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Archive for September, 2006

Cougars vs. Wildcats By the Numbers

You can just imagine the fun local radio DJs in Tucson and Provo might be having right about now, cuing up some vintage Stray Cats tracks or Ted Nugent’s annoying “Cat Scratch Fever.” Anything that might playfully tease the nerve-wrenching excitement building up in both college towns for the season opener between these former Cat vs. Cat rivals, right?

Seriously. Check out the fan message boards for the BYU Cougars and Arizona Wildcats. You can literally feel the pressure cooker of expectations fans have heaped upon Mike Stoops and Bronco Mendenhall and their troops to finally turn the corner and bring more than just respectability back to their once revered programs.

Both coaches will tell you that this game is not the end of the world if it gets chalked up in the loss column. They each respect the other’s rebuilding efforts and the strategies deployed to get the most mileage out of their own talent. The truth is, though, it will be difficult for either Mendenhall or Stoops to conjure up a moral victory out of defeat this weekend. Not when the line is tilted just slightly over six points toward AZ. That’s a spread the Wildcats are counting to defend and the Cougars are poised to bend. They won’t settle for anything less. Neither will their fans.

Arizona is expected to have one of the stingiest defenses in the West this year and BYU sports its most potent offense since the Doman and Staley Show in 2001. Conversely, the Cougar defense is just as suspect as ever (until proven innocent) while the Wildcats’ offense will benefit from having Willie Tuitama at the helm from the get-go this season.

Yep, the oddsmakers’ six-plus on Arizona looks pretty solid, but is there anything we can learn about this game from the numbers in the past? Perhaps. If not, they’re always fun to noodle around, especially before the bullets start flying in this Wild West shootout.

To begin with, the rivalry that used to exist between these schools didn’t really begin until 1962 when they both were members of the old Western Athletic Conference. Prior to that, three games had been played in 1936, 1957 and 1959–all hosted by Arizona–resulting in one win, one loss and one tie for each program.

The next five games were also road trips for Brigham Young, something unheard of by today’s Division I scheduling standards, with Arizona rolling off three consecutive wins (1962-64) followed by BYU’s own three-game win streak from 1965-67. From thereon, the Cougars were actually allowed to be the home team on occasion and the series went 4-6 in favor of the Wildcats, which brings us to the present day where the series now stands at 8-10-1 for the Blue and White, or 10-8-1 for the Blue and Red, however you prefer.

The Cougars’ two greatest all-time coaches both managed .500 win-loss records against Arizona. Tommy Hudspeth was 4-4 and leading the charge when his squads rolled off three straight conquests over the ‘Cats. LaVell Edwards’ boys went 3-3 against AZ, but clearly turned the corner on the rivalry with two utterly explosive and dominating wins in 1974 (37-13) and 1977 (34-14).

After the 1977 spanking, the Wildcats were more than happy to associate their litter box with the former Pac-8 Conference. How could they possibly move their program forward if they were going to be tarred and furred regularly by a lowly WAC school they had once seemed to dominate?

Yes, the Lavell Edwards era was the turning point in this rivalry and, of course, Edwards established how BYU’s Cougars would come to be recognized in post-1970s college football lore. Prior to Edwards’ reign, Arizona held an 18.6 to 16.8 scoring average over BYU. Under the stoic, pass-happy Master, the Cougs held a 21.8 to 20.6 scoring advantage, thanks to a five-point jump in offensive output in six years. For you non-statsmeisters, that’s a huge turnaround by any method of measurement.

So, that’s the table Edwards & Co. set for this week’s renewal of the rivalry. Twenty-nine years have passed since their last clash with Arizona, but the handoff given to Coach Mendenhall is a two-game winning streak and the potential to return to the glory days of the past.

Is there anything to make of the numbers we can cull from last year? Absolutely. Here’s the key numbers that will most likely decide this contest:

Arizona returns its top four receivers from last year — Anthony Johnson, Syndric Steptoe, Mike Thomas and Brad Wood (2005 output: 148 receptions, 1,987 yards and 15 TDs) who should thoroughly dominate BYU’s back four. Folks, it probably won’t be pretty. Remember the Notre Dame game last year? Enough said. Sophomore QB Willie Tuitama has five games under his belt. He’s big, accurate and can scramble for yardage if need be. If he stays healthy, he’s easily a Heisman candidate his next two years in the desert.

The Wildcats’ defensive backfield is led by veterans Antoine Cason, Michael Johnson and Wilrey Fontenot (nine interceptions from this trio in 2005). These ‘Catbacks will be playing lockdown Air Traffic Control on BYU’s passing game. It will be a bloody miracle if the Cougars can go deep vertical on this crew. Don’t bet on it happening.

On Brigham Young’s part, there are three keys to win this game, and trust me, this is not rocket science strategy. It’s all about prevailing in smash-mouth trench warfare. The Cougars have to win this game on both sides of the line and through special teams play. Solid line play on defense will force the Wildcats away from their gameplan and help to mask some of BYU’s DB weaknesses. That’s a lot to ask from a d-line sadly lacking game-time experience.

The Y offensive line has to give Curtis Brown (5.3 yards per carry and 14 TDs in ’05) and bruiser-cruiser Fui Vakapuna some consistent shafts of daylight to roll up the yardage on the ground and wear down Arizona’s front seven. John Beck must play mistake-free and use the short passing game with his tight ends to keep Wildcat linebackers from crowding the box. Special teams have to convert every field goal opportunity and create either turnovers or huge field position shifts with their kicking and coverage game.

What if BYU manages to pull off the upset in Tucson this weekend? Well, as Keith Jackson used to exclaim, “Katie, bar the door!” These Cougars just might have started cat-dancing their way far beyond what most number-crunchers are predicting for them in 2006.

Cougs Shoot Themselves in Wild West Blunder

Last Saturday, about 70 miles northwest of the site of the legendary Gunfight at the OK Corral, another sort of Wild West Shootout was supposed to take place between two old WAC rivals. Instead, the BYU Cougars and Arizona Wildcats dueled to the verge of overtime in the windy desert night, shooting several rounds of blanks and poorly aimed shotgun blasts at each other in a low-scoring, mistake-plagued contest. In the end, Arizona emerged with the win, 16-13.

Several things became very apparent in the BYU Cougars’ road loss to the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday night. We’ll review the pros and cons under the categories of Self-Destruction, Potential and Wildcard.

Self-Destruction

One thing very clear to the objective observer is that Arizona did not win the game, the Cougars lost it. The final score could have easily been more like 27-16 in favor of BYU. Missed blocking assignments, penalties, fumbles, dropped passes and tentative play calling in critical short-yardage situations all contributed to the lackluster offensive performance.

The biggest disappointment was the offensive line. It was responsible for the failed rushing attack and two-thirds of the penalty yards, especially the critical, drive-killing penalties. Pass protection blocking was adequate — enough to get the job done — but two QB sacks on the Cougars’ last drive of the first half ended up with John Beck fumbling the ball away at midfield.

The bright spot in the running game was Fui Vakapuna, who took it upon himself during one stretch in the fourth quarter to open his own holes and carry would-be tacklers along for the ride. He picked up 20 yards on four carries during the drive, but then didn’t touch the ball for five consecutive plays and the drive stalled. BYU ended up having to settle for a game-tying field goal with 5:31 remaining. Why didn’t the Cougars keep feeding Vakapuna the rock on that drive? In fact, why didn’t they use him earlier in the game? He had one rushing attempt in the entire first half, and didn’t touch the ball again until there was 6:33 remaining in the third quarter.

Speaking of the rushing attack, Curtis Brown is best utilized going wide when he has a lineman pulling in front of him. He has a natural instinct for keying off his pulling blocker and cutting upfield at the right moment. He rarely got the chance versus Arizona, repeatedly getting the call to run between the tackles. Brown, a finesse runner, simply does not have a low enough center of gravity like Vakapuna or Manase Tonga to crunch the middle of the line.

