SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
11/24/2007 09:47:00 PM
Halftime: Missouri 14, Kansas 0
Chase Daniel was 21-of-26 for 167 yards and two TDs in the first half.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -– The team that never makes mistakes made a host of them in the first half here Saturday. That No. 2 Kansas only trailed No. 4 Missouri 14-0 at halftime was due in large part to the Tigers’ own self-inflicted wounds.
After an unexpectedly slow start for both teams’ offenses -– the game’s first six possessions resulted in five punts and a turnover on downs -– Missouri QB Chase Daniel (21-of-26 for 167 yards and two TDs) began heating up, leading the Tigers on consecutive touchdown drives. Kansas aided the cause, however, with QB Todd Reesing throwing an interception just shy of Missouri’s end zone (his first pick in 213 attempts) setting up the Tigers’ second scoring drive, and a defensive holding flag on third and 12 keeping the drive alive.
For the most part, however, that 13-play, 98-yard drive was an example of Daniel at his finest. On his second touchdown pass, he eluded a pass-rusher, scrambled for what seemed like forever, then fired a dart to receiver Danario Alexander for an 11-yard score.
Missouri blew a chance to pad its lead when, on fourth-and-1 at the Kansas 46 late in the half, Daniel attempted an inside screen pass to tight end Martin Rucker, much like the play on which Rucker scored the Tigers’ first TD. The Jayhawks stopped it for a loss.
For Kansas to rally in the second half, they’re going to need to find a way to slow down Missouri’s offense while getting its own on track. In particular, the Jayhawks could desperately use more production from its running game, which netted just 13 yards on 10 attempts. Missouri outgained the Jayhawks 272 to 139 in total offense in the first half.
Again, it’s a wonder Kansas is not down by more.
There was a slightly awkward moment at the end of the half. Both teams exit the field through the same corner tunnel, and officials tried to hold Missouri’s players back until all Kansas personnel had made it through. However, coach Mark Mangino was held up doing an interview with ABC, causing the Tigers to wait for quite some time. They eventually decided to stop waiting, with the team pouring in just as Mangino was running off the field as well.
NOTE: Check back later tonight for a full Inside College Football column from the game.
Erik Ainge threw seven touchdown passes in leading Tennessee to an SEC title game berth.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Arrowhead Stadium might not be either Kansas or Missouri’s regular venue, but that didn’t stop the teams' fans from making themselves at home.
The parking lots were packed as far as the eye could see when I arrived here about three hours before kickoff, with Jayhawks and Tigers fans both chowing down on tailgate delicacies while cowered under blankets and sweaters (it’s already below 40 degrees here). Alumni associations from both schools had taken over (presumably heated) tents in the parking lot for organized parties.
One sign we’re in the Midwest: On my walk to the stadium, I had to be careful to avoid disrupting more than a couple games of "cornhole."
My highly unscientific observation was that the fan split is about 60-40 Kansas, which makes sense since the Jayhawks are the home team and therefore received more tickets. My other observation: it’s going to be freaking cold here, tonight. Not that these teams aren’t used to it.
• The SEC has turned out to be vastly overrated as a whole, but the league’s been second to none this season in the department of crazy endings.
It seems only fitting that Tennessee -- 59-20 loser to Florida, 41-17 loser to Alabama -- earned its trip to the conference championship game in a frantic, four-overtime 52-50 thriller in which quarterbacks Erik Ainge and Andre Woodson combined for 13 passing touchdowns. On the heels of last week’s last-second drama to beat Vanderbilt, the Vols (9-3) not only put themselves in position for an improbable BCS berth -- they screwed up a lot of other peoples’ plans.
It’s long been believed that Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton was leaning toward ousting longtime coach Phillip Fulmer after the season -- but that may no longer be possible. Meanwhile, Georgia (10-2), which beat Georgia Tech for a seventh straight year Saturday, missed out on its anticipated SEC title date with Tennessee while possibly locking up a BCS at-large berth.
On the other hand, Tennessee’s win may have killed the Bulldogs’ slim remaining national title hopes. While it’s still entirely possible we’ll see a two-loss team in the title game, I doubt the voters would be inclined to tab a team that did not even win its division. If Oklahoma wins the Big 12 title game next week, the Sooners would be 11-2 and the most likely team to leapfrog Georgia.
• Think West Virginia might be gunning for that No. 1 ranking? Think the Mountaineers may have heard a bit too much chatter this week about their BCS unworthiness? Pat White and Co. didn’t just beat 9-2 Connecticut on Saturday -- they humiliated the Huskies 66-21. The Mountaineers racked up 517 rushing yards against the nation’s 21st-rated defense.
