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Posted: Sunday November 1, 2009 11:57PM; Updated: Wednesday November 4, 2009 11:57AM
Stewart Mandel

College Football Overtime (cont.)

Oregon's unwanted ceiling

While Oregon harbors dreams of sneaking into the BCS title game, Aaron Burks and Boise State just keep on winning.
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I can't imagine anyone who watched Oregon's performance Saturday night didn't come away viewing the Ducks as national championship material. Masoli had the Ducks' spread-option clicking at the same high-octane rhythm Dennis Dixon once did, leaving many in the press box to openly salivate at the possibility of watching Oregon's offense go up against Alabama's, Florida's or Texas' defenses.

"We think we're a national championship caliber team," said Ducks safety T.J. Ward. "But that's not for us to decide."

As of now, the voters don't seem to agree. But that's probably more because of a unique dilemma they're facing when it comes to the Ducks. (It wouldn't be a college football season without a vexing new voting scenario.) If Oregon had lost to any other team on its schedule besides Boise State (like Purdue or Utah), there's no question in my mind the Ducks would be sitting solidly in fourth right now in every relevant poll. But most voters can't bring themselves to move Oregon ahead of an undefeated Boise team that beat the Ducks soundly in the teams' season opener -- and I don't blame them.

This was the debate as I left the stadium late Saturday with three other writers. Two of us believed strongly it would be a crime to ignore the teams' head-to-head result when deciding their rankings. The other two believed that Oregon's stronger body of work should trump Boise's one notable victory. The Ducks are a vastly better team than they were that Thursday night, they argued. I don't disagree. But what evidence is there that the Broncos have gotten worse?

If anything, Oregon's increasing dominance should be causing us to take a stronger look at Boise State's strength. Awful schedule or not, the fact is the Broncos' defense suffocated the same Ducks offense that shredded USC on Saturday. Boise held Oregon to 1.8 yards per rushing attempt; the Ducks averaged 8.0 against the Trojans. And it's not like this was a one-time thing: The Broncos are allowing less than 100 rushing yards per game.

TCU seems to be the unintended beneficiary of the Oregon-Boise poll conundrum. Most people believe the Horned Frogs are a more accomplished BCS buster than Boise based on their schedule. So if a voter believes strongly that the Broncos remain ahead of Oregon, then he or she must also keep TCU ahead of Boise. As a result, the Horned Frogs now sit at No. 4 in the coaches poll. Yet if I had to guess, I'd say 98 percent of the voters don't actually believe TCU is the fourth-best team in the country.

Of course, all of this will be rendered irrelevant if Texas and Florida or Alabama win out, sealing the BCS Championship matchup. As of now, the topic of Oregon's poll standing mostly makes for fun debate fodder, and if someone wants to rank the seven remaining undefeated teams one through seven (as the coaches did), it seems perfectly sensible.

However, should chaos descend on the sport between now and Dec. 5 (as it so often does) -- if, say, Texas, Iowa, TCU and Cincinnati all lose -- you better believe voters will do some reevaluation. It's one thing to say now that Boise deserves to stay ahead of Oregon; it's quite another to say so with a BCS Championship berth at stake. When it comes down to it, I highly doubt an undefeated WAC team would really get the nod over an 11-1 Pac-10 champion.

If it does come down to that, no one will be rooting harder for Oregon State in the Civil War than those BCS antitrust lawyers.

Poll Watching

My reaction to the latest polls and BCS standings.

All the notable polls seem to agree the top three teams (in varying order) are Florida, Texas and Alabama. In the one poll that matters most at this point, the BCS standings, Iowa stands solidly in fourth followed by No. 5 Cincinnati, which holds a slim lead over No. 6 TCU and No. 7 Boise State. It marks the latest point in a season that the top seven spots have all been occupied by undefeated teams.

Last week, I discussed Iowa's lofty standing in the computers. This week, the team that intrigues me most is Cincinnati due largely to the unusual variance amongst the pollsters regarding the Bearcats. Cincinnati ranks fourth in the AP poll, fifth in the Harris Poll and seventh in the coaches. Despite that latter ranking, Cincy rose from No. 8 to No. 5 in the BCS, passing TCU and Boise. The Bearcats rank fifth among the computers, but not by much. Their .830 score barely tops those of TCU (.820) and one-loss Oregon (.810).

Personally, I believe the BCS has teams four through eight ranked in the exact right order -- Iowa, Cincinnati, TCU, Boise State, Oregon. But if the coaches don't get in the Bearcats' corner, the next three -- even the Ducks -- might usurp them.

Current BCS forecast

Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games.

Title game: Alabama vs. Texas

Rose: Iowa vs. Oregon

Fiesta: Penn State vs. Cincinnati

Sugar: Florida vs. TCU

Orange: Georgia Tech vs. USC

Tim Tebow and the Gators finally delivered a decisive victory Saturday against Georgia, but it's dangerous to read too much into that because the Dawgs flat-out stink. I'm waiting until after Saturday's LSU-Alabama game before deciding whether to reevaluate my SEC favorite. As for USC's presence in the Orange Bowl -- well, I had to pick someone for that last BCS at-large berth, and I'm slightly more confident in the Trojans' chances of winning out than my other leading candidates, Miami and Notre Dame.

