College Football Overtime (cont.)
It was hardly unexpected, but now-fourth-ranked Boise State fell victim to its first "poll jumper" this week. Oregon, with its primetime, 52-31 showcase win over ninth-ranked Stanford, leapfrogged Boise (which beat New Mexico State 59-0) to No. 3 in both the AP and coaches polls Sunday. It's exactly what I predicted would happen once the Broncos went back into hiding during its WAC schedule. But should it have?
If the Ducks run the table, no question, they'll have a far superior resume to the Broncos come December. As of today, however, Boise's schedule strength is 32nd on CollegeBCS.com (Jerry Palm), 38th in Jeff Sagarin's ratings. Oregon's schedule, which includes wins over New Mexico and Portland State, ranks 57th in Sagarin, 81st in Palm's. Body of work? We're not there yet.
Having said that, the Ducks' performance against Stanford absolutely solidified their status as a national-title contender. After committing two costly turnovers early that helped the Cardinal jump to a 21-3 lead, Oregon flat-out shredded a previously stout Stanford defense behind LaMichael James' career-high 257 rushing yards and quarterback Darron Thomas' 117 rushing yards and three touchdown passes. The defense, meanwhile, pitched a shutout in the second half and, remarkably, has allowed only seven second-half points all season.
"It ain't a statement win," Oregon coach Chip Kelly insisted afterward. "... If we talk about statement wins and stuff like that, then we're buying into all the stuff, too."
Clearly, poll voters are buying into it, which must be particularly galling to Broncos fans, seeing as their team beat the Ducks, on the field, in each of the past two seasons. To be clear, past results shouldn't affect this year's poll. But can I help it that the image of Boise's defense completely stifling Oregon's spread last year lingers in the back of my mind? Ultimately, a dominant defensive team usually trumps even the most powerful offense, and Boise's experienced defense has only gotten better (particularly against the run).
Perhaps the better poll question is, why didn't the Ducks jump over Ohio State, too, in light of the Buckeyes' sluggish 24-13 win at Illinois? (It was 17-13 with two minutes remaining.) Is it because voters subconsciously remember the Buckeyes' Rose Bowl win last year over Oregon? If so, they're practicing selective memory.
Don Treadwell would have preferred not to earn a head coaching audition due to his longtime boss' heart attack and subsequent return to the hospital. But as mentor Mark Dantonio watched on television, Treadwell, Michigan State's offensive coordinator, caught open some eyes with his aggressive play-calling in the Spartans' 34-24 win over No. 11 Wisconsin.
Nursing a 27-24 lead late in the game, quarterback Kirk Cousins led the Spartans on a 15-play, 84-yard drive that culminated with Treadwell's decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal at the Badgers' 1-yard-line. Cousins delivered a perfect play-action touchdown pass to B.J. Cunningham to seal a landmark victory for Michigan State (5-0), which had lost 14 of its last 15 games against ranked opponents.
"We have always had tremendous leadership in this program," said Treadwell, 50, who first worked with Dantonio on Jim Tressel's Youngstown State staff in 1986 and served as his coordinator at Cincinnati. "The administration has done as much as possible to keep things off my plate. It's let me focus on my role as offensive coordinator and, when called upon, step in and do a few things in Coach D's place."
The 17th-ranked Spartans first gained notice with Dantonio's "Little Giants" fake field goal to beat Notre Dame, but Michigan State's offense is far from smoke and mirrors. Behind the tailback tandem of sophomore Edwin Baker (107.2 yards per game) and freshman Le'Von Bell (94.2), the Spartans beat the perennially physical Badgers at their own game. Michigan State's rushing attack has improved from 73rd to 20th nationally, while Cousins is completing 67.5 percent of his passes.
Next up comes a milestone matchup with Michigan, also 5-0, as the Spartans will look to become the first team to rein in Wolverines star Denard Robinson. Dantonio, who's had something of a Maize and Blue obsession since he took the job, should be back as the Spartans look to achieve their first three-game winning streak over their rival since 1967.
Treadwell was happy to speak about the Wisconsin game and MSU's improved running game, but deftly deferred when asked about Michigan. "Coach D is our head man," he said. "I'll let him speak about our next opponent."
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games.
Title game: Alabama vs. Ohio State
Rose: Oregon vs. Boise State
Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Arizona
Orange: Miami vs. West Virginia
Sugar: Auburn vs. Nebraska
I'm not making any rash changes to my title-game matchup just yet. As amazing as Oregon has looked, I still have my doubts the Ducks can run the table in what is, at worst, the nation's second-toughest conference this season.
Meanwhile, the Big 12 remains a mystery. I wanted to come away from the Red River Shootout enamored with Oklahoma, but it's hard to say how much was the Sooners' doing and how much was Texas' continued ineptitude. Despite a bevy of mistakes, the 'Horns still wound up outgaining the Sooners (373-360) and coming within a Landry Jones' tipped fumble and/or Aaron Williams' muffed punt of getting a shot at a last minute game-tying drive. But we've only seen Nebraska play one game of significance to date so I'll keep OU in the driver's seat.
One other note: I dumped Florida from the Sugar Bowl spot because I don't have faith in that team to drop fewer than two more games. Auburn or Arkansas may have a better shot at the SEC's second bid. I went with the Tigers for now.
