Isn’t it absolutely wonderful in life when things live up to their hype? So rare, but so delightful. And it was a week of met expectations, when you think about it.
Thanksgiving lunch and dinner and leftovers? Check. Check. Check. Iron Bowl? Check.
When Alabama jetted out to a 24–0 lead, did anyone turn the channel? No. First of all, nothing else was on. Secondly, Auburn has taught us lessons all year about starting (extremely) slowly and coming on fiercely. Why would the biggest game of the Tigers’ season play out any differently?
The Tide left a whole bunch of points on the field, no doubt. But those turnovers didn’t cause themselves. As South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier pointed out Sunday, the Tigers might give up a bunch of yards and points, but they always seem to make a play when necessary.
It’s no fluke if you navigate an SEC schedule with a 12–0 record. Especially in a division that features two other 10-win teams — and a nine-win team that won the national title a year ago.
Cam Newton and the Tigers have one more hurdle to clear — one that it’s already cleared once. The Gamecocks were pesky back on Sept. 25, for sure. They led Auburn 20–7 in the second quarter at Jordan-Hare before Newton went into unstoppable mode for, really, the first time all season.
It’ll be interesting to see if that furious rally in Tuscaloosa took anything out of Auburn. That could mean anything at all, mentally or physically.
Auburn has had an amazingly interesting season. But winning so many tight games does take a toll. It has to. Right? Have the Tigers got enough left for one more and then a month to breathe before Oregon or TCU?
Auburn 28, Alabama 27
Tennessee 24, Kentucky 14
Arkansas 31, LSU 23
Florida State 31, Florida 7
Mississippi State 31, Ole Miss 23
South Carolina 29, Clemson 7
Wake Forest 34, Vanderbilt 13
Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 34
BCS championship game: Auburn vs. Oregon
Sugar Bowl: Arkansas vs. Ohio State
Capital One Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State
Cotton Bowl: Louisiana State vs. Oklahoma State
Outback Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Penn State
Chick-fil-A Bowl: South Carolina vs. Florida State
Gator Bowl: Florida vs. Iowa
Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. Central Florida
Music City Bowl: Tennessee vs. North Carolina
Compass Bowl: Kentucky vs. Pitt
• When Arkansas lost Greg Childs for the season, some basically wrote off the Razorbacks’ offense. Or, at least many presumed it would lose a step or two. Sophomore Cobi Hamilton, though, has negated the effect of the loss. Hamilton had 85- and 80-yard touchdowns against LSU on Saturday, providing a Childs-like deep threat for Ryan Mallett. Don’t underestimate, too, what running back Knile Davis has done. Saturday’s 152-yard day gave him four consecutive 100-yard game and fifth in six games. Consider it took Davis, a sophomore, the first four weeks to get to 100 yards. The Hogs are left rooting this week for Auburn. If the Tigers are in the national title game, there’s a good chance that puts Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.
• No truly impressive wins, but just the fact that Derek Dooley held Tennessee together enough to reach a bowl game is impressive in and of itself. After a 14-point loss at South Carolina, the Volunteers had lost four in a row and six of seven. Dooley made the bold (and correct) move of going with freshman quarterback Tyler Bray, and immediately Bray breathed life into one of the league’s worst offenses. Bray, who had 354 yards and two scores in increasing UT’s win streak against Kentucky to 26, gives Tennessee fans reasons to be hopeful about the future. That didn’t seem possible a month ago.
• Happy trails to Vandy coach Robbie Caldwell, who decided the head job with the Commodores just wasn’t suited for him. Caldwell seems like a genuinely good dude who, like all those before him, wasn’t up for the impossible task of trying to win at Vandy. Caldwell should land a good O-line job somewhere, if he still wants to coach.
• Seven-win teams never turn down bowl bids, but Florida should consider it. The Gators have gotten progressively worse since beating Georgia in overtime a month ago. A month that Florida has owned in recent years featured two utter embarrassments, to South Carolina and Florida State. Urban Meyer has a pretty pedestrian 16–8 record in games he’s coached at UF without Tim Tebow at quarterback. Makes you wonder about 2011, doesn’t it? Meyer should strongly reconsider sticking with the status quo and Steve Addazio. Meyer conceded after the game that the Gators “are down a little bit.”
• Now that the regular season is done, it’s worth noting just how bad the East was, as a whole. Congrats to South Carolina and everything, because the Gamecocks did what they had to do. But, really, it is unbelievable how down the division was, relative to the West. The East won just three games head to head against West teams. And two — by Vanderbilt and Tennessee — were against an Ole Miss team that finished in the West cellar. Without South Carolina’s signature victory against Alabama, No. 1 at the time, the East would’ve looked even worse. Extending the previous thought about Florida, wonder what this division will look like in 2011. South Carolina, you’d think, will again be in good shape, with Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore back. But what about the rest of the East? SEC Least again?
Stud of the Week
Knile Davis, Arkansas RB. The sophomore is the biggest reason why the Hogs are suddenly in the BCS picture — even more than QB Ryan Mallett.
Dud of the Week
Kentucky. The Wildcats might have to wait another quarter-century for another chance this golden to finally beat Tennessee.
USC's sanctions make filling slots hard for the Pac-10.
