College Football Overtime (cont.)
In hindsight, perhaps I overreacted just a tad regarding the Wrigley Field end zone debacle. While the ignorance of NCAA rules among organizers remains astounding, the clunky setup did not impact the game. If anything, the scene Saturday (speaking as a Northwestern alum) was even cooler than I'd imagined, from Ernie Banks on the GameDay set to the fans watching from the rooftops to the scoreboard showing Big Ten scores. This photo pretty much says it all.
Between the lines, Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure made his own history, rushing for a school-record 330 yards on 33 carries -- the highest total by an FBS player this season -- in the Illini's 48-24 rout. Apparently Northwestern's marketing campaign did not go over well in Champaign. "When I heard Northwestern called 'Chicago's Big Ten team' all week, yes, that bothered me," said linebacker Martez Wilson. Illinois (6-5) became bowl eligible with the win.
No one was more bothered Saturday than Nebraska's Bo Pelini. The red-faced coach spent the majority of his team's 9-6 loss to Texas A&M (8-3) berating officials, who called 16 penalties against the Huskers to two on the Aggies. He tried to chase one of them down after the game ended. Give Pelini this: The roughing-the-passer flag that helped set up A&M's go-ahead field goal was absurd. But Pelini's fixation with Big 12 officiating (see last year's conference title game) is getting tiresome.
"I'm not talking about the penalties," Pelini said afterward. "You all watched the game." So did Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman, who, in an AP interview Sunday, called Pelini's repeated outbursts "unfortunate."
Michigan State (10-1) staged a furious fourth-quarter rally to survive an upset bid from Purdue, thanks in large part to two interceptions and a blocked punt. My biggest takeaway from the game, however, was the sterling performance of Purdue's true freshman cornerback, Ricardo Allen, who had a pick-six early, broke up a pass in the end zone late and notched nine tackles. The 5-foot-9 Allen, who's started every game, has the makings of a future All-America.
I think we can now safely say with hindsight that Virginia Tech's loss to James Madison on Sept. 11 was the single strangest event of the season. On Saturday, the Hokies (9-2, 7-0 ACC) won their ninth straight game, 31-17 at Miami, to advance to the ACC title game for the fourth time in six years. There will be no postseason, however, for James Madison. The Dukes beat Maine 14-10 on Saturday to finish 6-5, tied for eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association.
It's hard to believe, but Oklahoma State's 48-14 win over Kansas gave the 10th-ranked Cowboys (10-1) the first 10-win regular season in the 110-year history of the program. (Bowl wins gave the school three 10-2 records in the 1980s.) Now comes the big one. No. 14 Oklahoma (9-2), fresh off a 53-24 beatdown at Baylor, comes to Stillwater on Saturday for a winner-takes-the-Big-12-South edition of Bedlam. Receivers Justin Blackmon (OSU) and Ryan Broyles (OU) will take center stage.
North Carolina fans have loyally defended coach Butch Davis amid an NCAA investigation, but Saturday he may have committed the unthinkable: falling to 0-4 against rival N.C. State. As has been the case all season, UNC (6-5) fought valiantly but fell, this time on a freakish play in which Wolfpack receiver Owen Spencer emerged from a cluster of about seven players to catch a deflected pass in the end zone on fourth-and-goal. N.C. State, down 19-10 at the time, won 29-25.
The Wolfpack's win coupled with Florida State's 30-16 victory at Maryland narrows the ACC Atlantic Division contenders down to two. FSU (8-3), which forced three fourth-quarter turnovers Saturday to pull out a tough road win, finished 6-2 in conference play to clinch at least a share of first. But if N.C. State (8-3, 5-2) wins at College Park next week, the Wolfpack, who beat the Seminoles 28-24 on Oct. 28, will advance to their first conference title game to face Virginia Tech.
Mississippi State played at home Saturday for the first time since defensive end Nick Bell's Nov. 2 death from cancer, and the 36-yard lines at Scott Field were emblazoned with decals honoring his jersey number. Bell would have been proud of the Bulldogs' effort against No. 13 Arkansas. The Bulldogs took it to double overtime, but the Razorbacks ultimately prevailed, 38-31, thanks to star Ryan Mallett's eighth 300-yard passing game this season, a national best.
After scoring a combined 10 points against TCU and Notre Dame the past two weeks, Utah (9-2) racked up 500 yards of offense to rally from 17 back to beat San Diego State, 38-34. Quarterback Jordan Wynn, nearly benched against the Irish, threw for a career-high 362 yards as the Utes survived a 528-yard passing day from the Aztecs' Ryan Lindley. "I'm very proud of our guys for hanging in there," said Kyle Whittingham. "They never dropped down a bit."
Further proof that the way a team looked last week is absolutely no indicator of how it will perform the following week: A week removed from losing 31-14 to last-place Washington State, Oregon State (5-5) played its best game of the season in throttling No. 20 USC, 36-7. And Ole Miss, 1-5 in the SEC and a week removed from losing 52-14 at then 3-6 Tennessee, went to Tiger Stadium and gave No. 5 LSU everything it could handle before falling 43-36.
I've done the math, and it appears that my preseason pick to win the Big East can still very much pull it out. Connecticut, 3-4 just a few weeks ago, improved to 3-2 in conference play with a 23-6 win at Syracuse (7-4) and is tied for second place with West Virginia. However, Connecticut has already beaten both the Mountaineers and first-place Pittsburgh (6-4, 4-1), so one more Panthers loss would put the Huskies in the driver's seat.
In a tear-filled moment at Southern Miss, linebacker Martez Smith -- paralyzed from the waist down following last week's shooting -- was on hand to wave to the crowd on Senior Day.
Since its embarrassing showing against Navy a few weeks back, Notre Dame's defense has played 11 straight quarters without allowing a touchdown.
After working so hard to lift Rutgers out of the Big East basement, Greg Schiano's team (4-6, 1-4) is back in it after losing 69-38 at 3-6 Cincinnati.
Colorado (5-6) improved to 2-0 since firing Dan Hawkins with a 44-36 win over Kansas State (6-5). Hawkins was on hand to escort son Cody on Senior Day.
Elsewhere Saturday, Harvard beat Yale, 28-21, in the 127th edition of The Game, while Lehigh topped Lafayette 20-13 in the teams' 146th meeting.