First, some requisite Denard Robinson adulation. With his 217-yard rushing, 277-yard passing day against Indiana, the sophomore joins Vince Young as the only players in NCAA history to post two career 200/200 games (the other was against Notre Dame). And his 905 rushing yards (that's right, 905 through five games) are more than all but 29 teams nationally. And he already holds the three highest total-offense games in Michigan history (UConn was the other).
I'm done defending embattled Georgia coach Mark Richt. Even with star receiver A.J. Green back in the lineup (and making ridiculous, falling-down, one-handed catches), the Bulldogs couldn't even beat hapless Colorado, falling to 1-4 with a 29-27 loss. Caleb King's fumble in the final two minutes cost a shot at a possible game-winning field goal. "It's bad luck, man. Nothing's falling our way," said Green. It's going to take more than luck for UGA to avoid a losing season.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is already taking drastic action to curb his own team's 1-4 implosion, its worst start since 1973. Following Friday's 31-16 loss to Utah State -- the Aggies' first win over their in-state rival since 1993 -- Mendenhall canned fifth-year defensive coordinator Jaime Hill, who told the Salt Lake Tribune he was a "scapegoat." What an ideal time for the program to bolt its conference in search of more national relevance. (Stop cackling, Craig Thompson.)
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris continues to be the most schizophrenic player in the country. He was electrifying for much of the 'Canes' 30-21 win over Clemson, throwing four touchdown passes, but he also repeatedly threw into double-and even triple-coverage, tossing two interceptions and narrowly avoiding several more. But Miami's defense, led by run-stuffing cornerback Brandon Harris, shut down the Tigers in the second half of an important ACC win.
Harris is living the good life, however, compared to Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who managed to cost his team a game last Thursday at Oklahoma State despite going 40-of-62 for 409 yards and five touchdowns. Unfortunately, Johnson also had five turnovers, including a fourth-quarter fumble that James Thomas returned for a touchdown and a last-minute pick that set up the Cowboys' game-winning field goal. That's got to kill a kid's confidence.
Or, perhaps Johnson will redeem himself like Washington's Jake Locker. In his first game since that disastrous 4-of-20 day against Nebraska, the senior threw for 310 yards, ran for 110 and led a game-winning field-goal drive as the Huskies stunned USC for a second straight year. "What a performance by No. 10," said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. "Legendary." Easy now, Sark. Locker has now won five career Pac-10 games -- two of them against 'SC.
Now there's the Adrian Clayborn we know and love. Iowa's star defensive end had been notably absent from the stat sheet during the Hawkeyes' first four games, but he once again wreaked havoc on Penn State, recording 10 tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss in a 24-3 win. Iowa has now won eight of its last nine games against the Nittany Lions. And there's no nice way to put it: Penn State's offense -- averaging 13 points against FBS foes -- is awful.
Virginia Tech (3-2) continued its quiet return to respectability, rallying from an early 17-0 deficit to win at No. 23 N.C. State, 41-30. With star running back Ryan Williams out, both Darren Evans (15 carries, 160 yards) and quarterback Tyrod Taylor (16 carries, 121 yards) filled his shoes. Meanwhile, Hokies cornerback Jayron Hosley picked off Wolfpack star Russell Wilson three times. The rest of the ACC's schedule will basically be filler until Tech's trip to Miami on Nov 20.
A week after its big win at Texas, UCLA looked in danger at one point of suffering an unthinkable loss to Washington State. It was 28-20, Cougs, late in the third quarter. But the Bruins won going away, 42-28, and, in doing so, racked up a staggering 437 yards on the ground. Tailbacks Jonathan Franklin (30 carries, 216 yards) and Derrick Coleman (15 for 185) became the first tandem in school history to eclipse 180 in the same game. The Pistol is firing.
Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa is the best athlete, and most accurate passer, the Wildcats (5-0) have had at the position under Pat Fitzgerald. Persa, the nation's third-rated passer, went 23-of-30 for 309 yards and ran for 99 yards in a 29-28 win at Minnesota. On the downside, he also helped out the Gophers with two red-zone turnovers, and it took a late field goal to prevail. The 'Cats have won six of their last eight Big Ten games, all by a touchdown or less.
Perhaps Iowa State (3-2) is ready to make a move in the Big 12 North? The Cyclones notched a nice upset Saturday, 52-38 over Texas Tech (don't say you weren't warned), despite blowing a 24-0 lead at one point. It marked ISU's highest point total in a conference game since 1972 and its first win over a Big 12 South opponent (besides Baylor) since 2005.
This week in the miserable Big East: UConn, behind 190 yards from running back Jordan Todman, scored the league's second win over an FBS foe, beating Vanderbilt, while Pittsburgh's Ray Graham steamrolled FIU for 277 yard on 29 carries. Great week, right? ... Not so much. Rutgers, the once-upstart program that captured New York City's heart for a week or so in 2006, looks more and more like the Rutgers of 2002. The Scarlet Knights (2-2) lost 17-14 to ... Tulane.
What's with the running back assembly line at Temple? With Bernard Pierce out, 5-foot-5, 170-pound Matt Brown ran for 226 yards in a 42-35 win over Army.
Prediction: In the increasingly deep and quarterback-heavy Pac-10, USC -- which currently ranks 116th in pass defense -- will finish no higher than seventh.
Last Thursday's Oklahoma State game marked Texas A&M's first televised game this season. Tell me again why the school deserves that $20 million?
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