The Holiday Bowl representative who came to the Washington-Cal game on Saturday may not have been thrilled with what he saw. But at this point, he may want to be satisfied simply having a Pac-10 team in the game at all.
Because of the unique dynamic of the conference — two national title contenders, seven so-so teams and one on NCAA probation — the bowl games with Pac-10 tie-ins don’t exactly have a large pool to choose from this season. The conference has arrangements with six bowls, and as few as one Pac-10 team could fill those slots this season.
Oregon appears headed for the Bowl Championship Series national championship game — a win over Oregon State in Saturday’s Civil War will punch the Ducks’ ticket to Glendale, Ariz. Stanford moved up to No. 4 in the BCS standings this week. The Cardinal’s regular season is over, and unless another team jumps over it, it is guaranteed a spot in one of the BCS games based on the top-4 finish. But it likely won’t be the Rose Bowl. If Auburn and Oregon meet in the BCS title game, the Rose Bowl is obligated under BCS rules to invite TCU, because the Horned Frogs are an automatic qualifier from a non-BCS conference.
So under that scenario, neither of the Pac-10’s top two teams would play in the Rose Bowl this season.
But wait, there’s more. There are five other bowl games that have contracts with the Pac-10 — the Alamo Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Sun Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl and Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Entering the weekend, Arizona is the only other conference team that is bowl-eligible. If it remained that way, the Wildcats would go to the Alamo Bowl and the other four bowl games would have to start searching for bowl-eligible teams from other conferences.
There are three other Pac-10 teams that could become bowl-eligible this weekend. Washington appears to have the best chance. The Huskies were 3–6 at one point and needed three wins in a row to close out their season to qualify. After Saturday’s exciting yet uneasy-on-the-eyes 16–13 win at Cal, Washington is two-thirds of the way there. Now, all the Huskies have to do is beat Washington State in Saturday’s Apple Cup. The Cougars are just 1–7 in conference play, but that win came in their last game over Oregon State.
Washington State has had two weeks off to prepare for the Huskies.
Arizona State and Oregon State each need a win Saturday to become bowl-eligible. The Sun Devils have a legitimate chance at Arizona, which has lost three in a row. The Beavers, meanwhile, don’t figure to stand much of a chance against the Ducks.
Even if Washington and Arizona State both win, they would only fill slots in the Holiday Bowl and Sun Bowl. That would still leave the Las Vegas Bowl and Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl without a Pac-10 representative in their games this year.
Arizona State 55, UCLA 34
Oregon 48, Arizona 29
Washington 16, California 13
Stanford 38, Oregon State 0
Notre Dame 20, USC 16
Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore may have seen his Heisman Trophy support wane after the Broncos’ overtime loss to Nevada on Friday. With Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck gaining momentum at the same time, this season’s Heisman ceremony could have a strong Pac-10 flavor.
While many still believe Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is the favorite despite widespread reports that question his eligibility, the next two top candidates appear to be Luck and Oregon running back LaMichael James. Depending how players like James and Moore fare in their regular season finales this weekend, there could be just three players invited to New York for the ceremony on Dec. 11. Two of them could be from the Pac-10.
Nothing to lose
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said he never even thought about going for the tie at the end of Saturday’s win over Cal.
Faced with 4th-and-goal at the Bears’ 1-yard line, Sarkisian called timeout with one second left and the Huskies trailing 13–10. Instead of attempting a field goal that would have sent the game into overtime, Washington went for the win. Running back Chris Polk easily scored, setting off a wild Husky celebration while the Bears slowly trudged off the field with their season having abruptly come to an end.
Filling the hole
With top big-play receiver Chris Owusu out with an undisclosed injury, Stanford’s Doug Baldwin has been stepping up his production in recent weeks. The senior caught five passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns during the Cardinal’s 38-0 rout of Oregon State last week. In the three games Owusu has been sidelined, Baldwin is averaging 6.7 catches for 105.3 yards in receptions. He’s also scored three times.
Randy Shannon helped Miami’s football program make big strides with regard to discipline and academic achievement. Unfortunately for him, those positives weren’t enough to outweigh some noticeable negatives: not enough victories and not enough fans in the stands at Sun Life Stadium.
A few months after giving Shannon a contract extension, Miami athletics director Kirby Hocutt decided Saturday that Shannon no longer was the right man to lead the program. Hocutt fired him in the wake of a 23–20 overtime loss to South Florida that took place in front of 26,369 people and dropped the Hurricanes to 7–5 this season.
Hocutt said he didn’t base his decision on the final game, but this much is undeniable: When the tradition-rich program located in South Florida loses at home to an unaccomplished program called South Florida (located in Tampa, by the way) led by a freshman walk-on quarterback, there’s a problem.
In many ways, Shannon fell victim to the championship expectations that he helped create. He was a linebacker at Miami from 1985-88 and served as an assistant coach at his alma mater for 13 seasons, playing a role on three of the program’s five national championship teams.
Shannon restored Miami as a premier destination for the nation’s elite high school talent, bringing in highly rated recruiting classes. Fans and alumni expected those classes to turn Miami back into “The U,” but the Hurricanes have yet to play for an ACC title since joining the conference. So as Miami continued to fall out of contention for championships despite having talent that analysts agreed was championship-worthy, someone had to pay the price.