Spreading the field

• Connecticut players entered Rentschler Field on Saturday wearing No. 6 jerseys in honor of slain teammate Jasper Howard. They came incredibly close to delivering a victory in Howard's honor, taking the lead on Rutgers with 38 seconds remaining. But Scarlet Knights receiver Tim Brown dashed those hopes by breaking an 81-yard touchdown with 22 seconds remaining.

While the Huskies were understandably crushed, the winning player was overcome with emotion. Brown was a close friend of Howard's from Miami. Saturday, he wrote "RIP Jazz" (Howard's nickname) on his eye black, and he broke out in tears after his game-winning play. "I almost felt like his angel wings reached down and flew me to the end zone for a touchdown," said Brown.

• It's been more than two years since Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards dazzled FBS watchers with his electrifying performance at Michigan, but the Walter Payton Award winner hasn't slowed down. With a 461-yard day against Furman on Saturday (355 passing, 106 rushing), Edwards became the first player in Division I history to throw for 9,000 yards and rush for 4,000.

Lane Kiffin may be the butt of jokes around the SEC, but he's about to have the last laugh. The Vols improved to 4-4 with an impressive 31-13 win over South Carolina (6-3), and with games remaining against Memphis, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, they should get to at least 7-5, which, in this year's SEC, may well be good enough to garner a New Year's Day bowl berth (most likely the Outback).

• Just when Rich Rodriguez had started winning the favor of Michigan fans, the Wolverines' coach committed his most damning sin to date: losing to Ron Zook. Illinois, previously winless in the Big Ten, pounded the Wolverines 38-13. Michigan, once 4-0, has now lost four of its last five, and its once-promising offense has regressed. The Wolverines averaged 2.6 yards per rushing attempt in the loss.

• The Big Ten title race will likely be decided over the next two weeks when Ohio State (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) visits Penn State (8-1, 4-1), then hosts first-place Iowa (9-0, 5-0). Terrelle Pryor and Co. -- who outgained New Mexico State 559 to 62 in a 45-0 win Saturday -- can send themselves to Pasadena with two wins. If the Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes, Iowa can lose a game and still win the league.

• What more does Case Keenum have to do to impress Heisman voters? In a typical Houston-style shootout with Southern Miss, the Cougars quarterback went 44-of-54 for a career-high 559 yards and five touchdowns, including a 28-yard game-winner to Patrick Edwards with 21 seconds left to win 50-43. On the season, Keenum has 3,293 yards, 25 TDs and five INTs for No. 13 Houston.

• Following lopsided losses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, USF (6-2) righted itself with a 30-19 win over No. 20 West Virginia, holding Mountaineers star Noel Devine to just 42 yards. "A lot of people thought we were going to go down the same path we did the last two years,'' said Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels, who amassed 336 yards of total offense. ''That was a lot of garbage we didn't listen to."

• It seems reports of Ole Miss' (5-3) resurgence were premature. So, too, were those of Auburn's (6-3) demise. The Tigers throttled the Rebels 33-20 as Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead turned in another clunker (16-of-35, 175 yards, two INTs). Ole Miss wasted another huge day from Dexter McCluster, who racked up 186 rushing yards on 22 carries. (He recorded 260 all-purpose yards last week.)

• Miami (6-2) doesn't look like the same, confident team that started the season with wins over Florida State, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma, but perhaps Saturday's last-minute comeback at Wake Forest will kick the 'Canes into gear. Jacory Harris completed passes of 29, 29, 16 and 14 yards on Miami's game-winning drive and finished with 330 yards and three TDs in a 28-27 win.

• Last week, Minnesota (5-4) received the seemingly devastating news that star receiver Eric Decker was lost for the season with a foot injury. So, predictably, Gophers quarterback Adam Weber went out and threw for 416 yards and five touchdowns without Decker in a 42-34 win over Michigan State. Decker's replacement, sophomore Da'Jon McKnight, caught four passes for 98 yards.

• Previously overshadowed by decorated teammate Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska defensive end Jared Crick delivered his own eye-popping performance Saturday against Baylor, notching 13 tackles, five sacks, seven tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. The Huskers (5-3) continue to need all the help they can get from their defense; the offense notched one TD and 273 yards in a 20-10 win.

• Cal (6-2) has quietly resuscitated itself following blowout losses to Oregon and USC with three straight victories, the latest a dramatic 23-21 win at Arizona State. Quarterback Kevin Riley went 5-of-7 for 85 yards to set up Giorgio Tavecchio's game-winning 24-yard field goal with 21 seconds remaining. "He showed what I know Kevin is really made of," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford.

• Florida State (4-4) won another wild shootout Saturday, 45-42 over N.C. State, but for the first time all season the Seminoles got a lift from their running game. Jermaine Thomas nearly doubled his previous production for the season with 20 carries for 186 yards and two touchdowns. It was the highest yardage total for an FSU running back since Leon Washington's 195 in the 2005 Gator Bowl.

• Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon burst for a school-record 252 yards in a 31-24 win at Kentucky. He became just the second SEC running back since 1997 to go for 250 (the other: Arkansas' Darren McFadden in 2007).

• The Duke bowl watch continues. The Blue Devils (5-3, 3-1 ACC) won their third straight -- their first such streak in 15 years -- 28-17 at Virginia. Because they played N.C. Central (which is transitioning into the FCS), they need two more wins to become eligible.

• And don't look now, but master program rebuilder June Jones has SMU -- which went 1-11 a year ago -- at 4-4 following a 27-13 win at Tulsa. The Mustangs haven't played in a bowl since 1984, three years pre-NCAA Death Penalty.

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