How about the Mid-American Conference, which posted four victories last week over schools from Bowl Championship Series automatic-qualifier conferences? That included Central Michigan's upset of Iowa, the third time a MAC team has defeated a Big Ten squad this season.
Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit said one of the keys is finding good players who were passed over by Big Ten teams. "If anybody's a competitor, you want to play against teams that didn't want you," Cubit, the former head coach at Widener, told the Associated Press. "You want to go out there and prove your worth. We use it every time we play teams like that."
Big Ten surprises
Yes, everyone has been down this month on the Big Ten, which enters Saturday's start of conference play with only three teams ranked in the AP Top 25. But you can't knock Northwestern and Minnesota, each of which is 4-0 yet remains unranked. The Wildcats have accounted for three of the conference's six wins over BCS conference opponents, and their two quarterbacks have yet to throw an interception in 118 attempts. The Gophers, who look Saturday for their first 5-0 start since 2004, have passed the ball efficiently and have been tough on defense, ranking third in the Big Ten in yards allowed.
This is what quarterback Geno Smith of ninth-ranked West Virginia has been waiting for, the start of Big 12 play and a chance for his Mountaineers to prove they're worthy of lofty expectations in their new conference. Smith enters the home game against No. 25 Baylor second in the nation in total offense, passing yards, and passing efficiency and firmly anchored as a Heisman Trophy candidate. "I know everyone's been anticipating this," Smith told reporters. "It's conference play now. Anything goes in these types of games. We're just going to expect everything and go out and do our best."
The Marshall plan
If you're a fan of scoring, find some video of Marshall, which puts points on the board and gives them up almost as quickly. The Thundering Herd are averaging 41 points behind quarterback Rakeem Cato, who averages 377 yards of total offense, third in the nation. On the flip side, they're 118th out of the 120 FBS teams in scoring defense, allowing 42.8 points per game. Marshall, which plays at Purdue, has a pair of former Penn State players on its roster. Junior Derrick Thomas starts at cornerback and is seventh on the team in tackles while senior wide receiver Devon Smith has yet to see game action, leading to speculation he could be redshirted.
As in Herschel
Their teammates call them "Gurshall," No. 5 Georgia's dynamic 1-2 freshman tailback combination of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Gurley leads the Southeastern Conference in rushing (101.5 yards per game), scoring (10.5 points), and all-purpose yards (164.2 yards), and Marshall averages 66 yards. The two have combined for 670 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. While no one is comparing them to former Georgia great Herschel Walker just yet, the Bulldogs appreciate their contributions following seasons in which their tailbacks would get in trouble and leave the team. "They are mature beyond their years," receiver Michael Bennett told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Ducks and 'D'
Well, so much for our prediction last week of a shootout between Oregon and Arizona. The Ducks defense took care of that, returning two interceptions for touchdowns and shutting out the Wildcats to the tune of 49-0. On a team in which the offense gets 99 percent of the attention, the defense appreciates the recognition. "Anything's possible with these kids," defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti told the AP. "They listen. They practice hard. They want to win." The next challenge for No. 2 Oregon is the potent passing attack of Mike Leach and Washington State on Saturday night at Seattle.
Food for thought
Vanderbilt may not have the best football team in the country, but it might have the best food coach around. His name is Majid Noori, a.k.a. "Magic," and he has drawn on his 20-plus years of organizing training tables for athletes with a new book, "Eating to Win with America's #1 Food Coach."" Noori said it's not a nutrition book or a cookbook but a tool to help families set up healthier meals like baked and grilled dishes, salads, vegetables, and smoothies. Noori has worked with former Vanderbilt athletes such as football's Jay Cutler, golf's Brandt Snedeker, and baseball's David Price.
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