Shannon finishes with a 28–22 record, including 0–2 in bowl games, in four seasons as head coach of the Hurricanes. That ledger includes a 16–16 mark in ACC play, including a 10–10 mark against Coastal Division opponents Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Shannon made some mistakes during his tenure, most recently when he started true freshman Stephen Morris at quarterback against South Florida after originally saying that Jacory Harris would be his starter when Harris returned to health from his concussion.
But Shannon also did plenty of good things, which Hurricanes fans will realize in the years to come. Just check out Miami’s depth chart leading up to the South Florida game: Only five of the 25 offensive players on it are seniors, and just seven of the 24 defensive players listed are seniors. The offensive line loses just one of its top 10 players next season, and the defense loses just three starters.
Bottom line: The next coach — whoever that is — will take over a Miami program in better shape than the one Shannon inherited. And no one should be surprised if the Hurricanes win big in 2011.
The only question will be whether Shannon could have done the same if given the opportunity.
Boston College 16, Syracuse 7
South Florida 23, Miami 20, OT
Virginia Tech 37, Virginia 7
Florida State 31, Florida 7
Maryland 38, N.C. State 31
North Carolina 24, Duke 19
South Carolina 29, Clemson 7
Wake Forest 34, Vanderbilt 13
Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 34
Championship Game Set
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher probably said it best when he described Saturday as “a perfect day for Florida State football.” Two games were important to the Seminoles, and both produced the result that the Seminoles desired.
First — and most important in Fisher’s mind — Florida State ended its six-game losing streak against rival Florida by thumping the Gators in convincing fashion. Minutes later, Maryland wrapped up a victory over NC State to give the Seminoles the Atlantic Division title and send them to the ACC championship game for the first time since 2005.
Florida State (9-3, 6-2) will take on Virginia Tech, which extended its winning steak to 10 games with a dominating victory over Virginia, on Saturday night in Charlotte. The Hokies (10-2, 8-0), who became the first team to go through ACC play undefeated since Florida State in 2000, have won 10 games for a nation-best seventh consecutive season.
The flip side to the thrill of victory for Florida State and Virginia Tech was the agony of defeat for NC State. The Wolfpack (8-4, 5-3) would have played in the ACC championship game for the first time had they defeated the Terrapins, but they couldn’t hold on after taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
NC State resembled a team of destiny down the stretch when it pulled out wins over Florida State and North Carolina thanks to an improbable fumble recovery and a touchdown pass that coach Tom O’Brien called “a prayer.” But dropped passes, including a couple that could have been touchdowns, and an inability to contain Maryland’s passing game prevented the Wolfpack from grabbing one more close victory.
“We had all those chances, and guys who usually take advantage of those chances didn’t make the plays,” O’Brien said. “It’s just a tough way to end a heck of a season and what could have been a chance to keep going. But it didn’t turn out the way we would have liked.”
Smith Enjoys Record Day
Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith saved his best performance for the final game of the regular season. Smith posted career highs across the board against NC State with 14 catches for 224 yards and four touchdowns. He tied a school record for receptions in a game and became the first player in Maryland history to catch four touchdown passes in a single game.
Smith’s effort helped Maryland overcome its lack of production in the running game. Quarterback Danny O’Brien completed 33 of 47 passes for a career-high 417 yards, the first 400-yard passing game for a Maryland player since Scott Milanovich in 1993, as the Terrapins (8-4, 5-3) finished with a net minus-9 yards rushing.
“Torrey has been able to make big plays all year long,” Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin said. “We saw early on that he was kind of hot, so we wanted to feed the hot hands. They’re a good defense, and we weren’t able to run the ball consistently enough, so at some point you just have to go with what’s working.”
Smith’s big day also paved the way for some individual milestones near the end of his junior season. He became the second player in school history to go over 1,000 receiving yards in a season, set a single-season school record for touchdown catches (12) and broke the school record for career all-purpose yards (5,183).
BC’s Williams runs … and runs … and runs
Andre Williams entered the weekend with 34 carries in his brief college career. Then Boston College’s true freshman tailback surpassed that total in one afternoon.
Filling in for injured star Montel Harris, Williams rushed for 185 yards and one touchdown on a school-record 42 carries to lead the Eagles past Syracuse.
“I’m a little tired, but I feel fine,” Williams said after helping Boston College (7-5, 4-4) earn its fifth consecutive victory. “Coach now knows he has more than one back and he can be comfortable with me in the game.”
Williams spent a large portion of this season as Boston College’s third-string tailback, but unforeseen circumstances allowed him to show his talent in the regular-season finale. Backup Sterlin Phifer left the team last month, leaving Williams as Harris’ backup. Then Harris, who leads the ACC in rushing and has more career rushing yards than any junior in ACC history, suffered a knee injury last week against Virginia.
Williams rushed for 108 yards on 12 carries in relief of Harris against the Cavaliers, and he moved into the starting role against Syracuse after Harris had arthroscopic surgery Monday.
“I can’t say Andre surprised us because we knew he had that ability,” Boston College left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “I’m sure you saw him bursting through those holes. He just runs with no fear. It was impressive. He was running like a man possessed.”
Tigers Turn To Boyd
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney changed quarterbacks after Kyle Parker threw an interception that South Carolina’s Antonio Allen returned 37 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter. Redshirt freshman Tajh Boyd entered the game, giving the Tigers a glimpse at their future.
