Posted: Sunday November 13, 2005 8:05PM; Updated: Sunday November 13, 2005 8:45PM
The Inaugural 'Bob Marley Redemption Song' Award
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Auburn kicker John Vaughn
Three weeks ago, Vaughn was the goat of The Plains after missing five field goals -- including a potential game-winner at the end of regulation and another that would have sent the game to a second overtime -- in the Tigers' 20-17 loss to LSU. Saturday night in Athens, Ga., Vaughn hit the game-winning 20-yarder with six seconds left to seal Auburn's wild, 31-30 win over Georgia. The lead changed hands nine times, and in fact Vaughn wouldn't even have been in that position had receiver Devin Aromashodu not fumbled on his way to the end zone on a fourth-down, 64-yard catch two minutes earlier. It was the most fortuitous fumble since Matt Leinart's at Notre Dame (on the play before his TD sneak), as it allowed the Tigers to run the clock down to almost nothing before scoring the winning points. Unfortunately for Auburn fans, Vaughn's misfires three weeks ago -- combined with LSU's win over Alabama on Saturday -- likely doomed their SEC title chances, but here's guessing they'll remember Saturday night's classic much longer than they will the LSU loss.
The Inaugural 'When Player Knows Best' Award
Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback
First-year Huskies coach Tyrone Willingham earned his first Pac-10 victory Saturday -- 38-14 at Arizona -- though, according to the Seattle Times' account, the game's momentum-turning play may never have happened had Willingham gotten his way. Down 14-7 with seven seconds to go in the first half, Stanback instinctively called timeout after getting sacked at his own 31-yard-line. Willingham wanted to let the clock run out, but the quarterback convinced his coach to let him throw a Hail Mary. Wouldn't you know it, Stanback hurled the ball about the 70 yards in the air to the Arizona 3, where receiver Craig Chambers grabbed it and went in for a game-tying touchdown. "After a play like that," said Chambers, "you can't lose the game." Washington outscored the Wildcats 24-0 after halftime.
Spreading the field
Is it too early to start counting down to the USC-Texas Rose Bowl? I know, I know, nothing's ever set in stone in this sport, but whereas former undefeateds UCLA and Alabama had shown cracks in the armor long before suffering their first losses, the Trojans and Longhorns appear to be getting stronger by the week. USC has won four straight games by at least 25 points; Texas has won its past two by scores of 62-0 and 66-14. And whereas other one-time contenders (Georgia, Florida State, Alabama) have been crippled by injuries, the two titans have brushed them off like lint. USC had to play two freshmen linebackers, Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga, for most of the game against Cal, yet held the Bears to 299 yards. And while Texas had to move one of its most productive receivers, Ramonce Taylor, to running back because of injuries in the backfield, previously little-used Quan Cosby has stepped up to catch 64- and 55-yard passes the past two weeks. Sorry Miami, Penn State and LSU, but I just don't see either the Trojans or 'Horns losing before Jan. 4.
Why do the football gods have such a beef with Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle? Not only has the guy suffered two knee injuries and a shoulder injury, not only has he endured three coaching changes and NCAA sanctions at the school he grew up dreaming of leading to the national title, but it's clear to me -- after attending Saturday's game against LSU -- that someone truly is playing a cruel trick on the guy. Numbers are numbers, but Alabama's offensive woes since Tyrone Prothro's injury make a lot more sense after watching the Tide in person; besides D.J. Hall, their other receivers can't catch a pass. If Croyle had any help at all, his team would still be undefeated.
It appears Florida State is going to fulfill my preseason prophecy after all; the 'Noles are just doing it in backward fashion. With a young team, I figured FSU would struggle early, perhaps losing to Miami and Boston College, before kicking things into gear. Instead, the 'Noles have regressed down the stretch, starting 5-0, then losing to three unranked teams (the first time that's happened since Bobby Bowden's debut season in 1976). Admittedly, Bowden's team has been ravaged by injuries on top of its heavy offseason attrition, but then again, isn't this the same program that used to stockpile talent the way USC does now?
Unlike Oklahoma State, Michigan State looks like it gave up on its season about a month ago. After starting 4-0 and boasting one of the most prolific offenses in the country at one point, the Spartans have lost five of six and need to upset Penn State next week to avoid a losing season. Things seemed to go downhill ever since the Oct. 15 loss to Ohio State, in which coach John L. Smith -- who I'm now embarrassed to have to included on my "underrated coaches" list this summer -- ripped his coaching staff in a halftime interview on national television. Since then Michigan State has lost to Northwestern (49-14), Purdue (28-21) and Minnesota (41-18).
Speaking of the Gophers, it's clear by now Glen Mason either has the best offensive line on the planet or the greatest eye for running-back talent in the country. Minnesota was without star tailback Laurence Maroney against Michigan State due to a sprained ankle, and prolific backup Gary Russell went out after a hard hit in the second quarter. So, what happened? Third-stinger Amir Pinnix came in and ran for 206 yards on 32 carries. This marks the third time in four seasons the Gophers have had three different players post 100-yard games.
So much for the notion that UCLA would go in the tank after suffering its first loss last week against Arizona. On Senior Day at the Rose Bowl, Drew Olson shredded Arizona State to the tune of 22-of-27 passing for 510 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in a 45-35 win. Now the Bruins have three weeks off to figure out some way their horrendous defense can slow down USC.
Nebraska reached bowl eligibility Saturday, but not without displaying a few more signs of just how drastically times have changed in Lincoln. For one, the Huskers needed a last-minute field goal, at home, to survive 4-6 Kansas State 27-25 -- despite the fact Wildcats quarterback Allen Evridge completed just 5 of 27 passes. Secondly, when Nebraska's starting quarterback, Zac Taylor went down in the fourth quarter, Callahan chose to pull the redshirt of vaunted freshman Harrison Beck in the 10th game of the season. Clearly, getting to six wins was that important. Or perhaps Callahan figured, "I'm not going to get five years here, why should he?"
Having completed a 10-1 season with Saturday's 51-3 rout of UNLV, TCU coach Gary Patterson doesn't necessarily think his team deserves a BCS berth -- but he's not sure whether the Big East's champion does, either. "We should have a championship game between the two leagues and see who goes," said Patterson. "We know we can play with Louisville and South Florida." It's an admirable challenge, though one that probably comes as a surprise to the actual team that's leading the Big East presently, West Virginia.
Finally, this may be reading between the lines, but it appears to me that Memphis coach Tommy West is calling the best player in his school's history a wuss. Star running back DeAngelo Williams was an unexpected scratch against Tennessee due to an ankle injury suffered the previous week against UAB. "He felt like after the warm-ups that he would be better coming off the bench," said West. "If that's the case, I felt like he shouldn't play, because I knew this was going to be a game where we would have to play like men. It wasn't the place for a guy that's gimped up a little bit. ... We're not coming off the bench. We're either playing or we're not."
Even without Williams, the Tigers nearly handed the Vols an unthinkable sixth loss, going up 13-0 before falling 20-16. Do you think maybe, just maybe, Williams, who's averaging 164 yards per game, might have been good for four points?