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For Illini, Buffs, Terps, 2-0 reason to be excited

September 10, 2013

For some teams, a 2-0 start really is something to get excited about.

Colorado has already doubled its win total from last year. Boston College and Illinois have matched their number of victories from 2012 and Auburn is two-thirds of the way to its total. Maryland is halfway to last season’s four wins.

Coming off such poor seasons, a couple of early victories provide welcome relief from the negativity that can cover a program like a damp and musty blanket. For the first time in a while, there is real reason for optimism.

Of course, the coaches of these teams are eager to temper enthusiasm.

“We’re not to where we want to be yet by any means,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said Monday. “We’re really focused on getting better. This football team is really driven in that direction from the senior class down to the freshmen.”

So far so good for the Illini, Buffaloes, Eagles, Tigers and Terrapins.

ILLINOIS (defeated Southern Illinois, Cincinnati).

After a terrible first season in Champaign, Beckman made changes to his staff, most importantly bringing in former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit to run the offense. The early returns have been sensational. Last season Illinois’ offense was the worst in the Big Ten. This season, with many of the same players, including quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, the Illini have averaged 496 yards per game.

COLORADO (defeated Colorado State, Central Arkansas).

CU took some heat for firing Jon Embree after only two seasons as coach of his alma mater, but it was pretty clear the first-time head coach was learning on the job and that was part of the reason the Buffs made a good case for being the worst team in a BCS automatic qualifying conference last year. New coach Mike MacIntyre has cleaned up the mess. Having star wide out Paul Richardson, the Pac-12′s leading receiver, back from a knee injury helps, too.

AUBURN (defeated Washington State, Arkansas State).

New coach Gus Malzahn inherited what might have been the most dysfunctional team in the country last season, but not one without talent. The Tigers recruiting classes for 2010, ’11 and ’12 all ranked in the top 10 nationally, according to Rivals.com. There’s a lot to like about the Tigers start, especially on offense. While trying to nurse along new quarterback Nick Marshall, the Tigers have run for 298 yards per game. Malzahn has barely scratched the surface with this offense.

BOSTON COLLEGE (defeated Villanova, Wake Forest). Another new coach pumping life into a program that hit rock bottom last season. Steve Addazio generated some buzz in the offseason with his “Be a Dude” slogan and some surprisingly big scores in recruiting. He’s brought the power running game back to Chestnut Hill, with Andre Williams averaging 159 yards rushing, fourth in the nation. The Eagles are about to enter a tough stretch of schedule, but maybe not as difficult as first expected. Next up: at Southern California.

MARYLAND (defeated FIU, Old Dominion). The first two seasons of the Randy Edsall era produced six victories. But anybody who has been following along closely knows that Maryland has been accumulating some interesting talent. Receiver Stefon Diggs was terrific as a freshman last season. Now he has dual-threat quarterback CJ Brown getting him the ball. The Terps’ competition hasn’t been much, but they have scored 90 points. If nothing else, they won’t be dull.


FAR FROM OVER: The start of the season doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the quarterback competitions. Here are a few still raging:

USC. Coach Lane Kiffin decided to change it up and announce his starter this week instead of revealing it at game time. Cody Kessler is going to get another start Saturday when the Trojans face Boston College. He and Max Wittek have played in each game, neither effectively. Kiffin has tried to ease them in with conservative play-calling. It might be time to open it up and see what happens.

Michigan State. The Spartans’ offense has been outscored by defensive end Shilique Calhoun, who has three touchdowns. Coach Mark Dantonio used two quarterbacks (Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook) in Game 1, three in Game 2 (Cook, Maxwell and Tyler O’Connor). And don’t be surprised if a fourth (Damion Terry) gets some time Saturday against Youngstown State. The Spartans play at Notre Dame on Sept. 21.

Oklahoma. Trevor Knight, who beat out Blake Bell in the preseason, will miss the Tulsa game Saturday with a bruised knee. That means Bell, aka the Belldozer, starts. He relieved Knight last week against West Virginia but mostly just ran out the clock. Knight completed 43.8 percent of his passes, so there’s an opening for Bell to seize this job.

South Florida. First-year coach Willie Taggart is sticking with Bobby Eveld as the starter. He split time with Matt Floyd during an ugly opening loss to McNeese State, and then played almost the whole game in a loss to Michigan State. The Bulls get Florida Atlantic next. If Eveld can’t get it done against the Owls, expect Floyd or Penn State transfer Steven Bench to get another shot.

Syracuse. Much was expected of Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen, but he’s thrown six interceptions in two games and the Orange have lost both. Back-up Terrell Hunt led a scoring drive late against Northwestern on Saturday. With FCS Wagner on tap Saturday, first-year coach Scott Shafer has the opportunity to give both another look.



—Impressive start way off the radar: Bowling Green dominated Conference USA favorite Tulsa in its opener, 33-7, and then pounded Kent State, considered a fellow Mid-American Conference contender, 41-22.

—Three weeks into the season, we’ll finally get to see how good No. 20 Wisconsin is under new coach Gary Andersen. The Badgers play at Arizona State after opening with shutouts of Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech. Arizona State also opened easy, beating Sacramento State.

—Another example that recruiting is far from an exact science. Rutgers running back Paul James is averaging 150 yards after two games and has emerged as the team’s go-to back. He’s a walk-on. The player he beat out, Savon Huggins, was rated a four-star recruit.



“They had really bad players.” — Texas coach Mack Brown on why he wasn’t concerned that new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson oversaw two poor defenses during his time at Michigan.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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