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Tag:Oklahoma
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 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 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


Posted on: October 31, 2010 4:45 pm
Edited on: October 31, 2010 9:46 pm
 

Saturday Thoughts, 10/30: 2 Less Undefeated Teams

I think it's safe to say that I have some crow to eat after this weekend's games.  Here are my ten thoughts from this weekend.

 

1.  Oregon Rolls, Makes a Believer Out of Me

For the last several weeks, I (along with many others) have been pointing to last night's showdown with USC in the Coliseum was going to be the first big test of the season.  Logic would suggest that a Defensive Coordinator with nearly 40 years of experience would be able to develop a scheme to at least slow down the Duck's attack.  Add in the fact that he had two weeks to prepare and one of the most talent rich rosters in the country and you have a situation that should prove to be quite the test for Chip Kelly's offense.  Not so much...the Ducks went through the Trojan defense like a knife through warm butter on their way to rolling up 52. In the interest of full disclosure, the Oregon defense gave up 32 points (the highest total they have surrendered all season).  However, the defense stepped up when it counted, shutting out the Trojans in the 4th quarter when the game was still relatively close (Oregon's lead was only 11 after three quarters).

Possibly more important than Oregon winning is USC losing.  Will this end up being the game that people point to when talking about the final fall of Pete Carroll's Pac-10 empire?  This, along with the 55-21 thrashing by Stanford last year are proof that the rest of the conference has caught up with the Men of Troy.  For the second consecutive year, the Trojans have lost multiple home games after losing only once at home in the previous seven years.

 


2.  Cam Newton and Auburn Take Care of Business in Oxford

Cameron Newton only had 250 yards of total offense this weekend, not because he was incapable of getting more, but because the Tigers didn't need anything else to take care of Ole Miss 51-31.  Jeremiah Massoli and the Rebel offense had a good showing, but the game was never in doubt after halftime.  This was a big victory for the Tigers, as their previous two games away from Jordan Hare Stadium have been less than impressive (17-14 win in Stakville and a 37-34 victory in Lexington).  Had Auburn's road struggles continued, I would be have been much more hesitant about their ability to win the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa.  Yesterday's win proved that Auburn can enter a hostile environment and still play at the top of their game.

On a side note, could you imagine a National Championship Game between Oregon and Auburn?  Both teams have top-10 offenses and defenses outside of the top-35.  If I were to set the over/under at 110 points, which way would you bet?

 

3.  Michigan State Dominated by Iowa, Four Team Tie at the Top of the Big Ten

Michigan State has been living on the edge all season, and finally a team came along to knock them off.  After last week's home loss to Wisconsin, you got the feeling that Kirk Ferentz would not lose consecutive games at Kinnick Stadium.  The pink locker room and crazed Hawkeye fans would not allow Iowa to lose again.  Not only did they win, but the Hawkeyes won big.  Kirk Cousins has had some magical games this year, but there wasn't enough magic in the world to bring MSU back from a 30-0 halftime deficit.  Even with the loss, it has been a great run for Sparty, and I'm convinced that as long as D'Antonio is on the sidelines, Michigan State's best days are ahead of them.

As for this season, the Spartan loss creates a four-way tie for first in the Big Ten (could have been five-way if Purdue won in Champaign) between Iowa, Sparty, Wisconsin, and Ohio State.  OSU's visit to Iowa on 11/20 is the only game remaining between the top four teams.  It is likely that this season will end in a three-way tie at 7-1.  With two losses and a #18 AP ranking (after last week), Iowa appears to be out of the conversation for a BCS bid.  However, if two or three one-loss teams are left standing, the Big Ten still has a chance to put two teams in BCS bowls (though a national championship appears to be out of the picture).  The Spartan loss also puts Ohio State back in control of their conference championship destiny.  If the Buckeyes win out, they will tie their own record of six consecutive Big Ten titles.

