Posted on: December 5, 2010 5:35 pm
Edited on: December 5, 2010 5:38 pm
 

Saturday Thoughts, 12/4

Due to the minimal number of meaningful games this weekend, I chose to take the two major off-field stories and include them in this week’s Saturday Thoughts.


 1. Oregon Wins Civil War, Headed to Glendale

The Oregon Ducks secured their place in the BCS Championship game with a 37-20 victory over rival Oregon State in Corvallis.  Over the second half of its Pac-10 schedule, the Ducks defense has really stepped up.   

Oregon held Washington and Cal to 16 and 13 points, respectively.  Though the defense had trouble in the first half last week, it stepped up in the second half and held Arizona to 10 points after intermission.  The Ducks had another solid showing this week, holding Oregon State to 13 late into the fourth quarter before allowing a late Beavers TD. 

If the Ducks are to walk away from Glendale as National Champions, their defense will have to step up again with Cam Newton and the Auburn offense joining them.

 

2. Auburn Hammers South Carolina

It took until Game 13, but the Auburn Tigers finally have a dominating performance over a quality opponent.  South Carolina provided little resistance to an Auburn team on a mission, falling 56-17. 

Prior to today, the Tigers survived close calls against Mississippi State, Clemson, South Carolina, Kentucky, LSU and Alabama.  Additionally, Arkansas, Mississippi and Georgia played Auburn well early before fading later in the game.  This was the first game all season where Auburn showed the world its full potential on both sides of the ball.  Assuming Newton is eligible (I’ll get to that later), Auburn should be the favorite come January. 

This record-setting loss is yet another black eye for the SEC’s Eastern Division, which is experiencing a down season, to say the least.  For the regular season, the division finished with a 36-37 (.493) record.  Included in that record was a 3-16 record in matchups against the SEC West (1-15 in games that didn’t include Western cellar-dweller Ole Miss).  The East’s season is easily the worst performance by a major conference (or conference division, as is this case) that I have ever seen, including the Big East’s 2004 and 2010 seasons.


3. Cameron Newton’s Status

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last month (or Auburn fans in a severe state of denial), issues have come up to question Auburn QB Cameron Newton’s amateur status.  Long story short, multiple sources have reported that Newton and/or his father Cecil solicited money from Mississippi State University during Newton’s recruitment last year.   

Recently, the NCAA ruled that Newton’s father did solicit money.  However, since there was no proof Newton had any knowledge of his father’s actions, the NCAA ruled him ineligible.  The Rev. Cecil Newton did not get off without punishment.  The NCAA has severely limited his access to Auburn and its football program.  From my understanding, any time a parent says or does anything on behalf of their child, it is as if the student-athlete took said action.  I also thought that as soon as money was solicited from any source, the student lost his/her amateur status.  Based on these two rules, as well as the facts in the case, it would seem to me that Newton should not have been eligible at any point this season. 

Enter the conspiracy theorists.  College football message boards have been lighting up all week.  Some people have said that the NCAA and SEC commissioner Mike Slive have been conspiring to maintain the conference’s position atop college football (in spite of uncharacteristically bad years from the many SEC schools, particularly in the East).  Others have claimed this is a conspiracy to keep TCU out of the title game.

I wouldn’t go that far, but I would not put Newton on my Heisman ballot if I had one.  The Heisman is the ultimate individual prize in amateur football.  As I understand the rules, Cameron Newton no long qualifies as an amateur.


4. TCU and the Big East

To me, TCU’s marriage to the Big East Conference is a match made in reactionary heaven.  It is my belief that when the history of this round of conference expansion is written, neither party will be viewed as a winner (many more will be seen as losers).   

With TCU, Boise State, Nevada, Hawaii, et al., the MWC was still on its way to BCS-AQ status (especially if it were to add Kevin Sumlin’s resurgent Houston program).  I also think the Big East’s AQ status was never at risk.  There are too many people living in the Northeastern United States (especially New York and Philadelphia) for the BCS to risk abandoning those markets.  If the MWC were to get AQ status, it would not have been at the Big East’s expense; instead, there would have been a seventh AQ conference. 

TCU’s decision moves it to a conference where the closest school is over 600 miles away (the majority of the Big East is 1,000 miles from Fort Worth).  Though not a problem for football, this could become an issue for TCU’s non-revenue sports, particularly baseball.  Moving TCU’s strong baseball program from the MWC to the Big East is at best a lateral move. 

The decision to expand in the name of football has the potential to lead to a split of the Big East to two (or three) conferences.  Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim was the first to express his displeasure.  This decision would likely be enough to drive Syracuse to the Big Ten, should the conference choose to expand again.   

There are multiple rumors about what the next move will be for the Big East’s non-football members.  The first option is the formation of an eight-team basketball conference.  The other popular option is slightly more convoluted: Marquette and DePaul (possibly Notre Dame, too) have discussed the idea of working with Dayton, Xavier, St. Louis and the private schools of the Horizon League to form a new conference of Midwestern private schools with an emphasis on basketball. 

Essentially, the Big East sacrificed its status as the nation’s best basketball conference to slightly upgrade its football status.


5. Sooners Send Huskers to Big Ten With a Loss

Earlier this week, I wrote an article claiming that the Okahoma-Nebraska Big 12 title game would be the most entertaining of the five conference championship games.  I caught quite a bit of flack from members of SEC fanbases.  The primetime performance of these great rivals certainly vindicated me. 

Nebraska jumped out to a 17-0 lead early on, but was unable to hold off OU.  The Huskers were unable to move the ball effectively in the second half as Oklahoma’s defense proved too strong and too fast for NU.  Very rarely in a Nebraska game does the other team’s defense outplay the Blackshirts, but that was clearly the case Saturday night. 

Barring a bowl matchup, tonight’s game was the last chapter that will be written in this once-great rivalry for the near future.  The earliest these two programs will be able to resume their rivalry will be in 2020 and 2021.  Negotiations are already in progress.  Hopefully an annual OOC game can eventually find its way onto the schedule.  However, even if it does, I fear the rivalry will never be the same.  We may have just witnessed the last great Oklahoma-Nebraska game.

 

6. Virginia Tech Runs Table in ACC

When James Madison embarrassed Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium, many experts left VT for dead.  The Hokies responded with the heart of a champion, rolling off 11 consecutive wins.  Only Georgia Tech and North Carolina State provided a significant challenge to VT.  The Hokies beat GT 28-21 in Blacksburg and won 41-30 at NC State.  No other team managed to get within two touchdowns of Virginia Tech for the rest of the regular season.  Atlantic Division champion Florida State didn’t put up much of a fight, losing the highest-scoring ACC Championship game in history, 44-33.  

The Orange Bowl committee must be disappointed.  In Florida State, the Orange Bowl (played in Miami) would have had a school with a strong local following as an anchor.  Virginia Tech travels well, but won’t be able to sell as many tickets in South Florida as the ‘Noles.  With only UConn and Stanford to choose from, the Orange Bowl is destined to be the biggest loser when BCS pairings are announced. 

As far as the ACC is concerned, this game was a huge success.  The ACC Championship game has been plagued by less-than-desirable matchups the last few years.  Due to this, it has been difficult for the ACC to sell tickets for the game (previously held in Tampa and Jacksonville).  The matchup, combined with the game’s new location in Charlotte, give the league its best title game to date.


7. Three-Way Tie Atop Big East, UConn to BCS


This has been a rough season for Big East football, clearly its worst since 2004.  The conference tallied a net record of 52-44 (.541).  Two-time defending champion Cincinnati finished a disappointing 4-8 (including a 2-3 OOC mark).  Greg Schiano’s Rutgers team matched Cincy’s record. 

In an attempt to find the silver lining, all was not lost this season in the Northeast.  Syracuse alumus Doug Marrone led the Orange to its first bowl since 2004, and is clearly the favorite for conference (and possibly national) Coach of the Year.  South Florida was solid, if not spectacular, in Skip Holtz’s first season (including a win at Miami).  Charlie Strong appears to have the Louisville program back on track.  West Virginia had a typical season and just missed another Orange Bowl bid. 

Congratulations to the University of Connecticut on clinching its first-ever BCS bid (either Orange or Fiesta).  The Huskies won an incredibly ugly game in Tampa Saturday night, scoring no offensive touchdowns in their 19-16 victory.  Unlike his Boise State counterpart, Huskies kicker Dave Teggart calmly sent his 52-yard FG attempt through the uprights to give his team the lead with less than 20 seconds remaining. 

Listening to the game, you could tell that ESPN is worried about the ratings that Connecticut will be able to earn in its BCS game.  The announcing crew spent most of the second half trying to sell viewers on the legitimacy of the UConn team. 

This was clearly the biggest win in the history of Connecticut’s football program.  The Orange Bowl will have an interesting decision to make Sunday: It has to choose between 8-4 UConn and an 11-1 Stanford team that doesn’t travel well.


8. Central Florida Wins C-USA, Improves Bid for Big East Membership


Saturday afternoon’s Conference-USA Championship game was clearly the best of the noon kickoff games.  UCF was just too talented for SMU to handle this afternoon as the Knights won 17-7.  This win certainly helps UCF’s case as it seeks an invitation to join the Big East. 

Credit June Jones for building this SMU program, though.  When he took over three years ago, SMU was one of the most pathetic programs in the entire Bowl Subdivision.  After a 1-11 first season, Jones has won 15 games over the last two seasons, taking the team to its first two bowls since the NCAA Death Penalty in the mid-80s.  SMU has shared the C-USA West title each of the past two seasons, but this year marked the program’s first visit to the Championship game.  No matter where SMU ends up after realignment, Jones will have them contending for conference titles. 

Both programs have been subject to expansion rumors over the past several months.  UCF has been widely touted as a potential 10th member of the Big East (joining in 2012 with TCU).  SMU has come up in some conversations as an expansion candidate for the Mountain West.  It’s pretty clear to me that both programs have their best days in front of them.


9. Miami (OH) Completes Turnaround Season with MAC Title


Last season, the Miami University RedHawks struggled to a 1-11 (1-7) record under first-year coach Michael Haywood.  Most picked them to finish last in the MAC East again this season. 

