STANFORD, CA - OCTOBER 22: Stepfan Taylor #33 of the Stanford Cardinal breaks away from Jamaal Kearse #58 of the Washington Huskies for a long gain at Stanford Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
A look at the movers and shakers from Week Eight of the college football season. Stanford's stock continues to rise, while early darlings Georgia Tech and Illinois are mired in a bit of a tailspin.
We once again compare teams' performance to what was projected of them for Week Eight of the college football season. When it comes to football on the coasts, just throw darts at a board. It will be just as accurate as actually trying to figure who will or won't play well on a week-to-week basis.
Down: Georgia Tech (Projected: Ga. Tech +2.3 | Actual: Miami +17). This has been a slow-motion collapse for the Yellow Jackets, who have seen their total yardage fall from 768, to 496, to 413, to 386, to 296, to 211 in the last month or so. In his first four games, Tevin Washington averaged 19.5 yards per pass; in his next four, he averaged 6.3. Yes, the competition has improved, but ... not this much. Opponents alone do not account for a fade this large. Against Miami, Tech lost, 24-7, despite allowing just 262 yards to the Hurricanes. But they averaged 3.4 yards per play and turned the ball over three times. They have run off the rails; Stephen Hill, an All-American after the first month of the season, caught one of the four passes thrown his way and gained nine whole yards. The passing game has disappeared, and the Yellow Jackets are now right back to where they were last November: completely lacking in ways to peel opponents out of the box.
Down: North Carolina (Projected: Clemson +4.5 | Actual: Clemson +21). Clemson deserves continued praise for their ability to make plays -- when you score 59 points, you clearly did plenty of things well -- but a wag of the finger goes to the UNC offense for making things incredibly easy on the Tigers. The Tar Heels were outgained by just 32 yards (450-418) for the day but lost six turnovers worth a ridiculous 36.2 equivalent points (as defined here). Clemson returned two takeaways for touchdowns and scored a third TD on a 12-yard drive. UNC receiver Jheranie Boyd made his annual single-game appearance on the squad (he will now go back to being encased in carbonite in the bowels of the Dean Dome), catching three passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns, but it wasn't enough. Clemson moved on undefeated, and it was a little easier than they deserved.
Down: Virginia (Projected: Virginia +18.2 | Actual: N.C. State +14). I'm not going to pretend I was seriously talking myself into the Cavaliers by any means, but I thought they were far enough along to not lose by two touchdowns to N.C. State. Like UNC, the Hoos doomed themselves with turnovers, losing the turnover battle by two and the turnover points battle by 14.7 points. Oh yeah, and the UVa passing game is horrendous. Michael Rocco and David Watford combined to complete 11 of 35 passes for 125 yards (60 of which came on a single play), two touchdowns, three picks and a sack. That's a per-pass attempt average of 3.4 yards.
Up: Kansas State (Projected: KSU +19.0 | Actual: KSU +38). The numbers thought more of K-State than Vegas did, but they still underestimated just how much of a whooping they would place on their Sunflower State rivals. The Wildcats beat Kansas by a 59-21 margin, and ... I'll say this: if Tyler Lockett truly has found the 'On' switch, then KSU is not long for Winning Despite Horrible Statistics Land. He scored his second kickoff return touchdown in as many weeks, but he also added five catches (in five targets) for 110 yards and a touchdown. Locketts are royalty in Manhattan (dad Kevin and uncle Aaron both dominated in the royal purple jerseys), and Tyler has suddenly found his groove.
Up: Texas Tech (Projected: Oklahoma +32.2 | Actual: Texas Tech +3). Tech stayed under the radar in recent weeks, putting together respectable home showings against solid teams (they lost to both Kansas State and Texas A&M by one possession), but even if you thought highly of the Red Raiders, you probably didn't think this highly of them. They had given no clue that they would be the team to knock out Oklahoma's decade-long conference home winning streak, but against banged up Sooner defense, Seth Doege was near-perfect. He completed 33 of 52 passes -- to 12 different receivers, no less -- for 441 yards and four touchdowns. Poor OU defensive back Gabe Lynn (who was thrust into a larger role due to injuries) probably hasn't slept in the past two nights, having nightmares of getting burned by every single Red Raider this side of Adam James. Throw in some unfocused play by the Oklahoma offense (the receiver trio of Ryan Broyles, Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds combined for seven drops and a fumble), and you've got yourself the biggest upset of the 2011 season.
Up: Syracuse (Projected: WVU +13.6 | Actual: 'Cuse +26). Friday night very much off the script in the Big East, as both leaders -- West Virginia and Rutgers -- fell on the road to teams that had been, to date, rather inferior. Rutgers losing to UL was not the biggest surprise in the world, but Syracuse's near-perfect game almost was. The Orange played the rushes-and-short-passes game to perfection, averaging 6.0 yards per play, avoiding turnovers (WVU had two of them), never going backwards (WVU had zero tackles for loss) and playing incredibly efficiently. Quarterback Ryan Nassib completed 24 of 32 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns, and running back Antwon Bailey threw in 125 yards (5.7 per carry) on the ground. The 'Cuse had shown no signs that they were capable of this in 2011, but that's why games aren't just played on spreadsheets, huh?
Down: Illinois (Projected: Illinois +13.5 | Actual: Purdue +7). Like Georgia Tech, you could see this collapse coming for a little while. They almost lost to both Western Michigan and Northwestern at home, then fell in a mostly lifeless performance versus Ohio State last week. Still, I didn't expect them to show up this lifeless at Purdue (who, by the way, is 2-1 now in the Big Ten Leaders division; just saying). The Illini's first 11 drives managed 216 yards (4.3 per play) and zero points. They put up a fight at the end, gaining 150 yards in their last two drives, but they couldn't find luck via onside kick and lost, 21-14. The UI defense was still stellar -- they allowed 4.9 yards per play and racked up seven tackles for loss -- but it didn't matter.
