NCF Nation: what we learned 111713

What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
10:00
AM ET
Lessons learned from the weekend that was in the Big Ten:

[+] EnlargeOhio State Touchdown
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsTailback Carlos Hyde rushed for 246 rushing yards and scored five touchdowns in the Buckeyes' win over Illinois.
1. Michigan State vs. Ohio State is happening, so get ready: The Big Ten championship game is not signed, sealed and delivered yet. But it would take some major chaos for that game not to feature Michigan State and Ohio State. The Spartans clinched at least a tie for the Legends Division title with their 41-28 win at Nebraska. All they need is to win one of their final two games -- at Northwestern and versus Minnesota -- or have Minnesota lose next week against Wisconsin in order to punch their ticket to Indianapolis. Coach Mark Dantonio's team has come too far to slip up two straight weeks. Ohio State needs one more win to clinch the Leaders spot in the title game because of its head-to-head win over Wisconsin, and the Buckeyes will be favored by multiple scores next week at home against Indiana. This is the matchup that the Big Ten should want -- Michigan State will be in the top 15 and possibly the edge of the top 10 if it wins out, and the Spartans' outstanding defense will test Ohio State's high-scoring offense. It hasn't been the most exciting Big Ten regular season, but things are setting up for a fantastic finish at Lucas Oil Stadium.

2. Wisconsin's defense deserves more notice: Indiana came into Saturday's game averaging 43.1 points and 527 yards. Whatever you think of the Hoosiers, their offense is legitimately explosive. Wisconsin completely defused that attack in a 51-3 win, shutting out Indiana in the first half while allowing 224 yards and a lone third-quarter field goal. The Hoosiers had scored in every quarter but three this year and hadn't been blanked in a half since September of last season. The point is that the Badgers' defense is outstanding, yet like the team as a whole, remains underrated. Everyone will notice how Wisconsin ran all over IU for 554 yards, second most in school history, but that pretty much happens every year in the Indiana game. The Badgers D is led by experienced players up front like Chris Borland, Beau Allen and Brendan Kelly and is getting terrific play from less experienced guys like Sojourn Shelton and Tanner McEvoy on the back end. Don't forget that Ohio State turned in its lowest point total of the season (31) against Dave Aranda's defense. This is a complete team, even if the the voters in the major polls still somehow fail to recognize it.

3. Don't tell Michigan this season is over: We could have understood if Michigan would have mailed in the end of Saturday's Northwestern game. The Wolverines have been beaten up by opponents and piled on by fans and critics for their lackluster offensive performances. Their Big Ten title hopes are dead, and in coach Brady Hoke's own view, that means the season is a failure already. In the rain in Evanston, they found themselves down 9-6 in the closing moments of an ugly game. But Michigan pulled off a truly incredible effort to set up Brendan Gibbons' field goal at the very end of regulation, then ground its way through a triple-overtime win. Quarterback Devin Gardner, who has been battered and bruised countless times, appropriately scored the winning touchdown and two-point conversion. The Wolverines looked in serious danger of losing out for a 6-6 campaign before Saturday's gritty comeback. While wins at Iowa and against Ohio State the next two weeks won't be easy to come by, Michigan proved that it will not fold up shop. As for Northwestern, you can't fault the effort. But the Wildcats have now lost in just about every terrible way imaginable, including twice in overtime and on a Hail Mary. It's just one of those years for coach Pat Fitzgerald's crew.

[+] EnlargeGlenn Carson
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Glenn Carson and the Nittany Lions gave up just 264 yards to Purdue in the win.
4. It's wait 'til next year -- again -- for Illinois and Indiana: The best thing you can say about Illinois is that it has shown a lot of fight this year -- even if that sometimes means near fisticuffs between coach Tim Beckman and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. The Illini did not give up after falling behind Ohio State 28-0 and 35-7 on Saturday, battling back to keep it a two-score game throughout most of the second half. But like the games against Penn State and Indiana, the team simply couldn't finish the job. And so any slight bowl hopes were officially extinguished for Illinois, which now owns the nation's longest conference losing streak -- and second-longest in the long history of the Big Ten -- at 20 games. If Beckman can't lead the team to a win over hapless Purdue next week, he might not get a chance to finish his job, either. Indiana entered the year with high hopes for a bowl. The Hoosiers can still technically get to six wins, but that would require a win next week in Columbus over Ohio State. If you believe that will happen, you are either incredibly optimistic or completely untethered from reality. Coach Kevin Wilson's team has made strides this season on offense and in the running game despite Saturday's showing in Madison, but the defense has failed to grow at all and has some historically inept performances this season. The Hoosiers' status won't change until that side of the ball develops any competency. So it's back to the drawing board for both programs, and they'll have all of December to rethink things.

