SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
10/21/2006 11:17:00 PM
Saturday Observations: Part III
C.J. Spiller (28) rushed for two 50 yard touchdowns in the Tigers runaway win.
Remember when Clemson didn’t have a running game? I’m sure you do, because it wasn’t that long ago -- and because it had been that way pretty much this entire decade.
These days, however, the Tigers don’t just have a running game – they have a ridiculous running game. Saturday night, stud tailbacks James Davis (21 carries, 216 yards, two TDs) and C.J. Spiller (16 carries, 116 yards, 1 TD and a 50-yard receiving TD) sliced through Georgia Tech’s seventh-ranked rushing defense like the Jackets were standing still. Between Davis and Spiller producing one highlight-reel run after another and the Tigers’ defense rendering All-America WR Calvin Johnson a complete non-factor, Clemson’s 31-7 victory was one of the most impressive team performances I’ve seen all season. (The Tigers should really think about wearing all purple more often).
Georgia Tech QB Reggie Ball was said to be extremely banged up, which certainly contributed to the cause, but I’m not sure he would have fared much better even if he had been healthy. It seemed like Tigers defensive ends Gaines Adams and Phillip Merling were in his face, sacking him or batting down one of his passes every other play. Between their unrelenting pass-rush and the coverage of the secondary, Calvin Johnson – potential NFL No. 1 pick – finished with zero passes.
Clemson QB Will Proctor completed even fewer passes than Ball, but the Tigers barely needed him. Davis and Spiller produced enough highlight-reel runs to fill a season, including two 50-yard Spiller touchdowns and a 54-yard Davis dash. Keep in mind, Georgia Tech has some extremely fast defenders, but you never would have known it the way these two blew past them.
If you’re a Clemson fan, you’re obviously feeling pretty darn good tonight, and rightfully so -- but you’re probably kicking yourself over that early-season overtime loss at BC. Not that the Eagles weren’t a worthy adversary, but if the Tigers’ special teams hadn’t completely deserted them that night – including the fatal missed extra-point in overtime – we’d probably talking about this team in the national-title conversation right now.
· Rutgers employed much the same formula as Clemson in its important 20-10 win at Pittsburgh – some tremendous defense (holding Tyler Palko and the Panthers to 236 total yards) and a whole lot of RB Ray Rice (39 carries for a career-high 225 yards, including a nifty 63-yard run from his own 10 on the Scarlet Knight’s game-sealing touchdown drive). With Adrian Peterson out for the season, the title of 2006’s top running back is obviously up for grabs. Both Davis and Rice have to be near the top of the list.
· Washington State has seemingly been on the verge of a breakthrough win all season, and Saturday night the Cougars finally got it, knocking off Oregon 34-23. It got so bad for the Ducks (down 27-3 in the third quarter) that coach Mike Bellotti pulled QB Dennis Dixon for Brady Leaf, whose comeback attempt was too little, too late.
· Oklahoma’s offense struggled pretty badly in its first game post-A.D., netting just 271 yards in a 24-3 win over Colorado. Fortunately for the Sooners, the Buffs’ offense returned to its anemic ways of earlier this season, managing just 113 yards.
· I had a feeling Idaho might give Boise State a run for its money, and sure enough, Dennis Erickson’s team got as close as 28-26 with 7:05 remaining before the Broncos pulled away. Boise State RB Ian Johnson turned in another huge game (27 carries, 183 yards, four TDs).
· One more crazy ending for you on a Saturday overflowing with them. Texas A&M – which is developing a Houdini-like escape ability – scored a touchdown with three seconds left to take Oklahoma State to overtime, then blocked the Cowboys’ extra point at the end of the first overtime to win the game.
Defensive end Bruce Davis and his UCLA teammates could not believe they let Notre Dame score with 27 seconds left.
Dramatic victories -- and, for the losers, excruciating defeats -- seem to be a recurring theme today. The noon ET hour brought us the biggest comeback in Division I-A history (Michigan State-Northwestern) and a game-winning field goal in a crucial Big 12 matchup (Texas-Nebraska) -- and that turned out to be just an appetizer for the rest of the afternoon.
