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September 12, 2007
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. Click his name to send him a question for his weekly mailbag.
Sept. 5: Breakthrough day for Choice
Aug. 29: Media guide awards
Aug. 23: Keeping streaks alive
Execution and evolution are key elements in a successful football season.
Winning championships usually is an evolving process that requires improvement from week to week. Conventional wisdom maintains the most improvement is made between games one and two, after teams get their first look at what wrinkles need to be ironed out.
Several teams came out last week looking neatly pressed and starched.
South Carolina showed improvement by following up a 28-14 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette with a vital 16-12 win over SEC East rival Georgia.
Meanwhile, a week after an embarrassing opening loss to Michigan State, UAB made a gallant upset bid before falling to Florida State 34-24.
Likewise, Middle Tennessee State scored 42 points in a loss to Louisville a week after losing 27-14 to Florida Atlantic.
But of all the teams that needed to improve from week one, Texas showed more progress than anyone other than USF - which followed up an easy win over Division I-AA Elon with an overtime upset of Auburn.
Texas' 34-13 victory over TCU wasn't as stunning because the Longhorns were expected to win, but there were several national analysts who figured it would be TCU ? not USF ? pulling off the upset of the week.
That's because Texas was woefully lackluster ? and perhaps wonderfully lucky ? in a 21-13 season-opening victory over Arkansas State. That game wasn't settled until the Longhorns recovered an onside kick late in the fourth quarter.
Texas allowed 397 yards to Arkansas State, but bounced back against TCU and surrendered 251 ? including 43 rushing. That improved defensive showing was at least in part a result of sophomore linebackers Roddrick Muckelroy and Jared Norton getting increased playing time ahead of Scott Derry and Rashad Bobino.
Quarterback Colt McCoy also was significantly better, especially in the second half. He threw two interceptions against Arkansas State and two more in the first half against TCU, one of which was returned for a touchdown. But in the second half against the Horned Frogs, McCoy was much sharper and directed Texas to five scores.
"We feel like we had a chance to improve in so many areas and we feel like we improved in just about all the areas we addressed," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "We told (the Texas players), 'We appreciate you. You heard us and got (the problems) fixed.'
"We do feel like we made great strides with a lot of guys from week one to week two."
Brown was concerned about the Longhorns' tendency to surrender big plays, a problem that torpedoed their Big 12 title hopes last season. Brown often stresses the importance of "explosive plays," which he defines as running plays that net at least 12 yards and passing plays that cover at least 17.
Texas allowed Arkansas State 11 explosive plays. TCU was held to five. Texas was plus-two in turnovers against TCU after being minus-one against Arkansas State.
"We held Arkansas State to 13 points, but we gave up too many big plays," Brown said. "TCU had only five explosive plays and we held them to a minimum rushing. We're not there defensively, but we feel like we're making progress."
They had better.
In two weeks, the Longhorns face Kansas State, which upset Texas 45-42 last season. The annual showdown with Oklahoma, which ranks second nationally in scoring offense, is the week after that.
What three Division I-A universities have stadiums that are named solely after one former player? (Answer at the end of the column.)
Get on board
Some find motivation on the bulletin board. The Louisville Cardinals have gotten theirs from billboards.
Kentucky posted ads for its football program on 13 billboards in Louisville, including one near the Louisville campus. The signs have messages like "Believe in Circus Catches" and "Believe in Loyalty" and each feature a Kentucky player and a slogan.
"I definitely saw those this summer," said Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, a Louisville native. "They're everywhere. I think lot of our guys use it as motivation. You come by for a summer workout and have to drive by the Kentucky billboards every day."
Someone suggested Louisville should put up a billboard featuring Brohm in Lexington.
"Maybe we should start that up," Brohm agreed.
But Brohm indicated he'd settle for a fourth consecutive victory over the Wildcats. Kentucky hasn't beaten its in-state rival since 2002.
"That would be huge," he said. "I never want to see Louisville losing to Kentucky in anything. I grew up with this rivalry and I want to beat Kentucky in everything we do around here.
"I definitely want to finish 4-0 against them."
Texas A&M senior Mark Dodge, a regular at the Aggies' weekly news conferences each Tuesday, chose not to attend this week because it fell on Sept. 11.
Six years ago, Dodge was part of a recovery team whose mission was to remove bodies from the wreckage at the Pentagon after a plane hijacked by terrorists was crashed into the building. Dodge talked openly about that ordeal before he declined to this year.
"Last week he told me he knew what Tuesday was and he'd like to sit it out," Texas A&M sports information director Alan Cannon said. "I told him that was fine."
Rivals on a roll
The top three quarterback prospects for 2007 as rated by Rivals.com will start for their teams on Saturday for various reasons.
Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, Rivals.com's top-rated prospect, has won the Irish starting job. Saturday, he'll be facing Michigan, which will start Ryan Mallett in place of injured Chad Henne. Mallett was the second-ranked quarterback and fourth-ranked prospect by Rivals.com in the class of 2007.
"Tyrod is our quarterback" Beamer said. "We just feel like with this football team and our offense, Tyrod gives us the best chance to be a really, really good offense."
Iowa's Kinnick Stadium, Iowa State's Jack Trice Stadium and Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium. Kinnick was the 1939 Heisman Trophy recipient who died in a plane crash during World War II. Jack Trice was the first black player at Iowa State and died from injuries sustained in his first game. Cincinnati's James Nippert died in 1923 after developing blood poisoning after getting spiked during a game.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.