Aside from a fumble and taking a couple sacks when he should have dumped the ball out of bounds, John Beck played well enough to win. As expected, his receivers were unable to go vertical, but the biggest disappointment was their virtually nonexistent yards after catch (YAC). Tight end Johnny Harline had five grabs against a game opening fumble and three significant dropped passes, while Daniel Coats surprised his critics by grabbing everything thrown his way, including a very nice touchdown catch in the first quarter. Beck hooked up with Matt Allen on a touchdown pass early in the third quarter, but it was called back for offensive pass interference on a highly questionable flag.

The Cougars had fourth-and-one situations twice inside the blue zone and instead of going for the first down, they settled for the field goal attempt. What kind of message do those decisions send to your offense? “We don’t trust you to bust your tail and get us the first down?” If Bronco hopes to recapture the glory and spirit of BYU football’s past, he might want to consider the aggressive play calling and risk taking that was the hallmark of Cougar football under LaVell Edwards.

Potential

If the defensive performance in Tucson wasn’t a mirage, BYU fans have a lot to be excited for this year and the MWC title is a real possibility. The offense should correct most of its first game miscues and start putting points on the board consistently. Even if the offense fails to match last year’s scoring average, the Cougar defense could win several games on its own this season against Mountain West opponents.

The linebacking corps is as good as advertised, period. The inexperienced defensive line was the biggest surprise, combining with the ‘backers to neutralize the Wildcat rushing game, except for one missed tackle 54-yard breakaway run that resulted in the ‘Cats’ only touchdown. The d-line youngsters are only going to get better as they gain more game speed experience.

The defensive backfield delivered far more than anticipated, holding Willie Tuitama and his top four returning receivers from last year to 19 completions, 170 total yards and a meager 4.9 yards per attempt. Syndric Steptoe caused the most problems with six grabs for 93 yards — 48 of those coming on one catch in the first half. The Wildcat receiving corps is as tough as the Cougars will see this year. If the secondary can continue to improve with each game, the entire defensive unit has the potential to be one of the best BYU has fielded since the 1996 squad.

Wildcard

Season openers are different from any other game other than bowl contests. The excessive preparation time can drive coordinators crazy trying to figure out how to plan for new alignments and personnel using the prior season’s game tapes. Saturday’s upsets like Montana State’s 19-10 victory over Colorado and UAB’s shockingly close loss on the road at Oklahoma (24-17) illustrate this fact. This game would have been quite a bit different had it been played in the middle of the season.

Don’t let anyone tell you the officiating is better in the BCS conferences. Pac-10 officiating directly resulted in a 10-point turnaround in the outcome of the Arizona game. The TBS play-by-play announcers (under contract to the Pac-10 Conference) even disagreed with officiating after replaying several botched calls, including Matt Allen’s alleged push-off penalty that negated his touchdown reception.

However, the bottom line is, you have to take care of business and control the scoreboard so a random bad call or two by the officials will not determine the outcome of the game. Remember how the Cougars got burned on the no-fumble call at the goal line in overtime against TCU last year?

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES: Say what you want about which team had the better tune-up for the most important game of the week between the Buckeyes and the Texas Longhorns, but our money’s on OSU with the Northern Illinois game…NIU’s tiny Garrett Wolfe is the real deal, folks, averaging 9.25 yards per touch — who does he think he is, Vince Young? Okay, it’s OSU’s space but check out Wolfe’s stats against a young, but still top 20 defense (287 total yards, 172 rushing on 26 carries, a whopping 6.6 avg, plus five receptions, 115 yards for a 23.0-yard average and a TD)…Jim Tressel wouldn’t mind having another game or two under his boys’ belts before the quest to Austin, current home of the NCAA National Championship…of course, Texas’ “Road to the Rose Bowl” ran through Columbus last year, so it’s only fitting…Do you think Troy Smith & Co. have a bone to pick with the Steers this year? Smith wishes Vince Young was going to be playing. Yeah, right. One thing is for sure: No. 1 or two will be No. 1 next week. The X-factor? Can the young Buckeye defense corral Colt McCoy and shut down his go-to weapons?

NO. 2 TEXAS LONGHORNS: The Longhorns didn’t need this kind of distraction with a rematch from last year against top-ranked Ohio State looming on Saturday, but there it is…starting right cornerback Tarell Brown was arrested early Monday morning (very early) along with teammate Tyrell Gatewood and former Longhorn Aaron Harris and charged with a weapons violation for having a loaded 9 mm pistol on his lap in the backseat …Harris (the driver), Gatewood and Brown were also charged with misdemeanor pot possession…asked whether Brown might be suspended for the OSU game, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik deferred comment to head coach Mack Brown, but added coyly: “One of the things that’s awesome about being at the University of Texas is you have the opportunity to have great depth”…in other words, junior Brandon Foster (5-foot-9, 180) might be the one trying to cover Ted Ginn, Jr. on Saturday instead of Brown.

NO. 3 USC TROJANS: If there ever were any doubters out there who wondered how USC would respond to losing its entire offensive backfield and two key linemen to the NFL, Saturday night’s 50-14 pasting of Arkansas in Fayetteville ought to be strong enough proof that Pete Carroll knows what he’s doing. Air apparent (pun intended) John David Booty was a cool 24-for-36 for 260 yards and three scores. Running back by committee, aka the trio of Washington/Moody/Gable posted 165 yards rushing in 27 collective carries for a nifty 6.1-yard average and two TDs…and the gravy train just keeps on a rollin’…USC has a quiver full of talented frosh that would be starting this year in other D-1 programs. Many will be redshirted by the end of the season, unless injuries force some into the active depth chart. Such is the case with freshman Antwine Perez, who might very well find himself starting versus Nebraska in two weeks in place of free safety Josh Pinkard who tore his ACL and is out for the season. Perez will battle with another freshman, Garrett Green and senior Dallas Sartz, who is platooning at LB with Brian Cushing.

NO. 4 AUBURN TIGERS: New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp used only two linebackers — mostly Will Herring and Karibi Dede — and five defensive backs in a 40-14 victory over Washington State on Saturday, which put a lot of pressure on a rebuilt defensive line…it responded, setting a tone by sacking highly touted Cougar QB Alex Brink on three of the first four plays…meanwhile, corners David Irons and Jonathan Wilhoit took away star WR Jason Hill as an option, and Brink finished 11-of-24 for 76 yards. On the road this week at Mississippi State…it’s always a pleasure to pay a visit to Starkville when the Bulldogs are rebuilding — conversely, it’s a very dangerous place to play when MSU’s weapons are loaded.

NO. 5 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH: After Georgia Tech’s upset win on the road at Miami last November, Charlie Weis knew this season opener in the Yellow Jackets’ hive was not going to be pretty. Sure enough, the Jackets stung N.D. early and effectively…somehow, Weis came up with an antidote at halftime and the Irish managed to sneak out of Atlanta with the W. Brady Quinn’s quest for Heisman glory was tarnished in the fray (23-of-38, 246 yards, no TDs or INTs, but an anemic 6.5 yards per attempt). He can thank his defense for locking down Calvin Johnson and Reggie Ball in the second half…Major kudos to Tech for holding N.D. to 14 points when the trio of Darius Walker, Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight combined for over 275 total yards. Weis blamed the close call on mental mistakes and aims to have those lapses cleaned up in time for No. 19 Penn State in the home opener this weekend.

