Who's No. 2?
Trojans in the one-loss driver's seat, but nothing's a lock
Posted: Sunday November 2, 2003 9:36PM; Updated: Sunday November 2, 2003 11:01PM
In five years of covering the BCS, I've learned never to assume anything. Therefore, I will not go so far as to proclaim Oklahoma and USC mortal locks for the Sugar Bowl.
But it sure is tempting.
Considering each played arguably the toughest opponent they'll see all season Saturday and not only beat them but wiped them off the field, and considering no one on either's remaining schedule particularly scares me, and considering both teams are, you know, really, really good, I'm fully expecting to hear Boomer Sooner and Fight On on Bourbon Street this New Year's.
But, like nearly every year of the BCS before this one, something crazy could happen. Not to mention that CollegeBCS.com's Jerry Palm tells me the Trojans, albeit in good shape, don't technically control their own destiny. A quick look now at the seven remaining Sugar contenders, in my order of likelihood:
Oklahoma (9-0): Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech. Yawn. Jason White would have to be abducted by wolves before the Sooners lose any of those three. Of the possible Big 12 championship opponents, only Kansas State could provide an interesting matchup. But considering the stakes, Bob Stoops' team probably would come out playing like a ball of fire. See Saturday and 52-9.
USC (8-1): Following a bye week, the Trojans travel to face 1-8 Arizona, then closes out at home with respectable but still quite beatable UCLA and Oregon State, both currently 6-3. USC's strength of schedule, says Palm, will likely be lower than any other current one-loss team, save Virginia Tech, but it would still take a lot for a No. 3 team to pass them. The one with the best chance is ...
Miami (7-1): Yes, that Miami, the same one that lost 31-7 on Saturday. The boost from its quality win over No. 3 Florida State helps keep it in the BCS top five, though, and its lone remaining test figures to be at Pittsburgh. The 'Canes could gain the most ground on USC in the polls, where they currently stand sixth and seventh. Problem is, there are a lot of teams above them that need to lose.
LSU (8-1): The Tigers' strength of schedule currently ranks only 63rd, dramatically lower than any other one-loss team, but that will change in a hurry after they're done with 7-2 Ole Miss and, if they win that one, the SEC championship. However, their lone quality win, Georgia, is in danger of falling out of the top 10, making it hard to reach USC, and it's also unlikely LSU would finish above Miami if both won out.
Ohio State (8-1): The Buckeyes are basically neck and neck with Miami in the BCS standings and could ultimately pass the 'Canes if they win out against a strong remaining schedule of Michigan State (7-2), Purdue (7-2) and Michigan (8-2). Problem is, none of those teams would remain high enough after a loss to garner the Buckeyes a quality win, and I highly doubt they'll win all three.
Florida State (8-1): The 'Noles are currently USC's closest BCS competitor but aren't likely to pass them. Their schedules are about the same and they're already as close to them as possible in the polls. Not only do they need the Trojans to lose, but they also need to win out at Clemson (5-4), vs. N.C. State (7-3) and at Florida (6-3), which, as long as Chris Rix is at the helm, I consider rather unlikely.
Virginia Tech (7-1): The Hokies may have shook up the national title race by beating Miami, but they didn't necessarily get themselves back into it. Their weak schedule (currently 25th, but likely to go down after facing Temple in two weeks) will hold them back even if they rise in the polls. "If Virginia Tech is the only one-loss team, then they make the Sugar Bowl," said Palm. "Otherwise, they don't."
(tie) T.A. McLendon, RB, N.C. State; Philip Rivers, QB, N.C. State
So this is what the N.C. State offense looks like when McLendon is healthy. Despite missing four of the Wolfpack's first nine games, despite requiring two arthroscopic knee surgeries in the past two weeks and being listed as doubtful this week, McLendon carried 18 times for 112 yards and caught 11 passes for 104 in a crucial 51-37 victory over Virginia. Fittingly, the outcome wasn't decided until a bruising 38-yard McLendon touchdown run with 23 seconds remaining and the score tied 37-37. McLendon's presence in the backfield also opened up the play-action for Rivers, who had the latest in a long line of monster performances Saturday, completing 29-of-34 for 410 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Sad thing is, if not for his team's crappy defense, Rivers likely would be near the front of the Heisman race.
The game was decided so early, school officials had plenty of time to implement their plan to dismantle their own goal posts. Students still streamed out of the stands following arguably the biggest win in Virginia Tech history, a 31-7 victory over second-ranked Miami that ended the 'Canes' 39-game regular-season winning streak. Any evidence of discouragement following the Hokies' 28-7 thumping by West Virginia in their previous game was lost on the nearly 10,000 people who lined up to greet the team on its way into the stadium and roared every time Miami touched the ball, prompting Tech coach Frank Beamer to reward the fans with a game ball afterward. Hopefully he gave the others to the Hokies' defense, which rebounded from a lackluster effort against West Virginia to completely fluster Miami QBs Brock Berlin and Derrick Crudup and stop running back Jarrett Payton in the backfield several times.