Put yourself in the shoes of a UCLA fan right now. Not only were the Bruins less than a minute away from pulling off its most significant victory in years, but they got to that position with a remarkable defensive performance. UCLA -- less than a year removed from fielding the nation's 113th-ranked defense -- sacked Brady Quinn five times, held Notre Dame to 34 yards rushing and appeared headed to a 17-13 upset in South Bend. All of it rendered moot by one awful defensive breakdown.
Despite having successfully pressured Quinn all day, UCLA went with every fan's favorite, the prevent defense, when the Irish took over at their own 20 with 1:02 remaining. Two uncontested Quinn passes later, ND was at the Bruins' 45. On what would be the fatal play, UCLA nearly got to Quinn with a four-man rush, but he scrambled to his right and hit a streaking Jeff Samardzija, who not only slipped past the coverage but then juked the last possible UCLA tackler out of his shoes en route to a 45-yard touchdown.
Yep. In the blink of an eye, Quinn and Samardzija not only saved the game, they likely saved a BCS berth for the Irish, while Karl Dorrell and the Bruins saw a potential program-defining victory go up in smoke.
• The absence of star WR Mario Manningham has been glaring in Michigan's past two games. Just like last week's 17-10 win at Penn State, the Wolverines didn't play badly at all against Iowa on Saturday, and just like last week, the lack of a big plays made for an ugly, closer-than-expected outcome. But once again, Michigan's front seven was phenomenal, holding the Hawkeyes to 41 yards rushing.
• Another year, another ugly, defensive slugfest between rivals Tennessee and Alabama. The Tide defended the Vols better than any team all season, picking off QB Erik Ainge three times and holding the Vols without a touchdown for 57 minutes before Ainge engineered the go-ahead 70-yard drive. Give Alabama credit for another sterling defensive effort. Ainge overcame about as rough a start as imaginable to come out the hero yet again.
• Crazy ending alert: Florida State WR Greg Carr had his hands on QB Drew Weatherford's last-second Hail Mary pass into the back of the end zone, but Larry Anam came down with the interception to seal a 24-19 win for Boston College. The Eagles, in just their second year in the ACC, suddenly control their own destiny in the conference's Atlantic Division. Meanwhile, it's probably appropriate that the 'Noles wore all-black uniforms -- this is as dark a time for FSU football as I can remember. FSU, now 2-3 in the ACC, didn't even bother trying to run the ball. Weatherford handed the ball off eight times while attempting 48 passes.
• Crazy ending alert II: Washington QB Carl Bonnell's 40-yard Hail Mary into the end zone with no time remaining got tipped by two Cal defenders right into the hands of Huskies WR Marlon Wood, sending the game to overtime. An absolutely incredible play. The Bears rebounded in time to win 31-24.
• Crazy ending alert III: Baylor QB Shawn Bell threw three touchdowns over the final 9:22 -- including a 10-yarder to Dominique Ziegler with 1:08 remaining -- to rally the Bears from a 35-17 deficit to a 36-35 win over Kansas. That first-half outburst against Texas last week was no fluke, people. After struggling early in their transition to the Texas Tech passing offense, Bell (who threw for 394 yards Saturday) and Baylor are suddenly 4-4 -- 3-1 in the Big 12.
• Crazy ending alert IV: I-AA North Dakota State, down 10-9 to Minnesota with one second left, kicked a 43-yard field goal that would have given the Bison their first win ever against a Big Ten opponent -- and had it blocked.
Texas QB Colt McCoy did a fabulous job of avoiding pressure all day long.
Don’t worry, loyal readers: I didn’t shirk my regular responsibilities during the Blondie’s excursion. I was actually positioned in a perfect spot in the bar area (yes, I was drinking Coke, boss), where I could simultaneously watch Texas-Nebraska and keep an eye on Illinois-Penn State.
The game in Lincoln was kind of strange, actually, because for the most part, it felt like Texas controlled the contest, stuffing Nebraska’s running game and producing methodical drives. And yet, if not for a fumble recovery with 2:23 remaining, the ‘Horns likely would have lost the game.