NO. 6 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS: Sophomore QB Pat White threw more (10-of-14 for a career-high 160 yards) and ran less than usual in a season-opening 42-10 rout of Marshall, but that wasn’t necessarily part of a new Mountaineer gameplan…according to head coach Rich Rodriguez, White suffered muscle cramps in the second half…last season, freshman WR Maxwell Anderson — then a senior at Morgantown High School — was parking cars in the WVU Stadium on game days…Saturday, he caught his first pass, a five-yard gain…”We’d like to have gotten Steve Slaton more yards,” said WVU’s All-America center, Dan Mozes, afterward…Slaton only got 203. Talk about taking a breather. That’s what it’ll be when Eastern Washington comes to town this week. And West Virginia fans thought Marshall was a cakewalk…

NO. 7 FLORIDA GATORS: All through spring and preseason practice, Florida coach Urban Meyer grumbled about his running backs…”Maybe we’ll have to play without one,” he joked at one point … or maybe he wasn’t kidding — the Gators’ leading rusher in an opening 34-7 victory over Southern Mississippi was freshman wide receiver Percy Harvin, who carried four times on end-arounds and reverses and gained a team-high 58 yards. The Gators will face a determined but outmanned Central Florida squad in the Swamp this week, which should help them iron out the offensive wrinkles before visiting Tennessee the following Saturday.

NO. 8 LSU TIGERS: The crowd noise peaked at two places during LSU’s 45-3 rout of neighborhood rival Louisiana Lafayette — when QB JaMarcus Russell hit freshman wideout Brandon LaFell with a 58-yard bomb in the first quarter, and when RB Alley Broussard — coming off a knee injury that sidelined him in 2005 — gained 19 yards on his first carry…”I was just excited being back,” Broussard told reporters on Monday. “Just reborn, baby! I mean, it was like I drank about 20 Red Bulls”…and Broussard ran like a red bull, gaining 46 yards in eight carries…he remains third on the depth chart at tailback, however, behind Justin Vincent and converted fullback Jacob Hester … meanwhile, freshman phenom Keiland Williams was inserted in the fourth quarter and gained 13 yards on two carries. LSU’s offense faces a much more difficult task this week versus Arizona. The Wildcats’ defense stuffed a much ballyhooed BYU running game and “held” Heisman candidate John Beck to 286 yards and one TD on 28-for-37 passing, although another TD toss was called back by a highly questionable flag.

NO. 9 FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES: Either the Florida State running game isn’t even close to what it was talked up to be, or the University of Miami has one tough defense…although sophomore Seminole QB Drew Weatherford played well, throwing for 175 yards and hitting key third-down passes of 28 and 34 yards in the third quarter drive that ended in the team’s only touchdown in a 13-10 victory Monday night. Bobby Bowden’s vaunted tailback duo of Lorenzo Booker and Antone Smith combined for just two yards on 15 carries…fortunately, placekicker Gary Cismeris slayed the ghost of bad kickers past (Wide Right I, II and III and all that) by drilling a 33-yard field goal to win it. After surviving the Hurricanes Monday night, entertaining Troy State will be a welcome reprieve.

NO. 10 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES: The Wolverines moved up four notches in the AP Poll with a rather unimpressive win at home over Vanderbilt. With Jay Cutler behind center, Vandy could have really made a game of it. Instead, ho-hum…Mike Hart appears to have his wheels back (146 yards, 31 rushes) and Chad Henne continues to produce unimpressive numbers (11-of-23, 136 yards, two TDs, one of which TE Tyler Ecker made a very nice grab). Michigan fans expect far more from the junior QB who is now in his third year of starting for the Maize and Blue. Look for the MAC’s Central Michigan Chippewas to provide better opposition this week if backup QB Dan LeFevour plays. He shredded Boston College’s secondary for 221 yards passing and 72 yards rushing after the Chips’ starting QB was knocked out of the game on the second play.

NO. 11 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS: “This was the South against the Pacific Coast,” proclaimed Tennessee QB Erik Ainge after throwing for 291 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Volunteers over No. 9 Cal in Knoxville…. funny thing, though — both Ainge and starting Tennessee RB Arian Foster are from, well, the West Coast — Ainge from Hillsboro, Ore., and Foster from San Diego…meanwhile, one wonders how Oklahoma let UT WR Robert Meacham escape Tulsa…Meacham had five catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns against a Bear secondary obviously missing injured cornerback Tim Mixon. The Vols’ reward was a huge 12-spot leap in the AP poll and a break on the schedule with the undersized and rebuilding Falcons of the Air Force Academy coming to Old Rocky Top.

NO. 12 GEORGIA BULLDOGS: The Bulldogs rolled over Western Kentucky, 48-12, but at least the writers covering the game had a juicy quarterback controversy to ask head coach Mark Richt about…senior Joe Tereshinski was 7-for-17 for 90 yards and one touchdown, not exactly numbers calculated to make fans between the hedges forget about D.J. Shockley in his short stint; meanwhile, hotshot freshman Matthew Stafford was 3-of-5 for 40 yards and a touchdown. The Dawgs will face one of the toughest tests of any school in Week 2 when they travel to face Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks on Saturday night. Could a mild upset be brewing down there in South Carolina?

NO. 13 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS: Even with star RB Michael Bush sidelined for the season with a broken right leg, don’t toss the Louisville Cardinals onto the scrap heap just yet…the good news that came out of a 59-28 romp over instate rival Kentucky was that QB Brian Brohm showed no ill effects from last year’s knee injury, even when he was hit hard by Kentucky’s Myron Pryor on one play…”I felt comfortable, and I didn’t even think about it,” Brohm said after throwing for 234 yards and a touchdown…he may have to throw even more with Bush out, but George Stripling, Kolby Smith and Anthony Allen appear capable of replacing Bush to some degree by committee. The Cardinals will have a stat-padding romp in Philly this weekend in the battle of birds when they invade the Temple Owls’ territory.

NO. 14 IOWA HAWKEYES: When you look at Iowa’s schedule, you see a nice build-up in the first four games leading to the home clash vs. Big Ten nemesis and current #1 Ohio State. Division 1-AA Montana was a nice little appetizer before hitting the road this week vs. a Syracuse program struggling to rebuild to competitive status in a reasonable time frame (perhaps the next three years). Syracuse will provide a step up in resistance, but not much of a test here, unless Iowa gets too heady. The next pair of games against in-state rival Iowa State and a questionable Illinois team will provide another step up in competition, with Iowa State at home and the Illini on the road. The Hawkeyes should be 4-0 at that point before hosting the Buckeyes. Yes, we’re getting ahead of ourselves and the Iowa schedule—and to be sure, the Hawkeyes can’t afford to look beyond any game…but it’s there, and it’s worth pointing out the set-up taking place in Iowa City for the arrival of Ohio State. Sometimes schedules can be your friend. We think Iowa’s schedule this year can be very friendly to the program if Kirk Ferentz plays his cards right. There isn’t a better way to christen the newly remodeled Kinnick Stadium than by winning the Big Ten title.

NO. 15 OKLAHOMA SOONERS: Expect an awful lot of Adrian Peterson this season for the Oklahoma Sooners, at least until new quarterback Paul Thompson starts feeling more comfortable…Thompson struggled at times in a surprisingly close 24-17 victory over UAB on Saturday, but Peterson churned out 139 yards in 24 carries, Thompson calling his number 11 straight times at one point…”We just kept feeding him the rock,” Thompson said. The Sooners dropped 5 spots in the AP Poll after their lackluster outing and must now prepare for an improved Washington Huskies unit coming to town which should prove a much more difficult match-up than UAB was supposed to be.

NO. 16 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES: The Hokies’ emphasis on “Beamerball” (ferocious special teams play) had drifted a bit in recent years, but a renewed commitment to blocking kicks was rewarded with a stuffed field goal and punt in a 38-0 whitewash of Northeastern on Saturday, the 109th and 110th blocks under Frank Beamer…Sean Glennon also did a workmanlike job replacing the ousted Marcus Vick at QB, finishing 15 of 18 for 222 yards and three touchdowns. Virginia Tech heads south to Chapel Hill for a date with the Tar Heels this week. Don’t expect a North Carolina upset this year.