 

4.  Nebraska Regains Control of Big XII North

Call it a hangover if you want, but I think Nebraska was just the better team yesterday.  Just like Mizzou dominated every aspect of their showdown with Oklahoma, the Huskers dominated the Tigers yesterday.  The Nebraska offense had to attempt only three second half passes on their way to a 31-17 win at home.  It is a shame that Nebraska got tripped up against Texas, because they have the talent on both sides of the ball to compete with Auburn and Oregon.  Nebraska is back in the driver's seat in the Big XII North and well on their way to the conference title game in their final season before departing for the Big Ten.  Missouri and Iowa State are still both in the race should Nebraska trip up.  Bill Snyder's Kansas State Wildcats are still mathematically in the race, but will need a miracle.

 

5.  TCU and Utah Win, Set up showdown in Salt Lake City Next Saturday

The biggest game of the season to date will be played at Rice-Eccles stadium next weekend.  Utah won a close game at Air Force while TCU travelled to Las Vegas and easily took care of UNLV.  The winner of this game should get a pretty big boost in the computer polling.  This is going to hurt Boise State supporters, but the winner of this game has a better chance of getting to the title game than the Broncos.  Regardless of who wins, their victory will be the best that any non-AQ school will pick up this year.  It isn't fair, it's just fact.  For the record, I'm picking Utah to pull the upset.  The Utes have lost only five home games in five-plus seasons under Kyle Whittingham.  Their last loss at home came in September '07.

 

6.  ACC Florida School Lose on the Road

At the start of this season, Florida State and Miami were picked by many to win their divisions and meet for the ACC title.  Both teams were dominated on the road and no longer control their own destiny.  Miami's loss in Charlottesville has allowed Virginia Tech to open up a two game lead in the Coastal Division, making the Hokies a near lock to make it to Charlotte.  Florida State's road loss Thursday Night in Raleigh has created a three-way tie for the top spot in the Atlantic Division between the Seminoles, Wolfpack, and Maryland Terrapins.  NC State and Maryland both control their own destiny, but have difficult schedules ahead of them.  FSU has a relatively easy schedule, but needs NCSU to fall to win the Atlantic.  Along with the Big XII South, the ACC Atlantic should have one of the most exciting races that will continue through most of November.

 

7.  Pitt Wins again, has no Excuse to not Win Big East

After three weeks of Big East play, the Pittsburgh Panthers (3-0) have a one-game lead over Syracuse and Rutgers (both of whom they have defeated).  The other five teams in the Big East are all 1-2.  West Virginia removed themselves from the conference title picture with their loss at Connecticut.  Syracuse (2-1) dominated Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium and Rutgers (1-1) had a bye keeping their slim hopes for the conference title alive.  To recap, the Pittsburgh Panthers (5-3 with losses at Utah and Notre Dame and an embarrassing home loss to Miami) will need to lose twice in their final four games to not make the BCS.  At the same time, and undefeated MWC champion will need Boise State to lose in order to guarantee themselves a spot in a BCS bowl.  Why does a three or four Big East champion still have an automatic BCS bid while the MWC champ needs to go undefeated AND get help to play in the same bowl?!?

 

8.  Notre Dame Loses at Home, Bowl Unlikely

**Before I begin with my commentary, the death of Declan Sullivan is one of the greatest college football tragedies in recent memory.  We can only hope that things will be done to prevent something like this from ever happening again**

Up until this week, I have said that Brian Kelly is an outstanding Xs and Os coach who deserves the benefit of the doubt in spite of the losses so far this season.  I would like to make a 180 on much of what I've said about Kelly this season. The Notre Dame football program is in trouble.  They suffered a blowout loss last weekend at Navy, leading some to question Kelly's ability as a coach.  Kelly's troubles were magnified tenfold by the tragic death of a student employee during Wednesday's practice, which has led some to question Kelly's character for putting a student in such a dangerous situation (Ohio State's Jim Tressel elected to stay inside Wednesday, citing safety concerns for staff as a key reason in a morning press conference).

In these situations, players will either quit on their coach/themselves, or unite as a team and play through the adversity.  Attitude reflects leadership, and this team has clearly quit.  Notre Dame now has two weeks to think about their last two losses and the recent tragedy before getting they play their final three with slim hopes of going bowling.  The Irish will now need to win two of three at home vs Utah, vs a much improved Army team in Yankee Stadium, and at USC.  Good luck, I'll be really impressed if Kelly can get this team to rally and save face. 

