NCF Nation: what we learned 12

What we learned in the Big East, Week 12

November, 22, 2009
11/22/09
10:27
AM ET
1. The Gator Bowl is back in play: Connecticut's 33-30 double-overtime win at Notre Dame dropped the Irish down to 6-5. With a tough game remaining at Stanford, the Golden Domers may well finish 6-6 and be ineligible for the Gator Bowl slot. Even with a win, Notre Dame would be 7-5 with a lame duck coach, not exactly a great bowl draw. Putting the Gator back in the Big East ledger helps the entire league lineup, and ensures that the Cincinnati-Pitt loser won't end up falling all the way to the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

2. UConn is going bowling: The resilient Huskies improved to 5-5 and have a pair of home games remaining against Syracuse and South Florida. They'll get at least one of those, and even at 6-6 they'll be an attractive bowl team because of what they've overcome this season.

3. Syracuse is determined to make Rutgers a rivalry: If you didn't think the Orange consider beating Rutgers for New York/New Jersey area supremacy one of their top priorities, you should be convinced after Saturday's 31-13 surprise. Head coach Doug Marrone brought out some new wrinkles, including option pitches and quick swing passes, and the depleted Orange put together a fierce effort. The Scarlet Knights may have not concerned themselves too much with Syracuse before the game, judging by their effort. They should now.

4. Rutgers is not a ranked team: Not even close. The Scarlet Knights sneaked into the Associated Press Top 25 last week, as voters apparently didn't notice that five of their seven wins came against complete stiffs. Rutgers is too weak on offense, and its offensive line far too inconsistent, to be a Top 25 team. The Scarlet Knights could still win eight or nine games this year, but this club is nothing special.

5. B.J. Daniels is tough at home: The South Florida redshirt freshman quarterback had some rough games at Rutgers and at Pitt, but he has been solid at Raymond James Stadium. He became the first Big East player to throw for more than 300 yards and run for more than 100 yards in a 34-22 win over Louisville. Daniels still could use some more playmakers around him, especially in the running game. But if he continues to play like that at home, the Bulls will have a chance this week against Miami.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

1. The Texas Longhorns have come full circle this season. At the start of the season, nobody was talking about them. They rose during a dramatic run to No. 1 in the nation after a stunning victory over Oklahoma. They came one second from making history, nearly becoming the first team since 1943 to beat four straight teams ranked 12th or higher. And now, they are in serious danger of being overlooked in the national title hunt despite sustaining only one loss -- at the No. 2 team on a last-second breakdown. That's how excruciatingly small the margin of error is in football today. But Texas coach Mack Brown seems to have his accepted his fate. "If 35-7 against Kansas on the road isn't a good enough win for someone, we'll just go wherever they tell us to go," Brown said.

2. Baylor linebacker Joe Pawelek might be the most underrated player in the conference. It was fitting that Pawelek saved his best for Texas A&M on Saturday. Pawelek contributed seven tackles and two interceptions, including an end-zone pick. His unique talents in pass coverage are reminiscent of a player that any old-school Aggie fan could identify with -- Jack Pardee.

3. Can Colorado compete for the North title next season? The North should be wide open as Chase Daniel leaves Missouri, Joe Ganz departs from Nebraska and Josh Freeman likely could leave Kansas State. I've tended to think that Colorado was the team with the most returning pieces to have the best shot at winning. But with today's pinball-like scoring mentality in the conference, the Buffaloes need a more explosive passing offense. I don't think Cody Hawkins will cut it, meaning his father might face the tough choice of having to upgrade the position where his son is entrenched as a prime playmaker.

4. Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh is playing like the Big 12's best defensive player the last several weeks. And he's doing something that's extremely difficult by dominating from the defensive tackle position. Most defensive tackles tie up a couple of blockers and enable linebackers behind them to make plays. Suh is becoming such a force as the prime run-stopper for the Cornhuskers that he's leading his team in tackles. His development might be Bo Pelini's most striking transformation since he arrived.

