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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Seven 'smart' schools excelling on football field

Seven 'smart' schools excelling on football field

Vanderbilt (4-0, 2-0 in SEC, 19th in both polls)
Honors: The Commodores, whose last winning season was in 1982, are unbeaten and in first place in the East division of arguably the nation's toughest conference. Vanderbilt is the only school currently rated in the top 20 in all three polls mentioned in the first paragraph of this story.
Distinguished alums: Grantland Rice, Molly Sims and a trio of U.S. poet laureates.
Summa cum laude: Vandy leads the nation in turnover margin at plus-2.25 per game.
Tutorial needed? The Commodores are near last (112th) nationally in total offense.
Worthy of a fellowship: Cornerback D.J. Moore leads the nation in punt returns with a 29 yards-per average.
Setting the curve: The Commodores picked up a road win at Mississippi, who then upset No. 4 Florida.
Make-up exam? Not necessary.
Semester outlook: Vandy struggles on offense, a bad omen with three of the nation's top 10 scoring defenses remaining on the schedule. Contests with Mississippi State, Duke and Tennessee are winnable. Choppy waters ahead, but the Commodores have set a course for their first bowl in more than a quarter-century.

Northwestern (5-0, 1-0 in Big Ten)
Honors: Unbeaten, Northwestern is the only 5-0 team in our study group.
Distinguished alum: Brent Musberger, pardner! Also Zach Braff, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers.
Summa cum laude: Ranked ninth in the nation in scoring defense (12.4 points per game), the Wildcats are the only school in this group rated in the top 25 in either the scoring defense or total defense categories. Northwestern is rated fifth in sacks with 3.4 per game.
Tutorial needed? At 25 points per game, the Wildcats are tied with Stanford as the lowest-scoring team in our distinguished scholar-athletes group.
Extra credit: The Wildcats are fifth in the nation in sacks per game (3.4).
Worthy of a fellowship: Defensive end Corey Wootton, a 6-7, 270-pound beast, is among the nation's top 20 in both sacks and tackles for loss.
Setting the curve: Road win at Iowa.
Make-up exam? Not necessary.
Semester outlook: Cats bypass Big Ten bullies Penn State and Wisconsin on the schedule and have a realistic shot at nine wins.

Cal (3-1, 1-0 in Pac-10)
Honors: Cal shredded conference foe Washington State, 66-3.
Distinguished alums: Jack London, Gregory Peck and Jann Wenner.
Summa Cum Laude: The Golden Bears have the most explosive offense in this septet, averaging 43.25 points per game (10th nationally).
Tutorial needed? Not really. The Golden Bears, after the noon debacle at Maryland, need to remember to avoid scheduling early-morning classes.
Extra Credit: Cal is 11th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
Worthy of a Fellowship: Sophomore tailback/returner Jahvid Best is third in the nation in all-purpose yardage (215.5 yards per game) and eighth in kickoff return yardage (31.56).
Setting the curve: Beat Michigan State, which is 4-1.
Make-up exam? Cal lost to 4-1 Maryland, which beat preseason top 10 Clemson.

Rice (3-2, 2-0 in C-USA)
Honors: The Owls have not allowed Hurricane Ike, which ravaged the Houston area, to distract them from their goals.
Distinguished alum: Venture capitalist John Doerr.
Summa cum laude: The Owls are 14th nationally in scoring, averaging 41.2 points per game.
Tutorial needed? Rice surrenders three sacks per game, which places them 113th.
Extra Credit: Quarterback Chase Clement and wide receiver Jaret Dillard broke an NCAA record on Saturday when they hooked up for their 41st career touchdown reception.
Worthy of a Fellowship: An entire study group excel for Rice. Clement is sixth in the nation in total offense, while wide receivers James Casey and Dillard are second and third, respectively, in the nation in receptions per game. The two wideouts are also both in the top 10 in receiving yards per game. Safety Andrew Sendejo averages 10 tackles per game.
Setting the curve: No high-quality wins yet, but the Owls have averaged 58.3 points in their three victories.
Make-up exam? The Owls' two losses have come to pair of unbeatens: Vandy and No. 5 Texas.

Notre Dame (3-1)
Honors: The Charlie Weis-Ty Willingham comparisons have ceased.
Distinguished alum: Regis!
Summa cum laude: The Irish have already equaled last season's win total while underclassmen have scored 12 of their 14 touchdowns. They also rank 11th in net punting (39.83 yards).
Tutorial needed? Despite heavy doses of blitzing under new co-defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, Notre Dame's defense has just one sack this season (118th).
Extra Credit: Safeties David Bruton and Kyle McCarthy are each averaging at least nine tackles per game.
Worthy of a Fellowship: Sophomore wide receiver Golden Tate leads the Irish in receptions (20) and touchdowns (three) while also having the team's longest run from scrimmage: 24 yards.
Setting the curve: Irish walloped Michigan, who then defeated top-10 unbeaten Wisconsin.
Make-up exam? Domers committed three turnovers and missed two field goals in a loss at Michigan State.
Semester Outlook? The "Crank Me Up!" gang turned a corner in Saturday's win versus Purdue. An eight- or nine-win season is possible for this underclassmen-dominated squad.

Duke (3-1, 1-0 ACC)
Honors: Are you kidding? The Blue Devils are one win away from equaling their victory total from 2004-07.
Distinguished alum: Peter Agre, the 2003 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry.
Summa cum laude: New coach David Cutcliffe has turned around a perennial loser in no time at all.
Tutorial needed? Duke is averaging only 3.45 yards per punt return (113th nationally). Also, Wallace Wade Stadium security needs to do a better job of warding off wayward skydivers.
Extra Credit: Dookies are 13th nationally in turnover margin with a plus-1.25 average.
Worthy of a Fellowship: Linebacker Michael Tauiliili is sixth in the nation in tackles with 11.5 per game.
Setting the curve: The Blue Devils throttled Virginia 31-3, which not only broke a 25-game ACC losing streak but was also the first time they held a foe to single digits since Western Carolina in 2003.
Make-up exam? A holding penalty negated a game-winning touchdown pass on 4th down versus Northwestern, Duke's only blemish on the season.
Semester outlook: For a team that has yet to stray from campus, the coursework becomes much more rigid with trips to Georgia Tech, Vandy, Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia Tech. A six-win season would be reason to rejoice in Durham.

Stanford (3-2, 2-1 Pac-10)
Honors: Only Harvard, Princeton, Yale and MIT are rated higher academically.
Distinguished alums: The founders of Cisco, Gap, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Victoria's Secret, Yahoo! and YouTube, just to name a few.
Summa cum laude: Just think what that must do for the endowment fund.
Tutorial needed? Jim Harbaugh's team may as well take up residence in study hall. The Cardinal are 86th in both scoring defense and total defense and 105th in total offense. How they have a winning record is a bit of a mystery.
Extra credit: The Cardinal are 13th in the nation in sacks.
Worthy of a Fellowship: Linebacker Pat Maynor is 18th in the nation in sacks with four.
Setting the curve: Stanford beat Oregon State, which then went out and shocked No. 1 USC.
Make-up exam? No shame in losing at TCU, but the Cardinal would love another shot at overrated Arizona State.
Semester outlook: The Pac-10 is at an ebb, and the Cardinal can win three of the next four games (at Notre Dame, Arizona, at UCLA, Washington State) before finishing with the conference's three top programs. We see 6-6.

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