Out of nowhere, Miami finished the regular season 8-4 (7-1), surprising even its coach.  The RedHawks needed some help from Kent State in the final weekend to secure their place in Detroit.  Kent knocked Ohio University last weekend to give Miami sole possession of first in the MAC East.  Miami came in to Friday night’s game a heavy underdog to West Division Champion Northern Illinois (I believe I had them losing by 20 in an article from last week…oops).  Miami hung tough for the entire game and put themselves in a position to take the lead late.  A poor decision by an NIU defensive back on 4th-and-long gave Miami one last breath.  The RedHawks capitalized, found the end zone and won the game, 26-21. 

Believe it or not, the MAC Championship game was one of this weekend’s best games.


10. Good Week on the Field for MWC’s Newest Members

The last week must have been difficult for Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson.  Since realignment got rolling this summer, the MWC has lost all three of its “anchor” programs (Utah, BYU and now TCU).  Beginning in 2012, the Mountain West will look to Boise State and its fellow newcomers from the WAC (Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada) to bring some stability back to the conference. 

On the field, all four programs had impressive weekends.  Boise, Nevada, and Hawaii had throwaway games against bottom-feeders from the WAC and MWC.  The schools beat Utah State, Louisiana Tech and UNLV by a combined score of 144-52. 

Fresno State had the biggest game of the four teams.  The Bulldogs welcomed a second opponent from a BCS-AQ conference to Fresno this season.  For the second time, the Bulldogs walked away with a win.  Illinois put up much more of a fight than Cincinnati earlier in the season, falling 25-23. 

If Thompson can find two more solid programs, the MWC may still have an outside chance at BCS-AQ status, but I highly doubt it.  If nothing else, the conference is far and away the strongest non-AQ league, and any unbeaten team should have no trouble locking up a BCS berth (a trip to the Championship game isn’t likely, though).



Top 10 (Last Week)

1.    Oregon (1)

2.    Auburn (2)

3.    Wisconsin (3)

4.    TCU (4)

5.    Stanford (5)

6.    Ohio State (6)

7.    Michigan State (7)

8.    Arkansas (8)

9.    Texas A&M (9)

10.    Oklahoma (NR)

The Next Five: Missouri, LSU, Nevada, Boise State, Virginia Tech


Bonus Thought: My Heisman Ballot

Obviously, I don’t have a Heisman vote.  If I did, here is what I would submit.  Keep in mind that with Cameron Newton’s amateur status in question, I chose to leave him off my ballot.

1.    Andrew Luck—QB, Stanford: Over the course of this season, Andrew Luck established himself as the best pure passer in college football.  He led Stanford’s pro-style offense to a top 15 ranking this year.  I’m sure the Bills can’t wait to get their hands on this kid.  Luck finished the regular season with 3,051 yards passing, 28 TDs to seven INTs and three rushing TDs. 

2.    LaMichael James—RB, Oregon : The sophomore running back was the straw that stirred the drink in Chip Kelly’s option-based offense.  He ran for 1,548 yards (6.1 per carry) and scored 20 total TDs (19 rushing, one receiving) while leading the Ducks to Glendale. 

3.    Colin Kaepernick—QB, Nevada : The best dual-threat quarterback who I feel is eligible for the award this year.  Over the last four years, he ran Chris Ault’s pistol-based option attack to perfection.  Last week he led the Wolf Pack in a furious comeback to finally knock off the Boise State Broncos.  Kaepernick passed for 2,830 yards, 20 TDs and seven INTs.  He also rushed for 1,184 yards and 20 more TDs.



Posted on: November 29, 2010 2:11 pm
 

TCU to Big East, What's Next for MWC?

It has been an up and down summer and fall for Craig Thompson and the Mountain West Conference.

The summer began with rumors of Boise State joining the MWC, bringing the conference to 10 members (including Utah, BYU, TCU and Boise) and a near guarantee of BCS-AQ status. 

Almost immediately, things began to fall apart. First, Utah announced its move to the Pac-10 along with Colorado.

As the 2010 academic season neared, rumors began to surface that the WAC was attempting to get BYU and several other MWC schools to "return home" and leave the Mountain West.

To his credit, Thompson acted swiftly, offering bids to WAC members Nevada, Fresno State and Utah State (Nevada and Fresno ended up accepting).

Thompson's best efforts couldn't keep Brigham Young, happy though. The Cougars left the MWC for football independence and placed its basketball and non-revenue sports in the West Coast Conference.

It appeared that things would slow down as the school year began. However, the Big East voted to consider expansion to try to fortify itself against raids (and keep its BCS-AQ status) by adding two to four football-playing members.

TCU and the conference seemed like a match made in reactionary heaven. At the time, it appeared TCU would miss out on a BCS bowl in spite of its undefeated record and top five ranking. Membership in the Big East would ensure that a situation like that would never happen again.

By adding TCU (one of the country's most talked-about football programs), the Big East would regain some football credibility lost when Miami (FL), Virginia Tech and Boston College departed for the ACC.

Again, Thompson made a swift and wise decision. Hawaii was added (as a football-only member) to the (then) 10-team MWC, and the conference made it clear they were looking at options for team 12. Prognosticators (myself included) began considering and debating the merits of about a dozen programs. SMU, Houston, UTEP, Utah State, Tulsa and Montana were some of the most common names.

This morning, the game changed again. Multiple news sources are reporting that TCU was offered (and accepted) an all-sport bid to the Big East. It will likely be joined by either one or three more teams before this round of expansion is over.

Popular Big East expansion candidates now include (in no particular order) Central Florida, Memphis, Houston and East Carolina.

The Mountain West is now left with three options moving forward.

 

1. Go Forward with 10 Members

While in the Mountain West, TCU was a significant geographic outlier, over 500 miles form any of its fellow MWC members. By standing pat, the conference can rein in its geographic footprint and avoid some of the problems that plagued the 16-team WAC.

This is certainly a choice that the Mountain West would be wise to consider. However there are too many issues.

For starters, when recruiting the four WAC schools (Boise, Fresno, Nevada and Hawaii), I'm certain that increased competition and exposure were a big part of the conference's pitch. To abandon that now would serve as a sort of slap in the face to the MWC's newest members.

Though a BCS-AQ bid is pretty much out of the question, Craig Thompson owes it to his membership to at least explore adding two more schools and a conference championship game.

If this is the direction the MWC chooses to go, we may finally see a slowdown in conference expansion talks. If Thompson continues to expand, things will only get more convoluted.

 

2. Add Two Members from Outside Texas

For those of you that don't know much about the WAC's 16-team setup, geography ranging from Houston, TX to Idaho and Hawaii was one of the biggest reasons for the conference's failure. Because of this, I think the Mountain West should be hesitant to become a league that covers the exact same footprint as the old WAC.

If the conference chooses to expand, Craig Thompson must consider remaining in its current geographic footprint (read: without Texas/Oklahoma schools).

If the conference chooses to go this route, there are five programs that will get consideration: Utah State, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Idaho and Montana. If the Mountain West chooses to go this route, we can officially say goodbye to the WAC.

Up to this point, conference expansion has been fueled by two key factors: football success and media market size. Utah State would return the conference to TV sets in Utah (lost with the defections of BYU and Utah).

Montana (an FCS powerhouse) would add some football credibility. Montana has already indicated that it isn't particularly interested in moving its football program to the FBS.

Overall, the MWC doesn't add much in either of the two key areas.

Keep in mind that the four WAC defectors came to the MWC for increased football competition and exposure. Adding weak football programs would stand in direct contrast to the promises/assurances that were either made by Craig Thompson or assumed by the four schools.

If this is the direction, my money is on Utah State and New Mexico State as well as adding a non-football playing complement to Hawaii (such as Gonzaga). Though not adding much in terms of football power, this move would place firmly in the MWC in the top tier of "mid-major" basketball conferences. To my sensibilities, this seems like the most unlikely option.

 

3. Add Two Members from Texas/Oklahoma

Losing TCU caused two major issues. The first is the loss of the pipeline to Texas's vast media and recruiting resources.

It also marked the loss of the MWC's only private school.  This is important because a conference with a private school as a member does not have to make as much of its financial information public as a conference with all public schools. This is why the SEC has held on to Vanderbilt, the Big 12 kept Baylor and the Big Ten still has Northwestern.

Adding Texas/Oklahoma schools is the only way for the MWC to fully absorb the blow of a TCU defection.

To this point, both options I have presented leave the MWC with either 10 or 12 public schools. Electing to maintain its presence in the Texas and/or Oklahoma allows the MWC to consider private universities like SMU, Tulsa and Rice. If the Mountain West decides to go to 12 members, it will almost certainly include one of these three private universities for the aforementioned reasons. 

Though a solid football program, Tulsa would be an extreme geographic outlier (650-plus miles away from any current MWC school). Rice, on the other hand, has neither geography nor football success on its side. Rice is a last resort option.

Due to its location in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and recent football success (under coaching guru June Jones and the Run-and-Shoot offense), SMU seems to be the most likely candidate to replace TCU. Winning the C-USA championship next week (against Big East candidate Central Florida) would go a long way to securing an MWC bid.

If you assume SMU will be school No. 11, the search now begins for a 12th and final member. The school chosen will need to serve as a travel partner and geographic rival to SMU. Doing that would hopefully prevent SMU from making a TCU-like defection five years down the road. Aforementioned Tulsa deserves consideration, as do public schools Houston and UTEP.

UTEP fits very well in the MWC geography and has a long history with all of the conference's schools (from their time in the WAC). It has a ready-made rivalry with New Mexico as well as SMU. UTEP brings a credible basketball program and an underrated media market (El Paso). Though not as successful, the UTEP football team outdraws Houston by nearly 15,000 fans per game.

On the other side of the Texas coin is Houston. The Houston program has experienced a renaissance under head coach Mike Sumlin and QB Case Keenum. The Cougars have beaten multiple top-25 teams recently. It also brings a solid basketball program (anyone remember Phi Slama Jamma?) and the nation's fourth-largest media market.

