Stanford, Oregon on collision course

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Don Borst


Owen Marecic IS Stanford football.

These days, that means more than the traditional definition of just that he's a brainiac. With the way Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh plays it, Stanford football is about brawn along with those brains. Sure, the pretty-boy quarterbacks have grown like weeds on The Farm over the years, but it's the burly men who are determining and will determine the level of success for Harbaugh's Cardinal editions.

And Marecic is the burliest and brainiest of the lot that laid out Notre Dame, 37-14, to move Stanford to 4-0 for the first time in 24 years.

He's a starting inside linebacker and the starting fullback. He plays pretty much all the time for the Cardinal, and Saturday he scored on a 1-yard run, and then on the very next play from scrimmage, he picked off a Notre Dame pass and raced 20 yards for another touchdown. That made him the first major-college player in five years to score on offense and defense in the same game and he did it in a span of 13 seconds of the clock.

At 6-1, 244 pounds, Marecic might be the most physically and mentally well-rounded football player in America -- the guy Harbaugh likes to call "the perfect football player," and who teammates call "the wisest."

In this day of eligibility questions – for both too much contact with agents and too little contact with textbooks – this two-way starter with a 3.9 grade-point average in human biology is the best player on one of the nation's best teams, and ought to warrant attention of Heisman Trophy voters.

And if Stanford can wrangle a victory out of Oregon's Autzen Stadium late Saturday (11:15 p. m. ET), moving to 5-0 for the first time in 59 seasons, there would be no ignoring this team and this guy. For Stanford to win, the Cardinal will have to physically bash the Ducks, and they'll have to do it starting at middle linebacker and fullback.

JUST THE BEGINNING: Alabama needed every bit of its maturity and poise to extract a 24-20 triumph out of Fayetteville, Ark., and it doesn't get any easier this week when the Tide lines up against the Florida Gators. The big difference, of course, is that at least the game is at home, as Alabama embarks on the middle leg of what may prove to be as tough a three-game stretch as any team in the country.

The Tide's victory over Arkansas was notable mostly for the way they handled being outplayed early, but kept on keeping on. Arkansas, after all, had led 20-7 late in the third quarter before Alabama was able to fully figure out how to contain the Razorback passing attack. In the end, Arkansas was unable to stop Mark Ingram (who rushed for 157 yards), while Hog quarterback Ryan Mallett found his 350-yard passing day coming undone with a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions.

Certainly some of Nick Saban's halftime adjustments helped, but it seemed as though the young Alabama pass defense simply caught up with the rest of the team in terms of managing a pressure-packed situation and coming through with the plays to make the difference. They'll need to continue to display that poise to beat Florida this week, and win at South Carolina next week ... and all the way through the SEC schedule to the Nov. 26 game against Auburn.

BETTER AND BETTER: Speaking of Auburn, the Tigers appear to be getting better every week, too. Quarterback Cameron Newton is getting increasingly comfortable in the offense (172 yards rushing, 159 passing, five total TDs this week), and the defense is making a habit of making big plays in the fourth quarter (or later) to win games.

What's more, against South Carolina, the Tigers seemed to get into the head of Steve Spurrier. The Ol' Ball Coach, whose team previously had been pretty well-balanced, was talked out of that balance by the Auburn defense. After Marcus Lattimore was held to just 26 yards on 11 first-half carries, Spurrier basically left him out of the second-half game plan, giving him the ball just three times for seven yards. This is a guy who carried 37 times against Georgia and had six rushing touchdowns this season.

And when veteran quarterback Stephen Garcia, who had thrown for 235 yards and three touchdowns in the first three quarters, fumbled the ball away twice in the fourth quarter, Spurrier banished him to the bench, and put the ball in the hands of freshman Conner Shaw. Shaw was in the game for 10 plays, and on those snaps he was 4-for-8 passing for 70 yards, and rushed for twice for 12 yards, along with the interceptions that ended each of South Carolina's last two drives.

Basically, Auburn talked Spurrier out of his best two offensive players, and when the game was on the line, rather than go with a guy who had started for most of three years, he went with a freshman who had been in this game for one series, which had ended with an interception. All righty then, I guess the Ol' Ball Coach had a point to make.

GIVE BRUINS CREDIT: UCLA's 34-12 rout of Texas is a tough one to figure. Yes, Texas had the five turnovers, and the Longhorns are taking on Oklahoma this week, but trap game or not, we didn't see one that coming at all. Of course, back in 1997 we didn't see the Mack truck coming that turned out to be Rout 66, either.

This game was NOT about the turnovers. Certainly they were important, but they were a direct result of the Bruins' dominance. UCLA showed the rest of the teams on the Longhorns' schedule that the best way to attack the Texas front line is to, well, attack the Texas front line -- run right at 'em. Nebraska, in particular will enjoy game planning with that film.

UCLA's manhandling of Houston and Texas will have Pac-10 teams arching their backs in preparation for one of the most rugged of the Pistol offenses that have overtaken college football. QB Kevin Prince is finally healthy, and RB Johnathan Franklin shows a knack for slashing through holes, which are being created regularly by the offensive line. These Bruins look much different than the ones that lost to Kansas State and Stanford (35-0!) to start the season.

This jump-started version of UCLA is the one that the rest of the Pac-10 is going to have to deal with, and the Bruins get to build on their momentum against Washington State and Cal in the next two weeks.

