Commentary

Saluting the heroes of Week 8

Originally Published: October 25, 2011
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

The BMOC hasn't worn his letterman jacket for a few years. Hey, it still fits!

This week's top 20:

20. Salute to Sparty

Michigan State needed a whole rosary, not just a Hail Mary pass to beat Wisconsin. About 150 things had to go right for Sparty on the final play (and about 150 things wrong for the Badgers).

[+] EnlargeKeith Nichol
Andrew Weber/US PresswireKeith Nichol's catch will go down in Michigan State history.

And they all happened.

MSU coach Mark Dantonio didn't head home until after his coach's show was uplinked at 7 a.m. It was just as well -- how could he sleep after the Miracle of the Instant Replay?

When it was announced that the ruling on the field had been overturned -- and that fifth-year senior Keith Nichol had actually nudged the ball across the plane of the end zone -- Michigan State football veterans said it was the loudest they had heard Spartan Stadium in 25 years.

Almost 20 minutes after the game, which didn't end until 11:30, thousands of fans stayed put in the stands. So many MSU followers remained that quarterback Kirk Cousins circled back through the stadium after an ESPN interview to high-five fans in the end zone and home side of the field.

The 44-yard, last-second desperation heave from Cousins, which deflected into Nichol's gloved hands, was a nearly impossible ending. But the victory wasn't a surprise to Dantonio. Even before last Thursday's practice, the Spartans coach told staffers that MSU would beat Wisconsin. He said it again after the Friday walk-through.

But no way could he have imagined that game-ending scenario: a former Oklahoma backup quarterback to Sam Bradford catches the game-winning deflected TD pass from the guy (Cousins) he competed against for the starting job at Michigan State.

You root for players like Nichol -- a transfer QB turned wide receiver and special teams player who never complained about a thing. Now he's part of Michigan State lore.

19. Michigan State -- Part II

On one of the great nights in MSU football history, defensive end William Gholston wasn't in uniform. He wasn't even allowed in the stadium.

William Gholston
ESPN William Gholston's punch cost him the chance to be a part of the Spartans' big win.

That's because Gholston was serving a one-game, Big Ten-imposed suspension for punching Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan on Oct. 15. The well-liked Gholston had a meltdown moment and paid a severe price for the punch: missing out on a signature win.

He returns for this Saturday's game at Nebraska. It completes a brutal scheduling stretch for the Spartans (at Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, at Nebraska).

18. The hero of East Lansing

Bill Carollo, the Big Ten's coordinator of football officials, was in the conference's command center as the final seconds of regulation played out at Spartan Stadium. He wouldn't say what he was thinking as the final play went to review, but here's a guess: Dear god, get it right.

The four-person replay crew, led by replay official Tom Herbert, did exactly that.

Herbert, who spent 30 years on the field as a back judge, moved to the replay booth a couple of seasons ago. Statues now are being erected in East Lansing in his honor.

"In our game [replay] has proven out to be an invaluable asset," Carollo said. "Our intent is to get it right."

It was a gutty reversal call, but one that absolutely had to be made. The only question was whether Nichol's knee touched the ground before the ball broke the plane. It didn't.

The irony is that the Big Ten was the pioneer of using instant replay. Herbert's call gave Michigan State the win, but it ended the undefeated season of Wisconsin and almost certainly ended the Big Ten's chances of having a team in the BCS Championship Game.

17. Salute to Tommy Upset

Don't get me wrong, the Michigan State-Wisconsin game was amazing. I stayed up until 3 a.m. watching the replay after I covered Game 3 of the World Series.

But unranked Texas Tech's 41-38 victory against then-top-ranked Oklahoma at Norman -- breaking the Sooners' 39-game home win streak -- was better. And much, much more meaningful.

[+] EnlargeTommy Tuberville
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTommy Tuberville has earned a reputation for beating top-flight opponents.

Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville is now 5-5 lifetime against top-five ranked teams. If you're a big-time head coach who has spent his career at Ole Miss, Auburn and now Tech, a 50 percent win percentage against top-five opponents is something that belongs on your headstone.

Up 24-7 at halftime, Tuberville came into the Red Raiders' locker room and told his players, "I've got some tricks up my sleeve. I don't want you to do anything different than you did in the first half."

That's what upset-makers do: They take educated chances and persuade their players to play loose and aggressive.

"We never got conservative," Tuberville said the day after the win.

A season ago, OU led the Red Raiders 38-7 at halftime and 45-7 in the third quarter. It was a wipeout.

But in a late-week production meeting with ESPN's Todd Blackledge and Brad Nessler, Tuberville said this year's game against the Sooners could be different. He didn't predict an upset, but he knew that Tech's strength (its passing game) could create problems for OU, which had its share of key defensive injuries.