I know there are no guarantees about anything this season, but with only 4-7 Pittsburgh remaining (at home), West Virginia is closer than anyone right now to locking up a national-title spot.
• Dennis Dixon’s value is becoming more and more appreciated in his absence. How badly does Oregon miss its do-everything quarterback? One of the nation’s most powerful offenses all season got shut out 16-0 by UCLA. Ouch.
• Congratulations to BYU on wrapping up its second straight Mountain West title with a 17-10 Holy War win over Utah. The Cougars are going to be very good for a very long time -- after losing star QB John Beck to the NFL, they got it done this year with an extremely young offense.
• Finally, who else got a kick out of watching Florida State’s Gary Cismesia nail a line-drive, 60-yard field goal before halftime against Florida? The cameras flashed to Bobby Bowden smiling as wide as if he’d just won the national championship, no doubt thinking, Where was that when we used to play Miami?
Missouri fans have never experienced a Border War of this magnitude.
Scott Sewell/Icon SMI
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- So, I tried diligently to provide you guys a taste of the pregame Border War “scene” here, but unfortunately, I’ve not had much luck. Presumably, there are 80,000 Kansas and Missouri fans in this town right now, but either they’re not staying downtown or they’re already at the stadium.
I ended up at McFadden’s Sports Saloon, a brand-new (two weeks old) sports bar across the street from the brand new Sprint Center (a basketball arena without a basketball team), where there are a healthy amount of both Kansas and Missouri fans. The scene, however, could best be described as “tame.”
I’ve heard no smack-talking. I’ve heard no cheering. Mostly, people are just eating and drinking in close proximity to each other.
I did, however, happen to sit down at the bar next to an impressively dressed Tigers fan. Mizzou grad Tara Taylor is wearing a Tiger-striped faux vinyl jacket over a customized T-shirt bearing the message “Mizzou/MU Rules/KU Drools.” When I asked why everybody was so subdued, Tara said, “I’m trying to be nice and bring good karma to my team.”
I just think neither Jayhawks nor Tigers fans have ever been in this position before, and they don’t want to jinx it.
Tara and her friends were in agreement, however, that the scene will likely be much nastier in the Arrowhead Stadium parking lot tonight. From the articles I read this week, I don’t think the stadium’s security personnel have any idea what they’re in for. Combine fans of two bitter rivals in a game of such extreme stakes at a stadium where they sell beer inside -- if that’s not a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is …
• I had a bad dream last night that I woke up and the only thing on TV was ACC football … oh wait, that wasn’t a dream.
• Boy did Virginia Tech’s offense come to play today. QB Sean Glennon (13-of-19, 260 yards, one TD) played arguably the best game of his career, constantly drilling it to his receivers downfield in an ACC division-clinching win over Virginia. So the stage is set for a Boston College-Virginia Tech rematch next week in Jacksonville.
• A quick word on Hawaii’s victory over Boise State last night: Say what you want about the Warriors’ schedule, but there’s no question they’re fun to watch, especially in that stadium. (Is it just me, or is the field smaller? Why does it always seem like Colt Brennan is one throw away from the end zone?)
Barring a collapse against Washington next week, Hawaii is headed to the Sugar Bowl -- where it now appears they will face the SEC champion. Now there’s a storyline for you.
• Finally, speaking of the SEC, you’ve got to give it to Ole Miss: The people running that place are redefining Ole Miss/Clemson Syndrome (to the point where I may have to take Clemson out of the title).
As I understand it, the school fired David Cutcliffe three years ago because he couldn’t recruit. So they brought in Ed Orgeron, who recruits with the best of them -- then fired him before he even had the chance to coach half his recruits.
As recently as a week ago, Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat expressed his continued confidence in Orgeron, despite his 0-7 mark in the SEC at the time. A week later, Ole Miss is looking for a new coach? So what changed? The Rebels blew a 14-0 lead in the Egg Bowl, that’s what.
If you think that’s a foolish reason to fire a coach … you’re absolutely right. But that’s what happens when the guy pulling the trigger (Khayat) is a former football player; emotions lead to poor business decisions. Best of luck to the Rebels in their coaching search. I hope they find whatever it is they’re looking for -- if such a person actually exists.
Jim Grobe has done a fabulous job turning around Wake Forest. Could he be next up at Nebraska?
Marc Serota/Getty Images
KANSAS CITY, Mo. –- Michigan and Nebraska.
They’re two of the top-four all-time winningest programs. And they’re both now looking for a coach.
Acting Nebraska AD Tom Osborne wasted no time announcing what had been anticipated for months: That Bill Callahan will not be back for a fifth season in Lincoln. The former Super Bowl coach leaves behind one of the most unseemly legacies of any high-profile coach in recent memory.