“I was a little surprised to get the call,” said Boyd, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 73 yards. “I felt like I didn’t have a lot of opportunities and a lot of reps this season, so this really helped me out a lot. It was really a confidence booster.
“We have a lot to look forward to with this young team. We have a bowl game coming up, and we have to help the seniors go out victorious.”
Parker tossed a 45-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins on Clemson’s first possession, but he struggled for the rest of the night. He completed just 7 of 17 passes for 117 yards in his final regular-season game. Parker is just a sophomore in terms of football eligibility, but he is likely to pursue a professional baseball career next year.
“I always want the best for Kyle,” Boyd said. “I wish he could have finished his last game here, but I think everything happens for a reason. Hopefully this will lead to some good things.”
The Tigers (6-6, 4-4) were short-handed once again in the backfield, with leading rusher Andre Ellington still bothered by his toe injury. Ellington, who missed Clemson’s previous three games, carried just one time for no yards against the Gamecocks because his foot still didn’t feel right.
Ellington will have surgery soon and won’t play in Clemson’s bowl game.
• Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers has to wait for a bowl game to get another chance to break the school’s single-season sack record. Bowers, who had recorded a sack in a school-record nine consecutive games heading into the weekend, had none against South Carolina. He has 15.5 sacks this season, just shy of Keith Adams’ school-record 16 sacks.
• Four turnovers and Scott Blair’s first missed extra-point attempt in 78 tries short-circuited a dominant effort by Georgia Tech’s offense in the Yellow Jackets’ loss at Georgia. The Yellow Jackets racked up 512 total yards, including 411 rushing yards, and a season-high 38:14 of possession time. Georgia Tech also ran 92 plays and picked up 32 first downs, its highest totals in those categories since 2000.
• Miami senior Leonard Hankerson became the third player in school history to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in a single season, joining Eddie Brown in 1984 and Andre Johnson in 2002. Hankerson, who had nine receptions for 127 yards against South Florida, went over 2,000 yards receiving for his career.
• North Carolina dominated Duke — just not on the scoreboard. The Tar Heels outgained the Blue Devils 519-275, amassing more than 500 yards of offense for the first time since 2004. North Carolina also controlled the ball for a season-high 39:33 of possession time en route to beating Duke for the 20th time in the last 21 meetings between the teams.
• NC State’s run defense was strong in the month of November. The Wolfpack, who held North Carolina and Maryland to a combined minus-16 rushing yards in the last two games, allowed a total of 140 rushing yards on 132 attempts (1.06 yards per carry) in four November games. NC State helped its cause in those games with 16 sacks, which count against rushing totals in college football.
• Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor enjoyed his final game at Lane Stadium, completing 13 of 23 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown against Virginia. Taylor became the school’s all-time leading passer (6,532 yards), surpassing the previous record of 6,508 yards set by Bryan Randall from 2001-04.
• Wake Forest snapped its nine-game losing streak thanks in part to two blocked punts against Vanderbilt. The Demon Deacons blocked two punts in a game for the first time since Nov. 29, 2008, their last game against the Commodores.
Since 1921, Nebraska and Oklahoma have been together, sharing a conference and mostly sharing the spotlight as league rivals and championship contenders.
The Big 12 is breaking up, in number if not in name. Nebraska and Colorado head for the exits after this school year. So, fitting it is that the Sooners and Huskers ready for one final showdown in the Big 12.
That’s the matchup — Saturday, 7 p.m., Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas — in what is being billed as the league’s last championship game. A wild, surprise-filled season sending out new-era vibes eventually returned an old-school matchup, as Oklahoma and Nebraska clinched division titles on the final weekend.
The Huskers tied with Missouri in the North, but advances based on their head-to-head win over the Tigers, after rolling Colorado 45-17 in the regular-season finale. The Sooners emerged from a three-way tie with Oklahoma State and Texas A&M in the South based on the BCS standings, after surviving a wild Bedlam game in Stillwater, 47-41.
So now it’s on, Oklahoma-Nebraska, again.
Overall, the Huskers own 43 conference crowns; the Sooners 42. And 20 times previously since World War II, the OU-Nebraska game were all but de facto conference title game, whether in the Big Six, Big Seven, Big Eight or Big 12.
“It doesn’t get any better than Oklahoma and Nebraska for the Big 12 championship,” said Sooners linebacker Travis Lewis. “The rivalry goes way back to even before the Big 12 started. Who better to play than Nebraska?”
Texas A&M 24, Texas 17
Nebraska 45, Colorado 17
Oklahoma 47, Oklahoma State 41
Missouri 35, Kansas 7
Kansas State 49, North Texas 41
Texas Tech 35, Houston 20
Player of the Week: Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M. The Aggies back ran for a career-high 223 yards on 27 carries in A&M’s win over the Longhorns. It was the most yards by an Aggie back against Texas and the fifth-best rushing day in school history.
They call it Bedlam when Oklahoma and Oklahoma State meeting in anything. The tag started with football. And it played out Saturday night, with the Sooners finally prevailing in a game that featured 31 points in the final 4:06.
“Wow, what a game,” said OU coach Bob Stoops.
And then some.
The Sooners ran a school-record 107 plays and quarterback Landry Jones tied the OU passing record with 468 yards.
And still it nearly wasn’t enough.