NO. 17 MIAMI HURRICANES: The theory was, run away from All-Conference DE Baraka Atkins of Miami at all cost…the Florida State Seminoles tried that and found 6-8, 265-pound sophomore Calas Campbell waiting for them… Atkins made three tackles in the Canes’ 13-10 loss to FSU, Campbell had five…at South High School in Denver two years ago, Campbell played both ways in football [Coker’s on the hot seat] led all Colorado high school basketball players in rebounding (16 a game) [Coker’s on the hot seat] and threw the shot and discus and triple-jumped on the track team. Did we mention that Larry Coker is on the hot seat in Miami? He’ll easily survive this week’s game vs. Division 1-AA Florida A&M, but look out for the Louisville road trip on Sept 16. If Miami starts the season 1-2, it could take a miracle to save his job come December.

NO. 18 CLEMSON TIGERS: The Tigers had three of the best linebackers in the ACC prior to the season… then Tremaine Billie broke his ankle, and, in Saturday’s opener against Florida Atlantic, All-America candidate Anthony Waters tore his left ACL and will be lost for the season…Waters’ replacement was redshirt freshman Clavell Conner, best known in high school in Richmond, VA as a running back (1,301 yards, 8.2 per carry)…new Clemson QB Will Proctor had his problems early, colliding with James Davis and fumbling on a routine handoff in his first series, getting two passes batted down at the line of scrimmage in his second …the senior finished with 166 passing yards and three TD passes, however. Tough test on the road this week at Boston College will provide a much better idea of where this Clemson squad is headed this year.

NO. 19 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS: What will Joe Paterno see from the Georgia Tech tapes that he can exploit in South Bend? State had a nice preface to the Fighting Irish air game by facing Akron’s Luke Getsy…The Nittany Lions effectively shut him down (22-42, 160 yards, 2 INTS, 1 TD) but they’ll have to ratchet up their pass rush and receiver coverage a couple notches this week. This could be the last time Paterno ever steps foot on the Notre Dame gridiron as a head coach. Next year’s game is at PSU and there’s no indication of resuming the series on either teams’ future schedules thru 2013.

NO. 20 OREGON DUCKS: Nobody really likes to open the season with a conference game, but the Ducks don’t mind as long as they get a weak Stanford team at home on their schedule from now on…48-10, yawn–Next! This week will be the real test to see where Oregon should really be ranked when they face Fresno State on the road. Are they a fringe Top 25 squad, or should they be set in the mid-teens where Oklahoma is currently positioned? FSU isn’t as strong as they were last year, but never underestimate the Bulldogs when they are protecting their own doghouse. The game is just as important to Fresno State, which is anxious to knock on the BCS door this year with the expanded qualifier parameters. The Ducks hope RB Jonathan Stewart recovers from a sprained ankle in time for the game, but maintain faith that OC Gary Crowton can patchwork any of their talent into a formidable attack on a moment’s notice.

NO. 21 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS: Last season, under pass-oriented Bill Callahan, the Cornhuskers finished 105th national in rushing offense–unheard of for a school that has produced Mike Rozier, Ahman Green and Eric Crouch over the years…Callahan promised a more balanced offense in 2006, however, and the Huskers delivered in their 49-10 domination of Louisiana Tech, rushing for 252 yards…three of Callahan’s four I backs–Cody Glenn, Marlon Lucky and Brandon Jackson–scored touchdowns. Nebraska fans should feel cheated for the home game they get this week vs. Division 1-AA Nicholls State. Then again, with USC and the L.A. Coliseum on the horizon Sept. 16, Husker Nation might be very grateful for the calm before the storm.

NO. 22 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS: As mighty of an ascent Tennessee made up the Top 25 ladder this week with its surprisingly easy 35-18 thumping of Cal (plus 12 spots), the Bears hit the mat even harder, almost falling out of the poll completely (minus 13 spots). With all the talent that Jeff Tedford has at his fingertips in Berkeley, it’s pretty difficult to imagine this team ending near the bottom of the polls at season’s end. But it has happened before, and Cal needs to suck it up and begin to salvage its season this week against a battle-hardened veteran Golden Gopher squad that is licking their little buckies at the idea of catching the Bears in punch-drunk mode. Too bad Minnesota doesn’t have the passing attack to balance out its running game. The Gophers will need it versus Cal unless the Bears’ QB woes continue into Week 2.

NO. 23 TCU HORNED FROGS: We won’t know if TCU is the real deal this year until it faces Texas Tech in two weeks. Playing on the road at Baylor for the season opener, the Horned Frogs displayed flashes of firepower, after shooting blanks the entire first half. QB Jeff Ballard was knocked out and replaced by freshman Marcus Jackson, who filled in with a capable performance (11-of-13, 148 yards, two TDS). Credit former Southwest Conference rival Baylor for keeping the contest in suspense by executing a solid gameplan in the first half. The Bears just didn’t have the horses to keep up with TCU in the final two frames. UC-Davis is next up at home in Fort Worth. Expect UC-D to get thumped mightily.

NO. 24 TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS: Texas Tech has had a number of great quarterbacks over the past few years — or, if you prefer the “it’s the system, not the personnel” theory, some quarterbacks with great numbers, but Graham Harrell trumped all of them with his opening performance in a 35-3 victory over SMU on Saturday…the sophomore from Ennis, Texas, where he broke the state high school record with 67 career touchdown passes, threw for 362 yards and five TDs against the Mustangs…by comparison, Cody Hodges (2005) had four TD passes in his debut; Sonny Cumbie (2004) tossed four, B.J. Symons (2003) connected for three and Kliff Kingsbury (2002) had two…”He reminds me of Tom Brady, he’s so calm,” said Red Raider receiver Robert Johnson of Harrell, who now takes aim at Symons’ NCAA record of 5,833 passing yards in a season. Next up for TT will be a very tough road game at UTEP. Look for Harrell and Jordan Palmer (Carson’s kid bro) to light up the night skies of El Paso this Saturday night.

NO. 25 ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS: Now that Dirk Koetter is one game removed from the Sam Keller debacle, in which the Sun Devils dodged an instate upset at the hands of Division 1-AA Northern Arizona, he says, “we have no one to blame but ourselves.” Will the post-Keller funk continue against Nevada this week? Stay tuned. ASU has the Wolfpack at home and a road game at pitiful Colorado next week to ready itself for one of its biggest conference games of the season in Berkeley versus Cal on Sept. 22. Any hopes Koetter & Crew have of stealing the Pac-10 crown this year will be determined with that opening conference game…until then, the menu calls for Wolf and Buffalo and the Sun Devils’ need to lick their plates clean before the Bear is served.

BYU Fans Irate Over MWC Deal with CSTV

The Mountain West Conference turned down ESPN for a more lucrative broadcast deal with CSTV that has raised the ire of BYU fans from around the country. The CSTV deal also entailed the creation of a new television network known as “The mtn.,” which MWC officials promised would be carried nationally by the beginning of the 2006 college football season. The MWC’s broadcast package of games for BYU have the Cougars scheduled to air over a combination of CSTV, Versus (formerly OLN) and the mtn., in addition to last week’s appearance on TBS versus Arizona and next week’s non-conference contest vs. Boston College on ESPN2.

Unfortunately, the mtn. network has not been able to reach a deal with DISH or DirecTV, or any cable companies outside of Utah, Colorado, Idaho and New Mexico. So, when BYU’s first home game of the year against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane was aired on the mtn network Saturday afternoon, the only Cougar fans on the entire planet that were able to watch a live broadcast of the game were those with cable subscriptions in the four aforementioned states. BYU defeated Tulsa, the defending C-USA champions, 49-24.

Thousands of fans who subscribe to other cable carriers or DISH and DirecTV were left with the only option of listening to the game thru KSL.com’s Internet streamcast of Salt Lake City’s KSL radio game coverage. The fans’ outcry became so intense prior to the game that BYU’s athletic department communications had to post a Q&A on their Web site on Friday urging fans to contact their satellite or cable providers and request them to carry the mtn.