"They had not played a good passing team," Tuberville said.

They have now. Quarterback Seth Doege threw for 441 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions against OU.

"Seth Doege is probably the most underrated quarterback in the country," said Tuberville, whose team lost its starting center on the second play of the game. "This kid is unbelievable. This kid's got it. I told Blackledge, 'If there's any quarterback I've ever been with that I want to bring in this situation, this is the kid.' "

Tech plays Iowa State this week and then at Texas on Nov. 5. The Red Raiders have never beaten OU and Texas in the same season.

16. Rumor of the week

I spoke with a staff member from a prominent program in a BCS conference who said that the synthetic marijuana-related suspensions at LSU have put trainers and coaches at other schools on high alert.

Running back Spencer Ware and cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon missed LSU's 45-10 victory against Auburn because of those suspensions. But according to the staff member, it would be naive to think that such ganja activity would be confined to just the Baton Rouge area.

In other words, this isn't an LSU-only concern.

The staff member said he spoke recently with a trainer from another successful program who expressed worries about his own players.

15. Heisman Trophy race

Seated in the front row at Best Buy Theater in Times Square …

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
Spruce Derden/US PresswireTrent Richardson seems like a lock for making a trip to New York City in December.

Alabama RB Trent Richardson: Does the NCAA keep stats on broken tackles? Watch defensive backs as they realize they have to try to stop this guy in the open field. In the immortal "Saturday Night Live" words of Peyton Manning: "A little bit of pee came out."

Stanford QB Andrew Luck: To NFL teams in the "Suck For Luck" race who wonder about his numbers against U-Dub (16-of-21 for 169 yards and two TDs), quit worrying. Stanford rushed for a school-record 446 yards. The Stanford Tree could have gained 100 yards against the Huskies' run defense.

Boise State QB Kellen Moore: He just tied former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy for most career FBS victories. McCoy has the cooler first name, but Moore will have the cooler record come Nov. 5, when Boise wins at UNLV.

Keep a coat and tie handy: Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden, Houston QB Case Keenum, Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson, Texas Tech QB Seth Doege, Oklahoma QB Landry Jones, Baylor QB Robert Griffin III.

Thanks for stopping by the booth: LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu, Oregon RB LaMichael James.

14. 500 words or less

Well, it's nice to see that Notre Dame is only a few dotted I's and crossed T's from joining the ACC as a full-time member. Like many of you, I can't wait until the big ND-North Carolina State game.

Oh, wait -- an ACC merger deal with the Irish isn't done yet? I'm confused.

[+] EnlargeJohn Swofford
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireCan John Swofford lure Notre Dame to the ACC? It remains to be seen.

Didn't ACC commish John Swofford recently and openly discuss a hypothetical involving the possible availability of Notre Dame? Hasn't Duke hoops coach Mike Krzyzewski all but given his powerful blessings to the move, but with one provision: ND has to agree to equal revenue sharing? Didn't NC State basketball coach Mark Gottfried, when discussing ACC expansion and the Irish, tell ESPN's Andy Katz, "I don't think this is over yet"?

So now the ACC is just waiting for the paperwork from Notre Dame and we're good to go, right?

Not exactly. But the ACC, which is getting a major blood transfusion from Big East defectors, remains the leader in the Notre Dame clubhouse -- if the Irish decide to give up their precious indie status.

The ACC will continue to do its expansion dance with UConn and Rutgers as the conference's 15th and 16th teams, but Notre Dame is its obvious prime target. Then UConn and Rutgers would have a death-cage match for the remaining ACC spot.

Don't know if you noticed, but the new athletic director at North Carolina is Bubba Cunningham, a Notre Dame grad and former ND associate AD.

Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch is a former Notre Dame provost and history professor. All three of his kids are ND grads.

Duke athletic director Kevin White came to Durham from -- wait for it -- Notre Dame.

Gene Corrigan, a former Notre Dame AD and former ACC commissioner, lives in ACC country (Charlottesville, Va.) and remains a valuable resource.

Those are a lot of dots to connect, but the point is this: Notre Dame will have a safe, comfortable academic and sports haven if it joins the ACC, especially if you divide the 16-team conference into something like this:

    North: Notre Dame, Pitt, Syracuse, UConn, Maryland, Boston College, Virginia and Virgina Tech.
    South: Duke, Carolina, Miami, Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, Wake Forest and Florida State.

Truth is, ND's division is more Big East than ACC, which is what the Irish would prefer anyway. Major parts of their alumni base and recruiting are located in the Northeast markets.

