Originally Published: September 23, 2010

On To The Main Course

By Rece Davis

If the season is one big game, we've come to the end of the first quarter. Most teams have already played -- or will play this weekend -- one-fourth of their schedule.

There are a few teams that have fallen a couple of figurative touchdowns behind and others who have jumped to a bigger lead than expected. Starting Saturday, we'll see how these teams follow up their opening acts, for better or worse.

I can't imagine a worse start for a two-time reigning conference champ than the one Big East king Cincinnati has endured. It might get worse before it gets better. Way worse. Oklahoma comes calling Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium. The Sooners have been a bit mercurial, but I was impressed with the way they finished the game against a better-than-you-think Air Force squad.

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Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesLaMichael James leads Oregon's video-game offense.

The Bearcats have only a win over FCS weakling Indiana State. David Hasselhoff had more time on "Dancing with the Stars" than Zach Collaros has had in the pocket. It's not all on the offensive line when you have a bunch of sacks, but when opposing rushers ask "paper or plastic?" or when there's a bumper sticker that reads "Honk if you sacked Zach," it's not good. So I made those last two things up, but Cincinnati has allowed 15 sacks in three games. Jeremy Beal, Frank Alexander & Co. must be ready to tee off.

The Bearcats are better than they've played, but they're also battered physically and emotionally right now. Might the Sooners be casting a wandering eye toward Texas? That's probably Cincinnati's best and only hope. They'll have to regroup when conference play arrives.

So if the Big East is going to make us forget its first quarter-of-the-season woes, Baton Rouge might be the place to do it.

West Virginia's Geno Smith has been poised, calm and smooth. Sure, the Mountaineers are supposed to beat Marshall, but have there been two cooler drives this season than the ones led by the Mountaineers signal-caller in the fourth quarter to avoid disaster?

LSU hasn't seen many drives like that from its offense. While Tiger Stadium at night can be intimidating, LSU has dropped its past three home games against ranked opponents. Of course, those were against SEC teams.

If the Tigers offense sputters, Smith has enough explosive playmakers with Noel Devine, Tavon Austin and Jock Sanders to strike the landmark blow of the season for the Big East.

Plus, how much fun will it be to see Coach Stew against the Mad Hatter, Les Miles? Great intensity on the sidelines. We have fun with the way Les wears his hat. I was quite surprised to discover while watching some old tape that his inspiration might have been none other than Dr. Lou. Look up some Notre Dame games from the late 80's. You'll see Lou with that high super-structured hat perched atop his noggin. Just like Les.

One of the most mind-boggling stats from the first quarter of the season has to come to an end Saturday night. At least I think it does. Oregon has scored more points than minutes played: 189 points in 180 minutes.

The Ducks face an Arizona State team that was an eyelash (and extraordinary hustle by Shelton Johnson on the Badgers kickoff team) from beating Wisconsin in Camp Randall. They have a speedy, ill-tempered linebacking corps led by the maturing Vontaze Burfict. Burfict will have to be perfect or close to it to slow down the Ducks' offensive juggernaut.

ASU coach Dennis Erickson says he's never even seen an offense like this on PlayStation. Better watch out for the R-1 button when LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner have it. Wait, Erickson plays PlayStation?

The Sun Devils led the Pac-10 in rush defense last season. They're good again this year. The addition this season: Erickson also has a top-20 offense. Most of the yardage is being piled up on the arm of Steven Threet.

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Jeremy Brevard/Icon SMIMarcus Lattimore has given Steve Spurrier his best running option at South Carolina.

This is a tricky road test for the Ducks. Arizona State was expected to finish in the bottom half of the Pac-10. Who knows, it still might. But first-quarter signs show the Sun Devils are better than advertised.

Like Oregon, Arizona has to show some staying power. A wounded Cal team comes in after Nevada's pistol put a "Kaep"ernick in the Bears' backside. While the challenge for Cal to bounce back is immense, I think it might be a bigger measuring stick for Arizona. How do the Wildcats handle success? The players are saying the right things. All echo the sentiment that if they lose to Cal, the Iowa win means nothing.

Notre Dame has been close, but Stanford's visit is really the Irish's last chance to be significant nationally this season. The schedule offers precious few marquee moments the rest of the way. Given USC's issues, even that game has taken a hit.

