Ten thoughts on this weekend's action and my updated top-10 list.
1. Number One Falls on the Road Where have I heard this before?
Another week, another number one gets picked off away from home. Missouri came in better prepared than Oklahoma and beat the Sooners in every aspect of the game. This season is beginning to look very similar to 2007. No team is safe, and I’m pretty confident that we haven’t seen the last of these upsets. Oregon (AP #1) still has three very losable games left on their schedule. Playing in the SEC West leaves Auburn (BCS #1) vulnerable every week. Michigan State and Missouri face huge road challenges next week (Iowa and Nebraska respectively). It is becoming more likely that pollsters will have to eventually decide if a one-loss power conference team is more worthy than an undefeated TCU, Boise, or Utah.
2. Auburn Looking Like the Nation’s Best, Newton IS Nation’s Best
Every week I have a new concern regarding the Auburn Tigers and their bid for an SEC/National Championship. This week, Cameron Newton torched the SEC’s best defense for 200+ rushing yards while leading Auburn to a 24-17 victory over LSU on the Plains. Newton is clearly the favorite for the Heisman Trophy, as he should be. Auburn should win their next two before hosting a Georgia Bulldog team that suddenly looks like a contender in the SEC East.
I really like this Tiger team, but I feel the same way about them as I do Oregon. Both have painfully obvious weaknesses and have yet to face a team with the personnel to exploit them. In the case of the Tigers, a team with a strong front seven and solid passing game should have a good chance against them. Both Georgia and Alabama fit that description. Also, South Carolina came close at Auburn last month; there is no reason to believe they would have an even better chance on a neutral field in Atlanta. Don’t get me wrong; I think Auburn has an outstanding chance of running the table, I just think there are several teams left on their schedule who could give the Tigers a run for their money.
3. Michigan State Survives Close Call in Evanston
Northwestern nearly spoiled Mark D’Antonio’s return to the MSU sideline. The Wildcats jumped out to a 17-0 first half lead that they held until the middle of the fourth quarter. Kirk Cousins showed the poise of an upperclassman as he led the Spartan offense to 28 second half points and a come from behind victory in their first game outside of Michigan. This season’s team is beginning to remind me of the 2002 Ohio State team (for which D’Antonio served as defensive coordinator). Their games aren’t going to be particularly pretty, but you get the feeling that they will always find a way to get the win. Sparty will face its greatest test of the season next weekend at Kinnick Stadium.
4. The Road to Pasadena Runs Still Through Iowa City
Even though the Hawkeyes lost this afternoon, the Big Ten champion is going to have to win a game in Iowa City. It is likely that the five games featuring Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Iowa will be the key factor in deciding the Big Ten representative in the Rose Bowl. Of those five games, three are going to be held in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes can cause complete chaos by beating Sparty next Saturday and forcing a five-way tie at the top of the conference (the aforementioned teams along with Purdue) that will take at least a month to sort out. However, an MSU win should lock up the conference title for the Spartans. Things could get REALLY interesting in the Big Ten next Saturday.
5. Ohio State, Arkansas Rebound at Home
Last weekend, both Ohio State and Arkansas suffered disappointing losses on the road in front of a national television audience. This weekend, they returned home looking to take their frustrations out on inferior conference foes. Homecoming combined last week’s loss in Madison and revenge for last year’s game in West Lafayette led to a very motivated Buckeye team. Ohio State racked up 400+ first half yards on their way to a 42-0 halftime lead. Joe Bauserman and the second team added a second half touchdown and the defense held on for a 49-0 shutout, the first of the season for the Buckeye defense. With only one conference loss on their record, the Buckeyes are still very much in contention for a Big Ten title and BSC Bowl bid. It will take a lot of luck for them to get to Glendale for the title game, but stranger things have happened.
