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September 13, 2009

Rivals.com experts: What we learned in Week 2

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

Here are our observations after Week 2:

Oklahoma State's defense is a problem. The defense hasn't improved enough for the Cowboys to be considered legitimate national championship contenders. After allowing just 10 points to Georgia in the opener, it appeared the Cowboys had made such dramatic improvement under coordinator Bill Young that they could be a major factor in the national title race. But that didn't take into account all of Georgia's offensive problems, i.e., the Bulldogs' quarterback had the flu and the best offensive lineman was lost to injury during the game. Houston offered a sterner test this week, and the Cowboys failed. Oklahoma State's defense allowed 38 points in a 45-35 loss (Houston also scored via interception) and Houston QB Case Keenum passed for 367 yards and three touchdowns as the Cougars rolled up 511 yards in offense against the Cowboys. That disappointing defensive showing doesn't bode well with explosive offensive teams such as Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma looming on the schedule.

California is a real threat to win the Pac-10. No, not because the Bears trounced Eastern Washington, 59-7. That was expected. But in that rout, QB Kevin Riley, who was terribly inconsistent last season, played well for the second consecutive week and Jahvid Best had another strong rushing performance. Cal has exceeded 50 points in both games it has played. Meanwhile, defending Pac-10 champion USC posted an impressive win over Ohio State, but showed some vulnerability. Cal fans are convinced this is the Golden Bears' year to usurp the Trojans for the Pac-10 title. It looks as if they have a bona-fide shot.

Michigan will be in the hunt in the Big Ten. Michigan's 38-34 win over Notre Dame makes it official: The Wolverines are a legit Big Ten contender. A once-moribund offense has come to life in Rich Rodriguez's second season in Ann Arbor. Thank true freshman QB Tate Forcier. And don't read too much into Michigan yielding 490 yards to the Irish. Notre Dame has one of the top offenses in the nation and will burn many foes this fall. The Wolverines are a confident and focused team that should win its next two games and be 4-0 when it opens Big Ten play at Michigan State.

Tennessee needs a quarterback. Stop me if you've heard this before: Vols QB Jonathan Crompton is victimized by interceptions in another loss. Sure enough, it happened again, as Crompton was intercepted three times in a 19-15 home loss to UCLA. It seems everyone was hyperventilating too much over Tennessee's 63-7 season-opening win over Western Kentucky. Since when was ripping the Hilltoppers a reason to sing "Rocky Top"? The Vols' humbling loss to a rebuilding UCLA program is indicative of the rehab project Lane Kiffin is undertaking. The sledding won't get any easier for the Vols. Six of their next eight games are against conference foes: at Florida, vs. Auburn, vs. Georgia, at Alabama, at South Carolina, at Ole Miss. The only gimmes in that stretch are visits from Ohio and Memphis. Tennessee may be 3-7 when Vandy heads to Knoxville on Nov. 21.

Joe McKnight is heading for a breakout season. Everyone is gushing over USC freshman QB Matt Barkley for his performance against Ohio State, but let's not forget who helped Barkley move down the field on the game-winning drive. McKnight finished the day with 105 yards from scrimmage, and more than half of that came on the decisive possession. He accounted for 54 of the 86 yards on the drive. McKnight's first two touches of the possession set up Barkley's heroics. McKnight ran for 11 yards to help USC escape from second-and-19 from the 5. He added 21 yards on the next play on a catch in the middle of the field. Late in the drive, he ran 8 yards to Ohio State's 6 to help set up the game-winning TD. Barkley got the headlines because he's the quarterback and he's new to the scene, but don't forget McKnight.

The Colonial Athletic Association should be an honorary FBS member this season. The FCS conference that brought us George Mason's run to the Final Four is holding its own with the big boys this season. After two weeks, CAA teams are 4-4 against FBS teams, with wins by New Hampshire (over Ball State), Richmond (over Duke), William & Mary (over Virginia) and Villanova (over Temple). That doesn't include James Madison leading Maryland for most of Saturday's game before falling in overtime 38-35. UMass lost 21-17 to Kansas State last week. The CAA is dominating the FCS in ways the SEC would envy. Richmond won the national title last year and remains No. 1. The Spiders were one of five CAA teams in the top 10 and seven teams in the top 25 in the FCS coaches' poll going into last week. I propose the CAA champion takes one of the ACC's lower-tier bowl bids this season - the EagleBank Bowl, since it's in the league's backyard. Alas, CAA teams' schedules will be filled in December by a playoff.

If Washington State doesn't win this week, it won't win this season. The only winless FBS team last season was Washington; this season, it easily could be Washington State. The Cougars lost 35-20 to Hawaii on Saturday to fall to 0-2. The Warriors took a 35-0 lead in the second quarter before putting it in cruise control. Washington State plays host to SMU this Saturday, and a loss could mean a 0-12 season beckons. After the visit from SMU, Washington State plays - in order - at USC, at Oregon, vs. Arizona State, at California and vs. Notre Dame in San Antonio. By the time that stretch is over, all hope could be lost.

Two of the best teams in the ACC can't throw. If you watched Georgia Tech QB Josh Nesbitt on Thursday or Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor on Saturday, you saw quarterbacks with ample running ability but little passing ability. Through two games, Taylor is 18-of-36, with two TDs and one interception. But his stats are great compared to Nesbitt's - 9-for-25, with one TD and two picks. The Hokies won the ACC last season with a solid running game and a stout defense. That will have to be the recipe for the Hokies again this season; it also will have to be the same plan of action for the Yellow Jackets, who play at Miami on Thursday night.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier finally has his quarterback. South Carolina lost a game but found a quarterback Saturday night. After playing relatively well in a season-opening win over N.C. State, Stephen Garcia showed Saturday in a 41-37 loss to Georgia that he finally was ready to live up to the fanfare that accompanied his arrival at South Carolina. Garcia threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns and also showed off his mobility by rushing for 42 yards on 10 carries. South Carolina made plenty of mistakes. The defense couldn't stop Georgia, the kickoff coverage was terrible and a blocked extra point prevented the Gamecocks from tying the game in the fourth quarter. But this time, the errors weren't coming from the quarterback position. If Garcia plays this well the rest of the season, South Carolina could go 9-3.

Wherever he goes, Gus Malzahn makes a difference. Malzahn helped Arkansas win the SEC West title in his lone season as the Razorbacks' offensive coordinator. He went from there to Tulsa, where he helped the Golden Hurricane lead the nation in total offense in 2007 and place second in that category last season. Now he is back in the SEC resuscitating an Auburn offense that tied for 110th in the nation in scoring last season. How much have things changed? Auburn struggled to beat Mississippi State 3-2 last season. In Saturday's rematch, Ben Tate and true freshman Onterio McCalebb each rushed for more than 100 yards as Auburn trounced the Bulldogs 49-24. Auburn still needs more accuracy from QB Chris Todd, and the Tigers probably aren't quite ready to challenge Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss for Western Division supremacy, but Malzahn at least has made Auburn fun to watch again.

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