The Cowboys kept coming, making big plays to stay in the game, including an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by freshman Justin Gilbert to make it 40-38 with 2:34 to play, after the Sooners had seemingly delivered a knockout blow with a third-and-long, 86-yard scoring pass to Cameron Kenney.
Then came another blow, with Jones finding tight end James Hanna running free for a 76-yard scoring pass.
Again, the Cowboys weren’t finished, marching to a field goal that pulled them within the final score and set up an onside kick try with 36 seconds left.
Only then, when the Sooners’ Ryan Broyles secured the kick, did OU breathe easily.
Throughout the Big 12 schedule, Nebraska and Colorado embarked on farewell tours of sorts, before both head off to new conferences for 2011. Friday in Lincoln, the tours came together, signaling the end of what became a solid rivalry.
It wasn’t the classic showdown like many before, but it was important, with Nebraska seeking the North title and the Buffs battling to become bowl-eligible.
The Huskers prevailed behind the passing of running back Rex Burkhead, who rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown, but also passed for two more scores out of the Wildcat formation, with starting quarterback Taylor Martinez sitting out with an ankle injury.
“Nothing Rex Burkhead does surprises me,” said Huskers coach Bo Pelini. “He’s what a football player is supposed to be. They ought to put his picture next to it in the dictionary. He just does so many things to help you.”
Colorado couldn’t help itself, with three second-half turnovers a killer after a late-season rally under interim coach Brian Cabral, who replaced Dan Hawkins with three games to go, two of them wins.
The Buffaloes need a coach to lead them into the Pac-10. Maybe Cabral made a case to be that coach.
“Would I like to be the next head coach? Yes, but that’s not up to me,” Cabral said after the game. “I just had a wonderful ride these last three weeks. I had the best seat in the house for three weeks.
“There isn’t a Buff alive that wouldn’t give anything for that. I just feel so privileged to have been in this position. Where this goes, only God knows.”
Texas Two Step
The Lone Star showdown sent Texas A&M and Texas in different directions. And into different scenarios, drastically different than we’re used to, or we even expected as few as six weeks ago.
A&M’s 24-17 win kept the Aggies streaking, the Longhorns reeling.
Once 0-2 in the Big 12, A&M won six straight to close the regular season, finishing in a tie for first in the Big 12 South and positioning itself for a possible Cotton Bowl berth.
For the first time since 1998, the Aggies beat two Top 10 teams (Oklahoma and Nebraska) and were a major player in November.
“We set out at the beginning of the season to do this,” A&M senior center Matt Allen said. “Beat Texas and win in November.”
The Longhorns won but once in November (and that was against Florida Atlantic) on their way to a 5-7 finish, the worst of the Mack Brown era. Texas had won at least twice as many games every season since 2001.
“We’re sick of this,” Texas offensive lineman David Snow said. “We’re not used to this, and I for darn sure do not want to stay used to this, so it’s going to get fixed.”
At the beginning of the season, Connecticut was looked upon as a dark horse to win the Big East football title. Today, the Huskies are the front-runners.
With only three games remaining within the conference, three teams remain alive for the coveted BCS berth. Five could still lay claim to a share of the conference championship. There are all kinds of possible outcomes in regard to the title. An outright winner could be crowned. There could be three different two-way ties. There could be a three-way tie. Heck, there could even be a five-way tie.
But all eyes will be on UConn this weekend. Because in this case, the Huskies hold the reins.
The men of coach Randy Edsall are in a three-way 4–2 league logjam with West Virginia and Pittsburgh. However, Connecticut holds tiebreaker advantages over both the Mountaineers and Panthers.
The Huskies put themselves in that position by downing Cincinnati 38–17. They also received help from WVU, which drubbed the former first place team, Pitt, by 35–10. Now the task for Connecticut is to win at South Florida this Saturday in an 8 p.m. game.
“It’s on the road, but you know what? It’s what you want. This is why you play the game, to be in this position,” said Edsall.
This past weekend, the Huskies pulled away in what had been a close game late in the second quarter when defensive end Kendall Reyes intercepted a pass at the Connecticut 16-yard line as Cincy tried to tie the game before halftime. Reyes returned the pick 79 yards to set up a UConn touchdown that made the score 24–10 at the break. Back Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 2 rusher averaging 148.1 yards per game, had two of his three touchdown runs in the second half. Todman had 175 yards to help lift Connecticut to 7–4 overall.
Beating South Florida, however, may not be easy. The Bulls, now 7–4 overall and 3–3 in Big East play, surprised Miami, Fla., this past Saturday 23–20 in overtime. Quarterback Bobby Eveld came off the bench in the second half to manage two touchdown drives, including one that was capped by his own 1-yard scoring run to tie the game with two minutes left in regulation.
If USF can win, West Virginia, 8–3 overall, will benefit after picking up its third straight win. The victory over Pitt in the 103rd Backyard Brawl not only gave WVU hope, but also seemingly cooled the seat of Mountaineer coach Bill Stewart.
“I can’t tell you how big of a win this is for West Virginia, for this staff and for me personally,” Stewart said afterward.
West Virginia QB Geno Smith threw three touchdown passes against Pitt, but, once again, the Mountaineer defense was the story, forcing three first-half turnovers and holding the Panthers to 78 rushing yards on the day.
