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October 17, 2011

Rivals.com Week 7 Conference Call

Here's a quickie look at the weekend's action in a conference-by-conference manner.

Think of it as one final chance to look back at the weekend that was. We will have this conference call every Monday.

ACC

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: Virginia's defense. Given an extra week to prepare for Georgia Tech's option attack, Virginia upset the Yellow Jackets 24-21 by allowing just 296 yards to a team that had been averaging 553.5 yards per game. Tech matched a season-low with 272 rushing yards and established new season lows in first downs (17), pass completions (two) and passing yards (24). The Yellow Jackets had an equal number of pass completions and interceptions.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets' first loss of the season resulted from a team-wide breakdown. Tech fell behind 14-0 early and never came all the way back. The defense allowed Virginia to rush for 272 yards and gain 5.8 yards per carry. The offense scored on just one of its last six possessions. "We've gotten away with just going through the motions the last few weeks," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said in his postgame press conference. "You can see it in pregames. There's no intensity. There's no emotion. It's hard to play this game without that. We've got to fix some things."

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Virginia CB Chase Minnifield]

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Maryland QB C.J. Brown. Maryland blew an 18-point lead in a 56-45 loss to Clemson, but the Terps may have found a quarterback in the process. In his first career start, Brown -- a sophomore -- showed no signs of nerves and instead nearly led Maryland to one of the season's biggest upsets. He ran for 162 yards, the most by a Maryland quarterback in school history. Brown also threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth score. Brown must improve his accuracy, as he went just 17-of-35 against Clemson. But he clearly gave the slumping Terps a major spark.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYERS: North Carolina's secondary. There's no need to single out one player when the entire North Carolina secondary struggled in a 30-24 loss to Miami. North Carolina CBs Charles Brown and Jabari Price did combine on three pass breakups, but the Tar Heels failed to record an interception and allowed Jacory Harris to throw for 267 yards and three TDs. North Carolina held star TB Lamar Miller to 29 yards on 16 carries, but the lack of a quality pass defense caused the Tar Heels to fall behind 27-3 in the first half anyway.

BIG EAST

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: Connecticut. The Huskies have arguably put together the worst follow-up to a BCS bowl season, with losses to Vanderbilt, Iowa State and Western Michigan. Connecticut, though, showed it still has some life in the Big East even after Western Michigan and West Virginia shredded its defense the past two weeks. For the second consecutive season, Connecticut defeated USF despite not scoring an offensive touchdown. The Huskies' offense is making fewer mistakes, and the defense has shown it can pounce.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: USF. What has happened to the Bulls? They once were a top-20 team, but now they're in danger of a finishing with another losing conference record. USF turned the ball over four times, three from QB B.J. Daniels (two interceptions, one fumble). TB Darrell Scott fumbled deep in USF territory, leading to UConn's winning score. Maikon Bonani also missed field goals of 44 and 46 yards. At one point, this looked like a breakout season for USF; now, it's starting to look like another mediocre season in Big East play.

[Rivals.com experts: What we learned in Week 7]

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Rutgers DE Manny Abreu. One of the Scarlet Knights' top recruits in 2007, Abreu has had an up-and-down career. His performance in a 21-20 win over Navy was one of the high points. Abreu, who has moved from linebacker to end, finished with nine tackles and two sacks in the win over the Midshipmen.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: Pittsburgh TB Ray Graham. Pitt's quarterback play again was dismal. But the real mystery in a 26-14 loss to Utah was the disappearance of Graham. Coach Todd Graham said he wants his star to touch the ball 30 times a game. Then why did he touch the ball only 15 times for 56 yards against the Utes?

BIG TEN

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: Ohio State. The return of senior TB Dan "Boom" Herron from suspension was big, and the Buckeyes got their rushing attack on track against Illinois in a 17-7 win. Herron had 114 of the Buckeyes' 211 rushing yards. The defense did its part, too, holding the Illini to 285 total yards. Ohio State is not going to beat Wisconsin in its next game on Oct. 29, but the final four games of the season suddenly look a lot more winnable with Herron back on the field.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Illinois' offense. Illinois was aiming for its first 7-0 start since 1951, but the Illini let a one-dimensional Ohio State team beat them -- and at home no less. Ohio State completed just one pass and managed just 228 total yards, yet still won. Illini coach Ron Zook mismanaged the clock in the fourth quarter and that didn't help. Illinois' defense forced seven punts and held Ohio State to 3-of-12 on third-down conversions, but the Illini offense did nothing.

