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October 24, 2010
Tom Dienhart's Week 8 awards
What we learned in Week 8
Each Sunday, our staff of college football experts will offer thoughts on things they learned over the weekend.
The Heisman is Cam Newton's to lose. In a 24-17 victory over LSU, Newton rushed for 217 yards and scored two touchdowns against the No. 6 rushing defense in the nation. It was the fourth game in a row in which Newton has rushed for at least 176 yards against an SEC defense. He's clearly the most dominant player in the nation. Of course, that doesn't guarantee anything. Last season, Texas' Colt McCoy was the clear leader until he played poorly and was upstaged by Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh in the Big 12 championship game. And Oregon's Dennis Dixon was the leading candidate in 2007 before suffering a season-ending knee injury. But if Newton stays healthy and avoids a disastrous performance, he will join Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson as Heisman recipients from Auburn.
All hail Art Briles. They're drinking and living it up in Waco, Texas. So what if they're drinking Dr Pepper -- it's still a big celebration. Briles has done an amazing rebuilding job at Baylor. In just their third season under Briles, the Bears clinched bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994 by beating Kansas State on Saturday. In fact, the Bears have a half-game lead in the Big 12 standings, and the way this season is going, the Bears might even beat struggling Texas.
Michigan State is a team of destiny. Michigan State appears destined to win the Big Ten for the first time since 1987. On Saturday, the Spartans rallied from a 17-0 deficit to win 35-27 at Northwestern. Michigan State never flinched in the face of adversity, as it played its first game of the season outside of the state of Michigan. Now comes a trip to Iowa, which will be angry after losing at home to Wisconsin. If the Spartans leave Iowa City with a victory, they look like a lock to run the table. And they could find themselves not just winning the Big Ten crown, but perhaps playing for the BCS title in an emotional season that has seen the team rally around coach Mark Dantonio's return from a heart attack.
Missouri has arrived. The Tigers' 36-27 win against an Oklahoma team that ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings is further proof of Mizzou's lofty stature. This team is the total package, featuring a deadly offense led by Heisman-contending QB Blaine Gabbert along with the most underrated defense in the nation. A win Saturday at Nebraska will be another huge step for Missouri toward the Big 12 North title, as it marches toward perhaps even greater heights. Is Gary Pinkel the national coach of the year?
West Virginia isn't going run the table in the Big East. The Mountaineers might not win the conference. I pretty much handed the Big East title to West Virginia a few weeks ago. It's time to rethink that. The Mountaineers lost 19-14 at home to Syracuse, scoring on their second and third possessions and throwing three interceptions. The Orange are much-improved under Doug Marrone, but not enough for West Virginia to leave that game OK with a loss. The rest of the league is showing signs of life. Preseason favorite Pittsburgh may win the conference. The Panthers beat Syracuse 45-14 last week and this week swamped Rutgers 41-21. Pitt finally has discovered its passing game, with Tino Sunseri going 38-of-51 with seven touchdowns and a pick in the past two games. USF may have the league's best defense and found some answers on offense against Cincinnati on Friday. Louisville may be legit, too, with Bilal Powell at running back. WVU and Pitt are the favorites, but this conference race finally has some life to it.
Georgia has turned a corner. Over-the-top Georgia fans might need to take the "For Sale" signs out of Mark Richt's front yard. The Bulldogs look like a team that finally has figured things out (imagine that, now that WR A.J. Green is back). Georgia is riding a three-game winning streak in which it has scored at least 40 points in each game. Saturday's 44-31 victory at Kentucky looks closer than the game really was after Georgia led 28-10 at half and Kentucky tacked on a touchdown in garbage time. It's tempting to look at wins over Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky and say this is the way Georgia should win, but the Bulldogs lost to similar teams in losing to Mississippi State and Colorado. Georgia's offense, a mess during the four-game losing streak, is clicking now. Richt might not lead Georgia to the SEC championship game (a road trip to Auburn is still on the schedule), but the Bulldogs should finish strong, perhaps even with a win over Florida.
Iowa still is the "fulcrum team" in the Big Ten race. The Hawkeyes fell at home to Wisconsin on Saturday, their first league loss. But Michigan State, which is unbeaten in league play, and Ohio State, which has one league loss, still have to travel to Iowa City, which means the Hawkeyes will be the most closely watched team in the league the rest of the way. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz did a poor job with clock management in the final 15 seconds, but the real culprit was Iowa's defense, which allowed Wisconsin to march 80 yards for the winning TD in the waning moments. If Iowa can rebound from the loss and win out, the Big Ten title is going to come down to tiebreakers.
Now it gets interesting for Virginia Tech. The Hokies blasted Duke for their sixth consecutive victory. It was Tech's fourth consecutive game with at least 40 points and improved the Hokies' record to 6-2 overall and 4-0 in the ACC. But except for a win over N.C. State, Virginia Tech hasn't exactly been beating up on the league's elite (the other conference wins were over Boston College, Wake Forest and Duke). Now, though, the Hokies have a chance to show their mettle with back-to-back-to-back games against Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami. We're betting the ACC Coastal Division title comes down to the game against the Hurricanes in Miami.
TCU's defense is as good as ever. TCU 's defense was supposed to take a small step backward as it replaced DE Jerry Hughes, LB Daryl Washington and starting CBs Nick Sanders and Rafael Priest from last season's team. It hasn't happened. TCU gave up an 89-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter and didn't allow any more points the rest of the way in a 38-7 rout of Air Force that continued the Horned Frogs' perfect season. TCU has given up a total of 10 points in its past four games and continues to lead the nation in scoring defense.
Arizona's offense isn't a one-man show. Arizona's offense didn't miss a beat Saturday without star QB Nick Foles, who suffered a knee injury last week against Washington State. Matt Scott stepped in for Foles and went 18-of-22 passing for 233 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-14 rout of Washington. Arizona's running game also picked up the slack, as Keola Antolin and Nic Grigsby each rushed for two touchdowns while helping the Wildcats average 5.4 yards per carry. Foles may have to sit out more games to recover, but his injury won't necessarily wreck Arizona's Pac-10 title hopes. The Wildcats just showed they can survive without him.