The Mountaineers need to defeat Rutgers at home this weekend and hope Connecticut loses in order to snatch away the BCS berth.
In other league play last weekend, Louisville defeated RU 40–13 to finish 6–6. The Cardinals’ victory makes the team bowl-eligible for the first time since defeating Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl after the 2006 season.
U of L running back Bilal Powell had two touchdown receptions and a touchdown run before two minutes had been played in the second quarter. He finished with 123 rushing yards. Scarlet Knights freshman running back Jordan Thomas had a career-high 120 yards.
Syracuse, meanwhile, ended its regular season at 7–5 after a 16–7 non-conference loss to Boston College at the Carrier Dome.
Louisville 40, Rutgers 13
West Virginia 35, Pittsburgh 10
South Florida 23, Miami, Fla. 20, OT
Connecticut 38, Cincinnati 17
Boston College 16, Syracuse 7
All weekend there were rumors that West Virginia coach Bill Stewart was retiring at the end of the season. On Sunday, he straightened out those rumors. “First and foremost, let me begin by saying the reports of my retirement are greatly exaggerated,” he said via a teleconference call. “In fact, you’re hearing it directly from me, Bill Stewart, I have no intention of walking away. I’m not focusing on retirement. Lastly, and most importantly, I’m focusing on Rutgers.”
The Big Four?
South Florida’s football program still isn’t considered at the level of the Sunshine State’s Big Three of Florida, Florida State and Miami. But the Bulls are making progress. Last season, USF defeated then-No. 18 Florida State 17–7 in quarterback B.J. Daniels’ coming-out party. Then, Saturday, the Bulls upended Miami in overtime. “This is a big win for the program,” said USF coach Skip Holtz. “This is the level we aspire to be.”
Connecticut running back Jordan Todman injured his right shoulder against Cincinnati and sat out a few series in the first half, but re-entered the game. Rutgers back Joe Martinek tried to play against Louisville, but his high ankle sprain didn’t allow for much success. Martinek may be done for the season. Cincinnati wideout Vidal Hazelton, who tore his ACL early in the season, was cleared to play but did not against Connecticut. He could play against Pitt. Meanwhile, Bearcats receiver D.J. Woods was limited against the Huskies with ankle, knee and shoulder injuries. Also, Syracuse senior Delone Carter left his team’s loss to Boston College with an undisclosed injury. He had a bruised hip earlier in the season.
When Connecticut defeated Cincinnati, it was senior day. The family of Jasper Howard, stabbed to death last year, was in attendance. Huskies coach Randy Edsall said after the game he couldn’t talk about the presence because “I’ll break down.”
The Heat Is On
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano is feeling heat after his team’s 40–13 rout at the hands of Louisville. The Scarlet Knights have now lost five straight games, and the loss snapped RU’s streak of five consecutive bowl appearances. Rutgers quarterbacks have been sacked 55 times this season, which leads the nation.
The heat is on, part two
Fans of the Pittsburgh Panthers are likewise unhappy with coach Dave Wannstedt after his team’s 35–10 home loss to West Virginia. Pitt fumbled six times, turning the ball over four times, against the Mountaineers. The preseason favorite to win the league is now 6–5 overall.
Hitting the canvas
When reigning back-to-back Big East champions Cincinnati fell to Connecticut, it not only bruised the Bearcats’ egos, but it also meant they would not appear in a bowl after four straight. Cincy is assured of its first losing season since 2005.
Powell packing punch
Louisville’s Bilal Powell is the nation’s 10th-leading rusher, averaging 120.91 yards per game. His 123-yard effort against Rutgers gave him seven 100-yard games this season, tying the school record previously set by Frank Moreau in 1999 and Walter Peacock in 1973. He’s third on the U of L all-time rushing list with 1,330.
Quote of the week
From South Florida coach Skip Holtz on his true freshman walk-on quarterback Bobby Eveld, who helped the Bulls upset Miami: “If a dog’s going to bite you, he’ll do it as a pup.”
Athlon sums up a full slate of college football with the five most important things to take away from this weekend.
1. Nevada stuns Boise State – With a 24-7 lead at halftime, Boise State appeared to be in full control and another WAC victory seemed to be in the books. However, just as Auburn did to Alabama earlier on Friday, Nevada rallied from a 17-point deficit and shocked the Broncos to win 34-31 in overtime. Boise State kicker Kyle Brotzman had two costly misses, one from 26 yards at the end of the fourth quarter for the win and one in overtime. Leading the Nevada comeback was the rushing attack, wearing down the Broncos in the trenches and dominating the time of possession in the second half. One of the biggest surprises for Boise State was the usage of running back Doug Martin. Martin had only five carries in the second half, after gashing the Nevada defense in the first half. Quarterback Kellen Moore was solid once again, but struggled under constant heat from the Wolf Pack in the second half. After allowing 24 points in the first half, the Nevada defense stepped up and allowed only one touchdown in the final two quarters. Although Brotzman’s two misses were costly, not getting Martin the ball more in the second half, some questionable play calling in overtime and struggling to stop the Wolf Pack rushing attack were each a key factor in the loss.