5. Oklahoma State still has a lot to work on as its prepares for the "Bedlam Game" against Oklahoma. First, the Cowboys have to make sure that prime playmakers like Kendall Hunter and Brandon Pettigrew are healthy. And they also have to hope that their red-zone offense gets well in the next few days, too. Oklahoma State can't settle for field goals against the Sooners and expect to win in what should be a shootout in Stillwater.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Alabama and Florida continue to bear down on their collision course in Atlanta on Dec. 6, a showdown that's shaping up as the most anticipated SEC Championship Game since its inception in 1992. If Oklahoma beats Texas Tech this coming weekend, there's a decent chance that Alabama and Florida -- provided neither team stumbles these last two weeks of the regular season -- will go into the SEC Championship Game ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the BCS standings. That's never happened before. Until then, I'm sure we'll all debate who's the better team. It's hard to pick against Florida right now with the way the Gators are playing. But we'll get to see for ourselves in the Georgia Dome. Can't Dec. 6 go ahead and get here? Here's a look at what we learned in the SEC in Week 12:

1. No ordinary season: Nope, this isn't the way anybody envisioned it going this year in the SEC. Tennessee is assured of its second losing season in the past four years, and Phillip Fulmer is on his way out. Auburn's Tommy Tuberville could be right behind him, as the Tigers are also in danger of finishing with a losing season unless they can upset Alabama in two weeks. Speaking of the unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Tide, wasn't this supposed to be just another step in Nick Saban's rebuilding process? And Ole Miss and Vanderbilt both being bowl eligible? The Commodores, thanks to their 31-24 win over Kentucky on Saturday, are going to a bowl game for the first time since 1982. And if they can beat Tennessee this coming Saturday, they would secure only their second winning season in SEC play over the last 48 years.

2. Gators dialing long distance: Every time you look around, Florida is scoring a touchdown from 30, 40 or 50 yards or more. If it's not Percy Harvin or Jeffery Demps on offense, it's Brandon Spikes on defense or Brandon James on special teams. As South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier pointed out Saturday following the Gators' 56-6 drubbing of his Gamecocks, it's impossible to keep tabs on so many fast guys. Florida has a staggering 27 touchdown plays of 20 yards or longer this season -- 11 passes, 10 runs, four interception returns and two punt returns.

3. Percy is priceless: Ask Harvin what position he plays, and he shrugs his shoulders. "I'm whatever the team needs me to play; a receiver, a running back, it doesn't matter," Harvin says. He's right. No matter where he lines up, he's finding ways to reach the end zone. The Gators are moving him all over the place. He's in the slot. He's split wide. He's a single back. He's one of twin backs flanking Tim Tebow in the shotgun. Simply, the Gators are getting the ball in Harvin's hands, and he's delivering. He's now scored a touchdown in the past 12 games he's played in. This season, he has seven rushing touchdowns and seven receiving touchdowns.

4. Don't sleep on the Tide: With all the talk about Florida, Alabama's likely to get lost in the shuffle until the two teams meet in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 6. The Gators will almost certainly be favored in that game. But the Crimson Tide have proven they know how to win games, whether it's Javier Arenas breaking a game open with a punt return, the offensive line putting a game away with one of those patented, shove-it-down-your-throat drives or the defense setting up an easy score. This is a physical, well-rounded football team that believes deeply in what it's doing right now.

5. Finally some relief for Lee: His first half was pure misery, and he threw another interception that was returned for a touchdown. That's right, LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee now has seven interceptions this season that have gone the other way for touchdowns -- an incredible statistic in its own right. But Lee showed some courage in the second half in leading the Tigers to a remarkable comeback after being down 31-3 in the third quarter. Fighting off the boos from the home crowd, Lee recovered to go 11-of-14 for 138 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter, and the Tigers came back from the dead to score 37 unanswered points and escape 40-31 at Tiger Stadium.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Here are five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

1. At long last, Ohio State has figured it out -- The September melodrama is behind the Buckeyes, who are clicking in all three phases down the stretch. This isn't the same team that got crushed Sept. 13 at the L.A. Coliseum. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor continues to evolve, and a healthy Chris "Beanie" Wells has solidified the run game. Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins is showing why he might be the Big Ten's best all-around player, producing highlights on defense and special teams. It's too late for a national title run, but Ohio State finally has an identity.

2. Shonn Greene is the best running back in the country -- You can make a case for several other players, but the evidence for Greene is simply too strong. The Iowa junior seems to be getting stronger as the season progresses. He entered Saturday as the only FBS back to have eclipsed 100 rushing yards in every game. After producing a 211-yard, two-touchdown performance against Purdue, Greene moved into second place on the nation's rushing average chart (144.1 ypg). Greene won't win the Heisman Trophy, but he deserves a trip to Manhattan.

