NCF Nation: Kirk Herbstreit
After a thrilling weekend of college football, Kirk Herbstreit examines Alabama coach Nick Saban's decision to attempt a 57-yard field goal on the final play of regulation and Michigan coach Brady Hoke's gamble to attempt a two-point conversion.
And if USC isn't careful -- fully focused on the task at hand -- Matt Scott and the Wildcats could finish Matt Barkley's "unfinished business" well before anyone expected it to happen.
Oregon can wait. This Wildcats' offense is too dangerous to be trifled with. Heck, ESPN GameDay's Kirk Herbstreit already predicted the upset.
Arizona, which runs an offense similar to Oregon's, though far more pass-happy, leads the Pac-12 with 548.7 yards per game. They were notoriously shut out at Oregon, but that game appears to be an anomaly. They've averaged nearly 46 points in their other six games, including scoring 48 against Stanford's rugged defense.
USC defense has been very good this season, ranking second in the Pac-12 and 18th in the nation in scoring, giving up just 16.7 points per game. If the Trojans hold the Wildcats under 30 on the road, that would be a respectable performance. Under 20, and they'd make a declarative statement heading into The Game That Shall Not Be Named On This Day.
Then, of course, there's the obvious mismatch. The Wildcats scrappy but often overwhelmed defense vs. USC's star-studded offense. Arizona has yielded 30.4 points per game. There's a sense that Barkley and his receivers, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, as well as the Trojans' outstanding tight end tandem of Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble, should feast today.
On the other hand, the Wildcats' defense is better against the pass -- sixth in the conference in pass efficiency defense -- than the run, where they rank 10th in the conference and surrender 174 yards per game.
Still, while USC will seek balance, Barkley is the Trojans' bell cow. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez gushed about him this week as perhaps the best quarterback in Pac-12 history, and he's looked that way in two of the past three weeks. That said, the Trojans' offense looked awful two weeks ago against Washington, a team the Wildcats sliced and diced last weekend.
If things go according to the grand scheme, USC and Barkley will win decisively and set up a game next weekend of national import in the Coliseum against the Ducks.
But what is it they say about the best laid plans?
Oregon, ranked eighth in last week's BCS standings, is 8-1 and has won 18 conference games in a row. The Ducks lone loss came in the opener against No. 1 LSU. Stanford, ranked fourth in last week's BCS standings, is 9-0 has won 17 in a row, the nation's longest winning streak.
Yes, it's big.
This will be the fourth time this season Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard and Erin Andrews have been at a Pac-12 game. "GameDay" was at the season opener between Oregon and LSU, at Oregon for the Ducks' matchup with Arizona State and at USC for the Trojans game with Stanford.
This will be the third time this season Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard and Erin Andrews have been at a Pac-12 game. "GameDay" was at the season opener between Oregon and LSU, and it was at Oregon for the Ducks' matchup with Arizona State.
This will be "GameDay's" first trip to LA since Oct. 30 of last year (Oregon at USC).
This will be GameDay's sixth trip to Oregon. The Ducks are 4-1 in the five previous games.
The game kicks off at 10:15 p.m. ET.
Oregon was ranked ninth before it beat California 43-15 on Thursday. Arizona State was 22nd before beating Utah 35-14.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.
Up next: Oregon
"Nate Costa is our quarterback," Oregon coach Chip Kelly tells reporters on Aug. 23." "But Darron Thomas is going to play, too."
A reporter asks, "Are you concerned that..."
"No," says Kelly.
"I mean to say, might it become an issue that..."
"No," says Kelly.
Both Costa and Thomas play and play well in a 50-13 win over New Mexico. With LaMichael James on the sidelines serving a one-game suspension, Kenjon Barner rushes for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
"Truth is, when our offense is rolling like that, getting a break isn't such a bad thing," Costa says.
James returns to score two touchdowns and run for 133 yards in a 35-17 win at Tennessee.
"I know from my 'How to talk like an SEC coach' class that we're supposed to act like no body plays good football outside the SEC," new Volunteers coach Derek Dooley says. "But, man, that is a really fast team. They could play with anybody in our league."
Three men in seersucker suits and panama hats seemingly appear from nowhere behind Dooley. They grab him by the shoulder and whisper in his ear.
"Er, just kidding," Dooley says. "Just ignore the Pac-10's consistent success against the SEC. Nothing to see there."