The loss in Reno seemed eerily similar to West Virginia’s to Pittsburgh in 2007, when the Mountaineers suffered a crushing defeat with a national championship bid on the line. Although the Broncos weren’t necessarily playing for a spot in the title game, had they won against Nevada and beat Utah State this Saturday, a berth in the Rose Bowl would’ve been a great ending to the season. Even though this was a crushing loss, don’t expect the Broncos to slip from contending for a spot among the top 10-15 teams in the near future.
2. Auburn wins Iron Bowl Classic – The 2010 Iron Bowl was one of the most-anticipated games in this fierce rivalry and the play on the field certainly lived up to the hype. Alabama jumped out to a 24-0 lead, but Auburn fought back – just like it has done all season. The Crimson Tide defense held Cam Newton in check on the ground, but the junior made big plays through the air to bring the Tigers back. Newton connected with Terrell Zachery on a 70-yard pass to cut the deficit to 24-14 one minute into third quarter, and Philip Lutzenkirchen on a seven-yard score early in the fourth, which put Auburn up for good 28-27. The Tigers struggled mightily on defense in the first half, allowing 379 yards. However, the defense surrendered only 67 yards to Alabama in the second half. Even though the defense gave up a lot of yards in the first half, it forced two critical turnovers as Alabama was moving into scoring position to keep the game within reach. The win by Auburn in Tuscaloosa snapped a 20-game home winning streak for Alabama.
The Tigers still have one hurdle remaining to play for a national title – South Carolina in the SEC Championship. Even if the Tigers lose next Saturday, Cam Newton likely locked up the Heisman with his performance against Alabama. After a sluggish start and an impressive effort by the Crimson Tide on defense, Newton rallied the Tigers to the victory, making several big plays in the second half. Auburn has lived dangerously on defense all year, but seems to find the answers at halftime to solve their struggles. Gene Chizik’s team is far from perfect, but with an offense that can score in bunches until the defense figures things out, Auburn will be difficult to beat the rest of the year.
3. Sooners claim Bedlam, Big 12 South – As expected, the annual Bedlam matchup provided plenty of fireworks on the scoreboard, but when the dust settled, Oklahoma emerged victorious and as Big 12 South champions. Oklahoma State was hoping to make its first appearance in the Big 12 Championship and everything pointed to a win over the Sooners. However, the Sooners solved their recent road woes, thanks to a big game from quarterback Landry Jones. The sophomore threw for 468 yards and four scores, including two late touchdown tosses to seal the victory. The Oklahoma defense did its part, holding Oklahoma State’s prolific passing attack to 257 yards and picked off quarterback Brandon Weeden three times. The Sooners will face Nebraska in their seventh appearance in the Big 12 title game in the last nine seasons. The last time these two teams met in the Big 12 title game was in 2006, with the Sooners winning 21-7.
4. Three-way tie atop the Big Ten – With the addition of Nebraska and a conference title game, determining the Big Ten champion in 2011 will be an easier process. Wins by Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State on Saturday created a three-way tie atop the Big Ten, leaving the BCS standings as the tiebreaker. Wisconsin ranks as the No. 5 team after the Week 13 release, with Ohio State at No. 6 and Michigan State at No. 8. The Buckeyes appear unlikely to jump Wisconsin, which means the Badgers will play in the Rose Bowl, their first trip to Pasadena since 2000. The Buckeyes are in prime position to be selected as an at-large team into the BCS, with a likely trip to the Sugar Bowl.
5. Big day for Florida State – Saturday shaped up to be a perfect day for Jimbo Fisher and Florida State. The Seminoles crushed Florida 31-7 and clinched a spot into the ACC Championship with Maryland’s victory over NC State. The win over Florida was not only huge for bragging rights in Florida, but should give the Seminoles a boost on the recruiting trail. Fisher went 2-0 in games against Florida State’s biggest rivals – Florida and Miami – and surprisingly, neither game was close. After a messy end to the Bobby Bowden era in Tallahassee, Fisher has answered a lot of critics this year. Sure, the Seminoles had an embarrassing loss to Oklahoma early in the year and lost two close ACC games, but the future looks bright for Florida State. The Seminoles have a chance to play in a BCS game this year with a win over Virginia Tech and should be the favorites to win the ACC Atlantic once again next season.
Other thoughts from Week 13
Although Texas A&M fell short of its bid to play in the Big 12 Championship, coach Mike Sherman has the Aggies on a roll with six consecutive victories. Included in this streak was wins over Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas – quite an impressive finish for a coach on the hot seat after a 3-3 start.
The Big East has been one of the most unpredictable races in college football this year, but wins by Connecticut and West Virginia cleared the picture going into the final weekend. With a win over South Florida, the Huskies win the Big East title. If the Mountaineers beat Rutgers and the Huskies lose, West Virginia wins the conference crown. Pittsburgh still holds an outside chance of winning the conference, but has to have losses by West Virginia and Connecticut. The Panthers went into this season as a heavy favorite, but losses in two out of their last three games have closed out the year on a disappointing note.
One of 2010’s underrated coaching jobs was done by Miami, Ohio’s Mike Haywood. The RedHawks went 1-11 last season, but finished 8-4 this year and will play for the MAC Championship on Friday night against Northern Illinois. The RedHawks only beat one team with a winning record (Temple), but going from 1-11 to 8-4 is quite an accomplishment for Haywood in his second year on the job in Oxford.
