While Texas struggles, Florida enjoys rebirth with defense

Posted Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

Topics: Florida

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Spotlight on Duke

It is late October and the primary buzz on the Duke campus is about something other than the start of men's basketball practices. Instead, fans want to know if the Blue Devils (6-2, 3-1 in ACC) can upset No. 12 Florida State (7-1, 4-1) in today's 2:30 p.m. matchup in Tallahassee, Fla.

And, if not, whether the Blue Devils -- who already are bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994 -- could rebound in a potential rematch in the ACC Championship Game. Both teams lead their respective divisions in the ACC title chase, and Duke seeks its first conference football title since 1989 when Steve Spurrier was the coach.

For players such as receiver Conner Vernon, a senior who is the school's career leader in receptions (249) and receiving yards (3,424), it is a pleasant change.

"It's been a long time since Duke was a thought in football," said Vernon, who had six catches for 124 yards in last week's 33-30 victory over North Carolina. The win gave Duke its second triumph in its past 23 meetings against the Tar Heels. By comparison, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski often beats UNC twice in the same season.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe said the Blue Devils have the potential to claim an ACC title if they continue to minimize mistakes. Duke had no turnovers in last week's victory over UNC. The team's turnover margin is minus-1 for the season.

Storylines

Milestone opportunity: No. 7 Oregon State (6-0, 4-0 in Pac-12) can boost its record to 7-0 for the first time in the history of the football program with a victory tonight at Washington (3-4, 1-3). The Beavers' last seven-game winning streak in any season occurred in 2000.

Reality check? No. 11 Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0 in SEC) has reached the cusp of the Top 10 without facing a team currently in the Top 25. That changes tonight against No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0), explaining why the Bulldogs are 23 1/2 point underdogs.

Tuberville touch: Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville has a 6-5 career record in matchups against Top 5 opponents heading into today's game between No. 14 Tech (6-1, 3-1 in Big 12) and No. 3 Kansas State (7-0, 4-0).

Today's big games

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 8 Oklahoma (7 p.m., WFAA/Ch. 8): The Sooners pack more offensive punch for this Top 10 showdown and win because of it. Oklahoma 28, Notre Dame 23.

No. 2 Florida vs. No. 10 Georgia (2:30 p.m., KTVT/Ch. 11): Pencil in an SEC East title for the resurgent Gators, thanks to a salty defense. Florida 31, Georgia 20.

No. 14 Texas Tech at No. 3 Kansas State (2:30 p.m., KDFW/Ch. 4): Wildcats hold serve at home, carry an undefeated record into November for only the fourth time in school history. Kansas State 41, Texas Tech 28.

Last week: 2-1

Season: 16-5

Klein takes top spot in Heisman poll

Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein leads the Scripps Heisman poll, which has picked the winner 21 of 25 years.

Player

School

1. QB Collin Klein

Kansas State

1,397 passing yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs, 551 rushing yards, 14 TDs

2. LB Manti Te'o

Notre Dame

69 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 fumbles recovered

3. QB Geno Smith

West Virginia

2,414 passing yards, 26 TDs, 2 INTs, 56 rushing yards, 1 TD

4. QB A.J. McCarron

Alabama

1,476 passing yards, 16 TDs, 0 INTs

5. QB Braxton Miller

Ohio State

1,384 passing yards, 11 TDs, 5 INTs, 959 rushing yards, 10 TDs

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

Once upon a time, they wore matching orange shirts and patrolled the same sideline.

Now, Florida football coach Will Muschamp dons a little brighter shade of orange on game day than his former boss, Texas coach Mack Brown. Muschamp's Gators (7-0, 6-0 in SEC), situated at No. 2 in the latest BCS standings, also have a much brighter prospect for BCS bowl possibilities this season than No. 23 Texas (5-2, 2-2 in Big 12).

Florida can wrap up a berth in the SEC Championship Game by defeating No. 10 Georgia (6-1, 4-1) in today's matchup of the top two teams in the East Division standings.

By doing so, Muschamp -- the former coach-in-waiting at Texas -- would turn up more heat on Brown and Manny Diaz, who became the Longhorns' defensive coordinator when Muschamp landed the Florida job after the 2010 season.

Let's be clear: Despite ongoing fan panic, Texas' decision-makers have shown no inclination to sever ties with Brown, who won a 2005 national championship and reached another BCS title game in 2009.

But heat inevitably accompanies disappointment, even if it does not trigger turnover at the top.

And these are disappointing times at Texas, where Brown and Diaz are under siege because the Longhorns' defense has been historically awful in recent weeks.

Texas, a Top 10 team earlier this month, has surrendered 45.6 points per game in its past five outings during the same season that Muschamp, once considered the future of Longhorns football, has built Florida's resurgence on the foundation of a salty defense.

The Gators rank fourth nationally in scoring defense (12.1 average) and seventh in total defense (282 yards per game). That has allowed Muschamp to take a borderline Top 25 team coming off a 7-6 season and turn it into a 7-0 squad in the thick of the national title chase.

The timing, and thoroughness, of Florida's quick recovery has to sting Texas administrators and fans. With every Gators victory, it reinforces what Texas no longer has at its disposal: a rising star in the coaching ranks capable of stabilizing a power program in decline. Texas may need that sooner than anyone expected if Brown, 61, cannot turn the tide at a program with a combined record of 18-15 in his past 33 games.

But Muschamp, the coach once viewed as Texas' long-term trump card to Oklahoma rival Bob Stoops, has left the building in Austin. If Brown rights the ship later this season or next (possible), thoughts about what might have happened in a Muschamp regime at Texas disappear. Ditto if Brown departs and is replaced by Muschamp's mentor, Alabama coach Nick Saban, or some other high-dollar proven commodity.

Such coaches are rare and rarely change addresses. And folks who follow the SEC closely are beginning to believe Muschamp, 41, may be developing into one of those coaches.

CBS college football analyst Gary Danielson, a former NFL quarterback, drew a parallel between Muschamp and former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, a pair of sideline whirlwinds as defensive coordinators.

"Bill was a very emotional defensive coordinator when he first got the job at Pittsburgh and was in everyone's face," Danielson said. "And he learned over time not to lose that but to use that emotion at the proper times. And I think Muschamp's growing into that very nicely, too."

A Muschamp-Saban showdown in the SEC title game, Dec. 1 in Atlanta, would be a spectacular measuring stick for how far Muschamp has progressed in his second season as a head football coach. But the team's 7-0 mark after Muschamp's inaugural 7-6 season says something, too.

"We went through some growing pains last year," Muschamp said. "We just needed some maturing and we needed more experience playing the game.... We're not a team that's going to overpower you in any fashion. We don't have a whole lot of margin for error. We've got to play in all three phases and it's evident every Saturday. But we certainly can be pretty good. When we're all hitting together, we've got a chance."

For Muschamp, another national title opportunity beckons. But the shirt he'll wear while pursing it is a different shade of orange.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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