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October 10, 2012

Morris: What we’ve learned so far

Six things we know as the college football season reaches the halfway point: 1. South Carolina is a national championship contender.....

Six things we know as the college football season reaches the halfway point:

1. South Carolina is a national championship contender.

It goes beyond USC’s No. 3 national ranking, impressive beatdown of Georgia and being one of 15 remaining unbeatens nationally. USC has positioned itself to contend for a national title because it has one of the nation’s top defenses.

Because of its defense, there is no game on USC’s schedule that cannot be won. The defense has allowed three touchdowns in the first three quarters of its six games. The other three opponents’ touchdowns came late in games, long after the outcomes were decided.

USC’s defense stymied Georgia’s high-power attack, allowing the Bulldogs 224 yards. The Gamecocks rank fourth nationally in scoring defense (10.5 points allowed per game), ninth in rushing defense (84 yards allowed per game) and 11th in total defense (278 yards allowed per game).

As a result, USC finds itself in national title contention with the likes of Alabama, Oregon, Florida, West Virginia, Kansas State and Notre Dame.

2. Clemson’s defense is woeful.

The crazy thing is it might not matter that Clemson’s defense can’t stop any opponent. Even with a defense that ranks 71st in the nation by allowing 27.3 points per game and 96th nationally by giving up 446 yards per game, the Tigers might win the ACC Atlantic Division and head into their game against USC with an 10-1 record.

Clemson features one of the most exciting offenses in the country, ranking 13th in scoring (41.33 points per game) and 10th in total offense (526 yards per game). That plays well in the ACC, where the competition is not stiff.

It is not likely to play as well against USC or in a bowl game against a quality opponent.

3. Ship the Heisman Trophy to Geno Smith.

A USA Today survey of 35 reporters with Heisman Trophy votes was released this week and West Virginia’s quarterback received all 35 first-place votes.

Smith has been off-the-charts good. His numbers are eye-opening, to say the least. He leads the nation in passing efficiency thanks to completing 84 percent of his throws for 1,996 yards. He has not thrown an interception in 204 attempts. He has 24 touchdown passes and 38 incompletions.

Barring an injury or unforeseen collapse by Smith, this could be the biggest landslide in Heisman voting since 1993, when Charlie Ward of Florida State collected 740 first-place votes and Heath Shuler of Tennessee was next with 10.

4. Alabama remains the team to beat.

The defending national champions have shown no signs of slipping. The Crimson Tide lead the nation in scoring defense (7 points allowed per game) and total defense (192 yards allowed per game). They also lead in turnover margin at 15 to 3.

Granted, Alabama has been tested only in its opener against Michigan. But it appears the only remaining test in the regular season will come Nov. 3 at LSU. An unbeaten regular season is realistic, and an SEC Championship game win puts Alabama back in the BCS national title game.

5. Wild-scoring affairs are the rage.

The scores have been mind-boggling, none quite as crazy as West Virginia’s 70-63 victory against Baylor. That game was played the same weekend Georgia defeated Tennessee, 51-44.

Also that weekend, 11 teams each scored 50 or more points, and 13 teams scored 30 or more points ... and lost! Five teams are averaging more than 50 points per game with Oklahoma State leading the way at 55.8.

Prolific scoring does not necessarily equate to championship football. Of the 15 remaining unbeaten teams, only Louisiana Tech (third), Oregon (fourth) and West Virginia (fifth) rank in the top 10 in scoring.

6. Defense rules in the SEC.

The national trend toward big-play, high-octane offenses generally is not playing out in the SEC, where running the football and relying on stingy defenses are hallmarks of the league’s top teams.

Six of the league’s 14 teams rank among the nation’s top 14 in scoring defense. Alabama leads the nation, USC is fourth, Florida sixth, LSU eighth, Mississippi State 11th and Texas A&M 14th. Not coincidentally, all six remain contenders for division championships.

It is a clear signal that defense still wins in the SEC.

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