Give the Huskers credit for remaining patient throughout and converting three huge plays: Maurice Purify’s 63-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter in which he sliced through two Texas defenders, Brandon Jackson’s 49-yard breakaway touchdown off a short pass early in the fourth quarter and Marlon Lucky’s perfectly executed halfback pass for a TD to Nate Swift to take the lead late. Those three plays alone, along with Texas’ inability to hit a field goal for much of the game, were almost enough to lift Nebraska to a huge victory.
But the star of this day was indisputably ‘Horns QB Colt McCoy. Defying the pressure and the hostile crowd -- not to mention a fourth-quarter blizzard -- McCoy continually kept drives alive with both his arm (25-of-39, 220 yards, two TDs, no INTs) and his ability to elude pressure, and he calmly led the game-winning drive at the end. Any McCoy skeptics that may have still been out there from the Ohio State game can now officially retire. The freshman is no longer a question mark.
Texas’ secondary, on the other hand -- yeesh.
∙ I’m warning you right now, if I get another e-mail(s) this week from a Penn State fan(s) up in arms about the Nittany Lions’ Top 25 absence, I’m going to forward it to the appropriate authorities, because it’s possible you may need to be committed. The final score said 26-12, but Illinois had the ball down just 17-12 with 1:20 remaining before Dan Connor sacked Juice Williams in the end zone for a safety and Anthony Scirroto returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. Penn State had 184 total yards and 10 first downs on the day.
∙ So much for the great Chuck Amato/N.C. State resurgence. Following Maryland’s 26-20 victory over the Wolfpack on Satuday, the newest resurgent ACC coach is Ralph Friedgen, whose previously struggling team is now 5-2.
∙ Georgia’s latest QB switch -- going back to heralded freshman Matthew Stafford -- did not solve the Dawgs’ woes. Stafford threw for 267 yards but he also had three picks as Georgia -- only a couple weeks removed from the Top 10 -- had to tough out a 27-24 win over woeful Mississippi State.
∙ Once again, undefeated Louisville did not look like a Top-10 team for much of its 28-13 win at Syracuse, but at least RB Kolby Smith lifted the Cardinals’ suffering running game. His 165-yard performance was Michael Bush-esque in the way he seemed to get stronger in the second half.
∙ Finally, if Duke’s last-second pass into the endzone had been caught by a Blue Devils receiver instead of Miami defensive back Willie Cooper, would Larry Coker have been told to find his own transportation home?
Like his teammates, Northwestern QB C.J. Bacher played a brilliantly for two-and-a-half quarters ...
One of the perils of covering college football for a living is that you lose touch with your inner-fan. After years of sitting in either a sterile press box or on the couch with a laptop open, you can’t help but watch every game -- no matter who the participants -- from a purely analytical, almost emotionless perspective.
Which is why, at least once a year, I make a pilgrimage to Blondie’s, a popular sports bar on New York’s Upper West Side, to watch with the people. But not just any people. Blondie’s happens to be the official gathering spot for alumni of several different schools, most notably my alma mater. The regulars -- a lot of them not that far removed from their undergrad years – go all out, wearing purple, singing the fight song and drinking purple shots after each touchdown.
For two-and-a-half quarters Saturday, the purple people of Blondie’s were doing a lot of both. Behind a new starting quarterback, sophomore C.J. Bacher, their team, which came into the game with a 2-5 record, repeatedly marched down the field to build an improbable 38-3 lead. Toasts were raised to the new quarterback of the future. The poor girl in the corner who gets lifted up in the air after each score looked ready to vomit after doing 38 “push-ups” -- about as many as she’d had to do the entire season to date. This, my friends, was the collective joy of victory, one of those inherent fan emotions I’ve been trained to repress.
As most of you already know, my alma mater is Northwestern. Part of being a Northwestern fan is that you learn from a young age (most often your freshman year) never to get your hopes too high -- and never to be assured of victory until the clock reads 0:00. But c’mon. At 38-3, you’re assured victory.
