College Football Overtime (cont.)
Oregon coach Chip Kelly is a sideline reporter's worst nightmare. He's polite, he smiles, but he talks really, really fast while saying nothing. Asked at halftime by Lewis Johnson about Oregon's "slow start" (the Ducks led just 8-7 at the time on a Cliff Harris punt return touchdown), Kelly replied brusquely, "That's why we play four quarters." Asked what halftime adjustments he might make, Kelly said, "I don't know. Gotta go in the locker room and figure that out" -- and off he went.
The Ducks (10-0) made enough adjustments to squeeze out one offensive touchdown and 317 total yards, but if not for Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio's unfortunate illegal motion penalty and subsequent 29-yard field goal miss at the start of the fourth quarter, we may be talking about a new No. 1 team today. Oregon won 15-13, but the Bears' defense did what no other had this season: render the Ducks' offense mortal.
"Their front seven is probably the best seven we've played against," said Oregon tailback LaMichael James, who ran for a season-low 91 yards and missed much of the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. (He was on crutches and in a walking boot afterward.)
Indeed, the Bears (5-5) somehow possess the nation's 10th-ranked defense despite losing 52-31 to Nevada and 48-14 to USC. But those games were on the road. At home, Cal plays like a team possessed, holding foes to 9.8 points per game. Oregon was actually better than average.
At the end of the day, the Ducks survived, and if anything probably grew from the experience. Their defense held the Bears to less than 200 yards of offense. They bled the last 9:25 off the clock on an excruciating 18-play drive. And they showed for the first time that they can win a close game.
"We knew that this season isn't going to be all blowouts," said defensive tackle Brandon Bair. "We were going to have to have a character-building game where we're going to come out and it's going to test who we really are."
It's no news flash that Oregon's offense can be stopped. We've known that all along, in part because Boise State and Ohio State stopped it last season. With all due respect to Auburn, a national-title matchup between the Ducks and Boise or TCU would be fascinating, because those teams both possess dominant defenses. In the meantime, Oregon closes with slumping Arizona (which lost at home to USC on Saturday) and 4-5 Oregon State.
TCU won its home finale over a 7-2 team, improving to 11-0 in the process, yet it was an unquestionably disastrous weekend for the Horned Frogs. Such is life in the BCS.
In an incredibly bizarre game, the Horned Frogs -- who had held six straight conference opponents to single-digits -- fell behind visiting San Diego State 14-0 in the game's first six minutes, proceeded to roll off 37 unanswered points while holding the Aztecs to one first down until late in the third quarter, then had to fend off a furious SDSU rally to win 40-35. Meanwhile, assistant coach Eddie Williamson was rushed to hospital and underwent angioplasty after suffering an apparent heart attack in the first quarter (he was in stable condition Sunday); star running back Ed Wesley was limited to one carry due to a foot injury; and receivers Jeremy Kerley and Josh Boyce were sidelined by game's end.
"It's not the final score we would have liked to have had," said coach Gary Patterson, "but the bottom line, it falls under my category of [winning] by one point."
Ah, but the voters -- 90 percent of whom probably didn't see the game -- felt differently. Just a week after moving past Boise State for No. 3 in the polls following its 47-7 rout of then sixth-ranked Utah, TCU slid back below the Broncos on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Utes' 28-3 meltdown at Notre Dame devalued TCU's signature win.
The Horned Frogs remained ahead of the Broncos in the latest BCS standings, but Boise State closed the deficit by about half and is expected to close the gap in the computers if it wins out against 6-3 Fresno State, 9-1 Nevada and 4-6 Utah State. TCU has only 1-9 New Mexico remaining. While you can question the timing of TCU's poll drop -- neither Oregon nor Auburn were penalized for close fourth-quarter games against teams with worse records than SDSU -- ultimately the teams will be judged by their bodies of work.
A week ago, TCU seemingly had the upper hand thanks to its rout of a top 10 team. But with Utah nearly falling out of the polls this week (and likely entering Saturday's game with San Diego State as the underdog), Boise's victory over Virginia Tech now stands as the better feat of the two. The Hokies, winners of eight straight, moved into the top 15 of both polls this week, while upcoming foe Nevada (9-1) moved up to 18th in the coaches' poll.
"I am projecting Boise catching TCU in the computers, but keep in mind that isn't definite -- a lot can happen in three weeks to mess that up," said CollegeBCS.com's Jerry Palm. "[Sunday's] poll shuffling makes it more likely Boise passes TCU overall, but again, not definite. Voters are fickle. Boise is a seven-point win over Fresno State from seeing a shuffle go against them."
Prepare for a fun few weeks of lobbying from both sides.
My reaction to the latest AP and coaches polls:
Overrated: Mississippi State (AP and coaches': No. 22)
If you play in the SEC and you've won seven games, you get to be ranked, even if you've gone 0-3 and averaged 10.3 points against the three currently ranked SEC foes (Auburn, LSU and Alabama) on your schedule.
Underrated: San Diego State (AP and coaches': unranked)
Last week the Aztecs, then 7-2 (including a last-second loss at Missouri), earned 42 points in the AP poll. This week, they went on the road, scored 35 on a top five team -- and lost 10 points. That's poll logic for you.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. For my projections for all 35 bowl games, click here.
Title game: Oregon vs. Auburn
Rose: Wisconsin vs. Boise State
Fiesta: Nebraska vs. Pittsburgh
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. TCU
Sugar: LSU vs. Ohio State
There, now. Boise and TCU both get a home. The Sugar Bowl gets its Big Ten glamour team (and a rematch of the LSU-Ohio State national title matchup there three years ago), the Orange Bowl gets a top five team and everyone (except Stanford and the Fiesta Bowl) goes home happy.
Unless of course Oregon or Auburn loses, in which case the Boise/TCU fight will be for more than just a BCS berth. Or unless the Orange Bowl, with its Big 8 ties, elects to go with the loser of a possible Nebraska-Oklahoma State Big 12 title game, which both teams could enter 11-1. The Huskers and their traveling horde are getting a bid somewhere. You can book that.