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Friday Morning Quarterback

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A weekly primer.

Even the end of the nation's longest active winning streak Thursday at TCU couldn't overwhelm  the real story of the night: Jimmy Clausen was playing!

The Worldwide Leader updated but showed nary a highlight of BYU's 31-17 road win, which - given the Cougars' preseason projections, whomping of defending C-USA champ Tulsa and near-hit at Boston College - was pretty clearly one of the two or three decisive Mountain West games of the year going in. The young, eyeshielded Clausen, however, had every telegraphed pass and smirking/furtive/pensive sideline glance broadcast to the world on ESPN2, where booth man Tom Lemming gushed over a suspicious cache of current and future blue chippers: besides Jimmy, the six-year-old Oaks Christian squad featured show-stealing running back Marc Tyler, en route to Southern Cal, a wide receiver going to Oregon, a wide receiver/backup quarterback "who's going to be recruited next year" and a 6-1, 215-pound freshman reserve running back who busted off a 46-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and will probably have a dozen scholarship offers for 2011 by the end of today. This just what was gathered from haphazard, Clausen/Tyler-based commentary; the "eyeball test," like looking at Oak Hill Academy in basketball, discerned about 14 future Bowl Subdivision athletes on the field for Oaks Christian and opponent Venice (Go Gondoliers!) on any given play.

But, oh yeah, actual current major college athletes at BYU were establishing their team as the surprise frontrunner of its conference. Like, good going, Mormon dudes. We'll show that score.

Jimmy hopes ESPN's cameras got Jimmy's good side.

The highlight of the night, of course,was Auburn's gut-wrenching win at South Carolina, "gut wrenching" especially for the Gamecocks, who outgained the SEC's myhtical title-grasping favorite, came within fractions of milimeters of completely stonewalling the SEC favorite's Heisman-grasping star at the goalline not once but twice, didn't touch the ball for an entire quarter yet still led in overall time of possession and converted three fourth downs on two final, desperate fourth quarter dives led by an overachieving wide receiver behind a makeshift center - the final of which failed only after a flat drop of the well-thrown, wide open, tying touchdown by a redshirt freshman tight end. As well as Auburn ran and subsequently play-actioned when it had the ball (5.7 yards per snap, scoring drives of 9, 9, 17 and 13 plays in six non-kneel down possessions), South Carolina's keep-away gameplan was fairly masterfully executed precisely because Auburn only had six real chances with the ball - and had to resort to an onside kick to get them. Carolina's six possessions after an initial three-and-out went 10, 15, 8, 9, 15 and 18 plays - Kenny Irons and Brandon Cox can't beat you if they don't have the ball.

Er, um, except when they do. But USC with improvosation-enabled Syvelle Newton able to compensate via scramble for the line troubles and a pair of good wideouts (SMQ hadn't written about Kenny McKinley before last night's breakout, but he had certainly noticed him as the go-to guy even over Sidney Rice in Carolina's previous two SEC games) makes the Cocks, if not an East contender at 1-2 with Florida and Tennessee left, at least a threat again.


SMQ Will Be Watching
A week of respite, a return to absolute dogs in the 11 a.m. slot, which probably means - due to environmental causes - LSU's inevitable beatdown of Mississippi State on the regional dial until the usual head-spinning trifecta in the early afternoon: Alabama at Florida, Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, Purdue at Notre Dame. The latter probably gets short shrift, depending, of ocurse, on competitiveness, because SMQ's familiar enough with Notre Dame and would like to see Virginia Tech justify its poll existence. Family fun pre-empts the early evening, but Iowa-Ohio State will be the primetime feature. Don't think SMQ's not going to give Houston a look while it reps C-USA in Miami if that's even a little close late, or Michigan at Minnesota under the same circumstances (the UM-UM game couldn't be in the morning slot like usual? We have to put up with Wisconsin at Indiana?). ESPN2 ratings will be spiked by people passing out as Georgia widens its relatively late night margin over dreadful Ole Miss.

Finally, We'll Learn About
SMQ didn't get to his planned "Prove It" post Thursday on Virginia Tech, but suffice to say, it won't be necessary after Saturday's minor altercation with Calvin Johnson and alleged offensive teammates. What is the over/under on Sean Glennon's removal in the face of Jon Tenuta's blitzing foolishness?

Most to Gain
Ohio State's got the clout to rebound from all but the most disasterous losses, but Iowa's bid ofr "elite"  status nationally is going to depend on its taking down a team on the Buckeyes' level. Even the Hawkyes' 8-0, co-championship season in 2002 was overshadowed by Ohio State's mythical championship.

Most to Lose
Florida is rolling and has the chance to make short, impressive work of Alabama - not on the level the Tide laid on UF last year, but a rough approximation of a blowout - and really needs to with LSU, Auburn and Georgia still to come.

