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Ferringo College Report: Beast Teams Tear Limbs Off Unsuspecting Visitors

By Robert Ferringo of Doc's Sports Journal

Separation Saturday was a whirlwind of big-time college programs clashing in strategically placed points across the nation. There were seven games featuring 14 teams that ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, with a few surprising blowouts intertwined with some pulse-pounding performances.

For me one of the biggest and most unappreciated stories of the weekend involved one conference that has clearly separated itself from it's lackluster preseason projections and vaulted itself among the Big Dogs. That's right: the Beasts are Back.

It was no secret that after the impending defections of Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College in 2003 the Big East was thought to become a weaker sister among the Bowl Championship Series conferences. Spotty nonconference and bowl performances by its members in recent years didn't help their rep after the realignment. There were even whispers that if the Big East didn't pull it together they may even be in danger of losing their place at the Power Six table.

Well, through three weeks the Big East has gone 5-5 straight up in nonconference play, including a remarkable 13-3 against the spread mark. And after three dominating efforts from its top tier this past weekend, the conference has clearly placed itself back in the upper echelon in college football for 2006.

Louisville shook off a slow start - and an injury to their second Heisman Trophy candidate - to overwhelm Miami 31-7. That was the first victory by the Cardinals over a ranked BCS team since 2002 and the first time the Hurricanes had lost as an underdog since 2000. Again, even without last year's top rusher Michael Bush and starting quarterback Brian Brohm (strained ligaments in his throwing hand), the Cardinals executed on offense and used a hysterical defense to obliterate a team that began the season lingering around the Top Ten.

Another jaw-dropping display of speed and skill involving a Beast school took place in Morgantown on Thursday night. West Virginia blitzed visiting Maryland 45-24 on Thursday, racing out to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter before easing off the gas peddle. The Mountaineers are currently No. 4 in the AP poll and received two well-deserved first-place votes.

Finally, a vastly underrated Rutgers team continued its pre-conference slate with another workman-like victory over visiting Ohio. The Scarlet Knights' 24-7 victory wasn't sexy, but it was still efficient. Rutgers has three consecutive wins straight up and against the spread, and have also been a safe Under play since the beginning of the season. They are 24th in the country in rushing, and possess one of the best one-two back combos in the land with Brian Leonard and Ray Rice.

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Conference play began in earnest for many leagues last weekend. And over the next two months we'll be engulfed in the fire of heated backyard rivalries and mocking conference blowouts. But the prowess displayed by the underrated Big East shouldn't be forgotten come bowl season. Then we'll see what happens when the weaker sister grabs a chainsaw and a few bags of salt and goes marching into the spotlight.

Here's a few more nonsensical ravings - in the form of a First-and-Ten - concerning a scintillating Saturday in the World of College Football:

1) I really couldn't say with any certainty who is the Heisman front-runner at the moment. But I do know that two players who may have crippled their chances last weekend were Brady Quinn, who just isn't nearly as good as everyone thought, and Florida's Chris Leak.

The subtraction of Leak may seem curious considering that his Florida team came back to seize a crucial 21-20 victory in Knoxville last weekend. But I could pinpoint one particular play that told me everything I need to know about the senior signal caller.

With the Gators trailing 20-14 with just around eight minutes to play, Leak faced a third-and-five in Tennessee territory. He dropped to pass, but after the pocket collapsed he took off running into the heart of the Vols defense. With four ornery defenders about to pounce, Leak slid a yard short of the first down marker rather than dive forward or keep running and absorb the hit. He came up short, and Urban Meyer had to bring in freshman quarterback Tim Tebow to bull his way to a first down on a critical fourth-and-one.

Heisman Trophy winners get the first down the first time and don't need freshman to bail them out.

2) That Michigan game meant much more to the Wolverines than it did the Irish. Michigan had become a second-rate power, like Miami, and desperately needed something to help them regain a toehold in the recruiting wars. Their 47-21 maiming was a great start.

And as maligned as Lloyd Carr has been in the Great Lakes Region, he is now 4-1 against teams ranked No. 2 in the country and 16-6 against teams in the Top Ten. It will be interesting to see how they play following this high watermark. They had trouble covering big lines early in the season, and are just a 14.5-point favorite against a young Wisconsin crew this coming week.

3) As for the Irish, they simply confirmed our suspicions coming out of the Georgia Tech game. They simply aren't as good as people thought, and clearly don't belong in the same sentence as a USC, Auburn or West Virginia.

4) The folks who had the worst weekend of the year - in both the college and the pro game - were the officials. Dozens of questionable and blatantly bizarre calls dotted the landscape over the past five days.

The most curious execution of officiating definitely took place during the LSU-Auburn clash on Saturday. The crown jewel of craziness was a reversal of a pass interference call that would have given the Tigers a first-and-goal from inside the Auburn 5-yard line. That was a new one. But there were at least four other questionable calls that permeated that game. I'm just happy that I was on the right side of them.

Regardless, that was still a hard-hitting feud. Just eight points have separated these two powerhouses over the past three seasons and the home team has won seven in a row.

5) I think we learned everything we needed to know about Oklahoma from the way Bob Stoops managed the last 31 seconds of the game in Oregon.

After a great kickoff return put the Sooners at the Oregon 25 with just 31 ticks left, Stoops could have run at least two pass plays to get his kicker a bit closer for a game-winning attempt. Instead, he let 10 seconds run off before handing it off to Adrian Peterson on a dive play. Huh?

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After a gain of nothing, OU had to spike the ball to stop the clock and then try a 44-yarder. The kick was blocked and the Sooners left with their hats in their hands.

