Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Alabama is dominant on defense. Alabama's defense is as good as and maybe better than its 2009 national championship unit. That looked obvious the way the Crimson Tide shut down high-scoring Arkansas in a 38-14 win. Alabama has allowed just 25 points this season and held Arkansas to 17 rushing yards. The '09 Tide was good in the secondary; this season's secondary is outstanding.
Arizona State is in good shape. Arizona State appears to be the strongest team in the Pac-12 South Division. Doubts arose about the Sun Devils after last week's 17-14 loss to Illinois, but they answered those questions with an impressive victory over USC. The defense had a sound performance and the offense played well behind QB Brock Osweiler. That game showed that if Arizona State doesn't beat itself with turnovers and mistakes, as it did at Illinois, it will be tough to beat.
Welcome to the Heisman race, Brandon Weeden. Weeden set a school record for completions (49) and passing yards (438) in Oklahoma State's scintillating 30-29 victory at Texas A&M. Weeden, a former minor-league baseball player who turns 28 in October, rallied Oklahoma State from a 20-3 halftime deficit to one of the biggest victories in recent school history. The victory stamps the Pokes as the biggest threat to Oklahoma in the Big 12. In case you were wondering, Oklahoma plays at Oklahoma State on Dec. 3 in the regular-season finale.
Temple could win the Big East. A week after almost topping Penn State (14-10 loss), the Owls proved their merit in a dominating 38-7 rout at Maryland. Last week, West Virginia barely held off the Terps; Temple's victory never was in doubt. It was Temple's first victory over an ACC team and its first road triumph over a foe from a major conference since a 20-17 victory at Rutgers in 2002. The Owls can thank junior RB Bernard Pierce, who established a school single-game mark with five rushing touchdowns while running 32 times for 149 yards. West Virginia, Pittsburgh, USF, Cincinnati, Louisville, Rutgers, Connecticut, Syracuse ... none are better than the Owls. Maybe the Big East should re-invite Temple, which was booted by the league after the 2004 season.
LSU's special teams are at least as good as the Tigers' defense. LSU allowed 533 yards, the allowed by the Tigers since the 2005 opener. Its offense put up only 366 yards, yet LSU still hammered host West Virginia by four touchdowns. Part of that is because of four West Virginia turnovers, but LSU's special teams certainly did their part. Morris Claiborne's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the backbreaker for West Virginia. Meanwhile, WVU had awful field position the entire game thanks to special teams. LSU's Brad Wing punted six times and each time pinned West Virginia inside the 20. On a day when the defense gave up chunks of yards, LSU's special teams won the game.
The WAC is heartbreak central. The WAC has found a post-Boise State identity, and it's not a good one. WAC teams can't finish. On Saturday, Louisiana Tech took Mississippi State to overtime but fell 26-20. That's the second close call in two weeks for Louisiana Tech, which blew a 28-point lead to Houston last week. Nevada led Texas Tech by 10 in the fourth quarter before losing on a touchdown pass from Seth Doege on fourth-and-3 with 44 seconds left. And Utah State, the same team that watched a late lead evaporate against Auburn, lost Saturday to Colorado State in double-overtime at home after blowing a fourth-quarter lead.
Georgia Tech's offense makes them a threat in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets' defense is nothing special, but, man, that offense is back in business. Tech's triple option wasn't all that good last season, and the main reason was that the Jackets couldn't pass. To make the offense truly potent, there has to be one receiver that scares opposing defensive backs. Steven Hill is that guy this season. And with a plethora of talented running backs, headed by Orwin Smith, coach Paul Johnson's unit is running at full speed. They ran all over a talented North Carolina defense Saturday, but the game was in doubt until late because UNC moved the ball quite effectively on Tech's defense. The offense's explosiveness and the defense's mediocrity ensures that Tech games will be fun to watch, but no opposing defensive coordinator is going to enjoy the game.
The Big Ten lacks depth: Next week's Nebraska-Wisconsin game obviously is huge, as it will determine the one Big Ten team that will be in the national title hunt. The other 10 teams? They range from good but flawed to truly awful. Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State and Michigan State definitely have some positives, but each seems likely to lose between two to five games. Northwestern needs QB Dan Persa back -- and at 100 percent. Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue, meanwhile, already can start planning for 2012. Minnesota fell to a FCS team Saturday, two weeks after losing to a rancid New Mexico State team. Indiana lost to North Texas, which means they have lost to a Sun Belt team and a MAC team (Ball State) in the opening month.
Clemson could win the ACC title. No team in the ACC has looked as impressive as Clemson so far. One week after knocking off defending national champion Auburn, Clemson proved it could handle prosperity with a 35-30 victory over preseason ACC favorite Florida State. This win doesn't guarantee anything. Clemson heads to Virginia Tech next week and travels to Georgia Tech on Oct. 29, while Florida State faces neither of those Coastal Division powers. That scheduling quirk could allow Florida State to overtake Clemson for the Atlantic Division title if the Tigers aren't careful. But if Clemson continues to play the way it has the past two weeks, the Tigers just might win their first ACC championship since 1991.
Maybe we shouldn't have ignored Kansas State's defense. Kansas State had allowed the fewest points per game and yards per game of any FBS program through the first three weeks of the season, but those rankings didn't earn the Wildcats much respect. After all, K-State's dominant defensive performances had come against Eastern Kentucky and Kent State. How would they fare against a major-conference opponent? Kansas State proved it was up to the task Saturday in a 28-24 upset at Miami. After the Hurricanes had first-and-goal from the 2 in the closing minute, the Wildcats made a huge goal-line stand to hang on for the win. Is this the best defense in the country? Of course not. But the Wildcats showed Saturday they're still darn good, especially when a game's on the line.
TEAMS Thought you'd kick butt, you did: Florida Thought you'd kick butt, you didn't: Texas A&M
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you did: Arkansas
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you didn't: UCLA Dang, they're good: LSU
Dang, they're bad: N.C. State Did the season start? Colorado Can the season end? Minnesota
Can the season never end? Kansas State
GAMES Play this again: Oklahoma State 30, Texas A&M 29
Never play this again: Wisconsin 59, South Dakota 10
What? Kansas State 28, Miami 24
Huh? Temple 38, Maryland 7
Are you kidding me? North Texas 24, Indiana 21
Oh … my … God: North Dakota State 37, Minnesota 24
Told you so: LSU 47, West Virginia 21
NEXT WEEK Ticket to die for: Nebraska at Wisconsin
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: North Carolina at East Carolina Best non-Big Six matchup: Air Force at Navy
Upset alert: Florida over Alabama in Gainesville
Must win: South Carolina over Auburn in Columbia
Offensive explosion: Arkansas vs. Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas
Defensive struggle: Mississippi State at Georgia Great game no one is talking about: Clemson at Virginia Tech
Intriguing coaching matchup: Washington's Steve Sarkisian vs. Utah's Kyle Whittingham Who's bringing the body bags? Notre Dame at Purdue Why are they playing? Ball State at Oklahoma
Plenty of good seats remaining: Idaho at Virginia They shoot horses, don't they? Bethune-Cookman at Miami