5. Freshmen making strides at Penn State, Purdue: If you didn't watch Penn State's win over Purdue, we don't blame you. Neither team is going anywhere this season. But the game did provide some hope for the future, thanks to the play of true freshmen on both sides. Purdue quarterback Danny Etling took a step forward with the best start of his career, throwing for 223 yards and a touchdown. Both he and Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg finished with similar stat lines. And their first-year targets fared pretty well, too. DeAngelo Yancey was Purdue's leading receiver, with four catches for 83 yards, and Nittany Lions tight end Adam Breneman caught the first TD pass of his career. Both teams are looking forward for different reasons, and the play of their youngsters gave them some reasons for hope.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
10:00
AM ET
Here's what we learned in the Pac-12 in Week 12:

Oregon is the Rose Bowl favorite: For the first time all year, Oregon seems destined for the Rose Bowl -- the game, not just the stadium. The Ducks were pegged for the national title game before losing to Stanford last week, which figured to have shipped them to a BCS bowl elsewhere. But after USC’s upset win over the Cardinal, Oregon again stands to host the Pac-12 championship game, which will send the winner to the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesQuarterback Cody Kessler and the Trojans got a huge upset victory over Stanford.
Orgeron makes his case: The almost instantaneous turnaround of the USC program under interim coach Ed Orgeron isn’t going unnoticed. When Lane Kiffin was fired, Orgeron figured to be merely a means to get to the end of the season before a big-name savior could be hired. Less than two months later, Orgeron has the Trojans playing like, well, you’d expect USC to play. The Coliseum is filling up again, the Trojans have reintroduced the forward pass and now own a win against a top-five opponent. If he wasn’t a serious candidate to replace Kiffin at the end of September, that has probably changed.

WSU a bowl threat: Needing two wins with three games to go, Washington State snapped a three-game losing streak at Arizona to take a big step toward returning to the postseason for the first time since 2003. The 24-17 win marked the team’s most important victory since taking down the Trojans at the Coliseum on Sept. 7 and is arguably -- considering the circumstances -- the team’s most complete win of the season. Utah’s trip to Pullman next week will essentially serve as a semifinal game for each team’s postseason hopes. If WSU loses, it still has the Apple Cup the following week, but Cougars fans would like nothing more than to lock up bowl eligibility at Martin Stadium. Will students delay the start of their Thanksgiving break to remain in town?

Injuries unearth strength for UCLA: A week ago, the Bruins’ desperate need for help at running back led coach Jim Mora to call on freshman linebacker Myles Jack, who responded with 120 yards on six carries. Mora played coy throughout the week as to the chances that Jack would be back with the offense, but it became obvious early in UCLA’s 41-31 win against Washington that the former Bellevue (Wash.) High two-way star’s performance earned a bigger role. Four touchdowns later, it’ll be hard to justify leaving Jack on the sideline when UCLA has the ball if/when the health situation improves in the backfield.

Cal is conference’s worst: Someone had to win. Someone had to snap a double-digit conference losing streak. Not only did Colorado pull it off, it turned it into a lopsided affair, winning 41-24. With only Stanford remaining, Cal is all but assured to become the 19th team since the Pac-8 was formed in 1968 to finish conference play without a win. One of those teams was Cal in 2001, which led to the dismissal of Tom Holmoe and the hiring of Jeff Tedford. Tedford, of course, was replaced by Sonny Dykes this season.

Another step back for Washington: Since peaking at No. 15 in the AP poll after its 4-0 start, Washington has failed to meet expectations. The first big blow was the 53-24 loss to Arizona State, and Friday’s loss to UCLA again stamped the Huskies as a third-tier program in the conference. Next week’s trip to Corvallis will be another benchmark test for the Huskies before they try to reclaim the Apple Cup on Nov. 29. If the UW athletic department is looking for a positive byproduct of the recent 2-4 stretch, it’s that the Sarkisian-for-USC campaign has died down significantly.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
10:00
AM ET
Wow. What a Saturday. How do you top that?