Ron Zook may have been a punchline at Florida, but he at least went to bowl games every year. John Cooper couldn’t beat Michigan, but he beat most everybody else. In four years’ time, Callahan managed to lead a team that hadn’t missed a bowl game in 43 years to two losing seasons. A team that used to regularly put up 76 points on the likes of Kansas this year allowed 76 to the Jayhawks -- and 65 to Colorado, and 45 to Oklahoma State, and 40 to Ball State.
Along the way, he stopped recruiting in-state players, eliminated Nebraska’s steep tradition of walk-ons, disillusioned former Huskers greats … basically, it was a four-year nightmare, and I’m sure Nebraska fans were thrilled to wake up this morning knowing it was finally over.
The next chapter in that program’s storied history will likely be written sooner than later, according to the timetable Osborne laid out at his press conference Friday. He wants the next guy out there recruiting as soon as possible.
The identity of Osborne’s choice depends on one crucial factor: Whether or not he’s hell bent on bringing in someone with Nebraska ties.
The two most commonly rumored names are Turner Gill and Bo Pelini. Personally, I don’t think either is the best man for the job right now -- both could use more seasoning, with Gill only holding two years of head-coaching experience at low-level Buffalo and Pelini not yet a head coach. Of the two, Gill seems more plausible (mostly because of his direct ties to Osborne), but Nebraska, one of the most prestigious programs in the country, can and should do better than that.
A perfect candidate for the Huskers would be Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe. He’s not only orchestrated one of the most impressive turnarounds in the country, turning the long-struggling Demon Deacons into an 11-win team last season and a bowl team again this year, but his blue-collar approach and penchant for developing unheralded talent fit Nebraska well.
Another possibility is Navy’s Paul Johnson, a logical thought considering he’s both a great coach and the reigning master of the triple-option. I don’t necessarily think Nebraska needs to return to the days of the triple-option to be successful, but Johnson’s version is also a little more modern. My one concern with Johnson would be that he’s never recruited at the highest level.
A couple of weeks ago, I suggested Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, a career-long winner whose spread offense would be a great fit for Nebraska’s current personnel. It’s believed, however, that Kelly could be a serious candidate at Michigan, the state where he spent most of his career. If Osborne wants to hire a coach quickly, Kelly might not be an option.
Osborne may have a couple other tricks up his sleeve (he always did), but among the most commonly named candidates, my guess is it might come down to Gill and Grobe, with Osborne having to decide which is more important to him: a proven track record or a Nebraska letter jacket.
Dennis Franchione stepped down after going 32-28 in five seasons.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In the span of an hour Friday, the college football coaching carousel began spinning at dizzying speed.
First, LSU lost to Arkansas, presumably moving up the date of Les Miles' anticipated departure for Michigan. Then, at a press conference following his team's 38-30 win over Texas, oft-criticized Aggies coach Dennis Franchione announced his resignation.
Franchione's ouster comes as no surprise -- the only question was whether the decision would come from him or the school. Judging from the immediacy of his announcement, one can assume he and A&M officials worked out some sort of buyout prior to the game. They've had plenty of time to work on it; the writing has been on the wall for Franchione ever since the late-September disclosure of his secret "VIP Newsletter" for Aggies boosters.
Even without that scandal, the fifth-year coach would still likely be toast. A&M was not paying him $2 million a year to go 7-5.
After enjoying success at previous stops New Mexico, TCU and Alabama (briefly), Franchione's tenure in College Station was largely disappointing. From an embarrassing 77-0 loss to Oklahoma in his 2003 debut season to lopsided bowl losses against Tennessee (2005 Cotton Bowl) and Cal (2006 Holiday Bowl) to a humiliating Thursday night smackdown at Miami earlier this year, his teams consistently seemed outclassed by elite competition.
Beating Texas these past two seasons will go down as his lone highlights.
From all indications, Texas A&M has already set its sights on Auburn's Tommy Tuberville as Franchione's successor. Sometime in the coming days, after the Tigers' season finale against Alabama on Saturday, AD Bill Byrne will likely present Tuberville with a highly lucrative offer (one thing A&M certainly does not lack is deep-pocketed boosters). It remains to be seen whether Tuberville is seriously interested in the job -- which seems like a lateral move, at best -- or is simply using it as leverage to land his own Nick Saban-like contract at Auburn.
Whether it's Tuberville or someone else, A&M seems hell-bent on landing a big name, whatever the cost. Everyone from Steve Spurrier to Butch Davis to Mike Sherman have been rumored as possibilities, though none seem all that plausible. A&M has the resources and facilities to rival nearly any school in the country, and its fans are sick of playing second fiddle to Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 South. (The Aggies' last division and conference title came in 1998.)
