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.”
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