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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

A Big Ten Blueprint: B.C.S. Themes

The blueprint is out on how to beat Nebraska, and the rest of the Big Ten is taking notes. The Cornhuskers were the conference’s biggest unknown heading into September, which makes sense, seeing that the conference has been seeing each other on an annual basis for a century. Now, after Fresno State went blow-for-blow with Nebraska for the wide majority of 60 minutes, teams like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and others have a simple, foolproof game plan for defeating the undefeated Cornhuskers: run right at ‘em. Then do it again, again and again. Touching on that and other major themes from Saturday’s B.C.S. conference action:

Getting tougher inside It was shocking to see the Bulldogs run so effectively between the tackles; making matters even more surprising was that Fresno State was doing so with diminutive junior back Robbie Rouse, who ran for 169 yards on 36 carries — that’s some significant work — against one of the nation’s best defenses. Or what was due to be one of the nation’s best: there’s still time for Nebraska to right the ship, but doing so will entail getting far more stout along the interior of the defense. Jared Crick is an all-American, but he’s better at breaking into the backfield, not standing tall at the point of attack. Linebacker Lavonte David is an all-American, but like Crick, he’s better in space, not taking on blockers. Bo Pelini and his staff need to address what seems like an issue in short order: not only are Chris Polk and Washington coming into town on Saturday, but Wisconsin looms large on the first day of October.

The Volunteers looked great Tennessee was one of the most impressive teams in the country on Saturday. Offensively, at least. Not to say Cincinnati is loaded with stoppers, but still: U.T. had 28 points at halftime, 45 overall; 531 yards of total offense, 405 passing; converted 10 of 13 third downs; held onto the ball for more than 37 minutes; Tauren Poole rushed for 101 yards on 21 carries; and sophomore Tyler Bray was outstanding. That’s not too strong a word for Bray, who has seemingly taken that significant step forward that accompanies additional starting experience — and he’s done so ahead of schedule, if the Bray we saw on Saturday is the Bray we’ll see throughout the rest of 2011 and beyond. Based on this past weekend, Tennessee is going to factor into the SEC East mix.

Florida State licks its chops Oklahoma awaits on Saturday, and that game is going to decide Florida State’s national title hopes. Win, and they’re not only alive and well but flourishing; F.S.U. would get a number of first-place votes come next Monday. Lose and they’re over, for all intents and purposes. Looking past O.U., the Seminoles have to like what they’ve seen thus far from the rest of the A.C.C., which did not make a great impression on Saturday.

Virginia Tech struggled against E.C.U., though the defense came up big. North Carolina outplayed Rutgers but killed itself with errors in a two-point win. Clemson struggled with Wofford, of all teams; Virginia narrowly escaped Indiana; N.C. State lost to Wake Forest; and Boston College was ripped apart by U.C.F. in a 30-3 loss — and offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers just took a health-related leave of absence.

Not to say that F.S.U. is looking past Oklahoma, as we all know that Jimbo Fisher wouldn’t have anything of the sort. And the Seminoles know what’s at stake on Saturday. But based on what we’ve seen over the first two weeks, the A.C.C. has rolled out the welcome mat. Come and get it.

Well, that was quick Garrett Gilbert was anointed the future of Texas football as a freshman, when he backed up Colt McCoy; he’s now part of the program’s past, should his current third-string status hold until he either graduates or transfers, with the latter a definite option. The Longhorns’ depth chart for this coming Saturday’s date with U.C.L.A. has Case McCoy first, true freshman David Ash second and Gilbert running third, and being third on this depth chart means, in my mind, that Gilbert’s days as the Texas quarterback are over. It’s been a quick, painful and precipitous slide. Gilbert’s performance against B.Y.U. didn’t help matters — as many completions to his own team, two, as interceptions — but it’s pretty clear that the youngsters, McCoy and Ash, were closer to taking the starting job in August than most believed.

Keep Jerry Kill in your thoughts In the waning moments of Minnesota’s loss to New Mexico State, first-year coach Jerry Kill suffered a seizure along the sidelines, falling to the turf and drawing the attention of his own support staff and in-stadium paramedics. He was subdued, put on a cart and driven off the field to chants of “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry” from the home crowd. It was a scary situation, to put it lightly. Kill has suffered from seizures for years, and even experienced a similar episode in 2005, when the coach at Southern Illinois — and it was in a similar situation, during the final minutes of a win over Illinois State. The university issued a report shortly after the game saying that Kill was in “stable condition,” and he should coach from the sidelines this weekend.

An ugly weekend for the Big East West Virginia rolled over the final 30 minutes, scoring 45 unanswered points, but trailed at halftime, 12-10, to lowly Norfolk State. What did Dana Holgorsen say in the locker room? It worked, we know that. Cincinnati barely sniffed Tennessee in a 22-point loss. Pittsburgh squeaked past Maine, 35-29. Rutgers fought hard but lost, 24-22, to North Carolina. Syracuse had its hands full in a 21-14 win over Rhode Island. Connecticut, the reigning conference champs, lost by a field goal to Vanderbilt. South Florida topped Ball State, which was nice, but don’t forget that Louisville lost at home to Florida International on Friday night. It was an ugly weekend for the lowliest B.C.S. conference in the country.

Good, average, bad, worse The good: Arizona State justified some of the hype with an overtime win over Missouri. More good: Oregon took out some frustration against Nevada, scoring 69 points and racking up 603 yards of total offense. Even more good: Washington wasn’t perfect, but the Huskies beat a nice Hawaii team by eight points, scoring 40 points in the process; and Apple Cup rival Washington State moved to 2-0 with a win over U.N.L.V. at home. The average: Stanford won by 30 points against Duke, but it wasn’t a vintage performance; U.S.C.’s 2-0 after topping Utah, though neither team was impressive; and California and Colorado went to overtime, with the Golden Bears coming out on top, in a non-conference conference game.

The bad: U.C.L.A. continues its search for answers after allowing San Jose State to hang around in a 27-17 win. The Spartans aren’t good — the Bruins look only a bit better. The worse: Oregon State has zero confidence after following up a loss to Sacramento State with a goose egg at Wisconsin. And Arizona got the weekend off to a sour start for the Pac-12 by getting steamrolled by Oklahoma State, 37-14, in a nationally-televised game on Thursday night.

Conference power rankings Of the B.C.S. conferences, with average P.S.R. ranking, highest team ranking and number of teams in the top 25 in parentheses:

1. SEC (31.7, 1, 6)
2. Big 12 (34.2, 4, 4)
3. Big Ten (46.9, 7, 5)
4. Pac-12 (49.7, 6, 3)
5. A.C.C. (51.8, 5, 2)
6. Big East (57.0, 17, 2)

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  1. Dave says:

    If the MWC had been able to keep Utah and BYU they’d be at 56.2 right now, edging the Big East. Would have been interesting to see if they would have been able to secure an AQ slot had that come to pass. Oh well.

  2. Joel D says:

    Yeah, you’re right on about NU’s defensive performance. I didn’t see the game (I only caught the last 12 minutes on radio), but I did see part of Wisconsin’s offensive clinic against Oregon St. It looks like it’s going to be tough for Nebraska to beat Wisconsin early in the season. I’m kind of scared of Michigan State as well. It’s encouraging that Nebraska’s offense isn’t committing so many penalties, and that they were able use power running to kill the clock with when they needed to at the end of the game.

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