Arkansas’s loss at Auburn moved them to 1-2 in the SEC, leaving them tied for last in the SEC west. The Hogs benefited from two weather delays to hold on and defeat former head coach Houston Nutt and Ole Miss 38-24. The Razorbacks jumped out to an early lead, but watched as Mississippi chipped away at their advantage. The Black Bears…err Rebels scored just inside the 10-minute mark to cut the Razorback lead to 31-24. Play was stopped for weather for a second time following the Mississippi touchdown. With Ryan Mallet sidelined after showing more concussion symptoms, Tyler Wilson led a Razorback touchdown drive after the weather delay. An Ole Miss fumble on the goal line sealed the Arkansas win.
6. South Carolina Back in SEC East Driver’s Seat
The South Carolina Gamecocks won their showdown in Nashville to take sole possession of first place in the SEC East (3-2 in conference). However, three teams still have a realistic chance. South Carolina has two losable games left on their conference schedule (home vs. Arkansas and at Florida). The Florida Gators (coming off a bye and sitting on a three-game losing streak) still control their own destiny. They host South Carolina in three weeks in what will likely be a winner-take-all match up. Georgia (who started 0-3 in conference) has a tough road to go. They must defeat Florida and Auburn then get some help. To win the conference, South Carolina will have to lose two of their final three. Even Kentucky and Vanderbilt still have outside chances, but will need more help than is reasonable to believe they can get.
7. Big East Leaders Fall at Home
The preseason favorites to win the Big East Championship, Cincinnati and West Virginia both fell at home this weekend. The Bearcats lost Friday night to a South Florida team that found it necessary to bring sideline heaters so they could withstand the “frigid” Southern Ohio weather. The Mountaineers allowed a far less talented Syracuse team to push them around all game. This was their first loss in Morgantown since 2008 and their first loss to the Orange sine 2001.
The losses by Cincy and WVU made the Pitt/Rutgers game a showdown for sole possession of first place in the Big East. The Panthers manhandled Rutgers at home a week after thumping Syracuse in the Carrier Dome last Saturday. The Panthers are in the drivers seat and appear to be the class of the Big East by a long shot. However, given their 4-3 record and the volatility of the Big East, I wouldn’t expect that to remain the case all season.
8. The Giant Killers from Ames Strike Again
Last season, Paul Rhoads took his Iowa State Cyclones to Lincoln and upset the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Texas Longhorns became ISU’s most recent victim. Coming off of their upset win over Nebraska, the ‘Horns were perfectly set up for a let down against a Cyclone team that has looked less than impressive in blowout losses to Utah and Oklahoma. Iowa State came to Austin, pushed Texas around for 60 minutes, and walked out with their first ever victory over the Longhorns. There is still a long way for the ISU program to go, but this is the most promise they’ve shown since they had Seneca Wallace under center.
9. Navy knocks off the Irish Again
Four years ago, I sat in the stands in South Bend after Navy beat Notre Dame in overtime for their first win over the Irish in 40+ years. All you could hear in the stadium were several hundred Middies celebrating. Everyone else was in stunned silence. It’s still hard to believe that Navy victories in this series are no longer shocking. The USNA has won two in a row and three of their last four against the Irish. ND now sits and 4-4 and bowl eligibility is not a given. After cupcake Tulsa next week, the Irish have a bye week before hosting current top-10 Utah, returning to New York to face a much improved Army team, and finishing the season in Los Angeles against a USC team with a chip on its shoulder.
10. Oregon Wins Big, Set up Showdown Next Weekend in LA
Oregon received USC’s message from last week and responded in kind. The Ducks scored on all but two of their possessions and blew out UCLA 60-13 to move to 7-0. This marked the third time this season that the Oregon offense has crossed the 60-point threshold. They head to the Coliseum next Saturday to face a Trojan team coming off their bye. With two weeks to prepare and legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin on their sideline, USC provides the toughest challenge to Chip Kelly’s offense so far this season. Matt Barkley and the Trojan offense should be able to put up some points against the porous Oregon defense as well.
My Top Ten (Last Week)
1. Oregon (2)
2. Auburn (3)
3. Boise State (4)
4. TCU (5)
5. Michigan State (9)
6. Alabama (7)
7. Missouri (NR)
8. Utah (8)
9. Wisconsin (NR)
10. Stanford (10)
The Next Five: Ohio State, Oklahoma (1), LSU (6), Nebraska, Arizona