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November 1, 2009

Rivals.com experts: What we learned

MORE: Weekend winners and losers

Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.

Here are our observations after Week 9:

Olin Buchanan

Texas Tech can run the football, too. The Red Raiders are known for their passing game and quarterbacks who typically lead the nation in passing. But they reminded everyone - especially the Kansas Jayhawks - that they're capable of running, too. Running back Baron Batch rushed for 123 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-21 victory. Three of those touchdown runs came in the fourth quarter, when Tech rallied from a 21-14 deficit. Texas Tech's offense will remain pass-oriented. Opponents, however, cannot ignore the Raiders' ability to run.

Texas is on its way to the Big 12 championship game - and maybe more. OK, mathematically the Longhorns haven't clinched the Big 12 South, but after a 41-14 victory over Oklahoma State, Texas essentially has a two-game lead in the South race with three conference games to play. The Longhorns also have an advantageous schedule. A Thanksgiving grudge match with Texas A&M appears the main obstacle between Texas and a spot in the BCS national championship game.

Tom Dienhart

Boise State beat Oregon, but Oregon deserves to be ranked ahead of the Broncos. Yes, Boise State remains unbeaten (8-0) after beating Oregon in the first game of the season. But Oregon hasn't lost since and has posted many more impressive victories than Boise State. That's why coach Chip Kelly's Ducks deserve to be ranked ahead of the Broncos in every poll. Schools need to be judged on their entire body of work - not just one weekend. It's the same argument as to why Oklahoma was judged to be better than Texas last season even though the Sooners had lost to the Longhorns during the season. Why is this such a difficult concept for people to wrap their heads around?

Houston's Case Keenum is the best quarterback in the nation. Keenum, a junior, threw for a career-high 559 yards and five touchdowns in a 50-43 victory over Southern Miss. And he again showed a flair for the dramatic by leading the Cougars on a winning touchdown drive in the final 57 seconds. Keenum has passed for a nation-leading 3,293 yards and 25 touchdowns for the Cougars (7-1). He needs more Heisman love.

David Fox

LaMichael James should contend for postseason awards. I hope everyone who rallied around USC's Matt Barkley as an early Heisman contender will do the same for another freshman in the Pac-10 - James. The suspension of LeGarrette Blount hasn't affected Oregon at all. The Ducks seem to produce running backs the way Texas Tech produces quarterbacks. All James has done is rush for 840 yards and seven touchdowns in the past six games. His 183 yards against USC was a career high, and it marked his third consecutive game with at least 150 yards. He should at least be mentioned as a Doak Walker Award candidate along with Ryan Mathews, C.J. Spiller and Mark Ingram, though cracking first-team All-Pac-10 will be difficult enough with Jacquizz Rodgers and Toby Gerhart in the mix.

It's time to take Lane Kiffin seriously. Opposing fans should quit taking shots at Kiffin and recognize that he's a legitimate SEC coach. A week after losing 12-10 at Alabama, Tennessee jumped to a 14-0 lead and never let go in a 31-13 victory over South Carolina. He's here to stay, and he's not going to have the same results he had with the Oakland Raiders. At 4-4 now, the Volunteers could finish the regular season with at least seven wins; UT has games remaining against Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The Vols' defense is one of the best in the country and the offense is making progress. Maligned quarterback Jonathan Crompton has thrown nine touchdown passes and only two interceptions in the past four games, compared to seven TDs and eight picks in the first four. Kiffin's long-term prospects depend on his ability to attract and develop a quarterback, but for now, Kiffin needs to be taken seriously for his on-field accomplishments despite his off-field antics.

Mike Huguenin

Florida looks to have gotten on track offensively. Say what you want about Georgia's bad defense - and it's bad - but top-ranked Florida had been unable to take advantage of bad defenses against Arkansas and Mississippi State. That wasn't the case Saturday, when Florida looked more in sync offensively in rolling past Georgia 41-17 for its 17th win in the past 20 meetings with the Bulldogs. Florida scored on its first two possessions, threw the ball on first down, ran out of the I-formation and threw the ball downfield. There still are issues, but for the first time this season against a legitimate foe, Florida finished a game with more productive possessions than poor possessions. The Gators already have clinched a spot in the SEC title game and now must continue fine-tuning their offense.

You have to feel for Connecticut. The Huskies still are reeling from the death of cornerback Jasper Howard. A victory over Rutgers would've given them a little bit of solace, perhaps, but it wasn't to be. Rutgers' Tim Brown - a friend of Howard's from Miami - scored on an 81-yard TD pass with 22 seconds left to propel the Scarlet Knights to a 28-24 victory over UConn. The Huskies lost by the same score last week against West Virginia, which scored on a long TD run in the final minutes. Of course, a loss does not compare to a player's death. But it's still sad to see a gritty UConn team fall in the final seconds on a day Howard was honored by the school.

Steve Megargee

The September performance of the USC defense was a mirage. We should have known all along that USC would have a tough time replacing Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Co., but the Trojans allowed only 8.6 points per game through their first five games of the season. And that led to speculation that these first-year starters were just as good as the superstars who preceded them. The flaw in that logic is that USC didn't face any explosive offenses in those first five games. Once the opposing offenses got tougher, the weaknesses in USC's defense became more apparent. The Trojans nearly blew a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter at Notre Dame. They survived a 42-36 shootout against Oregon State. And then it all came crashing down Saturday, as USC gave up 391 rushing yards in a 47-20 loss to Oregon. USC has won at least a share of seven straight Pac-10 titles, but the reign of Troy seems about to end. The lack of an overpowering defense will be the cause.

Al Golden is about to become a hot commodity. Remember how much attention Turner Gill received last season after leading Buffalo to an improbable Mid-American Conference title? This season, Temple's Golden is about to become a household name. Temple's 27-24 upset of Navy on Saturday gave the Owls their first six-game winning streak since 1974. The victory also made Temple bowl eligible for the first time since 1990. Temple had gone a combined 3-31 in the three seasons before Golden's arrival, including a 0-11 mark in 2005. Golden, a former Virginia defensive coordinator, took over in 2006 and went 1-11 his first season before guiding the Owls to slow but steady improvement each season. Now the Owls own a 4-0 mark in MAC competition and have a legitimate shot at a league title. When the coaching carousel starts spinning again, expect Golden's name to come up quite often.

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