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September 5, 2010
Rivals.com: What we learned in Week 1
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has found his quarterback. Sophomore Denard Robinson looked very Pat White-ish in leading the Wolverines to a 30-10 victory over Connecticut. Robinson passed for 188 yards and rushed for 197, a school record for a quarterback, as the Wolverines were in control from the outset against Connecticut, which is considered a contender in the Big East. That victory should ease some of the pressure on Rodriguez and seems to indicate the Wolverines will be significantly improved after failing to reach a bowl game in the past two seasons.
TCU's defense is strong again. The Horned Frogs typically field one of the country's most effective defensive units, and that doesn't appear to changing even without Jerry Hughes, Darryl Washington and Rafael Priest, who now are in the NFL. The Frogs held Oregon State to 270 total yards in a 30-21 victory. Dangerous running back Jacquizz Rodgers was held to 75 yards, and the Frogs posted two sacks. The 21 points were fewer than Oregon State scored in all but one of its regular-season games last season.
We need to tone down the accolades for Jake Locker and Washington. The Huskies' quarterback is projected to be one of the first players, if not the first, taken in the 2011 NFL draft. That's with good reason. He's one of the nation's most talented quarterbacks. With Locker, Washington had expectations of being a factor in the Pac-10 race. But we need to see more from Locker and the Huskies before we go too far, though. BYU shut out Washington in the second half of a 23-17 victory over the Huskies in Provo. Washington had its chances in the second half. After taking a sack on third down at BYU's 25 in the final minute, Locker's last effort on fourth down was an incomplete pass tipped at the line. It was the eighth time in the second half Washington failed to convert on a third or fourth down. Making matters worse, Locker arguably was outplayed by BYU's dueling quarterbacks Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps. If Locker and Washington can't find a way to win on the road -- they haven't done so since 2007 -- the Huskies' bowl chances, never mind Rose Bowl chances, look slim. Riding a 13-game road losing streak, Washington still has to play USC, Arizona, Oregon and California on the road this season.
Just about everything you thought was "a flaw" for Big East teams is "a disaster." Syracuse beat Akron 29-3. Louisville fought hard in a 23-16 home loss to Kentucky. That's about the extent of the good news for the Big East in the first week of the season. Sure, that's great news for Syracuse and Louisville, but the statement for the rest of the conference is that the flaws we knew about going into the season are all-out disasters. Replacing its starting guards and center, Pittsburgh couldn't find running room for Dion Lewis against Utah. Without defensive tackles Mick Williams and Gus Mustakas, Pitt couldn't get a consistent pass rush even with Greg Romeus. The Panthers didn't sack Jordan Wynn at all after leading the nation in that category last season. The final game of the weekend was almost as bad. Fresno State outscored Cincinnati 28-0 after the midpoint of the second quarter. Without star tackle Jeff Linkenbach, Zach Collaros was sacked eight times despite his ability to run the ball. Connecticut didn't put up much of a fight in a 30-10 loss to Michigan and showed little ability to play from behind in the second half. Although the final scores for Rutgers and West Virginia looked good, both teams were slow starters on offense against FCS competition, scoring one first-half touchdown between them. The league appears to be wide open, but it might be an ugly trip to the BCS for the league champ.
Oregon's offense will be just fine without Jeremiah Masoli. While Masoli's Ole Miss team lost to FCS program Jacksonville State on Saturday, his former teammates gained a school-record 720 yards in a 72-0 rout of New Mexico. Although we shouldn't make too much of a performance against a team that went 1-11 last season, Oregon certainly showcased its depth by delivering such overwhelming numbers without Masoli or suspended RB LaMichael James. Kenjon Barner replaced James in the lineup. All he did was score five touchdowns -- all in the first half -- and gain 225 all-purpose yards. Masoli should bounce back and have a fine season for Ole Miss. His former team will have an even better season.
It's time to welcome back Kendall Hunter. Oklahoma State failed to live up to considerable expectations last season mainly because of WR Dez Bryant's suspension and TB Hunter's injuries. Bryant's now a Dallas Cowboy instead of an Oklahoma State Cowboy, but Hunter remains in Stillwater and apparently has regained his 2008 form. Hunter ran for 208 yards in the first half alone Saturday before finishing with 257 yards and four touchdowns in a 65-17 trouncing of Washington State. Hunter ran for 1,555 yards in 2008. He battled an ankle injury last season, missed four games and finished with 382 yards. If Hunter stays healthy, he could triple or quadruple that total this season.
Florida's offensive issues began with the line. Florida's offense was inept Saturday against a Miami (Ohio) team that won once in 2009. The Gators finished with 212 total yards, but they had just 25 -- 25! -- through three quarters. Florida's defensive performance meant the Gators never were in danger of losing, but if the offense is that inept again this season, the Gators will lose. For all the talk from the coaches about their offensive line depth, the line sure played cruddy football against the RedHawks. Preseason All-America C Mike Pouncey was awful with his shotgun snaps; observers counted 15 snaps that were botched -- and Florida ran just 56 plays. Florida had 163 net yards rushing, but despite suffering no sacks, the Gators finished with just 99 rushing yards because of the bad snaps, which came back high, low, to the right, to the left -- almost everywhere, really, except QB John Brantley's hands. Pouncey played guard last season, and perhaps that is his best position. Florida was missing two line starters and a key backup, and Pouncey was the only starter who started in his normal spot. The line should be whole again next Saturday against USF, but can the Gators do something as simple as get the ball snapped?
The USC defense looks iffy again. It's dangerous to draw too many conclusions from one game, but giving up 588 yards to a one-dimensional Hawaii offense makes you wonder about USC's defense. The Trojans were overrun at times last season, and they didn't look good in the opener. Three Hawaii quarterbacks threw for 459 yards and three TDs, with no interceptions. And the Warriors surprisingly were successful on the ground, too, with 129 yards. Maybe Monte Kiffin is having more trouble adjusting to varied college offenses that people thought. For all the hosannas he received for his work with Tennessee's defense last season, the Vols gave up 55.3 more yards and almost six more points per game than they did in 2008. And a case can be made that Pac-10 offenses --- the ones Kiffin will be game-planning against this season -- are more varied than the SEC offenses he saw last season.
LSU won't be a factor in the SEC race. By letting a 30-10 halftime deficit melt away and having to fight for its life to beat a depleted North Carolina team, LSU showed that it lacks what it takes to be a legit SEC contender. At best, it may be the third-best team in the West, behind Alabama and Auburn. And it may even be behind Arkansas and Mississippi State. The offense remains pedestrian -- two touchdowns came on one-play drives and another came on a punt return, and there were few sustained drives against a UNC defense missing six starters -- and the secondary was shredded. LSU gave up 412 passing yards and made T.J. Yates look like Y.A. Tittle.
Penn State QB Robert Bolden looks legit. Bolden, a true freshman, was 20-of-29 passing for 238 yards with two touchdowns and a pick in his debut, a 44-14 victory over FBS member Youngstown State. Bolden is the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener in Penn State history and the first to make any start under center since Wally Richardson in 1992. Bolden will get a better test next week, when Penn State goes to Alabama. Still, his debut offered great promise.
Tom Dienhart's Week 1 awards