SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
11/11/2006 11:34:00 PM
Saturday Observations Part III
Kyle Williams (right) and the Wildcats knocked Selvin Young and Texas out of the title hunt.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- You wanted a BCS shakeup? You got it. In terms of postseason ramifications, I can only think of one Saturday in the BCS era that rivaled this one -- and that was the last day of the season in 1998, when undefeated UCLA and Kansas State went down.
Auburn? Out. Cal? Done. Texas? Sayonara.
Florida? Still alive … but very badly burned. Ditto Boise State's at-large hopes.
And let's not forget Louisville's loss to Rutgers two nights ago which opened the door for this whole one-loss rat race in the first place. (Speaking of which, I would think Rutgers is now going to rise a lot higher in the polls than I originally anticipated.)
Where to begin?
· I must confess, I was not overly familiar with first-year Kansas State coach Ron Prince before tonight, but he earned my respect in a big way against Texas. Knowing full well the 'Horns secondary had been shaky this season, Prince flat-out attacked them Saturday night despite starting a freshman quarterback (Josh Freeman).
In one particularly bold sequence in the third quarter, K-State ran consecutive halfback passes (the first one was technically from a receiver) that went for 28 yards and an 18-yard touchdown. Obviously, losing QB Colt McCoy in the first quarter hurt Texas –- but it didn't cause the 'Horns to give up 45 points.
· It pains me that I did not get to see the end of the South Carolina-Florida game live. Considering what was at stake –- not only would Florida's national title hopes have been dashed, but Urban Meyer would have had to face 365 days of listening to how Steve Spurrier owns him -– you don't get a much bigger field-goal block than that.
Give the Gators credit for pulling it out, but their performance just confirms what I've been saying the past couple weeks that Florida is hanging on for dear life at this point. The two-QB system worked to perfection on their game-winning drive, with Tim Tebow coming in for the key fourth-down conversion and touchdown run, but would you take the Gators over Arkansas right now?
· Of course you wouldn't, because the Razorbacks are the hottest one-loss team in the country –- and Darren McFadden has got to be climbing up that Heisman chart. What a tremendous big-game performance the sophomore had against Tennessee: 30 carries for 181 yards (the overwhelming majority of it before halftime) -- and he threw a 12-yard touchdown as well.
· What a wild two weeks it's been in Tucson. Arizona, seemingly headed toward its third straight mediocre season under Mike Stoops, turns around and beats Washington State and Cal in consecutive weeks to put itself in position for a potential bowl berth. You've got to feel for Bears QB Nate Longshore, who's had a fantastic season but threw three critical interceptions Saturday. The good news is he has a chance to redeem himself in a bg way next week against USC.
· Boise State raised and then crushed the hopes of other BCS at-large aspirants with its dramatic comeback to beat San Jose State. Anthony Montgomery's 37-yard field goal with four seconds left preserved the Broncos' undefeated record. Had they lost, the Fiesta Bowl suddenly would have been wide open.
· Nebraska wrapped up the Big 12 North and added to Texas A&M's season of heartbreak on Zac Taylor's touchdown pass with nine seconds left. The Aggies trailed 21-10 at halftime, rallied back to take a 27-21 lead, then lost on that play. If you recall, A&M also lost to Texas Tech on a last-second touchdown and lost to Oklahoma last week when the Sooners converted that late fourth down.
· I give Miami all the credit in the world for fighting to the finish against Maryland today, just five days removed from the murder of Bryan Pata. The 'Canes fell behind 14-0 early in the second quarter but eventually crawled back to 14-13 behind backup QB Kirby Freeman. With the win, the Terps keep pace with Wake Forest at the top of the ACC Atlantic; the two meet on Nov. 25.
· You never know what will happen on any given week in the Pac-10. Not only did Arizona beat Cal, but UCLA, which looked awful the past few weeks, routed Oregon State, which came in on fire. And Stanford gets its first win in convincing fashion, 20-3 over Washington.
· Well, now we know: Xavier Lee was not the answer. By the way, remind me to stop doubting Wake Forest.
Mike Hart and the Wolverines are firing on all cylinders a week before The Game.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Apparently, Ohio State and Michigan got the blahs out of their systems last week.
The Wolverines controlled the first half here fairly easily. Mike Hart is running the ball well, and, with the exception of an interception in the end zone, Chad Henne has looked better than he has in weeks. His 62-yard touchdown pass to Steve Breaston – in which he looked off Mario Manningham on his left, then went deep down the right sideline – was exactly the kind of big play Michigan’s offense has been missing in recent weeks.