6) Then you have Ohio State. Maybe this is their year. How about some South American sophomore backup kicker banging out a 52-yarder with about a minute left to cover a 29.5-point spread against hapless Cincinnati.

7) TCU may be the fly in the college bowl ointment this year and could end up as a non-BCS conference martyr before the season is up. The Horned Frogs defense held high-flying Texas Tech without a touchdown for the just the second time in seven years. TCU has now won 13 consecutive games - one short of the school record - and if they can get past a trip to Utah on Oct. 5 they have a pretty soft schedule the rest of the way.

8) USC won for the 36th time in 37 games by handling visiting Nebraska, but for some strange reason I'm still not as impressed with them as everyone else is. Now don't get me wrong, they're a legitimate national title contender and one of the best five or six teams in the country. However, I just don't get that same sense of invincibility on this club as I did over the past three seasons. I love the defense but I wonder where the big-time playmaker is on offense?

Checking their schedule I'd be surprised if they don't run the table, but I think the value may be sucked out of the Trojans. Interestingly enough, they are No. 3 in the AP poll, No. 2 in the coaches poll, but No. 1 in the BCS standings.

9) The ACC is a wreck and has proven to be the most overrated conference in the nation. But it should possess two interesting divisional races through the rest of the season. Boston College, Clemson and Florida State each have a legit shot at the Atlantic Division, while you could flip a coin between Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Miami in the Coastal Division.

In the Atlantic, I think Clemson has the best team but Florida State has the most favorable schedule. Boston College still has to face Virginia Tech at home and Florida State and Miami on the road. In the Coastal, both Techs have brutal slates left so I'm going with Miami (I know, I know). Besides a trip to Atlanta on Oct. 28 the Hurricanes have a manageable road schedule and get Virginia Tech and Boston College at home.

10) And for the first down, here's your weekly update on nonconference records by BCS schools:

ACC: 4-4 straight-up, 2-5 against the spread (14-10 SU, 4-14 ATS for the season)
Big East: 5-3 SU, 5-3 ATS (15-5 SU, 13-3 ATS)
Big 10: 10-1 SU, 6-3 ATS (28-5 SU, 15-12 ATS)
Big 12: 5-7 SU, 8-4 ATS (25-10 SU, 13-10 ATS)
Pac 10: 7-0 SU, 3-3 ATS (19-7 SU, 9-14 ATS)
SEC: 2-1 SU, 2-1 ATS (15-6 SU, 10-9 ATS)

Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at robert@docsports.com or check out his Insider Page here.

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The only part of the rule change I don't like is starting the clock after a change of possession. That's ridiculous.

- Who looked less impressive than Michigan last weekend? Oh, that's right - Michigan State.

- USC is a machine. They lost 91 percent of their total offense last season and rang up 50 points, on the road, in their opener. Quite impressive.

- Penn State and the University of Georgia have both banned alcohol from parking lot tailgate parties. They want pregame to be a safer environment. I say if people want safe they should stay home. Tailgate parties should be a staging point for hedonism, vulgarity and general debauchery. That's what makes college football so fun. The word "college" is involved. There should be drunkenness, nakedness and all manner of recklessness. What's this world coming to?

- Do you think it's any coincidence that now that the Yankees have extended their lead to nine games A-Rod is suddenly unstoppable? Now with no pressure the guy morphs into Babe Ruth. But when the chips are down, you know he's going to fold faster than the French army.

- I was at a Jocks and Jills in Alpharetta, GA on Saturday and about 40 rowdy Oklahoma fans had reserved a room for a private party. Fortunately, I left before the end of the first quarter of the OU/UAB contest. I have a feeling they would've burnt that place to the ground if Adrian Peterson hadn't put that team on his back in the second half. The Sooners are severely on tilt.

- Chris Spielman and Sean McDonough were calling the Michigan-Vanderbilt contest on Saturday. After about the 28th dropped pass in the game, Spielman told a story about how he teaches the pee wee kids that he coaches to catch the ball with their hands instead of with their body. "I find that if you whip the ball right at their face, they get those two hands up there," he said, getting increasingly angry as he told the tale. He apologized afterwards for his "passion". Priceless.

- Take your hat off to Northwestern. They proved once again that football can be transcendent, and they showed the college football fraternity that their fallen coach taught them well.

- Kenny Irons is legit, and will soon join Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown and Brandon Jacobs as the next successful Auburn-to-NFL running back. Irons looks a bit bigger and stronger this season, and he hasn't lost that burst that helped him gain 1,300 yards last season.

The Tigers dominated a decent Washington State squad 40-14, but may be caught in a bit of a look-ahead game this weekend. Auburn travels to Starkville to face Mississippi State before hosting LSU in a critical SEC clash.

- What happened to the Metro-Atlantic Conference? The daddies of the MAC have been thorns in the side of Goliath over the past few seasons. However, they were a putrid 3-7-1 ATS and looked downright feeble doing it.

- Even if Gary Throne had a hard time telling them apart, Rutgers halfback Ray Rice (black) and fullback Brian Leonard (white) may comprise the best backfield in the nation. Rutgers is legit this year and I'm already calling that they win their bowl game.

- I had heard that LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell beefed up over the summer. But until I saw all 6-feet, 6-inches and 252 pounds of him sliding around the field I didn't realize just how big he'd gotten. He might be the best quarterback in the SEC, and the Tigers will be a BCS dark horse because of him.

- Reggie Ball is the Nick Anderson of college football.

- Give me some of whatever Tiger Woods is eating these days.

Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at robert@docsports.com.

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