Notre Dame will be hard-pressed to slow down the face-punching machine that is the Cardinal offense. Even without Toby Gerhart, Stanford is nearly perfectly balanced between the run and the pass. The luck of the Irish is trumped by the Luck of the Cardinal. Andrew Luck has 10 TD passes, no interceptions and, despite ranking third in the nation in pass efficiency, you get the sense that his best day throwing the football is still out there.

Frankly, the Cardinal haven't needed any heroics or luck (lowercase) yet. Perhaps of as much concern to the Irish, Luck has been over 60 yards rushing in each of the past two games and ripped off a 52-yard TD run against Wake Forest. Luck is no Denard Robinson running. He ties his shoelaces. Notre Dame will have to strap 'em up tight against the run and the pass.

The Irish have a top-10 passing offense. Stanford is first in the country in pass defense and third pass efficiency defense. Remember, those are merely the first quarter-of-the-season numbers. Sacramento State, UCLA and Wake Forest don't have guys like Dayne Crist, Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph pitching and catching it. This will be a real test for Stanford. There will be points aplenty beneath the Golden Dome, I suspect. Brian Kelly has a shot at a marquee win as long as he has good luck and doesn't suffer from great Luck.

Weekend Watch

By Mark Schlabach

We're only a quarter of the way through the 2010 college football season, but there are already plenty of surprising developments:

1. Steve Spurrier might have a team capable of challenging Florida in the SEC East. The No. 12 Gamecocks finally have a balanced offense, with freshman RB Marcus Lattimore running for nearly 300 yards combined in victories over Georgia and FCS foe Furman. As long as Spurrier stays patient with his play-calling, Lattimore is capable of controlling the clock and moving the chains.

But if South Carolina falls behind early in Saturday's key SEC game at No. 17 Auburn, Spurrier might get anxious and rely more on inconsistent quarterback Stephen Garcia. In last week's win over Furman, Garcia threw an interception the Paladins returned for a touchdown. Garcia has to avoid those kinds of mistakes if the Gamecocks are going to unseat the Gators in the SEC East.

2. Boston College, Clemson and Florida State were expected to battle for the ACC's Atlantic Division title, but NC State has looked like the division's best team so far. After limping through the 2009 season -- which was derailed by injuries, penalties and turnovers -- the Wolfpack are 3-0 heading into Saturday's ACC showdown at Georgia Tech.

Quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw 11 interceptions and was sacked 30 times last season, hasn't thrown a pick in his first 101 pass attempts this season. Wilson is completing 56.4 percent of his passes for 744 yards with eight touchdowns.

Last season, the Wolfpack ranked 114th nationally in turnover margin, losing 12 fumbles and throwing 13 picks. This season, NC State has lost only two fumbles in three games. That's the recipe Georgia Tech used to win the ACC championship in 2009.

3. Kentucky is 3-0 after playing a soft schedule to start the season, but the Wildcats are going to be a dangerous opponent for the SEC's best teams. With running back Derrick Locke and receiver Randall Cobb, the Wildcats have one of the league's most balanced offenses.

The biggest surprise has been the improvement of quarterback Mike Hartline, who is completing 72 percent of his passes for 680 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Kentucky hasn't turned the ball over yet this season, and if the Wildcats continue to take care of the football, they might actually be a factor in the SEC East race. The Wildcats will beat somebody they're not supposed to beat, maybe even No. 9 Florida, which puts its 23-game winning streak over the Cats on the line in Saturday's game in the Swamp.

4. Stanford was supposed to take a couple of steps back after losing Heisman Trophy finalist Toby Gerhart, but the Cardinal has looked even better in their first three games this season. Quarterback Andrew Luck is completing 64.3 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns with no interceptions.

Coach Jim Harbaugh has instilled a toughness in the Cardinal and they're one of the most disciplined teams in the country. We'll find out if Stanford is a true Pac-10 contender over the next three weeks, as it plays at Notre Dame on Saturday, followed by an Oct. 2 road trip to No. 5 Oregon and an Oct. 9 home game against No. 20 Southern California.

5. Who knew the Big 12 championship wouldn't be decided by a three-team race? Everybody knew Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas would be at the top of the league standings again, but Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M are going to be tough outs.

Kansas State's Daniel Thomas leads all running backs in rushing with 184 yards per game. Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden ranks sixth in pass efficiency, completing 73.3 percent of his passes for 975 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. And Texas A&M's defense has flourished under new coordinator Tim DeRuyter, ranking tied for 10th in total defense (255.7 yards per game) and 16th in scoring defense (14.3 points per game).


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