However, UH has always had trouble competing with Texas A&M and Texas for relevance in the Houston market. TV ratings and attendance have been painfully low for UH, especially given its market and recent success.

Also, Keenum will graduate before Houston can join the MWC, and Sumlin may be leaving sooner than later for a higher-profile job. There is no guarantee that Houston will be able to maintain its current success without Keenum and Sumlin.

Lastly, Houston is in consideration for Big East membership as a geographic rival and travel partner for TCU.

This is the most likely case in my book. SMU is my top choice for private school membership (followed by Tulsa, then Rice) with Houston as the leading candidate as school No. 12 (UTEP is a close second with Tulsa as option No. 3). The MWC stands to lose too much if it abandons the Dallas market and doesn't have a private school as a member.

 

Wrap-Up

As far as I can see, adding two Texas/Oklahoma schools (including a private school) is in the best interest of the MWC. Standing pat with 10 members is a close second. Expanding but not including any private schools or Texas schools makes no sense.

Posted on: November 28, 2010 5:24 pm
 

Valpo Finishes 5th in Las Vegas Invitational

After losing their first two games of the Las Vegas Invitational, Homer Drew's Valparaiso Crusaders salvaged a fifth place finish (out of eight) with wins over Northern Colorado and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.  For those of you entered in a Las Vegas Invitational pool, No. 6 Kansas won the tournament championship with an 87-79 victory over Kansas.

Senior swingman Howard Little was named the Valpo representative on the all-tournament team, averaging 9.8 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists over four games.  Little's best games came over the weekend, an 18, 2, and 2 performance Friday followed by 13, 8, and 1 on Saturday.The first two rounds of the tournament were played at campus sites over the past two weeks.

 

Round 1: Lawrence, KS—Kansas 79-Valpo 44

This result should come as little surprise to any person with knowledge of either program.  Playing Big XII powerhouse powerhouse Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse is a tough draw for any team, nonetheless a mid-major program of Valpo 's stature.  The Jayhawks dominated every aspect of the game, especially in the post.  Kansas forwards combined for 44 points and 35 rebounds.  Meanwhile, Valpo forwards Corey Johnson and Keven Van Wijk spend most of the game in foul trouble, ending with 4 PFs each. 

To their credit, Johnson and Van Wijk both put up 10.  Johnson added 7 rebounds as well.  Other than the forwards, Brandon Wood was the only Crusader to accomplish much.  He led the team in rebounds (7) and assists (4) while scoring 9.  Though disappointing, losing to Kansas is nothing to be too worried about.  The Jayhawks beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi by 41 and Ohio by 57 in their other two early-round games.

 

Round 2: Athens, OH—Ohio 78-Valpo 75

After a blowout win over Purdue-North Central, the Crusaders headed to Athens for a second round game against Ohio.  Along with Kent State and Akron, the 2009-10 MAC champion Bobcats are one of the favorites in the conference this season.  The match up between one of the MAC's top programs and Horizon League's top programs certainly lived up to my expectations.

Valpo battled back from a 15-point first half deficit and went to the half with the slimmest of leads (32-31).  The game remained close though the end with Ohio going ahead for good with just under three minutes remaining.  The Bobcats were very balanced on the offensive side of the floor, with six scorers reaching double figures.  On the other hand, Valpo was led by the usual suspects, Cory Johnson (19, 7, 2) and Brandon Wood (17, 6, 7).  Sophomore Ryan Broekhoff had a big game as well (24, 7, 2) shooting 9-13 from the field (3-4 from behind the arc).

Though a road loss to a program the caliber of Ohio is not a problem in and of itself, there are some concerns from last season that resurfaced during the game.  The Crusaders allowed themselves to get down early, trailing by as much as 15 in the first half.  Too many times last season did Homer Drew's team put itself behind the 8-ball early.  To its credit, the team managed to fight back and actually take a lead to the half.  Last season, the team would usually roll over when facing a deficit of that size. 

The second problem is the poor road play.  Last season, VU lost three road games to teams of equal or lesser talent (Akron, Bowling Green, and IPFW ).  They will have three chances in the next two weeks to improve their play away from home against beatable opponents (UIC , Loyola, and Toledo).

 

Game 3: Las Vegas, NV Valpo 76-Northern Colorado 61

Another slow start left the Crusaders with a much bigger mountain to climb than was necessary.    Forwards Cory Johnson and Kevin Van Wijk both had 3 fouls in the first half while the team shot 6-26 in the first half.  The Northern Colorado lead was as large as 11 in the first half, and the Bears went to the break up 6.

After halftime the Crusaders were finally able to get the offense going.  Little, Broekoff , and Sophomore Matt Kenney made 9 three-pointers in the second half as Valpo outscored the Bears 50-29.  All three players scored in double figures (18, 15, and 11 respectively) to lead the Crusaders to the comeback win.

For the second straight game, the Crusaders allowed themselves to get down by double digits in the first half.  Unlike Ohio, Northern Colorado is a clearly inferior opponent, talent-wise.  Luckily, Valpo has the firepower to dig themselves out of holes like these.  However, when they get start the meat of the Horizon League schedule in late December, the Crusaders will not be able to get down like this and expect to win.

 

Game 4: Las Vegas, NV—Valpo 68-Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 62

The Texas A&M-CC Islanders gave Valpo a much tougher game that I expected in the tournament's final round.  For the third consecutive game, the Crusader offense had a fisrt half that was below average by VU standards.  After jumping out to a 9-2 lead, Valpo let the Islanders back in the game, going to the half with a one-point lead (27-26).  In the second half, the offense played more like I expected, putting up 41.

Johnson (18, 5, 1) and Little (13, 8, 1) led the team offensively.  Most players who saw the court managed to get on the stat sheet in VU 's hard-fought victory.  Senior G/F Michael Rogers had his third straight solid game off the bench (he averaged over 5 PPG for the tournament) and Kenney built on his outstanding Friday performance.

One of the biggest contributors to Valpo 's win Saturday was free throw shooting.  A constant thorn in the team's side for the last five-plus years, the Crusaders made 23 of 28 (18.2%) to seal the victory.  Johnson and Freshman PG Jay Harris both went 6-6, while Little went 4-6 and Kenney 3-4 from the line.  If shooting like this continues, the Crusaders should be able to win more of their close games.

 

Tournament Wrap-up

Overall, Valpo 's results from this tournament were a mixed bag.  The team found itself in down by double digits in the first half three time in four games.  However, twice they were able to battle back and make a game of it.  I would have liked to see a win in Athens and a more convincing victory over Texas A&M-CC.  Defending Horizon League scoring champ Brandon Wood had a great game at Ohio, but still finished under 10 PPG for the tournament.  If Valpo is to contend for the Horizon League Title, they will need more from him offensively.

On the positive side, Valpo was able to battle back twice after getting down early.  All three Seniors (Johnson, Little, and Rogers) are showing outstanding leadership qualities.  Little and Rogers have swapped places from my projected rotation.  Ryan Broekhoff continued his outstanding play on both sides of the ball.  At the end of the season, he may end up as VU 's MVP.  Newcomers Jay Harris and Kevin Van Wijk appear to be settling in well with the rest of the Crusader team.  Lastly, it appears that Matt Kenney has taken the final spot in the rotation from fellow Sophomore Tommy Kurth .  If he continues to show progress as a ball handler and on defense, he may start taking minutes away from Erik Buggs .


Posted on: November 28, 2010 12:47 am
 

Saturday Thoughts, 11/27

1.    Boise State’s National Title Hopes end in Reno  

As is usual, Boise State jumped out to a large first half lead (24-0) and it appeared that Chris Ault’s Nevada Wolf Pack were nothing more than the Broncos’ next victim.  However, Colin Kaepernick and the Nevada offense had other plans.  They finally broke through and got a TD as the game neared halftime.  The offensive improvement fired up the Wolf Pack defense and it shut down the high-powered Boise offense for the first 25 minutes of the 2nd half. 

The Nevada rushing game really got going after the half.  Kaepernick and RB Vai Taua passed SMU’s Pony Express (Eric Dickerson and Craig James) for most career rushing yards by teammates as they led Nevada’s comeback.  With the game tied at 24, Kellen Moore and the Boise offense were finally able to get a TD, only to have it immediately answered by Nevada.   

In the final 10 seconds, Moore completed a miracle pass that set up kicker Kyle Brotzman with a chip shot FG to win the game.  His wide-right miss sent the game to overtime, where he proceeded to miss a second kick, this time wide-left.  The 34-31 Nevada victory ended Boise’s hopes of playing for the National Championship. 

You have to feel bad for Brotzman who will likely have an unfair share of the blame on his shoulders.  The fact of the matter is that unlike most opponents, Nevada didn’t roll over after Boise jumped out to its lead.  Instead, they punched back, and I’m not sure Boise knew how to respond.  When playing a schedule like Boise’s, you can’t be sure how your team will respond when challenged.  There were times in the second half when Bronco players looked like deer in headlights. 

I’ve heard several begin talking about Boise’s “glass jaw,” I disagree.  To their credit, the Broncos managed to put together two drives that should have been game winners in the final minutes of regulation.  I’m not sure where Boise will end up this bowl season, but they will deserve better. 

The hometown Humanitarian Bowl is the most likely option, but I have another thought.  With the Big Ten likely to be unable to fulfill its commitment to the Motor City Bowl, the folks in Detroit can invite any bowl eligible team to the game.  The Las Vegas Bowl may also be looking for a team to fill the spot the Pac-10 can’t. 

In Detroit, Boise would play likely MAC champion Northern Illinois.  If they chose to play in Vegas, the Broncos would likely face MWC runner-up Utah.  I’m not sure the Broncos would be willing to make either trip, but those games have the potential to be one of the better games of this bowl season (much like the TCU-Boise Poinsettia and Louisville-Boise Liberty Bowls from previous years).  My preference would be for a BSU-NIU Motor City Bowl.  That way, I could drive up from Cleveland for the game.  