To recap, in the last week, Brian Kelly has allowed his team to quit on him.  He also made a decision regarding his team that has led many to question his character, as they did after how he handled his departure from Cincinnati before the biggest game in school history.  Though he is still one of the better Xs and Os offensive coaches in football, I don't think that I would be comfortable sending my hypothetical son to play for him.  Right or wrong, rival coaches will use this week's unfortunate events against him in recruiting.

 

9.  Big XII South is Best Race Heading Down the Stretch

With four weeks remaining in the regular season, there is a three-way tie in the loss column at the top of the Big XII South.  Oklahoma and Oklahoma State shouldn't surprise anyone.  However, the third team still in the race is Baylor.  Robert Griffin has led the Bears to a 7-2 (4-1) record with only three games remaining.  Included in their seven wins, includes a huge victory in Austin yesterday afternoon (their first since win since 1997 and first in Austin since '91).  The Bears head to Sillwater next week for the first game of a round robin that will determine the division champion (barring any upset losses along the way).  OSU has the advantage of hosting both Baylor and Oklahoma while the Sooners will play both Baylor and the Cowboys on the road.  With Oklahoma's offensive rating (14th) being the lowest of the three teams, the final month of this season should provide quite a few fireworks.

 

10.  Florida and South Carolina Remain in SEC East Race

Florida's win over Georgia in the Cocktail Party leaves the Gators and Gamecocks as the only remaining teams in the SEC East race (Vandy is technically still alive, but who are we kidding...it's Vandy).  The November 13th game in Gainseville will decide who gets to go to Atlanta for the right to lose to the Iron Bowl winner.  I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but the SEC East is horrible.  The six teams from the East currently have only two wins against teams from the West.  To further illustrate the struggles of the SEC East, its teams have a combined record of 23-27 (.460 winning percentage) and 12-23 in conference.  Compare that to the the much maligned Big East that has a 35-27 (.564) record as a conference.

 

My Top Ten (Last Week)

1.  Oregon (1)

2.  Auburn (2)

3.  Boise State (3)

4.  TCU (4)

5.  Alabama (6)

6.  Utah (8)

7.  Wisconsin (9)

8.  Nebraska (NR)

9.  Stanford (10)

10.  Ohio State (NR)

The Next Five: Missouri (7), Oklahoma, LSU, Arizona, Iowa


Posted on: October 24, 2010 12:11 pm
 

Saturday Thoughts, 10/23: #1 Falls Again

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


Posted on: October 17, 2010 11:26 am
 

Saturday Thoughts, 10/16

My Ten thoughts on this weekend's action, followed by an updated top ten list.

 

1.    #1 Knocked Off Again  

Another week, another #1 loses on the road.  Surprisingly, poor defense played a large role in Ohio State’s loss in Madison.  It’s clear that John Clay’s 100-yard rushing game (the first since Joe McKnight of USC in 2008) was the key to Wisconsin’s success.  Not so surprisingly, special teams also proved to be a problem.  When Wisconsin ran back the opening kickoff, you knew Ohio State was in trouble.  Clay extended the lead to 21-0 with two dominating TD runs before a field goal finally put Ohio State on the board.  A big interception and questionable personal foul put the Buckeyes in a position to bring the game close, but poor offensive execution left OSU with a long FG attempt that went wide left.  Terrelle Pryor led a furious comeback in the second half, reducing the deficit to a field goal early in the 4th quarter.  However, 10 consecutive Badger points and a late Pryor interception sealed Ohio State’s fate.  

 

2.    Shootout in the SEC  

What happened to the “great SEC defenses” people have been talking about all these years?  All I saw were 108 total points in the SEC game of the week.  All kidding aside, I said last week that if Auburn were to beat Arkansas, they would see a significant rise in my rankings.  True to my word, the Tigers have moved up.  However, I still have my reservations.  Up until the middle of the 4th Quarter, the Hogs were threatening to pull the upset.  After seeing the way their defense performed against the Arkansas backup quarterback I’m a little nervous about putting them in the top 3.  There are still 3 very losable games left on their schedule (next week against LSU, the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa, and a potential SEC title game in Atlanta).  If Auburn wins out (LSU too), they should find themselves in Glandale.  Cameron Newton cemented his place as Heisman frontrunner.  I will be interested to see how he plays next week against the conference’s best defense, his first real test.  

