Posted: Tuesday September 27, 2005 11:23AM; Updated: Tuesday September 27, 2005 3:38PM
Rarely will you see the course of a team's season change so dramatically in one play as Tennessee's did with a single interception on Monday night.
Here were the Vols, lucky to be down just 10 to LSU with 8:08 remaining. By all indications they were headed toward a disastrous 1-2 start, with a potentially divisive quarterback quandary on their hands on top of that. Suddenly, safety Jonathan Hefney picked off Tigers QB JaMarcus Russell on third-and-9 and returned it 22 yards to the LSU 2. That led to a touchdown and in the blink of an eye, it was 24-21. Next thing you knew it was tied. Next thing you knew the game was headed to overtime, and after holding the now-hapless Tigers to a field goal, the Vols were marching down the field for a game-winning touchdown.
Suddenly Tennessee, sitting on the brink of disaster for nearly the entire game (the Vols trailed 21-0 at halftime and 24-7 at the start of the fourth quarter), is squarely back in the hunt for an SEC championship. And, perhaps more importantly, it has finally found an undisputed leader.
He may not be glamorous, but Rick Clausen -- whose monstrous performance bailed out the Vols for the second time in three games -- simply fits this team better. With such a dominant defense and a punishing running game, Tennessee doesn't really need a big-play quarterback, certainly not if he's going to dig you in a hole the way Erik Ainge did with two ghastly, first-half turnovers on Monday night. They don't keep records for such things, but the Vols may be about to become the first team in history to change starting quarterbacks four straight games to start a season. This time, though, there's no disputing the choice.
(Note: Because my Associated Press vote was due before Monday night's game, this week's Power Rankings differ from my actual ballot).
Hard to believe there are actually people out there who watched the Oregon game and still came away unimpressed. Playing in a hostile environment in a situation that could have easily gone awry, the Trojans simply stayed calm, went out and scored 45 straight points. One word: Wow. Next game: Saturday at Arizona State.
Missouri's purportedly new-and-improved spread offense, with Brad Smith back to his old, explosive ways, will pose a decent challenge for Texas' defense, but 'Horns defensive coordinator Gene Chizik's emphasis on speed could be the perfect antidote to Smith's running abilities. Next game: Saturday at Missouri.
It's beginning to look a lot like 1999. That year's Hokies, with their relentless defense and special teams and a QB named Vick, beat a lot of opponents by scores like 62-7. This year's bunch, possessing many of the same traits -- and featuring another Vick -- has won its past three games by a combined 141-7. Next game: Saturday at West Virginia.
Saturday's rout of Kentucky had to bring smiles to the faces of all those Gators fans nostalgic for a return to the Spurrier era. Chris Leak and the offense put up 49 points and 437 yards in the first half. WR Jemalle Cornelius (eight catches, 137 yards) stepped up big in place of Andre Caldwell. Next game: Saturday at Alabama.
Saturday's 31-6 shellacking of Iowa showed the Buckeyes are capable of dominating the line of scrimmage. And unlike its previous two games, Ohio State's skill players (mostly QB Troy Smith, or RB Antonio Pittman on the ground) actually made the big plays to take advantage of it. Next game: Oct. 8 at Penn State.
I'm getting the feeling the Dawgs, who leapt into the top 10 following their Sept. 3 rout of Boise State, are ranked too high, but they haven't done anything to merit dropping, either. QB D.J. Shockley again looked sharp against Mississippi State (21-of-36, 312 yards, two TDs, no INTs). Next game: Oct. 8 at Tennessee.
The Spartans' offense is the scariest in the country this side of USC's. As if it's not enough to contend with near-flawless QB Drew Stanton (73 percent completions, 13 TDs, 2 INTs), now you've got to deal with speedy freshman RB Javon Ringer, who rushed for 194 yards against Illinois. Next game: Saturday vs. Michigan.
The most impressive part of the Seminoles' 28-17 win over Boston College two weeks ago? When their defense stopped BC on six straight plays inside FSU's 2-yard line (a penalty gave the Eagles a fresh set of downs). The offense is still a work in progress, but the 'Noles' upcoming schedule is light. Next game: Saturday vs. Syracuse.
While Monday night's comeback win certainly gives the Vols confidence, they still have serious issues to address at offensive line and receiver. That said, Parys Haralson, Jesse Mahelona and Co. may well be part of the most dominant defensive line in the country. Next game: Saturday vs. Ole Miss.
Notre Dame-haters will have a hard time rooting against Charlie Weis after reading the phenomenal story of Weis granting 10-year-old Montana Mazurkiewicz's dying wish and calling a "pass right" on the Irish's first play against Washington, despite starting at their own 1-yard line. Next game: Saturday at Purdue.
The Sun Devils are unlikely to be able to run the ball on the Trojans, but QB Sam Keller and his receivers could well exploit the Trojans' one weak spot: cornerback. Now, whether ASU's defense, which gave up 525 yards to Oregon State, can slow down Matt Leinart is a whole other story. Next game: Saturday vs. USC.
The good news: LSU has an unbelievable defensive front. The bad news: After showing such promise against Arizona State, JaMarcus Russell took a huge step back against Tennessee. Mental mistakes cost the Tigers a chance at a field goal just before halftime and opened the door for the Vols' comeback. Next game: Saturday at Mississippi State.
A workhorse running back? A low-profile QB who makes the big play when needed? A blue-collar, physical defense? Where have we seen this before? "It's absolutely fitting that this is my last team," Barry Alvarez told the New York Times after Saturday's upset of Michigan. Next game: Saturday vs. Indiana.