Earlier this week, SI.com’s Peter King called the Arizona Cardinals’ blown 22-3 lead against the Chicago Bears “one of the biggest choke jobs in sports history.” I have to confess, I went to bed early and missed it. But Saturday, I got to see nearly every moment of the biggest choke job in Division I-A history. That’s not hyperbole, by the way. Over the final 22 minutes of the second half, Michigan State -- the same team known for its own monumental collapses – mounted the biggest comeback in Division I-A history, producing four touchdown drives, returning a blocked kick for another touchdown and converting a last-second field goal to turn a 38-3 deficit into a historic, John L. Smith-job-saving 41-38 victory.
If you didn’t watch the game (as I’m assuming most of you didn’t) but heard about what happened, your initial reaction was presumably, “How on earth did that happen?” But here’s the thing about watching a game from the fan’s perspective. Not only can you answer that question, you could actually see the whole thing coming from the time the Spartans scored their second touchdown of the rally.
As you know, college football is a game of momentum. When the Wildcats were in the midst of their 38-point explosion, they could no wrong. Bacher was on fire. And because the Spartans’ defense had to contend with Bacher, suddenly RB Tyrell Sutton was running wild. The offense’s success seemed to be rubbing off on the defense, which continually stymied Michigan State QB Drew Stanton.
But once it got to 38-3, the offense backed off. Stanton started performing target practice on the suddenly helpless defense. When the Spartans got to 38-17, the Blondie’s crowd -- much like its team -- tightened up. Fans sat a little more rigidly on their bar stools. Conversations tapered off. People started paying closer attention. By the time the ‘Cats got their punt blocked to make it 38-24, you could tell by the looks on the fans’ faces they knew that, as improbable as a 35-point comeback might seem, that’s exactly what was going to end up happening.
Sure enough, Bacher would end up throwing a ghastly interception to set up the Spartans’ field goal with 18 seconds left.
You know that awkward feeling you get when you walk out of a dark theater into the sunlight of the parking lot after seeing a particularly intense movie? You’re still so caught up in the fictional reality of your past two-and-a-half hours that it takes a few minutes to actually return to the “real” world. This is what I thought of as I joined a pack of dazed Northwestern fans leaving the bar and walking out to the sunny sidewalk. All around us were the scenes of a beautiful Saturday afternoon in New York. Mothers pushing strollers. Women toting shopping bags. Couples walking hand-in-hand to the park.
Having reconnected with my inner-fan for three hours, I could tell by the annoyed looks on my compatriots’ faces exactly what they were thinking.
DON’T THESE FREAKING PEOPLE REALIZE NORTHWESTERN JUST BLEW A FRIGGIN’ 38-3 LEAD?? DO THEY HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THIS FEELS LIKE??????? YOU CAN ALL GO TO HELL!!!!!!
Colt McCoy is coming off a career game against Baylor when he threw for 275 yards and six touchdowns.
Tim Heitman/US PRESSWIRE
Here's an interesting little factoid for you: Texas has played seven games this season without leaving its home state. Furthermore, the 'Horns have yet to face an opposing team in its home stadium, having played five home games, a neutral-site game against Oklahoma (Dallas) and a "road" game against Rice at Houston's Reliant Stadium.
Both streaks will come to an end Saturday when Mack Brown's team visits Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, traditionally one of college football's harder venues for visiting teams (though Texas has won both its games there under Brown). It will be interesting to see how QB Colt McCoy, who has played at an extremely high level since losing to Ohio State, responds to his first truly hostile atmosphere. "Our kids play in front of 88,000 every week," said Brown. "They're used to big games."
Apparently the 'Horns haven't played in enough big games this season, because despite Texas beating the Sooners 28-10 and suffering its only defeat at the hands of No. 1 Ohio State, the BCS computers took one look at Texas' body of work so far and basically said, "Eh." Having beaten four teams ranked 71st or lower by the BCS (North Texas, Iowa State, Rice and Baylor) as well as a I-AA team (Sam Houston State), the 6-1 'Horns managed an average ranking of just 15th last week in the six computer ratings used by the BCS, saddling them at ninth in the overall standings.
