There were a lot of disappointing teams in college football Week 3, from Michigan State to USC to Virginia Tech, but to me the most disappointing showing came from Tennessee in Saturday night’s 37-20 home loss to Florida. Not because the Vols played the worst, or suffered the most humiliating defeat. But because of what the loss says about where the program is at. With South Carolina and Georgia looking like strong contenders in the SEC East, Tennessee needed to win a game like this on their homefield to show that third-year coach Derek Dooley had the Vols moving to that same class. Instead, it’s Florida’s second-year man Wil Muschamp who gets the signature win and you have to wonder how much longer Dooley will get to prove he’s the man to return Tennessee to contending status just in the Eastern Division of this conference.
Tennessee wasn’t just beaten on Saturday night, they were pounded up front and in the second half. The Vols led 17-10 at halftime, but they couldn’t stop the Gator ground attack. Mike Gillislee rushed for 115 yards on 18 carries. Trey Burton added 91 more on just three attempts and mobile quarterback Jeff Driskell rushed for 84, while managing an efficient passing game. So it’s not just that Tennessee lost or even that they did so at home. But they lost to another school whose coach faced comparable question marks and lost in a way that tells you it wasn’t a fluke.
SEC East newcomer Missouri also has reason to be concerned. They got a 24-20 win over Arizona State, but we still don’t know how good the Sun Devils really are, and Mizzou certainly didn’t control the line of scrimmage or pace of play in any kind of definitive way. They needed four ASU turnovers to escape with a win on their homefield. The SEC East looks to be settling into a three-horse race between South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, the former two who each won easily against non-descript competition. And Alabama’s 52-zip smashing of Arkansas, combined with struggles from Mississippi State and Auburn against mid-major opponents tell us that the conventional wisdom is right on the money when it says the SEC West is all about the ‘Bama-LSU rematch in Baton Rouge come November.
Let’s go conference-by-conference with some brief thoughts on the results of Week 3…
Pac-12: Stanford didn’t just beat USC, they smacked the Trojans in the mouth. USC got only 26 yards rushing, while the more physical Cardinal went over 200 yards as a team behind Stephan Taylor, the running back who can now start to get his due with Andrew Luck in the NFL. The race is on the Pac-12 North, with Stanford getting this win, Oregon rolling in all its tune-ups and TheSportsNotebook’s favorite dark horse at Cal finally playing like I expected in turning in a good game at Ohio State before losing late.
Big 12: Oklahoma State made a quarterback change, going with J.W. Walsh and they pounded a good Sun Belt team in UL-Lafayette 65-24. Before you laugh at the notion of beating up on the Sun Belt being noteworthy, remember that UL-Monroe—who beat Arkansas and took Auburn is from that league. And Okie State’s Big 12 rival Kansas State couldn’t get a conventional running game against North Texas, a lower-tier Sun Belt team. Collin Klein’s versatility kept K-State in control, but the Mean Green shut down running back John Hubert.
ACC: Florida State was about as impressive you could possibly be in its 52-0 dismantling of Wake Forest. The Seminoles held Tanner Price to 8-of-22 passing for just 82 yards in spite of the fact the Demon Deacons were playing from behind from about the moment of the coin flip. The other side of the division was, to put it mildly, less impressive. Virginia Tech looked soft in a non-conference loss at Pitt, unable to run the ball or stop the run. Miami gave up over 200 yards on the ground to Bethune-Cookman, in a game the underdog hung around for three quarters. The division’s big game proved to be a clunker, as Georgia Tech ran over Virginia 56-20, with over 400 yards of rush offense. Mike London’s Cavaliers have a lot of work to do right the ship, given how fortunate they were to beat Penn State in the prior game.
Big Ten: This conference rolls on—a decisive loss in a marquee game, as Michigan State can’t run the ball on Notre Dame. A couple of narrow escapes, as Iowa futzed around with Northern Iowa before winning 27-16 and Wisconsin’s ultimate survival display when they beat Utah State 16-14 only because of a punt return for a touchdown and the Aggies’ missing a makeable field goal on the final play. An outright loss to a midmajor as Indiana commits twelve penalties and ultimately loses to Ball State 41-39. And a crowning insult game in Minnesota’s 28-23 win over Western Michigan. The insult being that the Broncos should be disappointed that Alex Carder was erratic in his passing, rather than taking a moral victory out of it.
Major Independents: I’m not going real deep into Notre Dame’s win over Michigan State other than to praise them for holding the Spartans to 50 yards on the ground. We’re going to look at the coming Irish schedule and their BCS bowl chances tomorrow, they have a marquee game against Michigan on Saturday that will be previewed and I don’t want to turn TheSportsNotebook into another arm of the Notre Dame Propaganda Machine, my Irish Catholic heritage notwithstanding. BYU has to be incredibly disappointed in their 24-21 loss to Utah. They allowed the Utes to score a defensive touchdown and then coughed up a second chance at a tying field goal when the Utah fans stormed the field too early after the initial kick was blocked. Riley Nelson was just not consistent enough in his passing for BYU to get a win they needed before the schedule gets tougher.
In The Middle Class (Big East & Mountain West)…
My preseason selection of Wyoming to win the Mountain West is officially a disaster and we haven’t played a conference game. The Cowboys dropped to 0-3 with a two-point loss to Cal-Poly on Saturday. While Wyoming was without starting quarterback Brett Smith, that’s not an excuse for this type of showing from a team that went to a bowl game a year ago. Overall this conference is shaping up well for Boise State, who played well defensively against a pretty good Miami (Ohio) passing game in a 39-12 win. Meanwhile, Nevada and San Diego State showed defensive holes in having to win shootouts over Northwestern State and North Dakota respectively.
And the Big East is looking like a good race that we’ll go into more detail in future weeks. For today let’s give a salute to Rutgers for the way they took over the second half last Thursday in South Florida. The Scarlet Knights got 151 yards on the ground from Jawan Jamison and eventually let Bulls’ quarterback B.J. Daniels toss up three picks as nothing worked for Skip Holtz’s offense. Rutgers turned a 6-3 halftime deficit into an impressive 23-13 win.
The Mid-Majors (Conference USA, Sun Belt, MAC, WAC)…
Toledo got a leg up in the MAC race with a conference win over Bowling Green. Keep in mind both teams gave power conference teams good tests (Toledo against Arizona and Bowling Green against Florida), so the Rockets’ win led by versatile quarterback Terrance Owens is perhaps an early hint that the Toledo-Ohio game is one we should circle in this conference race. The Bobcats downed Marshall in a matchup a good MAC team and good Conference USA team. It does have to be considered a red flag though, that Tyler Tettleton was on the erratic side against a defense that usually resembles a sieve.
In the WAC, Louisiana Tech is going to have consider playing some defense quickly. Last year’s league champion has seen their D lit up in wins against Houston and again Saturday against Rice. Since they’re winning and the league is not deep, the Bulldogs have some time to figure it out. But its clear Utah State, fresh off beating Utah and nearly beating Wisconsin, is capable of playing real football and Louisiana Tech will have to be prepared to match up defensively by the time the two rivals meet in November.
One of these weeks we’re going to give the Sun Belt an exclusive look, because this is a league that deserves better than to be melded into summaries of power conference results. Up and down the slate, teams are playing competitively and Western Kentucky upended Kentucky 32-31 in overtime on Saturday, joining UL-Monroe among the ranks of Sun Belt teams who beat an SEC bowl team from last year. Not bad.