Defensively, Michigan’s front four has been dominant as always, though sometimes to their hindrance, as athletic Hoosiers QB Kellen Lewis has been able to elude the pressure a few times and break off decent runs. But with Leon Hall and the secondary keeping star WR James Hardy bottled up, Lewis hasn’t been able to manage anything but underneath stuff in the passing game.
I’ve also been keeping an eye on the Ohio State-Northwestern game on GamePlan. The Wildcats might have been able to make it a game had they not turned it over four times in the first half. The Buckeyes’ defense hasn’t looked great. But Troy Smith is back to being Troy Smith. His 34-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn. Jr. right before the half was a thing of beauty.
∙ One developing story to keep an eye on: SMU (5-4) is beating Conference USA leader Houston 24-14 at halftime. If the Mustangs pull it out, they’ll be bowl eligible for the first time since 1997. Thanks to the presence of four bowl games with C-USA ties (including one in Fort Worth), SMU would be assured of its first bowl trip since its pre-death penalty days (the 1984 Aloha Bowl).
Georgia finally gave its fans something to really cheer about.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- I told you last week to expect some of these one-loss teams to start falling. And I’d been harping for weeks that offensively challenged Auburn was overrated. Saturday, those two prophecies collided -- but never in a million years would I have predicted that.
Give Georgia coach Mark Richt tremendous credit for digging his team out of the depths of an absolutely nightmarish past month to produce a big-time win, one that will certainly help salvage what was shaping up to be a disastrous season. The Dawgs’ defense rose to the occasion and, most importantly, freshman QB Matthew Stafford finally had the breakthrough performance Dawgs fans have been waiting for.
But what happened to Auburn? This is twice now that the Tigers have laid an egg in front of their home crowd. It’s obvious that their offensive line is a real Achilles heel this year. Kenny Irons hasn’t been able to really get off, and Brandon Cox, under heavy pressure, threw four interceptions Saturday in an absolutely horrendous performance.
This was the first of what I expect to be several upcoming upsets with BCS ramifications. Not only does this one eliminate Auburn from the national-title picture, it also leaves the SEC with little chance of sending a second team to the BCS. The only possible one-loss team now is the conference champion. I suppose it’s possible the Orange or Sugar (if it loses the SEC champ to the title game) might consider a two-loss Tennessee or LSU team, but between the Ohio State-Michigan loser, Boise State and, most likely, Notre Dame, there might only be one at-large berth in play.
∙ Covering Michigan-Indiana to catch the Wolverines one last time before The Game, this is definitely not a typical college football Saturday for me. Two-and-a-half hours before kickoff, I pulled into a three-quarters empty parking lot. And there are more people in this press box talking about last night’s IU exhibition basketball game (there’s panic in the air – apparently the Hoosiers didn’t look so good) than today’s football game. And as I write this, it’s 15 minutes before kickoff and there are entire sections of Memorial Stadium that are empty (it’s also miserably cold).
∙ There are certainly a lot of fine candidates for national coach of the year this season – Rutgers’ Greg Schiano and Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe are right at the top of the list – but can we just take a moment and admire what Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema has accomplished this season? The 36-year-old, first-year head coach is about to lead the Badgers to an 11-win season, something his accomplished predecessor, Barry Alvarez, only did once. Yes, it’s come against an incredibly favorable schedule, but it’s still nothing short of remarkable.
∙ Good to see Steve Slaton put the Louisville fumble debacle behind him and get right back on track Saturday against Cincinnati. The sophomore ran for 148 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries.
∙ They were chanting “Fire Mason” at the Metrodome just a couple weeks ago. Don’t look now, but if Minnesota can beat reeling Iowa in their home finale next week, the Gophers (5-6) -- 2-5 and struggling to hold off North Dakota State just a few weeks back -- will be bowl-eligible.
∙ Finally, Georgia Tech won 7-0 at 1-9 North Carolina, as Reggie Ball threw for 78 yards. And to think -- the ACC Coastal champion Jackets (8-2) are as close to a BCS berth as anyone right now.
Jeremy Ito and the Scarlet Knights had a night to remember last Thursday.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It’s Saturday morning, and while I know I’m supposed to be getting amped for Tennessee-Arkansas, USC-Oregon and the like, a part of me has yet to leave last Thursday night in Piscataway, N.J.