2.    Auburn Survives Toughest Test of Season in Tuscaloosa  

Every time the Auburn Tigers appear to be finished, Cam Newton pulls another rabbit out of his hat.  As a four-point favorite, the Alabama Crimson Tide jumped out to a 24-0 first half lead (sound familiar???) and appeared to be well on its way to ending Auburn’s miracle season.  A field goal late in the second quarter would begin a run Tiger that would bring the Alabama lead to under a touchdown at 27-21. 

Newton would engineer two key drives in the fourth quarter.  The first gave Auburn its first lead of the game, 28-27.  The second drive drained the final seconds off the clock as the crowd at Bryant-Denney sat in stunned silence. 

Auburn still has another big challenge ahead of it.  The same South Carolina Gamecocks that nearly won on the Plains back in September.  At this point, I see no reason to pick against Auburn again this season.  The Tigers keep finding ways to win.  Even when they don’t show up (Kentuky, Clemson), seem overmatched (Alabama), or out schemed (Arkansas, LSU) Auburn keeps winning.  Kudos to Gene Chizik.   

Lovers of defensive football should probably not watch the potential Auburn-Oregon National Championship Game.  I’m not sure what the record is for most points in a BCS Title Game, but I have a hunch that the Tigers and Ducks would break it.  


3.    Oregon and TCU Roll  

While Boise lost and Auburn struggled, TCU and Oregon met little resistance from their opponents Thanksgiving Weekend.  Mike Stoops and the Arizona Wildcats became the most recent defense to be unable to slow down the Oregon attack Friday night at Autzen Stadium.  At halftime, it seemed like the Wildcats had the answer.  The 19-14 lead wouldn’t hold up as the Ducks outscored their opponents 34-10 in the second half. 

Coming off their bye and a close win over San Diego State, the TCU Horned Frogs had a predictable blowout win over New Mexico in Albuquerque, 66-17.  The Frogs are the first team in the clubhouse at 12-0.  With the notable exception of the San Diego State game, the Frogs have dominated their opponents all season and are certainly worthy of being in the conversation for the BCS Championship.  Should either Auburn or Oregon fall next week, TCU looks like it will be able to hold off one-loss teams Wisconsin and Stanford to secure a spot in the BCS Title Game.  If not, a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl is one heck of a consolation prize.  A TCU-Wisconsin match up in the Rose Bowl Game might be the best game we see all bowl season.  


4.    Wisconsin Hammers Northwestern, Heading to Pasadena
 

At kickoff, Wisconsin knew that a win on senior day would essentially guarantee it a trip to the Rose Bowl.  A win would put the Badgers in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten.  Per conference rules, the highest ranked BCS team (currently Wisconsin) earns the conference’s automatic BCS bid.    To say they took care of business would be an understatement.  This time, Northwestern was the victim.  The Wildcats were unable to accomplish much against Wisky on their way to a 70-23 defeat. 

To give you an idea of how dominant Wisconsin was this season, over its Big Ten schedule (7-1), the Badgers have averaged over 40 points per game. In its last three games (Indiana, @Michigan, and Northwestern), the Wisconsin Badgers have put up 201 points.  The Badgers were the only team that managed to cross the 30-point threshold against Ohio State’s top-five defense. Today's win was Wisconsin’s third game of 70-plus points and sixth win by 20 or more.  The three-headed monster at running back (Clay, White, and Ball) has been unstoppable. 

I like TCU and think that they have had an outstanding year, but I cannot in good conscience leave them ahead of Wisconsin in my top-ten.  The Badgers have dominated its Big Ten schedule in a way that no team has in recent memory.  I honestly don’t see a team I would call a favorite over Wisconsin.  


5.    Ohio State Extends Winning Streak to Over Michigan  

Did anyone really expect the Wolverines to make a game of this one?  Traveling to one of the most hostile environments in the nation a week after getting smoked by Wisconsin is usually not a recipe for success.  That proved to be the case today as the Buckeyes rolled Michigan 37-7.  In all honesty, the game wasn’t that close.  The seven game winning-streak is the longest Ohio State has ever had over Michigan and is also the longest in the series since UM won nine in a row from 1901 to 1909.  OSU goes for number eight next November in Ann Arbor. 

The win put the Buckeyes in a three-way tie for the Big Ten Championship with Wisconsin and Michigan State.  This marks the sixth consecutive year in which Ohio State won or shared the conference crown, tying its own record from the 1970s.    With Wisconsin heading to Pasadena, a Sugar Bowl match up with either South Carolina or Arkansas seems to be OSU’s most likely destination.  If not the Sugar Bowl, a game against Virginia Tech or Florida State in the Orange Bowl is almost guaranteed.  Ohio State fans travel too well to justify leaving an 11-1 Buckeye team out of a BCS bowl game…sorry OSU haters. 

Today’s loss moves Rich Rodriguez’s record to 0-12 against teams with a winning record in conference play.  I’ve been saying it all season: until Michigan can improve its defense, it has no chance of competing for a Big Ten Title.  Calls for change continue to get louder from Michigan fans, but the UM athletic director has said no decision will be made until after the Wolverine’s Bowl game.  Some reports are saying that Michigan is already putting out feelers to Jim Harbaugh of Stanford (a UM alumnus).  Time will tell, but one thing is for certain: defensive coordinator Greg Robinson won’t be back.  


6.    Bedlam Lives up to its Name  

Once again, ESPN/ABC gave the Cleveland market a bummer by putting Notre Dame-USC on ABC and two SEC/ACC rivalry games on the ESPN networks, forcing me to watch the night’s only meaningful game on ESPN3.com. 

Now that I’ve said my peace about that, I can get off my soapbox and get on with commentary.  After three quarters, the game was tied at 24.  That was the point that Bedlam earned its name.  Oklahoma and OSU combined for 40 points in the last period.  The Sooners scored on their final five possessions, three FGs and a pair of 75-plus yard TD passes by Landry Jones.  Not to be outdone, OSU widoout Justin Blackmon threw a touchdown to QB Brandon Weeden and Justin Gilbert took an OU kick 90 yards for a score.  A poor Cowboy onside kick attempt sealed the game for Oklahoma. 

With the win, the Sooners forced another three-way tie in the Big XII South.  In the BCS, Oklahoma will likely be ranked highest, followed by Texas A&M, with OSU third.  Unless TAMU can get within one place of OU, the Sooners will be playing for the conference title game instead of a team that beat them.   Texas A&M is going to be punished in the BCS for being the only three-loss team in the tie.  The Aggie loss came at the hands of Arkansas on a neutral field.  The Hogs are a top-ten team and the strongest OOC opponent that any of the Big XII South contenders played this season…by a long shot.  The Big XII is essentially punishing TAMU for scheduling a tough OOC opponent.  Congratulations Big XII for screwing up…again.  


7.    Arkansas Keeps BCS Hopes Alive with Win over LSU  

Ryan Mallet’s 320 yards passing and 3 touchdowns were enough to get the Razorbacks past LSU Saturday afternoon in Little Rock.  The Razorbacks outplayed LSU in all aspects of the game on their way to a convincing 31-23 victory.    In the last two months, Sophomore RB Knile Davis has emerged as one of the SEC’s best ball carriers.  Between Davis and Sophomore QB Tyler Wilson (who has looked good in relief of Ryan Mallet), the Hogs seem to be set offensively for the next couple of seasons.   

An Auburn win over South Carolina next week will likely put Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl against Ohio State while Alabama, LSU, and South Carolina end up in the Cotton, Citrus, and Outback Bowls (not sure who goes where).  Should Carolina shock the world again, the Hogs and Gamecocks will likely switch places. 

I’m not sure what has gotten into the LSU defense the last couple of weeks.  After going the first 10 weeks without giving up more that 29 (against Florida in the Swamp), the Tigers have been torched by Ole Miss and now Arkansas for 36 and 31 points respectively.    I’m going to guess that part of the problem is the ineffectiveness of the LSU offense.  The defense has been spending WAY too much time on the field and is probably running out of gas as we approach the end of the season.  Hopefully for LSU, the month rest will get the D back on track.  If it doesn’t, the bowl season won’t be much fun for the Bayou Bengals. 


8.    Florida State Dominates Florida, Heading to Charlotte Thanks to Maryland’s Help  

Urban Meyer’s undefeated streak over Florida State has ended with the Seminole’s 31-7 victory in Tallahassee.  For the first time in nearly a decade, there is no disputing that Florida State is clearly the best team in its state…by a long shot.  The win over Florida gives Jimbo Fischer a good first season from which to build.  Though he will want to forget the blowout loss in Norman and consecutive losses at NC State and at home to UNC, this has arguably been the most successful season at FSU since the Orange Bowl loss to Oklahoma. 

The only thing that would make this season better would be a trip to Charlotte to play for the conference championship.  The loss a month ago in Raleigh took FSU’s fate out of its own hands.  Instead, the ‘Noles had to rely on the same Maryland team that they beat last week.  Needless to say, the Seminole faithful had one eye of the Florida game, and the other on the game in College Park, MD.  The Terps came through with a 38-31 victory over NC State at Byrd Stadium.  Florida State and Virginia Tech will meet in next week’s ACC Championship.  The game feature two of the league’s “football powers” for the first time since these same two schools met in 2005’s inaugural game, a 27-22 Seminole victory. 


9.    West Virginia Wins Backyard Brawl, UConn Controls Big East  

In spite of their 6-4 overall record, the Pittsburgh Panthers went into Friday’s Backyard Brawl with West Virginia in the driver’s seat for the Big East BCS bid (likely to the Fiesta Bowl).  That ceased to be the case when WVU manhandled Pitt 35-10 in front of the Panthers’ home crown at Heinz Field.  The Pittsburgh loss combined with Connecticut’s win over Cincinnati Friday creates a three-way tie at the top of the much-maligned Big East.  Due to its wins over both Pitt and WVU, UConn controls its own destiny.  Win next week in Tampa, and the Huskies will be headed to Glendale to play the Big XII champion or the Orange Bowl to play the ACC champ. 