3. The stage is set in State College (and Columbus, sort of) next week -- Penn State survived a very sluggish start on offense to beat Indiana and set up a Big Ten championship of sorts this week at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions will head to the Rose Bowl with a win against Michigan State, though they'll need a sharper performance than the one against Indiana. If Michigan State pulls the upset, Ohio State heads to Pasadena, provided it beats Michigan, which suffered its school-record eighth loss Saturday. The Wolverines can't salvage their season, but an upset of the Buckeyes would provide some degree of solace.

4. Defense continues to be the formula in the Big Ten -- There are no Graham Harrells or Colt McCoys in this league, but the teams that have succeeded made upgrades on defense. Michigan State has won five games in which it scored 25 points or fewer, and Northwestern is following a similar trend. The Wildcats have five wins in which they scored 24 points or fewer, including Saturday's 21-14 triumph against Michigan. Defensive end Corey Wootton leads a unit that has posted four second-half shutouts this season.

5. Illinois is the league's biggest disappointment -- Wisconsin's come-from-behind win against Minnesota coupled with another likely victory next week (Cal-Poly) puts the unwanted label on Ron Zook team, which dropped to 5-6 on Saturday. Zook is right. This team is just as talented, if not more, than the squad that reached the Rose Bowl last year. But the consistency, leadership and chemistry that made the 2007 Illini a national story just aren't there this fall. Illinois still can get bowl eligible next week at Northwestern, but it can't save the season from being a disappointment.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Welcome to the if-then world of the ACC, where there are still enough scenarios remaining to make your head spin.

1. Mathematically, Maryland has the best shot at winning the Atlantic Division. The Terps can still afford one more loss. Try and follow this: IF Maryland loses to Florida State, and Wake defeats Boston College, and Maryland beats Boston College, then Wake, Maryland and FSU would be tied, but Maryland would win because it has the better divisional record.

IF Maryland beats FSU and Boston College loses, then it's over. Maryland clinches the division on Saturday. But, IF both Maryland and Boston College win on Saturday, then the season finale in Chestnut Hill will be a playoff for the trip to Tampa. Wake Forest is still alive, but barely breathing. The Demon Deacons need FSU and Maryland to lose and then get some help from tiebreakers.

2. Miami controls its own destiny in the Coastal Division. IF Miami beats Georgia Tech on Thursday AND North Carolina loses, then the Hurricanes would clinch the division. Technically, five teams are still in it in the Coastal Division. Virginia Tech has a decent shot if it wins its last two games against Duke and Virginia, AND Miami loses to Georgia Tech.

3. It's very possible one or both of the division winners will have three conference losses. That's not necessarily a good thing. It's average, and it's reflective of the entire conference. The more the ACC beats itself up, the harder it will be to have a team climb to the top of the BCS Standings. The ACC has arguably been the most competitive conference of the year, and it has made for an exciting, entertaining season. But odds are fans would trade it for one or two very good teams capable of representing the ACC on the national stage.

4. Don't underestimate Boston College. I did, and boy was I wrong. The Eagles dominated the line of scrimmage, took away Florida State's running game, and quarterback Chris Crane managed the offense effectively. Montel Harris ran the ball like he had something to prove, and BC played a complete game in all four phases -- coaching included. FSU's five suspensions had nothing to do with its loss. The Eagles had everything to do with it. BC is two wins away from a trip to Tampa.

5. NC State isn't done yet. The Pack proved they're still capable of winning football games and haven't given up, and could play a big role in how the race turns out. NC State still has UNC and Miami on its schedule, and is still playing for bowl eligibility. With everyone healthy, including quarterback Russell Wilson, it's a different team.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Revelations from the past weekend's action.

1. Oregon State is for real: Ten weeks might seem a long time for a complete buy-in, but Oregon State hadn't posted a quality win since it upset USC on Sept. 25. That wasn't the Beavers' fault; the schedule just lined up four weak foes in a row. But the impressive performance on both sides of the ball in the 34-21 win over California makes the Beavers' Rose Bowl dreams seem reasonable. They whipped Cal with quarterback Lyle Moevao out of sync after returning from a shoulder injury with a dominating defense that rolled up five sacks and an offense keyed by freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers. The Bears knew exactly what Oregon State wanted to do. They were just helpless to stop them. That suggests clear superiority over a Pac-10 contender.

