Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
VANDERBILT IS A LEGITIMATE CONTENDER IN THE SEC EAST. The Commodores proved they are deserving of being ranked in the top 20 with their 14-13 victory over Auburn. They also proved they will be a factor in the SEC East. Vandy leads the SEC East by a game over Georgia and Florida. The Bulldogs and Gators already have an SEC loss and a game remaining against LSU. If everything falls just right, Vandy could make a December trip to Atlanta. Really.
DUKE IS IMPROVED, BUT NOT ENOUGH TO BE TAKEN TOO SERIOUSLY IN THE ACC. Give the Blue Devils credit for winning three of their first four games and playing Georgia Tech strong for three quarters. Duke trailed just 3-0 late in the third quarter, but the Yellow Jackets dominated play from there to win 27-0. Coach David Cutcliffe's influence has ensured the Blue Devils are no longer a pushover. However, that doesn't figure to be enough for Duke to become bowl-eligible this season.
NEBRASKA IS IN FOR A LONG SEASON. The 52-17 demolition by Missouri was an exclamation point on how far the program has fallen. The offensive line struggles to run block, and the defense is woefully under-talented and lacks basic tackling fundamentals. After opening with three wins over lesser foes, Nebraska has lost two in a row. Don't be shocked if that skid reaches four with games at Texas Tech and at Iowa State next. Even a home game against Baylor on Oct. 25 looks iffy. What's it all mean? Nebraska will be fortunate to win two more games this fall as Bo Pelini continues a rehab project that may take a few seasons.
ILLINOIS IS THE SECOND-BEST TEAM IN THE BIG TEN. An impressive 45-20 victory at Michigan showed that. Illinois' losses have come to Missouri (on a neutral field) and at Penn State; both are elite squads in national championship contention. The Illini should win their next two (Minnesota and Indiana, both in Champaign). Then comes a visit to reeling Wisconsin. This is a motivated Illinois team with growing confidence and a great offense that still could win the Big Ten if Penn State slips up. It's hard to believe anyone doubted that Illinois could back up last year's breakout season with another great season.
WE'VE SEEN THE LAST OF TODD BOECKMAN. Boeckman led Ohio State to the Big Ten title and a national championship game appearance last season as a junior. After beginning this season as the starter, he'll now hold a clipboard for the rest of his career. Freshman Terrelle Pryor answered any lingering questions about his status at quarterback by leading the Buckeyes to a 20-17 win at Wisconsin. Pryor has played every down in the past two games and it paid off when he led Ohio State to a come-from-behind win over the Badgers, scoring the game-winning touchdown from 11 yards out in the final two minutes.
THE BIG EAST IS WIDE OPEN – AND NO ONE CARES. Since losing Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, the Big East rebuilt its image on Thursday nights in November with games between top-10 teams. That won't happen this season. There will be some nice contests, and the league is up for grabs for every team except Syracuse. A league that had West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers undefeated into November 2006 and a Mountaineers team in the national-title hunt into the last week of the season last season will have none of that this season. The league's last two undefeated teams, South Floridaand Connecticut, lost over the weekend. West Virginia lost its top defensive player for the season. Cincinnati is down to its fourth-string quarterback. And league leader Pittsburgh lost to Bowling Green. It will be an interesting race, but fans from outside the league will find something else to do Thursday nights.
THIS WILL BE A BIG WEEK IN THE BIG TEN. The Big Ten easily could come down to the Oct. 25 Penn State at Ohio State game, just as many folks predicted before the start of the season. The Buckeyes passed their first league test of season Saturday, rallying late to win at Wisconsin. The Badgers, meanwhile, are 0-2 in the league and will have to be content playing the spoiler role. Thus, Penn State – which has to go to Madison this week – should be on "spoiler alert." And one league sleeper will lose this week when Northwestern plays host to Michigan State. The Spartans then play host to Ohio State the next week.
CALIFORNIA'S NATE LONGSHORE IS ALIVE AND WELL. After starting at quarterback each of the past two seasons, Longshore lost his job to Kevin Riley this season. When Longshore threw two interceptions as a backup in a season-opening win over Michigan State, it seemed as though we might never hear from him again. But Longshore regained his job last week and threw three touchdown passes in a 24-14 victory over Arizona State that established the Golden Bears as USC's biggest challenger in the Pac-10 race. Although Longshore has a history of throwing interceptions in big games, he was picked off just once Saturday while outplaying Arizona State's Rudy Carpenter.
THERE'S ANOTHER CONTENDER IN THE BIG 12 SOUTH. The Oklahoma-Texas showdown to determine the Big 12 South favorite should garner most of the nation's attention this week. Texas Tech also has earned plenty of publicity as a potential sleeper in that division. But don't count out Oklahoma State, which has won each of its five games by at least 26 points. The Cowboys probably aren't good enough to challenge Texas and Oklahoma for division supremacy just yet, but they're clearly better than the Oklahoma State teams that have gone 7-6 each of the past two seasons. Zac Robinson is one of the nation's most underrated quarterbacks, while wide receiver Dez Bryant is a legitimate All-America candidate. How good are the Cowboys? We should learn in a hurry: Oklahoma State plays at Missouri and Texas before the end of the month.