[BuckeyeGrove.com: Ohio State grounds out win at Illinois]

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Iowa LB Tyler Nielsen. Nielsen, a senior, had 12 tackles in the Hawkeyes' victory over Northwestern. It was by far his best performance of the season; he had made just 15 tackles in the first five games, including just three last week in a loss to Penn State.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: Michigan QB Denard Robinson. Michigan's first loss of the season can't be pinned on Robinson, who is Michigan's best player. But when he has a bad game, the offense as a whole suffers, and he had a bad game Saturday. He finished with just 42 rushing yards -- he was sacked four times -- and was just 9-of-24 for 123 yards, with one TD and one pick. Robinson is at his best when he is able to freelance, and Michigan State didn't allow him that opportunity Saturday. Robinson and coordinator Al Borges still seem to be on different pages at times, and that was evident against the Spartans.

BIG 12

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: Kansas State's defense. After a lackluster first half in which the Wildcats allowed four touchdowns and 296 passing yards at Texas Tech, the defense regrouped and was excellent in the second half. The Wildcats allowed just two field goals and forced three turnovers in the second half to secure a 41-34 victory over the Red Raiders.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Texas' run defense. Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden had an off-day, but the Longhorns couldn't capitalize because their run defense allowed too many big plays. The Cowboys averaged 7.5 yards per carry while rushing for 202 yards and three touchdowns. Two of the touchdowns runs covered 30 and 74 yards.

[Megargee: Week 7 winners and losers]

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Oklahoma State RB Jeremy Smith. He had gained just 214 yards before Saturday's game against Texas. But Smith stunned the Longhorns with 140 rushing yards on just seven carries, including touchdown runs of 30 and 74 yards in the Cowboys' win.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: Texas Tech QB Seth Doege. Although he passed for 461 yards, Doege also committed four turnovers. Three (a fumble and two interceptions) came on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter, when the Red Raiders were trying to rally from a three-point deficit. All three of Doege's turnovers set up Kansas State in Texas Tech's end of the field and one set up a touchdown. He also had an interception returned for a touchdown in the first quarter.

MOUNTAIN WEST

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: San Diego State. After scoring a total of 21 points during a two-game losing streak, San Diego State's offense returned to form Thursday in a 41-27 victory at Air Force. One week after throwing three interceptions and going 15-of-41 in a 27-14 loss to TCU, Ryan Lindley threw two touchdown passes without an interception against Air Force. Ronnie Hillman had gained just 55 yards on 20 carries against TCU and was replaced in the backfield by Walter Kazee late in that game. Hillman bounced back in a big way Thursday by rushing for 172 yards and two touchdowns.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Air Force. Air Force's injury-riddled defense continued its season-long inability to stop the run in its loss to San Diego State. Hillman's 172-yard performance helped the Aztecs average 5.7 yards per carry. Air Force is allowing 229.5 rushing yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry to rank 119th nationally in run defense. Only MWC rival New Mexico is allowing more rushing yards per game.

[Game tickets: Watch your favorite team in action]

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Wyoming WR Chris McNeill. Although he didn't catch a pass Saturday, McNeill still played a major role in the Cowboys' 41-14 victory. After fumbling a punt early in the second quarter to set up a UNLV touchdown, McNeill bounced back late in the third quarter by scoring on a 76-yard punt return. And on a trick play early in the fourth quarter, McNeill threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to QB Brett Smith.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: Colorado State QB Pete Thomas. To have any chance at competing with Boise State, the Rams needed a breakthrough performance from their sophomore quarterback. They didn't get it. Thomas went 10-of-24 for 100 yards with an interception and no touchdown passes in a 63-13 loss. Colorado State did have two touchdown passes in the game, but they were thrown by TE Crockett Gillmore and WR Charles Lovett on trick plays. Colorado State's offense wasn't as bad as its defense, which allowed Boise State to gain a school-record 742 yards. But the Rams still needed more production from Thomas.

PAC-12

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: Utah's run defense. The Utes shut down Pitt TB Ray Graham, who entered the game with a nation's-best 899 rushing yards and was averaging nearly 150 rushing yards per game. The Utes held Graham to a season-low 46 yards on 12 carries -- and 21 of those came on one play. That was quite an improvement from two weeks ago, when the Utes allowed Washington's Chris Polk to rush for 189 yards.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Arizona State's defense. That was expected to be a strong point for the Sun Devils, yet it has been inconsistent. Injuries have been an issue, but the Sun Devils were facing an Oregon team with injuries of its own. RB LaMichael James did not play due to injury and QB Darron Thomas left the game in the third quarter with Arizona State leading 24-21. But the Sun Devils could not protect the lead. They gave up 269 rushing yards and 20 points in the second half of a 41-27 loss.