Up: Arizona (Projected: Arizona +3.5 | Actual: Arizona +36). Arizona's first-half stat line: 51 plays, 437 yards, 42 points, one brawl, and countless Arizona fans thinking, "Where the hell has THIS been??" They were unstoppable on offense (Nick Foles: 26-for-39, 391 yards, three touchdowns, one interception), and they tackled incredibly well on defense (only four assisted tackles all game -- all others were solo efforts). Mike Leach's future team (ahem) showed both rhythm and rambunctiousness.
Up: Stanford (Projected: Stanford +19.4 | Actual: Stanford +44). Granted, Washington's defense has been rather awful in 2011, so it shouldn't have been a surprise that the Cardinal scorched them up and down the field in a 65-21 win. But it's how they did it that was so jarring. Teams have treated Washington's secondary like a junior varsity unit so far this season, but Andrew Luck only attempted 21 passes (he completed 16 for 169 yards and two touchdowns). Instead, they ran, and ran, and ran, and ran. They racked up 446 rushing yards -- Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson gained 348 yards on 33 carries (10.5 per carry) -- and rode the run to 11 scores on 12 drives. Ridiculous. If it's Stanford versus Clemson for the No. 3 spot in the BCS line (behind the Alabama-LSU winner and Oklahoma State), give me the Cardinal right now. Clemson is more entertaining, but Stanford is more brutal.
Up: USC (Projected: Notre Dame +22.1 | Actual: USC +14). I didn't think they had it in them. Sure, Notre Dame coughed up yet another killer turnover deep in opposing territory (it's kind of their thing), and sure, that alone almost made the difference in the game. But simplifying things to one play ignores how well the Trojans' defense played. They held the Irish to 267 yards (4.7 per play) and completely erased Michael Floyd from the box score. Of the ten passes targeting Floyd, only four were completed, gaining just 28 yards. We tend to go overboard with hyperbole in the hours/days after a big win, but to me, this was quite easily the most impressive win over Lane Kiffin's college coaching career.
Down: Utah (Projected: Utah +4.8 | Actual: California +24). I expected so much more out of Utah this year. Granted, I also expected them to have a healthy Jordan Wynn behind center, but evidently I very much underestimated the departures of two all-conference offensive linemen up front. The Utes' line is just dreadful, and it has prevented them from even pretending to threaten for the Pac-12 South crown I thought they would win. In their 34-10 loss to Cal, they gained 58 yards (1.8 per play) on their first nine drives. They also committed four turnovers worth 24.0 equivalent points. This all begs the question, of course: how in the world did they only lose by 24?
Down: Washington State (Projected: Wazzu +4.8 | Actual: Oregon State +23). Oregon State really is beginning to look like a real team (took them long enough), but that is still no excuse for giving up 551 yards (8.1 per play) to the Beavers in a 44-21 loss. The Beavers had the No. 86 passing offense (according to Off. Passing S&P+) in the country, but OSU quarterback Sean Mannion completed 26 of 34 passes to 11 receivers for 376 yards, four touchdowns and a single interception. Wazzu couldn't even pretend to stop them and never had a chance despite gaining an at least semi-respectable 5.1 yards per play on offense.
Down: Arkansas (Projected: Arkansas +20.4 | Actual: Arkansas +5). Yes, they rebounded, and yes, they still handed Ole Miss the Rebels' tenth consecutive conference loss. But that start was brutal. Ole Miss went up 17-0, and they did so without help from big turnovers or special teams. The Rebels gained 196 yards (6.3 per play) in the game's first 23 minutes, while the Hogs gained 49. Arkansas outgained Ole Miss by a 389-174 margin the rest of the way and came back to win, 29-24, but they still deserve a wag of the finger for that start.
Up: Air Force (Projected: Boise State +49.6 | Actual: Boise State +11). Boise State's 37-26 win over Air Force was just their second conference home win by fewer than 20 points in almost four full years. The Broncos dominate on the blue field, but the Falcons (who, by the way, had not played very well at all in 2011), held their own. They gained 408 yards, which was just the second time BSU had allowed over 400 yards in almost two years. Boise held quarterback Tim Jefferson (18 carries, 33 yards) mostly in check, and they racked up the tackles for loss (10), but AFA kept plugging away. Mike DeWitt gained 108 yards in 18 carries, and the game was not officially put away until a late Boise field goal.
Down: UCF (Projected: UCF +23.8 | Actual: UAB +2). I expected a bit of a step backwards this year for George O'Leary's Knights, but I didn't expect a 3-4 start. They destroyed Boston College to start 2-0, but they have now lost four of five, dropping a couple of heartbreakers to Florida International and BYU, sleepwalking past Marshall, then getting thumped by SMU and, as the cherry on top, losing to previously winless UAB. The previously stalwart Knights defense allowed 501 yards to the Blazers, while the offense fell asleep after two early touchdown drives.
Down: Temple (Projected: Temple +21.0 | Actual: Bowling Green +3). Forget the Big East. Temple belongs in the ACC with their schizophrenic play from week to week. They're capable of destroying Maryland and outscoring Akron, Ball State and Buffalo by a combined 117-3, but they're also capable of getting rocked by Toledo and losing, 13-10, to Bowling Green. Bernard Pierce (17 carries, 107 yards) could not come up with enough to save the Owls in this one.