The Ducks whip Portland State and survive a sloppy performance against a rugged Arizona State defense. Stanford's Andrew Luck throws three TD passes at Oregon, but Thomas leads a nifty 80-yard drive for the winning score late in the fourth. The Ducks, now ranked fourth, improve to 7-0 after easy wins over Washington State and UCLA. They average 485 yards on offense and surrender just 287 yards on defense. Combined, Costa and Thomas average 254 yards passing and 88 yards rushing per game and their twin efforts lead the conference in passing efficiency.
"This is almost like USC's bowl game," Kirk Herstreit says from the ESPN "College GameDay" set in front of the Coliseum. "If the Trojans win this game, they have a good chance to go undefeated. That means they could even end up ranked No. 1 in Lane Kiffin's first season."
A Matt Barkley TD pass to Ronald Johnson gives USC a 28-24 lead with two minutes left. Costa and company take over at the Ducks 20. James takes a first-down screen for 20 yards. A reverse to Barner moves the Ducks into USC territory. On third and 10, Costa finds Jeff Maehl for a first down at the Trojans 28. Under pressure, Costa scrambles for a first down at the 7-yard line with 40 seconds left. After an incomplete pass, James rushes for five. The Ducks use their final time out with 17 seconds left. Costa dumps a pass to Barner, but he's knocked out of bounds at the 1.
On fourth down, USC stops Costa on a spread-option play. The Coliseum releases its pent-up, NCAA-sanctions-induced frustration.
"I think Chip Kelly is challenging the spot," Brent Musburger says through the din.
Touchdown. Oregon wins 31-28.
"The Ducks look like the best -- the most complete -- team we've seen this season," Chris Fowler says.
Oregon returns home triumphant and avoids a let-down against Washington after intercepting Jake Locker twice. At California, things go splat. Perhaps it's back-to-back emotional victories followed by a road trip to Berkeley with a bye week ahead. Whatever the excuse, the Ducks turn in a lethargic performance and a late comeback attempt falls short in a 28-24 loss. Oregon drops from No. 2 to No. 6 in the rankings.
The Ducks trounce No. 17 Arizona 38-20, which sets up another Civil War for the Roses at No. 9 Oregon State.
With two minutes left, Oregon trails 27-23 and faces a fourth-and-3 from the Beavers' 33-yard line. Kelly has no choice but to go for it. Costa drops back and, under pressure, shovels the ball to James, who breaks to his right toward the sideline. One yard. Two yards. But at the marker Stephen Paea grabs James from behind. A battle of wills ensues. And the 180-pound James drags the 300-pound Paea, perhaps the strongest player in college football, forward for the first down.
And then he slips away and high steps into the endzone for the win. Later, most folks agree it was the moment that won James the Heisman Trophy.
The Ducks, one of four teams with only one loss, finish behind Alabama and Ohio State in the BCS standings even though they are ranked No. 2 in both the final human polls.
"Coach Kelly, have you noticed that the folks who do the computer polls all wear seersucker suits and panama hats?" a reporter asks.
"Yes," says Kelly.
The Ducks bludgeon Boise State 42-14 in the Rose Bowl and split the national title with Ohio State.
A week after winning the quarterback competition with Nate Costa, Darron Thomas posts an uneven performance in an easy win over New Mexico. The sophomore clearly has skills both as a runner and passer, but he fumbles once and frequently tries to force the ball through tight coverage, though only one pass ends up picked off.
Those issues are even more glaring at Tennessee, where a crowd of 105,000 seems to be distracting the young QB. The Ducks trail 10-7 at halftime, and coach Chip Kelly makes a switch, inserting the senior Costa.
Costa isn't spectacular, but he doesn't make mistakes and he leads two second-half scoring drives as the Ducks escape 21-17. The Ducks improve to 4-0 with wins over Portland State and Arizona State.
But the ninth-ranked Ducks yield three TD passes to Stanford's Andrew Luck in a 30-24 home loss. After needing overtime to slip improving Washington State, and a fourth-quarter comeback to survive a challenge from UCLA, USC pounds the Ducks 35-20, knocking them out of the national rankings.
Then hated rival Washington comes to town.
Locker, who ranks just ahead of Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers in most Heisman Trophy polls, is asked if he's aware of how Oregon fans constantly tweak him as all hype and no substance.