Florida 16, Georgia 13
Continuing with my multiple-overtime SEC boycott, but staying in the SEC ...
These never-ending Cocktail Party losses are only getting harder for the Dogs to swallow. Unlike so many years against Steve Spurrier, when they'd get flat-out whupped, this one ended in heartbreak. After Georgia rallied from a 13-3 fourth-quarter deficit to tie the score with 3:49 remaining, freshman sensation Chris Leak led the Gators 66 yards in 10 plays, completing three straight first-down passes and setting up Matt Leach's game-winning 33-yard field goal with 33 seconds left. It was Florida's first game-winning kick in the series since 1967. It was also the Gators' 13th win in the past 14 years over their hated rival. The game featured some great running from Georgia, which had three different backs gain at least 60 yards, some great defense by Florida, which sacked Dogs QB David Greene four times and limited him to 188 yards, and another solid day by Leak, who finished 13-of-23 for 235 yards and no interceptions. Leak is now 4-1 since becoming the starter, leading the Gators to three straight victories over top 11 opponents.
Oklahoma State QB Josh Fields and WR Rashaun Woods, who had torched Oklahoma to the tune of 20 catches for 355 yards and four touchdowns the past two seasons, connected only four times for 27 yards Saturday. Fields finished 9-of-24 for 62 yards, and the Sooners held the Cowboys, who came in averaging 445 yards, to 161 in their 52-9 victory. ... With its 71-63, seven-overtime victory over Kentucky, Arkansas has played 20 overtime periods in its past 27 games. ... Arkansas' DeCori Birmingham, moved from receiver to running back last week due to injuries, carried 40 times for 196 yards and two TDs in the win. ... In its 31-7 win over Nebraska, Texas ran for 353 yards, including 174 from Cedric Benson and 163 from QB Vince Young, against a Husker defense that had been allowing just 97.5 per game. ... In helping Ole Miss improve to 5-0 in the SEC for the first time since 1963, Eli Manning went 30-of-42 for 391 yards and three TDs in a 43-40 win over South Carolina. ... Over his past four games, USC quarterback Matt Leinart has thrown 14 touchdowns and no interceptions. ... North Carolina, which already had the nation's 115th-ranked defense (out of 117) coming into Saturday, allowed 39 second-quarter points and 612 total yards in a 59-21 loss to Maryland. ... Michigan running back Chris Perry carried 51 times for 219 yards in Michigan's 27-20 victory over Michigan State. ... Florida State receiver Craphonso Thorpe caught seven passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns in the 'Noles' 37-0 pasting of Notre Dame. ... Following a seven-catch, 156-yard, one-TD performance against Boston College, Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald has five more touchdown catches (16) than any other receiver and 137 more receiving yards (1,174) than the next-nearest player, Cal's Geoff McArthur, who's played two extra games. ... Virginia QB Matt Schaub completed 41 of 55 passes for 393 yards and four TDs in a losing effort against N.C. State. ... Texas Tech's Wes Welker gained 211 all-purpose yards and broke the NCAA career record with his eighth punt return for touchdown, a 58-yarder late in the first half of a 26-21 win over Colorado. ... Stanford earned just its second Pac-10 win in 13 games under Buddy Teevens by knocking off previously unbeaten UCLA, 21-14. ... With a stunning 35-28 upset of Colorado State on Saturday, Wyoming, 4-5, has beaten both the Rams and BYU in the same season for the first time since its 1988 WAC title season. ... Navy, 3-30 the past three seasons, improved to 6-3 and officially became bowl eligible with a 35-17 win over Tulane. ... Tulsa, 2-21 the past two seasons, is one win away from doing the same following a 56-28 victory at UTEP.
Florida's win over Georgia has created a three-way tie for first in the SEC East among the Gators, Dogs and and Vols that, if it holds up, would have to be settled by an unprecedented and sure-to-be controversial vote of conference athletic directors.
I think I have an easy solution: Exclude Tennessee on principle.
Have you seen this team lately? After creating false hopes with a deceiving 4-0 start, the Vols were run over by Auburn and Georgia, taken to five overtimes by 3-6 Alabama and on Saturday led Duke, yes Duke, 9-6 going into the fourth quarter before finally scoring two touchdowns.
Does this sound like a team that should get a shot to play for a BCS bowl?
A colleague and I were watching games Saturday afternoon when we noticed the 9-6 Tennessee-Duke score, to which he said, "When did Tennessee football become so irrelevant?" It's a good point. Was it really only two years ago that this team was contending for a national title?
Anyway, drop the Vols out of the equation and it becomes a two-way tie between the Dogs and Gators. You can either go with the team that won head-to-head, Florida, or the team that's higher ranked, Georgia. Welcome to Common Sense 101, SEC style.
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.