College Football Overtime (cont.)
Left for dead two weeks ago, Rick Neuheisel's Bruins are not going down without a fight -- and not the kind they engaged in at Arizona a couple weeks back.
With their coach's job status on life support following a humiliating meltdown on national television two weeks ago, the Bruins (5-4, 4-2 Pac-12) have taken control of the Pac-12 South. Seriously. UCLA stunned No. 20 Arizona State (6-3, 4-2) on Saturday, 29-28, after running back Derrick Coleman scored a go-ahead touchdown with 46 seconds remaining and Sun Devils kicker Alex Garoutte missed a 46-yard field goal as time expired.
The Bruins now sit in a three-way tie for first with USC and ASU, but the Trojans are ineligible for the Pac-12 championship game.
"That was the victory I have been waiting for my whole life," said Coleman.
UCLA fans have been waiting the better part of four years for Neuheisel's team to even play in a game of such importance, much less win it. Like all UCLA games, it was far from pretty -- the Bruins' game-winning drive included two fumbles (both recovered) and an offensive pass interference call -- but it was also a far cry from that 48-12 loss at Arizona (2-7) two weeks ago. Last week UCLA beat Cal despite three of its top four receivers serving suspensions from the melee in Tuscon.
"Obviously a lot was broken on that Thursday night, but we've worked hard to correct it," said Neuheisel. "I'm thrilled with the resolve."
UCLA still has its work cut out. Its three remaining games include trips to Utah (5-4) and USC, whereas the Sun Devils close with Washington State (3-6), Arizona (2-7) and Cal (5-4). And AD Dan Guerrero has not hid the fact that Neuheisel is on his last legs. Just reaching a bowl game won't be enough. It may indeed take an appearance in the conference title game to save Neuheisel's job. But the fact that it's even a possibility seemed unthinkable two weeks ago.
MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher must be enjoying the NBA lockout more than anyone.
With a notable void in weeknight sports television since the World Series ended, the MAC's usually overlooked midweek games on ESPN and ESPN2 drew extra attention last week. SportsCenter even led with highlights of both last Tuesday's Toledo-Northern Illinois shootout and Wednesday's Temple-Ohio game.
The Toledo-NIU game in particular had folks scrambling to change the channel after seeing updates on Twitter. In a game in which both offenses seemed to be playing against air, the Huskies (6-3) topped the Rockets, 63-60, in a game that included the following: 1,121 combined yards of offense; consecutive kick returns for touchdowns by NIU's Tommylee Lewis on Toledo's first two kickoffs; star Rockets receiver Eric Page catching five touchdown passes; and the teams combining for six touchdowns and a field goal in the fourth quarter alone.
In a bizarre ending, Toledo coach Tim Beckman declined to call any of his three timeouts as the Huskies were driving for an eventual game-winning Chandler Harnish touchdown pass with 19 seconds remaining. "Our job as a defense was to stop them and we didn't get that taken care of," he said.
Ohio's 35-31 win over Temple the next evening wasn't quite as dramatic, though the Bobcats (6-3, 3-2 MAC) did score the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining to take over first place in the MAC East from the Owls (5-4, 3-3).
If you missed the fun, don't worry. There's another round of "MACtion" on tap this week. NIU makes another Tuesday night appearance at Bowling Green (ESPN2), while Miami (Ohio) visits Temple on Wednesday night (ESPN).
Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, Thursday (8 p.m. ET): It's been a forgettable season of Thursday night games, but this one may finally end the slump. Both teams had extra time to prepare and first place in the ACC Coastal is on the line. Can inconsistent Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas shine on a big stage?
Oregon at Stanford, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): It's not No. 1 vs. 2, but it's No. 3 vs. 6, and it's sure to feature a slew of touchdowns. This will be Andrew Luck's Heisman showcase game, and most believe it's his trophy to lose, but the Ducks put up 52 in handing the Cardinal their last loss 17 games ago.
TCU at Boise State, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): This was supposed to be the Broncos' "big" conference game, but the 7-2 Horned Frogs have not looked remotely like their 2009-10 selves. Still, they're currently in first in the Mountain West, and the teams have a nice recent history of closely contested bowl games.