I’ve covered a lot of big games in a lot of great atmospheres – including national championships and Final Fours – and that Louisville-Rutgers game figures to rank right up there among the most memorable. It wasn’t just the dramatic ending. I wish I could properly describe the sheer amount of joy pumping through that manic on-field celebration afterward. A lot of Rutgers people have waited a long, long, long time for a night like that.
Now that it’s happened, I don’t know if any of them have yet to grasp it. The Rutgers story has now captivated New York City, which is saying something. The guys on WFAN, the big New York sports-talk station, never talk about college football. They’ve been talking about Rutgers non-stop for two days. Walking through Laguardia airport yesterday, I looked up and saw Rutgers highlights playing on a TV. I’ve never seen that before, either.
But obviously, the ramifications of Rutgers’ win stretches well beyond the New York/New Jersey area. It’s created an absolutely chaotic race for what is expected to be the second spot in the national title game alongside the Ohio State-Michigan winner. Last night, I sat down and tried to make sense of the current jumble of one-loss teams. Here’s what I came up with:
∙ First in line is Texas, mainly because of an-old time poll truism: The Longhorns lost early. If Texas wins out (including the Big 12 title game), my guess is they’ll be No. 2 in the final standings. Now, If they lose …
∙ Next in line would be the SEC champion, presuming that team only has one loss. Florida and Auburn are close together, and Arkansas has a chance to rise significantly if it manages to beat Tennessee, LSU and Florida over the next month. The interesting thing here is that Auburn could sneak in without even winning its division, considering the Tigers are already way up at No. 5 in the polls.
∙ Next in line would be the Cal-USC winner, again assuming that team finishes without another loss. There will probably be some sentiment for Cal, seeing as the Bears haven’t lost since the first week of the season, but the way I look at it is: The team they got crushed by, Tennessee, is shaping up to be the fourth- or fifth-place team in the SEC. So why not take that league’s champion over Cal? I suppose you could make a similar argument in favor of USC if Arkansas wins the SEC, but the Trojans lost much more recently, and to a three-loss Oregon State team.
∙ If all the teams in the above scenarios pick up a second loss, then I could see the Ohio State-Michigan loser making it into the game. A few weeks back I thought this was a completely unrealistic scenario, but not so much anymore.
∙ So where is Rutgers in all this? Listening to the radio yesterday, even Rutgers fans aren’t under the delusion that their team should be mentioned in the discussion just yet. It was one thing to argue for Louisville, which, in addition to its Big East schedule, had played a good non-conference schedule, but the Scarlet Knights played some awful teams. I don’t blame Rutgers – at the time it made the schedule, I’m sure it was just hoping for six wins.
My guess is Rutgers will move into the bottom of the Top 10 this week, somewhere in the 8-10 range. It’s hard to see them moving all the way up to No. 2 by the end of the season. However, if an undefeated Rutgers team wins at West Virginia the last week of the season and, say, Florida loses in the SEC title game and Texas loses in the Big 12 title game, maybe the voters will say, why not? Again, however, in that scenario, I see the Ohio State-Michigan loser getting in before Rutgers.
All right … now watch some of these teams go out and lose today. Because I’m on assignment at the Michigan-Indiana game, I won’t be able to Blog as frequently as usual today, but I’ll try to get at least a couple entries in.
Miami's season has already been a difficult one, but now the Hurricanes must deal with true tragedy.
Joel Auerbach/US PRESSWIRE
Last Sunday, one of my “Five Things We Learned This Weekend” was that “it’s getting to be beyond ugly in Miami.” Beyond calling for coach Larry Coker’s head, after last Saturday night’s loss to Virginia Tech, some fans at the Orange Bowl spit at and poured beer on Hurricanes players as they ran into the tunnel. This, of course, came just a few weeks after the controversial brawl with Florida International.
All of that suddenly seems inconsequential.
Miami defensive lineman Bryan Pata, a three-year starter and one of the most revered players on the team, was shot and killed outside his apartment complex on Tuesday night. In an incomprehensibly sad scene observed by the Miami Herald, the player’s mother, Ronette Pata, wearing her son’s No. 95 jersey, jumped out of a Lexus that had arrived outside the police line about 9:30 p.m. last night and screamed, ''My baby! My baby!'' before collapsing into the arms of a Miami-Dade detective.
“We all know that [football is just a game], but this just magnifies it,” a remarkably composed Coker said in Wednesday morning’s ACC teleconference. “It was so gratifying seeing Bryan so close to getting his degree, possibly having a chance to play at the next level. All of that is wiped out in an instant.”
