** A late Sunday night e-mail conversation between two of the crack writers of the SB Nation Dallas editorial staff.
Jonathan Tjarks: The big story of the weekend happened late Saturday night, when No. 2 USC lost to Stanford 21-14. This is where the Trojans lack of scholarships really killed them: their All-American C was out and their offensive line was absolutely destroyed. His backup, a redshirt freshman, wasn't physically capable of handling the Cardinal defensive line. USC allowed 5 sacks after giving up only 8 in all of 2011. Their O-Line was a speed-bump on the way to Matt Barkley; if they can't do a better job going forward, this won't be their only loss in 2012. Bane Kiffin, we hardly knew ye ...
Willie Funk: Really a poor showing for the men of Troy. The loss probably eliminates them from the national championship picture, as a one loss team from a mid major (non-SEC) conference won't leapfrog one from the SEC. What was really shocking about the loss was how overmatched they looked on the line. The skill positions were their strength, but they weren't able to take advantage because of how they were manhandled up front. And Barkley shouldn't escape blame completely. He completed less than half of his passes and threw 2 picks. After that performance in a loss, it seems the kid with golden hair and an average arm is destined to be an also-ran in the Heisman race.
Tjarks: Nice jab. Maybe he becomes the second QB named Matt to regret staying at USC the extra year. The Heisman race is pretty wide open now, with Barkley, Denard Robinson and Montee Ball's candidacies likely dead on arrival. LSU and Bama, meanwhile, probably aren't going to have one offensive player put up enough stats to make a run. Defensive players don't win the Heisman unless they double as return men like Charles Woodson. That leaves a pretty big hole for two QB's in the Big 12 -- Geno Smith at West VA and Landry Jones at OU -- if they can navigate their teams through the conference undefeated. Some other names that come to mind are De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon (the human gif), Aaron Murray at Georgia and EJ Samuel at Florida State.
Funk: After this weekend, I'd put my money on Geno Smith. The Mountaineers haven't really played anyone, but he's completed 88% of his passes. Eighty-eight. In all likelihood those numbers will come back to earth somewhat once he starts playing serious teams. Even so, Smith's second season in Dana Holgorsen's system is shaping up to be a big one. Another Big 12 quarterback who's making a little noise is David Ash. He's not in the Heisman picture, but Ash has put some impressive numbers in the box score so far this season. Coming into the season I didn't think he had it, but Ash has made some serious progress as a passer. As with Smith, the competition hasn't really been there, so he may yet be revealed, but he's given unreasonable UT fans a reason to get over-excited 3 weeks into the season.
Tjarks: I am starting the Ash for Heisman bandwagon, but for the 2013 season. Next year, he'll be a junior with 20+ starts under his belt as experience and a wealth of talent around him on offense. He looked terrible last year but I can't say I'm all that surprised he's doing well in 2012. He's 6'3, he's got a big arm and he was a 4-star recruit. People want to act like being a QB is some type of intangible black-box skill, but you can teach a guy with Ash's skill-set how to play the position, especially if his team has an edge in talent. UT should have an experienced, capable QB in 2013 and 2014. Balance is being restored to the universe.
Funk: I don't agree completely, but in the context of an offense that relies heavily on the run you should be able coach a physically talented guy into managing the team. But I don't know if you can coach them into superstardom. If you could, Chris Rix would be one of the best quarterbacks in the history of college football. So before you get to balancing the universe, let's see him deal with real defenses once the conference season opens up.
Tjarks: Lol at Chris Rix. According to the website of his football camp, he is a "husband, father, coach, sportscaster, educator and motivator." Florida State still hasn't recovered from the Rix era in the early 2000's. Speaking of teams who aren't what they once were (how's that for a transition?), the Big Ten had quite the impressive non-conference season. Wisconsin completely collapses, Michigan is embarrassed by Alabama, Michigan State gets wrecked at home by Notre Dame on national TV, Penn State is Penn State, Nebraska is killed by UCLA. Ohio State, who are still on probation and can't even play in the Big Ten Title Game, is their only team still standing and they barely survived Cal.
Funk: The Big Ten's non-conference schedule was brutal. The one that really surprised me was Michigan State. Coming out of the gate they looked like a darkhorse national title contender, but they were dominated by Notre Dame at home. On the other side, the Irish passed their first test of the season and skyrocketed up the standings and sit right outside the top 10. They probably won't remain there for long with the schedule they've put together, but it looks like Brian Kelly might have finally made the Golden Domers nationally relevant again. And speaking of the Fighting Rixes, they headline an interesting slate of games next week featuring some measuring stick match-ups. The EJ Manuel Tahj Boyd match-up is an eliminator game for their Heisman aspirations and their teams' national title hopes.