Whoever they ultimately pull the trigger on will need to be first and foremost a tremendous recruiter. A&M's biggest luxury is that it's situated in a talent-laden state; its biggest drawback is that rival Mack Brown regularly snaps up the state's most prized prospects.
Prior to Brown's arrival, however, the two schools stood on largely equal footing for the better part of two decades, with the Aggies often the more prominent program under R.C. Slocum. Considering they've now beaten Brown's Longhorns the past two seasons, the next coach will be expected to eliminate the disparity between the two teams over the season's other 11 games.
Darren McFadden and Arkansas tossed the latest wrench into the national title race.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- About the same time I landed here Friday to cover college football's improbable Game of the Year, the Arkansas Razorbacks stamped out what little strand of predictability remained of this 2007 season.
The last of our preconceived notions has officially gone out the window. Preseason No. 2 LSU, just like preseason No. 1 USC before it, was eliminated from national title contention. The Tigers lost their second triple-overtime game of the season Friday, 50-48 to the Darren McFadden-led Razorbacks. Thus, Kansas and Missouri will square off here tomorrow not only for the Big 12's North Division title but likely the title of America's No. 1 team.
Raise your hand if you saw that one coming in August.
Thursday night, 9-2 USC finally delivered a glimpse of "what might have been," dominating No. 7 Arizona State with the type of performance they could not muster back during those losses to Stanford and Oregon. The Tigers' season seemingly took the opposite course, with Les Miles' team peaking in September and hanging on for their lives ever since.
Friday, their luck ran out at the hands of a pesky rival whose championship died long ago but whose star running back/part-time quarterback just made one last eye-opening push for the Heisman, running for 205 yards and three touchdowns while passing for a fourth.
The ripple effect of LSU's loss is twofold: 1) It opens the door for 9-1 West Virginia and 11-1 Ohio State, the former of which now controls its Superdome destiny, the latter of which will join the Mountaineers there should Saturday's Border War winner fall the following week in San Antonio. 2) It likely expedites Miles' anticipated departure for Ann Arbor. When the expected call from Michigan AD Bill Martin comes shortly after the SEC title game, Miles can more comfortably walk away from a team preparing for a non-championship bowl game.
Following Friday's disappointment, I'm sure there are plenty of LSU fans who would help him pack his belongings.
Mind you, the Tigers can still win the SEC title next weekend, just as the Trojans are one more Oregon loss away from returning to the Rose Bowl, but don't be fooled. In both L.A. and Louisiana, 2007 will forever be remembered as disappointing.
Amazingly, this marks the first time since the BCS' 1998 inception that neither the AP preseason No. 1 or 2 teams will reach the national championship game. The way this season has gone, it seems only fitting.
LSU's loss also means that the venerable SEC -- such a lightning-rod for both compliments and criticism these past two seasons -- is likely dismissed from the national title picture. (There's still an Armageddon scenario under which 9-2 Georgia could reach the championship game, but let's not go there just yet). SEC loyalists will likely chalk this up as yet another sign of their conference's inordinate toughness, and that the Ohio States and West Virginias should count their lucky stars they don't have to play such a rigorous schedule.
There may be some truth to that, but you won't hear much sympathy from this scribe. I don't care what conference you play in -- if you can't make it through your schedule with less than two losses, you're not national championship material.
Granted, LSU couldn't have missed the mark by a slimmer margin.
· We're not even to Saturday, and this has already been a weekend chock full of "too little, too late" moments. Just as Friday's stirring Arkansas victory isn't likely to keep embattled coach Houston Nutt from slipping out the back door (likely destination: Baylor), Texas A&M's second straight upset of arch-rival Texas was not enough to earn 32-28 coach Dennis Franchione a sixth year in College Station.
It must be awfully pleasing to Aggies fans nonetheless.
For a second straight year, A&M beat its hated rival. The Aggies got a career passing day from QB Stephen McGee and are likely headed to the Alamo Bowl to face Penn State or Michigan.
UPDATE: Franchione announced his resignation at a press conference immediately after the game. See my next Blog post for reaction.
· I can think of no more fitting end to the dreadful Bill Callahan era at Nebraska than the Huskers putting up 51 points on rival Colorado -- and still losing by two touchdowns. Presumably, acting Nebraska AD Tom Osborne will send Callahan packing sometime over the weekend and officially launch his coaching search (if he hasn't already) first thing Monday.
It's clear that whoever takes over the Huskers -- a preseason top-20 team that wound up finishing 5-7 – will hardly be dealt a bare cupboard. If nothing else, he inherits a quarterback, Joe Ganz, who was highly productive these past few games upon taking over for the injured Sam Keller. It's also clear what the new coach's No. 1 priority will be: Recruiting some defenders.