 

3.    Texas Defense Comes up Big  

Leave it to Will Muschamp and the Texas defense to draw up the scheme that shuts down Taylor Martinez and the potent Nebraska offense.  Much like South Carolina last week, I think the bye played a large role in the success of the Longhorn defense.  Much like Michigan, Nebraska doesn’t have enough pieces around their young star quarterback to compete when he has a tough day.  Hats off to the UT offense as well, they didn’t move the ball much, but they moved it enough (especially on the ground) to win the game.  A question worth asking is which Texas performance is the truest representation of this team’s quality, getting manhandled at home by UCLA or the one that got a big win in Lincoln?  As is typical, the truth likely lies somewhere in between.  

 

4.    What About the Rest of the Big XII  

Lost in the commotion of Nebraska and Oklahoma’s undefeated runs and the struggles of Texas, there are several 2nd tier Big XII teams that have been quietly putting together solid years.  Both Oklahoma State and Missouri moved to 6-0 this afternoon with wins in the Lone Star State (OSU at Texas Tech and Mizzou at A&M).  Both teams will face their first big tests next week though, as the Cowboys welcome an angry Nebraska team to Stillwater and the Tigers welcome an Oklahoma team that is still very much in the National Title race to Columbia.  Additionally, Bill Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats are 5-1 after a lopsided win over Kansas Thursday evening and had a great win to open their season against UCLA.  Lastly, Robert Griffin has the Baylor Bears one win away from their first Bowl game in 14 years after defeating Colorado in Boulder.   

 

5.    Illinois Better than Expected, Sparty has Big Ten’s Best D  

In the first half of the game in East Lansing, Illinois put the fear of God in Michigan State, leading 6-3 at the half.  In the second half, Kirk Cousins, the 2 headed monster at RB, and the rest of the Spartan offense looked much better as they ran away with the game 26-6.  After the way the Ohio State and Iowa defenses looked in their games against Wisconsin and Michigan respectively, it is a safe bet to say that Sparty has the Big Ten’s best defense.  MSU holds its BCS destiny in its own hands with only their game at Iowa as a big concern.  

 

6.    Bad Defense, Trouble Through the Air Cost Michigan Again  

There were points in their match up with Michigan that Iowa looked like the stereotypical Big Ten team that many people nationally accused of being “too slow,” especially on the defensive side of the ball.  Michigan was able to move the ball easily in large part due to its superior athleticism.  I don’t think it was a coincidence that the Michigan comeback was sparked by Tate Forcier’s entrance in to the game.  Given Denard Robinson’s struggles with going through reads and throwing accuracy, coming from behind can prove to be a problem.  Though I’m not advocating Forcier as the starter in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines are going to need an improved passing game if the want to win against the Big Ten’s better teams.  11 new starters on defense would help, too.   

Even in a losing effort, Michigan showed the rest of the Big Ten how Iowa can be beaten.  If a team can play ANY defense and takes advantage of Iowa’s less athletic secondary, they have a great shot at a win.  In spite of their loss in Madison, Ohio State seems to be the Big Ten team most equipped to take down Iowa.  Though I am being critical of Iowa, I do acknowledge how difficult Big Ten road wins (especially in Ann Arbor) are to come by.  

 

7.    Vandy Controls its Own Destiny is SEC East  

This SEC’s eastern division is light years behind the west.  Last week I said that 4 of the league’s top five resided in the west.  However, the case can even be made that ALL FIVE of the SEC’s best teams (Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, AND Mississippi State) are from the western division.  In inter-divisional games this season, the east has won only two games (Vanderbilt won at Ole Miss and South Carolina beat Alabama in Columbia).  Following South Carolina’s loss in Lexington, it is likely that a 5-3 (possibly even 4-4) team will go to Atlanta.  The Gators lost their third straight (all in Conference) for the first time since 1988.  Right now, 2-loss Vanderbilt (who lost to UConn) is tied for first and controls its own BCS destiny!  Even the 3-loss teams Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee  

 

8.    No Dominant ACC Team  

Since expanding to 12 teams, parity has been the only thing that can be counted on in the ACC.  Every time a team appears ready to separate themselves from the pack, they put in a performance that gives people cause to pause.  So far this season, North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, and Georgia Tech have all fallen into this trap.  Florida State nearly became the most recent victim at home against Boston College.  In what was clearly a letdown game after the big win in South Beach, the ‘Noles found themselves trailing early in the 4th quarter.  I still stand by my statement that FSU is the best team in Florida this year, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a trap waiting for them down the road.  