Fortunately, there are still things to be decided and big games remaining in the SEC. But in the meantime, let's look back at the storylines and what we learned in the league from Saturday’s action:

Just when you think you've seen it all ... guess again. The ending to Auburn versus Georgia will be talked about for a long time to come. People still talk about the "Bluegrass Miracle" when Devery Henderson caught a game-winning 74-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Randall to help LSU stun Kentucky with no time remaining back in 2002, but the "Miracle on the Plains" had a similar feel, only with much higher stakes. Auburn still has a chance at an SEC title if it can win out; Georgia was still holding out hope it could find its way into a tie for the SEC East title. But Nick Marshall's desperation heave on fourth-and-18 wound up bouncing off a Georgia defender (two had a shot to intercept it or knock it down) and into the hands of Ricardo Louis, who walked in for the improbable game-winning score. This really is a dream season for Auburn, considering where the Tigers were at this time a year ago.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
AP Photo/Butch DillIt wasn't always pretty, but AJ McCarron and Alabama did enough to win against Mississippi State.
Alabama can win when not at its best: Saturday was a big-time gut check for the No. 1 Crimson Tide. After their destruction of LSU last week, it seemed all but a formality that they would walk into the BCS title game, but Mississippi State gave them all they could handle. Championship teams have to deal with that and have to win when they're not performing at peak level. That's what happened to Alabama, which got it done, on the road.

It wasn't pretty, but a win's a win for SC: Considering how beaten up Florida is, it's easy to say that South Carolina should have cruised by the Gators. The Gamecocks didn't, having to squeak out a 19-14 victory, but it doesn't matter, because they've done all they can do to this point. Their conference schedule is wrapped (the Gamecocks are 6-2) and all they can do is sit and wait to see if Missouri wins out and clinches the division, or falters and drops a game. The loss Georgia suffered means South Carolina doesn't have to worry about the Bulldogs, and if Mizzou loses, the Gamecocks head to the SEC title game.

Vanderbilt's pretty good in November: At least under James Franklin, that is. The Commodores took care of business against Kentucky, winning 22-6 to make them bowl eligible for the third straight year. Pre-Franklin, Vanderbilt appeared in just four bowl games. Since Franklin took over, Vanderbilt is 8-2 in November and has won seven straight in the month dating back to 2011. The Commodores are hoping to finish like they did last season, when they won five consecutive games. A bonus for the Commodores: Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels returned from injury and went 19-of-24 for 184 yards while wearing a brace on his left knee.

It's going to be a fun finish: Who knew Auburn would be playing for something come the Iron Bowl? Nobody had Missouri winning the SEC East, which the Tigers have a chance to do. There are players in the conference still gunning for the Heisman Trophy, namely Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has a date with LSU waiting (and one at Mizzou after that). No matter what you do, hold on to your hats because it could be a wild finish in these last few weeks, if Saturday was any indication.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
10:00
AM ET
Here is what we make of this past weekend in the ACC:

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Phil SearsQuarterback Jameis Winston had another huge day in Florida State's win over Syracuse. He completed 19 of 21 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns.
1. Noles keep rolling. No. 2 Florida State's 59-3 win over Syracuse gave the Seminoles their eighth perfect ACC season. But how about some of these nuggets, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info: FSU is the first team to score 59 or more points and hold an opponent to three or fewer points in consecutive games since 1988, when FSU did it then, too. The Seminoles became the first team to rush for 200-plus yards on 20 rushes or fewer since Hawaii did it against Purdue in 2006. They became the first team to run the ACC table by winning each game by 10 or more points since FSU did it in 1994. And the Noles are the first team in the last 10 seasons with three conference wins by 55-plus points. They have scored at least 40 points in all 10 games, too, one shy of Texas' 11 games with 40 or more points in 2005.

2. Duke is for real, folks. Make that six in a row for the Blue Devils, now 4-2 in the ACC and in sole possession of first place of the Coastal Division. They ran over, around and through Miami in delivering the Hurricanes their third straight loss, as they reached the eight-win mark for the first time since 1994 and beat Miami for the first time since 1976, and just the second time ever. Duke has won consecutive games against ranked opponents for the first time since 1989. Hats off to David Cutcliffe & Co., who close at Wake Forest and at North Carolina, and may just be ranked when the polls are released later today.

3. BC, Maryland going bowling. Give credit to both schools for big performances Saturday. Andre Williams was his ridiculous self again, setting the ACC single-game and single-season rushing record as he went for 339 yards (1,810 on the season) as the Eagles closed out Senior Day with a 38-21 win over NC State. C.J. Brown, meanwhile, rushed for 122 yards and two scores, including the game-winning 3-yard rush as Maryland upset Virginia Tech in overtime. North Carolina edged a step closer to the postseason with a win over Pitt. The Panthers, meanwhile, play fellow five-win team Syracuse this Saturday, meaning at least one will become bowl eligible as well. NC State's postseason hopes, meanwhile, are officially over with its loss at BC.