Should UConn fall, WVU goes to the desert with a home win over Rutgers.  Pitt is still alive, but will need help from USF and Rutgers.  For those of you keeping score at home, four-loss UConn controls its own BCS destiny while three-loss WVU and FIVE-LOSS Pitt are still alive.  Meanwhile, one-loss Michigan State appears destined for the Citrus Bowl and one-loss WAC co-champs Boise State and Nevada are looking at trips to the Humanitarian and Fight Hunger Bowls respectively.  There is something seriously wrong with that statement!!!  Hopefully, the new-look MWC will eventually get a BCS-AQ bid and end this nonsense.  


10.    Notre Dame’s Post-Tulsa Rebound Continues In LA  

After losing to Tulsa, many people (myself included) left Notre Dame for dead.  The Irish needed to win two of three against Utah, Army, and USC.  After a bye, ND responded by blowing out Utah and Army to get bowl eligible.  They then took an 18-year old QB to the LA Coliseum and won a 20-16 defensive battle, reversing a near decade of dominance by USC. 

I have voiced many very different opinions about Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.  I still believe that there are some serious character issues given some of his past decisions.  One thing that I will never do is take away from his reputation as an offensive guru.  If he can continue to bring in top-10 recruiting classes, I feel Notre Dame has found their man.  Kelly can build a program. 

The win also makes a big difference in terms of where the Irish will go bowling next month.  A loss would have left them at 6-6 and in the Motor city or Las Vegas Bowls.  With the win, the 7-5 Irish become an attractive option for the Champs Sports Bowl (due to the ND tie-in with the Big East) or the Sun Bowl (due to the lack of eligible Pac-10 teams).  A Sun Bowl against old rival Miami (FL) would be an outstanding game.  Catholics vs. Convicts, take two.


Top Ten (Last Week)
1.    Oregon (1)
2.    Auburn (2)
3.    Wisconsin (5)
4.    TCU (3)
5.    Stanford (6)
6.    Ohio State (7)
7.    Michigan State (10)
8.    Arkansas (NR)
9.    Texas A&M (NR)
10.    Nebraska (NR)
The Next Five: Missouri, LSU, Nevada, Boise State, Oklahoma

Posted on: November 21, 2010 1:02 pm
 

Saturday Thougths, 11/20: Top 3 Take the Week Off

With the top three teams all off this weekend, I was afraid that I would be hard pressed to come up with ten interesting topics.  Instead, I was treated to what was (in my opinion) the most enjoyable Saturday of college football so far this season.  During every time slot there were multiple nail biters.  I had the pleasure of being on the edge of my seat for the majority of the afternoon.  Without any further ado, here are my ten thoughts on this weekend's action.


1.  Texas A&M is Back, and that's Good for College Football


Very rarely do you get to use the words “defensive battle” and “Big 12” in the same sentence.  That was exactly what we saw Saturday night in College Station.  Nebraska made its final regular season trip to Texas, losing 9-6 to Texas A&M.  Taylor Martinez left the field early in the game with an ankle injury and missed the remainder of the first half.  Tied at three after halftime, Martinez returned to try and lead his team to victory on one leg.  Unfortunately for Nebraska fans, he was only able to gain 124 yards (107 passing and 17 rushing) for the game.

Earlier this season, the Aggies lost three in a row to Oklahoma State, Arkansas, and Missouri (All in the AP top-15).  Head coach Mike Sherman’s job was on a less-than-firm foundation.  Since that losing streak, Junior Ryan Tannehill took over at QB and has led TAMU on a five-game winning streak, including two wins over top-ten opponents (Oklahoma two weeks ago and now Nebraska).  Mike Sherman’s boys now have a chance to end rival Texas’s season early next week in Austin.  With Oklahoma State and Oklahoma’s blowout wins this weekend, a trip to Dallas for the conference title game seems to be out of the question.  Stranger things have happened though.

There are some programs that, when they are winning, make college football more fun to watch.  Texas A&M is one of those programs.  Watching the game, the intensity of the 90,000-plus fans in Kyle Field could be felt through the TV over 1,000 miles away.  When the Aggies are good, the 12th Man makes for one of the best game day environments in the country. 

The sudden resurgence of the Texas A&M program came at just the right time.  Next year, the Big 12 is losing two of its historically strong football brands.  A strong Texas A&M gives the conference more marquee games to sell when looking for its next TV deal.

In spite of its loss, Nebraska remains in control of its own destiny in the Big 12 North.  Now in a tie with Missouri, the Cornhuskers hold the head to head tiebreaker.  A win at home against Colorado will send Nebraska to one final Big 12 championship game.  Don’t discount Colorado though.  CU won a big game against Georgia earlier this year.  With their bowl hopes on life support, the Buffs have pulled consecutive upsets against Iowa State and Kansas State.  Thanksgiving weekend in the Big 12 is starting to look like a great one.

 

2.  Boise State Routs Fresno on Senior Day

Saturday started early with Boise State’s senior day dismantling of Fresno State 51-0 late Friday night.  Fresno State was considered by many to be the first real test to Boise since the Bronco’s match up with Oregon State nearly two months ago.   

The experts were correct, as the Bulldogs forced two first quarter turnovers and trailed 3-0 at the end of one.  Boise came out firing in the second, putting up 17 to extend its lead to 20-0 at the half.  As a side note, BSU’s 20 points was tied for the lowest first half point total all season with the week one game against Virginia Tech. 

Boise built on its 17-point second quarter by matching the point total in the third.  The Broncos added two more fourth quarter touchdowns for good measure.  Next Friday’s trip to Reno is all that stand between Boise and a fifth undefeated regular season in the last seven years (third in a row).

 

3.  Ohio State Perseveres in Iowa City

When Ohio State fans looked at the 2010 schedule, there were two key games that made most of them nervous.  The trip to Madison last month was the first, and Saturday’s visit to Kinnick Stadium was the second. 

The Buckeye fans’ fears proved to be well founded.  Ohio State found itself in an old-fashioned Big Ten defensive battle.  The Hawkeyes won the battle in the trenches in the first half, heading into the locker room with a 7-3 lead.    OSU was able to battle back in the third, and the game went to its final period tied at 10. 

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Buckeye linemen finally took over the game on both sides of the ball.  Terrelle Pryor and Dan Herron managed to engineer a game winning drive in the final minutes.  With the win,

Ohio State is one win away from tying its own record for consecutive Big Ten titles (six).  However, the Buckeyes need some help from Northwestern if they are to make a return trip to Pasadena.  New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl seems to be the likely end point for the Ohio State season.

 

4.  Sparty Keeps Rose Bowl Hopes Alive with Comback vs Purdue

Michigan State came off its bye with what appeared to be an easy Senior Day matchup with Purdue.  The Boilermakers were on a four game losing streak, suffering three blowouts at the hands of Ohio State, Illinois, and Wisconsin followed by a heartbreaker at home against Michigan.  Danny Hope’s team had other plans.   

Needing to win out to become bowl eligible, the Boilermakers jumped out to a 14-7 first quarter lead and went to the half up 21-13.  The lead grew to 28-13 heading to the fourth.  It was then that Kirk Cousins and the Big Ten’s version of the Cardiac Kids made their most impressive comeback of the season.  Over the final 15 minutes, the Spartans were unstoppable, outscoring Purdue 22-3 to get a hard fought victory. 

Sparty still has an outside chance at going to Pasadena, but will need help from “big brother” Michigan.  The Citrus (my mistake, Capital One) Bowl in Orlando seems to be the likely landing place for MSU.  It is a real shame that teams like MSU, Oklahoma State, and Stanford might be left out of the BCS so that the ACC and Big East champions can get in.

 

5.  Ole Miss Gives LSU all it can Handle

The LSU Tigers entered this week’s game with Ole Miss as the pick of many for best one-loss team and best defense in the nation.  Because they play in the SEC, many people will still give them the benefit of the doubt on both.  Jeremiah Massoli put up 250 total yards and led the Black Bear (err, Rebel) offense to 36 points, 12 more than any previous opponent. 

While the defense struggled, the Tiger offense had its best day of the season, putting up 468 yards and 43 points against Mississippi’s awful defense.  Ole Miss had a chance late, taking a 36-35 lead on a TD pass from Massoli to receiver Markeith Summers.  Summers then incurred a bad unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for diving into the endzone.  LSU took advantage of the good field position provided by the penalty in its game winning drive. 

LSU still has an outside chance at the BCS title game, but could just as easily end up playing fellow one-loss team Michigan State in the Citrus Bowl.  The Tigers still have an important match up against rival Arkansas next weekend that could determine if the SEC can get a BCS at-large bid.

 

6.  Arkansas Wins Double OT Thriller in Starkville

This was the game that nobody seemed to want to win.  ESPN’s prime time game featured two teams from the middle of the SEC West.  The game went back and forth all night with Mississippi State losing its first quarter lead before halftime.  Arkansas jumped out to a 14-point lead with ten minutes to go.  After a Bulldog TD, Arkansas managed to bleed the clock and force MSU to use all of its timeouts. 

Just when Mississippi State appeared finished, a Knile Davis fumble gave the Dawgs one last chance.  A last second field goal sent the game to overtime.  In the first OT, a Vick Ballard fumble cost MSU a scoring opportunity.  A rare miss by Arkansas freshman kicker Zach Hocker sent the game to double-OT.  A Ryan Mallett TD and Arkansas stand ended one of the day’s best games. 

Next weekend’s game between Arkansas’s dynamic pass offense and the LSU defense should be a great one.  A win could return the Hogs to the top-ten and give them a good shot at a BCS at-large bid.

 

7.  NC State Controls its Own Destiny, Maryland can Still Play Spoiler

This afternoon, the NC State Wolf Pack headed to Chapel Hill and got all the fight they could handle from the Tar Heels.  A back and forth game that saw UNC make one final push before a safety sealed its fate.  Interestingly, the win pushes Tom O’Brein’s record at NCSU to 4-0 over Butch Davis and the Tar Heels since both coaches took over in 2007.  Sometimes one coach just has another’s number.  