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BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Oregon RB Kenjon Barner. The Ducks' running game didn't miss a beat without James. Barner filled in and rushed for 171 yards on 31 carries and scored a touchdown as the Ducks toppled Arizona State.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: California QB Zach Maynard. He was being counted upon to upgrade Cal's quarterback play, but it hasn't happened. Maynard, who has struggled with accuracy, threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in Thursday night's 30-9 loss to USC.

SEC

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: Vanderbilt's run offense. Vandy fell 33-28 at home to Georgia but had the ball in the final minute with a chance to pull the big upset. Vandy ran for 200 yards after managing just 45 rushing yards combined in their previous two games. Vandy has Army this week, and a victory over the Black Knights gives the Commodores a legit shot at a bowl; they still have games remaining against Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida and Wake Forest.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Florida's offense. The defense had been shredded the past two games but responded with a solid performance against Auburn, holding the Tigers to 17 points and 278 total yards. But the offense looked lost for the third week in a row. The performances the past two weeks, against Alabama and LSU, were somewhat excusable, but Saturday night's season-low totals of 194 yards and six points against a mediocre Auburn defense was pitiful, even with two true freshmen quarterbacks. The rushing attack has been a disaster, with just 194 yards in the past three weeks.

[Bad break: Gamecocks RB Lattimore out for the season]

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Georgia WR Marlon Brown. Brown, a junior, is a former five-star recruit who has been a massive bust. Well, until Saturday night, that is. Brown finally showed some signs of life, catching four passes for 121 yards and two TDs in the Bulldogs' victory at Vandy. He had just 18 career catches going into Saturday's game, including just five this season. The touchdowns were his first in 15 games and gave him three for his career.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen benched QB Chris Relf and gave Russell the start against South Carolina. Relf had been ineffective since Game 2, but Russell wasn't any better. A week after guiding the Bulldogs on three TD drives as they rallied past UAB, Russell ran for just 18 yards on eight carries and was 11-of-29 for 165 yards as a passer in a 14-12 loss to the Gamecocks. Mississippi State is 76th nationally in total offense and has managed just 702 total yards and 28 points in its past three SEC games.

OTHERS

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM: San Jose State. Generally, when you commit six turnovers, you lose. But the Spartans forced six turnovers themselves and edged Hawaii 28-27. San Jose State blocked an extra-point attempt and a field-goal attempt to win back-to-back conference games for the first time since 2008. The Spartans improved to 3-4 with the win and have bowl hopes, something that's rare at this time of the season in San Jose.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM: Troy. This is the second week in a row that Troy has laid an egg -- and this one was huge. A week after falling at Louisiana-Lafayette, the Trojans returned home and were blown out 38-10 by Louisiana-Monroe. Troy was outscored 35-7 in the second half, and the Warhawks scored the final 35 points of the game. ULM outgained Troy 523-126 and held the Trojans to minus-14 rushing yards; Trojans QB Corey Robinson was sacked four times. Troy has won or shared five consecutive Sun Belt titles, but that streak looks as if it will come to an end this season as it trails ULL by two games in the loss column.

[College Football Pick'em: Sign up and play today]

BIGGEST SURPRISE, PLAYER: Marshall QB A.J. Graham. Graham got his first start of the season in relief of an ineffective Rakeem Cato and guided the Herd to a win over Rice. Graham, who had played scant minutes in just two games this season before Saturday, threw for 110 yards and a TD and rushed for 129 and two scored as Marshall prevailed 24-20. The Herd improved to 3-4, and given the rest of their schedule, they now have a legit chance to finish 6-6 and gain bowl eligibility.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, PLAYER: Western Michigan QB Alex Carder. Carder, a junior, had been playing at a high level entering Saturday's game at Northern Illinois, an important one in the MAC West race. Going into the game, Carder led the MAC with 1,495 passing yards and was second with 15 TDs. He had thrown at least two TD passes in each of Western's five games and led the MAC with a 69.4 completion percentage. He was going against an NIU defense that was last in the MAC in pass efficiency defense. But Carder struggled mightily in a 51-22 loss, throwing for just 194 yards, with one TD and one pick, and completing just 58.1 percent of his passes.

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