 

9.    Late Night Games Hurt Boise State  

Boise State’s national title bid took a minor blow this week, as both Oregon State and Nevada lost on the road.  Oregon State’s 35-34 double overtime loss at Washington is another downturn in what has been a Jekyll and Hyde season for the Beavers, losing on the road to top ten Boise State and TCU while winning at then top ten Arizona.  In what most thought would be the highest scoring game of the weekend, Hawaii defeated Nevada at home by a modest score of 27-21.  This represents Nevada’s 6th consecutive road loss in the Central Pacific, a place they haven’t won since 1948.   To put that in perspective, the last time the Wolf Pack won in Honolulu was the same year that the Cleveland Indians won the World Series.   

Both losses further weaken Boise State’s already questionable strength of schedule, as Nevada and Oregon State were their only two opponents ranked in the top 25.  These losses likely will knock both teams out of the polls, possibly for good.  The BSU/Nevada game next month in Reno goes from a top 15 match up and possible College Gameday site, to nothing more than a trap game against a team with a solid offense.  The Beavers have three more potential losses on their schedule, playing USC at home, traveling to Stanford, and hosting Oregon in succession to end their season.  

 

10.    Trojans Win Big, 2 Weeks Until Showdown With Ducks  

USC had their best performance of the season in their last game before welcoming the Oregon Ducks to town in two weeks.  The 48-14 beat down of the California Golden Bears should be seen as a statement made directly to the Ducks.  The Trojans are one of the few Pac-10 teams that have the defensive talent to shut down the high-powered Oregon offense.  Like South Carolina last weekend and Texas yesterday, having two weeks to prepare is going to give Monte Kiffin the best chance of any defensive coordinator this season.  Last week, I stated that Mike Stoops was the best defensive mind in the Pac-10, forgetting that Monte moved with his son from Tennessee to LA.  Right now, they are 1 and 1A in the conference.  I think it’s safe to say that whoever shuts down Oregon first is the best.  

 

My Top Ten (previous ranking)  

1.    Oklahoma (1)

2.    Oregon (3)

3.    Auburn (7)

4.    Boise State (4)

5.    TCU (6)

6.    LSU (8)

7.    Alabama (9)

8.    Utah (10)

9.    Michigan State (NR)

10.    Stanford (NR)

The Next Five: Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State (2), Florida State, Nebraska (5)


Posted on: October 11, 2010 4:07 pm
Edited on: October 12, 2010 9:10 am
 

Saturday Thoughts, 10/9

10 thoughts from this weekend’s action, followed by my top 10 list: 

1.  2 weeks ago, Arkansas showed the world the blueprint for beating Alabama.  4 quarters of good quarterback play combined with a solid defensive effort was what was needed to take down the nation’s best team.  Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the team played well through the first 3 quarters before falling apart in the fourth.  Alabama was proven to be beatable, the question became “what team would be able to pull the upset?”  It ended up being South Carolina with Garcia and the Gamecock defense stepping up after their bye week and a loss @Auburn. 

2. Denard Robinson is a great athlete. By his senior year, Michigan's offense will be one of the nation's best and he'll have a legit case for the Heisman. Right now, he has to improve his throwing accuracy and get through his reads faster. Rich Rodriguez needs to put better offensive pieces around him and completely overhaul the Wolverine D. Until then, teams with solid passing games and competent defenses will have little trouble winning against Michigan.  Iowa, Ohio State, and Wisconsin are all left on the Wolverine schedule and fit the description.  Michigan will lose 2-3 more games this regular season.  On the other side of the coin, Michigan State is for real.  Sparty should be undefeated heading to Iowa City in two weeks.  A win there, and MSU should earn at least a share of the Big Ten title and a trip to Pasadena. 

