Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
TENNESSEE CLEARLY MISSES FORMER OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR DAVID CUTCLIFFE. The Volunteers' offense is a disaster and quarterback Jonathan Crompton's confidence must be shattered. Maybe Cutcliffe wouldn't make a big difference, but considering Duke is 3-1 under Cutcliffe, it certainly makes one wonder.
ALL THE TALK ABOUT MIAMI BEING A CONTENDER FOR THE ACC CHAMPIONSHIP WAS WAY PREMATURE. The Hurricanes lost at home to North Carolina, which was playing its first game without injured starting quarterback T.J. Yates. Perhaps the Hurricanes will bounce back and have a strong second half of the season. But so far their most impressive victory remains last week's triumph over Texas A&M, which struggled to edge Army. That's hardly the track of a champion.
NOTRE DAME IS ALIVE AND WELL. A visit from a middling Purdue team was just what the doctor ordered for Notre Dame. Sophomore Jimmy Clausen threw for a career-high 275 yards with three TDs and sophomore TB Armando Allen dashed for a career-best 134 yards in a 38-21 victory over the Boilermakers. Oh, and the Irish defense showed mettle and an ability to make big plays. What's it all mean? Notre Dame, which already has matched its win total from last year, is poised to win its next seven games. That would give Notre Dame a 10-1 record heading into its season finale at USC on Nov. 29. Think that's a zany thought? Well, look at the Fighting Irish's upcoming foes: Stanford, at North Carolina, at Washington, Pittsburgh, at Boston College, Navy (in Baltimore) and Syracuse. BCS bowl, anyone?
THE BIG TEN HAS A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER—PENN STATE.Ohio State was supposed to be the school that carried the conference's flag into BCS contention, but the Buckeyes' annihilation at USC dropped them from elite status. Enter the Nittany Lions, whose impressive 38-24 win over Illinois moved Penn State to 5-0 and into the upper echelon. The Nittany Lions have an explosive offense led by an emerging star at quarterback in Daryll Clark. And the defense is a typically salty Joe Paterno unit. October will make or break Penn State, as the Nittany Lions play three of four on the road: at Purdue, at Wisconsin, Michigan, at Ohio State. If college football has taught us one thing, it's to expect the unexpected. So, feel free to start dreaming big, Penn State. You are good.
ALABAMA STILL HAS WORK TO DO. I'm sure in the heads of some Alabama fans, the Crimson Tide already has won the national championship after winning at Georgia on Saturday. Don't get me wrong: Alabama's win in Athens was as convincing a victory as we'll see all season. If the season ended today, the Crimson Tide should play for the national title. But Alabama is a team that can get too caught up in its own success. The Tide saw a 31-0 lead turn into a two touchdown lead in the fourth quarter. And remember what happened after the Tide beat up on Clemson? Alabama crawled to a 20-6 win over Tulane the next week. This is the same team that lost four in a row last year after dominating Tennessee. Nick Saban understands this. That's why he is paid so handsomely. He'll be the last one in Tuscaloosa to get caught up in the moment. His players just need to feel the same way.
CONNECTICUT IS NOT GOING AWAY. It's time to stop writing off Connecticut as a Big East contender. The Huskies were the conference co-champion last year but were picked to finish sixth in the league. The assumption, I guess, was Connecticut's luck will eventually run out. Well, it hasn't yet. UConn is 7-1 in one-score games in the past two seasons and 3-0 this season after LB Lawrence Wilson (a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., by the way) returned a touchdown for an interception to beat Louisville 26-21 Friday. The Huskies aren't one of the most talented teams in the country, but they always will be one of the best-coached. They are using a backup quarterback now that Tyler Lorenzen has a broken foot, but with TB Donald Brown in the backfield, all Zach Frazer needs to do is play sound football. That seems like a given under coach Randy Edsall.
FLORIDA'S OFFENSIVE LINE HAS ISSUES. For all the preseason talk about Florida's myriad offensive weapons, the Gators haven't had a breakout offensive game yet. The line is the problem. Center Maurkice Pouncey was a starting guard last season, guard Jim Tartt has played just six quarters because of a shoulder injury and left tackle Phil Trautwein missed last season and doesn't look that sharp yet. Perhaps this week's game against a woeful Arkansas defense will help.
NEBRASKA STILL HAS A LOT TO PROVE. The Huskers' 3-0 start could go bad quickly. They lost Saturday at home to Virginia Tech – allowing 35 points in the process – and get Missouri (at home) and Texas Tech (on the road) in the next two weeks. If Nebraska had problems with the Hokies' pedestrian offense, what happens when it goes against Mizzou and the Red Raiders? Also looming are games against Oklahoma and Kansas. The Huskers better take care of business against Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State – two of those on the road – if they want to go bowling in Bo Pelini's first season.
MICHIGAN STILL MATTERS. Michigan probably won't win the Big Ten, but the Wolverines' 27-25 victory over Wisconsin shows this won't be a throwaway season similar to Rich Rodriguez's first season at West Virginia. The Mountaineers went 3-8 before eventually developing into one of the nation's top programs. Michigan also might need a year to adjust to the spread option attack – particularly with such a young offense – but the Wolverines' rally from a 19-0 deficit Saturday represented a major step forward. Michigan's season won't end in Pasadena or Miami, but the Wolverines won't have to stay home for the holidays.
THE ACC DOESN'T HAVE ANY GREAT – OR VERY GOOD – TEAMS. The ACC isn't quite as bad as we thought after the first two weeks of the season. Maryland's victory over California, Florida State's rout of Colorado and N.C. State's triumph over East Carolina proved that much. The ACC has plenty of decent teams. The problem is the league still doesn't have any really, really good teams. The ACC has plenty of up-and-coming programs, but it's tough to imagine any of these teams winning a BCS game this season. That's bad news for a conference that hasn't won a BCS contest since Florida State's 1999 national championship season.