4. UNC keeps rolling. Speaking of North Carolina ... what a turnaround for the folks in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have won four in a row after racing out to a 27-3 lead versus Pittsburgh, blowing it, then hanging on for dear life as Ryan Switzer clinched the win with a 61-yard punt return for a score in the fourth quarter. Marquise Williams continued to impress stepping in for the injured Bryn Renner, as he completed 15 of 27 passes for 173 yards and added 79 rushing yards and two scores on 15 carries. The defense sacked Tom Savage seven times, and now all UNC needs to do is beat Old Dominion at home Saturday to clinch bowl eligibility.

5. Remember Clemson? BCS bowl executives probably should. The Tigers became the forgotten team after getting routed at home by Florida State. And they will probably need to win at rival South Carolina in the regular-season finale. But they are looking pretty good right now at 9-1, impressively routing Georgia Tech 55-31 on Thursday night behind Tajh Boyd's 340 passing yards, 43 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. Boyd broke Philip Rivers' ACC record for career touchdown passes (he now has 97) and is one 300-yard game shy of Rivers' ACC record (18) in that category, too.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
10:00
AM ET
Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 12:

1. Oklahoma State can win the big one: Mike Gundy's team went to Austin, Texas, knowing a loss knocks it out of the Big 12 title picture. It didn't have top playmaker Josh Stewart. But the Cowboys had a sound plan for shutting down the Longhorns on both sides of the ball, and they executed it very well. OSU held a Texas team that was 6-0 in the league to a season-low 13 points and handed coach Mack Brown his most lopsided home loss (38-13) in his Texas tenure. As Gundy put it after the win: This is playoff football. Win one game and the next one gets bigger. Oklahoma State won what might've been the Big 12 semifinals on Saturday. Now the Cowboys get a de facto conference title game at home next Saturday against Baylor and are in firm control of their own destiny.

[+] EnlargeLevi Norwood
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLevi Norwood scored two TDs, as Baylor rallied for a big win against Texas Tech on Saturday.
2. What's it gonna take to beat Baylor? The Bears kindly spotted Texas Tech a 20-7 lead in the first quarter with Tech touchdown drives of 75, 89 and 75 yards. Baylor punted on two of its first three drives. Normally a start like that spells disaster for even good teams. But Baylor got back to moving the ball and took a 21-20 lead at the end of the first quarter that it never relinquished in a 63-34 victory. And the Bears did all that without Lache Seastrunk, Glasco Martin or Tevin Reese on offense. Even when this team is beating itself, it's still hard to beat.

3. Kansas finally tastes sweet victory: If you don't understand why Jayhawks fans ripped down the South end zone goal posts after KU's 31-19 home win over West Virginia, you don't recognize how much agony this fan base has had to endure in the past few seasons. Kansas won its first Big 12 game since Nov. 6, 2010, and got coach Charlie Weis his first conference win by pounding the rock against a banged-up WVU defense. Unless Kansas loses every Big 12 game from now until the end of the 2016 season, it appears the Jayhawks will not be the ones to break Baylor's record of 29 consecutive conference losses -- at least not for a long time.

4. Welcome back, OU run game: It's getting a little tiresome to constantly fluctuate between the narratives of "Oklahoma has no identity" and "Oklahoma found its identity!" this season, so why don't we just stick to the facts: The Sooners ran the ball well against Iowa State, winning a 48-10 game that was much closer early on. As a team, OU rushed for 405 yards on 44 carries, and 390 came in the game's final three quarters. The trio of Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and backup QB Trevor Knight combined for 337 yards. Going 2-to-1 on the run-pass ratio did the job this week against the Cyclones. That ISU team is also a bit of a mess at this point, so maybe it's safer -- for now -- to hold off on saying OU made some grand discovery in its run game.

5. TCU's nightmare season is almost over: The two newest members of the Big 12 are both now 4-7 and will not go bowling. But we expected West Virginia to take a step back in 2013 after basically overhauling its entire offense. The Big 12 media believed TCU would be the No. 3 team in the league this fall. Wrong on that one. For the third time this season, the Horned Frogs lost a game by three points or fewer. They've lost by more than two TDs only once. They've had bad luck and bad injuries. It's just not their year. TCU finishes with a visit from Baylor in two weeks, and Gary Patterson will have his players treating that one like their bowl game.

SPONSORED HEADLINES