- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2008

The SEC’s revelation weekend was a pure boom-bust affair.

Big winners LSU, Florida, Georgia and Alabama have separated themselves as the fab four of college football’s king conference.

LSU (4-0) survived its trip to Auburn over the weekend, discovering a quarterback along the way in Jarrett Lee. The redshirt freshman was a one-man cavalry at Jordan-Hare Stadium, entering the game in the third quarter for injured starter Andrew Hatch and rallying offensively stagnant LSU to a 26-21 victory with two touchdown passes.

Florida has discovered defense. The Gators (3-0) mauled reeling Tennessee for a second straight season, strapping a 30-6 loss on the Volunteers (1-2) behind three takeaways and what continues to be the nation’s best special teams. Nobody was concerned about Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer’s high-octane offense entering this season, but there were questions about a Florida defense that forced just 20 turnovers last season and gave up buckets of points to Kentucky (37), Georgia (42), South Carolina (31) and Michigan (41).

Through three games, Florida’s answers on defense have been impressive. The Gators already boast nine takeaways and rank second nationally in turnover margin (3.0). They also rank second in scoring defense after allowing just 19 total points to Hawaii, Miami and Tennessee.

Speaking of the Volunteers, it’s time to smash the Great Pumpkin. Nobody is scared of massive Neyland Stadium these days. Tennessee’s Phil Fulmer is 1-8 at home against top-10 teams this decade. He has lost four straight to Florida, including the last two by a average of 31.5 points. And the issue isn’t talent; it’s coaching. On Saturday, the Volunteers’ defense held Tebow in check (96 yards passing, 26 rushing) and outgained the Gators 258-243. So how did Florida build a 27-0 lead through three quarters?

Because Fulmer’s team again self-destructed, committing two turnovers at the Florida goal-line (one on a bad exchange), collecting 95 yards of drive-killing penalties (nice discipline) and kicking to Brandon James, college football’s equivalent to Devin Hester. The result of that thick-headed decision was predictable. James rolled up 92 return yards on three touches and took a punt back 78 yards in the first quarter to outscore the Vols by himself.

Expect the good folk of Tennessee to give Fulmer a raise and an extension within the week.

Out West, Georgia (4-0) cleared another hurdle in its attempt to navigate the nation’s most difficult schedule, stifling Arizona State 27-10 in the desert. The once-ranked Sun Devils were dominated in their own building from the outset by the Bulldogs, who held Arizona State to 4 rushing yards while leaning on a two-touchdown, 149-yard performance from Heisman Trophy candidate Knowshon Moreno.

Finally, in a matchup between the nation’s two coaches least likely to meet St. Peter, Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide (4-0) crushed Bobby Petrino’s Arkansas squad 49-14. The Crimson Tide travel to Georgia next week in the league’s next elimination round.

Gameballs and gassers

This week’s honors go to Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel and Michigan State’s Javon Ringer. Daniel passed for a career-high 439 yards, completing a school-record 20 straight throws at one point, in Missouri’s 42-21 victory over Buffalo. Daniel is on the Heisman short list; he has thrown just 13 incompletions in his last three games.

The 5-foot-9, 200-pound Ringer led Michigan State’s 23-7 pounding of Notre Dame, toting the leather 39 times for 201 yards and two touchdowns against the Irish (2-1), who probably are almost as bad as the nation suspected after their opening loss against San Diego State. In spite of all the preseason attention heaped on Wisconsin’s P.J. Hill and Ohio State’s hobbled Chris “Beanie” Wells, Ringer ranks second in the nation in rushing yardage (174.8 yards a game) and looks like the Big Ten’s best back.

Gassers go to a trio of coaching fossils named Fulmer, Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno. Joining Fulmer in the haplessly coached category, Bowden’s Florida State squad committed seven turnovers against Wake Forest on Saturday night, handing the Demon Deacons a 12-3 victory in Tallahassee.

In contrast, Penn State (4-0) looks great. But JoePa? Not so much. Complaining of pain in his right leg, coaching’s ornery octogenarian has retired to the press box. Of course, what he should have done, about a decade ago, is just retire.

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