Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There were no huge surprises in the fourth week of the college football season, but rather validation for some of the better teams in the country, in addition to the star players around the nation. With that in mind, here are some random thoughts of the season to date and what may transpire in the second month of the campaign.
SCARLET KNIGHTS FOR REAL
No, they don't match up well with the Ohio States of the world, but head coach Greg Schiano has something special in Piscataway. The national media is starting to take notice as well. For the first time since 1976, Rutgers finds itself in the AP Top-25. The team is off to a 4-0 start to the season and has done it in impressive fashion. The ground game has been lethal, thanks to the play of sophomore tailback Ray Rice, who ranks fourth nationally in rushing (151 yards per game). It is not just an explosive offense (33.5 ppg), but a stingy defense that ranks fifth nationally in scoring defense (7.5 ppg) and fourth nationally in total defense (205 ypg). Of course, judgment on the Knights will be reserved until mid October and beyond, when the team takes on the likes of Pittsburgh. Louisville and West Virginia. Still, kudos to the squad from Northern Jersey for all they have achieved to date.
Greg Schiano and the Scarlet Knights find themselves at 4-0 to start the season.
CUT AND DRY
While beauty is sometimes in the eye of the beholder and there can be arguments made for who is the best player in the country at certain positions, the wide receiver position is not one of them in my humble opinion. Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson is clearly the top wideout in the game. There simply isn't a player out there that gets coverages rolled his way and still dominates the way Johnson does, especially in big games. Last week against Virginia, Johnson grabbed six balls, for a career-best 165 yards and two TDs. The fact that he is 6-4, 235 pounds and possesses decent speed isn't fair to defenses around the nation. Johnson has 19 catches this year, for 311 yards with five TDs. Sure there is a slew of talented receivers out there (i.e. Dwayne Jarrett, Robert Meachem, Dallas Baker, DeSean Jackson), but none are the complete package the way Johnson is. A lot of those names are ahead of him as far as stats go as well, but not many names will be called in the next NFL Draft before his (provided he leaves school this year).
BIG BAD WOLFE
He doesn't have the physical attributes of Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson and lacks the national weekly exposure of West Virginia's Steve Slaton, but Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe is starting to build a buzz around his name. He stands just 5-7 and 177 pounds, but that hasn't prevented the senior from running all over the competition in 2006. Wolfe has not exactly come out of nowhere to put up gaudy numbers, as he finished second in the nation in 2005 in rushing (175.6 ypg). The number one he wears on his chest is certainly apropos, considering he leads the nation in rushing this time around. Wolfe is coming off a 198-yard, four-TD performance against Indiana State last weekend and has now amassed 828 yards in four games. He is netting 207 yards per game, on an eye-popping 8.6 yards per carry. He is still a long shot to win the Heisman this season, but a 2,000-yard campaign might make the voting very interesting.
THEY CALL HIM BRUCE
The Pac-10 churns out NFL-quality defensive linemen and this year's group may just be headed by Washington State's Mkristo Bruce. The 6-6, 260-pound senior has the look of a dominating force off the edge, but the Stanford Cardinal can definitely attest to more than just his look. Bruce single-handedly ravaged the Cardinal offensive line, recording a school-record five sacks last week in being named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week. Bruce currently leads the conference in sacks (seven), with eight TFLs and one interception. Bruce emerged last season as a junior, earning All-Pac-10 Second- Team honors, while leading the team in TFLs (15) and sacks (10). He is well on his way to shattering those numbers in 2006 and could be in line to hear his name called awfully early in next year's NFL Draft.
Several teams had huge wins in their sights this week, only to have their dreams of a big upset washed away as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The worst had to be the meltdown of Colorado against Georgia. The Buffaloes have struggled big time this season, but took the then ninth-ranked Bulldogs to the brink in Athens no less. However, after leading 13-0 with less than 10 minutes left in the game, the Buffs gave up a pair of scores only to leave Athens with a deflating 14-13 loss. Colorado is not alone in feeling the sting of an unexplainable loss. Michigan State had Notre Dame on the ropes in East Lansing as well, before the Irish rallied late to erase a 37-20 deficit and head home with a 40-37 victory. Those kinds of chances for big wins don't come around every year and it remains to be seen if the Buffaloes and Spartans can learn from their mistakes and get back on track.
THIS WEEK'S CAN'T MISS MATCHUPS
There are just two games this week where top-25 teams meet. The first one takes place in Blacksburg, where ACC foes Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech get set for battle. The Yellow Jackets are a dangerous team on both sides of the ball and will have the best player on the field in Calvin Johnson. The Hokies rarely lose in Lane Stadium and have the kind of defense that often frustrates Georgia Tech signal-caller Reggie Ball, not to mention most other signal-callers in the country. The second game pits top-ranked Ohio State at Iowa. The Buckeyes, despite the scoreboard, had their problems with Penn State last weekend and the Big Ten slate is anything but forgiving. Troy Smith will have to be on top of his game, if OSU is to avoid a loss in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes are a very disciplined team with playmakers on both sides of the football.