"No, I've never heard that," Locker replies. "I love Oregon fans. A lot of fans in the Pac-10 are obnoxious. But Oregon fans are gracious and mellow. Like Michigan fans."
Locker rushes for 205 yards and two TDs and passes for 310 yards and two scores as the Huskies roll over the Ducks 41-17, ending a six-game losing streak in the series.
"Wow," says Rece Davis back in the ESPN studios. "If Jake Locker isn't atop your Heisman Trophy contender list, I don't know what you're thinking. Who would have thought that Autzen Stadium would provide him such an accommodating stage to record a signature performance."
Oregon bounces back with a win at California and beats Arizona in overtime.
The Ducks find themselves in the unusual role of spoiler when they visit Oregon State for the annual Civil War. The Beavers must win in order to go to their first Rose Bowl since 1965.
Rodgers, who ranks just behind Locker in most Heisman Trophy polls, is asked if he's aware of how Oregon fans constantly tweak him and say he isn't as good as LaMichael James.
"No, I've never heard that," Rodgers replies. "I love Oregon fans. A lot of fans in the Pac-10 are obnoxious. But Oregon fans are gracious and mellow. Like Michigan fans."
Rodgers rushes for 225 yards and three touchdowns and catches 10 passes for 107 yards and a TD as the Beavers roll over the Ducks 44-14.
Wow," says Davis back in the ESPN studios. "Seems like Oregon is the team to play to make a Heisman Trophy statement."
Locker wins the Heisman. Rodgers finishes second and announces he's coming back for his senior season.
A 31-24 win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl earns Washington a 10-3 finish and a final No. 9 ranking. The Beavers beat Iowa 28-24 in the Rose Bowl and finish 11-2 and ranked fourth.
Oregon loses the Las Vegas Bowl to Utah and finishes 8-5.
Phil Knight converts to Buddhism, gives his fortune to the United Way and moves to Tibet. Chip Kelly goes with him.
Tyrone Willingham comes out of retirement to become the Ducks head coach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Sometimes venom and vituperation can go a long way.
Take the topic of college football rivalries. NBC Sports.com is currently polling its viewers to determine the best college football rivalry in the country.
The Big 12 is represented by three of the top 15 rivalries in college football with Texas-Oklahoma, Texas-Texas A&M and Missouri-Kansas.
I think all three of those are worthy choices. And I'm not really surprised where they rank nationally if the continuing numbers are any indication.
Texas-Oklahoma ranks as the second-best rivalry in the poll with about 20 percent of the vote of about 5,900 respondents early Tuesday morning. It ranks only behind Michigan-Ohio State, which tops the poll with about 27 percent of the vote.
I think that number is about right, although it wouldn't surprise me if Texas-Oklahoma really receives a lot more national attention this season than ever before.
The Oct. 17 game at the Cotton Bowl will be played under the backdrop of last year's tiebreaker controversy that sent the Sooners to the Big 12 title game in front of the Longhorns, despite Texas winning the early regular-season game.
It became even bigger when fans from both schools had flyovers, explaining why their team shouldn't play in the championship game. The Red River Rivalry has become even bigger in the offseason as it surfaced that Texas had claimed a Big 12 title -- with an asterisk -- on a team board of program achievements at the Longhorns' football facility.
Texas then awarded its coaches bonuses like it had won the Big 12 championship, even though the Sooners won the title game.
Needless to say, the Texas-Oklahoma game will have emotions running high. Assuredly, they will be higher than usual this season.
Even normally low-key Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford realizes the upcoming game will have a little something extra from most of his normal games.
Bradford made his comments in a wide-ranging interview with Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN last week. But his comments about the Texas rivalry were especially noteworthy.
"It's going to be magnified even more than it is now, which is hard to really understand," Bradford told Herbstreit. "Especially if you go to school here, you realize that there's some pretty deep hatred for Texas here. But, I think even this year it's going to be just that much more intense when we meet at the Cotton Bowl."
The Texas-Texas A&M rivalry is tied for seventh in the NBC poll tied with Florida-Florida State. Some of the national attention for this game has dipped as Texas A&M has struggled in recent years. But it remains a bitter rivalry for both schools.
And the Missouri-Kansas rivalry checks in at ninth place with 1.9 percent of the vote. It is the longest uninterrupted rivalry west of the Mississippi dating to 1891.