It's hard to remember another recent defending national champion -- one that plays on national TV virtually every week -- seemingly flying under the radar like this Texas team. Yes, they were beaten fairly badly by Ohio State, but so has everybody else who's played the Buckeyes. Obviously, the 'Horns have a golden opportunity to rev up the computers Saturday if they win a road game against the 17th-ranked Huskers (6-1). As to whether that will impress humans like you and me, I suppose that depends on your opinion of Nebraska.
Is Bill Callahan's program finally approaching a return to Nebraska's days of dominance, as evidenced by their recent, workmanlike destructions of division foes Iowa State and Kansas State? Or is it still mired in the realm of good-but-not-great, as evidenced by a lackluster showing at USC and near-disastrous defensive collapse against Kansas? "You'd like to believe you're getting better," said Callahan. "But I don't think we've arrived by any means.
Before the season began, Nebraska fans, still riding the high of last winter's Alamo Bowl win over Michigan, looked at the schedule and pointed to the USC and Texas games -- matchups with both of last year's national-title participants -- as the Huskers' opportunity to prove they're "back." Obviously, Round One didn’t go as they'd hoped. Will Round Two be different?
I think Nebraska will put up more of a fight than it did in L.A. -- because it's playing at home and because it has more confidence -- but I would still consider it a major upset if the Huskers win. I say this not so much as an indictment against Nebraska, which has a powerful rushing attack (11th nationally), a solid quarterback (Zac Taylor) and an opportunistic defense, but because Texas, contrary to what the computers might tell you, is still very much among the elite teams nationally.
A lot of people were ready to write off the 'Horns after the Ohio State game, concluding that losing Vince Young was even more disastrous than anticipated. But each week since then, we've seen the coaches put more and more trust in McCoy, increasingly expanding his repertoire to take advantage of their playmakers at receiver. Last week against Baylor he went 21-of-32 for 275 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. I don't care if it was Baylor -- that's impressive.
But where Texas really made a statement was in the Oklahoma game, specifically on defense. If you recall, the 'Horns were down 10-7 at halftime but dominated the second half by holding Sooner star Adrian Peterson to a paltry 38 yards on 13 carries and forcing four straight turnovers. It's hard to imagine Nebraska will drive up and down the field on the 'Horns. Texas won't necessarily dominate offensively, either, but in a close game, all you need are a few big plays. The 'Horns still have a bevy of championship-level playmakers; the Huskers are still a couple away.
With players who will listen, Dave Wannstedt has enjoyed much success in his second season at Pitt.
Jason Bridge/US PRESSWIRE
By this point in the season, you'd like to think you have a pretty good grasp on how good a team is, particularly when that team is 6-1. But I have to admit, I still have no idea how good this year's Pittsburgh Panthers are -- and I'm not sure they do, either. "Maybe we're just getting lucky," joked quarterback Tyler Palko when I spoke with him last Sunday.
In Year Two of the Dave Wannstedt regime, Pitt has already won more games than it did all of last season, but the teams it has beaten have a combined record of 13-27. Their one loss came against 3-4 Michigan State. This weekend, however, the Panthers have a chance to prove themselves when they host undefeated, 19th-ranked Rutgers. Yes, it's true, Rutgers, which boasts the nation's second-ranked defense (221.3 yards per game) and fourth-leading rusher (Ray Rice), has become a measuring stick for other Big East teams. "We’ll find out this week what kind of football team we've got," said Wannstedt.
One thing we do know about Wannstedt's second Pitt team is that it fits the personality of its coach far more than last year's 5-6 train wreck. Suffice to say, you won't find a much starker contrast in philosophies than those of Pittsburgh native Wannstedt, a former Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins head coach who preaches old-school, conservative smash-mouth football, and the coach he replaced, Walt Harris, a West Coast passing guru whose teams ran a wide-open offense. It wasn't that long ago that Rod Rutherford and Larry Fitzgerald were lighting up the Heinz Field sky, and apparently Wannstedt's first team was reluctant to shed that identity. "There was a lack of trust with the new coaching staff," said Palko.