3.  If Terrelle Pryor plays at the top of his game (ie, Saturday vs. Indiana, vs. Miami (FL), and in the Rose Bowl), Ohio State is nearly unbeatable.  The Buckeye defense is one of the best in the country, and Pryor is the necessary component for OSU’s offensive success.  If Pryor is playing poorly or (God forbid) gets injured, the Buckeye offense goes from solid to below average and the team goes from national title contender to 2-4 loss team out of the BCS.

4.  Speaking of Ohio State, their hard-fought victory in their Big Ten opener against Illinois doesn’t look as bad after the beating the Illini laid on Penn State in Happy Valley.  If Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa are the top Big Ten teams, Illinois fits solidly in the 2nd tier with Michigan, Northwestern and Indiana.  Conversely, Penn State is looking like the 9th best team in the conference and will be fighting with Purdue to try and get bowl eligible.

5.  Auburn needs a statement win.  Right now, the Tigers are the highest ranked SEC team according to the AP.  However, I’m still waiting for them to really put on an impressive performance.  They have struggled in both of their road games against clearly inferior opponents (Mississippi State and Kentucky).  It took overtime to beat Clemson on the Plains. Auburn needed Stephen Garcia and South Carolina to collapse in the 4th quarter to keep their undefeated season alive.  A win next week over Arkansas would go a long way for Auburn.  However, I still think Arkansas should come away with the W. 

6.  Les Miles must have made a deal with the devil.  How else can you explain these 4th quarter comebacks, lucky fake FGs, and wins despite horrible clock management?  LSU has a national championship caliber defense.  If either Jarrett Lee or Jordan Jefferson can figure out how to lead the offense, LSU can make a legit run at the SEC title and a record 3rd BCS championship.  If no, the Tigers are doomed to lose at least twice as their schedule will only get tougher from here on. 

7.  The SEC East isn’t very good.  Other than South Carolina, the top 5 SEC teams all come from the West.  The Gamecocks are in the drivers seat to win their division.  The Old Ball Coach has no excuses for his team failing to reach Atlanta this year, let’s take a look at the competition.  Florida is one of the best programs in the country, but is in the middle of a down year.  This is not a knock on the Gators, this usually happens when you lose an all world QB like Tim Tebow.  Georgia lost their first 3 SEC games and then got beaten by Colorado.  Tennessee has been blown out twice, nearly lost to UAB, and blew a 4th quarter lead despite LSU’s best effort to give them the game.  Kentucky couldn’t seal the deal against Auburn and got blown out in Gainesville.  Vandy is Vandy. 

8.  Oklahoma’s blowout win over Florida State earlier this season is looking even better after the beating FSU laid on Miami (FL).  Right now, the Seminoles are the best team in Florida and are the clear favorites in the ACC.  They are in the weaker division and should be the favorites in all of their remaining games. 

9.  At some point this season, a Pac 10 team will come up with a scheme to shut down the Oregon offense.  If the Ducks don’t put up at least 40 points, they are in danger of losing on any given Saturday.  To say their defense is a weakness would be a massive understatement.  Though they lost this weekend, I think Mike Stoops and his Arizona Wildcats have the best shot at the end of November.  Arizona is the best defensive team in the conference and should still have a chance at getting to the Rose Bowl.  Other teams that have a shot are USC at home in 2 weeks and Oregon State in Corvallis the last week of the season. 

10.  After a convincing win in Ames, the Utah Utes have earned the right to be in the conversation for best non-AQ team with Boise State and TCU.  As an outside observer I find it shocking that Utah isn’t getting any press right now.  Though they are not the sexy pick, Utah has as strong of a BCS busting track record as either of the other teams.  The beaten 2 AQ school already and have a chance to knock off a third when they go to South Bend next month.  A win over TCU in Salt Lake City will change the way both teams are viewed.  The Horned Frogs will be the favorite (possibly a heavy favorite), but given Utah’s recent track record at home (only 5 losses in 5+ seasons under Kyle Whittingham, nonce since September ’07) I certainly wouldn’t bet any money against them.

My Top 10:
1.    Oklahoma
2.    Ohio State
3.    Oregon
4.    Boise State
5.    Nebraska
6.    TCU
7.    Auburn
8.    LSU
9.    Alabama
10.  Utah

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