Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Here are our observations after Week 8:
The Big 12 North is in chaos. An argument could be made that Louisiana-Lafayette of the Sun Belt Conference could win the division. After all, the Ragin' Cajuns beat Kansas State, which essentially leads the North by two games after knocking off Colorado on Saturday. Iowa State -- which upset Nebraska -- is a game behind the Wildcats, but K-State already has beaten Iowa State. Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado are two games behind K-State. Give credit to coach Bill Snyder, but this says more about how mediocre the North is rather than how improved Kansas State is.
Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor isn't nearly as bad as his detractors were saying last week. Pryor was criticized unmercifully after a 26-18 loss to Purdue last week, but he bounced back to throw for 239 yards and two touchdowns and rush for 104 yards and a touchdown in a 38-7 victory over Minnesota. Just midway through his sophomore year, Pryor is still a work in progress. But he demonstrated that it's too early to say he won't work out.
There isn't a dominant team in college football. It's apparent that unbeatens Alabama, Florida, Texas and Iowa are the top squads -- I'm still not ready to call Cincinnati "elite" -- but none of those looks like a juggernaut. All four schools have some type of flaw, and it comes on the offensive side of the ball. The Tide (red zone), Gators (vertical) and Hawkeyes (overall consistency) have spotty passing games, while the Longhorns lack a strong running game with no consistent ballcarrier. This quartet of teams has looked vulnerable on several occasions against inferior foes, so don't be shocked if all four lose at some time and that we have no unbeaten team in the BCS title game.
TCU is the nation's top non-Big Six team. TCU is better than Boise State and deserves to be ranked ahead of the Broncos. Any debate about the subject is fruitless. Not only is TCU a superior all-around team, but the Horned Frogs have built a more impressive resume than Boise State. TCU's wins over Clemson and Virginia look better, and Saturday's victory at BYU was a masterpiece. The Frogs have another chance to impress by beating a ranked Utah team later this season. Other than that win over Oregon, Boise State has no impressive wins -- and the potential for none the rest of the season. Case closed.
USC's defense is in trouble. This is not the USC defense of a year ago. USC faces Oregon next week in a game that could decide the Pac-10 title, and it couldn't come at a worse time for the Trojans' defense. Allowing Jimmy Clausen to pass for 260 yards and two touchdowns on his home field was somewhat excusable, but what should we read into Sean Canfield's 330-yard, three-touchdown game in the Coliseum? Oregon State rolled up 481 yards in a shootout at USC on Saturday, causing fans in Eugene, Ore., to salivate. Apparently, any team with a competent passing game (unlike Ohio State and California) can give USC trouble this season. Can Oregon be that team? The Ducks can run the ball with LaMichael James. Meanwhile, Jeremiah Masoli appears to have recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him against UCLA. Oregon is going to run the ball, but Masoli should pass well enough to keep USC honest. That could be trouble for the Trojans at Autzen next week.
Miami's 3-1 start wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Don't take that the wrong way. Miami's 3-1 start over ranked teams is a major achievement, especially when there were legitimate fears the Hurricanes could start 0-4 or 1-3. But let's not overrate those first four games. I know Oklahoma and Florida State made statements this week, but those statements were on the road against Kansas and North Carolina, respectively. That should say something right there. Miami itself showed some flaws last week by allowing six sacks against UCF. This week, Miami hit a speed bump by losing at home to unranked Clemson, allowing Tigers redshirt freshman quarterback Kyle Parker to pass for 330 yards and three touchdowns. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris threw three interceptions. Miami still could win out for a wildly successful 10-2 season, but the Hurricanes also showed they could be vulnerable to mid-level ACC teams.
Illinois AD Ron Guenther is making a mistake. He announced at halftime of the Illini's loss to Purdue that coach Ron Zook would be back in 2010. Illinois fell to 1-6 with the loss -- and each has been by a double-digit margin. The Illini's only win is over FCS member Illinois State. Every team left on the Illini's schedule has a winning record. Plus, if you've seen Illinois play, you realize that the Illini aren't that good. Thus, a 1-11 record is a definite possibility. Does Guenther really think Zook is the right guy for the job?
Texas is a win away from the BCS title game. Forget that Texas has five regular-season games left; truthfully, the Longhorns have one -- next week at Oklahoma State. The rest of the schedule: UCF, Baylor, Kansas and Texas A&M. A victory in Stillwater basically wraps up the Big 12 South title. Given that the Big 12 North champ is going to be mediocre, Texas winning the conference title game is a fait accompli. Bottom line: If Texas wins next week, it will be in Pasadena for the national title game.
Cincinnati and Iowa aren't going away. Alabama, Florida and Texas generally are considered the three top contenders for the national championship, but Cincinnati and Iowa also are unbeaten and showed Saturday they're intent on remaining in the title chase all season. Both have proved they know how to withstand adversity. Cincinnati was playing without injured star quarterback Tony Pike on Saturday, but backup Zach Collaros went 15-of-17 for 253 yards in a 41-10 rout of Louisville. Iowa trailed Michigan State 13-9 after allowing a go-ahead touchdown with 1:37 left, but the Hawkeyes won 15-13 when Ricky Stanzi threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Marvin McNutt as time expired. Iowa now has won road games against Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Cincinnati has won at Rutgers, Oregon State and USF. It's about time both teams were mentioned as realistic national title contenders.
Clemson's C.J. Spiller might be the nation's most complete player. Spiller rarely gets mentioned as a Heisman Trophy contender. His team doesn't win enough, and perhaps he doesn't touch the ball enough (and one of those things may have plenty to do with the other). But the ACC's career leader in all-purpose yardage showed Saturday why he ranks among the nation's most explosive performers. Spiller scored on a 90-yard kickoff return and a 56-yard catch on his way to compiling a school-record 310 all-purpose yards to help Clemson upset Miami 40-37 in overtime. Spiller's brilliant performance hurt Miami's chances of winning the ACC Coastal Division and may have established Clemson as the team to beat in the Atlantic Division. Spiller's brilliant career hasn't included an appearance in the ACC championship game. Maybe this is the season he finally gets there.