While declining to name individuals, it's clear Wannstedt didn't mind seeing some of last year's seniors move on. "The leadership of this [year's] team is solid," he said. "There's no individuals concerned with how many catches they're getting, how many runs, how many sacks. And that starts with Tyler Palko and H.B. Blades."
Indeed, Palko, who struggled in the new offense for much of last season, currently leads the nation in pass efficiency. In a Wannstedt-style offense, however, that doesn't mean he's throwing for 300 yards a game -- quite the contrary, he's had 172, 177 and 172 his past three outings. "When you look at the Ben Roethlisbergers, the Tom Bradys, it's all about moving your team down the field, not turning it over and finding a way to get your team in the end zone," said Wannstedt. "That’s what he’s doing."
Blades, meanwhile, continues to show why he's one of the nation's premier linebackers, ranking fourth nationally in tackles (78), while cornerback Darrelle Revis has returned two interceptions for touchdowns for the nation's 11th-ranked scoring defense (13.3 points per game).
But now it's time to find out how the Panthers measure up against the Big East's "big three," Rutgers, West Virginia (Nov. 16) and Louisville (Nov. 25), all of whom come to Heinz Field. Personally, I'm still skeptical. I think it may be another year or two before Wannstedt -- who has recruited extremely well so far -- is truly able to mold the team to his liking. He seems determined to stick to his run-first ways, even though Pitt didn't run the ball particularly well prior to its past two games.
He could certainly win me over this weekend, however. If ever there was a time for the Panthers to display their newfound physicality, it will be Saturday. The running game will be tested by the nation's 10th-ranked rushing defense. Blades and Co. will be tested by Rutgers' backfield tandem of Rice and fullback Brian Leonard. By the time it's over, we really will know what kind of a team Pitt has.
A brawl of this magnitude deserves more than just a one-game suspension.
Marc Serota/Getty Images
I've been doing this Blog for about three months now, and what I'm about to write may qualify as my first true Angry Blog Post. I can't help it. I'm ticked.
While sitting at my gate at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport this morning, I noticed that CNN Headline News was showing the clip of the Miami-FIU brawl seemingly every 10 minutes, as a news story, as a sports story and as a tease going into commercial. I watched as many of the travelers around me -- from businessmen to grandmothers to foreign tourists -- turned and looked, several of them gaping in amazement. And I realized that for most of these people, who may or may not even be sports fans, this was probably their only glimpse into college football this weekend -- perhaps even this season.
They didn't experience the thrill of a prime-time SEC showdown at Jordan-Hare. They have no idea 100,000 people packed into Beaver Stadium to cheer an American icon. They're not privy to the sheer joy felt on the campuses of Vanderbilt and Indiana following monumental upsets. All they know is that two college teams in South Florida staged a full-scale street riot in the middle of a football game.
Saturday night's fiasco was a complete disgrace to college football -- but that's only part of the reason I'm so angry. No, I'm furious and downright baffled as to how administrators at Miami and the ACC -- the very people that should be most embarrassed by this -- feel that a one-game suspension against Duke is an appropriate punishment for the participants.
In announcing the suspensions of 13 Miami players Sunday, ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement: "These suspensions send a clear and definitive message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated."
All you sent was a clear and definitive message that you were in such a hurry to release that statement and start spinning the story from the fight itself to the punishments that you never stopped to consider that this incident can't be treated the same as a regular fight. This was one of the worst displays of sportsmanship in the history of the sport -- and for that the players are going to miss one game? Against Duke??
Let's stop and think about this for a second. When Clemson and South Carolina had a similar incident in their game two years ago, the schools voluntarily banned themselves from their bowl games. Yes, the players only missed one game -- but they also missed the entire week of festivities that go with it, not to mention for the seniors it would have been the last game of their careers. Do you think Miami's players even care whether they get to play against Duke? Some of them are probably thrilled not to have to make the trip. They get a weekend off to relax at home.
I realize Miami can't control who's next on its schedule. And it would be an insult to Duke to say, "They're going to play this week, and then we're going to suspend them." That doesn't really matter, though, because several of the players -- in particular Brandon Merriweather (who stomped on an FIU player) and Anthony Reddick (who used his helmet as a weapon) -- should be sidelined for multiple games. If Miami really wanted to send a message, it would do something even more drastic, like forfeit games or ban itself from the postseason.
