More Overtime (cont.)
If you haven't noticed, 2012 has become the Year of the Linebacker. There are so many great ones, in fact, that SI.com went to a 3-4 defense in compiling our midseason All-America team and still had to leave off guys who would have been no-brainer first-team picks in any other year. Saturday, two of the very best -- Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Georgia's Jarvis Jones -- once again made some of the most crucial plays in arguably the two most important results of the weekend.
As always, Te'o was all over the field in Notre Dame's 30-13 win at Oklahoma (5-2). He had eight tackles in the first quarter alone. He notched his first sack of the season, a monstrous hit on Landry Jones when he blitzed unblocked through the middle. But the play that may well become his Heisman moment (yes, we're seriously talking about a linebacker for Heisman) came with the Sooners attempting a game-tying drive with just more than four minutes remaining.
I happened to be standing behind the end zone facing Te'o at the time and decided to focus on him that play. On the snap, the consummate middle linebacker stood watching, ready to react. He briefly looked at the receivers to his left. I couldn't help turning my eye when Landry Jones threw in the other direction to receiver Jalen Saunders. Linebacker Dan Fox hit Saunders (arguably early), popped the ball loose and whoa ... suddenly Te'o was over there, too, diving for the game-clinching interception. He's that quick.
"I couldn't have done it without Dan Fox," said Te'o. "Dan made a beautiful play on the ball, and I just happened to be right there." No, he just happened to be within 10 yards when the pass was released.
Still, even Te'o couldn't match the exploits of Georgia's Jones in Saturday's division-changing 17-9 win over Florida. In an ugly defensive stalemate featuring nine combined turnovers, Jones was the MVP, recording 13 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. His most important play came with 2:05 left. Florida's Jordan Reed broke a tackle and appeared headed to the end zone to set up a possible game-tying score, but Jones caught him from behind inside the Georgia five-yard line and stripped the ball, which the Dawgs recovered in the end zone. It was reminiscent of his game-sealing sack and forced fumble in Week 2 at Missouri.
"I had a great game, but it's about what we did as a defense," said Jones, whose teammate, safety Shawn Williams, called out the Dawgs' defense as "soft" earlier in the week. "All of us did what we came here to do. ... It's a great feeling." Three weeks removed from a humbling 35-7 defeat at South Carolina, Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) needs just wins over Ole Miss and Auburn to capture the SEC East now that it holds the tiebreaker over Florida (8-1, 6-1).
If not for injuries that cost him two games, Jones might be eliciting much the same Heisman buzz as Te'o right now. As a hybrid outside linebacker he plays a different role, but one that actually produces more eye-popping stats (8.5 sacks, five forced fumbles in six games). Still, the fact that any linebacker is being taken this seriously in the Heisman discussion this late in the season is significant: It shows just how important that position has become in voters' eyes.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's my current edition:
Title game: Alabama vs. Oregon
Rose: Nebraska vs. Oregon State
Fiesta: Kansas State vs. Notre Dame
Sugar: Florida vs. Louisville
Orange: Florida State vs. Boise State
You know it was a crazy week when Oregon State lost its first game (20-17 at Washington) and moved into my projections. Unless USC beats both Oregon and Notre Dame, the Beavers may be the Pac-12's lone hope of producing a second top-14 team. And sure, throw Nebraska into the mix as well. The Huskers (6-2, 3-1) took control of the Big Ten Legends Division with a 23-9 win over Michigan.
Nebraska's result helped not only the Huskers, but also Boise State. That's right. It's looking increasingly plausible that the 7-1 Broncos will finish ahead of the Big Ten's automatic qualifier (in the latest BCS standings, Boise is No. 19, Nebraska No. 20) and thus be guaranteed a spot. It's long been assumed the Big East champ would end up in the Orange Bowl, but if 8-0 Louisville wins out, presumably the Sugar Bowl would take the undefeated Cardinals over 11-1 Boise State.
Also, Florida still gets the nod over Georgia because the Sugar Bowl is not obligated to (and prefers not to) take the SEC title game loser. That may change if Florida State were to rout the Gators in their regular-season finale.
My reaction to the latest AP and Coaches' polls:
Overrated: Boise State (AP: No. 19, Coaches': No. 14)
This is getting ridiculous. The Broncos lost to 5-4 Michigan State, and their best win arguably came against 5-4 BYU. But hey, you know you've arrived when the pollsters are ranking you based on history.
Underrated: Toledo (AP: NR, Coaches': NR)
The 8-1 Rockets' lone defeat, a 24-17 loss in overtime at Arizona in Week 1, doesn't look so bad now, plus they've since beaten then-undefeated Cincinnati. Where is the love?
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