College Football Overtime (cont.)
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games:
Title game: Alabama vs. Oklahoma State
Rose: Stanford vs. Wisconsin
Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Michigan State
Sugar: LSU vs. Boise State
Orange: Clemson vs. Syracuse
Well, this segment just got a lot more interesting.
Oklahoma State is the lazy man's choice to replace Oklahoma in the second title-game slot, though I do believe Mike Gundy's team can pull it off. Saturday at Missouri, the Cowboys lost star Justin Blackmon in the first half (head injury) and didn't miss a beat, racking up their usual 533 yards. But it's time to acknowledge that OSU has some serious playmakers on defense, too. The Cowboys intercepted Tigers quarterback James Franklin three times in the second half, including a fantastic play where linebacker Shaun Lewis (who also had a fumble recovery) streaked to the line to catch a tipped pass. Oklahoma State ranks second nationally with 24 turnovers gained.
Meanwhile, Michigan State's upset makes it far more plausible that the Big Ten will qualify a second BCS team, though as of now I'm projecting a Badgers victory in the teams' potential Dec. 3 rematch. Oregon fans will surely be irate to see the Ducks excluded from this lineup, but the Fiesta Bowl would take a second Big Ten team over a two-loss Oregon team that went to Glendale last year. Beat Stanford and it's moot, because the Ducks would go to the Rose Bowl.
You'll notice the BCS lineup includes a new Big East representative: Syracuse, which dismantled 11th-ranked West Virginia 49-23 last Friday with a wholly different performance than we'd seen from the Orange to date. The defense, buoyed by the return of end Chandler Jones (two sacks), pressured Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith all night. Maybe it was a one-time thing, but we'll give Doug Marrone's team its moment in the sun for now.
The Big East's actual leader right now is Cincinnati (6-1, 2-0 Big East), alone in first after rallying to beat USF, 37-34. The Bearcats cracked the Top 25 polls Sunday for the first time since the Brian Kelly era. Kudos to Butch Jones for the quick turnaround after last season's 4-8 debut. But as the Big East desperately tries to retain its AQ berth, note that Cincy lost 45-23 earlier this season to the current last-place team in the SEC East, Tennessee.
Joe Paterno reached another milestone Saturday night against Northwestern, earning his 408th career win to tie Eddie Robinson on the alltime Division I coaching list. Despite their continued quarterback uncertainty (my Davey O'Brien Award semifinalist ballot last week listed Penn State's entrant as "TBD"), the Nittany Lions are 7-1, including 4-0 in the Big Ten. Conversely, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, Paterno's junior by 48 years, has now lost five straight.
Give USC coach Lane Kiffin props (I know it's tough for most of you to do) for his team's notable improvement from early in the season. In consecutive road wins over Cal (30-9) and Notre Dame (31-17), the Trojans (6-1) have allowed a combined 19 offensive points, while Matt Barkley has thrown five touchdowns and no picks. "It's our team's biggest win since we've been here because of all the stuff around it," Kiffin said of ruining the Irish's first night game in 21 years.
On the flip side, Brian Kelly's rebuilding program continues to stall. Coming off a 59-33 win over Air Force followed with a bye week, the Irish (4-3) managed just 267 total yards against USC. Dayne Crist's fumbled snap at the Trojans' one-yard line -- which Jawanza Starling returned 80 yards for a touchdown -- brought back ugly memories of that USF opener. "Losing stinks," said the Champs Sports Bowl-bound Kelly. "For me, it's hard for me to put a stink meter on losing. They all stink."
The sport's most renowned rebuilder, Bill Snyder, is at it again. Who would have guessed No. 10 Kansas State (7-0) would be the undefeated team heading into Saturday's home date with Oklahoma (6-1)? The Wildcats trounced Kansas (which is now allowing 50.3 points per game), 59-21, for their best start since 1999. One of the highlights: Freshman Tyler Lockett's kickoff return for a touchdown. Lockett's father Kevin and uncle Aaron are former Snyder players.
It was not such a fun weekend in the Embree household. UCLA receiver Taylor Embree was one of 10 players the Pac-12 suspended last Friday following the bizarre streaker-induced brawl Thursday night's UCLA-Arizona game. On Saturday, Oregon handed Embree's dad, Colorado coach Jon, a humiliating 45-2 defeat in Boulder, despite the Ducks playing without Darron Thomas and LaMichael James.
It was a rare sight on the blue turf Saturday: Boise State having to play four quarters to put away an opponent. The Broncos (7-0) had never previously faced Mountain West foe Air Force (3-4), and the Falcons' option attack gave the Broncos fits. Kellen Moore (23-of-29, 281 yards, three TDs, one INT) and Doug Martin (21 carries, 125 yards) eventually put the Falcons away, but this is the type of competitive conference game Boise rarely saw its last few years in the WAC.
No. 6 Clemson (8-0) seems to get more explosive by the week. Tajh Boyd threw for five touchdowns in the Tigers' 59-38 beatdown of North Carolina (5-3), and while Sammy Watkins (eight catches, 91 yards, one touchdown) was part of the action once again, sophomore DeAndre Hopkins stole the show with season highs of nine catches and 157 yards, with one score. Meanwhile, the Tigers' defense forced six turnovers, with defensive end Kourtnei Brown returning two for scores.
Illinois' early-season glory has passed, as Purdue (4-3) sent Ron Zook's team (6-2) spiraling out of the rankings with a 21-14 upset. A year after producing Ryan Kerrigan, the Boilers have another defensive standout on their hands in sophomore cornerback Ricardo Allen, a freshman All-America last season who held explosive Illini receiver A.J. Jenkins to no catch longer than 20 yards. Purdue also held national leader Whitney Mercilus without a sack.
The shine is also off Georgia Tech (6-2), which managed just 211 total yards -- its lowest total since the Orange Bowl two years ago -- in a 24-7 loss at Miami (4-3). Paul Johnson's option offense is more dependent on the pass than most realize, and after a hot start, Jackets quarterback Tevin Washington is just 18-of-51 with four interceptions over his past four games. "It's frustrating for me because I feel I let the team down," said Washington.
Keep an eye on Southern Miss. The Eagles (6-1) not only beat SMU (5-2) in an important Conference USA showdown, they also held June Jones' high-powered offense to a mere field goal in a 27-3 rout.
Your (almost) weekly Case Keenum NCAA record book watch: The Houston quarterback broke the career records for total offense (17,173 yards) and touchdowns (150) with a 392-yard, six-touchdown day against Marshall.
Virginia Tech's David Wilson became the season's first 1,000-yard rusher (1,037) thanks to some insane consistency: He's rushed for between 123 and 136 yards in five straight games.
It's hard to say which is more remarkable: That East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis went 26-of-26 in the first half against Navy (an NCAA record), or that the Pirates still needed a missed field goal on the final play to prevail, 38-35.
Tulane's problems apparently ran deeper than Bob Toledo. In their first game since his resignation, the Green Wave (2-6) lost 33-17 to ... Memphis (2-6).