HEAD TO HEAD: Through four weeks of head-to-head meetings between teams from Automatic Qualifier conferences ... which makes it hard to take the ACC and Big East seriously this season:

Pac-10 10-4
Big 12 7-3
Big Ten 7-5
SEC 6-2
Notre Dame 1-3
Big East 1-10
ACC 2-9

YOU NEED HIM: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson continues to be unbelievable, despite the scary scene for the Big Blue when he grabbed his knee after banging it on the turf at the end of a long run Saturday. Turns out that his knee is apparently going to be fine, but the 65-21 victory over Bowling Green served to show that the Wolverines need to have additional quarterbacks ready, particularly since Robinson has had to carry so much of the offensive load.

Just look at the nine plays that Robinson had the ball in his hands against Bowling Green:

- First drive: 7-yard pass, 36-yard pass, 9-yard run, 2-yard TD run.
- Second drive: 21-yard pass, 24-yard run, 8-yard pass, 47-yard TD run.
- Third drive: 46-yard run (left the game with knee injury).

That's 189 yards and two touchdowns. Robinson continues to lead the nation in rushing, with 688 yards (an average of 172 per game), on a healthy 8.7 yards per run.

The only guy gaining more per run is Nebraska freshman Taylor Martinez, averaging 9.4 yards on his 53 carries, with 8 national-best TDs.

ANYTHING YOU CAN DO: In the meantime, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel seems to realize that he can't allow his own quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, to be overshadowed by the Michigan sophomore. Pryor keeps getting better, and Saturday he accounted for six touchdowns in the 73-20 rout of Eastern Michigan, including one passing, four rushing and one receiving.

This is shaping up as a season-long "anything you can do, I can do better" battle between two Big Ten star quarterbacks. Should Tressel ignore what Robinson is accomplishing and not put his own quarterback in position to some special things, he risks not only Michigan stealing Ohio State's thunder on the highlight shows, in Heisman balloting, etc., he even gives Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez an advantage in recruiting those types of athletes in the future.

And giving Michigan an advantage in recruiting and anywhere else is something the buttoned-down, but not-stagnant Tressel does not take lightly. It's quite a show, really.

NOTE TO SELF: Boise State Kellen Moore ought to join Ohio State's Pryor and Michigan's Robinson as the most prominent quarterbacks on the Heisman Trophy short list, along with RBs Mark Ingram (Alabama) and LaMichael James (Oregon). Moore is simply the most precise passer in the country – he always seems to put the ball where his receivers catch it in stride, in position to do something very good (see Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy).

Keep an eye on: Cameron Newton, Auburn.

Subtract from Heisman shortlist: Ryan Mallett, Arkansas: He sure had his chance, and looked great in the first half against Alabama ... but those bad interceptions when the game was on the line have a way of influencing voters.

STILL DUCKY: Oregon's 42-31 victory over Arizona State was not the typical offensive orgy that Oregon had shown in its first three wins. In this case, the Ducks' points came on two defensive touchdowns, and four touchdown drives that averaged just 1:08.

Otherwise, Oregon turned the ball over twice, and had to punt 11 times. They led by 11 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but three times punted after drives of less than two minutes, which kept ASU in the game. The Ducks defense, however, intercepted Steven Threet on ASU's last three possessions (seven turnovers for the game).

TIDBITS: Stanford has gotten better in each of the four years under Harbaugh, who took over a team that was 1-11; they went 4-8, then 5-7, then 8-5, and now appear destined to improve upon that mark, too. They're looking for their first Rose Bowl appearance in 11 years, and second in 39.

- Ingram really does look like he's even better than last year, when he won the Heisman Trophy. In just two games, he's already busted three runs of longer than 45 yards, which is one more than he had all of last year. His 9.3 yards per carry is best among all running backs in college football, and his 154-yard average has him virtually even with the leader, LaMichael James of Oregon, but Ingram does not qualify yet because he missed the first two games with a knee injury.

- Oklahoma's quality non-conference schedule is about to pay off. The Sooners have stumbled and bumbled at times and have not been the most impressive team in building their 4-0 record, but consider that their wins have come against pass-happy Utah State, run-happy Air Force, on the road against Big East power Cincinnati, and against ACC power Florida State -- their one dominant performance. Rather than pad their schedule with weak teams, they have gotten themselves ready for their Big 12 schedule.

- Florida showed it has found a perfect goal-line offense, led by Trey Burton in the Pistol. Burton scored a school-record six touchdowns Saturday in the 48-14 win over Kentucky, which might just be what the Gators need as they head into Tuscaloosa. Now the problem might be in getting close enough to put the Pistol into the game, unless they decide to run it a lot more often than the five carries Burton had against the Wildcats


Thursday, Sept. 30
Texas A&M at Oklahoma St. --
Two 3-0 teams, and OSU is the No. 1 passing offense in the country.

Saturday, Oct. 2
Florida at Alabama --
Tide gets another major test, but at least this one's at home.
Ohio State at Illinois -- Buckeyes launch Big Ten schedule on the road.
Stanford at Oregon -- Looks like the game of the year in the Pac-10.
Texas at Oklahoma -- The season isn't over for Texas, but it might be Saturday.
Wisconsin at Michigan State -- Two 4-0 teams jump into Big Ten play in a big way.
Penn State at Iowa -- Hawkeyes start a stretch with 4 ranked foes in a row.
Miami at Clemson -- Hurricanes again look like the class of the ACC.
Virginia Tech at N.C. State -- Wolfpack the last of the ACC undefeated ... until now.
Notre Dame at Boston College -- Irish are underdogs again; getting used to it.

Tagged: Michigan, Ohio State, Boise State, Stanford, UCLA, Oregon, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, Ryan Mallett, Owen Marecic, LaMichael James, Mark Ingram, Terrelle Pryor, Trey Burton, Denard Robinson, Cam Newton

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