The Missouri-Kansas game has its roots in the legendary border war between settlers in Kansas and Missouri in the days before the Civil War from 1854-58 that influenced whether Kansas would enter the United States as a free or slave state. And it has picked up a little in recent seasons as Gary Pinkel and Mark Mangino have transformed both programs into ones that are challenging for North Division championships.
I'm curious if my readers think any other Big 12 rivalries should have been included on the list.
For my money, I'll throw out three others that I think are worthy choices -- just a shade below the big three.
I think that Colorado-Nebraska, Texas A&M-Texas Tech and Iowa State-Iowa all have a legitimate claim among the most bitter college football rivalries around.
Here's how I would rank the Big 12's most bitter rivalries.
2. Texas-Texas A&M
5. Texas A&M-Texas Tech
6. Iowa-Iowa State
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Several more Week 1 depth charts came out Monday, but few major questions were answered. Penn State still doesn't have a starting quarterback, and neither does Indiana or Michigan. The first Big Ten coaches' teleconference is later Tuesday, so perhaps some light will be shed on the league's top position battles. Check back for updates.
- ESPN TV analyst Kirk Herbstreit says the Big Ten has been in an "identity crisis" since 2006, George M. Thomas writes in the Akron Beacon-Journal.
- Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson was surprised to end up on the Butkus Award watch list after never starting a game last fall. Now Wilson has the chance to back up all his hype, Stu Durando writes in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Illini defense isn't the only unit looking for better results Saturday in St. Louis, Mike DeArmond writes in The Kansas City Star.
- Having Jerimy Finch eligible for this season will help Indiana, but don't expect the Florida transfer to play right away, Chris Korman writes in the Bloomington Herald Times (subscription required).
- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz didn't go through the normal application avenues to land his first head-coaching job at Maine, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Iowa is finalizing its future schedules, which probably won't change the belief that the Big Ten takes it easy in the nonconference, Eric Page writes in the Quad City Times. Iowa's streak of sellouts could come to an end Saturday against Maine.
- Rich Rodriguez doesn't mind rocking the boat at a Michigan program accustomed to the status quo, Drew Sharp writes in the Detroit Free Press. Don't be surprised to see two quarterbacks play in Michigan's season opener, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Count on plenty of true freshmen being on the field, John Heuser writes in The Ann Arbor News. The Wolverines will start a new tradition, the "Victors Walk," before each home game this season, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News. I'll have to check that out on Saturday.
- Michigan State's new facility is long overdue and could have benefited previous coaches, Tim Staudt writes in the Lansing State Journal. The Spartans haven't beaten a Pac-10 team on the road since 1957, Joe Rexrode writes in his blog. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises expects Sparty to start 7-0.
- Heralded Minnesota freshman quarterback MarQueis Gray is off the team, at least temporarily, because of an academic eligibility issue, Myron Medcalf writes in the Star Tribune. Redshirt freshman wideout Damien White has left the team, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Footwork could be the key to C.J. Bacher's consistency this fall at Northwestern, Lindsey Willhite writes in the Daily Herald. Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald is high on wide receiver Jeremy Ebert, the only true freshman on the Week 1 depth chart.
- Quarterback Todd Boeckman's surge of confidence is unmistakable at Ohio State, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch. The Buckeyes seem to be taking no chances with hobbled running back Brandon Saine, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Columbus Dispatch columnist Rob Oller is sick of SEC fans.
- Don't hold your breath for a starting quarterback to be named at Penn State, Jeff McLane writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Nittany Lions defensive end Mo Evans is setting the bar extremely high, like 24 sacks high, Todd Irwin writes in The Altoona Mirror. The Spread HD will look a lot like Penn State's 2005 offense, and the team needs some players to step up at linebacker, Bob Flounders writes in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News.
- Purdue's Cory Benton finally gets his shot to start at center this fall, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier. The Boilers are still waiting for wideout D.J. Donley, a transfer from Georgia Tech, to arrive on campus. Donley might have to attend a junior college this season.
- Wisconsin starting safety Jay Valai doesn't lack much confidence, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Badgers offensive coordinator Paul Chryst doesn't have a set system for developing quarterbacks, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times. The Badgers hope to end their Big Ten title drou
ght this fall. Ohio State fans aren't the only ones celebrating the Big Ten Network-Time Warner Cable deal, Don Walker writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.