You want to know why that's not happening? Because there are a lot of people in the Miami community today who think most of the players didn't do anything wrong. Seriously. Read some of the postgame quotes from players like Kyle Wright. Listen to former 'Cane Lamar Thomas' ridiculous rant during the game broadcast. Read some of the comments from Miami fans on my own blog. Their message is the same: FIU instigated the whole thing; we had no choice but to defend ourselves; you'd do the same thing, too.
Here's the deal: I don't care that FIU started it. Do you know why? Because personally, I don't even care that FIU has a football team. I'm pretty sure the rest of the country feels the same way. FIU could cut its football program tomorrow and I'm not sure the headline would even make the front of SI.com.
Miami is held to a higher standard because Miami has set a higher standard. The 'Canes have won five national titles in 23 years. They play on national television as often as any program outside of Notre Dame. Right or wrong, they are one of the elite programs that represents college football to the rest of the country. And they just screwed it up for everyone else.
UPDATE: At about 5 p.m. today, the ACC announced it had extended Anthony Reddick's suspension to "indefinite" and that "additional disciplinary measures will be taken for all involved players, including community service and other unspecified actions."
Tre Smith and Auburn have jumped back into the title chase.
Marvin Gentry/US PRESSWIRE
1) Apparently, the SEC’s national-title hopes aren’t dead after all.
As expected, 7-0 Ohio State, 6-0 USC and 7-0 Michigan were 1-2-3 in the first BCS standings of the season released Sunday. Since the Buckeyes and Wolverines play each other, all three undefeated teams control their own destiny on the road to Glendale.
The surprise, however, is who’s next in line should the Trojans, or both the Buckeyes and Wolverines, stumble: 6-1 Auburn. That’s right, the same Auburn team that fell 27-10 to Arkansas a little over a week ago debuted at No. 4 in the standings, ahead of undefeated Big East teams West Virginia and Louisville. Furthermore, Florida (6-1), the team Auburn beat last night, checks in at No. 6.
Apparently, the BCS computers -- which represent one-third of a team’s standing -- agree with Tommy Tuberville and others who contend that a one-loss team in this year’s arduous SEC shouldn’t be penalized as heavily in the national-title race. Tuberville’s team stands seventh in the two human polls used by the BCS (Coaches and Harris) but garnered an average of fifth in the computer polls. Florida, meanwhile, ranks fourth in the computers compared with ninth and 10th in the human polls. The Tigers (which beat LSU and Florida) and Gators (Tennessee and LSU), along with USC, are the only teams in the country with two wins over BCS top-20 teams.
When I spoke with CollegeBCS.com's Jerry Palm -- the reigning authority on BCS math -- shortly after the standings were released, he said the Tigers' lofty standing is likely temporary. "Auburn will get passed sooner than later," said Palm. "West Virginia is buried in the computers right now because it hasn't played the heart of its Big East schedule. Same with Louisville."
Meanwhile, the BCS computers are killing defending champion Texas (6-1), giving the ‘Horns an average ranking of 15th -- 10 spots lower than their standing in the human polls -- and their isn't as much hope of relief. Texas is stuck at ninth in the BCS standings, behind the two SEC teams, No. 5 West Virginia (6-0), No. 7 Louisville (6-0) and No. 8 Notre Dame (5-1). Games against North Texas, Sam Houston State, Rice and Baylor are apparently weighing down Mack Brown’s team, seeing as it also played the No. 1 team in the standings, Ohio State.
"[Texas' computer ranking] is going to get better, but not that much better, because their conference isn't that good," said Palm. "I doubt they'd pass a one-loss SEC team."
If the Ohio State-Michigan winner and USC both finish undefeated, the order beyond No. 3 won’t make a bit of difference. If, however, USC loses along the way -- which seems increasingly likely with each week that goes by -- you can already see the potential controversy brewing, and it’s the same one that many were speculating about before the season even began: Will an undefeated Big East team get passed up in favor of a one-loss SEC team?