Adding insult to injury, CSTV did not even offer the game over the Internet as a video option on their All Access XXL subscription package, and a replay of the game that was scheduled to air on satellite channel BYU-TV Saturday evening was cancelled just hours before the telecast. A disclaimer note on byutv.org’s programming schedule page stated “Due to a change in broadcast rights, BYU Television will be unable to bring you highlights from the Tulsa versus BYU football game played Sept. 9.”

Two popular BYU fan discussion boards, Cougarboard.com and Cougarfan.com, were buzzing with rage toward CSTV and MWC commissioner Craig Thompson as well as Brigham Young University athletic director, Tom Holmoe. The majority of posts on the two discussion board sites expressed sentiments of feeling cheated, and proclaiming they are being used as pawns in the negotiations between CSTV and cable as well as satellite providers to carry the mtn.

Some Cougarboard members even discussed ways to share the mtn broadcasts via Slingshot and streaming video uploads, prompting the board’s grand guru known as “El Jefe” to post a warning about copyright violations using these technologies. El Jefe’s post banned further discussion of content sharing and indicated that board members who violated the ban would be subject to “lengthy penalty.”

Fan discussions also lamented dramatically lessened exposure on sports news programs that typically used to carry highlights of their games including ESPN Sportscenter.

BYU football games are scheduled to be carried on the mtn four more times this season, but next week Cougar fans can rest easy as their team plays a road game at Boston College that will be carried on ESPN2.

The Mountain West Conference referred calls to CSTV and Comcast regarding their ongoing negotiations with satellite and cable companies to carry the mtn. network. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES – No argument about Numero Uno…for now. The young Buckeye defense played a marvelous game of bend-but-don’t-break against the Longhorns, with linebacker James Laurinaitis leading the way. Laurinaitis forced Billy Pittman’s fumble near the goal line late in the first half which led to a touchdown and then intercepted Colt McCoy’s first pass of the second half which led to a Buckeye field goal. WR Anthony Gonzalez had an All-American first half with seven grabs, 122 yards and a TD. If you saw the game, you know that several of his catches were in heavy traffic and he sustained some big hits after the catch…Ted Ginn, Jr. did his job, scoring once and distracting the Texas defense throughout the game…Troy Smith silenced all doubters and played mistake free. Still, the two names that stand out in the win are Laurinaitis and Gonzalez. Ohio State’s schedule provides a pretty favorable path to the National Title Game…biggest challenges should come on the road at Iowa and Michigan State and the regular season closer at home versus Michigan.

NO. 2 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH – Notre Dame could easily be on a path toward a return showdown with Ohio State in Tempe — this time with the national title at stake. The Irish still have some pretty big hurdles on their schedule with Michigan invading South Bend this week. Penn State proved to be a cakewalk of sorts for the Irish. JoePa’s troops were surprisingly unprepared for the game. Brady Quinn posted Heisman-like numbers, but he just doesn’t have that “it” factor that separates former trophy winners like Bush, Leinart and Palmer from the pack…perhaps if the Irish are 12-0 in December, we can say that Quinn finally has “it.” After last year’s whipping by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, it’s strange to see Notre Dame nipping at the Buckeyes’ heels in the polls this early in the year. A No. 2 ranking makes the target on Charlie’s boys that much larger…can ND survive 10 more tests with such a noticeable target on their backs?

NO. 3 AUBURN TIGERS – Mississippi State effectively shut down star Auburn RB Kenny Irons on Saturday, holding him to 69 yards on 21 carries, the first time in eight games that the All-America candidate hadn’t gained over 100. No problem — QB Brandon Cox simply stepped up, hitting 18-of-27 passes for 249 yards and completing scoring hookups with TE Gabe McKenzie and wideout Rodgeriqus Smith, and Auburn romped, 34-0…”They were of the mind that they were going to make the quarterback beat them, and I think the quarterback did that,” said Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges. “It’s nice to know if they do stop our running game — and people are obsessed with stopping our running game — we have some answers.” This week, of course, the Tigers host LSU in a contest with not only conference but national championship implications. The key matchup will be Auburn’s offensive line — perhaps the best in the SEC — against a ferocious Tiger defense.

NO. 4 USC TROJANS – Pete Carroll can thank A.D. Mike Garrett for scheduling a bye week between the season opener on the road at Arkansas and this week’s home opener versus the Nebraska Cornhuskers. It can only help when breaking in a new QB on offense. Nebraska would have had a much better chance — if any — escaping with a win in Los Angeles had USC played the week before. The Trojans are now well-rested and have had ample time to prepare for any offensive or defensive twist Bill Callahan thinks he can throw at USC. On the flip side, watch for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and QB/Asst. head coach Steve Sarkisian to add some new wrinkles in the Trojan arsenal now that John David Booty has a successful start under his belt. Nebraska will most likely topple out of the Top 25 after this week’s visit to the Coliseum.

NO. 5 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS – Everybody won in the Mountaineers’ 52-3 demolition of Eastern Washington on Saturday. The visitors got a nice payday, the fans got to celebrate, and every West Virginia squad member who was ambulatory got to play. Not only was Mountaineer coach Rich Rodriguez able to take a longer-than-a-minute look at backup QBs Jarrett Brown, Nate Sowers and Markell Harrison, but all of them scored. Star WVU running back Steve Slaton averaged 13 yards a carry in the first half, and the only reason that average wasn’t higher was that he kept getting stopped by the end zone — Slaton was untouched on scoring runs of 49 and 17 yards. This week: Maryland at home.

NO. 6 LSU TIGERS – Blitzing relentlessly, the Tigers sacked highly touted University of Arizona sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama three times and intercepted him twice during a 45-3 rout of the Wildcats in Baton Rouge. The first pick was hauled back 41 yards for an LSU touchdown by Jonathan Zenon, his second score of the season. At the end of the third quarter, the visiting Wildcats had 54 total yards. LaRon Landry, Zenon’s cousin and secondary mate, had an interception and a sack, the latter knocking Tuitama out of the game with a possible concussion. “We just weren’t ready for this,” said Arizona coach Mike Stoops after the Tigers extended their streak of not allowing an offensive touchdown to 14 quarters. The Tigers know if they continue the streak this week at Auburn, JaMarcus Russell and the offense will take care of the rest.

NO. 7 FLORIDA GATORS – So much for the old adage about playing them one at a time. While Urban Meyer’s Florida team was punching out Central Florida, 42-0, on Saturday, Meyer already had Tennessee on his mind — the Gator linemen were using silent snap counts the entire game against CFU in preparation for the racket on Rocky Top next Saturday. The victory marked a personal best for QB Chris Leak, who threw for 353 yards and four touchdowns (two to Andre Caldwell). Freshman WR Percy Harvin was the leading receiver with four catches for 99 yards, and classmate Tim Tebow (Leak’s backup) was the leading rusher with 62 yards. Meanwhile, Florida’s surly defense limited George O’Leary’s visitors to 21 rushing yards.

No. 8 TEXAS LONGHORNS – After taking a 17-point whooping at home from the revenge-minded Ohio State squad, Texas can thank its lucky charms that it only fell six slots in the AP poll. It leaves Mack Brown & Co. plenty of wiggle room to journey back into contention for a rematch in the Tempe title game, if (and that’s a big IF) the Longhorns don’t stumble again and everyone else in between Texas and the top falter somewhere along the way this season. Texas’ loss and the mild hand-slap it received dropped the team to eighth in the polls…which just goes to show teams that start the season ranked highly can lose early and still make it to the championship tilt at the end of the season. If the loss to Ohio State occurred in late October or November, it would have virtually assured the Longhorns they’d be playing in a BCS consolation bowl. QB Colt McCoy couldn’t handle the pressure the Buckeyes brought Saturday night, but can you imagine how good this kid will be in the next 2-3 years with dozens of starts under his belt? Pity Rice and its fans this weekend when the Longhorns come to town…

NO. 9 FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES – Apparently, the Seminoles invited a Trojan horse — actually, a number of Trojan horses — into Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday. Unheralded Troy State, from the Sun Belt Conference, took a 17-10 lead on FSU in the fourth quarter on a touchdown set up by Chris Davis’ muffed punt. But a 15-yard scoring pass from Drew Weatherford to a redeemed Davis tied it, and Joe Surratt’s short run (set up by Buster Davis’ first career interception) with 1:56 remaining won it. Most worrisome for veteran FSU coach Bobby Bowden was the fact that his team once again failed to mount a credible running game, with just 53 combined yards from Antone Smith and Lorenzo Booker. “It was like a nightmare,” moaned Bowden afterward. The Seminoles will entertain Tommy Bowden’s banged-up Clemson team this Saturday.