· Meanwhile, Dan Hawkins' team (6-6) achieved no small milestone with the win, reaching bowl eligibility. Remember, this is a team that went 2-10 in Hawkins' debut season, raising questions whether the former Boise State coach could hack it in the Big 12. While his second season had its ups and downs, beating Oklahoma and going to a bowl game are both highly encouraging signs heading into 2008.
· Fourth-year Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom achieved his own significant milestone Friday with a dramatic 17-14 Egg Bowl win over Ole Miss. At 7-5 –- including 4-4 in the SEC -- the Bulldogs are now guaranteed to go bowling, something they have not done since 2000. Not bad for a guy who most considered a dead man walking earlier in the season.
On the other side, the Ed Orgeron job watch is officially underway. Though the Rebels had their moments throughout the season, taking Florida and Alabama to the wire, at the end of the day they still went winless in the SEC in this, Orgeron's third season at the school. With touted Texas transfer Jevan Snead set to take over at quarterback next season and Ole Miss' talent level seemingly on the rise, it's probably safe to assume Orgeron will be back for a fourth season, but he's going to need to demonstrate Ron Zook-type improvement in the wins column next year.
· Finally, I thought I'd give you guys a little glimpse of the lengths I go to on behalf of this Blog.
My flight landed at Kansas City's airport about the same time the LSU-Arkansas game was heading into overtime. Much to my dismay, all the airport restaurants and shops were already closed (isn't there a game going on here?) at 5:20 p.m., so I hopped in my rental car, got on I-29 –- and stopped at the first exit with an Applebee's, making it to the bar just in time to catch the last few plays and write this entry.
Sadly, my first exposure to the purportedly bitter Border War was a busboy at a suburban Applebee's wearing a "Beat Kansas" T-shirt. I think it's time to head downtown …
LSU's all-everything DT Glenn Dorsey has not been fully healthy in weeks.
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Kansas and Missouri are playing for the biggest stakes. Boise State and Hawaii are playing for the biggest potential paycheck (for their conference). And rivals around the country are playing in more Iron Bowls and Apple Cups than any person could possibly keep up with.
One of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend, however, will take place today in Baton Rouge, La., where the near two-touchdown point spread belies the wealth of potential drama surrounding No. 1 LSU's clash with SEC West rival Arkansas.
On paper, this should be a blowout: No. 1 LSU (10-1) is playing at home against an unranked, 7-4 opponent in what will be an emotional Senior Day for the most successful class in the school's history. But anyone who dares blow this one off to get a head start on Christmas shopping either has not been paying close enough attention this season or is unfamiliar with the recent history of this rivalry.
A year ago this week, the fifth-ranked Razorbacks and ninth-ranked Tigers traded blows for nearly 60 minutes (during one 17-second span of the fourth quarter, Arkansas' Darren McFadden broke an 80-yard touchdown run only to watch LSU's Trindon Holliday take the ensuing kickoff to the house) in a 31-26 Tigers victory. It marked the fourth time in six years the game was decided by five points or less.
At 3-4 in the SEC, this year's Arkansas squad has not been nearly as impressive as last year's division champions -- but in case you haven't noticed, the top-ranked Tigers haven't had it easy against a conference foe since September. Just last week, 3-8 Ole Miss rolled up 466 yards on LSU's second-ranked defense and scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns before finally surrendering, 41-24.
The Rebels' offensive explosion did not happen by accident. The Tigers' defense is hurting -- literally. A visibly frustrated Glenn Dorsey, LSU's normally overpowering run-stuffer, sat for much of the fourth quarter last week due to a lingering knee sprain. The Tigers' other starting tackle, Marlon Favorite, has also missed time with an ankle injury, while LB Darry Beckwith has missed the past two games following arthroscopic knee surgery. All three may well play Friday, but how close to full speed they will be is uncertain.
"Our defense is a little sore right now," said LSU coach Les Miles. "I think they are mad. They want to play better."
Obviously Arkansas, with its power-running tandem of McFadden (1,519 yards, 12 TDs) and Felix Jones (1,032 yards, 11 TDs), is not an ideal opponent to face with the middle of your defense gutted by injuries. The good news for the Tigers is they've got ample firepower of their own to torch the Razorbacks' mediocre D.
LSU, having already clinched the SEC West, needs two more wins to reach the BCS Championship Game and the luxury of a five-week break to get healthy. Surviving these next two weeks, however -- in light of not only their own struggles but the continued rash of upsets nationally -- could be the bigger challenge.