Another coach that deserves recognition for the job he did this season is Louisville’s Charlie Strong. The Cardinals were picked last in the Big East preseason polls, but finished 6-6 and will play in a bowl game.
Should Iowa be considered as one of the top disappointments for 2010? The Hawkeyes were considered a preseason candidate to play in a BCS game, but lost their final three games to finish 7-5 – including a puzzling 27-24 loss to Minnesota on Saturday.
After a disappointing 5-7 season, Texas will be one of the most interesting teams to watch this offseason. Coach Mack Brown has hinted at coaching changes and new faces on the offensive staff seem likely. The Longhorns finished 88th nationally in scoring offense and a dismal 116th in turnover margin. With the top recruiting classes coming into Austin every year, going 5-7 is simply unacceptable. Even with significant changes on offense, the Longhorns may need a year to develop the young talent on both sides of the ball before contending for a Big 12 title.
Due to safety concerns, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe decided not to attend Nebraska’s win over Colorado – a victory that clinched a spot in the championship game. Beebee received more than 2,000 e-mails from Nebraska fans angry about the officiating in Week 12’s loss to Texas A&M. If Nebraska beats Oklahoma, won’t the postgame celebration with the commissioner and the Cornhuskers be a little awkward?
Akron’s 22-14 win over Buffalo means every team in the FBS had at least one victory this season. The Zips seemed to improve in November, having a couple of close losses before earning the victory over the Bulls.
Several coaching moves were made over the last week and here’s a look at each situation:
Following an overtime loss to South Florida, Miami decided to pull the plug on the Randy Shannon era. Shannon, a former Miami linebacker, compiled a 28-22 record in four seasons. Although Shannon cleaned up off-the-field issues and graduated his players, the Hurricanes were struggling on the field and attendance at Sun Life Stadium has been awful this year.
Ball State fired Stan Parrish after a 6-18 record in two seasons. Although the Cardinals improved their win total by two from last season, the program has slipped dramatically since Brady Hoke’s final year in 2008.
Louisiana-Lafayette fired coach Rickey Bustle after a 41-65 record in nine seasons. Although Bustle posted four seasons of six wins, the Ragin’ Cajuns never made a bowl appearance and a 3-9 record in 2010 was the final straw.
Indiana has announced Bill Lynch won’t return as its head coach for 2011. Lynch assumed the coaching duties in Bloomington at a difficult time, after the passing of Terry Hoeppner. Lynch led the Hoosiers to a bowl game in 2007, but posted three wins in 2008, four in 2009 and five in 2010. Indiana is losing a couple of key offensive playmakers next season, so expect a rebuilding year next season in Bloomington – no matter who is hired.
Vanderbilt decided not to bring back Robbie Caldwell for a second season. Caldwell served as offensive line coach under Bobby Johnson and got the head coaching job when Bobby Johnson retired this summer. Caldwell’s one season as head coach ended with a 2-10 record.
North Texas is the first school to hire a new coach for 2011, choosing Dan McCarney as its new head man. McCarney compiled a 56-85 record in 12 seasons at Iowa State, but seven out of his final nine seasons resulted in a winning record. The Mean Green should have some momentum with a new stadium in 2011, and McCarney seems like a good fit for this program.
Looking ahead to Week 14
A small sample of what’s ahead
Arizona State vs. Arizona (Thursday)
With a win over Arizona State, Wildcats can earn third-straight season of at least eight wins.
Illinois vs. Fresno State (Friday)
Another opportunity for Pat Hill and Fresno State to knock off an opponent from one of the big six conferences.
Northern Illinois vs. Miami, Ohio (Friday)
RedHawks improved win total by seven from last year, but Huskies are clearly the class of the conference.
Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati
Expected to be one of the top games in the Big East race in the preseason, but instead is a matchup between two disappointing teams.
Connecticut vs. South Florida
The task for Connecticut is simple – win and earn a BCS bid.
Rutgers vs. West Virginia
Mountaineers should handle reeling Scarlet Knights, but need help to win conference title.
Oregon vs. Oregon State
A victory over Oregon State is all that stands between Oregon and the national championship.
USC vs. UCLA
Not much on the line for either team, but battle of Los Angeles is always worth a mention.
South Carolina vs. Auburn
The Gamecocks have steadily improved all year, but is it enough to derail Auburn from a berth in the national championship?
Virginia Tech vs. Florida State
Hokies are one of the nation’s hottest teams with a 10-game winning streak, but Seminoles have won 13 out of the last 14 matchups between these two teams.
Nebraska vs. Oklahoma
One of the best rivalries in the Midwest meets in the final Big 12 Championship.
SMU vs. UCF
The impressive turnaround by June Jones at SMU continues, but draws a tough matchup at UCF.
Taking a look at some of the key players suffering injuries this weekend.
Alabama QB Greg McElroy (concussion) – expected to be back for bowl
Arizona State QB Steven Threet (concussion) – questionable for Week 14
Nebraska DE Cameron Meredith – (ankle) – questionable for Week 14
Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray (knee) – questionable for Week 14
South Florida QB B.J. Daniels – (quad) – questionable for Week 14
TCU QB Andy Dalton (elbow) – expected to be back for bowl
USC S T.J. McDonald (separated shoulder) – doubtful for Week 14
West Virginia DT Chris Neild (hamstring) – probable for Week 14