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October 30, 2011
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
Michigan State cannot handle prosperity. Perhaps the Spartans are victims of their own success or expectations. After three consecutive victories over Big Ten rivals, most notably last week's Hail Mary miracle finish against Wisconsin, the Spartans barely showed up in a 24-3 loss at Nebraska. Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins was just 11-of-27 for a mere 86 yards and the Spartans managed only 187 yards in total offense against a good but not great Nebraska defense that allowed 48 points to Wisconsin. Of course, maybe we shouldn't be surprised by the Spartans' offensive power outage. After all, they managed only 13 against Notre Dame and 10 against Ohio State.
[Photo gallery: Nebraska runs over Michigan State]
Texas A&M still can't close out games. The Aggies appeared to have overcome their tendency to blow double-digit leads with consecutive victories over Texas Tech, Baylor and Iowa State. But A&M, which blew a 17-point lead in a loss to Oklahoma State and an 18-point advantage in a loss to Arkansas, was at it again against Missouri. The Aggies had a 28-14 lead in the second quarter, but they managed only a field goal in the second half as Missouri rallied to prevail 38-31 in overtime. A&M has been outscored 73-15 in the second half of its three losses and conceivably could finish 6-6.
Stanford can handle adversity. Entering Saturday, Stanford's national championship resume was lacking a signature moment against a team able to go toe-to-toe with the Cardinal. The road game against USC finally tested Stanford's resolve as the Cardinal trailed for the first time all season (USC led three times in regulation). Stanford answered each time despite a rare pick-six from Andrew Luck. We finally saw that Stanford could battle in the 56-48 win. There's still work to do. The defense struggled at times, as did the offensive line. But Stanford at least answered the question about how it would react to being punched in the mouth.
[Photo gallery: Stanford tops USC in 3 OT]
Braxton Miller's time is nearing. Ohio State's passing game still is nothing to get excited about. The Buckeyes failed to pass for 100 yards for the second time this season and completed fewer than 10 passes for the fifth time this season. Ohio State is competitive anyway. That's what makes Miller's progress so exciting. When Ohio State fully trusts its quarterback, Miller is going to be a good one. On the winning play against Wisconsin, Miller scrambled and showed the guts and wherewithal to pass to a wide-open Devin Smith in the end zone rather than trying to run for a first down. Miller also rushed for 99 yards and two touchdowns, including one key third-down keeper for a first down. Ohio State now has a prime opportunity to turn Miller loose against Indiana next week.
Penn State is not as good as its record. Penn State is the only team unbeaten in Big Ten play, but for a team that has an 8-1 record, the Nittany Lions can be painful to watch. Saturday's game was a perfect example: The Nittany Lions beat Illinois 10-7, but their TD came in the final 1:30 and the Illini clanged a last-play field-goal attempt off the goal post. The Nittany Lions have a two-game lead in the loss column in the Leaders Division, but they have a tough closing stretch. The defense is excellent. Eventually, though, their anemic offense is going to catch up to them.
[Photo gallery: Saturday's highlights]
Kansas State returns to earth. Kansas State had built its 8-0 record on smoke and mirrors, but the mirror broke and the smoke machine got turned off Saturday in a 58-17 beatdown at the hands of visiting Oklahoma. K-State hung in in the first half, then got blown off the field in the second half. K-State can't hang with the elite teams as long as it has a one-dimensional offense; at some point, you do have to throw the ball effectively to win. The losing isn't over, either, with a trip to Oklahoma State up next. There also are losable games against Texas and Texas A&M. Still, the Wildcats have a legitimate shot at a nine- or 10-win season, which is amazing considering they lost stud RB Daniel Thomas after last season. As if anyone needs more evidence, Bill Snyder once again has proven he is a top-level coach.
The Big Ten race is tough to figure. Raise your hand if you knew Penn State would be the only Big Ten team unbeaten in conference play at this point in the season. Penn State has scored more than 23 points in just three games all season, yet the Nittany Lions are the lone team unscathed in Big Ten competition. Consider that a testament to the muddled nature of the Big Ten race. Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State are tied atop the Legends Division with 3-1 conference records. Penn State's the only Leaders Division team with fewer than two conference losses, but the Nittany Lions' lead isn't as commanding as the standings suggest. Penn State's last three conference games are difficult: Nov. 12 vs. Nebraska, Nov. 19 at Ohio State and Nov. 26 at Wisconsin.
[Photo gallery: Georgia Tech hands Clemson first loss]
Georgia Tech's offense is over its slump. Georgia Tech's inability to move the ball during its two-game losing streak raised speculation that the Yellow Jackets' dominant performance in the first month of the season was a fluke. Apparently, it wasn't. Georgia Tech bounced back in a big way Saturday as QB Tevin Washington rushed for 176 yards and the Yellow Jackets maintained possession for 39 minutes in a 31-17 victory over previously unbeaten Clemson. Georgia Tech can take command of the ACC Coastal race Nov. 10 against Virginia Tech. That Thursday night showdown also gives the Yellow Jackets an opportunity to respond to the criticism that their option attack isn't as effective when an opponent has more than a week to prepare.
Mike Huguenin's Week 9 awards
[Megargee: Week 9 winners and losers]
[Buchanan: Luck, Stanford handle adversity at USC]
[Game tickets: Watch your favorite team in action]
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