Meanwhile, the Big East is doomed. Notre Dame, which is a member of the league in all sports but football, won't stick around for the wake. Combine that with a possible future change in the postseason football dynamic, and the Irish could be in options mode.

Equal revenue sharing? Sorry, I don't think ND is going to give up its NBC money. But some sort of transitional deal could be worked out with its new ACC brothers.

Resistance from ND traditionalists who want the school to keep its football independence? Sure, but nothing that ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick and ND president Rev. John Jenkins can't overcome.

13. 250 words or less

Notre Dame -- Part II.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/US PresswireBrian Kelly and the Irish would have a better chance of winning the ACC on an annual basis than the Big Ten.

I know what you're thinking: What about the Irish joining the Big Ten? (And if you're not thinking it, I am.) Wouldn't that make more sense?

After all, the Big Ten has the Rose Bowl, its own Bureau of Engraving and Printing (otherwise known as the money-making machine Big Ten Network), a national schedule and some creative possibilities with a conference such as the Pac-12.

So, yes, an ND-Big Ten alliance would make a lot of sense if Notre Dame hadn't already stiffed the league twice. Or if ND wasn't infatuated with looking East. Or if the Irish wanted to play against true heavyweight football programs and compete regularly against Megatron-like athletic departments with $100 million-plus and near-$100 million revenue (Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Nebraska).

But from a pragmatic football standpoint, it's easier to win the ACC than the Big Ten on a consistent basis. I'm not saying Notre Dame is scared of Big Ten competition, but the ACC does have less hair on its football chest.

And don't kid yourself: The Big Ten has a long memory. If you took a vote today, I'd bet the Big House that a quarter of those Big Ten presidents would lean toward keeping Notre Dame out.

For what it's worth, the expanded ACC will feature five private institutions (Wake, BC, Miami, Syracuse and Duke) -- six, if ND comes along. In hoops, the Irish (coached by former Duke assistant Mike Brey) already have a history of playing against BC, Syracuse and Pitt in the Big East.

12. Whatever happened to …

Adam James?

I'm making no editorial comment here, other than to mention that James, whom you might have read about in recent years, had a career game in Texas Tech's upset of Oklahoma.

He won't win the Mackey Award or anything, but the senior tight end/inside receiver finished with five catches for 75 yards against the Sooners.

"Adam's a good player," Tuberville said. "He's just undersized for a tight end. He's been a good leader for us. He stands up in practice. Players really respect what he's gone through. There's still a little resentment on campus, but that's fading down."

11. If there were a playoff …

BCS spin doctor Bill Hancock will love this one.

Shoulder Pad Bracket:
LSU vs. K-State
Boise State vs. Stanford

Chin Strap Bracket:
Bama vs. Oregon
Oklahoma State vs. Clemson

But who would be interested in that, right?

10. Knucklehead alert

LSU's Mathieu, Simon and Ware are the latest inductees into the What Were You Thinking Hall of Fame. Did they think drug testing wouldn't detect the chemical stuff? Is their favorite player Onterrio Smith, of Whizzinator fame?

[+] EnlargeTodd Grantham
Dale Zanine/US PresswireTodd Grantham's sideline antics have gotten him into trouble this season.

This has been a bad stretch for common sense. Arizona and UCLA got into a televised Thursday night brawl. Michigan State's Gholston got punchy. Before that, Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown tried to turn a Northwestern lineman from a baritone to a soprano. Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff had a full-fledged MMA bout not long ago. A total of three Vandy and Georgia players were sent to their rooms for a couple of quarters.

Luckily, the adults have been great role models. Check that; no they haven't.

Georgia assistant coach Todd Grantham needs a blackboard, a piece of very big chalk and the following instructions to write 10,000 times: I will keep my big mouth shut.

Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin also needs to dial it wayyyyyy down. He's been a semi-embarrassment with his antics.

And with all due respect to Texas coach Mack Brown, I totally disagree with his recent comments to USA Today about wanting to do away with the postgame handshake. It's a handshake, not a dinner date. You shake the opposing coach's hand and wish him the best. It takes, what, five seconds?

Most of all, it's a show of respect, of sportsmanship and of civility. Those things still matter. Or at least they did.

9. Commissioner Tough Guy

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott suspended 10 players after the Bruins-Wildcats brawl. That's nothing. Southwestern Athletic Conference commissioner Duer Sharp is just clearing his throat at 10. Sharp, a four-year starting linebacker at Wisconsin in the early 1990s, suspended 41 players (25 from Pine Bluff, 16 from Southern). Commissioners around the country loved how Sharp acted decisively and appropriately.

"He broke the record!" one commissioner told me, marveling at the volume of the suspensions.

