College Football Overtime (cont.)
Through 11 games, Brian Kelly had done little to inspire confidence in his first season at Notre Dame. But on Saturday Kelly ensured a very happy offseason in South Bend by doing what neither Tyrone Willingham nor Charlie Weis could do: beat USC. The 20-16 win ended an eight-year drought, and it came despite injuries to the team's top quarterback (Dayne Crist), running back (Armando Allen), tight end (Kyle Rudolph) and defensive lineman (Ian Williams).
"We put the fight back in the Fighting Irish," said Kelly, whose team won its last three to finish 7-5 and complete its first regular season above .500 in four years. Mind you, it took some rain and USC receiver Ronald Johnson dropping a wide-open touchdown in the final minute for Notre Dame to pull it out. Said Kelly of the drop: "It was about time we caught a break."
And then there's the debut season Jimbo Fisher is enjoying. By day's end Saturday, Florida State's first-year coach had led the Seminoles to their first win over Florida, 31-7, since 2003, their first nine-win regular season since that same year and, thanks to N.C. State's loss at Maryland, their first ACC division title since 2005. "What a perfect day for Florida State football,'' said Fisher.
The 'Noles opponent Saturday in Charlotte will be No. 12 Virginia Tech (10-2), which, with a 37-7 rout of Virginia, achieved the ACC's first 8-0 regular season since Florida State in 2000. In the process, quarterback Tyrod Taylor broke the school's career passing record (6,532 yards) and -- this is remarkable -- Frank Beamer passed Woody Hayes for ninth place on the sport's all-time career wins list (239). "It means you're getting old," joked Beamer, who's actually a young 64.
Mark Dantonio has officially eradicated Michigan State's long history of disappointments. In notching their first win in Happy Valley since Penn State joined the conference in 1993, the Spartans (11-1) captured a share of their first Big Ten title since 1990. One might argue that Michigan State should be going to the Rose Bowl instead of Wisconsin, which it beat. After all, the main reason the Badgers finished higher in the BCS standings is because they started higher.
The worst part of Rich Rodriguez's miserable three seasons in Ann Arbor is that it's taken all the fun out of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. To no one's surprise, Terrelle Pryor and Dan Herron had their way with the Wolverines in a 37-7 rout, and the Buckeyes (11-1) have now outscored Michigan (7-5) 100-24 in the last three meetings. "I'm ticked," said Rodriguez. So are Wolverines fans, but I'll refrain from commenting further for fear it'd be out of date by the time you read this.
I've written more than 1,000 articles for SI.com, but never have I written a stupider set of words than "With Arkansas lacking a formidable rushing threat ..." Continuing his second-half tear, Razorbacks running back Knile Davis pounded LSU (10-2) for 152 yards on 30 carries -- his fifth 100-yard effort in the last six games -- to put Arkansas (10-2) in position for its first-ever BCS berth. It didn't hurt that Ryan Mallett notched his ninth 300-yard passing game, either.
While Wisconsin (11-1) has been garnering attention primarily for piling up a ton of points (83 against Indiana, 70 against Northwestern) and rushing yards (247.3 per game), it wouldn't be heading to Pasadena without do-everything defensive end J.J. Watt. The prospective All-America had a sack, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick in Saturday's rout of the Wildcats (7-5). Watt now has 21 tackles for loss, four caused turnovers and three blocks.
It seems like the BYU-Utah Holy War comes down to the last play of the game almost every year. Down 13-0 at one point, the Utes (10-2) took the lead for the first time with 4:24 left, going up 17-16. Then Brandon Burton blocked BYU kicker Mitch Payne's 42-yard field goal attempt as time expired. The win likely locked up a spot in the Las Vegas Bowl for Utah (possibly against Boise State or Nevada), while the Cougars (6-6) will head to the Armed Forces or New Mexico bowls.
While the first slew of hot-seat coaches have gotten the ax (most notably Randy Shannon), West Virginia's Bill Stewart removed himself from danger after the Mountaineers (8-3) dismantled Pittsburgh, 35-10, in the Backyard Brawl and returned to the polls. With a win over last-place Rutgers next week, Stewart will deliver his third straight nine-win season. The better question: How does Dave Wannstedt, 41-31 in six seasons, keep his job?
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen completed one of the season's biggest turnarounds in improving the Terps from 2-10 to 8-4. While Maryland's offense was largely a work in progress all year, the Terps unleashed the hounds Saturday against N.C. State (8-4), with freshman quarterback Danny O'Brien throwing for 417 yards and receiver Torrey Smith catching 14 passes for 224 yards and four touchdowns. "Hopefully, we'll start getting some respect," said Friedgen.
By now, it's abundantly clear there's no point heaping high expectations on a Kirk Ferentz-coached team, because Iowa's most hyped teams inevitably flop. An embarrassing 27-24 loss to rival Minnesota (3-9) put the finishing touches on a disappointing 7-5 season for a team that began the year ranked ninth in the AP poll. And because of the glut of other 7-5 Big Ten teams (Penn State, Michigan, Northwestern), the Hawkeyes may have cost themselves a New Year's Day bowl appearance.
Tennessee's Derek Dooley deserves props for resurrecting the rebuilding Vols from a 2-6 season to a four-game winning streak and bowl eligibility. The Vols' rise coincided with Dooley's decision to hand the quarterback reins to freshman Tyler Bray, who threw for 354 yards in Tennessee's 26th straight win over Kentucky (6-6). Not to rain on the Vols' parade, but the Wildcats had the best record of any of the five FBS teams Tennessee beat this season.
Vanderbilt's Robbie Caldwell, who unsurprisingly announced his resignation Saturday, was a picture of class and a barrel of laughs during his four months as the Commodores' head coach, though it ended in a 2-10 record. With any luck, we'll be hearing him in a TV booth next season, though Caldwell may have his sights on the current opening at his alma mater, Furman. Vanderbilt has hired an outside search firm, and it's hard to predict who may wind up in Nashville.
Georgia (6-6) became the necessary 70th eligible bowl team when it beat Georgia Tech on Saturday. Washington (5-6) could still join the list with a win over Washington State (2-9).
In his first start in place of injured star Montel Harris, Boston College freshman Andre Williams ran 42 times for 185 yards in a 16-7 win at Syracuse. Strangely, the Orange finished 5-1 on the road, 2-4 at home.
Congrats to second-year Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood, whose RedHawks improved from 1-11 a year ago to 8-4 and advanced to the MAC title game with a 23-3 win over Temple (8-4).
Tune in to Saturday's UCF-SMU Conference USA championship game to see Knights true freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey, who ranks eighth nationally in pass efficiency.
With a 22-14 win over Buffalo in its finale, Akron (1-11) avoided finishing as the nation's lone winless team in 2010.