Later that night in College Park, the Florida State Seminoles kept their hopes for a conference title alive with a win over the Terps.  In a close game that was moved to ESPN3.com in the Cleveland market, an interception in the final minute finally clinched the game for the ‘Noles. 

Heading into the final week of the regular season, FSU is in the clubhouse in the ACC Atlantic race with a 6-2 mark.  5-2 NC State controls its own destiny due to the tiebreaker it holds over the ‘Noles.  Even though Maryland is out of the race, it still has the chance to play spoiler with a win next week in Raleigh.

 

8.  Virginia Tech Locks up ACC Coastal

While the ACC Atlantic was very much in contest, Virginia Tech started the weekend with a two-game lead over Miami (FL) with two to play.  A win at Dolphin (or Land Share, Pro Player, Joe Robbie, or whatever they call it now) Stadium would clinch the Hokies a return trip to the ACC title game in Charlotte. 

The Hurricanes put up a bigger fight than I expected.  Freshman QB Stephen Morris played about as well as could be expected with starter Jacory Harris missing yet another game.  The game was tied at 17 heading into the fourth, but VT ran away with two touchdowns in the final period.  Tyrod Taylor didn’t light up the stat book, but he did enough for his team to win. 

Credit to Frank Beamer for rallying the troops following that embarrassing loss to James Madison.  Things could have gotten ugly very quick for the Hokies.  However, they regained their focus and are now one win away from an undefeated conference season.  Boise State supporters are cheering loudly as this win further helps the Bronco’s SOS as we approach the final BCS poll.

 

9.  Stanford, Oregon State Win Big Out West

With Oregon off this weekend, I wasn’t sure if there would be any Pac-10 news worth comment.  Two blowouts were the only games that made much noise. 

Stanford went to California Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon winless in Berkeley in its last four attempts.  The Cardinal losing streak was ended emphatically with a 48-14 blowout victory.  Andrew Luck continues to look like the best true QB in the country and the likely No. 1 overall pick in this spring’s NFL Draft.  16-20 for 235 and 2 touchdowns. 

One thing that has always struck me about the Pac-10 is the severe disparity between the conference’s haves and have-nots.  Every season it seems like the conference has two or three dominant teams; the other seven are varying in degrees from mediocre to downright terrible.  The other major conferences seem to have more depth and competitiveness from top to bottom. 

Later Saturday night, the Oregon State Beavers kept their slim bowl hopes alive with a dominant victory over USC.  The Trojan struggles in Corvallis have now reached three consecutive trips.  Matt Barkley was injured (and may possibly miss next weeks game against Notre Dame) in Oregon State’s 36-7 victory. 

The Beavers need one more win either at Stanford or at home in the Civil War to become bowl eligible. Losses to Washington, Wazzu, and UCLA have been the killers.

 

10.  Utah Rebounds With Hard Fought Victory in San Diego

After a pair of disappointing road losses, the Utah Utes got back on their winning ways with a come from behind victory Saturday night in San Diego.  The Utes trailed 27-24 at the half, and the San Diego State lead was extended by a touchdown in the third quarter.  Jordan Wynn led two touchdown drives (79 and 97 yards respectively) in the final seven minutes to win the game for Utah.  The go ahead touchdown was scored with just under a minute remaining. 

The Utah win was important for voter perception of the Mountain West, more specifically, TCU’s strength of schedule.  TCU is going to need help from Utah, SDSU, and old rival SMU if it is to maintain its lead over Boise State in the BCS.  Even if all three schools win out, it is still very likely that Boise will overtake the Frogs with a win next Friday in Reno.


Bonus Thought: Gridiron on the Diamond

Yesterday, New Yankee Stadium hosted its first football game while Wrigley field hosted its first (and likely last) game in the last 40 years. 

While a novel idea, there were far too many issues to ever consider returning football to Wrigley’s friendly confines.  Only one sideline was useable, since putting players on the other would block fans’ view of the game.  Not to mention that the right field wall was deemed too close to the back of the endzone for that half of the field to be useable.  However, it was a memorable experience to watch the game.  Unfortunately, in the Cleveland market ESPN decided to air VT/Miami and NASCAR practice instead, forcing me to watch the game on ESPN3.com. 

That evening, Yankee Stadium proved to be more suited for football than Wrigley.  Seeing Army and Notre Dame play in the Bronx was a treat and throwback to an older time.

Top Ten (Last Week)

1.    Oregon (1)

2.    Auburn (2)

3.    TCU (3)

4.    Boise State (4)

5.    Wisconsin (5)

6.    Stanford (6)

7.    Ohio State (8)

8.    Oklahoma State (10)

9.    LSU (9)

10.    Alabama (10) 

The Next Five:   Michigan State, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Missouri

Posted on: November 19, 2010 3:10 pm
Edited on: November 19, 2010 3:12 pm
 

Hawaii to join Mountain West, What Move is Next?

Overnight, news began to break that the University of Hawaii will be moving from the WAC to the Mountain West for football and the Big West for basketball and non-revenue sports.  The addition of Hawaii pushes the Mountain West to a total of 11 teams.  To my sensibilities, this indicates that at least one more move will occur between now and the start of the 2012-13 academic year.  Either TCU will leave for the Big East (or Big XII) and the MWC will stand pat with 10 teams, the Mountain West will add one school to bring the league to an even 12 and add a conference championship game, or TCU will leave and the MWC will replace the Frogs with two teams.  Here are some of the possible moves, and my take on how likely they are.


TCU Joins the Big East

The popular rumor over the last several weeks has TCU taking its football program (and possibly entire athletic department) to the Big East in an attempt to increase the football relevance of both parties.  The short-term benefits for both parties are pretty obvious.  The Big East gains some of the football credibility that it lost in recent years and TCU gets a path to the BCS (and national championship) that many perceive as easier. 

The Big East intends to add at least two teams in the near future.  TCU and Central Florida are the current favorites, followed by East Carolina, Villanova, Temple, Memphis, and others in no particular order.  Currently, the Big East wants to add these schools as football only members, but the schools are holding out for full membership.  Should TCU join as a football-only member, it would likely move all other sports to the Missouri Valley conference as the MWC has indicated it won’t allow member schools to maintain membership without a football program. 

I think that in the end, TCU will choose the MWC over the Big East.  Geographically, the MWC is a better fit and TCU has a history with those schools that it doesn’t have with the Big East.  Over the long run, I feel that the prospects for the MWC as a football conference are greater than those of the Big East.


TCU Joins the Big XII

This is a move that makes a whole lot more sense than a move to the Big East.  If the Big XII is to survive over the long run, it will need to return to a 12-team, 2-division format.  In my book, TCU is on the short list of best options for Big XII expansion (along with Memphis, Houston, and BYU).   TCU provides another strong football program to bolster the conference.  It also adds another baseball power to rival Texas for conference supremacy. 

However, there are many negatives that get in the way of TCU joining the Big XII.  There are still many left over bad feelings from the breakup of the old SWC.  Also, TCU may add respect for the Big XII in football and baseball, but it detracts from Big XII basketball (currently the conference’s strongest sport).  Houston, BYU, and Memphis are all stronger basketball options.  Lastly, the Big XII already has the Dallas-Fort Worth Media Market well wrapped up.  Financially, the conference has little to gain from adding another Texas-based school.  Memphis and BYU (Colorado State or New Mexico as well, but not likely) serve as better choices for expanding the media “footprint” of the conference.


Expansion Options

When push comes to shove, I don’t see either of the previous options as workable for TCU.  Instead, I see the most likely move for the MWC is the addition of a 12th program to improve the conference’s ability to reach BCS-AQ status.  Here is a list of the candidates ranked in order of likelihood/benefit for the conference.

 

#7 Rice

Advantages: Rice has a history with many of the Mountain West schools from its days in the WAC immediately following the breakup of the SWC.  Rice adds the Houston TV market to the MWC.  Could add a potential geographic rival  

Negatives: Rice is not exactly a football power.  The Owls are not very competitive in C-USA, so I don’t think they will be able to be competitive in the MWC.  Rice won’t add anything to the conference’s profile and would likely detract from a bid for BCS-AQ status.  In terms of the media market, Rice has one of the smallest alumni bases in the Bowl Subdivision, and the Houston market would be better served by adding UH.  Houston is a geographic outlier in the current MWC. 

Likelihood: Zero—Rice is better off in C-USA and the MWC is better off without them.

 

#6 Tulsa

Advantages: Tulsa has a history with many MWC schools (same WAC connection as Rice).  The Tulsa market would be a welcome addition for the Mtn. Network.  The football program is stronger than Rice. 

Negatives: Much like Rice, Tulsa has a very small alumni base.  Though a relatively strong market, MWC games would play third fiddle to Oklahoma and OSU games.  I think there are some better markets.  The football program adds little to the conference’s resume.  Tulsa is a geographic outlier for the conference. 

Likelihood: Slightly better than Rice, razor thin—Tulsa is a better fit for C-USA

 

#5 Utah State

Advantages: Heading into this season, the MWC had a stranglehold on the Utah media market via BYU and Utah.  Starting next year, the MWC will have neither school, adding Utah State will keep the MWC relevant in Utah.  Utah State was offered and declined a to the conference several months ago.  The Aggie basketball program adds to an already strong MWC and helps cushion the blow of losing BYU and Utah.  USU has history with most of the MWC schools. 

Negatives: Though Utah State keeps the MWC on Utah televisions; USU is clearly the number three TV draw in the state and likely won’t help ratings in Utah.  When Utah State was invited, it was seen by most as a last-gasp attempt to keep BYU from leaving due to the close relationship between the schools.  The Aggies will likely not draw enough TV viewers to justify adding their weak football program and hurting the BCS-AQ bid.  Though good, the basketball program doesn’t make up for the lack of a strong football program.  As we all know, football is the driving force behind realignment. 

Likelihood: Slim—The football program just isn’t good enough and it doesn’t provide a strong enough TV draw.  It is not the best option for a non-Texas school, should the conference want to go in that direction.