NO. 10 GEORGIA BULLDOGS – Longtime Georgia defensive coordinator Erik Russell died on Friday, and the Bulldog defense did him proud a day later, twice stopping South Carolina inside the five-yard line and handing Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier his first shutout in 193 games as a college coach, 18-0. The team’s quarterback controversy was also resolved, at least temporarily, when senior starter Joe Tereshinski hurt his ankle and freshman heir apparent Matthews Stafford was pressed into service. Stafford completed 8-of-17 passes for 171 yards and made a couple of big runs, but also threw three interceptions. The Bulldogs get a mild break from SEC action when UAB comes to Athens this weekend.

NO. 11 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES – Mike Hart continues to look solid (19 rushes, 116 yards, three TDs) after Michigan’s easy 41-17 romp over the MAC’s Central Michigan, while Chad Henne fails to impress once again (11-for-19, 113 yards). After two lackluster wins over seriously mismatched opponents, it’s really difficult to see the Wolverines marching into South Bend and securing a victory this week. The only way it will happen is if Michigan’s defense stifles the Irish attack and Chad Henne delivers the type of elite performance fans have been expecting from him since his stellar freshman season two years ago.

NO. 12 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS – For one game, at least, the absence of star running back Michael Bush seemed to energize the Cardinals more than demoralize them. Bush was lost for the season last week with a broken leg suffered in the Kentucky game, but reserves George Stripling and Sergio Spencer each ran for two touchdowns and Kolby Smith added another as U of L destroyed Temple, 62-0. In addition, QB Brian Brohm threw for over 300 yards, wideout Mario Urrutia had five catches for 110 yards, and the Louisville defense was tough when it had to be (“I told my teammates, ‘Dominate who you’re supposed to dominate,'” crowed LB Nate Harris afterward). Coach Bobby Petrino just hopes his team saved some of that emotion for this Saturday, when No. 17 Miami comes to town…it’s a must-win game for both schools, if they want a piece of the BCS bowl pie in January

NO. 13 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS – The timing couldn’t be worse. With offensive-minded Florida to deal with this weekend, Tennessee has to overcome the loss of two key defensive starters — DT Jason Harrell and DB Inky Johnson. Moreover, the Vols almost lost to Air Force last Saturday, barely surviving with a 31-30 victory after Xavier Mitchell stuffed Chad Hall on a two-point conversion attempt with 1:35 remaining. Suddenly, the season-opening upset of Cal seems like ancient history. Johnson was knocked unconscious and taken away by ambulance after banging helmets with Air Force’s Justin Handley, an injury later said to involve his right shoulder. Harrell ripped his left bicep. Both will miss the Florida game, and may be out for the season. And as if that weren’t bad enough, RB Arian Foster sprained an ankle. As for the UT defense, it was collectively bleeding, surrendering 408 yards in total Air Force yardage.

NO. 14 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES – Generally speaking, Tech will beat you with defense – “Ore” else. Saturday’s 35-10 dispatching of North Carolina was a mixture of both, with Brenden Hill scoring on a 69-yard interception return, Josh Morgan blocking a punt to preface another score, and Branden Ore rushing for 111 yards and three touchdowns. The Hokies host Duke this weekend, which should leave them 3-0 and 2-0 in ACC play. Further down the road, the concern is at quarterback, where newcomer Sean Glennon was rather underwhelming (10-of-17 passing for 66 yards) against the Tar Heels. Late in the game, redshirt freshman Ike Whitaker came in and gained 41 yards (to Greg Boone) with his only aerial touchdown.

NO. 15 OKLAHOMA SOONERS – Adrian Peterson got to take off his Superman cape for awhile on Saturday, as the junior running back had plenty of help in OU’s 37-20 home victory over Washington. New QB Paul Thompson hit 21-of-33 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns, and Malcolm Kelly caught 121 yards worth of passes and scored twice. It was Bob Stoops’ 36th birthday, which made it even better. Next week won’t be so easy, however, as OU travels West to take on one of the PAC-10’s upper echelon, 18th-ranked Oregon. Thompson continues to develop as the replacement for Rhett Bomar, and Peterson still managed 165 rushing yards, impressive enough for Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors.

NO. 16 IOWA HAWKEYES – On the surface, being dragged into double overtime by a Syracuse team on a 10-game losing streak would seem to be a disaster for Kirk Ferentz’ Hawkeyes (hence the chants of “Overrated!” reverberating off the Carrier Dome’s plastic roof, even though Iowa pulled out a 20-13 victory). In reality, however, Ferentz had to feel good about the adversity his team overcame. First, star QB Drew Tate couldn’t take the field because of a pulled abdominal muscle, leaving seldom-used Jason Manson as the starter. Later, Iowa had three reviewed plays go against it, placekicker Kyle Schlicher had a field goal blocked, and Syracuse got eight chances to cover two yards in the second overtime (thanks to a pass interference penalty on Iowa). But the Hawkeye defense, led by DE Kenny Iwebema (who made four tackles on the final goal-line stand) held firm. Tate’s status is still uncertain for Saturday’s game at home with Iowa State — not encouraging, since Manson was intercepted four times.

NO. 17 MIAMI HURRICANES – What kind of team does Larry Coker have this year? At this point, it’s hard to tell, at least on offense. The Hurricanes rushed for two yards in the opener with Florida State (a 13-10 loss) and then pounded out 339 in a 51-10 rout of Florida A&M in which they also put up 31 first downs. The Rattlers were simply outmatched. One long-term bright spot was the play of RB Tyrone Moss, returning to the UM lineup after a knee injury and a suspension, and QB Kyle Wright looked sharp in limited action. So which Hurricanes will show up in Louisville on Saturday? Stay tuned…Coker’s still on the hot seat…

NO. 18 OREGON DUCKS – Mike Belotti became Oregon’s all-time leader in coaching wins after the Ducks survived a tenacious Fresno State Bulldogs team on the road Saturday night. Belotti’s been getting credit for a fake field goal call that resulted in the game-winning touchdown with less than five minutes remaining, but that type of call has all the marks of coming from offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, a well-known risk taker no matter where his offense lines up on the field…The game might not have been so close had Duck RB Jonathan Stewart (ankle injury) played more…he only had one carry for three yards. He will be needed this week. Oregon hosts Oklahoma on Saturday and its focus must be on stopping Adrian Peterson. A.P. has 267 yards rushing against the Ducks in a regular-season win at Oklahoma in 2004 and last year’s Holiday Bowl. Oregon should be helped by its home crowd this time around.

NO. 19 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS – The Cornhuskers used outclassed Nicholls State as a sparring partner on Saturday, tuning up for Saturday’s road test at Southern Cal with a 56-7 rout that was a good argument for a college football “slaughter rule.” The visiting Colonels never completed a pass and didn’t cross midfield until the fourth quarter. On the Husker side, Zac Taylor completed 23-of-27 passes (it would have been 24-of-26 had Marlon Lucky not dropped one) for 229 yards and four touchdowns. As for Lucky, he rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown and would undoubtedly be lying if he said he wasn’t looking ahead to USC. The NU I-back is from Hollywood.