Southern and Pine Bluff had byes Saturday but play this weekend.

8. Coach of the week

Joe Paterno, Penn State.
I don't care that he beat Northwestern, which is winless in the Big Ten. Anybody who ties Eddie Robinson's record of 408 Division I wins gets the prestigious COTW honors.

7. Really?

Did Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly really hang his players out to dry after the Irish lost at home to USC, 31-17? And do so publicly?

So let me get this straight: The four Notre Dame wins are Kelly's doing, but the three losses, especially this latest one, are the players' fault? There's nothing wrong with accountability, just as long as you include yourself in the equation.

And did Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt really rip into reporter Neal McCready after the Rebels' defeat at home against Arkansas? And all because McCready picked Ole Miss to lose big?

Said Nutt to McCready in the postgame interview: "They played real hard. They played harder than that 49-10, right, Neal? One of my players told me. I don't read your stuff; they tell me what you say. One of my freshmen told me that Neal McCready wrote that we were going to get beat 49-10. It wasn't no 49-10."

No, it was 29-24 -- Ole Miss' 10th consecutive SEC loss in the past two seasons. The Rebels are 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the SEC, so you'd think Nutt would have something better to do with his postgame time.

6. Player of the week

Texas Tech's Doege.
If you go into Norman and do what Doege did, you're going to receive lots of BMOC love.

5. Runner-up

Clemson defensive end Kourtnei Brown.
All Brown did was return an interception and a fumble for touchdowns. According to Clemson, he's the first D-lineman to score two touchdowns in a game in 57 years.

4. Two-liners

Georgia has been such a BCS nonfactor that authorities put a picture of a bulldog on the side of milk cartons. But for the first time since 2008, UGA is back in the BCS standings. … I've got three nominations for Programs I Didn't Think Would Be Winless In Their Conferences. They are: Northwestern (0-4), South Florida (0-3) and Utah (0-4). … Does this say more about Stanford or the Pac-12? Stanford has as many conference wins as the combined totals of Utah, Colorado, UCLA, Washington State, Arizona and Cal. … Forget everything I said on the weekly Ivan-Geno podcast about a resurgence at Illinois. That was before the Illini lost to Ohio State and Purdue. … Considering the toxic mushroom cloud surrounding the Miami program at season's beginning, a 4-3 record is semi-amazing. Al Golden -- coach of the year candidate? … I wonder if LSU's backups could beat a lot of other teams' starters. Mathieu's backup, Ron Brooks, had an interception return for a touchdown in the blowout win against Auburn. … Tulsa's G.J. Kinne threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns against Rice on Saturday. I only mention it because just think what Houston's Keenum will do against the Owls' secondary. … Kansas has now given up 353 total points (a 50.4 point average) -- with five games left on the schedule. Alabama has given up a total of 55 points, or four points fewer than K-State scored on the Jayhawks this past Saturday.

3. Quote of the week

"We looked like we were a lot fresher coming off the bye week. Generally, we're pretty happy."
-- TCU coach Gary Patterson after the Horned Frogs recorded the most convincing victory in school history, a 69-0 win against visiting New Mexico.

I'd hate to see the score if Patterson was extremely happy.

2. Stat of the week

In a 38-35 win against Navy, East Carolina's Dominique Davis broke an NCAA record by completing 26 consecutive passes.

Navy completed two consecutive passes once during the entire game.

1. One hack's top 10

1. Alabama -- A bit sluggish early on against Tennessee, but the Tide rolled. Now is probably not the best time to ask Nick Saban whether he can get away for a few days to play golf.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Saban couldn't have been happy about his team's first-half performance against Tennessee.

2. LSU -- Nothing fazes the Tigers. Not suspensions. Not drug suspensions. Not anybody on their schedule. Had LSU starred in "Contagion," the virus would have given up.

3. Oklahoma State -- Justin Blackmon left the Mizzou game with concussionlike symptoms. That's how OSU opponents feel all the time.

4. Stanford -- Wait, the Tree can run the ball, too?

5. Boise State -- Big East realignment plan going as exactly envisioned by founding father Dave Gavitt: first Boise State, then National University of Samoa.

6. Clemson -- You know what Dabo Swinney's problem is? He keeps everything bottled up inside.

7. Oregon -- The Ducks are pacing themselves for the stretch run.

8. Arkansas -- 0-1 against Big Boy programs (Bama), but I wouldn't want to play the Hogs.

9. Kansas State -- Now we find out whether the Wildcats are fact or fiction: OU at K-State.

10. Oklahoma -- How will the Sooners respond at K-State after the stunning loss at home against Texas Tech?

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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