Meanwhile, Friday's game also features a pair of coaches at the center of intense job speculation. Michigan fans will undoubtedly be watching this game almost as closely as one of their own, knowing an LSU loss could severely expedite their school's expected courtship of Miles.
On the other sideline, 10th-year Arkansas coach Houston Nutt could be coaching his last game for the Razorbacks. Though he decried recent reports of his imminent departure as "foolish," it's no secret Nutt has been on the hot seat for months, and it seems inevitable at this point he's down to his last days in Fayetteville, whether by his choice or the school's.
"I don't care what you hear," said Nutt. "Until you hear it from me, we're going to concentrate on one thing we have left to do this regular season: our 12th game, LSU."
How surreal would it be if, following a near year-long soap opera regarding his job status, Arkansas' embattled coach went out with an upset of the No. 1 team in the country?
Tim Tebow became the first I-A player to have 20 rushing and 20 passing touchdowns in one season.
1) That youth will be served this Heisman season. During 12 hours of channel-flipping Saturday, I heard numerous talking heads proclaim that Tim Tebow "distanced himself" from the other Heisman contenders with his performance Saturday against Florida Atlantic. I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. Florida's sophomore quarterback "distanced himself" when his most viable competitor, Oregon's Dennis Dixon, was lost for the season Thursday night against Arizona. Tebow did nothing against the Owls he hadn't done all year (other than pass for a few more yards than usual), yet for some reason it took until this game for any remaining doubters to finally concede that hey, this kid is doing something special.
I similarly cringe whenever I hear someone say this year's Heisman field is "weak." I assume what they actually mean is, "A lot of the guys that we pegged in the preseason haven't panned out," because we're witnessing some of the most spectacular individual seasons in the history of the sport right now. They just happen to be coming from "non-traditional" Heisman candidates like Tebow, whose age seems less a factor with voters than the audacity of his playing for a three-loss team. Saturday, Tebow reached two pretty staggering statistical milestones: He became the first player in I-A history to both rush and throw for 20 touchdowns in a season, and he broke the SEC single-season record for rushing TDs (20). Think about all the great running backs that have come through that conference -- Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Shaun Alexander, et. al. None ever ran for as many scores as Florida's QB has this season (not to mention none also threw for nearly 3,000 yards and another 26 TDs while they were at it). But yeah, this is a "weak" field ...
Speaking of which, there's another record-setting player out there who really should be in the Heisman mix but is plagued by a triple-whammy of arbitrary disqualifiers: He's a freshman, he plays for a four-loss team and he's a receiver. How else to explain why Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree has failed to enter the discussion despite a staggering 125 catches for 1,861 yards and 21 touchdowns? He's long since shattered the NCAA freshman records in all categories, and the 1,861 yards are the most ever by any major-conference receiver. While Crabtree obviously suffers from the same "system" stigma as do Red Raiders QBs, anyone who watched Tech's win over Oklahoma on Saturday night saw that Crabtree is an out-of-this world athlete who, regardless of how many times his team throws the ball, still makes no shortage of spectacular plays -- like these. Unfortunately, as a freshman receiver for an 8-4 team, he's ineligible for the award. It's right there in the unwritten Heisman bylaws.
2) That the WAC will be back in the BCS this season. I'll admit it. I thought Hawaii would meet its demise Friday night at Nevada. Not only did the Warriors prevail 28-26 on Dan Kelly's last-second 45-yard-field goal (more on that in a moment), they did so without star QB Colt Brennan, who stayed on the sideline for all but two plays after suffering a concussion against Fresno State. His replacement, Tyler Graunke, was an impressive 33-of-46 for 358 yards, two TDs and no INTs, but more noteworthy was that Hawaii showed it can play some defense, holding the Wolf Pack to 350 total yards, 130 below their season average.
The defense might have been forced to make one last stand if not for a puzzling strategic decision by Nevada coach Chris Ault. There were still about 45 seconds left, and the Wolf Pack still had two timeouts, when Hawaii reached its final fourth down. Rather than using one to stop the clock, however, and give his team time for a possible game-winning drive, Nevada's Hall of Fame coach allowed the Warriors to run the clock all the way down to 11 seconds, choosing to use his timeouts instead for the increasingly common sideline strategy of attempting to "ice" the kicker by calling the timeouts just before the snap. (Has anyone seen this actually work yet?) Kelly, in turn, made the 45-yard kick twice, and the Wolf Pack had no time to respond.