Obviously, it will depend first and foremost on whether the Tigers or Gators can survive their remaining slate -- including a potential SEC title-game rematch if Arkansas slips -- unscathed. But we’ll also have to wait and see what kind of boost the Nov. 2 West Virginia-Louisville winner receives from their game. Both teams also face undefeated Rutgers, currently 16th in the standings.
As Palm noted, if, say, both Florida and West Virginia run the table, the pollsters would likely have the final say as to whether the one-loss Gators, having played one of the most grueling schedules in the country, should pass the undefeated Mountaineers, because the computer difference by then should be negligible.
One other item of note: Boise State (6-0) debuted at No. 15 in the standings, which means if the Broncos keep winning, they’ll need only to make up three spots over the next seven weeks to be guaranteed a BCS at-large berth under the new qualification rules. That's not as easy as it sounds.
Currently, Boise has a computer average of 11th while placing 17th and 18th in the human polls. Palm said the Broncos have likely peaked in the computers and will need to make up ground with the voters. "To finish in the top 12, they're likely going to have to be in the top 12 in the polls," said Palm.
Tyler Palko, the nation's leading passer, has led Pittsburgh to a 6-1 start.
Jason Bridge/US PRESSWIRE
1) That Miami’s players have thrown pride out the window: Yes, the replays show that two Florida International players were responsible for starting Saturday night’s riot at the Orange Bowl. But come on --- you're Miami, the "U," the most dominant program of the past two decades, and you allow yourself to be drawn into a bench-clearing melee with FIU? It's barely a I-A program. The fiasco may have started as a defense of their attacked teammate, but you never would have seen the violent barrage of helmet-wielding, foot-stomping and body-slamming that followed from the Ken Dorsey/Dan Morgan/Ed Reed-era 'Canes. The current edition seems to be going out of its way to bring embarrassment to its predecessors.
2) That the Big East isn't a two-team league any more: Yes, West Virginia and Louisville remain the cream of the crop in the rebuilt conference. But you know what? Rutgers (6-0), which not only has running back Ray Rice but also beat Navy on Saturday with defense and a passing game, is perfectly capable of knocking off either. Pittsburgh (6-1), with the nation's leading passer, Tyler Palko, is capable of knocking off the Scarlet Knights this Saturday. And Cincinnati (3-4), which came dangerously close to knocking off Louisville, and USF (5-2) are perfectly capable of pulling off a major upset at some point. It's going to be a heck of a race.
3) That Oklahoma is on the wrong end of some kind of karmic backswing:Bob Stoops' program used to live such a charmed life -- especially when it came to the BCS -- but this year's Sooners can't seem to buy a break. First the starting quarterback gets kicked off the team a month before the season. Then they fall victim to one of the biggest officiating snafus in recent history. And now, their heart and soul, Adrian Peterson, has possibly played his last game in an OU uniform. I'd say it couldn't get any worse, but have you seen the Sooners' current QB candidates for next season?
4) That there's one heck of a receiver playing down the road in Stillwater: If you don't know the name Adarius Bowman, you should now. Saturday night against Kansas, the Oklahoma State flanker caught 13 passes for a Big 12-record 300 yards and four touchdowns. It was the 11th-highest receiving yardage in NCAA history. "He gets my vote for the Heisman," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said afterward. Bowman, a transfer from North Carolina (where he had off-the-field problems), immediately jumped to the top of the national receiving chart (123.8 yards per game) by a considerable margin.
5) That the Auburn replay booth is not kind to visitors: If you watch the slow-motion replay of Chris Leak's costly fumble Saturday night, it does appear that he had released the ball just before contact. Did it rise to the level of "indisputable evidence?" That I don't know. I do know, however, that such a huge play was seemingly worthy of a serious review. I've sat in stadiums where they spent five minutes reviewing a seemingly obvious call, yet last night's "review" lasted about 45 seconds before the call was upheld by replay official Al Ford. And remember, LSU also found itself on the wrong end of two controversial replay calls in its close loss at Auburn last month.