The power of one
In Coaching 101, right after the professor explains the intricacies of the rollover contract, he tells the class the unassailable verities of the sport: 11 men must play as one. No one player is bigger than the team.
Then the professor hopes that his students haven't been watching No. 16 Wisconsin, and the transformation that took place Saturday when tailback Anthony Davis returned to the Badgers lineup. The senior, who missed three games because of an eye injury he suffered in the opener, rushed for 213 yards and three touchdowns Saturday in Wisconsin's 24-7 defeat of Illinois.
No offense to fullback Matt Bernstein, who filled in ably for Davis in the Badgers' defeat of Penn State the previous week.
"He's a special player," Illini coach Ron Turner said after the game. "He brings the dimension of a home run every play. He's an outstanding player. We knew that. We knew that not only was he back and healthy, but he was back and healthy with fresh legs."
The Badgers, one of five Big Ten teams ranked between 10th and 16th by the ESPN/USA Today board of coaches, will find out a lot in the next two weeks about their chance of winning a Big Ten championship for the first time in five years. Wisconsin plays at No. 15 Ohio State on Saturday, then travels to No. 10 Purdue the following week.
The Buckeyes will have some mirror-gazing to do after their 33-27 overtime loss at Northwestern. The Wildcats came into the game with a 1-3 record. However, the losses came in overtime at TCU, and to still unbeaten Arizona State and Minnesota. Ohio State has struggled, as coach Jim Tressel said last week, but his players seemed mystified at the result Saturday night.
"We lost to a team that we didn't think we could lose to," Ohio State offensive tackle Rob Sims said after the game, according to the Associated Press.
The Buckeyes have little time to find answers on offense. Wisconsin hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown this season.
But back to our professor, who also must hope that his students ignored the change in the Georgia offense with the return to the lineup of freshman tailback Danny Ware. In the Bulldogs' 45-16 rout of LSU, Ware rushed for 109 yards on 22 carries, which are good, but not great numbers. However, an offense that has sputtered ever since Ware left the South Carolina game on Sept. 11 with a bruised lung sprang to life. David Greene threw for five touchdowns, two more than he had thrown in the first three games.
Though Georgia won a big emotional game -- the two losses to LSU last season served as a rallying cry in the weight room and on the practice field through the long offseason -- the Dawgs have a more important game in the SEC East standings Saturday. No. 17 Tennessee comes to Sanford Stadium with its innards exposed after No. 6 Auburn pounded the Vols, 34-10, in Knoxville on Saturday night.
Freshman Erik Ainge looked like a freshman, throwing four interceptions. Tennessee came out throwing, a curious decision given the Vols' strength at running back, and Auburn capitalized on his mistakes. Three of the Tigers' six scoring drives started at midfield or closer.
Unfortunately for Tennessee, their only loss worse than Saturday night in the last six seasons came last year -- to Georgia, 41-14. The Dawgs have beaten the Vols four straight years.
And the professor hopes that his students haven't seen one play that Oklahoma has run all season with freshman Adrian Peterson at tailback. The Sooners, with the same offensive line and the same Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback as they had last season, have become a completely different offense: more balanced and more dependable for the long haul.
While Oklahoma has hardly returned to the days of Barry Switzer's wishbone, the Sooners rushed for 221 yards and threw for only 151 in the 28-13 defeat of Texas Tech on Saturday. Through four games, Oklahoma is averaging 242.3 yards per game on the ground, nearly 100 yards more than last season and more than 50 yards higher than any of Bob Stoops' five previous teams in Norman.
The Sooners' timing couldn't be better, because No. 5 Texas has improved on defense over a year ago, and the Longhorns' tailback Cedric Benson has rushed for at least 180 yards in all four games. Take him out of the lineup, and you take the Horns' chance of ending their four-game losing streak to the Sooners. Even if Benson is only one player.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel E-mails.
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES
- Missouri AD grateful, regretful in stepping down
- No. 1 QB Murray stays with A&M after UT visit
- McCain: Time to talk legalizing sports betting
- Seahawks' Sherman, Bennett rip 'scam' NCAA