2. USC's defense showed it, much like USC, can look average at times: USC coach Pete Carroll has said he's not looking for style points, and that's becoming obvious. Stanford outgained USC 210 yards to 90 in the first half and the game was tied at 17-17 well into the third quarter. Sure, the Trojans stepped on the gas and were completely dominant down the stretch in their 45-23 win, but giving up a season-high 367 yards to a limited offense won't win over many pollsters. On the plus side, more than a few Trojans fans -- and reporters -- believed the USC offense could dominate most foes just by handing the ball off every play and playing pure smashmouth instead of trying to create an offense of perfect metaphysical balance. That's what they did in the second half, with 30 rushing plays producing 243 of their 282 total yards on the ground.

3. Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli answered his critics (now about that defense...): A week after getting booed for being completely out of sync passing the ball, Masoli completed 21 of 26 -- 81 percent -- of his passes for a career-high 298 yards in the Ducks' wild 55-45 win over Arizona (At last! Real Pac-10 football!). He passed for two touchdowns and ran for three; he also rushed for 89 yards on 10 carries. He gave the Ducks a 48-17 lead before things, shall we say, got interesting. Things didn't go nearly as well in the second half -- see five three-and-outs -- but Masoli isn't responsible for the 527 yards surrendered by the Ducks' defense.

4. Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA are still fighting for bowl berths: The Pac-10 has seven bowl contracts. It presently has five bowl-eligible teams, with the possibility of two BCS bowl berths (Oregon State and USC). Yet don't be surprised if at least a sixth team backdoors it into bowl eligibility. Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA each showed fight over the weekend, suggesting they haven't packed it in and accepted losing seasons just yet. Stanford, at 5-6, needs to win at rival California on Saturday in the Big Game. The winner of the UCLA's visit to Arizona State on Nov. 28 advances to its rivalry game with a shot at a sixth victory. Rivalry games with actual stakes! Fun!

5. The Apple Cup will be the worst rivalry showdown in BCS conference history: Two teams with no wins over FBS competition between them. Both play terrible defense. Both play terrible offense. One, Washington, has fired its coach. Another, Washington State, might start its No. 4 quarterback, true freshman J.T. Levenseller, because starter Kevin Lopina was knocked out of the 31-zip loss to Arizona State with a concussion. You may want to cover your eyes. Or perhaps you'll sneak a peek just to know what Putrid on the Palouse will look like.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

1. Nippert Stadium is about to have its biggest game ever: The venerable old stadium has been home to Cincinnati football since 1902, but it's never seen a game quite like Saturday's matchup with Pittsburgh. If the Bearcats win, they can start packing for the Orange Bowl, because there's no way they're going to lose to Syracuse on Senior Day the following week. Few saw this coming, but Cincinnati-Pitt will be the game of the year in the Big East -- so far. The Panthers would assume control of the league race if they pull off the road victory, but they'd still have tough games left against West Virginia and Connecticut.

2. Rutgers is going bowling: Greg Schiano would probably make me run stairs for looking ahead like this. You keep chopping, coach, and I'll go out on the limb. With four straight wins, the Scarlet Knights (5-5, 4-2 Big East) are one of the hottest teams in the Big East and have a great chance of winning their final two home games against Army and Louisville. Even at 6-6, they'll be a more attractive bowl option than some other league teams because of their remarkable turnaround story and rejuvenated fan base. On the other hand ...

3. South Florida may not make a bowl: It's hard to believe this is the same team that began 5-0 and was ranked No. 10. Since then, the Bulls have beaten only Syracuse while losing four times, bottoming out (they hope) with a 49-16 thrashing by Rutgers at home Saturday. At this point, I wouldn't bet on South Florida beating either Connecticut or West Virginia, which would leave Jim Leavitt's team at 6-6 and just 1-6 in the Big East. The new St. Petersburg Bowl will be played just 30 miles from campus. Would even hardcore Bulls fans make that short trip to see this team play another game?

