KEVIN CARTER COLLEGE FOOTBALL BLOG: SPURRIER ON A ROLL
By KEVIN CARTER
ESPNU Sports Analyst
There was a big shakeup in the polls last week, with three teams getting bounced out of the top five -- LSU, Georgia and Florida State. I think the team that gained the most was Florida, with the victory against LSU. That was a big test for the Gators, and they went toe-to-toe with LSU and came out on top while sticking to their type of game.
West Virginia also gained a lot by beating Texas. Geno Smith answered a lot of questions, having a big game against what everyone considered the best defense in the Big 12, and obviously Smith has taken the leadership role in the Heisman race.
The team that lost the most was Georgia. This was a defining, telling moment for the Bulldogs, losing the way they did to South Carolina in a game that was huge for the SEC East picture.
Georgia was shut out, and Aaron Murray did nothing at quarterback. With Isaiah Crowell transferring Georgia has been left with no steady run presence, and losing wide receiver Michael Bennett for the season also has been a big blow. Georgia still hasn't beat a top 25 team in the last four years, and I have to rank them as my biggest disappointment this season.
I knew South Carolina was a good team, well coached, and that their guys up front would get after Murray, but I had no idea it would be so one-sided.
Let's go to this weekend's matchups, starting with South Carolina's next game:
NO. 3 SOUTH CAROLINA AT NO. 9 LSU
This is the week's best game and it's going to be a challenging test for South Carolina. The Gamecocks have begun a five-game stretch that's just crazy: Georgia, at LSU, at Florida, then home against Tennessee and Arkansas. For them to be able to run the table it's going to take a very patient team, a team that's mature and doesn't look ahead.
South Carolina isn't really laden with veterans, but they play mistake-free, assignment football. Steve Spurrier had scripted plays last week that found all the holes in Georgia. Playing LSU makes for a classic coaching battle, Spurrier against Les Miles, who's against the ropes after the loss to Florida.
Spurrier knows how to be patient and have his team outpace the opposition, and this coaching duel is what makes it the best game of the week. I was part of Spurrier's first recruiting class when he coached at Florida, and here's the story about how he made me change my mind and commit to the Gators:
When he came to my house I had just returned from a visit to Notre Dame, and I was mesmerized by that trip. I'd met so many of their great players -- guys like Jerome Bettis, Todd Lyght, Erik Simien, Michael Stonebreaker -- and I was really enamored with the Notre Dame program. Coach Spurrier sat down with me and said, "I'm glad you had a good visit. Now, you can go somewhere else, and get beat by us."
I loved his candor and how honest he was. He's a funny guy, he's quirky, but he's very competitive and he's a man's man who sets very strict standards. We had three curse words we could say, and if we used any others we were in trouble. We could never wear a hat when we were inside. He was big on conduct and not having any distractions, and if you completely bought in and trusted him he wouldn't let you down.
I think you're seeing that with South Carolina right now. They've bought in and they trust him. I don't think anyone anticipated the coaching job he would do this season against quality teams, and he's going to be hard to beat.
NO. 17 STANFORD AT NO. 7 NOTRE DAME
This is a huge game as well, with a lot on the line for a surprising Notre Dame team. Going into the season, and looking at how they had to run a gauntlet of playing quality teams all around the country, I thought they would be an 8-4 team at best. But they're 5-0 and you can't deny them if they're able to beat the big opponents left on their schedule -- Stanford, Oklahoma and USC.
Notre Dame's defense is playing lights-out with Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix and Manti Te'o, and not allowing a touchdown in the last three games. But I think people are overlooking their offensive line, and what it has done for a running game that's averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
Stanford is similar, in that both of these teams play really well in the trenches. No one knew what Stanford could do until they played USC and shut down an opponent loaded with offensive weapons. They stumbled against Washington, but that's a sign of how surprisingly competitive the Pac-12 is this season, with Oregon State also rising up.
Stanford is incredibly consistent, and very strong from a structure standpoint, relying on blocking and tackling. They out-mental people, if you will. That's what they're really good at, and they have a chance to win, no matter who they play.
NO. 15 TEXAS AT NO. 13 OKLAHOMA
This is a redemption game for two teams that have fallen out of the national championship picture after early-season losses. Now they're looking to step back into the Big 12's coveted second spot, get their focus back and try to win in a conference where West Virginia has taken control.
This is a pivotal game for both teams. Landry Jones needs to re-establish himself as a Heisman candidate and generate the big numbers he had in 2011.
For Texas, David Ash has been on fire and is a major surprise at quarterback for a team that's been scoring 47 points a game. But Texas was supposed to be the Big 12 team to beat because it was thought to have one of the Longhorns' best defenses ever, and they've given up an average of 38 points in their last three games.
GENO SMITH AND COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT
No. 5 West Virginia's game at Texas Tech is one to keep an eye on, because everybody is waiting on Geno Smith and the Mountaineers to have a letdown after the big win against Texas.
When people ask me about Smith I say he's like the quarterback we had when the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl, Kurt Warner. When a Rams receiver had a step on a defensive back Kurt never missed him. The same thing holds true for Geno Smith, he never misses.
While Smith is playing out of his mind, averaging almost 400 yards passing a game, I think the big surprise for West Virginia is how they've been able to run the ball. They had 200-plus rushing yards against Texas and they are keeping possession, controlling the clock and scoring touchdowns instead of field goals.
But West Virginia is set up for a letdown, and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain that mental toughness.
As for coaches on the hot seat, there are plenty. Kirk Ferentz is certainly one, with Iowa losing to Central Michigan, at home. Two others you have to look at are Joker Phillips at Kentucky and Derek Dooley at Tennessee. The SEC is like the NFL, where it's Not For Long if you don't win in that three-year window.