Sadly, the Miami football community is no stranger to tragedy. Two former players, Al Blades and Chris Campbell, died in car accidents just a few years ago. And in 1996, linebacker Marlin Barnes was the victim of a gruesome murder at his on-campus apartment. “We’ve been through this,” said Coker. “We’ve got a great network in place.”
Still, I can’t even begin to imagine what Miami’s players are going through right now. On Tuesday afternoon, Pata was practicing right alongside them. A few hours later, he was gone. “Last night, everyone was in shock and disbelief,” said Coker. “Today is a day of reality. No. 95 won’t be at his locker. No. 95 won’t be in the stretch line.”
This team has already been through an emotionally wrenching season, and now it must deal with the ultimate trauma -- and somehow turn around and play a game Saturday at Maryland. All of the football-related questions that have hovered over the program the past few months are still out there, but you can put them on the back-burner for now. Win or lose, the next few weeks for Miami will be all about grieving.
“We’ve had some bad things happen, and the season hasn’t been the season we hoped it would be, but at the University of Miami, we can handle it,” said Coker. “Losing a game’s not a tragedy; this is a tragedy.”
Darren McFadden torched South Carolina for 219 yards and two TDs on Saturday.
1) That the best team in the SEC right now is Arkansas: Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt pulled QB Mitch Mustain after one throw -- an interception – Saturday night against South Carolina, and the Hogs never missed a beat. Casey Dick came and proceeded to throw for 229 yards (192 of them to WR Marcus Monk), Darren McFadden ran for 219 and Darrius Vinnett picked off Blake Mitchell to thwart the Gamecocks’ late rally. I still think Florida is the best overall team in the SEC (though DT Marcus Thomas’ dismissal is a huge blow), but the Gators aren’t playing well; the Razorbacks are.
2) That no one wants to win the Heisman: When Adrian Peterson got hurt a few weeks back, the door opened for any number of other contenders to challenge Troy Smith. And who’s heeded the call? Umm … I still think Steve Slaton is one of the three best players in the country, but he likely fumbled away his chances -- literally -- against Louisville. Garrett Wolfe has fallen off the face of the earth. Calvin Johnson killed himself with that zero-catch game. Even Smith himself has gone into hibernation the past couple weeks. If I had to vote today, my top three would be Smith, Brady Quinn and Colt McCoy -- which is saying something, considering the latter two, while they’ve gone on to have great seasons, went belly-up in their biggest games of the year back in September.
3) That a possible Ohio State-Texas rematch might not be far-fetched after all: A week after struggling defensively against Texas Tech, the ‘Horns couldn’t have been more impressive in shutting down Oklahoma State. The Cowboys -- which, thanks to the dynamic passing group of QB Bobby Reid and WRs Adarius Bowman and D’Juan Woods, had put up 496 yards on Nebraska a week earlier -- managed just 203 yards of offense in 36-10 loss in Austin. Texas isn’t out of the woods yet, but it will certainly be favored in all its remaining games. If Louisville loses at Rutgers this week and if Florida trips up at some point, guess who’s probably next in line for Glendale?
4) That the Big Ten has three good teams and then … blech: The standings right now say the conference’s No. 5 team is Purdue. Purdue? The Boilers have scored a combined 20 points their past three games and lost by 30 to Iowa. That was back when the Hawkeyes were a top-15 team, before they lost to both Indiana and Northwestern. Well at least these aren’t the same old Hoosiers … oh wait, maybe they are. They lost 63-26 to Minnesota on Saturday. The Gophers, by the way, are one of four league teams tied at 1-5 in the conference. As exciting as it is for the Big Ten to have the top two teams in the country, its four through 11 teams this year are as bad as any I can remember.
5) That it’s getting to be beyond ugly in Miami: The ‘Canes managed to lose to Virginia Tech on Saturday night despite holding the Hokies to 109 yards. It’s no secret Larry Coker is on life support at this point, but now Miami fans are going after QB Kyle Wright as well. As the junior quarterback walked off the Orange Bowl field Saturday night, he was met with boos and taunts of “Go back to California.” At that point, the player’s father, Ken, who was also on the field, got into a shouting match with the fans, with AD Paul Dee intervening and security escorting Ken Wright out of the area. I know it’s been a nightmare season for Miami, but it’s hard to believe it’s come to this.
UPDATE: The missing Blog post from yesterday has been restored.