 

#4 Montana

Advantages: The Montana football program is the class of the Championship Subdivision.  Having the Grizzlies should help the MWC football resume.  Montana has two national championships (1995-2001) and has appeared in five National Championship Games in the last decade (2000, 2001, 2005, 2008, 2009).  Montana is an untapped market for FBS football. 

Negatives: The Grizzlies have already declined one invite from an FBS conference (the WAC) and appear to be happy remaining an FCS powerhouse.  The Montana media market doesn’t compare to the markets available in Texas. 

Likelihood: Moderate—This is the best non-Texas option for the conference.  Though Montana said no to the WAC, the MWC is a potential BCS-AQ conference and has much more stability than the WAC.

 

#3 Houston

Advantages: UH is a traditionally strong school for both football and basketball.  The university is planning on investing heavily in upgrading its athletic facilities.  UH grants access the Houston media (and recruiting) market for the MWC schools.  The addition of a second Texas school helps solidify the conference’s foothold in Texas. 

Negatives: Houston is a geographic outlier for the MWC.  UH doesn’t have a traditionally strong fan base.  Texas A&M and UT are the big draws in the area.  Houston might be holding out for an eventual Big XII invitation.  UH doesn’t have the kind of history with MWC schools as the next two options. 

Likelihood: Strong—There are more advantages than disadvantages to adding Houston.  The MWC couldn’t go wrong with this one.

 

#2 UTEP

Advantages: The El Paso media market is stronger than many would expect.  Not only is there a large population, but also UTEP athletics have no competition for attention.  El Paso is a better geographic fit in the MWC than C-USA.  UTEP has a history with most of the MWC. 

Negatives: The football program probably the fourth best option strength-wise for the conference.  The addition of UTEP still leaves TCU as the major geographic outlier in the eastern half of the conference. 

Likelihood: Very Strong—This is really a case of 1 and 1-A in my book.  There are several factors that lead me to putting this option second.

 

#1 SMU

Advantages: SMU football is historically the strongest program on the list (its resume is comparable to TCU, minus the Frogs’ recent success).  Under June Jones, the Mustangs appear to be on their way back to national relevance.  SMU has a strong and rich alumni base that is more than willing to support the team.  Adding TCU’s primary rival in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has two advantages.  First, it provides incentive for TCU to not leave should a “better offer” come around.  Second, it provides insurance should TCU leave, as the MWC will still have a foothold in the very important Dallas-Fort Worth market.  The University has a brand new football stadium. 

Negatives: Though traditionally strong, SMU has been less than stellar since receiving the NCAA death penalty.  Adding SMU would involve betting that the program will continue to improve under June Jones and/or his successor.  The University offers little in terms of adding to the conference’s media footprint.  SMU doesn’t bring much to the conference in sports other than football.  Adding SMU has the potential to be a very dangerous gamble. 

Likelihood: Very Strong—SMU is a sleeping giant of a football program.  Having the Mustangs is important both for keeping TCU and in a potential post-TCU apocalypse.

 

Thoughts?

This is where I come down on this issue.  What do you think?  Is there anything I misses?  Comments are encouraged and appreciated.

 

 


Posted on: November 18, 2010 1:46 pm
Edited on: November 18, 2010 11:04 pm
 

Saturday Thoughts, 11/13: Survival Saturday

Many of the top teams struggled this weekend, but all survived (for the first time this year my top-ten remained unchanged).

 

1.  Oregon Passes Biggest Test of the Season  

My biggest question/concern regarding Oregon this season has been how the team would react when they faced a defense that kept them in check.  In short, the Ducks responded well.  Though the offense was unable to accomplish much, the Oregon defense stepped up and kept the Cal offense in check.  The Oregon team kept its composure even though things didn’t go as well as it was used to.   

This weekend’s close win taught me more about Oregon than any of their previous blowout wins.  I’m really starting to like this team.  Granted, had California converted a short field goal early in the fourth quarter, I would probably be singing a somewhat different tune.  However, if a team is to win a national championship (an undefeated championship none-the-less), it will need to win a game or two that it shouldn’t.  I get the feeling that yesterday was that game for the Ducks.  

 

2.  Auburn Survives Again  

Auburn has been making a season of winning games close games against teams they should beat handily.  Mississippi State, Clemson, South Carolina, Kentucky, and now Georgia have all given the Tigers fits.  The Bulldogs game to the Plains with a solid young quarterback and college football’s best receiver and gave Auburn all they could handle.  Freshman Aaron Murray had one of his best games so far against Auburn's porous pass defense, throwing for 273 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions.  In the end, Cam Newton and the Tiger offense proved too much for a young and overmatched Georgia team. 

Auburn now has two weeks to prepare for the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa.  There they will face the SEC’s most balanced team.  The Crimson Tide has a solid offense, capable of running and passing the ball with equal effectiveness.  Greg McElroy and company is complemented by a top-15 defense.  In two weeks, Alabama will provide the toughest test Auburn will face all season.  

 

3.  San Diego State Gives TCU a Scare

A solid first drive followed by a defensive touchdown gave SDSU a two-touchdown lead six minutes into their game in Fort Worth.  At that point, the TCU offense woke up to score 34 unanswered points to close out the first half.  However, San Diego State’s second half was probably the best half of football played against TCU this season.  They kept the Frogs out of the end zone while scoring three touchdowns of their own, nearly making it all the way back to pull the upset of the season. 

The Aztecs were the final test of TCU’s season.  The Frogs have a bye week before traveling to Albuquerque to take on the hapless New Mexico Lobos.  While it looks like TCU will finish the season undefeated, its bowl opponent will certainly be watching tape from the second half of yesterday’s game.  

 

4.  Notre Dame Bounces Back, Utah Doesn’t  

The last month has been an incredibly difficult one for Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  After dropping two in a row to Tulsa and Navy, combined with its off the field tragedy the Irish were left reeling.  Their bye couldn’t have come at a better time.  In spite QB Dayne Crist missing the game due to injury, the Notre Dame offense saw almost no falloff.  However, the real heroes of this game were members of the Notre Dame defense. 

With two weeks of prep time, the Irish were able to knock off a Utah team yet to recover from their manhandling at the hands of TCU last weekend in Salt Lake City.  Though important for ND’s bowl hopes, this game likely had the greatest effect on TCU and its hopes for the national championship.  

 

5.  Fresno State and Nevada Will Test Boise  

Those of you who turned in early last night missed an amazing game between two of the WAC’s better teams.  Fresno and Nevada played arguably the weekend’s best game in the Silicon Valley.  Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick accounted for over 320 yards (171 passing and 153 rushing) in a back and forth battle.  The Wolf Pack finally pulled ahead for good with just under five minutes to go on a 23-yard Vai Taua touchdown run. 

One thing is for certain: the Boise State Broncos are going to have to show up ready to play the next two weeks.  They host Fresno next week before heading to Reno for what may end up being their toughest game of the year against Nevada.  

 

6.  Blowouts in the Big Ten  

The Wisconsin Badgers built on their offensive explosion last week at Purdue by putting up 83 against Indiana yesterday.  Wisconsin’s best offensive performance in nearly a century came without its biggest offensive threat, tailback John Clay.  Montee Ball and James White more than made up for Clay’s absence, combining for 311 yards on 41 carries.  Given the big win over Ohio State and recent blowouts of Purdue and Indiana, there is no doubt in my mind that Wisconsin is the best one-loss team and should be first in line should two of the top-four fall. 

Meanwhile, in Columbus, Ohio State had what can only be described as a come-from-behind blowout of Penn State.  The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 14-3 lead on two touchdown passes from Matthew McGloin in his first game as Penn State starting QB.  At halftime, the Buckeyes regrouped and shut out Penn State 35-0 in the second half.  Credit to McGloin though; he showed poise, especially in the first half.  Between Freshman Tailback Silas Redd and Mcgloin, the Penn State offense has a bright future ahead. 

Michigan State hammered conference doormat Minnesota 31-8 in East Lansing.  While the other three conference leaders won big, the Northwestern Wildcats beat Iowa again, 21-17 in Evanston.  This is the second consecutive year that the Hawkeyes were caught looking ahead to their showdown with Ohio State.  

 

7.  Oklahoma State Beats Texas, Controls Big XII South  

The Oklahoma State Cowboys scored 23 in the second quarter in Austin on their way to a 26-3 halftime lead.  The final score ended up 33-16 as the Cowboys exorcized all their demons from the last 12 years of defeats at the hands of Texas.  Kendall Hunter ran for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns while Justin Blackmon caught nine passes for 145 yards and a touchdown.  OSU appears to be on a collision course for a rematch with Nebraska in Dallas for the Big XII title.  All they have left to do is win at Kansas next week and defeat the rival Sooners in the Bedlam game at home. 

As for Texas, the ‘Horns must win out to get bowl eligible.  While FAU next week shouldn’t be a huge problem, Texas will finish at home against a surging Texas A&M team that would love to end the Longhorns’ season.  

 

8.  Pitt Loses, Still in Control of the Big East  

Thursday night, Pittsburgh headed to Connecticut with a two game lead in the Big East.  UCONN came out and battled the Panthers all game and came out with a hard-fought 30-28 victory.  Also this weekend, the Big East finally got its first teams bowl eligible.  South Florida and West Virginia both won game number six while Syracuse won its seventh (when a team plays two FCS opponents, it must win seven).  With a 5-4 team still in the drivers seat to earn an automatic BCS bid, I again ask: why is this an AQ conference when the Mountain West isn’t.  Because the Big East has an automatic bid, a group of seven teams (LSU, Ohio State, Michigan State, TCU, Boise State, and the Oklahoma State/Nebraska loser) that are all more deserving than any Big East team will have to battle it out for the final spots in the BCS.  

 

9.  Three Games to decide the ACC Atlantic Title  

With two games left in the regular season, there is still a three-team tie at the top of the ACC Atlantic Division.  Florida State “leads” with a 5-2 record, but 4-2 Maryland and NC State both control their own destiny, not the Seminoles.  In the next two weeks, the division title will be decided.  NC State plays at UNC next week while Maryland travels to Tallahassee.  In two weeks, Maryland will play NC State in Raleigh while the ‘Noles face off with out-of-conference rival Florida. 