NO. 20 TCU HORNED FROGS – You gotta love it when you can play a Double-A patsy at home and still move up three spots in the polls…QB Jeff Ballard returned to the starting lineup and looked sharp, going 18-of-23 for 190 yards and two TDs. The fact that UC-Davis racked up 211 yards passing should have Texas Tech licking its chops. The Raiders will look to at least double that output this week vs. the Frogs. TCU’s home game against its former Southwest Conference rival will determine which team remains in the Top 25 next week, and whether or not the Frogs are a legitimate threat to secure a BCS bowl bid this year. The BYU Cougars will be anxious to watch the film of this game since they run a similar offense to Tech and will be visiting Fort Worth in three weeks for a pivotal MWC clash with TCU.

NO. 21 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS – Cal answered the challenge and rebounded from last week’s woeful loss at Tennessee with a resounding victory over a determined Minnesota Golden Gophers squad, 42-17. Minnesota kept the game close through the first half, but the Bears’ defense shut out the Gophers in the final two frames…Jeff Tedford seems to have straightened out his QB situation for the season. Bears QB Nate Longshore asserted his claim to the starting role with a stellar performance (22-of-31, 300 yards and four TD tosses). DeSean Jackson was his favorite target, with three of those touchdown grabs (seven catches overall for 114 yards). Cal gets a huge home game breather this week vs. Double-A Portland State before it has to face the ASU aerial attack on Sept. 23.

NO. 22 ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS – ASU had an easy time of it with the Nevada Wolfpack on Saturday, thanks to the ‘Pack’s severely overmatched secondary. Sun Devil QB Rudy Carpenter sliced and diced Nevada for five TD passes (17-of-26, 333 yards) while the Wolfpack was busy coughing up the ball at a 33 percent clip (four turnovers in 12 possessions). Several years ago when ASU scheduled the Colorado Buffaloes, this week’s game in Boulder looked like a super inter-conference matchup…instead, the Sun Devils will be visiting a winless Colorado squad that will need a miracle to hang with ASU’s aerial attack. Granted, the Buffs will be hungry for the win, but they will be playing with a severely damaged team psyche after opening their season with back-to-back losses to Double-A Montana State and in-state rival Colorado State. ASU needs to display a killer instinct and put Colorado away early like it did against Nevada.

NO. 23 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES – BC used the most exciting play in football (a scoring kickoff return, 96 yards, by true freshman Jeff Smith) to help take Clemson into overtime, then won on the most mundane play — an extra point. RBC’s Ryan Ohliger made his PAT in the second extra period after Jolonn Dunbar had blocked Jad Dean’s attempt moments earlier. Clemson QB Will Proctor had the numbers (25-of-30, 343 yards), but BC’s Matt Ryan had the victory, lifting the previously unranked Eagles into the top 25 as ACC rival Clemson fell out. One negative was that LB Brian Toal, perhaps BC’s best defensive player (and also a short-yardage running back), left the game with a sore shoulder. The Eagles face Brigham Young at home on Saturday.

NO. 24 TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS – On a day filled with overtime games, Mike Leach’s team may have pulled off the strangest victory. First, Tech QB Graham Harrell hit Robert Johnson with an apparent 20-yard touchdown pass in the extra period with UTEP. The Tech players, assuming the game was over, broke into celebration. But the TD was nullified by a holding call, and the officials tacked on a celebration penalty, as well, moving Tech back to the 43. Two plays later, Alex Trlica, who had missed two field goals in the fourth quarter, banged a kick off the left upright and over the crossbar for a 38-35 victory in a game that featured a combined 978 yards of total offense. Harrell completed 40-of-52 passes for 376 yards and two touchdowns; UTEP’s Jordan Palmer amassed 334 passing yards and three touchdowns. Tech now travels to TCU, which has the nation’s longest current winning streak at 12.

NO. 25 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS – Now that we know the Nittany Lions are clearly in a rebuilding mode this year, what can fans expect for the rest of the season? Look for 2-3 more losses and a mid-tier bowl game invitation versus a third or fourth place SEC or ACC opponent. The Ohio State road game in two weeks is not going to be pretty…look for a spanking like the one the Irish just administered, except for the fact the Buckeyes’ thrashing will be revenge motivated. In the meantime, PSU fans can expect a solid win at home this week over Youngstown State. Backup QB Darryl Clark looked impressive in the loss at Notre Dame, even if he was going up against second-stringers. JoePa should seriously consider finding room for this playmaker in the starting lineup as a slash-type position player. He’s a serious triple-threat athlete who would instantly create more options in the offense and help take some of the pressure off QB Anthony Morelli.

Fourth and inches …

►Okay, so I picked the Texas Longhorns by three last week…it seemed like a fairly logical call…Texas was defending its home turf and the youthful Ohio State Buckeyes’ defense looked like Swiss cheese against Northern Illinois’ Garrett Wolfe the previous week in the Horseshoe. Like all championship-caliber teams, Ohio State managed to raise its level of play to the challenge at hand. Nothing could have been better for the young Bucks’ defense than to have emerged victorious against a solid team like Texas on the road…consider them battle-hardened and ready to march toward the national championship…only three tough conference games remain on their schedule…at Iowa, at Michigan State and the Rivalry game, at home versus Michigan…I would have added Penn State, but after seeing how Notre Dame demolished JoePa’s rebuilding effort-in-progress, do you really think the revenge-minded Buckeyes will take any less pity on the Nittany Lions in two weeks?

►More Buckeye-Longhorn observations…Ted Ginn, Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez are the best receiving duo in college football right now. You can’t afford to run single coverage on either player and they are both masterful at finding the seams in zone packages. They both have sticky hands and hang onto the ball in traffic. Pick your poison. Texas did…and Hernandez responded with a monster first half (seven receptions, 122 yards, one TD). Would suspended cornerback Tarell Brown have made a difference? We’ll never know, and that’s pretty sad…one of the responsibilities of a scholarship athlete is to think “team first” and steer clear of any trouble. Every NCAA athlete is supposed to acknowledge in writing that they have reviewed a lengthy list of banned substances, and I’m pretty sure cannabis sativa is one of them. 9mm handguns fall under another list of restrictions your average athletic director will frown upon, not to mention your friendly local law enforcement officers…You have to figure that Brown and Tyrell Gatewood’s actions (and especially the timing of those actions–the week of THE big game) must have affected the Longhorn team psyche to some extent…it’s easy to imagine the seeds of doubt beginning to take root at the news of their arrest…resulting in a paranoia that rapidly spread across the Texas sideline as soon as Teddy Ginn’s supersonic flight patterns were observed at ground level during pregame warm-ups.

►Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans will certainly bring up Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija as the best receiving twosome in college football, but perhaps that argument should remain dormant until there’s a rematch of last year’s Fiesta Bowl in the 2007 Tostitos National Championship in Tempe…yes, AP’s current No. 1 and No. 2 could very well be on a collision course for another duel in the desert come Jan. 8.

►BYU Cougar fans throughout the country are livid, and rightly so, after being stiffed by CSTV and Comcast Sports last week…the Cougars put on a powerful offensive show in calming C-USA’s reigning champs, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, 49-24, but outside of the LaVell Edwards Stadium crowd, only a small fraction of BYU fans in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming were able to actually see the game on “the mtn.” network, a channel devoted to Mountain West Conference sports coverage that CSTV and Comcast quickly created for the conference after Comcast was brought on board in July as a partner. CSTV/Comcast were not able to deliver on their promise to the MWC to have the DISH and DirecTV satellite companies on board in time for the game, let alone scores of other cable companies in the MWC member institutions’ footprint. For reasons unknown at that time, BYU fans were not allowed to view the Tulsa game on CSTV’s paid subscription package “All Access XXL.” So, thousands of fans then tuned into KSL Radio’s Internet streamcast on ksl.com, with the assurance of seasons past that they would be able to watch the game as a replay that evening on BYU-TV, a university channel that is available on DISH, DirecTV and many cable companies. To their dismay, Cougar fans then learned that evening that the replay of the Tulsa game was being pulled off BYU-TV’s schedule, due to a vaguely stated “broadcast rights” issue.

