Justin K. Aller
A look at all the most important developments in a busy weekend in college football, as the wheat begins to separate from the chaff with the stretch run of the season upon us.
- After watching Texas and Baylor play "defense" on Saturday night, it might be time to re-evaluate the Geno Smith phenomenon and the West Virginia offense in general. The bulk of his Heisman hype came from his lights-out performances against the Bears and the Longhorns, but it's no exaggeration to say that any halfway decent D1 QB could look a No. 1 overall pick against those two defenses. Collin Klein, who still has both teams on the schedule, has got to be licking his chops.
- At the same time, now that half of the season is in the books, we have more of a sample size to evaluate the respective strength of teams. The Texas Tech defense that looked like world-beaters against the Mountaineers last week? They gave up 53 points to a decent but not great TCU offense on Saturday, albeit in 3 OT. We'll have a much better feel for Tommy Tuberville's program after next week's game in Manhattan. If the Red Raiders are going to be successful in the new-look Big 12, they might want to start looking at Bill Snyder's program as a model.
- Speaking of TCU, close home losses to Tech and Iowa State may end up haunting them at the end of the season. They're still one win away from bowl eligibility and they won't be favored in any of their last five games -- at Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, vs. Kansas State, at Texas, vs. Oklahoma. On the bright side, the continuing development of Trevone Boykin is a reason for optimism and it may give Gary Patterson a big dilemma in 2013 if (and I suspect when) Casey Pachall returns. Pachall has the size and arm-strength to be a big-time NFL QB, but Boykin gives TCU an added dimension on the ground.
- Baylor, after dropping to 0-3 in the conference, is in a similar boat as their Big 12 counterparts in the Metroplex. A bowl appearance is essential to maintaining the momentum from the RG3 era, which means they're next two games -- at Iowa State, vs. Kansas -- are absolute must-wins. Their season could come down to a Nov. 24 showdown in Cowboys Stadium with Texas Tech, in what could become the biggest game of both team's seasons going forward as Dallas becomes the Atlanta of the new-look Big 12.
- Texas A&M, the school that got away, continues to thrive in the SEC, despite their late loss to LSU on Saturday. Just from an entertainment perspective, the Aggies have had home games against LSU and Florida already, marquee opponents fans in Austin never get a chance to watch. Johnny Football and Kevin Sumlin have received most of the hype so far, but the key to their early success has been the two NFL-bound bookends on the offensive line -- 6'6 310 Luke Joeckel and 6'5 305 Jake Matthews -- Sumlin inherited. Mike Sherman left behind a pretty stacked cupboard: A&M could compete for a national title in 2013 if Sumlin can convince the two to return to College Station for their senior seasons.
- In other SEC news, the hot-seats under two coaches -- Gene Chizik at Auburn, Derek Dooley at Tennessee -- couldn't be any warmer after Saturday. Auburn lost to Vanderbilt, moving their record to 1-6 and getting off to their worst start since 1952. At least Chizik can point to the Cam Newton season; Dooley hasn't done much of anything in his three seasons in Knoxville, as the Volunteers are no closer to competing on the Third Saturday in October. In their last seasons before coming to the SEC, Chizik went 2-10 at Iowa State and Dooley was 4-8 at Louisiana Tech. If you can't succeed in the Big 12 and the WAC, how are you going to do it in the SEC?
- Along with Arkansas, that means three SEC schools looking for a new head coach in the off-season. To me, the key is getting a coach who can recruit in the South and who can develop a unique identity on one side of the field. There's no way you're going to out-vanilla and out-recruit Nick Saban; what Dan Mullen has been able to do with the spread at Mississippi State should be a model. Here's a few names I expect to be in hot circulation: Art Briles at Baylor, Charlie Strong at Louisville and the head coaches at Western Kentucky (Willie Taggart), UL-Monroe (Todd Berry), UL-Lafayette (Mark Hudspeth) and Louisana Tech (Sonny Dykes).
- Around the country, the other big story lines were Oregon and Oregon State continuing to build towards what could be an absolutely epic Civil War game at the end of the season, as both teams remain undefeated. Notre Dame, meanwhile, continued to survive by the skin of their teeth with a 17-14 win over BYU. Right now, that leaves four teams -- the SEC champ, Kansas State, the Oregon champ and Notre Dame -- with roads to a possible undefeated season, but let's cross that bridge before we get to it. Every year people worry about more than 2+ undefeated teams and it's happened only the once (2004).
- The ACC could sneak back into the national title picture as well, as long as Clemson and FSU keep winning. Both schools will have a chance to make a statement with home games against their in-state SEC rivals (Clemson/South Carolina and Florida/FSU) in the last week of the regular season. If either team can make it to 12-1 with a win in the ACC championship game, they'll have a case to sneak into the BCS title game if chaos happens. Knowing both schools track record though, they'll probably drop another ACC conference game at some point before late November.
- Spinning it forward, the three most intriguing games next week are Georgia/Florida in Jacksonville, Alabama/Miss State in Tuscaloosa and OU/Notre Dame (Now there's an interesting non-conference game, DeLoss!) in Norman. Landry Jones has a lot of career records at OU, but this could be his last stand in terms of becoming a legend in Norman. It will be fun to watch Manti Te'o against a Big 12 offense. The Crimson Tide might be caught thinking ahead to their game at LSU on Nov. 3, although, realistically, probably not.
- The Dawgs have slipped under the radar after getting whomped by South Carolina two weeks ago, but they've still got a lot of NFL-talent on their defense as well as Aaron Murray, who just broke the career TD record at Georgia, behind center. If it's ever going to happen for Mark Richt, it might be need to be this year, especially with the way their conference schedule set up. The key is going to be the play of the Dawgs offensive line, who got ravaged by Jadaveon Clowney and Co. and will need to hold up against an aggressive Florida defense (Texas fans die a little inside every time they watch Will Muschamp). If Georgia can pull off the upset, they've got the tie-breaker with Florida and a clean road to the SEC Championship Game.