Inevitable Blowout of the Week
What is Texas doing playing Sam Houston State under any circumstances? The Longhorns are already setting up for Oklahoma.

Lame Game of the Week
Idaho's been outscored by its last two I-A opponents 94-10, which makes the Vandals look like USC compared to their opponent Saturday, Utah State, which hasn't scored a point since the second quarter of its opener at Wyoming - and that was an interception return, so the offense looks at the 1.75 points per game average with envy.

Weird Line(s) of the Week
For entertainment purposes only...
Arizona, outscored 65-6 by behemoths LSU and Southern Cal in its last two legit games, is a one-point favorite over Washington, a winner in its last two outings over more-than-respectable fare in Fresno State and UCLA. Does Seattle mean that much to U-Dub? Or Tucson to the Wildcats?

Bouncing back...
Wisconsin: Indiana's entire defense won't have the effect of Alan Branch and LaMarr Woodley alone on the Badgers' running game.
Penn State: Northwestern's one-trick offense is a no-go by the third quarter against the PSU linebackers.
Miami: Undefeated Houston is not a stiff, but let's not go overboard on the `Cane demise.
Fresno State: Dwayne is yet to be stopped; Kyle Bell out means Colorado State has no equivalent


Game of the Century of the Week

What's at Stake: Ohio State opened on top and has two big wins since, and gets stuff like this written about it, so the perception that the Buckeyes are totally, undisputably number one the way, say, USC was the past couple years can only solidify with another road win, a la the Texas game. But mainly, at this point, it's for Big Ten stuff.
Ohio State Wants: The line on Iowa against decent competition to date has to come from Iowa State, which ran the ball pretty consistently in the first half but wasn't able to balance it in the end with an effective passing game. OSU, as always, will have to keep Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez involved and firmly in the defense's mind, but, like last week, this is going to be largely in service of getting Antonio Pittman and whichever of the Wellses is in favor going. Troy Smith - like Drew Tate - is more than capable of handling the situation without a running game, but this is far from preferable.
Iowa Wants: Northern Illinois, Texas and, to a little bit lesser extent, Penn State, have all run the ball successfully and consistently on the rebuilt OSU front seven, and Iowa is definitely equipped with Albert Young to exploit this. If the Hawkeyes can run, Tate can be a terror in a variety of fashions, the best of which Saturday wouild probably resemble the controlled, tight end-oriented passing game (Scott Chandler and Young are the team's leading receivers) designed to keep Smith and Co. off the field as long as possible.
Variables: There's good Tate and bad Tate, both of whom were present against Iowa State...Gonzalez and Ginn will probably need to have more than four catches for 31 yards.
The Pick: Iowa at home, where the Hawkeyes can potentially run and Tate is so unlikely to go all Anthony Morelli, is tempting, very tempting, but there's the whole Syracuse thing, and the lackluster first half against Iowa State. Yeah, yeah, Drew Tate was hurt, interceptions, etc., but Troy Smith at this point is getting the benefit of the doubt on basically the same stage he shone so brightly three weeks ago.

A couple things we've learned: Florida can throw (ninth in passing offense) and Florida can stop the run (fourth in rushing defense). And the Gators are pretty good at whatever else there is to offer. Alabama, on the other hand, has struggled to get Kenneth Darby or anyone else going in the running game, and has also benefited to date from a nice turnover margin not very likely to continue in the Swamp. John Parker Wilson was fine at Arkansas, when not being restricted from attempting to win in the fourth quarter, but this is a better run defense and, ergo, an unforgiving pass rush that Wilson has not faced. The still young Tide defense also will not have the benfit of facing a true freshman who's still more comfortable running than throwing (not on most plays, anyway).

There's, uh, gonna be a lot of passing yards here. Even if it comes a-stormin' like it did in East Lansing last week: Purdue's passing for 297 and allowing almost 285; Notre Dame's tossing it for 273 and has, despite not terrible numbers (181 per, worst of 220 against Michigan) allowed receivers at various points to run free and clear into the end zone. Winning close at Georgia Tech and Michigan State, though, is a little better than winning close against Miami, Ohio.

Georgia Tech is a better "on paper" team, but everything we know about Chan Gailey's approach ensures that there's virtually no hope for the offense against a unit like Va-Tech's defense. Calvin Johnson has to catch at least eight passes in this game, and sooner - to loosen things up for the running game - rather than later, when it's frantic catch-up time. This is not the trend. Winner comes via defensive (or, if it's the Hokies, possibly special teams) touchdown.

The more, the better, but don't count on it

Devils' defense got its first good look last week, and it was not pretty. Oregon is about as good on offense as Cal.

The Aggies' defense is a thousand times better to date than last season, and there are questions as to the Raiders' potency for the first time in years. Which adds up to a huge passing day from Tech.

At home, the Broncos are a different team, but at improving (relative to the opening loss at UCLA) Utah, it's the Utes' multi-faceted run game by a nose.