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Posted: Sunday October 18, 2009 9:29PM; Updated: Monday October 19, 2009 2:01PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >

Longhorns, Gators fail to impress, but still control destinies

Story Highlights

The Florida and Texas offenses aren't the finely tuned machines of last year

Unlike Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy is not the same player he was a year ago

Alabama running back Mark Ingram inserted himself into the Heisman race

Colt McCoy
Colt McCoy and the Longhorns hung on in the Cotton Bowl, but they still look vulnerable.
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DALLAS -- Though his team had largely limped its way through a mistake-littered, 16-13 win over injury-ravaged rival Oklahoma, Texas coach Mack Brown was the picture of positivity while speaking with reporters Saturday afternoon.

"Our guys continue to come from behind and win close games," said Brown, whose team has in fact won 15 of its past 16 games decided by three points or less. "I don't think anyone in the locker room [at halftime] thought we were going to lose the game."

Roughly three hours later and one time zone east, the tone was decidedly different in Gainesville, where No. 1 Florida had just survived its own scare, a 23-20 win over Arkansas decided on Caleb Sturgis' last-second field goal.

A "bad day overall," was how Tim Tebow described it. "I'm not happy where we are right now," groused Urban Meyer.

Halfway through the season, the nation's consensus preseason national title favorites both remain undefeated, but neither has been the type of overpowering behemoths many envisioned. Specifically, the Gators' and Longhorns' offenses aren't nearly the fine-tuned machines they were a year ago, which has eroded some public confidence. On Sunday, AP voters moved 7-0 Alabama -- thus-far untouched by anyone -- to the top of their poll, while the Tide sat between No. 1 Florida and No. 3 Texas in the first BCS standings released Sunday.

Technically speaking, it's all a formality. All three still control their own BCS destinies, since the two SEC powers would ultimately face one another in a conference-title elimination game should they win their preceding games.

The question is, do you still believe Florida and Texas will make it to December undefeated?

In the Gators' case, my answer remains "yes." The schedule is a big reason why. As I first suggested last week, Arkansas was probably Florida's toughest remaining opponent. But more than that, Meyer's team played as badly as it could against the Razorbacks -- committing four turnovers, including two in the red zone, allowing six sacks, and suffering uncharacteristic defensive lapses -- yet still came away victorious. They did so in large part because of Tebow, who, to the surprise of absolutely no one, led fourth-quarter scoring drives of 67 and 69 yards.

Admittedly, much the same thing could be said about Texas' performance against Oklahoma. The Longhorns had three turnovers, allowed four sacks, accrued 11 penalties -- and still won.

The big difference, however, is that unlike Tebow, Colt McCoy is not the same player he was a year ago. After Oklahoma's blitzers came after him early, McCoy became visibly frustrated. He misfired repeatedly, even when protected. Though he settled down in the second to lead three scoring drives, he later threw a mind-numbing interception to Oklahoma's Brian Jackson that could have cost Texas the game.

It's been that way much of this season. The same player who threw 34 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions last year now sports an 11-to-7 ratio. He clearly misses departed receiver Quan Cosby, especially when defenses blanket Jordan Shipley like Oklahoma did. Freshman Marquise Goodwin stepped up with some big plays Saturday, but it's too soon to say whether he'll remain a consistent threat.

With the Big 12 crumbling to pieces, Texas, like Florida, won't face too many formidable remaining challengers. However, the 'Horns still visit No. 14 Oklahoma State on Halloween night in the game most likely to resemble last year's Texas Tech trap.

Should either the Gators or 'Horns ultimately endure a scare they can't overcome, there are no shortage of teams itching to take their place.

Unlike a year ago, when USC lost a September game to Oregon State, then found itself frozen out of the title picture the rest of the season, the 5-1 Trojans vaulted back up to fourth in the polls following their own near-scare Saturday at Notre Dame. USC has improved considerably since its Sept. 19 Washington loss, most notably at quarterback, where freshman Matt Barkley rolled into South Bend and racked up 380 passing yards. The Trojans' normally stout defense let down its guard against the Irish after going up 34-14, but fended off three last-second Jimmy Clausen shots at the end zone.

However, when the first BCS standings were revealed Sunday, USC came in a distant seventh. The computers don't take so kindly to that Washington loss, placing undefeated squads Boise State, Cincinnati and Iowa ahead of USC.

Of the three, the upstart Bearcats may have the most realistic shot at sneaking into the top two. Two nights before Florida, Texas and USC all got taken to the wire by inferior foes, Brian Kelly's team visited then 5-0 South Florida in its jacked-up stadium and cruised to a 34-17 win. Even a game-ending wrist injury to star quarterback Tony Pike couldn't faze the Bearcats. Mobile backup Zach Callaros came in and promptly dashed for a 75-yard touchdown run.

If Cincy continues winning, critics will point to its weak Big East schedule, but it certainly helps perception-wise that future opponents Pittsburgh (6-1) and West Virginia (5-1) both entered the Top 25 this week.

Boise State's case is even trickier. Based on the current pecking order, the 6-0 Broncos -- No. 4 in the BCS standings -- theoretically sit one Texas loss away from playing for the national title (again, based on the Florida-Alabama elimination factor). More realistically, however, they've probably hit their ceiling because their schedule strength is about to get heavily diluted.

Iowa, meanwhile, is the most un-talked about 7-0 team in the country. For the second time in as many Big Ten road games, the Hawkeyes rallied from a 10-0 deficit to win going away. They visit Michigan State next weekend and suddenly vulnerable Ohio State on Nov. 14. It says something about the Big Ten's respect level right now that the Hawkeyes sit behind both a WAC and Big East team (albeit by a .0001 margin).

All three, however, must bide their time, keep winning, and hope that one or more of the "Big Three" go down. My guess is Texas will be the first to fall.

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