

"I feel good about the way Joe T played and the way he performed," Georgia quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo told "I feel comfortable with him going into Columbia."

While Stafford still must wait his turn, the time is now for Arkansas true freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain.

Mustain went 4-of-6 for 42 yards and led a touchdown drive in the Razorbacks' loss to Southern California. He has been named the starting quarterback for next weekend's game with Utah State.

21. Mixed results for Wolfe, Thomas: North Texas' Jamario Thomas and Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe entered this season with a track record of success against bigger programs.

Thomas had averaged 6.7 yards per carry against Big 12 teams during his career. Wolfe had rushed for 393 yards in games against Big Ten schools Michigan and Northwestern last year.

Only one of them continued that run of success Saturday.

Wolfe compiled 171 rushing yards and 114 receiving yards in Northern Illinois' 35-12 loss to top-ranked Ohio State, but Thomas mustered just 38 yards on 14 carries as North Texas fell 56-7 to No. 3 Texas.

22. Meyer on the run: The Big 12's top returning quarterback just added another dimension to his game.

Bret Meyer threw for 234 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Iowa State's 45-43 overtime victory over Toledo, but his legs proved as valuable as his arm. The senior quarterback rushed for 70 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries.

Meyer doubled his career total for rushing touchdowns and ran for almost half as many yards in this game as he did all of last year.

23. New QB, same story: Texas Tech quarterbacks Kliff Kingsbury, B.J. Symons, Sonny Cumbie and Cody Hodges have led the nation in passing yardage each of the last four years.

Graham Harrell appears on his way to continuing the tradition.

The redshirt freshman threw for 333 yards and five touchdowns in his college debut as the Red Raiders trounced Southern Methodist 35-3.

Texas Tech didn't seem to miss all-Big 12 receiver Jarrett Hicks, who was ruled academically ineligible for Saturday's game. Robert Johnson picked up the slack with a school-record 15 catches for 139 yards.

24. Lions add new wrinkle: Penn State capitalized on its deep linebacking corps by lining up in a 3-4 defense at the start of its 34-16 victory over Akron.

The 3-4 formation allowed Sean Lee to move into the starting lineup and capitalized on the versatility of Tim Shaw, who started at middle linebacker last year. Shaw alternated between rushing the passer and dropping into pass coverage.

Penn State later created an even newer look with a 2-4-5 alignment that included five defensive backs and two down linemen. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who usually employs a traditional 4-3 scheme, wouldn't speculate on how the Lions might line up at Notre Dame next weekend.

"This was for Akron. We played it for Akron," Bradley told after the game. "We'll come in on Sunday and look at the film and assess where we want to go against Notre Dame."

25. ACC injuries: Wake Forest and Clemson won their season openers, but they suffered a couple of potentially devastating losses in the process.

Clemson linebacker Anthony Waters will miss the rest of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a 54-6 victory over Florida Atlantic. The loss of this preseason All-America candidate comes just as the Tigers prepare for road games with Boston College and Florida State the next two weeks.

Waters, a fifth-year senior, now will likely try to follow the path of former Florida State cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who was drafted in the first round by the San Diego Chargers despite missing the entire 2005 season with a knee injury.

"Anthony is a terrific player," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden told "I am confident we will have players who will respond. But we can't replace his leadership, experience and intensity."

Wake Forest quarterback Benjamin Mauk is out indefinitely and also might not return this season after breaking his right arm and dislocating his right shoulder during the Deacons' 20-10 triumph over Syracuse. Mauk's injury will force redshirt freshman quarterback Riley Skinner to direct the Deacons' offense.

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