The end result of Hawaii's dramatic victory is that Saturday's Boise State-Hawaii game will most likely serve as a Sugar Bowl play-in. Both teams were already fairly close to the top-14 BCS threshold necessary to be eligible (as of last week, Hawaii was 16th, Boise State 18th), and among those ahead of them were four ACC teams (No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 14 Virginia, No. 15 Clemson and No. 17 Boston College) of which only one can win out (and the Tigers already went down Saturday). Even if the Boise-Hawaii winner does not rise all the way to No. 12 (which would guarantee it a berth), the Sugar Bowl most likely won't have a choice in giving the last BCS at-large berth to the WAC champion because it doesn't look like four different BCS conferences are going to produce multiple, eligible teams.
3) That Pat White needs to hold on to the ball. Much like Dixon before he went down, it's a treat to watch White run West Virginia's spread-option attack. When he and the rest of the Mountaineers offense are clicking, it's like watching a finely choreographed dance number -- everyone seems to know exactly where they're supposed to be on any given play -- with White the conductor. As a result, West Virginia usually comes out and jumps to an early lead on its opponent. Notable instances this year have included 31-0 against Mississippi State (early second quarter), 17-3 at Rutgers (halftime) and, Saturday night at Cincinnati, 21-10 at halftime. The Mountaineers later stretched it to 28-10.
Unfortunately, the downside to playing so fast is that sometimes you get careless. White has had two fourth-quarter fumbles in each of the Mountaineers' past two games, allowing the opponents to mount comebacks. Against Louisville, White redeemed himself by running for the game-winning 50-yard touchdown with 1:36 remaining; last night, the Bearcats had dug too deep a hole to take advantage. I still remember the bewildered look on White's face after the Louisville game when Erin Andrews asked him what he was thinking after those fumbles. "I was thinking, 'I just gave the ball to Brian Brohm,'" he said.
After two years of sharing the spotlight with teammate Steve Slaton, White has emerged as the unquestioned face of the Mountaineers this season and is for the most part a consummate leader. If West Virginia is to make a last-ditch run to the title game, it will do so by following his lead, but if White doesn't get more careful in a hurry, eventually they're going to blow one of these leads.
4) That I'd hate having to select the Big Ten Coach of the Year. Let's say, hypothetically speaking, you are the sole voter responsible for deciding who wins this award. Here are your not-hypothetical choices: A) A guy who took over a rock-bottom program and, in his third season, improved it from 2-10 to 9-3 in the span of a year; B) A guy who took over a team just months before the season following their beloved coach's death and led it to its first bowl game in 14 years; or C) A guy whose team won the outright conference title for the second straight season despite losing last year's Heisman Trophy winner and seven other NFL draft choices. Who do you take?
My guess is, Coach A -- otherwise known as Illinois' Ron Zook -- will take home the honor when it's announced this week, because coach of the year awards tend to go to those who orchestrate big turnarounds, and you won't hear any argument from me. He deserves it. That said, you also won't hear me complaining if either Coach B (Indiana's Bill Lynch) or Coach C (Ohio State's Jim Tressel) get their names called instead, because they'd be deserving as well. Heck, all three merit serious consideration for national coach of the year as well, though Kansas' Mark Mangino would seem the obvious choice there. It's pretty rare to have three of the best coaching performances in the country in any given season take place in the same conference. (So much so that in any other year, poor Mark Dantonio at Michigan State would merit Big Ten consideration himself, yet in this case comes in fourth.)
5) That the Arrowhead Stadium scoreboard is about to explode. Back in August, I was asked to research and compile a list of the five most memorable games for 25 different college football rivalries for an SI.com video project. One of them was Kansas-Missouri. I remember struggling desperately to find even a handful of games in the series' 106-year history that carried some semblance of national significance. (To put it in perspective, one of the five wound up being a 1973 win that sent Kansas to the Liberty Bowl.)
Three month later, I'll be heading to Kansas City next weekend for a game that trumps every previous edition ever played between these two bitter rivals in terms of its national importance: No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 3 Missouri. Can you believe it? And to think someone in Lawrence had the foresight to pick this of all years to move the game to Arrowhead (and that the Big 12 had the good sense to move it back to Thanksgiving weekend last year after a 10-year hiatus), only adding to the hype.
I don't know who will win, only that a whole bunch of points are going to be scored. Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and the rest of the Tigers' offense have been an absolute machine, putting up 42.4 points per game -- yet Todd Reesing and the Jayhawks have scored at an even greater clip (45.8). Interestingly, following 11-0 Kansas' latest dismantling Saturday, 45-7 over Iowa State, Cyclones QB Bret Meyer noted that "Kansas' offense might be the best that we've seen." Meyer's team has seen Missouri's as well, losing by a more respectable 42-28 margin in that one.
Of course, Meyer wasn't one of the players charged with stopping the respective offenses, either, so he might not be the most authoritative source on the subject … but then again, neither is anyone else. Can't wait to see them settle it on the field.