Only Florida State can clinch the division next weekend with a win and NC State loss.  Any other result and the division will be decided by the final game between NC State and Maryland.  Given the way the ACC has been all season, my guess is that this race won’t be decided until the final day.    

 

10.  Army Defeats Kent State, Gets Bowl Eligible  

The Army Black Knights easily defeated Kent State on the road to become bowl eligible for the first time in 14 years.  They will likely be headed to Fort Worth for the Armed Forces Bowl.  An interesting fact: this is the first time ever that all three service academies will go bowling in the same season.    It doesn’t matter what teams you lover or hate, everybody should be able to get behind these three schools.  The players at Army, Navy, and Air Force are the only athletes who are truly worth of the title “hero.”  

 

Bonus Thought   

Congratulations to Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks on winning their first SEC East title.  Good luck against Auburn…you’re going to need it.  

 

Bonus Thought #2  

The Division III Mount Union Purple Raiders from Alliance, OH defeated Muskingum to complete a 10-0 (9-0) season.  This season marked the 19th consecutive Ohio Athletic Conference Title for the Raiders!  There are actually some players on the team that were not even alive the last time Mount Union failed to win its conference.  Regardless of the level you play at, winning 19 conference titles in a row is an absurd statistic.  Congratulations Mount Union.  

 

Top Ten (Last Week)

1.    Oregon (1)

2.    Auburn (2)

3.    TCU (3)

4.    Boise State (4)

5.    Wisconsin (5)

6.    Stanford (6)

7.    Nebraska (7)

8.    Ohio State (8)

9.    LSU (9)

10.    Oklahoma State (10) 

The Next Five: Alabama, Michigan State, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M


Posted on: November 7, 2010 10:57 am
 

Saturday Thoughts, 11/6: Blowout Saturday

1.    TCU Thumps Utah, Best Win by a Non-AQ to Date 

I honestly thought that Utah would come out and give TCU a game Saturday afternoon.  It had been over two years since a team came to Salt Lake City and walked away with a win.  The Utes were a top five team that seemed to have proven themselves while climbing the rankings all year.  TCU proved that it is on a completely different level than Utah (and even Boise) by rolling Utah 47-7. 

Remember that it was a blowout win, on the road, against a top five team.  There are no wins on Boise State’s schedule that can even come close to this.  TCU already had a lead in the computers; this win will only increase their lead over the Broncos.  Now that Alabama has lost a second game, I will be interested in seeing if a one-loss Big XII, Big Ten, Pac-10, or SEC team will jump ahead of an undefeated TCU should Auburn or Oregon fall.  

 

2.    There Will be a New National Champion  

Les Miles and the LSU Tigers ended Alabama’s hopes of a national championship Saturday in one of the few big games of this weekend that didn’t end in a blowout.  As has become expected over the last few years (and weeks for that matter), LSU’s hopes relied on a stingy defense and some miracle payoffs on big Les Miles gambles.  The LSU win in Death Valley was an oddity in this series that has been dominated by the visiting team in recent years. 

Heading in to this weekend’s action, the general consensus was that if Alabama were to win out, they would have an SOS good enough to push them past TCU and Boise State.  It will be interesting to see which team becomes the new favorite of the anti-Boise/TCU crowd now that its favorite has fallen.  

 

3.    Stanford Runs it up on Arizona  

If there were any doubt as to the Pac-10’s second-best team, Stanford put that debate to bed with its win Saturday on national TV.  Andrew Luck padded his Heisman resume with nearly 300 yards through the air and two TDs.  Stanford's RB by committee put up over 200 yards rushing for the Cardinal offense.  Stanford’s big win raises the question: can anyone out west play defense? 

Mike Stoops is considered by many to be one of the best up and coming defensive minds in the college game, and Arizona was believed to be the Pac-10’s premiere defense.  It was the Arizona defense that led me to believe that they had the best chance of knocking off Oregon.  After giving up 42 points and 500 yards of offense against Stanford, I’m beginning to balk at that statement.  If the Arizona defense won’t be good enough to stop the Ducks, will any defense?  

 

4.    Joe Paterno wins 400th Game, an Accomplishment that May Never be Repeated  

With Penn State’s 35-21 win over Northwestern in Happy Valley, Joe Paterno became the first head coach in major college football to pick up 400 career victories.  He trails only John Gagliardi (St. John’s Minnesota, DIII) and Eddie Robinson (Grambling State, DI-AA) in total victories.  Fittingly, PSU’s comeback from 21 down matches the best comeback in JoePa’s distinguished coaching career.  Given the current state of college football and its coaching carousel, I highly doubt anyone else will ever come close to 400.  

 

5.    Iowa and Wisconsin Get Wake-Up Calls in Indiana  

Big Ten leaders Iowa and Wisconsin both had more trouble than expected while visiting the Hoosier State.  Wisconsin was manhandled in the first half by the Purdue Boilermakers and went to the locker room lucky to only be trailing 10-6.  Had it not been for several Purdue mistakes and a few questionable calls, the lead could have been much larger.  The Badgers woke up in the second half with Sophomore Montee Ball leading the team on four touchdown drives. 

The Iowa Hawkeyes suffered an even bigger scare in Bloomington.  They went to the half tied at six and spent most of the second half playing catch-up with the Hoosiers.  IU held the lead until late in the 4th-quarter when Ricky Stanzi hit Marvin McNutt on a long pass play to grab the lead.  A dropped fourth down pass in the end zone sealed Indiana’s fate.  Iowa will have to remain focused as it travels to Northwestern next weekend.  In last season’s game, the Hawkeyes were caught looking forward to their game against Ohio State.  

 

6.    Big Win, A&M’s Upset Leaves Oklahoma State in Driver’s Seat  

We entered this weekend with three teams in contention for the Big XII South.  After today’s action, the Oklahoma State Cowboys control their own destiny.  Brandon Weedon (QB), Kendall Hunter (RB), and Justin Blackmon (WR) looked like the Dallas Cowboy’s triplets in the Poke’s 55-28 wood shedding of Baylor.  With games left against TAMU and Oklahoma, it appears that Baylor’s miracle run may be nearing its end.  There is hope for the future though, as Robert Griffin is only a Sophomore. 

Meanwhile, in College Station the Oklahoma Sooners found themselves upset by the Texas A&M Aggies.  For the second time this season, Oklahoma was outplayed in every aspect of the game.  With the win, the Aggies have entered themselves in the conversation for the Big XII South title.  Win out, and with a Sooner victory in Stillwater, the Aggies will end the season in a three-way tie atop their division.  


7.    Nebraska has Stranglehold on Big XII North 

The Iowa State Cyclones gave Nebraska all it could handle Saturday afternoon in Ames.  It took a failed fake-PAT in overtime to finally put the Cyclones away.  Nebraska’s offense played quite well in the absence off all-world freshman QB Taylor Martinez.  The Huskers will have to lose twice to miss the Big XII Championship Game.  It appears they will have no trouble locking up their division, and should be the favorites in Dallas. 

Later that night in Lubbock, Texas Tech helped Nebraska extend their divisional lead with a home win over Missouri.  Mizzou is now a game back and loses the head to head tiebreaker with Nebraska.  More importantly, Tommy Tuberville has a season-defining win for the first year of his tenure in Lubbock.  The homecoming win against a top-12 team should buy the River Boat Gambler some time to install his system, which is a complete departure from what Red Raider fans are used to under Mike Leach.  

 

8.    Does Anybody want to Win the ACC Atlantic?  

Saturday began with three one-loss teams sitting at the top of the ACC Atlantic Division (NC State, Maryland, and Florida State).  The Wolfpack had the inside track given their win over Florida State last Thursday.  When they went down in the final minutes at Clemson, Maryland and FSU were left with a great chance to grab the brass ring.  Both failed…miserably. 

The Terps had a 17-15 halftime lead at Miami and held a 20-18 advantage with three minutes remaining.  However, true freshman QB Stephen Morris led an 82-yard drive in the final minutes to give the ‘Canes a season saving victory.  Meanwhile, upstate in Tallahassee, Florida State fell to North Carolina 37-35 on a last second missed field goal (wide right)…welcome to FSU Jimbo Fisher, you should probably get used to this.  

 

9.    Arkansas Pounds South Carolina  

Every week I swear that I’m not going to rag on the SEC East, but every week I’m given a new reason to do so.  The Arkansas Razorbacks marched in to Columbia and laid a 41-20 beatdown on Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks.  After the embarrassing home loss, USC needs to recover for the division “championship game” next weekend in Gainesville.  Neither team deserves to be ranked, nor do they deserve to play for the SEC title in Atlanta, but those are the rules.  The winner of the game will likely play Auburn regardless of the result in the Iron Bowl.  Considering how crazy this year has been, the east champ will likely win in Atlanta and cost Auburn a chance at the National Championship.  

 

10.    Will Texas get Bowl Eligible?  

At the beginning of the season, one thing seemed pretty clear: the Texas/Oklahoma winner would likely represent the South in the Big XII Championship Game.  Now, we find ourselves with Oklahoma State in the driver’s seat in the division and the Longhorns needing to win two of three to get bowl eligible.  The Horns have lost home games to UCLA, Iowa State, and Baylor already.  Three home games remain against Oklahoma State, Florida Atlantic, and Texas A&M.  A loss next Saturday doesn’t end their hopes, but it leaves them with an even tougher uphill climb in the Lone Star Showdown.  Given UT’s play (especially on defense), I wonder if Will Muschamp’s coach-in-waiting designation may be in jeopardy.  

 

My Top Ten (Last Week)  

1.    Oregon (1)

2.    Auburn (2)

3.    TCU (4)

4.    Boise State (3)

5.    Wisconsin (8)

6.    Stanford (9)

7.    Nebraska (8)

8.    Ohio State (10)

9.    LSU (N/R)

10.    Oklahoma State (N/R) 

The Next Five: Alabama, Utah, Iowa, Michigan State, Arkansas


 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com