4. UConn is finally settled at quarterback: After weeks of game-time "decisions" or "announcements" regarding his starting quarterback, Randy Edsall no longer has to play cat and mouse with reporters about who will be under center for his Huskies. Senior Tyler Lorenzen returned from a broken foot at Syracuse and will be the starter for the rest of the season. "There is no 'Or' next week. I will tell you that," Edsall said. Lorenzen's numbers (7-for-15 passing, 70 yards) won't blow you away. But when he's at his best, he manages the game and gives UConn another running option in the backfield, which suits Edsall's style much more than the passing attack the team tried in recent weeks. With Lorenzen, the Huskies have a chance of matching last year's nine-win total.

5. It's time for Daryl Gross to act: The Syracuse athletic director hasn't spoken publicly in seven weeks while the coach he hired continues to lose games. It was fine for Gross to want to keep the focus on the team's players last week leading up to Saturday's Senior Day. And maybe he didn't want to put undue pressure last week on Edsall, who's at the top of his wish list. But with the Orange having nothing to play for in the final two road games, Gross should go ahead and announce that Greg Robinson isn't coming back. Let Robinson coach out the season. But give your forlorn fans some small sigh of relief.

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

1. Take nothing for granted: A few weeks ago, Tulsa and San Jose State were feeling comfortable near the top of their respective conferences. Now, Tulsa is in danger of losing the C-USA West title and San Jose State is in danger of missing a bowl game.

Tulsa suffered a ridiculous 70-30 loss to Houston on Saturday that moved Rice and the Cougars into a three-way tie with the Golden Hurricane for the C-USA West with two games remaining for each. Tulsa, which was undefeated up until three weeks ago, was supposed to cruise through conference play and come away with a conference title. That plan is in serious jeopardy right now.

San Jose State was first in the WAC (it played one more game than Boise State), but a loss to Boise State a few weeks ago knocked the Spartans off their pedestal and they haven't been the same since. Louisiana Tech and Nevada are both ahead of them in the WAC standings and both teams have one more game to play than the Spartans. Fresno State also has six wins.

2. Will someone win C-USA East... please? East Carolina, the top team in C-USA East, opened the door to all-comers to steal the C-USA East title with a loss to Southern Mississippi and Marshall failed to capitalize on the opportunity.

It's unfortunate that Memphis had the week off because it would have been a good time to gain momentum, but the Tigers have the easiest schedule remaining of the three to teams -- Central Florida and Tulane -- and come into next week's game against UCF with the return of its starting quarterback Arkelon Hall and a two-game winning streak. The Tigers could steal the C-USA when everyone counted them out.

3. Notre Dame gets bowl eligible: Yeah, it doesn't sound nearly as exciting as many thought it would be. Perhaps that's because many thought the Irish would be bowl eligible two weeks ago, not by surviving a come-from-behind bid from a tough Navy team.

While the Irish did get a win on the road against a team with a winning record, there's no way anyone could be happy with the way the Irish performed. They had four turnovers and nearly lost the game off two onside kicks with little time remaining.

The Irish have two games to get one more win to earn an invite to the Gator Bowl. That win should come next week at home against a Syracuse team that has just two wins this year and only one against a team from the FBS.

4. Unbeaten and still going: I don't know if there were a lot of people who expected there to be five unbeaten teams in the FBS, let alone three from the non-BCS. Ball State set the tone earlier in the week with an ugly win over Miami (Ohio), and Boise State and Utah followed suit by whooping on their respective opponents, which have combined for three wins this season.

The schedule gets more difficult for both Ball State and Utah this week with games against fellow conference leaders Central Michigan and BYU, respectively. Boise State might get a little challenge against a Nevada team that has won three of its last four and narrowly lost to Boise State, 69-67, last year.

5. Buffalo on the move: The Bulls knew they had a team that could break the school's bowl drought, but few believed. After beating Akron last week in the final game at the Rubber Bowl, the Bulls have the six wins necessary for bowl eligibility, lead the MAC East, and could be headed to the first bowl in program history.

If the Bulls do make a bowl game, it would mark the 50-year anniversary since the Bulls were last invited to a bowl. Buffalo received an invitation to the Tangerine Bowl (now called the Capital One Bowl) but declined because the bowl did not allow African-American players to participate. That's the only bowl to which the Bulls have ever been invited.

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