Pat White and West Virginia figured to benefit from Oklahoma's loss in Lubbock.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
So long, Oklahoma. Welcome back, West Virginia.
In the latest wrinkle to this year's ever-changing national title race, the 9-1 Mountaineers not only got a much-needed road win at Cincinnati on Saturday night but benefited greatly from the Sooners' 34-27 loss at Texas Tech. Now, West Virginia, which figures to move up to No. 4 in the new BCS Standings following its 28-23 win at Cincinnati, needs those same Sooners to turn around and win the Big 12 championship.
Such is the unique nature of the nation's new pecking order following the latest, BCS-bending upset Saturday night in Lubbock, Texas.
With 9-2 Oklahoma going down, the top three come Sunday will be No. 1 LSU (10-1), No. 2 Kansas (11-0) and No. 3 Missouri (10-1) -- and Nos. 2 and 3 square off next weekend. Meanwhile, if the Sooners can recover in time to handle rival Oklahoma State next week (which may depend on whether QB Sam Bradford can return from the concussion that sidelined him for all but one series Saturday night), they'll get the chance to play spoiler against the Jayhawks-Tigers winner in the Dec. 1 Big 12 title game.
At last, we have some clarity in this thing. If both LSU (which faces 7-4 Arkansas next week and either 8-3 Tennessee or 9-2 Georgia in the SEC championship game) and the Kansas-Missouri victor win out, they'll meet in New Orleans on Jan. 7. If either LSU loses one of its last two games or the Kansas-Missouri winner loses in San Antonio, West Virginia will rise up to take their place.
That is, unless the Mountaineers trip up at home against either 9-2 UConn or 4-6 rival Pittsburgh, in which case former No. 1 Ohio State will rise back up to No. 2.
Got all that?
That West Virginia remains in contention today and Oklahoma does not can be traced to one essential difference: The veteran Mountaineers were unfazed on the road while the more youthful Sooners were dazed.
Saturday night, Pat White and Co. walked into Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium (which, admittedly, seemed to be filled as much by Mountaineers fans as Bearcats followers) and asserted themselves early, jumping to a 21-10 halftime lead and going up 28-10 early in the fourth quarter. It's a good thing they did, too, because much like last week's Louisville game, White nearly gave the game away with two fourth-quarter fumbles, but buddy Steve Slaton bailed him out by picking up two first downs to run out the clock.
Conversely, the Sooners went into jacked up Jones Stadium, returned a Graham Harrell interception for a touchdown in the game's opening minutes, then, much like in Oregon's loss Thursday night at Arizona, imploded as soon as they lost their star quarterback. OU's offense couldn't pick up first downs, and their defense couldn't stop either Harrell (47-of-72, 420 yards, two TDs) or electrifying receiver Michael Crabtree (12 catches, 154 yards, one TD), whose 60-yard catch-and-run through traffic to set up the Red Raiders' first touchdown was one of the most impressive displays of athleticism I've seen all season.
Just like in that Oregon game, Oklahoma eventually settled down, but not before botching a fake punt early in the third quarter, upon which Tech added another touchdown to go up 34-10. The Sooners mounted an admirable comeback and might even have come all the way back if not for yet another controversial replay decision going against Oklahoma. It snuffed out what might have been a Manuel Johnson touchdown catch with 3:15 remaining that would have cut the deficit to 34-27. The Sooners ended up getting that score eventually, but by then it was too late.
Between coach Mike Leach's fiery tirade against the officials after last week's Texas loss, a national prime-time audience and the injury to Bradford, it was another one of those perfect storms that seem to be victimizing so many highly ranked teams this season. Whichever two teams manage to avoid a similar fate over the next two weeks will earn a coveted ticket to New Orleans.
· Meanwhile, at Clemson, Tigers players donned wristbands for Saturday night's Boston College game inscribed with the initials "FTJ" -- Finish The Job. Signs in the stands proclaimed, "Finish The Job."
Clemson, in what has become a Groundhog's Day phenomenon for that program, did not finish the job.
Even after Eagles QB Matt Ryan's latest, heroic touchdown pass -- an amazing 43-yard bomb to receiver Rich Gunnell to go up 20-17 with 1:46 remaining -- the Tigers had no shortage of opportunities to tie or win the game. But receiver Aaron Kelly dropped his own potential wide-open touchdown catch with 42 seconds left, and QB Cullen Harper managed to get sacked with five seconds remaining to push back Mark Buchholz's game-tying field-goal attempt from 48 yards to 54 yards.
His miss sealed an extremely significant win for BC, which advances to the ACC championship game in just its third season in the conference and in coach Jeff Jagodzinski's first season at the school. Clemson counterpart Tommy Bowden can claim no such accomplishment despite getting an eight-year head start.