The three obvious questions BYU fans have been asking since Saturday…Why didn’t CSTV provide the Tulsa game on their All Access XXL Internet subscription package? Why was the replay of the Tulsa game cancelled from the BYU-TV channel schedule Saturday night?…and, finally: When will the mtn. network be available on the satellite company programming packages?

I spoke with official PR reps from CSTV and Comcast, and the simple answer to the first two questions is that if BYU fans had been provided access to the Tulsa game last Saturday, it would have affected ongoing negotiations with DISH and DirecTV. As for the third question, an official statement to BYU fans (and any MWC fan, for that matter) comes from Comcast’s Tim Fitzpatrick:

“We have already reached agreements with 10 cable companies serving viewers in five states but our goal is to make the mtn. as widely available as possible, and we are continuing to negotiate with additional providers, including the satellite companies. We share the disappointment of fans who can’t yet see their favorite teams, and we encourage fans to also make their voices heard by contacting their provider.”

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe sent out a puzzling email to Cougar fans on Tuesday that raised more questions than it answered, asking for patience with the negotiation process, and referencing that it took five years for BYU-TV to grow as a satellite and cable channel. Here’s an excerpt from his letter:

“Five years ago BYU-TV launched with very little distribution. Now it is in more than 40 million homes and growing every month. It did not happen overnight. The same can be said for CSTV and even ESPN.”

The obvious translation of the two above statements: Be patient and wait…your patience will be rewarded over the life of the seven-year contract, even if you have to suffer this year…we need you to sacrifice during the negotiations; therefore, don’t get upset when you will not be permitted to see the games on the CSTV All Access XXL package or BYU-TV replays…

I also contacted official PR reps for DISH and DirecTV and they both declined to comment, saying that they cannot comment on programming that they don’t carry. In response to my question as to whether or not the 2006 football season schedule might end up a wash for MWC fans who are depending on the satellite deals to be secured, the MWC official I spoke with offered that there will be plenty of basketball games and other sports offered on the mtn. in the coming months…not very comforting words to Cougar fans for the time being…

There are four more BYU football games scheduled to air on the mtn. network, the next date being Sept. 23. The other remaining games on BYU’s schedule are slated to be available on CSTV and Versus (formerly OLN). Temporary relief for Cougar fans this week: BYU’s road game at Boston College will be carried on ESPN2 and ESPN GamePlan.

►You’ve heard of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, right? Could there possibly be a “Fourth and inches…” jinx? Hopefully not, but…just after we raved about the Toledo Rockets program and their recent triple overtime thriller with the Iowa State Cyclones, Tom Amstutz’s troops marched north, turned the ball over four times, and surrendered control of the MAC’s Western Division to the Western Michigan Broncos. Standout Rockets senior tight end Chris Hopkins was “held” to four receptions, good for 100 bucks and a cool 25-yard per catch average. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound Chicago native now has 17 receptions, 239 yards and three TDs after two games. Western Michigan’s star of the game was senior linebacker Ameer Ismail (12 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery). This could be WMU’s year to take the MAC’s West Division title…they are sitting pretty with home field advantage against Northern Illinois, the preseason favorite to win the conference.

►A few years back, when the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Colorado Buffaloes agreed on scheduling each other, it looked like an intriguing Big 12/Pac-10 matchup. Instead, ASU’s high flying aerial circus comes to Boulder undefeated this week, while the Buffs are licking their wounds from two straight losses. Sorry, Colorado fans, but it looks like it will be three in a row after this weekend…at least new head coach Dan Hawkins is keeping a level-headed perspective on the situation: “Too many times I think you have the euphoria that lingers or you have the disappointment that lingers and that’s not how you get up and get on in life; and that’s not how you get up and get on in football. Win, lose or draw you put it away and you move on…you don’t change because you lose and you don’t change because you win; you have a certain way of operating and a certain standard and that’s what you stick to.”

►Too bad the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ squad that will invade the Los Angeles Coliseum this Saturday is not cut from the same pattern as the Husker teams of the mid-1990s. Now that would be one humdinger of a gridiron battle to see: Tom Osborne’s finest clashing with the present-day USC Trojans. Alas, this pass-happy version of Nebraska football is a far cry from those glory days. USC will be without three starters due to injuries, but don’t be surprised if the Trojans spank Bill Callahan’s squad right out of the Top 25 rankings with a tsunami force attack on both sides of the ball. You really don’t want to face a Pete Carroll team that’s had two weeks prep time to discover your weaknesses and figure out how to exploit them. But, that’s why they play the game, folks…anything can happen on any given day. Is USC worthy of a top five ranking? Is Nebraska a fifth-tier Top 25 team? This game will reveal the true nature of both teams…

►Outside of the SEC, where the top programs happen to knock each other out of national title consideration every week as the season progresses (for instance, LSU Tigers at Auburn Tigers and Florida Gators at Tennessee Volunteers this week), perhaps no two teams have a more difficult path to the National Title Game than USC and Notre Dame. The Trojans have a three-game stretch where they face the Oregon Ducks, Cal Bears and Notre Dame, topped off by their big season-ending rivalry game with the UCLA Bruins. The Irish have already survived a tough Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets assault, the always dangerous Nittany Lions and now the Michigan Wolverines this week. Beyond this week: an away date on the Michigan State Spartans’ turf, as well as the pesky Air Force Falcons on the road, not to mention their regular-season finale at USC…that game could be for a shot at all the marbles if both teams can remain undefeated until Nov. 25.

►Hats off to the Akron Zips for their gutsy 20-17 road win over the North Carolina State Wolfpack. With just over a minute remaining, the Zips were down 17-14 and had the ball at their own 33-yard line. QB Luke Getsy completed 2-of-3 passes for 42 yards, and then scrambled twice, picking up another 24 yards. Three and a half ticks were on the clock and the ball rested on the one-yard line. Instead of kicking a game-tying field goal, head coach J.D. Brookhart decided to go for it and RB Dennis Kennedy powered the pigskin across the goal line for the upset victory.

►Will the Miami Hurricanes possibly survive this week’s road trip to square off with the Louisville Cardinals? It’s a question that wouldn’t have made much sense a few years ago, but after Louisville’s close call at Miami last year, you have to wonder…the game has enormous implications for both teams. The Cards cannot afford to lose, if they hope to keep their national title hopes alive. They are not the type of program that can carry one loss around on their backs like Texas or Auburn and still be considered championship contenders at the end of the season by the pollsters…The ‘Canes cannot afford to lose, either. Not if they want to keep their head coach around beyond this season. Can you picture Miami sitting at 1-2 after this week? It doesn’t seem possible, and yet if Louisville does win, it won’t be considered much of an upset…

►Stats Padder Games of the Week: The South Carolina Gamecocks host and roast Wofford…Virginia Tech Hokies humiliate the bumbling Duke Blue Devils, and Texas stampedes the Rice Owls.

►Best Games of the Week : LSU at Auburn, Florida at Tennessee; Michigan at Notre Dame; Nebraska at USC; Clemson Tigers at Florida State Seminoles; Miami Hurricanes at Louisville Cardinals; Oklahoma Sooners at Oregon; BYU at Boston College Golden Eagles; Texas Tech Red Raiders at TCU Horned Frogs.

►Upset specials of the week: The Wyoming Cowboys just missed pulling off a big upset at Virginia last week, falling 13-12 on a missed extra point. If the Cowpoke fans can rustle up some of their infamous welcome wagons and really whoop it up inside War Memorial Stadium, they just might corral the high flying Boise State Broncos this week…Frank Solich’s Ohio Bobcats are rapidly gaining a winning edge type of confidence…that will be a shock to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights who presumed they would be hosting one of the MAC’s weaker teams…